6.4.17 Voices

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“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” – Picasso

This past weekend was a first for me. I was asked to speak at a high school commencement. Apparently, I was the senior’s “first and only” choice. I feel that this honor was beyond what I should have been given, but I am so very, very blessed to have been able to speak twenty minutes worth of words. I pray they will arm these amazing young people with the ability to walk into the unknown with confidence. The theme of their year was “Voices.” I wrote this piece for them and ended my speech with it. May we all remember that words have power, and voices are meant to be heard. I love you class of 2017.

Always,

Elle

VOICES

It seems as though with every voice

there is a choice inlaid between

Of who I was, of where I am,

of how I feel, and how I seem

And though my heart may know the truth

foundations built as they were laid

I’ve often wondered if it’s His

or my own thoughts when I have prayed

I know heaven speaks in whispers

but my ears are set to shouting

So although I know He hears me,

I still end up lost and doubting

Like an apparition’s presence

all reflections become haunting

And I cannot trust my conscious

because suddenly it’s daunting

Weighted down with life’s decisions –

my mind a game of pitch and toss

Now the answer lies behind me

under the shadow of a cross

And in silence, when I’m broken

my healer finds and tends my scars

Knitting me right back together

atoning light, beyond the stars

A breath of life, His words redeem

and wash my spirit clean to light

There can be no more fear of dark

when truth has shown me what is right

Drenched with grace I know I’m worthy

raised in hope, my faith has grown

Treading bravely toward the future

the voice I’ll trust will be my own

5.29.17 Perhaps

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Perhaps I feel the way I feel because of the season of life we’re in. Or maybe it’s due to the time of the year. (I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the time of the month). But regardless of the specific reason, there are some days that I think we as parents need to celebrate NOT going insane.

This may sound a little crass, but I’m perfectly serious. There are moments, breaking points where I’m pretty sure that our last nerve, the last straw, and the last word are each cast in turn, and it takes every fiber of our being not to snap.

Last weekend my family and I were headed up to my grandmother’s ninety-fifth birthday party. What should have been a smooth, reflection-filled two hour drive, was instead a test of my will and character. There were multiple times on the drive that I wanted to pull over, get out, and walk –ALONE! Mary Francis Winters once said, “Don’t become too preoccupied with what is happening around you. Pay more attention to what is happening within you.” Well, I’d argue that what was happening around me was in direct correlation to what was happening within me!

Perhaps I sound dramatic, but you know what? Some moments ARE dramatic, and if you don’t share them dramatically you’ll be ruining the whole dynamic effect of the story. So here goes … imagine a Kia (because that’s what we have) filled to the popping point with gifts, coloring books, ninety-six markers (with which to color in said coloring books), driving activity cards, an overly-tired nine-year-old boy, a super-chatty seven-year-old girl, and a husband who has NO desire to talk, at all, even if it is our only chance that day to do so.

The boy is tired, and as such – grumpy. His reply to everything is equal parts mischief and sass. The girl’s conversation is a low flying plane set to circling. She is neither discussing anything of import, nor is she running out of gas anytime soon. I was (naively) looking forward to some mellow music and a bit of brainstorming, but either at the exact moment I was able to form a coherent thought or my daughter actually stopped talking, then SOMETHING would inevitably happen to interrupt my thoughts.

            “Where are our snacks?” she asked, starting it all.

            “Didn’t you pack any?” I asked my husband (who’d been in the car first, waiting for me with seemingly nothing to do but honk from the driveway to hurry me up).

           “No,” I retorted. “I was getting gifts together, why didn’t you?”

           “I didn’t think of it,” he said blithely, “and you normally do.”

At this point I could literally feel the blood blush creeping up my cheeks.

           “What about water?” my son asked pathetically. “Did anyone remember to pack us that at least?”

           “No,” I said again. “Why didn’t anyone else grab it.”

            “You usually do,” my kids said together.

So we figured we’d grab some when we stopped to get coffee. Of course that was another debacle. The ever-growing line behind us would just have to wait for him to choose which kind of bread he wanted and her yelling at me to put the whipped cream back on her order because SHE likes it, HE doesn’t, and I needn’t take off her whipped cream just because he doesn’t like it.

         “So …” the guy on the other side of the ordering counter droned on. “Was that whipped cream or no whipped cream then?”

About ten miles down the road, my son piped up with, “Hey, didn’t we get any water?”

     “NO! We didn’t!” I practically shout. “You’ve got a smoothie.”

     “Yeah,” he says unfazed, “but I need water when I’m eating lemon bread.

     “Well you’ll just have to wait.”

     “That’s fine. I need to go to the bathroom anyway – now,” he said with casual urgency.

This is where I’m pretty sure my deodorant started working overtime. Angry and annoyed, we stalked into the gas station to use the bathroom. The girl’s bathroom was “out of order,” and traumatized as I was, I knew we’d never make it to the party if I started letting my germaphobia take over.

About five minutes later, my daughter, who’d been waiting for my son to get out, came to me with indignant tears, telling me that just when he’d finished and it was her turn, he pushed her out again and said, “I’ve gotta poop.” After another ten minutes of wandering around the gas station that didn’t so much as have a birthday card, (which I still needed for the party) my son came out – a self-satisfied smirk on his face, and my daughter, blotchy-eyed, pushed past him. Ten more minutes, and I quietly knocked on the door, asking her if she was alright.

        “I went number two mom, but then I feel like I need to go potty, but not yet, so I’m waiting until I do.”

Now, I actually, physically started to tingle. My heart was drumming inside of my chest with the passing of time … time that was meant to be on the road gaining distance, not taking a museum tour of a dirty gas station while my daughter and son “enjoyed” the facilities.

Finally back on the road, we encountered utility vehicles, Sunday drivers on a Saturday, construction, wrong turns, and a quick stop to purchase candles that said “95” on them. Sweaty and anxious, we dusted off and took a few deep breaths before stepping into the loveliest party I think my grandmother has had to date.

Surrounded by family, friends, and numerous great-grandchildren, her hazel eyes glowed with pride and memories … of which I cannot be sure. The rest of the party was filled with double-slices of cake, cousins reminiscing with bubbling laughter, skipping rocks at the lake, and all the joy that comes with too many kids on a playground.

Perhaps it was the fresh air, or the fresh faces, or the fresh perspective I gained when I  saw the product of a life so-well lived. But the ride home was sweet and calm. He was coloring. She was sleeping. My husband was driving, and all was well enough in the world for me to daydream – and just like that, the balance of life was restored. Another day of keeping my sanity. Thank the Lord for that because, as Scarlett O’Hara says, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Elle

5.21.17 Thursday, Not Wednesday

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Henry David Thoreau once said, “Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” I sure hope that he was right, because lately I am so busy I don’t know which way is sideways let alone up or down. Every week, my students need to remind me that it is Wednesday, not Thursday, and then the following day, that it is now Thursday, and no longer Wednesday. I’ve decided that this is either a sign of early-onset dementia at thirty-four (which I am semi-convinced I have), or a that I might be just a little too busy.

If you cannot relate to my crazy life … I applaud you; but if you can, well – thank you for being a passenger on this train.

You know you’re too busy if:

  • You set two alarms because you are afraid your comatose exhaustion will not allow you to wake up for the first one.
  • Your “filter” becomes less functional, and you begin to let a little too much honesty leak out into your responses when people ask you how you feel about something.
  • You don’t watch your favorite shows, read your favorite books, or even take a bubble bath, because nothing can compete with the thought of just going to bed.
  • You buy extra loaves of fresh, french bread because you know your kids will eat it plain without toasting or buttering it, thus saving five minutes at breakfast.
  • You have an eight-minute turn around time between coming home from school, letting the dog out, and getting back in the car for soccer practice, usually leaving the dog out, and needing your neighbor to put her back in your house before you return.
  • You and your spouse become functioning roommates, complete with his and hers schedules and task lists.
  • You begin to believe that six hours of sleep is luxurious.
  • Your “healthy lunch” standards begin to slip toward anything that is in a pre-packaged bag and ready to throw into the never-ending lunchbox debacle.
  • You would rather buy the family new underwear than think about washing and folding another load.
  • You double-book appointments, and make it seem like you did it on purpose when two people show up for separate meetings, saying something smooth like, “I really wanted so-and-so’s input on this matter too!”
  • You would donate a kidney to not have to think of what to make for dinner.
  • Your spouse sends you an email invite to have conversations instead of just having them.
  • You don’t answer when your closest friends call because you know you’ll have too much fun talking to them to get off the phone in the five-minute window you’ve left yourself.
  • Your car becomes the hub where all things: personal care, meals, calls, correcting homework at stoplights occurs.
  • You develop random twitches in your arm, your leg, or your eye … your body telling you that it too now is freaking out, thank you very much.
  • You get nervous when you aren’t busy, and are uncomfortable sitting still because you have an underlying panic that you are most definitely forgetting something.
  • You are afraid of summer break, because you think the slower pace will rob you of the marathon lifestyle you’ve set for yourself, and tease you into forgetting how to manage it all!

I guess it’s the phase of life. Or the style of me. Or the pace I’ve attached myself to. Regardless, I am choosing to believe the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “I am always busy, which is perhaps why I am always well.” I do feel better when I’m busy, as a general rule, but sometimes, like every Thursday, NOT Wednesday, I believe I stand corrected.

Wishing you rest!

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

5.7.17 Old Souls

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Old Souls

Here’s to the days before digital

before instant gratification

and never needing to develop the virtue of patience

Here’s to the pictures we couldn’t delete

the songs we crossed our fingers to hear on the radio

and the dinners we ate … not pinned

Here’s to the years before smart phones

where conversations lingered because there was no where else to have them

and the only way to text was through notes you would pass

Here’s to the versions of print we ignore

to books with wrinkled pages from being too loved

and magazines you’d clip “someday” dreams from

Here’s to the times we remembered

how to get somewhere, whose number was whose,

and where we were supposed to go – all without a device to help us

Here’s to the screens you weren’t supposed to touch

to the shows you couldn’t subscribe to or binge on,

but waited with baited breath to see a whole week later

Here’s to those who were raised on

not yet

someday

and we’ll see

whose patience was cultivated by the culture

instead of tainted by it

Here’s to the old souls,

to the old ways,

to the past

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

 

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.