Please be advised that today’s post has a trigger warning for self-injury. The phrase “to write love on her arms” is used with grateful indebtedness to www.twloha.com: “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

'To Write Love on Her Arms Day' photo (c) 2009, Vanessa Penagos - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

This is what empaths do: We feel what others feel. We are the bleeding hearts.

I recognized the sadness right away—eyes don’t lie, and I notice. She wasn’t unfriendly, but she wasn’t warm, couldn’t smile a welcome as I walked up to the counter and ordered. She handed me the hot pastry filled with savory meat, and I could see so plainly the freshly cut wound on her arm, a big X like a fallen cross, the pain it took to carve it. I wanted to give her a hug, to absorb what hurt her, but I was a stranger, and a feeble one at that, likely to sink even if I could absorb, and so I just made sure she saw my smile as I crumpled a bill into the tip jar, gave her the only small token I could to speak love.

I want to write love on her arms.

I unwrapped the carefully tied cotton– tiny package belying its power– and held her three razors in my hand. We had made a trade, my dear friend and me, emptied our tight fists of last resorts so that we could hold hands and walk toward health together. Their size humbled me– perfect, thin lines to cut the places where she sees neither perfect nor thin. And I ran my finger over them gently, didn’t want to feel the metal dig, because her pain was sharp enough.

I want to write love on her arms.

I used to be his safe place, sanctuary, intercessor. But old friends drifted on waves of distance and of busyness and of change, and, forgive me Father, it had been years since our last confession. But when his words reappeared, they echoed familiar ache and begged me hear again his voice. He made confession from behind a computer screen, and fear reached through to choke me. Old ailments had new symptoms, and I had no healing words to offer for self-inflicted wounds. So I made a plea instead, Please get help, and I knew that it would have to come from a priest much higher up than me.

I want to write love on his arms.

This is what empaths do: We feel what others feel. We are the bleeding hearts.

They cut shallow enough just to feel but not to die, but it cuts deeper than sometimes even they know. And we feel it– the pain beneath the pain– and we’d wrest razors from their hands, risk them sinking into our own palms if it meant those we love would be healed. But the blood of bleeding hearts doesn’t pump out any cleaner than the blood our friends have let out to soak the bathroom floor. So He willed sharp nails between his own wrist bones, self-inflicted wounds, to hold himself to an upright cross– let his own blood to run down his arms, soaked the ground of Golgotha, and felt what others feel. And it was a costly token He used to speak love, emptied His hands of perfect to become sanctuary, intercessor, for all the bloodletters and bleeding hearts.

And He writes love on our arms.


49 comments

  1. Stunning. You must have the gift of mercy.

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    • I have thought of it as a gift, but never one of mercy– how humbling. Thank you for sharing with me your own gift of prophecy. xo

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  2. Flawless.

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    • Grateful, friend. Thanks for your prayers that helped me get through.

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  3. This is beautiful. Oh, T, I know why we’re friends. Love you!

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  4. Oh, my, beautiful. I love TWLOHA, and I love this nod to them. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

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    • What they’re doing is so important, bringing hope to the hurting. Glad you know and support them, Jennet!

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  5. Thank you for writing this. I forget how my pain can affect others. Maybe it’s time for a confession of my own and a handing over of my own cotton wrapped package.

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    • Oh, Brittany, I deeply hope you will. But not for anyone else– just for you. *You* are worth it.

      Are you familiar with TWLOHA? They may be a great place to begin your walk toward health.

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      • I am familiar with to write love. They helped a lot the first time I handed over a cotton package. But since then, it has come back with a secret and silent vengeance. It’s weird how healing is so much harder the second time.

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        • That must be so hard– I’m glad you still seek the second healing. Email me at tamaraoutloud @ gmail . com if you’d like help finding help. xo

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  6. Beautiful! Thank you so much.

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    • Thank you, Travis, and of course you are so welcome.

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  7. You have an amazing gift for finding beauty among the sadness and hurt and then, composing words to match. I want to write love on her arms as well! You have a beautiful heart, my friend. (((hug)))

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    • Thank you so much, Kirsten. And I’d write it on yours too, you know.

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  8. As someone who used to (and still sometimes does) struggle with self injury, this spoke to me in a very meaningful and beautiful way, bringing tears to my eyes. Thank you.

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    • Grace, I’m so grateful it reached you in a good way. Be well. Truly.

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  9. Em

    Oh Tamara. Don’t ever lose that gift. This is healing. I’m coming up on 2 years self-injury free in November after a 10 year battle. Your words are truth. Don’t let go of this gift.

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    • Em, thank you, and I am overjoyed to hear you are free.

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  10. Oh T.

    So lovely.

    So sad.

    So filled with compassion.

    So you.

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    • Thank you for knowing me, my friend.

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  11. This leaves me decidedly without breath. And that last paragraph wins.

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  12. Yes. That is so me, wanting to take their pain on my heart. It’s not always healthy I know. Empath…I never had a word for it before. Thank you for your words; they write fire on my heart.

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    • Yes, it can be a blessing and a curse. We have to take care so that we can take care, you know?

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  13. Deep breath, deep sigh. Thank you, T. I second the prophetic voice above – you most definitely have the gift of mercy, and I would add compassion, too. Until I read through this literally breath-taking list, I have sort of held myself back from ‘getting’ the whole idea of self-injury. Why, I thought, would anyone deliberately cause themselves such pain . . . until I reflected for just a minute on my own form of self-treatment for the last 45 years: eating to the point of pain at times. It is not exact, but the comparisons are closer than I might like to admit. The last two years have been better, but there is always a row to hoe, you know? Yes, of course, you know. Love you.

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    • I think all harm we do, whether to ourselves or others, is a mark of our own pain. Maybe we won’t all be all the way well in this life, but we will be well. We will be well.

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  14. I had not thought of being an empath before. That word speaks to me but I don’t want it to. I have always been attuned to other’s feelings, usually the ones they keep hidden. But that came at a cost to me as a child, the one who knew her mother was broken before any one else. The one who became sick to her stomach so often that she was taken to a therapist who said, “Your daughter is fine. She is worried about her mother who needs help.” I was six.

    I have avoided others pain for so long because so much of my childhood was spent feeling my mother’s pain. But reading this, seeing the word empath, reminded me that empathy is a gift to be used not pushed away. It has always helped me to be a good friend, someone willing to go deep. But we needed to be friends first. Time to change that I think, even as I know feeling others’ pain will hurt.

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    • It is a gift, Jen, but it can be too much for our small selves, as I’m so sorry to hear you’ve experienced. This article offers some helpful ideas for learning to take care of ourselves (which we find so much harder to do than taking care of others): http://www.drjudithorloff.com/Free-Articles/emotional-empath-EF.htm

      (Please note I’m not familiar with that site as a whole; I am just recommending this particular article from it.)

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  15. Oh, your ending.
    Brings me to quiet worship.
    Yes. This is how He loves us.
    And how we, now His Body, love others.
    Well done, friend.

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    • Humbled that it would lead you to worship. Thank you.

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  16. oh, Tamara, thank you for this. I have “wrested razors” and have been blessed to see the redemption, too. A blessing, I say, because many don’t get the chance to see the planted seeds grow into fruition, the transition from sanctuary to the One who is our Sanctuary.

    this was needed, and so good.

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    • Antonia, that is such blessing! Oh, so grateful you’ve seen it!

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  17. Tanya Marlow

    I am an empath, and your words have given dignity and beauty to my feelings and enabled me to worship.

    There’s no higher praise I think I could give. This was incredible- thank you.

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    • No, there’s none. Thank you, and I am so glad my words have reached you like that.

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  18. Jo

    Bleeding heart, and proud of it. Thank you for expressing it so poignantly Tamàra. I hope TWOLHA are reciprocating with a link back to your wonderful revelation.

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    • Thank you, Jo, and I’m not at all surprised that you are one of us. :)

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  19. jlunardo

    Oh my, oh my. Stunning. And your last three sentences pierce the heart, allowing overwhelming gratefulness and humble worship to pour out.

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  20. Angela

    Tamara, your words spoke solace to my soul this morning. I am in tears as I type this comment, thinking about my own struggles with self-injury and my own gift of empathy.

    My greatest achievement in overcoming the feelings that led to self-injury came when I explained to my beautiful daughter that I understood why she cut herself, when no one else did…when everyone else yelled at her, or took away her long-sleeved shirts and hoodies, or berated her for “doing something so stupid to herself.” When she looked into my eyes and saw that I truly understood her, she was able to make her first steps toward healing, as well.

    She is gone now…she passed away this past April from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy), but one of her passions in the last year of her life was TWLOHA and very few days went by that she didn’t literally write the word LOVE on her arms as a reminder that love conquers all.

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    • In tears with you right now. All love to you, Angela.

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  21. Sarah H.

    You are making me think in a new way about Jesus with this (and that’s not so easy to do). Thanks for the blessing and challenge of that.

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    • Lady, you know I’m gonna want to hear your thoughts on THAT! To Perkins? ;)

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  22. Beautifully done and brought me to tears. Thank you so for sharing your words with us. You are writing love on all our arms.

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  23. I love this, and I can’t say any more words (or better words) than anyone else commenting above, except to add thank you. Thank you for writing this. We need more writing like this; more honest (but hard) truth and hope in this broken/joyful world.

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  24. Janel

    This is absolutely amazing Tamara. Breathtaking…the last paragraph gripped my heart and held it fast.
    the ache is real, the blood runs red…and my heart pounds in reponse to the grief that streams from the page. Empathetic…it hurts and yet in some way don’t you think that if we could take part of that pain even a piece of it..if it was possible, that it might lighten the load.

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  25. I’m struggling to find words for how beautiful this is and how reading it this morning has touched my heart. I am so grateful to you for sharing this. I’ve often found myself struggling to keep my composure in the office when co-workers share their struggles with me, and more times than I can remember I have found myself crying in the shower, overwhelmed by the pain friends and family are experiencing. I had started to think that maybe there was something wrong with me, that I had an unhealthy stake in the lives of others. Thank you for writing this and reminding me that there are times a bleeding heart is exactly what is required. Thank you, thank you.

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