12.5.17 Believing Anyway

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“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” Hamilton Wright Mabie

It was over a year ago now, that much I remember, when I fell asleep crying because I knew that someday, I’d have to tell my son the truth about Santa Claus. I remember it distinctly, because the moonlight was bright, and my pillow was salty and damp with heavy tears continuing to stream and soak in as I silently continued to weep. It was the idea of someday that pained me – the idea that someday I’d have to make him grow up just a little bit more … and it hurt, but I carried on and calmed myself with the solace that “someday,” was not today.

A few days ago, “someday” came. As a child I never understood the term bittersweet, or when people tried to tell me that pain could be beautiful. But now? As a mother? I understand.

He came to me on a Friday night, after school, after piano lessons, rumpled and boyish and wonderful. “Hey mom?” he hedged, “I know that Santa is real, but I just wanted to ask you, because … well … he is right?” And as much as I wanted to, as many times as I had before, this time was different because this time, his eyes begged to dispel a truth he already half-wished he didn’t know. Every time I’ve ever had to have a difficult conversation with my children, I’ve prayed God would just let me know the right time – and this was his.

In a series of too-short moments, I explained that Santa was a real and wonderful man. I spoke of his history, and his mission, and the way that he helped people believe in the beauty and love of giving. I said I believe in Santa, because I believe in his mission, and the magic and wonder of his mission lives on through us.

And he cried.

And I cried.

And I lifted that beautiful, long-limbed boy into my too-small arms and cradled him for just a moment. In the stretch of tears and sniffles, he turned to me with a weak smile on his now, somehow older face. “I understand mom,” he said, “and I believe in his mission too.” Then his expression shifted to something of worry and he asked, “But last year mom, when I got the new video game system – it was so expensive … I’m so sorry!”

And I cried again. Here this boy. This wonderful, God-given gift, who I would have done anything for just to give him one more day of believing, was selfless enough in his own heartbreak to worry about our bank account. After telling him it was nothing, that we gave from Santa’s spirit of giving, he looked at me with his deeply-watering eyes and hugging me said, “Thank you so much.”

I have experienced many a treasured Christmas, but this understanding, his ability to love beyond disappointment – that was a gift beyond words.

Wherever you are in the realm of the magic of Christmas … of first wishes, fond memories, or once-upon-a-snowflakes, I wish you the delicate, yet miraculously shatterproof love that keeps a broken heart beating … a tear-streaked face smiling … and a spirit believing – anyway.

Elle

 

 

11.13.17 New Creation

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Today was a little tough. Okay … a lot tough. There was nothing particularly awful, no singular tragic event or definitively difficult set of problems. It was just the sort of day that left me feeling defeated, deflated, and a little worse for wear. Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “You are a new creation.” What a beautiful thought – a new creation. After days like today, after strings of monotonous moments that didn’t go according to plan, I wonder, at times, what God designed me for and if I’m very far off from his original blueprints. 

Was I really created for deleting a string of unwanted emails? For buffering stress-inducing conversations and scenarios? Is my purpose to have less time than I’ve ever had before to be instead of do? For some reason, I don’t think so. I don’t think that was meant for anyone. In his infinite wisdom I don’t believe that God handcrafted us with unique talents just so we could waste them in the pursuit of mediocre days where one is indistinguishable from the next. 

So how do we downshift? How do we recycle and reclaim our spent hours? Honestly? I have no idea. But I think it has something to do with attitude. In her infinite wisdom at ninety-five, my grandmother said, “It’s just so easy to be happy.” And you know what? She’s right. No one, not one single person on this earth has it easy. We are all struggling with past pains, present dangers, and future fears. There is not one among us who is unscathed or scarless. We each have crosses to bear and burdens we cannot share. Still, I agree with my grandmother. Even with the weight of your own small world on your shoulders, it is possible to be happy. Happiness is an action, a state of being, and a calling on your life. So. Be. It.

Right now, right here, writing to you … the hour is much too close to tomorrow. My blinks are drawing themselves out, my eyes burn beneath sleepy, lavender lids, and my body has begun that tingly stage of quiet revolt against another long day that isn’t done. Still – I decide, here and now, to be that “new creation” I think I was designed to be.

She is confident, this version of myself, and her smiles are given freely. She is stronger than she looks, but sensitive enough to know when to be real. She is creative and caring, and she never lets the opportunity to make someone’s day go by, even if it costs her the most precious gift she has – time.

She is happy, this girl in the blueprints. And even now, so am I.

Be a new creation, and introduce me to who you were designed to be! I can’t wait to meet you. Can you?

Elle 

 

 

9.18.17 At Least We Get to See Tuesday

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“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” – Sigmund Freud

I feel like honesty is one of those things that people say they want, but shy away from when people give too much of it. They want to know things, but only enough to stay in the know. Well honestly … I think I’d rather really know you, really understand what you’re going through, than pretend to know the version of you that you pretend to be.

It is this very reason that I find teenagers are such good company. Having taught and mentored middle and high schoolers for most of my career, I find this stage of humanity so inspiring. Teenagers are too fresh with their feelings to know how to tamper them. They cannot quell their emotions because their emotions are too new to be tamed. When they’re happy, they are positively overflowing with it. When they’re angry, you can feel the heat roll off of their auras. When they’re scared, when they love, when they celebrate, when they’re sad – every emotion comes in tandem waves of give and receive. Teenagers cannot be near anyone for long without imparting some of what they feel into the surrounding atmosphere. 

And what a relief. 

What a relief to be near the unguarded reality of raw emotion. It is so much more appealing than so often trying to read between the lines of what you think someone said, versus what they meant, or deciphering between one placating smile and the next. Can I be honest? Sometimes I am sick of the dance. I am exhausted at the effort of sincerity directed at the insincere. I wish that people, like those precious teenagers, would just feel a little more, and let feelings, instead of pragmatism decide their course of action. 

I found out tonight that one of the best of these … these hearts that are ruled by feelings and not neutrality, passed away. She was a music teacher and would literally giggle, dance, laugh, and fume at her students in turn. She was wonder-filled and real; cancer, unfortunately, didn’t know her as well as those it took her from. Non-distriminant to the end, that disease – but if cancer had a heart, it wouldn’t exist.  

Thinking about her, though it might seem like the most insignificant of details, I realize that I have written her a Christmas card for the last twelve years. Somehow the reality that this year I will not immediately dimmed my spirit. It is as if a small bulb has burst, and now my string of lights will never be quite as bright as it was before. 

Honestly? I’m sad. I’m sad that a husband who loved his wife beyond the ability of most marriages is now alone. I’m devastated at the thought of children who have to grow up even more now that their mother is gone. I’m angry that anyone, including me, has the right to be anything other than grateful for this mundane, exhausting Monday – because at least we get to see Tuesday. 

I know that these words aren’t the sweetest. Like Mary Poppins I like to believe that if I had a spoonful of sugar to spin I would share it, but sometimes I think honestly might actually be the best medicine. I wish the world would try at it just a little bit harder. Whether it is happy or sad, angry or enlightened, easy or difficult to swallow … I wish truth and transparency for you today and always. 

Where are you? Honestly? I’d love to know your thoughts, and I will surely add you, my readers, to my prayers … because if I’m being honest, I am ever-so-grateful for you.

Elle

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