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

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

 

4.2.17 Bloom

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Bloom

There is a light, and though it be pale, it is powerful. Enter into it.
Don’t hesitate or wait for another sign.
This is your sign.

This day, this breath, this choice …
all of them are pointing you toward life. Embrace the possibility that it’s not just time, but YOUR time.

So whether it is your first step or your fiftieth,
take it.
Whether you’ve tried and failed a thousand times before,
or you’ve never had the courage to try …
try.
Unfurl your own version of brave,
of beautiful.
Even subtle things can capture the attention of one who is seeking. Never underestimate that you may be
exactly
what the world has been waiting for.

Leaving even a trace of your delicate presence,
is enough to illuminate the existence of another.
It is easy to cast off the substance of who you are,
when comparing to everyone else.
But when did you ever get the idea you were to be compared?
Are you, beloved, not invaluable?
Are you not the only one of you ever created in the history of days? There is no room to doubt that which is irrefutable.
You are ready, whether you believe so or not.
You’ve been given today.
So, like a flower coming awake to the sun for the first time –
bloom.

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

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

11.4.16 Instead of Counting Sheep

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The other night, I couldn’t sleep.  This rarely happens to me.  Usually, I am a master at conquering the pillow, but that night …  it eluded me.  Instead of counting sheep, however, I ended up letting my mind take over – never a good thing.  And in about ten minutes, I was crying about how  this might very well be the last year that my son believes in Santa.  Crazy that I would lose sleep over this, and yet it is a very real, very deep heart-hurt for me.  Because things like Santa, and Neverland, superheroes or fairies, represent so much more than characters from a storybook or holiday … they represent wonder and imagination, and the power of pretend and what if?

Don’t you remember how it felt?  Believing in things you couldn’t explain and delighting in the mystery of it all?  I want that feeling to stay for them.  I would protect it at any cost if I could, but I can’t.  People talk.  Kids overhear.  Beliefs shatter, and reality sets in … spoiling everything.  My husband tries to console me saying that since I never lost my imagination, they won’t either.  It is in the way we live and perceive things, not in who they do or don’t know is real.  I hope so.

I guess it ties back into the same problem I have with the word “forever.”  I am always equal parts shocked and shaken when people say, “I’ll live here forever,” or “This is our forever plan.”  I literally shudder.  And I can’t decide if this means something is wrong with me in terms of commitment, or in terms of perception.  I feel like the word puts an end to our stories … and it leaves no room for the unwritten possibilities to play.  There is something beautiful about order, and planning … but I like my personal definition to somewhat resemble Roman Payne’s description of a character in his book The Wanderess, “She was a ‘wanderess.’ Thus she didn’t care about money, only experiences – whether they came from wealth or poverty, it was all the same to her.”

I’m not sure I have any solutions to the inevitable, or if I’m even looking for any.  My children will learn the ways of the world soon enough.  I guess, I think we just need to live with equal parts intention and attention.  We need to not only hope for, but seek out opportunities to share in the wonder of everyday magic, and allow ourselves to travel a path slightly overgrown and wild, for that is where adventure lies.  So maybe the next time I can’t sleep, instead of counting sheep, I’ll focus on my “forever” plan … of making space for what-ifs, for imagination, and always, for pretend.

Wander far and wide my friends,

Elle