6.19.17 Thank you Daddy. Thank you Dad.

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It has taken me a while to write this post. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but rather, too much. How do you put into words what your father(s) mean to you? How do you even begin? My father, and my father-in-law, have been the most influential men in my life aside from my husband. Married at 21, (and dating for three years before that) we have grown up together, and I feel that we have two full sets of parents that have blessed, influenced, and molded us. 

I realize that most of the world does not have the experience of a father the way I or my husband have. Often (especially in the lives of my students) I am exposed to the painful truths that most children experience some version of cool complacency with a father who was never really there. And for this … my friends … I am so sorry. I wish you could have had my childhood – one that was filled with encouragement, faith, and the safety of knowing you are well and fully loved. 

One of my favorite memories was falling asleep in my father’s arms at a Summerfest concert with Rod Steward wailing away. I must have been three or four-years-old, and I distinctly remember the feeling of curling into my dad, amid all the noise and chaos, and not waking up again until he was carrying me out of the car when we got home. It might seem a trivial memory, but to me, it was foundational. It was the beginning of my daddy nurturing my dreams, literal and otherwise. Since before I could even recognize it, my daddy has been growing my hope, teaching me to wrestle with my imagination, and pushing me to demand more of myself than I would have thought I was capable of. He is the hand I hold in the storms, and the nudge forward when I want to escape. He sturdies my resolve, and pushes me ever on. 

When I met my father-in-law, years and years later, I hoped to love and respect him, but didn’t think I’d need much, as I never had a void in the dad-department that required filling. I was wrong. Throughout the years, my relationship with my father-in-law has become one of a true, dad/daughter bond. When I first met him, his love language was that of service. Doing things like washing my car, and fixing broken things around my house were his way of telling me he loved me. Now he uses words, and oh, how I savor them. A lover of memories, like me, he writes treasures for us kids to savor – listing out scrapbook stories and pieces of childhood I almost feel like I was a part of. He listens to me. He reads everything I  write. He is proud of me as his daughter, and has long since adopted me into his family for real. 

One thing I have learned from both of my dads is what Marie Beyon Ray once said, “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake.” They are live-in-the-moment men. Stand up, get knocked down, and stand up again men. They are I’m here for you, I’ll provide for you, I’ll show you how to do the same men.

I wish the world had more men like them. 

Both have epitomized bravery and courage to me. Whether battling occupations or health concerns, finances or relocations, they have remained men of faith and character. Neither has compromised his integrity in times when it would have been so much easier to take the “easy way.” They believe in hard work, in dedication, in family, and in this one, precious life the Lord gave them to live and journey through. I cannot imagine my or husband’s life without their guiding light and I am eternally grateful that God placed them as the pillars of strength in our family. 

Thank you daddy. Thank you dad. 

Elle

5.14.17 A Mother’s Love

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“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” – Abraham Lincoln

When I think about my life, I can’t rightly imagine it turning out anywhere near the way that it has if I didn’t have my mother. In the chaos of my life, her voice has been the constant, soothing lullaby in the back of my mind, hushing my anxious thoughts, and setting the tone of my heart. I know full well that she is a rare gift, and I try never to forget just how blessed I am. When my own two children sweetly say, “Mom, you’re the best,” I know just how short-changed they are, because no one could even compare to what I have.

A few years ago, my mom and dad moved to another state, and not just another state, a state that is a fourteen-hour drive away from me. I’d be lying to say it didn’t wreck me just a little … maybe more than a little. Because of course, I’d planned to have the kind of life I grew up in – the kind where we saw cousins and aunties and uncles each week, and had brunch with grandma every Sunday. Not so it would seem. And while it has been so hard to be away from the family I crave, I will say that God is pretty awesome at filling in the broken places of my fragile heart.

While we may not be together daily, my mother and I talk often, and lift one another up even in absence, and for that I am grateful. But Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “The love of a mother is the veil of a softer light between the heart and the heavenly Father.” Aside from being an undeniably beautiful thing to say, I think it is the essence, the idea that motherhood is more than one person or one relationship – it is a form of love personified.

I realized some time ago, that if I believed this to be true, then the love of a mother, the love God bestowed for us is available in many places. And though I am lucky enough to still have a mother I run to, I would be remiss not to mention the other places my heart is restored.

I feel a mother’s love in the frantic phone calls my sister and I exchange. When we pick up one another’s broken pieces and gently put each other back together.

I feel a mother’s love when I witness the unconditional devotion of my mother-in-law to her husband. To her children. To me.

I feel a mother’s love in the late-night-textathons between my cousin and myself. When we laugh at our blunders, rant out our problems, and leave the conversation ten-pounds lighter than we came in.

I feel a mother’s love in the friendships that find me right where I am. In the conversations with women I do life with, and who invest their effervescent wisdom and beauty in equal measure.

In teachers. In neighbors. In strangers roaming the aisles of the grocery store who share an exhausted smile with me at ten PM. I feel a mother’s love in every place there is openness, gentleness, acceptance, experience, laughter, and encouragement.

So while I wish everyone a mother like I have, I know that cannot be (because I’ve already got her). Instead, I wish each of you open eyes and willing hearts, to accept the love of all the mothers around you, who are just waiting to take you in.

Be loved,

Elle

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

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 

1.1.17 Seventeen Wishes

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It is the first day of the first month of a new year, and let me remind you – anything is possible. People always say, “Happy New Year,” but I want to offer you more than happy … I want to give you my own personalized list of seventeen wishes for 2017 that have nothing to do with resolutions (thank God). Author Francesca Lia Block offered great advice when she said, “Wish on everything. Pink cars are good, especially old ones. And stars of course, first stars and shooting stars. Planes will do if they are the first light in the sky and look like stars. Wish in tunnels, holding your breath and lifting your feet off the ground.” So, from someone who believes in the power of a wish followed by a prayer … here are mine for you.

  1. I wish you the longest of weekends … and the shortest of Mondays.
  2. I wish you laughter – the kind that makes your belly ache, tears run down your cheeks, and your breath come in pants and wheezes. 
  3. I wish you luxurious baths, filled with bubbles so thick you can’t see your toes.
  4. I wish you coffee … coffee every single day in only the BIGGEST of mugs.
  5. I wish you clearance sales when you don’t expect them.
  6. I wish you loads of time for reading books that fill your spirit with the power of pretend.
  7. I wish you marathon movie nights with loads of buttered popcorn and M&M’s.
  8. I wish you adventures that lead you to discover you are braver than you ever thought you could be.
  9. I wish you loads of sweet-dream sleep, complimented only by the cool side of the pillow. 
  10. I wish you ordinary delights, like perfectly toasted toast, a full gas tank when you didn’t expect it, extra cheese on your pizza, and a day free of any computer glitches at all.
  11. I wish you ice cream on a weekly basis, especially if it involves peanut butter or marshmallow sauce, sprinkles and cherry juice.
  12. I wish you memories … the type that flit into your consciousness and make you smile almost before you register that they’re there … like a friend who came to visit, bringing you “home” once again.
  13. I wish you a chance to step into the ocean, to stand somewhere with a view, to lean into the wind, and to remember that you’re a part of a story much bigger than your own.
  14. I wish you the appreciation of others, even people you don’t know … I wish you relationships, both old and new, that stretch into friendships you’ll never outgrow. 
  15. I wish you poetry, not the kind you read, but the kind you feel beyond the page.
  16. I wish you the opportunity to nurture your curiosity, to imagine what ifs, to discover new places, and to create space in your life to play.
  17. Finally, I wish you undeniable, unquenchable, unrestrained joy.  I wish you much beyond happy … I wish you unmitigated delight in believing that this isn’t just another year … but another chance to find the best version of yourself. 

It is an honor to know that somehow, my words have found you. I pray that this year I’ll continue to have the pleasure of your company, whether in person, or here as digital friends.  Your readership is one of my greatest sources of happy … so please keep visiting me here, and share this blog if you think anyone else would like to join our weekly word party. 

Literarily yours, 

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

12.3.16 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

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