7.3.17 To Be Free

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“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” – Benjamin Franklin 

To Be Free

The will to be free is innate

and though we honor in days

in commemorations

and spectacles of light and color

the truest form of celebration is that of the soul

When your spirit is enraptured with light,

with peace

and with the tranquil understanding that

nothing can tether or tie you

but that which you choose to bind yourself to

By lifting your humanity to heaven

by humbling yourself to divinity

you will come to believe in the worth you were born into

Finding you are not owned

you are not enslaved

you are not ensnared by the grip of this world

not to conformity

not to addiction

not even to self-persecution

not to worry

not to acceptance

or a nagging fear of what may be

There will always be wars

and the battles will be endless

Some will be won

and in turn,

many will be lost

But freedom is not to be purchased into

or sold out of

To be free

is inherent in the plan of creation

and its grace washed over you with the light of your first breath

The genuine gift of freedom

is realizing that though life may assign you a value,

priceless

is the only identity

you have any right to claim

 

 

 

 

12.24.16 Winter Stars

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I love the stars at winter.  More than any other time of the year.  I realized, long ago, that even while we may shy away from the cold, the stars embrace this time of year, as if following the command of Psalm 37:7, “Be silent to the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”  Its as if they are frozen in the glorious memory of the purpose they served over two thousand years ago … to light the path to a baby, so that wanderers might no longer seek a destiny, but a person. 

Mother Theresa understood that finding our faith required attention to the details of life around us. “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence … We need silence to be able to touch souls.” 

Well, the stars have always touched my soul – and I hope that this Christmas you find time to look up … time to let yourself be embraced by the glow heaven casts, and time to reflect on the wonder and majesty of the one who put them in place.  Merry Christmas to all.  I pray my words be a gift to you today, as your readership is such a treasure to me. 

Winter Stars

There is something magical about winter stars – the way they hang just a little bit
brighter, reminding us
somehow

that even at the darkest time of year, light will not be vanquished,
but distinguished in the heavens … set in place by divinity’s hand

Somehow, they know
frozen in the ancient majesty of what was, that still all these millennia later
we would need their company
their guidance each night
to reassure us that regardless of the chaos

some
things
stay

And so these winter stars
illuminate the inky depths with their promises of constancy immutably protecting all beneath them,
glowing more brilliant with the wishes they absorb
and the prayers they translate
to the one who listens above

Radiant of the skies, resplendent gift
glisten on,
and restore these dark days with a hope only you know

12.18.16 People are the Point After All

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img_1609Yesterday I was gone Christmas shopping from nine o’clock in the morning, until seven o’clock at night.  Anyone who has the gall to tell you that shopping is not hard work is not only a liar … but also an idiot.  If you don’t believe me just think about the fact that: A) it was six degrees where I live B) the smell of the mall is a wicked combination of fruity-perfume, farts, and french fries  C) the first store, and the second may not have what you need, but the third … yeah, it also won’t D) asking where the blush is will somehow translate into, “sit here for this makeover you didn’t ask for or want” E) you won’t have time to do natural things like eat or pee, because you’ve masochistically adopted the mantra, “One more store!” and F) your heart will flutter with anxiety-ridden palpitations as you realize that is the fourteenth time someone asked you if you needed a gift receipt.

Yes, shopping is not for the weak of heart or mind.  Even for us seasoned pros, it is a challenge.  But as I rested my toes in a rose-water bath at the end of the day, greeted not with candles, but my daughter’s array of happy, plastic-toy faces …  the song the twelve days of Christmas rang in my mind, but I was signing to the tune of the memories of the amazing people God gave me the opportunity to meet, and just then, my sore feet were no longer an issue.  Thomas S. Monson once said, “The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” 

  1. Roz: He was the Indian gas station attendant, who told me I had a pretty smile.  I asked him if he had a family, and he shared with me that his daughter was getting married, and he was also blessed with a son and a beautiful wife.  I told him about my family, and then I told him my name and we shook hands.  Before leaving, he gave me two lollipops for my kids, and asked that God would bless me and my family.  I told him I’d pray for his as well, and we parted … changed.
  2. Bo: The one-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little buddy that greeted me at Michael’s craft store when his mother and my cart danced around one another.  I must’ve bumped into them four times around those crazy crafting aisles … and each time, I was greeted with an unguarded giggle and chubby hand, waving at me. 
  3. Lisa: The sweet cashier, who shared a little football cheer with me, even though we were in enemy territory.  As I chatted with her, she mentioned that she’d never been in World Market, the store I’d just came from, and so then and there, I made her pinky-promise me that she’d go and explore just for fun.  We giggled like long-time-pals, and she said when she finished at three, it would be her first stop! 
  4. Stefani: The awesome worker at Ulta, who helped me to become un-brainwashed by the product-overload I’d just been wrapped into with one of the tellers.  When I opened my overrun hands, she literally took things I didn’t need away, smiling like we shared a secret, as she took them back to the appropriate aisles so I wouldn’t get trapped again! 
  5. Levi & Kalia: The sweet empty-nesters, who chatted with me about their ambitious college boys, as I showed them proud-as-a-peacock pictures of my kids.  They reminded me how fast it goes, how much boys will eat you out of house and home, and how a line that wraps half-way around the store is nothing if you’re in good company.
  6. Francesca’s Cashiers: The three girls who floated with me around the little boutique to help me find a purse since the one I’d bought there broke, back in September. Though I had no receipt or tags, they looked it up online and traced things back to giving me a full refund, then covered up for my blunder when I put my foot in my mouth, saying how the hideous cat poster was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, right as the girl beside me was getting it!  Again … laughter covers over a multitude of blunders!
  7. Picture Book Guy: The gentleman who gave a full-tooth smile and gift of, “Thank you sweetheart,” just because I shared a coupon I wasn’t using at Barnes & Noble. 
  8. 37-Year Married Couple: The aged, gray-haired, elbows-linked couple hobbling together as a single entity in the parking lot, who I said I wanted to be just like in a few more years.  Despite the cold, they paused to tell me how long it had been, and congratulate me that I was on the same path, albeit over twenty five years shy of their mark.  
  9. Target Tommy:  This guy was the six-foot-three (yeah, I asked) Target cashier who laughed heartily, and shared that he was the tallest member of his family. I warned him that he might be adopted, and his parents just didn’t know how to tell him. He smiled, red-ears and all, and told me he’d be prepared for the conversation that was coming. 
  10. Game Stop Geeks: Let’s just say when the first and second attempts don’t work … these guys at least have the patience to answer the gaming questions I didn’t even know I should be asking.  Caught somewhere between new-age hipsters and middle school mentalities, they must’ve covered every option for my son’s Christmas gifts, in-between discussing how Nintendo is a corporate pain-in-the-bean bag chair, and what Lego Dimensions are worth my time. 
  11. Best Buy Mike: At my wit’s end, and near a breakdown, this was my last tech-attempt of the night.  I met Mike, and quickly shared with him that my son said he, “Wouldn’t give up on Santa,” though the dumb gaming system he asked for is no longer being made, and costs a fortune!  We sat, arms folded considering  for a good ten minute conversation. It included Mike role-playing a nine-year-old Christmas reenactment.  He laughed, I laughed, and though I still didn’t have everything “done,” I felt alright with the world once more. 
  12. Beth: The smoothie maker at Costco, who asked to show us a demonstration, then when I said we didn’t have time due to going to deliver food to a family in need, stopped us to donate a thirty dollar container of protein mix, for free.  She cried. I cried.  

There were a dozen other miniature moments just like that.  From Michelle, the mother waiting for her college son to make it through the storm in the bookstore, to Dino, the elderly man left alone at a table as his daughter shopped, who accepted the water I gave him with a warm, rough, dry-handshake and smile.  People always say that shopping is a nightmare, but I’d say … if you really take the time to be, “more interested in people than in things,” it’s a way to restore humanity simply because you’re exposed to so many different lives in one day. 

Maybe nine to seven is nuts … certifiable even … but today, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel inspired.  People are the point after all. 

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others simply because you can.

Elle

 

11.25.16 Thanksgiving Grace

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This year, Thanksgiving started early for me.  Last Sunday in fact.  I was in a bit of a mood, to say the least.  It happens every time I don’t have something lined up for myself.  I suffer from a bit of, “What’s Next Syndrome,” and while I relish in the miniature successes and publications of my writing, by the time the next issue comes out, or the next submission is sent, I am already feeling a bit unsettled, like an itch I can’t quite reach that requires another step forward to satisfy. 

It sounds discontent, I know.  But honestly, the light of a wordsmith’s heart tends to dim ever-so-slightly when there isn’t a project in the making.  At times it feels like it’d be a whole lot easier to just journal instead of dream, but J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”  His words remind me that it is so easy to feel that the “road” is ending, just because I don’t know what turn to take next.  I wish that my writing career came with a little GPS, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.  There isn’t a Google map to follow, there isn’t a set plan-of-action that guarantees I’ll get “there”… I’m not even sure I always know where it is I’m trying to go –  it’s more about the inertia of moving ever onward I suppose. 

Regardless, last Sunday, I was in this mood … stuck in this moment of, “what’s next.”  Sitting in church, I decided to have a little conversation with God about it.  I offered up my prayer, which was simply, “Can you give me some direction?” I’d been feeling stuck at a stop sign, and I’d have done just about anything for a, “turn here” signal.  But as God knows, I don’t always hear his whispers so well, and sometimes I need an in-my-face-moment to remind me he is bigger than my self-doubt.  Kahlil Gibran reminds how weak my mentality can be saying, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”  Faith.  There’s a noble pursuit. 

When I got home, I checked my mailbox and what do you know … there it was.  A complimentary artist’s copy of the winter issue of Bella Grace – and I was in it.  Turns out that the email I received back in October wasn’t a residual marketing outreach, but a new push for the magazine I didn’t even know I was a part of!  Not more than thirty minutes later and God showed up.  Another small step, but forward nonetheless.  It was my very own Thanksgiving grace. 

So thank you all, thank you for reading what I write, for commenting so I don’t feel alone, and for inspiring me to continuing to share my words, no matter how small they might be. 

Literarily yours,

Elle

11.19.16 Half-Okay

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“At the end of the day, all you need is hope and strength.  Hope that it will get better, and strength to hold on until it does.” -Unknown

This week something happened that left me speechless.  It wrecked me a little if I’m being honest, because it forced me to confront something that I usually choose not to … loss.  A few years ago I had a “golden class” of kids.  It wasn’t that they were the most advanced, or the greatest at anything in particular … it was just that the chemistry they had with one another and with me made us so much more than a teacher and her bunch of students – it made us a family, raw and real.  I’ve only ever had one other class that affected me the same way, and that was my second year of teaching.

Needless to say, when they happen, those “perfect” years, you don’t take them for granted for a day in the life of curriculum. When you need to stop class to talk about life and the love, and the joy, and the pain of it, you do.  We had many of those conversations. There wasn’t a topic we didn’t cover … politics, war, love, hope, faith, future, life, and death.  To this day, those two classes have been the ones to keep in contact with me.  From texts, emails, and phone calls, to lunches, emergency ice-cream stops, and coffee breaks.  The hardest thing, is when that life and that future we dreamed comes crashing to a halt I can’t step into.  They’re not with me day in and day out and I can’t be there the way I wish I could or want to be.

Two days ago I found out that one of these “golden” ones lost her brother.  He was 17, a varsity swimmer, Christian youth group leader, star student, family focused … a true all American dream.  His heart just stopped.  And with it, I assume his family’s did as well.  I thank God that they know Him … it has to be a sort of a comfort, the only comfort I would guess.  Still, for all the words and the wisdom and the grand conversations we had, I don’t think I ever prepared them enough for this.  For the grittiest parts of life – the end of it.

I asked my kids to pray for their family.  I told them that mommy would be absolutely never okay again if anything happened to either one of them.  My son asked me then, “What if you lost only one of us mom … would you be half-okay?”

How can you answer that?  How can this mother live it?  It took me two days to reach out to the family … to my student.  I couldn’t find the words, and I’m still not sure I used the right ones, but saying something in the midst of it all seemed the best way to go.  Sometimes I think that when things are the hardest, the most  important thing is just showing up.

I’ve heard that the holidays can be painful for a great deal of people.  They bring up and out memories that might do better to stay in the past, but still … we celebrate and we smile.  So if this is you – if you’re just “showing up” because people expect you to, because you said you would, that might be enough.  God has a way of putting the right people in your way at the right time, and whether you’re the one hurting, or you’re the one helping … I really think that’s the point of it all.  Of this journey.  Of this life.  You might only be half-okay, but you know what?  Half might just be enough to carry you back to whole.

Wishing you all the hope in the world,

Elle

10.29.16 Effervescence and Men’s Deodorant

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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

10.12.16 Just for the Sake of Words

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Just for the sake of words, of poetry for poetry’s sake,  

I’ll write so that lines and lyrics have the chance to intertwine, 

letters pressed next to one another, 

finding reason within the pattern of simply standing side-by-side. 

Just for the sake of words, of sentences and sentiments implied, 

I’ll tiptoe-type across the keys, dotting into existence thoughts 

that only moments before, were left un-scribed – 

vindicating their importance simply by being in print. 

Just for the sake of words, of conversations that have a right to be spoken,

I’ll say the terms that may or not be easy to hear,  

tossing into the wind a winding of syllables and beats 

that beat the eardrum to submission until they are received. 

Just for the sake of words, of promises scrawled with passion,

I’ll read the pen that hit the page with fervor 

having faith that seeking wisdom and finding it 

would meet one another at just the right time.

Just for the sake of words, of expressions waiting in step, 

I’ll play the song of sounds until the seams blend into one,

where wall flower turns of phrase become choreographed cadences

and a masquerading missive is delivered among the dance

Just for the sake of words, of poetry for poetry’s sake,

I’ll create where there was no creation.

I’ll invent settings yet unexplored.

I’ll cure complacency.

I’ll offer intrigue.

I’ll breathe, and sigh, and live, and cry again, and again

loss and gain in equal measure … 

and all for the sake

of words.

 

All my love,

Elle

9.28.16 The Memory Box

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I have this vintage box of letters in my office.  Faded with printed flowers and scrawling text, this box has, tucked within it’s brass latch, more memories than I’d ever be able to hold in my mind without its weathered assistance. All those years ago, when I began collecting the notes, scraps, photographs, and messages it now contains, I never could’ve known they would become so much more than the simple correspondences they might originally seem to be. 

There, layered in paper, are private jokes with friends, confessions from past loves, and pictures that hold me forever still on a page. And I am so thankful, that for whatever reason in my adolescence, I had the foresight to know that I’d need these reminders of who I was then.  The truth is, life doesn’t give us many opportunities for reminiscence, things go too fast, years blur in colorful streaks past my consciousness until I force myself to slow, and visit a memory.  

Some of these letters are joy personified, littered with smiles, and coded words that no longer make sense but invoke pleasure anyway.  Lined with plans of what we’d do, or where we’d go, or even where we had already been. Some, are harder though.  They are the letters that, even now, I can’t bear to read, but need to hold onto, because they are the last proof of the people I can’t let go of … not entirely at least.  Cataloged haphazardly, whether dark or delicious … each memory in turn serves its purpose, and found residence in that treasure box for a reason clear to me alone. 

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Like a silent-bound old friend, this box keeps my secrets, benign as they may be, and guards them until I am ready to whisper glances at them some random, nostalgic day. 

Some pieces of a heart remain a mystery. And open as one might claim to be, there will always be chambers and alcoves none can enter.  And so it goes. There are depths and passes that remain unexplored, but there are also pathways well worn with remembering.  

American Author Roman Payne captured the desire of a woman’s heart perfectly saying, “The only thing higher for a girl and more sacred for a young woman than her freedom and her passion should be her desire to make her life into poetry, surrendering everything she has to create a life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in her imagination.” 

My letter box reminds me of those beautiful dreams I once had, and gives me the courage to know that same girl, the recipient of each precious letter, is still in me somewhere.  It’s time we honor our hearts, our ambitions, and our imaginations.  It’s time to pay reverence to the memories that formed us, but to look forward to what is yet to come.  Like elongated silhouettes, memories can cast a lovely shadow … but only when you take them in context of the light before you here and now.  Walk on my friends. 

Elle

9.22.16 From the Other Side of Lost

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I have found,

(in my limited experience of finding)

that life

is worth

the struggle

That things like optimism, brotherhood and benefit-of-doubt

still have a place among this place

and time

It could be said I’m just naive,

and once, I was

But fortunately,

my unfortunate moments have indeed proven that life

isn’t

easy,

and so naivety is no longer my reason why

It’s true, that early on it was simple to be

just because

Because my path was lit with golden strands that showed me where to go

and faces

and chances

seemed to make their way to me

Back then, there was no such thing as making up a mind

when I thought I knew it all

And my smiles then were breezy,

and I gave advice out freely

and I didn’t have a silver-lineless cloud

It was common then,

to look at life as though it were my game

until one day

it showed me I could lose

For the first time I saw clearly

the haze and misperception

of perfection

that no longer

existed

The enchantment of ideas like

later,

soon,

or “someday,” lost their glimmer

and I felt my sparkle

just

begin

to fade

But in that in-between…

past “Who am I?”

“Where am I going?”

and

“What do I do now?”

I realized, that some people

the right people

whether they’d been lost

or not

were waiting for me

to be right where I was

exactly who I was

accepting me for all they knew I could be

The grace of life

are the people you meet in it

those God sent

to bring out the potential you’d

never

realize alone

And so I don’t say

naively

that life is worth the struggle

I say

from the other side of lost

that found

is bringing others

to the light you know

 

9.15.16 Black Sunshine

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American business man Frank Lane once said, “If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.” Well, today, I think I was the storm.  Exhausted after another seemingly endless day, I dragged myself and the kiddos to the grocery store, pretty much letting them buy whatever they asked to throw into the cart because I was too tired to say no.  So what did we end up with?  A whole lot of food with impossible-to-pronounce, genetically-engineered crap for ingredients!  That’s what!

You see, starting a new school year, a new job, and a new slough of practice schedules while trying to maintain a house, and writing ambitions isn’t going so well. I’ve got about ten baskets of laundry I’m notoriously hiding under my bed, and an overweight Bernese Mountain Dog in need of more than a quick walk around the block.  To top it off … my awesome husband has found a perfect time for himself to work out daily, and has come home from work refreshed and fit, as his office has a built-in gym. Needless to say – if he tells me about one more “great workout” he’s had, he’ll be sleeping alone. I can’t seem to find thirty minutes to call my own, let alone three miles worth!

So today, after grocery shopping, and starting laundry, and taking care of the pets, and making dinner … I was feeling a little feisty.  As soon as my husband got home, I threw on the first clothes I could find and announced, that I needed to go workout before I, “lost it.”  Looking at me as if I already had, my husband grinned, reading the t-shirt I had on, “You are my sunshine.” Laughing at the irony of my stormy personality, he said, “Aww, you’re my little black sunshine.”

And you know what … it is okay. Today I am a little black sunshine.  I am happy, but in a bit of a thunder-cloud mood.  I’m ready to joke around, but am also ready to misinterpret or read into comments at will.  I am at peace with the fact that peaceful is not the way I feel … and if I had to define myself in one word at the moment … spitfire might be the one I’d choose.

There are plenty of things I don’t love about myself in this very moment: my new blemish (aka: zit), my cramped muscles, my straw-like hair, my nicked nail polish, my pile of to do’s, but that’s alright. Because I’ve decided, that just for today, I’d like to agree with Marilyn Monroe when she said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” So I’m going to focus on what I do like about me right now instead.

I like my witchy-purple nail polish that’s just a shade too dark.

I like that my broodiest moods still involve lots of laughter, a bit of glitter, and “I forgive you’s.”

I like that while putting away groceries, my husband and I turned up  rap songs and danced in the kitchen until our kids came in from the yard and we ran to push, “mute!”

I like that even on a school-night (as a teacher) I let my kids stay up until way too late because it was the first time my daughter requested to watch Star Wars.

I like that half of my dinner tonight consisted of spoonfuls of peanut butter, and sea-salt chocolate caramels.

I like that my sister and I took a few minutes on our long-distance phone call to pretend that we lived closer, and even planned out what movie we’d watch if she were here.

I like that even on a day like this … when I’m an absolute troll, my mom texted me, “Goodnight beautiful.”

I like that tomorrow is another day … and I know it’ll be even brighter.

And I like that I should be sleeping, but instead am up typing to you … whoever you are … in the hopes that you relate, and find a likable list about yourselves too.

Carry on my little black sunshines – carry on.

Elle