5.12.19 I Find Myself Whole

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I have had the most extraordinary examples of mothers in my life. My own mom is practically an earth angel … she is selfless and endlessly encouraging and taught me that joy is a choice that we must pursue with intention and passion. My mother-in-law is kind, and good, and does life with a family-first focused mentality. There has never been an instance where I’ve seen her make a decision without all of us in mind. My sister has always and forever wanted only to be a mom, and as her full-time job … she is exemplary at it … loving with an other-worldly patience, never hesitating for a second to let a hug linger, as hugs often should. My cousin is the dedicated, work and play mom. She bakes, and explores, gardens, and tutors. I never know how, but she does it all so well. Both of my sister-in-laws are full-time doctors, and both of them consistently put dance shoes and soccer cleats at the top of their list along with patient care and job performance. Their girls will be better for the example of their mothers’ tireless love, and nurturing spirit towards both their own needs, and the needs of others. My best friend epitomizes the verse, “Love never fails,” as she not only adores her own three children, but her gorgeous sixteen-year-old step-daughter with a fiercely, undeniable grace that could only come from a pure heart. There is my friend who doesn’t even have children, but loves each human soul she meets with such intense safekeeping of their stories, that it is undeniable to know God has given her a mother’s heart. Or my friend, who has faithfully become the surrogate mother her middle school students have needed all their lives. Then there are my friends that are the sweet mothers of young ones, who remind me of the tender snuggles, the fresh-from heaven dreamy stares, and complete devotion to their new and forever role as mothers; oh, how they inspire.

These are the mothers I look up too. These strong, beautiful, uniquely individual women who time and time again, put the needs of others before themselves. How can I ever thank them, or the hundreds of other mothers I wish I had time to name?

On the other side of gratitude, I want to thank the most precious ones of all … my two, gifts … my son and my daughter. I cannot ever properly deserve you, and sometimes I worry God trusts me too much to have put you in my care. I am so grateful that my husband is with me to balance all my insufficient, impulsive ways with his steady character and heart. Somehow, beyond my inability to cook memorable meals, or keep a plant alive, or build anything, or do laundry with any semblance of efficiency … they love me. They love my constant question games in the car and my addiction to chocolate milk (for me, not them). They love my belief in pretend and my absolute conviction that Neverland is a real place. They love that I write, and support my poems, and articles, and books with prayers. They are my greatest fans, and I love how they forgive my flaws for the simple fact that love has blinded them beyond recognizing fault.

I am a mother. I am imperfect and deeply impractical. I value daydreams over diagrams and whimsy over worldly success. I put my kids to bed way too late, and often, fall asleep with them because I don’t want that thief, Time, to steal one minute I was unaware of passing.

I worry. I pray. I play. I dance. I try. I cry. I fret. I fail. I love.

I am many, many things, but because of the women I so cherish, and the children who have given me my most important name … I am a mother … and in that … I find myself whole.

5.6.19 The Finite Infinite

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This piece is a response to a recent tragedy in our community. It is also a reflection of being a mother and a teacher who is asked to make sense for young people what doesn’t make sense, and explain what is simply unexplainable. Katharine Graham once said that, “The truth and the news are not the same thing.” She was right. The news is just facts (or some version of them) but the truth is what you feel in response to what you are shown, and told to deal with.

I hope this poem finds you, and holds your hand through the biggest hurts and fears of what you see and hear. Your sensitive hearts are not alone dear ones. Even still, I believe love conquers all.

The Finite Infinite

I’m not one to watch the news

because I don’t want to see what I see

I feel too much

like pinpricks my senses are acupunctured until

I feel nothing at all

which is worse

But in time every nerve finds it’s way to exposed

every fiber rubs raw, and taught

and I ached in places only the soul can reach

because when I see what I don’t want to see …

when I hear what I don’t want to hear

I can no longer afford the luxury of pretend

reality is painful

and present

and insists on continuing to be

what it is

dark

Sometimes I don’t know the right way

because there isn’t one

to tell

to teach

to soothe the edges of jagged words

of broken ideals

in minds too young to comprehend what they’re asked to

in hearts too pure to make sense of what they weren’t meant to know

I want to silence voices of hate

I want to blur the lines of color

I want to carry burdens

release fears

and renew hope in the seemingly finite, infinite resource

of love

Maybe if it were given a chance

to indwell

to arise and awaken

we would find ourselves safe

in a world where I didn’t have to be afraid

to watch

the news

 

 

4.28.19 Even Then … Only Slightly

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Lately I feel like my life is a little bit out of control. There is too much going on and I can honestly say that when we go through phases like this … seasons like this … that is when the most ill-timed circumstances find their way to me, becoming grand interruptions I don’t have time for. “You do it to yourself,” you might say. “You’re too busy!” Well, that might be so, but it isn’t the busy so much as the nothing-goes-smoothly-like-it’s-supposed-to that gets ridiculous!

Cormac McCarthy once said, “You never know what worse luck your bad luck just saved you from.” That is a sage piece of advice, but when you’re going through it? It sounds like something I’d like to see sewn onto a pillow so I could punch it! Right now, besides my husband and I working full time, our children are in a theater company and their first play is this coming weekend. Our daughter is in two different dance groups (both about to end, but about to and over are very different things). Then, our son is a travel soccer player. That’s not to mention regular things like school … or piano lessons. Or PETS! Don’t get me started!

You know how when you are going through a rough patch of luck, you look back on it later and it’s kind of funny? Well … I’m not there yet, because even then, even in retrospect, it’s only slightly amusing. At this moment though, I figured I’d share my luck so you could laugh and relate with me. If I knew someone was laughing with me, maybe I could push past the near-tears and laugh too.

Here we go –

We just cleaned our entire house! (Spring frenzy style!) We put all of our unwanted pieces in the garage, and when we called the company 1-800-Got-Junk to come and pick up the items we wanted gone, our garage door broke! We couldn’t get it open and needed someone to come fix it so the junk people could get the items out! That was a costly adventure.

My husband just put brand new dark mulch all around our house. Our white Great Pyrenees puppy really loves it. She also loves to dig. She also loves to rip the new drain pipe from the side of the house and carry it around like a trophy in the backyard. At six months old, she weighs fifty-six pounds and I had to hoist her up and carry her like a sack of potatoes across the house so her muddy feet couldn’t mess up my newly washed floor.

Our kids said they had a “little” homework left before bed on Sunday night. I said, “Okay but I want you in bed by eight because you have your play this week and will be out until past nine every night.” At 9:40 my nine-year-old is still at the table “finishing” her book report! ARGH!

This week I had to take our two cats to the vet for their annual check up. I also had to take the puppy to get her nails trimmed. Well, on the way there, one of the cats threw up. We found out one cat was severely underweight (Thyroid) and one cat was severely overweight (fat). The trip cost over three hundred dollars! Oh, and then the dog puked on the way home.

The pièce de ré·sis·tance? Well … Spring has finally come here in the Midwest – only not really. On Friday it was glorious and in the sixties with sunshine. We have flowers planted, and all is starting to bloom. On Saturday, we had a freak six-inch snow storm. My husband wasn’t home and asked me to find a way to protect the flowers, so between a tarp and a well-placed umbrella … we’ll have to see if they make it.

My friends … I am exhausted … and I realize that these are trifles in the grand scheme of things. And I know that someday (way in the future of next week) they might even be funny, but even then … only slightly.

All my love,

Elle

4.20.19 Choose Both

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The hardest decisions are the right ones …

it’s not the right versus wrong, 

but the right versus right that lead me to pause

and ponder

and question whether 

reminding me 

that two versions of “whatever may be” 

exist 

and fight for my attention 

These are the decisions proving what I’ve long suspected –

that this singular, 

precious life, 

is simply not enough … 

laden and lit with choice after choice

voices complex and competing 

calling and coaxing me 

from the ease of leaving things the way they are

to the fickle, fragile place between 

here and there

I will or I won’t

what is and what could be

Could I choose the perfect song

if I only had time for one?

Would I desire psalms or sonnets if given ultimatum?

Which musing or whim is worth filling a golden hour? 

What sun-lined path is the best choice 

if they’re both less traveled? 

One life

a hundred years

give or take

isn’t enough

for all of the decisions that are

and could have been

I want to see tandem versions 

of right then

and right now

because both is my only chance at gratification

Time and space are grasping and greedy

there is no altruism offered to those of us with 

open hearts and open minds

left wishing that we could always 

choose both

4.12.19 The Beauty of Slow

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Today I was asked to guest blog about “The Beauty of Slow” for Jamie whose blog is https://asnailsspace.blogspot.com so please visit me there, and while you’re there, check out this lovely soul! You’ll see a short introduction about how she found me, and then my piece (also found below) will be featured! Happy reading darlings!

The Beauty of Slow

There is a beauty to being slow … and it is a beauty that took me some time to appreciate. Slow, to me, is an acquired taste, and in younger years it was only bitter – not sweet. I remember so many instances where time was my enemy – every minute a wrestling match for what I could get done next or cross off my never-ending list. At that time, I wasn’t so much a human being as a human doing, and while I believe we were given hands and feet to do … more and more I am coming to understand that we were also given minds to reflect, lungs to breathe, and a heartbeat … slow and steady … with which we were meant to keep time. 

What a difference my life would have felt, and still would feel, if I only paid more attention to that heart – to that beat. When I do take the time to listen to the parts of myself that speak quietly, I hear a great deal of questions … questions I don’t know the answer to, but I want to. Like when someone asks me to tell them what I did in a weekend, I have to start backwards or I literally can’t remember. Why is that? Or when I was a little girl, I used to sleep like a starfish – open and free – limbs tossed this way and that haphazardly. Now, I sleep curled up on my side. What happened to that little girl? What am I protecting myself from? Sometimes I have a sense of urgency to accomplish more, and I run myself ragged from the first rays to the last, only to exhaust myself for those who want the best of me. Why do I waste those best parts on a thankless  day, instead of a precious night? 

As you can see – I’ve not genuinely figured it out yet, but I’m thinking, and I’m trying, because when I do get it right … the beauty of slow seeps in and enchants me. Slow looks like watching the sleepy dreamer beside me, whose chest rises and falls in peaceful rhythm to his unconscious reverie. Slow feels like stretching every limb to its limit as I walk, and hike, and run to explore the hidden magic of nature. Slow sounds like hearing the words behind the song – becoming a part of the melody itself as it reaches the deepest parts of me. Slow tastes like the sea-salt air, the lilac wind, the damp dew of grass, the whispered sweetness of lilies. 

It is the afterglow – the lullaby hum – the perfect contentment of still. And I may not have figured it out yet, but there’s one thing I know … there is never such beauty, as the beauty of slow. 

4.3.19 Oops.

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“Caffeine. The gateway drug.” – Eddie Vedder

Four years ago I couldn’t sleep. Or, let me rephrase that … I could sleep, but I’d wake up between three and four in the morning with my heart pumping full of adrenaline so much so that I almost assuredly could have outrun a marathoner. Well, that’s what it felt like at least.

I was convinced, of course (being the semi-hypochondriac that I am NOT proud to say I am) that I was dying. My husband took me in to the E.R. and after several x-rays, and cardio tests, I found out I was not having a heart attack, a stroke, or anything else immediately life-threatening. Nope … I was just having the tremors of life.

At that time, my husband was in graduate school, our kids were even younger, and I was teaching, writing, and mommying full time without much interest or ability to put myself to sleep on time. I said yes to everything and ran myself ragged.

It’s amazing what our bodies say no to when our minds and mouths refuse. My body, after months of self-sacrificing habits simply began to refuse. After conversation with my doctor, he assured me that my life was not in danger, as long as I was willing to change it. Now, I only drink decaf. I go to bed (most nights) in time to give me around eight hours of sleep. I exercise so I don’t lose my mind. I read and write and play in order to more fully live the life I was trying so hard to squeeze every last experience out of and simply exhausting myself in the process. Lavender helps too. Lots of lavender.

So the other day, I was a bit manic. I was checking things off my to do list like a fiend. I wrote a ton of emails. I did some writing. Reading. Correcting. I had chats with colleagues. I made needed-to-make phone calls. I was on fire! I felt super twitchy though. My heart was a little fast. I felt like I needed to rest, but my eyes were wide and my breathing was fluttery. That was when my flicker-fast brain whispered, “Look it up.” You see, all day I’d been nursing a gigantic matcha green tea frappuccino. It was AMAZINGLY delicious. And the funny thing is … I knew black tea had caffeine, but guess what? When I googled, “Is green tea caffeinated,” it said: “The thought that green tea is naturally decaffeinated is a myth.”

That would explain it! On a high note (literally, Eddie Vedder was completely right about caffeine being the gateway drug) I got a whole lot done. But as my daughter said, “Mommy, every time you find something you like, you find out you can’t actually have it after all.” Call it the curse of a food allergy princess like me! Ha, ha. Sadly, my sweet husband can eat straight coffee beans and not feel any effects. Me however? It would seem I cannot.

Oops!

Here’s to all my fellow forced decafers out there! Much love, much sleep, and slower progress to us all.

Elle

3.26.19 These Simple Days

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“I love this life. I feel like I am always catching my breath and saying, ‘Oh! Will you look at that?’ … bearing witness to the joy I find in seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life.” –  Harold Feinstein
By many standards, anyone on the outside of my life might call our Spring Break a bit of a fail. To be honest … I feel like I, myself would have called it one even yesterday. We have family in North Carolina, Kansas, and Colorado. Ordinarily … we’d be going to see them … but we are going nowhere – fast. Instead, due to conflicting work schedules, and a budget needed more for home repairs than exotic destinations – we are filling our days in less exciting ways than we usually might.

This is not to say that I am not being productive. I mean, when else might I conquer the post office, my son’s haircut, and scheduling vet appointments, eye doctor appointments, and a chunk of laundry all in the same day? Yeah, not super brag worthy, I’m aware … but then, there are the beautiful, unexpected ordinaries that I might be too busy to notice if I were elsewhere. Here are just a few:

I was able to have uninterrupted lunch with a friend (okay my husband called once and my kids called once, but only two interruptions is less than five so we’ll estimate it at zero).

My son and daughter invented a game with our Great Pyrenees puppy where they literally (dog included) play hide-and-seek tag around the house.

A former student saw me in a coffee shop window and stopped in just to give me a hug.

My kids have had playdates with besties they never have a chance to just be with.

My husband and I took a walk, led by our two beast-sized dogs who gain fame like a puppy parade.

We visited our cousins and I was able to see my son be the “big boy” my nephew looks up to with wonder.

My cat has helped me with more laundry than any other member of my family.

I have slept in for two days straight!

Today I watched my son and daughter at the park laughing in the sunset with wind-kissed faces.

Last night my son and I snuggled up for a superhero movie while downstairs, my daughter and her daddy watched a dance film.

I was able to catch up with far-away friends through phone calls, sharing pictures I’d meant to send, and writing letters.

It is only day two of this little break, and already I wish I had more time … more time to watch, and memorize, and play. My day may not be extraordinary by any measure, but isn’t it the details we end up clinging to? I intend to spend every last minute paying close attention to the ordinary I’m blessed to have the time to appreciate in these simple days.

I pray you’re blessed with a few of your own.

Elle

 

3.19.19 Her Story

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Recently, I was contacted by the sweetest woman who lives several states away, but found my work online and in Bella Grace Magazine. She had gone to my online writing boutique and asked that I write a poem for her friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. We went back and forth with communication about her and her friend’s relationship over the past number of years. And so I wrote a poem based on the way she saw her precious friend. Can I just say what an honor! What an honor it is to be invited not only to this beautiful friendship, but to chronicle it in words to be passed on and remembered by.

I have asked permission to share the work, and it was granted. So I ask two things: first, please pray for healing for this precious woman about whom this poem is written, and second, never let a day go by that you do not tell your friends exactly how you feel about them.

All my love,

Elle

By Her

hers is an autumn spirit
the red-crisped edge of fall
speaking to the world in cursive lines and shooting stars she is the effervescent echo of laughter,
coaxing the light from every ember …
adding sparkle where others might fade

hers is a bluegrass soul
a kindred to wind and wave
the earth speaks to her in whispers in sunrises and the music of the moon she listens with fluency like a prayer powerful and protective in turn

hers is a gift-wrapped mind
knowing intimately the imprint of grace on a memory turning tarnish to treasure;
she regards rust with reverence
paying homage to the story behind each scar

hers is a curator’s heart safeguarding sepia smiles in elemental perfection each photo chosen with intention to call and recall for those of us who may otherwise
have forgotten

hers is the truth hers is the wonder hers is the magic

and mine is the perfect joy and knowing
and being known

by her

3.12.19 Once A Year

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Last night, I was able to see one of my best friends. We only see one another once a year, and it’s hard to make that happen because, well … life. Still, somehow, we find a way, and meet in between, and it is perfect – every time. So this is for him, and for our time, even if it’s not enough, it is, because we make time count.

Once a year –

that is how often I see him, this ever-and-always friend of mine

who understands me

with or without

words

who believes in the best of me

and refuses to believe I have a worst

He is the dinner date I’m annually late for

and the patient, smiling eyes waiting for me …

knowing how hard I tried to be on time

again

We fill our first hour with the necessary questions,

and later

when we’ve allowed social graces to take their turn

we fall back into ourselves

and our ways

leaving our table for a walk

It is with him that I notice the exquisite shape of branches

of the stars hanging in them just so …

It is with me he takes pictures of the moon

not because of the resolution,

but because it’s the closest way of capturing a memory he knows how

We amble, and slip in and out of shadowed streets long quieted for the night

There is no topic off limits,

and we rarely speak of ordinary things

there’s just no time for that

Instead, we focus forward and blink back

Somewhere lost between reflections and dreaming

Once a year – that is how often I see him, this ever-and-always friend of mine

who understands me

with or without

words

3.5.19 Sometimes, They Do

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Anak​ sokhasabbay​ te. No … this is not a typo. It is Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, and it means, “How are you?” It is also the only phrase that I can seem to get myself to remember on the occasions that I get my nails done by my sweet salon that is filled with Cambodian women. I have gone to this salon, two minutes away from my house, for a few years, and I have made friends with the wonderful owner and her staff. I know who has a baby girl, and who has a baby boy. I ask after their families and when they might go on vacation. I make pleasantries and ask them, each time I go, to teach me a new word or phrase, but so far, “How are you,” is all I can manage.

This time, as so many before, I sat down with one of the stylists, and chose my color. I hadn’t had this particular woman do my nails before, but I had seen her numerous times, on the edge of conversations … in the margin of the flurry of chatter around her. Sitting down, we made small talk and for a time, nothing was out of the ordinary – until it was.

A lot of people in my life say I talk too much – that I make conversation with everyone and anyone, and that I never leave room for silence. “Maybe people don’t want to always talk,” is something I’ve heard a million times. But my answer is always, “Then they wouldn’t talk back.”

And so I was myself, it seems I have little aptitude for being anything else. I talked. I asked. I questioned. And she answered. I asked her where she was from. Cambodia. I asked when she moved. She said she walked to Thailand when she was eight.

“Walked?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

When I asked her to explain. She did.

Can I say,  and I am rarely ashamed of myself. I try to be open, honest, and caring. I love easily and well, and am always willing to learn something new. But sometimes, I realize that I not only can be ashamed … but should be. Because I simply didn’t know. A minor in history of all things … that is what I have! And yet I knew nothing about Cambodian’s sordid history. Between 1975 and 1979 nearly 24% of Cambodia’s population was murdered through a massive genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime under the hostile take-over of the government by a man named Pol Pot. Nearly 1.8 million people, mostly educated and well respected members of society, were killed with an attempt to rid the cities of their progress and set the country’s people to be agrarian (farm) laborers. She shared that her father, an educated man who spoke seven languages, was taken, and never returned. She shared that she and her mother and sisters were split up by age to work in different labor camps. She shared that it was her three-year-old sister who found them and reunited them to one another, and that sometime later, her brave mother and two sisters walked endlessly to reach the Thailand border. She shared that they hid in ponds with straws in their mouths to breathe as shooting picked up around them. She shared that when they arrived, they were placed in internment camps, and only years later, when her aunt had made it to America, worked for three years to grant them sponsorship, and flew to California to make a living, was she really free. She shared that she wrote about the experience of losing her father, and won a youth poetry contest.

And then another nail technician came over. She said something in a quick, clipped way, and took the storyteller’s place. “She’s taking too long,” she said. With heavy, knowing eyes, she walked away.

Before I left, I found her, hugged her, and asked her to bring her poem so that I could read it when I came back. She said she thought she knew where it was.

I went home and asked my husband, a VP of International Sales and Marketing if he knew the story of Cambodian genocide. He did not. So I researched it, and sure enough. The experience of her life and the lives of millions of others was splayed across thousands of websites.

Shame has no place among those who hope to make a difference. So I am no longer ashamed. But I am asking you to join me in knowing this tragedy … in feeling its gravity and honoring its victims. Mostly, I am asking that you take the time to ask. Because sometimes people don’t want to talk – but sometimes, they really do.

All my love and peace,

Elle