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

11.11.16 A Double-Fisted Day

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This week I was in line for Starbucks … again.  I’d just been there two days before, but I needed it, and vindicated my drinking choices with my blonde-head held high.  I was that kind of girl … the Starbucks-toting, it-is-what-it-is “Gold Card Member,” drive-through frequenter that women like me are so typically pegged to be.  There’s a favorite verse of mine, Corinthians 15:10 that says, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace within me is not without effect.”  I realized I would not be “effective” at all, without a Ventì.

While I might regret my Starbucks affliction at times, this week, (yes I’m talking about Wednesday morning) there was NOTHING that could keep me away from my perkalicious-pick-me-up.  The funniest thing was, as I made the necessary left, and quick right turn into the parking lot, my kids chorused, ” Again mom?”

“Don’t be judgmental,” I chided, “it’s not an attractive quality.

“Yeah,” my son said, “but weren’t you just here like – a day ago?”

Thankfully, right as we pulled into the line, I saw something beautiful … a man drinking a large porcelain cup of coffee, as he waited in the drive through line to order MORE coffee!  I laughed out loud and immediately diverted the conversation by throwing this amazing man right under the proverbial bus. “See,” I literally pointed,”now that guy has problems!  He’s the addict.”  My kids reluctantly agreed, and let me proceed with my order sans discrimination due to the double-fisted wonder ahead of me.  Still, if I hadn’t felt so “on-watch” I’d have loved to get another drink today … maybe two.

And while my pride won’t let me, I’ve decided to exonerate you … to absolve if you need to have a double-fisted day of three shots of espresso, or even something stronger.  So here’s a small list of reasons to allow you to be, “Off the Hook,” so-to-speak.   Relate to one, or ten … and enjoy a drink on me!

Official Double-Fisted Off the Hook List

  • If you’ve lost sleep because you’re looking into moving to Australia instead of staying in America … you’re off the hook.
  • If you’re balancing work, or kids, or school, or all of the above … you’re off the hook.
  • If you’re going on a television fast because you can’t stand to see another Black Friday commercial thus reminding you of the inevitability that you’re about to be broke in a month … you’re off the hook.
  • If your laundry is tracking you and the only way to avoid it is to leave the house … you’re off the hook.
  • If your inbox is filled to the digital brim with things you’re trying hard to ignore … you’re off the hook.
  • If you realized that the Halloween candy bowl is a lot lighter but you aren’t … you’re off the hook.
  • If you just want to go jump in the leaves but have to go to work instead … you’re off the hook.
  • If you needed to wear your winter coat for the first time this week … you’re off the hook.
  • If the only family member who hasn’t made you lose your temper this week is the cat or dog … you’re off the hook.
  • If you’ve already double booked (or triple-booked) for the holidays … you’re off the hook.
  • If you’ve spent any amount of time at all on Pinterest, thus making you feel like an epic failure … you’re off the hook.
  • If you had someone tell you, “You look tired,” this week …  you’re off the hook.
  • If you would do anything to stay in bed but the alarm is reminding you that the world expects you to show up … you’re off the hook.

You’re vindicated, you’re exonerated, you’re double-fist coffee worthy!

Carry on.

Elle

9.28.16 The Memory Box

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I have this vintage box of letters in my office.  Faded with printed flowers and scrawling text, this box has, tucked within it’s brass latch, more memories than I’d ever be able to hold in my mind without its weathered assistance. All those years ago, when I began collecting the notes, scraps, photographs, and messages it now contains, I never could’ve known they would become so much more than the simple correspondences they might originally seem to be. 

There, layered in paper, are private jokes with friends, confessions from past loves, and pictures that hold me forever still on a page. And I am so thankful, that for whatever reason in my adolescence, I had the foresight to know that I’d need these reminders of who I was then.  The truth is, life doesn’t give us many opportunities for reminiscence, things go too fast, years blur in colorful streaks past my consciousness until I force myself to slow, and visit a memory.  

Some of these letters are joy personified, littered with smiles, and coded words that no longer make sense but invoke pleasure anyway.  Lined with plans of what we’d do, or where we’d go, or even where we had already been. Some, are harder though.  They are the letters that, even now, I can’t bear to read, but need to hold onto, because they are the last proof of the people I can’t let go of … not entirely at least.  Cataloged haphazardly, whether dark or delicious … each memory in turn serves its purpose, and found residence in that treasure box for a reason clear to me alone. 

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Like a silent-bound old friend, this box keeps my secrets, benign as they may be, and guards them until I am ready to whisper glances at them some random, nostalgic day. 

Some pieces of a heart remain a mystery. And open as one might claim to be, there will always be chambers and alcoves none can enter.  And so it goes. There are depths and passes that remain unexplored, but there are also pathways well worn with remembering.  

American Author Roman Payne captured the desire of a woman’s heart perfectly saying, “The only thing higher for a girl and more sacred for a young woman than her freedom and her passion should be her desire to make her life into poetry, surrendering everything she has to create a life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in her imagination.” 

My letter box reminds me of those beautiful dreams I once had, and gives me the courage to know that same girl, the recipient of each precious letter, is still in me somewhere.  It’s time we honor our hearts, our ambitions, and our imaginations.  It’s time to pay reverence to the memories that formed us, but to look forward to what is yet to come.  Like elongated silhouettes, memories can cast a lovely shadow … but only when you take them in context of the light before you here and now.  Walk on my friends. 

Elle

6.22.16 Vulner-Ability

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“Don’t talk – don’t say a thing, because your eyes they tell me more, than your words.  Don’t go, don’t leave me now, because they say the best way out, is through.” – The Fray

I hate when people tell me they’re fine.  If I know you as more than a simple acquaintance, I’d go so far as to say it offends me a little, because no one’s ever just “fine.” I realize that sometimes we are in places that we aren’t ready to talk about, but then say that.  Say I’m not okay right now, but I will be soon, and we can talk then.  My mom is excellent at transparency and I love this about her.  Having lost her brother in December and a good friend only last month, she openly admits when sorrow takes her, but admonishes the darkness with a follow up telling me, “I’m sad right now, but I don’t wanna leave you sorrowful because I promise I won’t stay there long.”

I realize it is not realistic to expect such vulnerability with strangers, but can you imagine what it would do to the social fabric of the world if people were just a little more authentic with their emotions?  I can picture the decay of feigned strength with people being honest.  Pride, which often gets in the way of healing, would absolutely crumble.  Saying I’m not fine … I’m missing my brother, my friend, my spouse, myself?  Admonition is a powerful cure.

I think it not unintentional that the word “vulnerability” ends with the word “ability.” It truly is an ability to be able to share what and who and how you are for real … and from where I stand, the world needs practice.  Because if we were real, just a little bit more, I think it would give humanity the opportunity to practice being humane. 

Today is the anniversary of the day my husband lost his cousin growing up.  He was only eighteen when he passed, and though it is decades later, the memory of this wonderful life remains.  And I have to commend his mother who shared her raw emotions with details that fractured the banality of words like “fine.” She shared what she remembered about the experience of this day, all those years ago stating, “I didn’t cry, but all of me found its way to the tiniest space somewhere in me that I go when I am beyond devastated.”  Then remembered a detail in funeral preparations that completely fractured me, “We needed to buy dress shoes … boys don’t have dress shoes in the summer.”  In reading her words I simply HAD to write, I had to thank her for the beautiful example of brokenness she allowed us all to see, well past time and still yearning for her baby.  I cry, quite literally in gratitude for her openness and the ability she gave all those who read her words to practice compassion, and to love her boy, for a moment, through her memory.

We are called to be there for one another.  That’s what this life is about … being there.  Walking with.  Crying with.  Laughing with.  And repeating the cycle again.  If you’re not fine, don’t be.  If you are, share the blessing of your joy.  Whatever you are, be real so that others have the chance to really meet you in that moment, and potentially carry you through.

All my love,

Elle

5.18.16 Melancholy

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Victor Hugo once said, “Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.” I know it is a paradox, but I think he was really on to something there. Why do we like tragically, heart-wrenching movies? Why are so many classic novels somewhat desolate? Why does it feel like such a release after a good cry? Why do we like to remember broken relationships with a sort of sweet farewell? As Edgar Allan Poe penned it, “And so being young and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy.”

As ironic as it seems, I don’t find that sitting just a little inside of this hushed, “lost-in-thought” attitude is all bad. Sometimes life has too much going on and happy can seem false, like florescent lighting on a grey day. As positive and optimistic as I am ninety-percent of the time, I’ve found that it is alright to let yourself embrace just a hint of blue space.

Caught in a moment of change … of in-between and loss and gain, I am wading in this pensive pool – just for today. Tomorrow I will be, “me” again, smiling and attempting to change the world, but right now? Melancholy fits me like my favorite pair of faded jeans, holed and worn … but necessary for the flaws I love. I hope you can find comfort in the middle places, and I hope this helps you understand that you don’t always have to know, sometimes you can just be.

Melancholy Beautiful

Melancholy.

It’s that thoughtful, in-between here and there place that cannot be pinpointed

(in-descript and mysterious).

In an age so demanding and decisive,

there is something quiet, and lovely about not always knowing:

… why you feel the way you feel …

… where you’re meant to go next …

… what you want … or don’t want …

… who you might decide to be.

Melancholy is that place between good and better that allows you to

pause –

to think –

to breathe –

to accept.

It isn’t fake; it isn’t false.

It isn’t anything other than pensive – allowing time for contemplation

rather that reaction.

Some of the most formative moments of my life were born out of this place,

where what at first seemed impossibly sad,

evolved into a beautiful memory.

Like the last day of summer,

the loss of first love,

or the pain of a final goodbye you can’t change.

It might not be easy.

It might not be comfortable.

But do not mistake it for sadness …

because melancholy can grow your emotions if you let it.

Pause.

Think.

Breathe.

Accept.

That melancholy really can

be beautiful.

 

Feel whatever you need to feel today.

All my love,

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.