4.30.17 In-the-Making

0

unnamed

“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

12.3.16 Such as Him

7

unnamed

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.

unnamed-1

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

4

img_1082

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

1

img_0988

“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

0

img_0311

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

10.29.16 Effervescence and Men’s Deodorant

2

 

img_0633

So recently, I started to wear men’s deodorant.  Classy, I know.  But you know what!?!  It works!  I’ve tried around five different brands of women’s in the past, and felt like I needed to “reapply” like four times a day.  Mens?  Just once thank you very much!  It really struck me though, and kind of disturbed me, to tell  you the truth, that I … a five foot three inch woman who isn’t typically a “sweater” would need it.  I couldn’t understand, that is, until I did a little anthropological experiment of my typical day. 

On Wednesday, of this past week, I took a small slip of paper and kept a tally of all the times someone asked me a question.  As a teacher, and mother, and wife … you might imagine it was quite a few.  But would you believe that between 6:30 in the morning, and 5:30 at night, I was asked one hundred and thirty-two different questions!?!  No joke!  It is no wonder I’m often so fragmented.  I realized that questions often come in the form of interruptions … and therefore, I usually have an air of distracted, disjointed, and well … just plain lostness about me.  

My favorite thing, is when people tell you to relax.  “Just breathe and take it slow,” they suggest.  I suggest a reality check … because how can a person form a logical thought in their head with one hundred and thirty-two interferences?  Sometimes I wish that I could begin my day like Ronald Regan began one of his presidential speeches, “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.”  Genius!  Only life doesn’t work like that does it?  We are often going to need to answer the questions of children or adults who act like children (depending on where you work). It is just a part of the human experience I’m afraid. 

One thing I have learned in all of this, is that people really do respond to the way that questions are answered.  I’m certainly not perfect at this.  Sometimes an answer from me is “Mad as a hatter” off topic.  Sometimes it’s wise with split infinitives like Yoda.  Sometimes … as much as I hate to admit it … it’s a sarcastic eye-roll.  A lot of cliche lovers like to say, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”  I say, why lie to kids?  Some questions are dumb!  Regardless of the intelligence of the question (or the person asking it for that matter) I do believe in giving people the honor of time.  I’m really convinced that there are times, after all, that someone is only asking a question to build a bit of conversation, or to gain a moment of attention. 

Yesterday I introduced my husband to a new acquaintance of mine who said to him, “Wow.  This one’s got a ton of energy.  How do you keep up?”  My husband laughed and said he tries his best.  The gentleman went on to say, “She and I had a great conversation, and we’re all talked out.” To which my husband replied, 

“Yeah, but then she comes home and keeps on talking!  She’s never all talked-out.”  

He was appropriately glared at, but then I realized that my bubbly, enthusiastic nature and “talk-all-day” personality  (which rightly so annoys some people) is something that makes me useful.  God gives us what we can handle, and apparently, he intends that I handle those one hundred and thirty two questions a day.  I may come back kind or cranky, sweet, or snarky … but with me, I suppose at least you’re always guaranteed an answer.  I’ll keep praying for patience, but until then, I guess I’ll just keep being me – filled with effervescence, and of course … men’s deodorant. 

Talk on, 

Elle

4.26.16 Lost Boy

0

unnamed

“Neverland is home to lost boys like me, and lost boys like me are free.” -Ruth B.

My son is eight … eight going on growing up way too soon.  This is the boy who reads novels, the boy who learned quickly how to beat his mommy in Chess, and who now rolls down the window every day to call her name, and wave a grinning goodbye to his favorite girl from class.

And I watch.

And I try my hardest to remember it all – every moment of him.

He is blessed with a healthy balance of intelligence and curiosity, and maybe just a little too generous a dose of mischief. With a light dash of freckles across his smile-crinkled cheeks, he is beautiful … and I still … all these years later, can’t believe he’s mine.

There are days I think about him before, when he was just bits of smiles and coos.  And I remember Jodi Lynn Anderson’s words from the book Tiger Lily, “I knew I’d miss you. But the surprising thing is, you never leave me. I never forget a thing. Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice.”

While I agree that love is singular, it also has a beautiful way of recurring in just the right way – at just the right time. Last night, the sky was crowded with clouds that stretched and pushed the weight of their weightlessness across the atmosphere.  Every so often, they would flicker and glow from within, lightning playing its own version of catch-me-if-you- can. He was mesmerized, and asked me if we could go outside together, and watch the sky.  So we did.  And in an instant I was taken back to my own childhood, sitting on the porch with my dad … watching until the storm got too close.  The inverse brought me back to a tight hug, and an inquisitive, “Oh mom, did you see that one?”  And I did.  I saw every filament of light that filled his blue eyes, as he searched for the wonder in mine.

Love may not, “happen twice” the same way, but there is something unequivocally magical about seeing it come full circle. And in my son, like his mother, and papa before him, I see a place, “… where dreams are born, and time is never planned.” (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)  He is caught up in the possibility of, “What if?” He is enchanted with the world of pretend.  He believes without doubt or question in things only imagination can offer. He is my lost boy … growing up much too fast, and forever ageless, all the same.

Searching for Neverland,

Elle

3.15.16 Impossible Exists

1

unnamed

 

I’ve come to the realization that I am a fool. I am a fool because according to Napoleon Bonaparte, “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” And let me tell you, there really are some things that are impossible for me. (Perhaps I am more the fool for taking to heart the words of an ego-tripping dictator, but that is beside today’s point.) Today is about my very obvious reality that impossible does exist, and furthermore, that I need to be okay with it.

The famous sculptor Alberto Giacometti once said, “… the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it.” I sort of believe he’s right, only metaphorically. The picture is my life, and the more I work on its “image,” the more distorted, and imperfect it becomes. I think at times I’ve made it seem to those around me (spatially and virtually) that, to quote The Lego Movie, “Everything is awesome,” but you know what – sometimes it isn’t – not at all! I’m the farthest thing from “together” and I’m finding more and more that it may not be the worst thing to admit it. So, here it is … my own personal list of impossible, to which I hope you can relate.

  • It is impossible to have days where I do not have fantasies about smashing my alarm clock to smithereens and sleeping as long as I very un-practically want to.
  • It is impossible to feel good about myself when pulling on “skinny” jeans, especially if they were just washed (making them even skinnier), or right after a shower when the friction between my skin and the denim is enough to light a small fire.
  • It is impossible to ever, EVER finish laundry … you know why? Because someone in my family is always wearing clothes!!! When people tell me they “caught up” on their laundry, I kind of have to hate them for three seconds (just three, I’m not very spiteful) because the words “I’m done,” will never be uttered from my mouth!
  • It is impossible to not feel embarrassed when you have guests over and your cat uses the litter box, creating such an atmospheric shift that everyone is temporarily gagging as you run to remedy the nasal assault.
  • It is impossible to stay calm when I find socks stashed in the most remote corners of our living room, like a disgusting game of hide-and-seek I didn’t sign up for.
  • It is impossible not to feel frustrated when my kids’ piano teacher explains the homework to me weekly (yet again) like I’ll get it, when I cannot play myself.
  • It is impossible not to be tempted to let my daughter grow dread locks when I know that she will cry every single time I brush out her hair.
  • It is impossible to get anything useful accomplished when your kids are: hungry, tired, grumpy, excited, confused, sad, wired … scratch that. It is impossible to get anything useful accomplished when your kids are awake!

While there are many more negative impossibilities to relay, I’ve also come across a few impossibilities on the other end of the spectrum that I cannot help but share.

  • It is impossible not to laugh when my son asked why girls have big “pom poms,” and boys don’t have any.
  • It is impossible not to giggle when my husband pretends to be a giant for my kids, “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fumming” around the house.
  • It is impossible not to love that my daughter has created a back up plan to her first career ambition of mermaid.
  • It is impossible to pretend I’m not geeking-out every time my mom sends me freshly baked treats, express mailed so they’re not even a day old.
  • It is impossible for me not to light up when I reminisce all the, “I can’t believe the time we …” with friends who have walked the ages with.
  • It is impossible not to feel amazing when someone smiles at you for the simple reason that you’re you, and you’re there.
  • It is impossible not to feel joy when you hear your children pray for real … like they readily expect God to answer – and he does.

And while there are many, many things that aggravate, irritate, and annoy me about my life, in the words of Whitney Huston when she played fairy godmother in Cinderella, “Impossible things are happening everyday.” Some of them are good … some of them are not, but for better or worse, impossible exists, and I’m glad.

Elle

3.8.16 Just for the Sake of Lovely

1

unnamed

“I’m slowing down the tune, I never liked it fast. You want to get there soon, I want to get there last.” – Leonard Cohen

So I live my life mostly chasing time.  I think somewhere between college and marriage and career and kids somehow the remote control of my fate seems to have gotten stuck on fast-forward and I cannot (for all I might want to) get the pause button to work.  Even on days off, I am over-committed with “meetings” and “have-to’s” and “I can’t believe I almost forgot abouts.”  And it’s alright.  But sometimes, like the quote above, “I want to get there last.”  I want to intentionally dawdle … waste time … or just be in the midst of it all. 

You can ask my parents, I’ve never been in a hurry to grow up.  Even going through childhood I would sometimes pause and think to myself, “This is going too fast.” Foolishly I’d try to force myself to be young, but we cannot stop it … inevitably something happens to remind us of our place – of our time.  I can’t  lessen the speed of days, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it.  Not really. 

Instead, I’ve found ways to cope, by surrounding myself with bits of choices that refuse to run along with the responsibilities of my schedule.  They tug at the corners of my day to make me play just a little.  These choices are my illusion of slow … of stillness, and I add them incrementally (so life can’t catch me).  

So today I wore a skirt of tule, and when I slid into the car, I needed to pause to scoop up the bunches of fabric carefully, reminding me of my wedding day, and I smiled.

I wore pink ballet flats with sparkles, and when someone told me I looked like a fairy, I shared that it is my utmost wish to be one.  

The wind tickled around me, pushing stray strands of blonde about my face, and I relished in nature’s tiny game of chase.  

And when no one was looking, I let myself twirl … just for the sake of lovely. 

Elle 

 

 

2.22.16 Sometimes Wishes Do

2

unnamed

There’s an unknown quote that says, “I was chasing my dreams but I tripped over reality.” I think that this has happened to me more in my life than I’d like to admit.  Because sometimes … dreams don’t come true.

When I was a girl, I was going to be an archaeologist. I was going to have adventures like Indiana Jones, and make grand discoveries that would mark my place in the world.  But yeah, that didn’t happen.

When I was a teenager, I was going to marry my first love.  We would be one of those couples who’d gush, with stars in our eyes, of the way that we had met in high school and defied all the odds.  Only – we didn’t.

In college I was going to meet a handsome stranger with a sexy accent … and my husband is handsome, but his Midwest accent isn’t quite what I’d had in mind.

I have over fourteen children’s book manuscripts, one middle grade novel and a young adult piece just waiting to be discovered.  I’ve sent query letter after query letter, and have yet to publish most of them.

The ever-brutally honest yourecards.com reminds us that,”According to astronomy, when you wish on a star, you’re actually a few million years late.”  That explains a lot actually, and yet I keep on wishing, and dreaming, and hoping, and writing, because as Paulo Coelho once said, “It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

I’m not an archaeologist … I’m a teacher, a writer, and a speaker, and it’s good.

I didn’t marry my first love, but I’m totally in love with my last.

I’m not a world-renown author … but today, I got this letter in the mail, under which was my complimentary copy of Bella Grace magazine, since I am published in it!  My favorite magazine in the entire world, and I’m in it!

So many times, most times even, dreams don’t necessarily come true the way you think they will … but then again … sometimes wishes do.

I hope you’ll find time to pick up Bella Grace, Issue 7 (my favorite number I might add), and breathe in the possibility that life has beautiful things in store for us all.

With joy,

Elle