7.7.17 Publication News

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I wrote this piece some time ago with the hopes that someday it would find its way off of the shelf, and IT HAS! Live today on Bella Grace Magazine’s  blog Grace Notes, you can read my newest publication, Love Letter to a Single Friend.

I pray that you will share it with everyone that needs to hear it … because they do … they need to know how singularly they are loved – how treasured they are to you, and to this world that needs their spirit so desperately. Help me spread this appreciation, help me gift this love.

With all my heart,

Elle

4.23.17 More

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More

I am more than a sum of achievements

I am more than the things I have done

I am more than my mountain of losses

I am more than the times I have won

I am more than the fears that have chained me

I am more than the weakness I’ve felt

I am more than just simple emotions

I am more than the cards I’ve been dealt

I am more than how others might see me

I am more than reflections in glass

I am more than what I can’t accomplish

I am more than the time that will pass

I am more than my insecure moments

I am more than the world’s pain or schemes

I am more than the limits I set for myself

I am faith.

I am hope.

I am dreams.

 

You are more too.

Love always,

Elle

4.9.17 Love for the Sake of Loving

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Sometimes I think that of all the words we can fill a conversation with, it is the smallest phrases that often have the most impact – phrases like: I trust you, I believe in you,  I love you, thank you, you mean so much to me, or please don’t go.  I don’t think we use these phrases enough. I don’t think anyone does. And I come to wonder what state this world might be in if we all heard them just a little bit more.

John C. Maxwell once said, “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” Though I’m sure I am oversimplifying, I really think that most problems in the world could be avoided if people just felt that they were needed … appreciated … wanted. If everyone felt even one of these things, how could feelings of ineptitude or desolation even exist?

So often I feel like I’m chasing an ideal version of myself that may never exist. I seek the writer who is able to be sustained by her craft of words. I chase the teacher who is no longer in the classroom, but who is instead sharing her wisdom in workshops or assemblies. I imagine the wife and mother who is able to do-it-all without becoming a ragged mess in the process. I desire to be the friend who always has time to write that card, answer that call, or meet up with everyone that matters to her. In reality – I am none of those things yet, maybe ever. But I wonder if that’s the point? From a handful of experiences recently, I am starting to think it might be a whole lot easier than all of those lofty ambitions.

This past week, a friend of mine was having a rough day. I didn’t have time to go out and talk for hours, but I brought him a coffee and recommended a great song to listen to. He lit up … his face filled with relief like giving oxygen to a drowning man. I didn’t deserve that response for so simple a gesture, but it was given regardless.

There’s a little second grader who hugs me in the hallway every time I see him. I am not his teacher.  Aside from giving him a nickname and passing on easily earned smiles … I cannot say there is much he could know about me; yet he hugs me still. I happened to chat with his mother the other day, and told her how much I loved his hallway hugs. She looked at me – eyes intensely focused and asked me if I had any idea what that meant. Pressing on, she told me that he is never affectionate. That he rarely hugged anyone, including his own family members beside her, and that a hug from him was the ultimate gift he could bestow. It took me a moment to catch my breath at that motherly admission, and I was humbled by the richness of lavish, undeserved affection.

There was an old man in the grocery store with the clearest blue, smiling eyes I’d ever seen. My kids and I were in his aisle, and I couldn’t help but offer him a smile and a chat about the day. His aged face became a beacon of delight. He proceeded to tell my children that there is only one place to get the “best mints” in town. He said that people called him, “the candy man,” because he loves to share a sweet and a smile with everyone he meets. After hearing about his bowling schedule and plans to make “poonchkies,” we were on our way. On impulse in the checkout, I grabbed a new bag of mints, purchased them and ran back to him, telling him that he needed to keep his pockets full for all the other friends he’d meet. He glowed. “I only give this to the most special people,” he said then, pulling a dark chocolate bar from his coat and snapping a piece off for me and my two children. Odd as it is, sharing that moment of melted chocolate and warm wishes felt as holy as communion.

And so I am left to wonder if that version of myself I’m trailing isn’t a bit of a waste of time. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the whole person, or the whole life, but the moments where you lean into living in the best way that make the difference of a lifetime. Jane Wagner once inquired, “A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential?” Funny thought. Maybe it isn’t what I have accomplished at all … my resume, degrees, and accomplishments seem of so very little importance in comparison with the memories of being in the moment when the opportunity to love for the sake of loving came about.

Lean in, and love.

Elle

 

2.5.17 A Little Angel Will Call You Barbie

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So I have many, many faults. Of this I am quite aware. I talk too much. Worry too much. I’m busy. I’m somewhat stubborn. I’m loud. But I would say that one particular strength of mine is my transparency. I don’t ever really try to conceal my true self, because I have a feeling (with my heart-on-my-sleeve personality) she’d just come out anyway. In the spirit of transparency, I am going to be honest. Lately, I’ve been feeling that I look old. Audrey Hepburn once said, “And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows.” I think she was right metaphorically, but sometimes, mirrors speak louder than figurative language. 

About a week ago, I was really hung up on the glints of silver peeking around my highlights, and the forehead creases that never seem to ease up, even when I try to tell my face I’m done being expressive. This self-criticism might have been amped up due to a certain time of the month when us women get a, heightened sense of emotion let’s call it, but that was beside the point. I was feeling insecure.

It isn’t ironic, therefore, that little hints (I’m certain were dropped by the devil himself) kept rubbing my doubts in my face. “Here’s a new age cream,” I heard one co-worker say to another, you’ll love it.” I leaned in closer, thinking that the fifty-something, lovely teacher with less wrinkles than I had didn’t need it, and I nearly swiped it off her desk when she wasn’t looking. Then, I came upon an infomercial, raving about the way his formula revolutionizes the skin cream world. Would you believe I wasted a half-hour watching before I was smart enough to look up the credentials of the guy, only to hear that the “doctor” wasn’t recognized in any of the institutions he bragged about working at. Finally, a friend of mine said the one thing that was sure to break me, “Your husband has such a babyface … don’t you think?” 

Insert expletive here. 

I was a little more than freaking out at that point, and when I went home that night, I decided to work out my frustrations by working out. Nerd to the core, when I work out I often watch documentaries … strong body, strong mind and such. Anyway, I decided to watch a show about the Edwardian Age, which demonstrated how, though inventive, many of the newest technologies were actually quite damaging to your health, if not fatal. Imagine my delight, therefore, when they began talking about the beauty treatments women underwent, trying to maintain their youth and elegance. In the next half-hour, I learned that many women went bald, trying to use new electric curling irons that burned their hair off. Women used facial products and powders made from camphor, bleach, lead, and ammonia to keep their skin unblemished. At the most extreme, they would eat arsenic wafers, which they were told, would take care of any offending skin problems. 

Insane and sad as it was to hear it, I felt a little flick on the forehead from God in that moment, to appreciate that I was not quite that desperate. I’m embarrassed that it took so drastic a program to knock me back to my senses, but then, as I said before, sometimes I am a bit stubborn. Sophia Loren, one of the most iconically beautiful women of any age described that, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” 

Yesterday I was at my niece’s birthday party, and there was an adorable three-year-old there who looked up at me, smiled, and turned back to her mother saying, “She looks like Barbie.” I laughed, taking it as a compliment, though Barbie is fifty-eight, and I am only thirty-four. After immediately falling in love with that kid, I did a little review of my insecurities only two weeks before. The truth is … I’m not super excited about my forehead creases, but I’m not about to stop being expressive. I’m not a huge fan of tinsel-colored hair, but I’m certainly grateful to have the extra sparkle. I don’t always appreciate when people (out of concern only of course) tell me I look tired, when I know those dark circles are hereditary. But it’s all a part of the wheel. You can’t have living without aging, and I’ll choose my crazy, loud, exhausting, wrinkle-inducing life anytime. Once in awhile God will make you laugh at yourself and be okay with it all – once in awhile a little angel will call you Barbie – and all those times in-between, I’ll do my best to appreciate the reasons for all of those smile lines I’ve achieved. 

Stay young-at-heart,

Elle 

 

1.28.17 Being

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Sometimes empty wishes soar, above my mind, or near my door,

and then I am inclined to think my life is passing near the brink

of all that was and was to be, of all my own slight history,

so then I find my future’s more than simply what I had in store,

for days and weeks and years ahead, I’m living in those days instead

so time I thought I hadn’t spent, so carelessly has came and went

and I am left with silent longing for a sense of apt belonging,

of feeling deeply, sure – fulfilled of what I wanted, wished or willed

and yet I wonder if I know, where truly I do long to go

am I just ever – lost and aching, passing? missing? or mistaking?

I think I know, but when I’m there, I find myself less self-aware

and once again I’m captive, free, chained to what I don’t yet see

my vision has been apparated, haunting new dreams while I waited

between desire coming true and unformed plans that are too new

for me to know or recognize although they pass before my eyes

so what answer can I give my restless spirit but to live

and someday, when in memory, I see my purpose was … just be

1.15.17 Tell Tale

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Yesterday I had my will notarized.  It’s official.  According to paper … my death is in order.  I’m not going to lie, there’s something significantly disconcerting about having things “finalized.”  It seems like tempting fate in some way.  But, as the character Nate Scamander says in Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, “Worrying means you suffer twice.”  So it’s probably better not to.  

As easy as it is to tell myself, it would be dishonest to say that the what if’s in my mind haven’t been kicked a little into high gear.  What if my husband and I don’t get to die together like we planned (I choose to be delusional okay)?  What if I died before I got to help my daughter pick out her wedding dress?  What if our four pets outlive us all out of spite?  What if my sister would go insane having to take care of my kids and her own?  What if, when I watch my life again with God, it ends up being a  total snore because the majority of my time is spent folding laundry?  Yes.  These are the things that run through my brain.  

When I’m being a bit more rational, (which I can be from time to time) thinking about death actually makes me think a lot more about life – about my life and what I’m doing with it, about the lives of those around me, and about the way we all process our own stories. Like the hundreds of books I have in my house, there are so many perspectives … so many genres … so many tales of heroes and villains … often portrayed by the same person – us.  I have to wonder about whether or not anyone maps the chapters of their lives like I do. 

What chapters do they sink into, reading slowly and savoring the memories of precious things only they know?  What sections to they skip past, too fearful of revisiting old demons?  What parts surprise them about themselves?  What parts enchant them?  Disappoint them?  Remind them to dream?  Make them feel most alive?  Do they think their stories are worth reading twice? 

Regardless of where you are in the process of looking back, or looking forward.  We’re all in the middle of our very own book of life.  I think the most important thing to remember is what Susan Statham said, “Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.” It might just be me and my writer’s heart, but I believe there’s no such thing as a lost cause in a story … no matter how many plot twists yours may have.  Only you can rewrite the character of you … so what tale will you tell? 

Never lose faith, you are the hero after all. 

Elle 

1.7.17 Signed, Dumb But Happy

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Confession.  Sometimes I think I’m an idiot.  Most of the time I feel fairly intelligent, but then … sometimes – it’s like nothing makes even the slightest bit of sense and I begin to panic that I am going senile at the age of 34.

This feeling has the highest tendency to come over me when I am forced to read directions for some ungodly reason.  I am a teacher, and therefore, I am comfortable giving directions, NOT reading them.  When I am confronted with directions, I feel much the same way I feel when forced to watch sports, review insurance plans, listen to AM radio, or read non-fiction … totally blank and dumb, like I don’t understand English anymore. And suddenly I fear that maybe I never did, and all this time … throughout college and graduate school and twelve years of teaching and writing … I’ve just been a great faker!

Last week I found a math game (oxymoron) in my classroom, and I thought … why not?  About a minute into reading the directions, these are the thoughts that ran through my head:

“Ugh, how long are these?” 

“Wholly crap, there are four pages!” 

“Wait, what was the first sentence again?” 

“It’s not worth it.” 

“I’m hungry.”

“Worst game EVER!” 

“Who would buy something without any pictures!?!” 

“I’m too tired for this … that’s why nothing makes sense. “

“I need coffee!”

“Oh my God! I’m an idiot.” 

“I literally don’t understand a word on this fricking page!”

“Who wrote these? A nuclear-scientist? This is supposed to be a child’s game for crying out loud!”

“I’d rather NOT PLAY than read another sentence!” 

“I need some new jeans.” 

“Maybe I can go shopping after this.” 

“No.  I can’t – because I’ll be here all night … READING these dumb directions!”

“I really need to finish my lesson plans.” 

“What kid wants to play a math game about fractions anyway.” 

“Okay … focus … on to the second sentence.” 

“Screw it! I think I’ve got the hang of it, I don’t really need to read them all.” 

The good news?  I DID actually read the dumb directions, (well, most of them anyway) and I DID play the game with my students, but man, getting to the fun part was pretty rough!  If I’m being honest, there are many times in my life where I’ve agreed with Sean Penn’s mentality after he talked about getting a new camera, “I have no tolerance for the instructions. I’m ready to make some mistakes … until I’ve figured it out for myself.”

So yeah, there it is.  My guilty confession … my fear of idiocy … my aversion to all things mundane and boring!  If you read this and had absolutely no connection to anything I’ve said or gone through, I’ve decided that you are probably smarter than me.  But if smart comes at the cost of directions … I’m out.  So enjoy your focused intelligence as I continue to avoid them.  Here’s to all the brain farts out there!

Signed,

Dumb But Happy

12.10.16 Nothing a Little Audrey Hepburn Can’t Fix

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The last two weeks have been a little rough.  From strep throat to my husband being on two business trips … it’s a bit of a challenging season so far. Yet I’d say none could compare to my morning three days ago.

So, where I live, it is absolutely imperative that we leave exactly on time.  The road I take to work is beastly, and a matter of minutes can make all the difference.  Three minutes past the best time to leave for our morning commute, my daughter was still perched on the floor with no coat and shoe laces undone.  Another minute later, and my son shouts that he needs to go poo.

“Why didn’t you go before? ” I ask flabbergasted.

“I didn’t have to obviously,” he casually replied.

Trudging agonizingly slowly up the now traffic-filled road, we made our way in a series of halting brake lights and exasperated sighs.  When we finally pulled into the school parking lot, my daughter said, “Mom! You’re bleeding!”

“What? Where?” I asked.

“There,” she pointed.

Sure enough. I had a giant splotch blooming through my favorite cream colored (go figure) dress pants. “Shoot!” I exclaimed, parking and immediately hiking up my pant leg to keep the scrape on my knee from making more of a mess than it already had! Did I mention I had heels on?  That might present itself with its own set of challenges on any given day, but that day, with pants hiked up and it being about twenty-degrees outside, it was even more so of a bad choice of footwear.  On top of it all, it was band day … and on band day, my son and his dumb drum plod and clump up the stairs nearly tipping backwards.  So, already walking like a half-dead zombie from the Thriller video, bent in half holding my own bags and now dragging a drum, we made our way to the office.

Immediately, I scavenged the last baby wipe I grabbed from my car, (they’re magic, never leave home without them) and I set to scrubbing my pants vigorously as the sweet secretary started looking up home remedies to getting blood out of pants.  As she was doing this, there were about four more people who came into the office, one of which was one of my student’s parents.  It was not my most professional moment, I might add, sitting on the ground with my pants up scrubbing like I had some sort of accident.

“You can use cola,” the secretary said.

“Um … probably will make my pants look worse don’t you think?” I replied.

“Club soda?” she tried.

“Man, didn’t pack that in my lunch today,” I said, trying my best to still be grateful for the suggestions.

“Salt water,” she shouted out.

“I can get you that,” the chemistry teacher said, waltzing into the conversation.

And about three minutes later, there he was with a little vial of salt water.  I’d hobbled up to my classroom by then, and scrubbed as fast and as hard as I could, arriving, miraculously, with nothing worse for the wear than wet pants and a funny laugh to share  at my morning meeting.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: the first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.”

That night, I should have been working on the laundry that’s taking over every room in my house.  I should have been writing Christmas cards or picking up the endless trail of toys that litter our floor like autumn leaves scattered about by a strong wind. I should have been sweeping the pet hair, doing the dishes, or organizing the endless projects I begin and never finish. But I didn’t.  Instead, I took Aubrey’s advice and helped myself up, by curling up to a classic movie of hers, and laughing myself to sleep.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to get me back on track.  A bit of smiles and not taking myself too seriously.  So I embarrassed myself again … nothing new there.  I assume it’ll only happen another thousand or so times in this life of mine.

Here’s looking forward to telling you about the next one,

Elle

 

12.3.16 Such as Him

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It’s amazing how disconnected this life is from loss.  Whenever someone important to me dies, it’s like I expect the ground to shake, the sky to darken, or strangers to mourn with me.  I anticipate some kind of drastic reaction to the void now imprinted on the earth, and I am always a little stunned when nothing happens outside to match what is going on within.

He was ninety-two years old … this man – his heart and his mind were sharp as the day of this photograph in his twenties, but complications in the body at ninety-two don’t care about the rest of you.  In his life he was a soldier, a surviving child of the Great Depression, a WWII veteran, a brother, a husband, a friend.  He was one of the last of the Greatest Generation, and knowing him for even a day would tell you why.  He matched wit with humor, war stories with a pocket full of jokes, and never let two weeks pass without a forty-minute drive to visit his ninety-four-year-old sister.  I just don’t think men are made like that anymore.

What hurts is that most will never know, and soon time will wear out even the nearest memories to him.  The closest thing he got to welcome in this life was a worn out, tattered version of hospitality.  And yet – his life mattered.  He was the closest thing my mother had to a father … and his stories became her tales to tell.  Two years ago, she took him on the Honor Flight to Washington, where for just one day, he was treated like the hero he’d always been to her.  From that day on, there wasn’t a moment he could be seen without his Honor Flight hat sitting proudly atop his head.  Besides his ready smile, it was truly his only adorning accessory.

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I wish the world had made a little more room for this man … and for all the men and women like him.  For the forgotten ones who lived lives of the truest forms of sacrifice, and the purest forms of humility.  But it doesn’t.  Without the digital proof of a life that social media trails throughout society, many “lives” are lost to the world far before they are truly gone, and that may be the saddest reality of all.

I’m thankful for those of us who did know this man … I’m grateful for how much he gave, regardless of how very little he had.  I appreciate the love he lavished on my mother, my grandmother, my children … and how whenever we’d send him a card, he’d call with thanks as if I’d given him the moon and the stars.

J.K. Rowling said, “To have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.”  But I think those of us left in this world need to take a real look at this man, and anyone like him we have the honor to know.  If we don’t hear their stories, and carry them on, if we don’t try to understand the lives they lived, and the mentalities that made them so strong … we will become the lost ones.  Because there is a far greater loss to us who are living if we don’t embrace the lessons from individuals such as him.

Love you always Uncle Sylvester,

Elle

 

11.25.16 Thanksgiving Grace

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This year, Thanksgiving started early for me.  Last Sunday in fact.  I was in a bit of a mood, to say the least.  It happens every time I don’t have something lined up for myself.  I suffer from a bit of, “What’s Next Syndrome,” and while I relish in the miniature successes and publications of my writing, by the time the next issue comes out, or the next submission is sent, I am already feeling a bit unsettled, like an itch I can’t quite reach that requires another step forward to satisfy. 

It sounds discontent, I know.  But honestly, the light of a wordsmith’s heart tends to dim ever-so-slightly when there isn’t a project in the making.  At times it feels like it’d be a whole lot easier to just journal instead of dream, but J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”  His words remind me that it is so easy to feel that the “road” is ending, just because I don’t know what turn to take next.  I wish that my writing career came with a little GPS, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.  There isn’t a Google map to follow, there isn’t a set plan-of-action that guarantees I’ll get “there”… I’m not even sure I always know where it is I’m trying to go –  it’s more about the inertia of moving ever onward I suppose. 

Regardless, last Sunday, I was in this mood … stuck in this moment of, “what’s next.”  Sitting in church, I decided to have a little conversation with God about it.  I offered up my prayer, which was simply, “Can you give me some direction?” I’d been feeling stuck at a stop sign, and I’d have done just about anything for a, “turn here” signal.  But as God knows, I don’t always hear his whispers so well, and sometimes I need an in-my-face-moment to remind me he is bigger than my self-doubt.  Kahlil Gibran reminds how weak my mentality can be saying, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”  Faith.  There’s a noble pursuit. 

When I got home, I checked my mailbox and what do you know … there it was.  A complimentary artist’s copy of the winter issue of Bella Grace – and I was in it.  Turns out that the email I received back in October wasn’t a residual marketing outreach, but a new push for the magazine I didn’t even know I was a part of!  Not more than thirty minutes later and God showed up.  Another small step, but forward nonetheless.  It was my very own Thanksgiving grace. 

So thank you all, thank you for reading what I write, for commenting so I don’t feel alone, and for inspiring me to continuing to share my words, no matter how small they might be. 

Literarily yours,

Elle