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

4.23.17 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

4.16.17 She Still

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 “She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.”  – Ariana Dancu

Recently I’ve been thinking just how lucky I am to have so many strong women in my life. I would list you here on this page, but you know who you are. You are the “she” that keep me going – that keep me running … and just like clockwork, you always know right when it is time to wind me back up again, when my tick-tock-self is almost worn out. I feel unmeasurably blessed by you, and this is to let you know.

She Still

She still knows when I need her –

without my asking,

or even hinting why or how

She calls me

and talks me rationally through my

ever

irrational

fears

It is her smile that carries my spirit

and whether in photograph,

or in person –

even a glimpse is enough …

to reassure my choices,

to soothe my chaotic mind,

to protect my wounded heart from anything it can’t handle alone

When the world presents itself in a tempest of fury,

her voice is my focal point

When I’m trapped in fractured pieces of a memory,

she reminds me of who I am,

not where I’ve been

Her laugh makes me laugh

Her sadness is mine

Her success is my win too

And though the dark will come,

and the storms will rage,

and the choice won’t always be ours,

she still guards my heart,

and gives me her light

and somehow we make it through

There is no way to tell

at times

who carries who,

but whether by crawling

or flying

it is she –

still,

who brings me back to who I’m meant to be

and who I’d never have known

without her

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

3.7.17 A Pocketful of Simple Truths

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Marcus Aurelius once said that, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” While this may be, I have found that there are some realities in my life that have become my own simple truths. And whether they are my opinion or not is less significant than the fact that they have become real, in my life, for me.

A Pocketful of Simple Truths

*Hugs are best received when offered, not asked for.

*Prayer is always more effective as a first resort, not a last.

*There is no such thing as, “Keeping your emotions in check” with someone you trust enough to be real.

*Making time for someone will bless you more than them.

*Children do life the right way. 

*Books are the most immediate, cost effective, and satisfying answer to, “Where should I go next?” 

*Love is strong enough to conquer anything if you let it.

*Keeping your imagination alive will serve you well, and may even save you when you least expect it.

*Art is the closest expression of dreams. 

*Some things do last forever, if you’re patient enough to see them through.

*Life is not simple, easy, or fair … but it is a gift, and should be handled with the utmost respect and care.

*Hope is the strongest armor we have.

May your day be blessed, and your pocket of truths be full. I’d love to hear a few! Share them with me. I too could use a pocketful!

Elle

2.27.17 “Lucky You” – Lucky Me

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Did I ever mention that I teach in the same school that my children attend? If so, did I ever mention it is a small, private, Christian school where everyone knows everyone? It is my first year there. I came from teaching literature in a public middle school where my class size was around 100 students a year; I now teach fourteen.

It’s different alright, and if I’m being honest, I’m still navigating the halls between “Mrs. Harris” my son and daughter’s mother, to “Mrs. Harris” the teacher. It’s weird to say the least. I get fun comments like, “Hey, Mrs. Harris, remember that time I came over for a playdate, and you and Mr. Harris were dancing in the kitchen and he dropped you?”

Yeah. That happened.

Or, “Mrs. Harris, remember when your hundred-pound dog stepped on my foot?”

Oh, boy do I.

Never a dull moment here at the Harris household, and this weekend was yet more proof of the same. Friday was a mixture of piano lessons we hadn’t finished preparing for, and a vehement argument about raisins.

Me: “Hun, do your piano homework.”

Her: “Ugh.”

Me: “Dolly, eat your raisins.”

Her: “I don’t like them.”

Me: “The good news is, I didn’t ask how you felt about them; I asked you to eat them.”

Her: “Ugh.”

Me: “They’re good for you.”

Her: “What are they anyway?”

Me: “Dried grapes.”

Her (unimpressed): “How many do I have to have?”

Me: “All of them.”

Her (aghast): “ALL of them!!!”

Me: “Yup.”

After eating four of them and gagging on three, she tearfully resumed the conversation.

Her: “How many now?”

Me: “Still all of them.”

The piano teacher came in the midst of it all, probably keeping time to the choking sound of tears and dry heaves. Nothing but professional lessons over here.

Later on, still embarrassed from the failed raisin reasoning, I relented as the kids had playdates for a few hours. My daughter had two friends over to, “prepare for the talent show,” which basically consisted of jumping on the trampoline and screaming and giggling around the house. My son had one friend over and they basically absorbed themselves in Pokemon cards and video games. All was well and good with the world until the three sets of parents came … at the same time.

More fun background information. My husband is now the Vice President of the Parent/Teacher’s Association for the kids’ school. MY school. Thus, we are again, intimately tied to more people in more ways. Well … my husband also wears Lucky Jeans. And at this point you’ll be thinking – so what? What do jeans have to do with anything at all? Oh it relates my friends … trust me. Because as those three parents came into our foyer, all standing together, my husband started to chat with them about an upcoming appeal he is leading for the school to initiate a new program. Right about the time he launched into his campaign for the agenda, was about the time I saw that his fly was wide open.

At this you still may be thinking – okay, I’ll admit that’s bad, but who cares what the name brand was. Well, let me enlighten you. This particular name brand is cute. So cute that its clever branding prints two words on the fly of their guy’s jeans … LUCKY YOU! Lucky me alright! There I stood, trying to seem like a bit of a professional as their children all attend my school, some with older kids in my class even, and my husband is flashing his business WITH advertising no less!

Backing up and turning purple with stifled nervous laughter escaping me, I pointed animatedly to the general groin region, hoping he’d get the point. Instead, I’m pretty sure it looked like I was being inappropriate, giggling and gesturing downward. My husband awkwardly ended his conversation and walked away to zip and return a few moments later.

Are you kidding me!?!

Now, Monday night, another amazing opportunity to feel like a tool. My son, the drummer, was supposed to practice. When he couldn’t find his drum kit he said, “Where do you think it is?”

“No clue buddy. It is your drum set after all.”

“Oh, I remember!” he said. “It’s in my music teacher’s room! We practiced there last Wednesday.”

Translation: “Mom I left my drum in my music teacher’s room for an entire week without anyone, including you, (the one who is supposed to be in charge) noticing. This not only means I’ve not practiced for five straight days, but also that my music teacher knows it!”

Fantastic! What on earth can I do but laugh at this point?

I work for a small school. It’s a lot like a family. They are beginning to know everything about us. The good. The bad. And the embarrassing.

Oh well. ‘Cest la vie … such is life. As an unknown quote says, “I’m the type of girl who will burst out laughing in dead silence because of something that happened yesterday.” LUCKY YOU! Lucky me. I’m still here … laughing.

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