4.30.17 In-the-Making

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“We are all saints in the making.” – Unknown

Recently a friend of mine defined peace as, “Being whole. If you can stand yourself for that entire twenty minute commute without music or any distraction, you have peace within yourself.” I felt it a genius thing to say. Because truth? Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my quiet company is all I need, and other times I’d do anything to rid myself of the chaotic thoughts that crowd my conscious like a room too filled with people. 

Over time I’ve noticed that my level of inner-calm is not directly connected to the things this world associates with peace. It isn’t related to lavender, or bubble baths, self-help books, massages, or meditation. Though there is a definite place in my life for all of those lovely things, they do not sustain me. My faith has helped me realize that I am most tranquil when I am being of use to others. Being still is important, but I’ve found my spirit is most at rest when it is engaged in loving others. 

I often think of the words of Teresa of Ávila who said, 

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

Regardless of anyone’s background, of their religious position, you’ve gotta admit that Jesus’ one request, “Love one another,” was a pretty straight-forward imperative. It wasn’t, “Love those who are easy,” or “Love those who believe what you believe.” One another included everyone. Can you imagine that kind of love? That kind of peace? 

I most tranquil when I’m actively loving others, because only then are my “soul” and my “self” aligned in purpose. I’m carrying out my commission. And isn’t it just like God to heal my anxious spirit by encouraging equanimity in others? 

That same friend, went on later to say, “We should have peace up, and in, and out.” I’m thinking, for me at least, that OUT is the most important part. Because when I reach out, God reaches in, to lift my spirit up. I am certainly no saint … but it is an unequivocal gift to know that I am – you are – we all have the potential to be – in-the-making. 

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

 

12.24.16 Winter Stars

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I love the stars at winter.  More than any other time of the year.  I realized, long ago, that even while we may shy away from the cold, the stars embrace this time of year, as if following the command of Psalm 37:7, “Be silent to the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”  Its as if they are frozen in the glorious memory of the purpose they served over two thousand years ago … to light the path to a baby, so that wanderers might no longer seek a destiny, but a person. 

Mother Theresa understood that finding our faith required attention to the details of life around us. “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence … We need silence to be able to touch souls.” 

Well, the stars have always touched my soul – and I hope that this Christmas you find time to look up … time to let yourself be embraced by the glow heaven casts, and time to reflect on the wonder and majesty of the one who put them in place.  Merry Christmas to all.  I pray my words be a gift to you today, as your readership is such a treasure to me. 

Winter Stars

There is something magical about winter stars – the way they hang just a little bit
brighter, reminding us
somehow

that even at the darkest time of year, light will not be vanquished,
but distinguished in the heavens … set in place by divinity’s hand

Somehow, they know
frozen in the ancient majesty of what was, that still all these millennia later
we would need their company
their guidance each night
to reassure us that regardless of the chaos

some
things
stay

And so these winter stars
illuminate the inky depths with their promises of constancy immutably protecting all beneath them,
glowing more brilliant with the wishes they absorb
and the prayers they translate
to the one who listens above

Radiant of the skies, resplendent gift
glisten on,
and restore these dark days with a hope only you know

12.18.16 People are the Point After All

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img_1609Yesterday I was gone Christmas shopping from nine o’clock in the morning, until seven o’clock at night.  Anyone who has the gall to tell you that shopping is not hard work is not only a liar … but also an idiot.  If you don’t believe me just think about the fact that: A) it was six degrees where I live B) the smell of the mall is a wicked combination of fruity-perfume, farts, and french fries  C) the first store, and the second may not have what you need, but the third … yeah, it also won’t D) asking where the blush is will somehow translate into, “sit here for this makeover you didn’t ask for or want” E) you won’t have time to do natural things like eat or pee, because you’ve masochistically adopted the mantra, “One more store!” and F) your heart will flutter with anxiety-ridden palpitations as you realize that is the fourteenth time someone asked you if you needed a gift receipt.

Yes, shopping is not for the weak of heart or mind.  Even for us seasoned pros, it is a challenge.  But as I rested my toes in a rose-water bath at the end of the day, greeted not with candles, but my daughter’s array of happy, plastic-toy faces …  the song the twelve days of Christmas rang in my mind, but I was signing to the tune of the memories of the amazing people God gave me the opportunity to meet, and just then, my sore feet were no longer an issue.  Thomas S. Monson once said, “The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” 

  1. Roz: He was the Indian gas station attendant, who told me I had a pretty smile.  I asked him if he had a family, and he shared with me that his daughter was getting married, and he was also blessed with a son and a beautiful wife.  I told him about my family, and then I told him my name and we shook hands.  Before leaving, he gave me two lollipops for my kids, and asked that God would bless me and my family.  I told him I’d pray for his as well, and we parted … changed.
  2. Bo: The one-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little buddy that greeted me at Michael’s craft store when his mother and my cart danced around one another.  I must’ve bumped into them four times around those crazy crafting aisles … and each time, I was greeted with an unguarded giggle and chubby hand, waving at me. 
  3. Lisa: The sweet cashier, who shared a little football cheer with me, even though we were in enemy territory.  As I chatted with her, she mentioned that she’d never been in World Market, the store I’d just came from, and so then and there, I made her pinky-promise me that she’d go and explore just for fun.  We giggled like long-time-pals, and she said when she finished at three, it would be her first stop! 
  4. Stefani: The awesome worker at Ulta, who helped me to become un-brainwashed by the product-overload I’d just been wrapped into with one of the tellers.  When I opened my overrun hands, she literally took things I didn’t need away, smiling like we shared a secret, as she took them back to the appropriate aisles so I wouldn’t get trapped again! 
  5. Levi & Kalia: The sweet empty-nesters, who chatted with me about their ambitious college boys, as I showed them proud-as-a-peacock pictures of my kids.  They reminded me how fast it goes, how much boys will eat you out of house and home, and how a line that wraps half-way around the store is nothing if you’re in good company.
  6. Francesca’s Cashiers: The three girls who floated with me around the little boutique to help me find a purse since the one I’d bought there broke, back in September. Though I had no receipt or tags, they looked it up online and traced things back to giving me a full refund, then covered up for my blunder when I put my foot in my mouth, saying how the hideous cat poster was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, right as the girl beside me was getting it!  Again … laughter covers over a multitude of blunders!
  7. Picture Book Guy: The gentleman who gave a full-tooth smile and gift of, “Thank you sweetheart,” just because I shared a coupon I wasn’t using at Barnes & Noble. 
  8. 37-Year Married Couple: The aged, gray-haired, elbows-linked couple hobbling together as a single entity in the parking lot, who I said I wanted to be just like in a few more years.  Despite the cold, they paused to tell me how long it had been, and congratulate me that I was on the same path, albeit over twenty five years shy of their mark.  
  9. Target Tommy:  This guy was the six-foot-three (yeah, I asked) Target cashier who laughed heartily, and shared that he was the tallest member of his family. I warned him that he might be adopted, and his parents just didn’t know how to tell him. He smiled, red-ears and all, and told me he’d be prepared for the conversation that was coming. 
  10. Game Stop Geeks: Let’s just say when the first and second attempts don’t work … these guys at least have the patience to answer the gaming questions I didn’t even know I should be asking.  Caught somewhere between new-age hipsters and middle school mentalities, they must’ve covered every option for my son’s Christmas gifts, in-between discussing how Nintendo is a corporate pain-in-the-bean bag chair, and what Lego Dimensions are worth my time. 
  11. Best Buy Mike: At my wit’s end, and near a breakdown, this was my last tech-attempt of the night.  I met Mike, and quickly shared with him that my son said he, “Wouldn’t give up on Santa,” though the dumb gaming system he asked for is no longer being made, and costs a fortune!  We sat, arms folded considering  for a good ten minute conversation. It included Mike role-playing a nine-year-old Christmas reenactment.  He laughed, I laughed, and though I still didn’t have everything “done,” I felt alright with the world once more. 
  12. Beth: The smoothie maker at Costco, who asked to show us a demonstration, then when I said we didn’t have time due to going to deliver food to a family in need, stopped us to donate a thirty dollar container of protein mix, for free.  She cried. I cried.  

There were a dozen other miniature moments just like that.  From Michelle, the mother waiting for her college son to make it through the storm in the bookstore, to Dino, the elderly man left alone at a table as his daughter shopped, who accepted the water I gave him with a warm, rough, dry-handshake and smile.  People always say that shopping is a nightmare, but I’d say … if you really take the time to be, “more interested in people than in things,” it’s a way to restore humanity simply because you’re exposed to so many different lives in one day. 

Maybe nine to seven is nuts … certifiable even … but today, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel inspired.  People are the point after all. 

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others simply because you can.

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

 

11.19.16 Half-Okay

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“At the end of the day, all you need is hope and strength.  Hope that it will get better, and strength to hold on until it does.” -Unknown

This week something happened that left me speechless.  It wrecked me a little if I’m being honest, because it forced me to confront something that I usually choose not to … loss.  A few years ago I had a “golden class” of kids.  It wasn’t that they were the most advanced, or the greatest at anything in particular … it was just that the chemistry they had with one another and with me made us so much more than a teacher and her bunch of students – it made us a family, raw and real.  I’ve only ever had one other class that affected me the same way, and that was my second year of teaching.

Needless to say, when they happen, those “perfect” years, you don’t take them for granted for a day in the life of curriculum. When you need to stop class to talk about life and the love, and the joy, and the pain of it, you do.  We had many of those conversations. There wasn’t a topic we didn’t cover … politics, war, love, hope, faith, future, life, and death.  To this day, those two classes have been the ones to keep in contact with me.  From texts, emails, and phone calls, to lunches, emergency ice-cream stops, and coffee breaks.  The hardest thing, is when that life and that future we dreamed comes crashing to a halt I can’t step into.  They’re not with me day in and day out and I can’t be there the way I wish I could or want to be.

Two days ago I found out that one of these “golden” ones lost her brother.  He was 17, a varsity swimmer, Christian youth group leader, star student, family focused … a true all American dream.  His heart just stopped.  And with it, I assume his family’s did as well.  I thank God that they know Him … it has to be a sort of a comfort, the only comfort I would guess.  Still, for all the words and the wisdom and the grand conversations we had, I don’t think I ever prepared them enough for this.  For the grittiest parts of life – the end of it.

I asked my kids to pray for their family.  I told them that mommy would be absolutely never okay again if anything happened to either one of them.  My son asked me then, “What if you lost only one of us mom … would you be half-okay?”

How can you answer that?  How can this mother live it?  It took me two days to reach out to the family … to my student.  I couldn’t find the words, and I’m still not sure I used the right ones, but saying something in the midst of it all seemed the best way to go.  Sometimes I think that when things are the hardest, the most  important thing is just showing up.

I’ve heard that the holidays can be painful for a great deal of people.  They bring up and out memories that might do better to stay in the past, but still … we celebrate and we smile.  So if this is you – if you’re just “showing up” because people expect you to, because you said you would, that might be enough.  God has a way of putting the right people in your way at the right time, and whether you’re the one hurting, or you’re the one helping … I really think that’s the point of it all.  Of this journey.  Of this life.  You might only be half-okay, but you know what?  Half might just be enough to carry you back to whole.

Wishing you all the hope in the world,

Elle

10.29.16 Effervescence and Men’s Deodorant

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So recently, I started to wear men’s deodorant.  Classy, I know.  But you know what!?!  It works!  I’ve tried around five different brands of women’s in the past, and felt like I needed to “reapply” like four times a day.  Mens?  Just once thank you very much!  It really struck me though, and kind of disturbed me, to tell  you the truth, that I … a five foot three inch woman who isn’t typically a “sweater” would need it.  I couldn’t understand, that is, until I did a little anthropological experiment of my typical day. 

On Wednesday, of this past week, I took a small slip of paper and kept a tally of all the times someone asked me a question.  As a teacher, and mother, and wife … you might imagine it was quite a few.  But would you believe that between 6:30 in the morning, and 5:30 at night, I was asked one hundred and thirty-two different questions!?!  No joke!  It is no wonder I’m often so fragmented.  I realized that questions often come in the form of interruptions … and therefore, I usually have an air of distracted, disjointed, and well … just plain lostness about me.  

My favorite thing, is when people tell you to relax.  “Just breathe and take it slow,” they suggest.  I suggest a reality check … because how can a person form a logical thought in their head with one hundred and thirty-two interferences?  Sometimes I wish that I could begin my day like Ronald Regan began one of his presidential speeches, “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.”  Genius!  Only life doesn’t work like that does it?  We are often going to need to answer the questions of children or adults who act like children (depending on where you work). It is just a part of the human experience I’m afraid. 

One thing I have learned in all of this, is that people really do respond to the way that questions are answered.  I’m certainly not perfect at this.  Sometimes an answer from me is “Mad as a hatter” off topic.  Sometimes it’s wise with split infinitives like Yoda.  Sometimes … as much as I hate to admit it … it’s a sarcastic eye-roll.  A lot of cliche lovers like to say, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”  I say, why lie to kids?  Some questions are dumb!  Regardless of the intelligence of the question (or the person asking it for that matter) I do believe in giving people the honor of time.  I’m really convinced that there are times, after all, that someone is only asking a question to build a bit of conversation, or to gain a moment of attention. 

Yesterday I introduced my husband to a new acquaintance of mine who said to him, “Wow.  This one’s got a ton of energy.  How do you keep up?”  My husband laughed and said he tries his best.  The gentleman went on to say, “She and I had a great conversation, and we’re all talked out.” To which my husband replied, 

“Yeah, but then she comes home and keeps on talking!  She’s never all talked-out.”  

He was appropriately glared at, but then I realized that my bubbly, enthusiastic nature and “talk-all-day” personality  (which rightly so annoys some people) is something that makes me useful.  God gives us what we can handle, and apparently, he intends that I handle those one hundred and thirty two questions a day.  I may come back kind or cranky, sweet, or snarky … but with me, I suppose at least you’re always guaranteed an answer.  I’ll keep praying for patience, but until then, I guess I’ll just keep being me – filled with effervescence, and of course … men’s deodorant. 

Talk on, 

Elle

6/28/16 Don’t Fight Fair

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I always thought that the phrase “fight fair” was kind of stupid actually.  Instantly I think of the ridiculous pre-colonial “gentlemen’s war” rules of etiquette that dictated soldiers stand in rows and take turns firing.  As if anything could be more obtuse than standing before one another just waiting for a shot to come.  I much preferred Bruce Lee’s perspective, “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”  The only problem with that mentality is – it works, and when it works, you can’t exactly take anything back. 

I don’t fight often, but when I do I wouldn’t say I nobly wait for a comment to come cutting my way.  I have a long memory and my wit compromises my words in magnetic negativity.  As Lev Grossman once wrote, “In a way, fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe.  By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”  And at the end of it all … whatever it is I’m fighting for or about, let’s be honest – it is rarely for a noble cause. 

As painful as it is to admit, most of my arguments are without true merit or intention.  They are the aftermath of a crummy day, resulting in a radioactive bad mood that permeates everything within the vicinity of me.  My husband and I were recently discussing this, and though we are rarely upset with one another, we do tend to give one another the brunt of our “left-over” day.  I am sorry for this, and yet it is a reactive pattern that forms whenever something disgruntles to the point of “letting it out,” by “taking it out” on whoever is nearest – and he always is.   

Peter Wentz said, “The silence is the worst part of any fight, because it’s made up of all the things we wish we could say, if only we had the guts.”  Well, unfortunately, I have to disagree … because I think in these pointed comments I say too much.  I remember too much.  I call forth memories like armor and use them to dispel any logical repartee that might be sound. 

This week, our pastor spoke about the power of forgiveness, and reminded us that it is not only our words that argue, but our actions.  A roll of the eyes.  Shunning a hug.  Vacant responses. And I was convicted at just how unfair I fought after all.  Like I said before, I’m not much into arguing.  I’m not a pot-stirrer; I don’t enjoy battles, and yet even in the here and there, infrequent times, I succumb.  And in those moments my words are effectively lethal in killing a mood, or ruining an intention.

There are things to call forth justice to, but my petty disagreements are not one of them, and I need to find a way to settle myself into a pattern of silence when confronted with my own disagreeable mood.  Just like having an umbrella over my head won’t protect me from sideways rain … fights aren’t ever fair, not really, no matter what key phrases or memories I cover myself in.  So from now on, though I’ll be imperfect at it I’m sure, I will try to at least think a little more about what is really worth fighting for, and trying my humanly best to forgive the rest.  I guess it’s time to turn the battle inward, and follow the thoughts of Stephanie Lennox, “I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”  

Don’t fight fair, fight for something.

Elle

5.31.16 For Everyone Who Ever Loved Henry

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When I was a little girl,  my aunt had this beautiful picture in her house.  I remember telling her how much I loved it each and every time we came over.  Fast forward twenty-years, and I’m at my baby shower.  Imagine my shocked surprise when I opened the picture. “When I found out you were having a son,” she said, “I just knew I had to give it to you.” All these eight years, we’ve kept the picture … and I’ve admired it for the memory … for the nostalgia … and for the likeness of my own baby boy who is already quite grown.

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

I believe in this formidable love, because I’ve felt it.  Every time my son or daughter make me laugh, every time they make me cry, every time I am blessed by their presence alone – I feel it like a tangible string tugging between my heart and theirs.  Sometimes, as they grow, that line seems to stretch incredibly taught as I feel them stretching into their own sense of self and purpose in this world, and instinct draws me to follow them, but life gently reminds me they need to find their own way. The love I feel as a mother makes me believe more than I ever was able before, that love never fails … and a friend of mine recently reminded me, it also never ends.

The first day I met my friend Spring, I was delighted by her gentle spirit and pure heart. She giggled openly, she didn’t shelter or hold back genuine interest in our conversation, and she shared her life stories without the careful filter most people apply.  She was real … and it was refreshing.  Having only known her for a couple of months, I almost forgot – almost but not quite, just what she would be dealing with very soon.  Sure enough, it happened last week.  Spring sent out a prayer request for strength because it was going to be a tough day.  I instantly flashed back to that first day, and that first conversation. Because like any unassuming stranger, I’d made small talk, and asked what people our age asked, “Do you have any kids?”  She remarked that they had one boy, and his name was Henry – was.

One year ago, Spring uncovered her own definition of mother’s love.  And I imagine it was something like Uma Thurman’s description that said, “Before I had my child, I thought I knew all the boundaries of myself, that I understood the limits of my heart. It’s extraordinary to have all those limits thrown out, to realize your love is inexhaustible.” But where Spring is concerned, her love also needed to become ethereal, and the string that tethers her heart to her son’s needs to stretch from heaven to earth. Henry was born with a defect in his diaphragm which caused internal complications too large for his tiny, perfect heart to handle.

And my own heart, at this story, was anguished.  As I witnessed happy birthday wishes to their little prince, I struggled to even know what to say.  Even as a writer, what words can you offer that bring any semblance of peace? I found none. But suddenly … I remembered that picture, from all those years ago.  I wondered if it might be time to pass it on, if it could offer any comfort at all.  So I did.  And I hope that in the frozen embrace she can: feel the tiny hand that held hers ever-so-briefly, imagine the way his perfect head rested on her shoulder, picture the divine moment when she gets to hold him once again.  Sometimes, the love of God is fierce, so much so that it overpowers even a mother’s love.  And in that unquenchable moment of love, God chooses to not let go, because that child is just too special, too gentle, and too endeared to be gone from heaven so long.

I know this, and yet my mother’s heart breaks for her, and for everyone who ever loved Henry.

Please pray with me today,

Elle

 

 

 

4.19.16 Least of These

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“If you don’t take hold of the light, the darkness will take ahold of you.” Dave Brickey

People don’t typically gravitate toward teenagers. They’re seen as “the least” of society. Selfish. Egotistical. Moody. Lazy. I can think of a dozen more titles flippantly cast at the age. Mostly, it’s true, or it can be. So for the past few years, I’ve done a research project that asks my students to chose a charity to study, advocate for, and represent to the class. It has been an amazing journey of seeing teenagers learn to care about something bigger than their day, and invest in something that isn’t self-serving. While the initial draw is the $100.00 I promise to donate to the winner’s charity, there are always countless examples during presentations that prove it is so much more than a competition. This year was no different.

In the beginning of the unit, I tell the students that they may chose any charity, but to get my approval, they must first convince me that they are the right person to be an ambassador for this cause. They need to make a connection. I don’t always anticipate just how deep a chord this will strike. A few days ago, near the end of a week of feel-good presentations, it was her turn. Her. The beautiful girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful … who hides behind the hair that falls in her face … who wears only black, or grey … who smiles, but speaks only in whispers. Her.

I tell the students that they need to dress up to present, and that hoodies and jeans aren’t allowed. She stood simply, removing her ever-present grey hoodie at the last minute to reveal a plain white t-shirt. Quietly, she walked to the front of the room, not choosing the digital format of a website or powerpoint, but an old fashioned poster to display her information. It was hand-written, but neatly … and there were only a few pictures. To Write Love on Her Arms was the name of her charity, and I remember being struck when she chose it, at the beauty in the name, and the beauty in the girl who found the charity dedicated to helping those who suffer from: depression, addiction, and self-harm. She’d told me, when she picked it, that a friend of hers needed support, and she was glad there were places, “like this,” to help her.

She began with the facts, displayed the mission and the purpose, and then paused. She was breathing heavily, placing her arms on her legs like someone who’d just run very far and needed a moment to compose themselves.  Then she raised her arms, those hidden, secret arms concealed daily in a hoodie, and shared her faint, criss-cross scars with the world. She exposed what was left of her dark choices, and went on to bravely implore her fellow classmates to get help, and offer help. She said she was better, but explained why she, and so many like her, hide. With tears shed and shared, I could not have been more proud of her … and for that moment … she was the class hero.

Lately I’ve heard so many, many problems others have been facing. Students I know, kids of friends, acquaintances, grown and child alike … they are hurting, or scared, or confused.  And they are literally waiting for any ear open enough to hear their call. I’ve always been attracted to the passage in the Bible from Matthew 25:40 which says,  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If that’s true … we cannot possibly be confused about our calling.

This poem is for them.  All of them who need us … whoever they are. Please share it.

Least of These

You are far from the least of these,

that harbor troubled hearts,

entangled with troubled minds.

You are not simply one in a million voices,

but rather one voice that is quiet …

but heard.

What I have come to realize,

dear one,

is that skating on eggshell thin self-esteem

cannot get you far enough,

fast enough

from where you’ve been traveling.

You’ve become a fragile creature,

too accustomed to the dark to remember how to feel comfortable in the light.

But you are not lost,

because the truly lost have none reaching out to them –

and I’m still reaching.

You need to trust that different 

really can be,

and that there is such a place

as better.

Leave worse to the shadows it came from.

Remember that no one gets it right all the time,

and that even those of us on the upside of down –

falter.

We’ve just been in the light long enough to know

that it’s always strong enough to pull us back.

So if you’re not there yet … if you’re not quite strong enough to handle it all …

I want you to know it’s okay.

Insecurities are not weakness,

they’re only fears unresolved.

And everyone has them,

it’s just time to untie their bind on you.

You aren’t alone –

you never were.

And it’s time you be properly introduced

back into the world you belong in …

mine.

And even if, for now,

(because it won’t always be so, I promise)

mine is the only world you’re comfortable rejoining,

it will be enough.

You will be safe, with me.

Little by little, you’ll find yourself –

the you we’ve all missed so dearly.

Moment by moment you won’t have to try quite so hard,

and your choices will be seen more clearly.

Day after day,

your eyes will adjust to the light …

until it is your turn,

to reach out,

and bring someone back too.