9.1.19 The Cost of Hope

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“Sometimes I think I might be a bit of a naive optimist, a bit of a wishful thinker … In a world where light blinks out, where forecasts dim, I imagine that hope really might conquer all … if only a few more people looked for it.” – Elle Harris 

 

This quote is a small snippet of my newest piece in Bella Grace Magazine. Fresh to the local bookstore stands, this bookazine, as I’ve come to call her, is just stunning. From Autumn-crisp colors to inspiring quotes, photographs, and articles, I hope you’ll find half as much joy reading it as I did being one of the writers.

This piece in particular meant a great deal to me because I wrote it soon after the passing of my grandmother. I realize that being in my mid-thirties, I was lucky to even have her this long, but logic and the heart don’t always coincide. I miss her every day. And yet, just as the poem shows, life takes turns with our emotions. If my grandmother taught me anything, it is to pursue joy and hope at all cost … and if believing in hope costs you everything, well, then it is still well worth it.

I hope this fall season has you believing in the beauty and magic of this extraordinary, ordinary life.

All my love,

Elle

7.6.16 You’ll Be a Man My Son

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“That best portion of a man’s life:  his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” –  William Wordsworth

There are 115 days until Halloween.  Did you know?  Me either, but the young man at our local pool does.  We first saw him last year in the large sand pit.  A bit older than the other boys and out of place, I noticed he was taking care to build a perfectly round pumpkin (complete with stripes and a jack’o’lantern grin) at the base of the centered umbrella.

A few of the other children were giving him cautious glances as he worked tirelessly and methodically to write “127 Days Until Halloween,” beneath the sandy globe.  I saw this as an opportunity, and began a small conversation of pleasantries with him. After about a minute of taking to this  sweet young man, I realized he was Autistic, and not only that, but perfect. Tan skin, shy eyes, and a bright-white smile whenever you mentioned his favorite holiday, he remained someone my children and I looked forward to seeing, because he was just so happy … and who doesn’t want to see or be a part of that emotion?

I am thankful to this boy because he opened up an opportunity for discussion with my kids, about how God creates us all differently, with unique minds, and precious ways that they work apart from everyone else’s.  They realized that day that some people see the world from day to day increments, and some amazing minds see it as a countdown to Halloween.

Fast forward a year … sun screened and ready to go to the pool, my kids and I were thrilled when we saw that same delightful boy.  He was a year older, maybe twenty, but with one question, we knew who he was for certain.  “How many days until Halloween?”

“128,” he said, giving us a quick smile and glancing away again.

And that was the entirety of our conversation,  but to be remembered, isn’t that all anyone really wants in this life?

A couple of days later, my son got a little pack of Disney character toys, and among the pieces, found one that was some little character based on the movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  He’s never seen it, and didn’t know why there was a spooky little figure.

“Mom,” he hesitated, “isn’t this a little creepy?”

“No, it’s not creepy,” I told him, “it’s just from a Halloween movie.”

Looking at it for a long second he said, “Do you think I could give it to the boy at our pool, because it makes me think of him and I think maybe he’d like it.”

I wanted to cry.  Here was a boy who was willing to give up a part of his new collection, because he remembered someone else who would find a value in it that was greater than his own.  I’ve had the figure in my purse ever since.

We waited weeks to see our sand-pumpkin carving friend again, but eventually, after looking around each and every time we went to the pool – there he was.  Wading in the deeper end, my son patiently waited for the whistle to blow, signaling that the end of swimming was up.

“Are you sure I should,” he asked my husband and I with hesitant eyes.  “What if he doesn’t like it?”

“I’m sure he’ll love it,” my husband replied.

“Even if he doesn’t show it the same way we might,” I added.

A moment later, making his way to the edge of the pool, our son took the chance.

“Excuse me,” he called out to the young man.  “How many days until Halloween?”

“118,” he called back.

“Um, I wanted to give this to you because I know you like Halloween and it made me think of you.”

Handing him the little piece, the boy took it gingerly, examining it slightly, before holding onto it tightly, and parting our company. He may have mumbled a thank you, but I couldn’t tell you for sure.  I was too busy beaming with pride at my son.  As he bravely let out a whoosh of air and a smile, relieved that he went through with it, and sharing how good it felt to do something for someone.  I don’t think he stopped smiling the rest of the ride home.

Looking back on this simple interaction, I think it is not the monumental milestones that make up a life … it is the tiny experiences like this that really shape, form, and solidify the character of a person.  Rudyard Kipling, in a poem to his own child, wrote, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty-seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”

To my own son: I emulate the same sentiment.  You have filled one minute with a greater good than that which takes many people a lifetime to figure out.  You’ve stepped out in kindness, in generosity to make this weary old world just a little bit better.  And in those moments, I see the man you are already becoming … and I thank God for you.

Appreciate someone who may not be seen today by anyone but you.  See them.  Acknowledge them in a way that reminds them they are worthy of acknowledgement.  “Encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Elle

8.23.15 The Thing About Weddings Is …

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The thing about weddings is … they’re AMAZING!  Even the un-amazing parts are amazing.  (It makes sense, just don’t think about it too long.) They are amazing because they are about love, and, as the unknown quote says, “Love is a symbol of eternity. It wipes out all sense of time, destroying all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end.”  Weddings are about promises made, and promises intended to be kept. They are a declaration and an invitation into two lives that are evolving into one.  They are beautiful, and I never tire of them.  This weekend one of my closest college friends got married and it was one of the best nights I’ve had at such an event.  But regardless of the bride, the groom, or the venue … I’ve found that (in my opinion at least) the top fives remain the same! 

Top 5 Sweetest Moments of a Wedding

*The way the groom looks when he sees his bride for the first time

*The simultaneous holding on and letting go moment during the daddy/daughter and mother/son dances

*Seeing married couples remember their own exchange of vows

*The public declarations of brotherly/sisterly affection for the world to recognize during speeches

*The sweeping gaze of the bride and groom during their first dance as one

Top 5 Traditions Worth Keeping

*Old, New, Borrowed, Blue (people get so creative)

*Pachabel’s Cannon in D (no better bride march song)

*Receiving lines (it’s so beautiful to see all the types of people who come)

*Cutting of the cake (if they didn’t, half of us wouldn’t even notice where the cake was and it costs WAY too much not to appreciate)

*Blessing (God needs to be remembered on the biggest-blessing-of-your-life day”

Top 5 Best Lines of the Day

  • “You may now kiss the bride”
  • “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
  • “We are gathered here today to celebrate the love of …”
  • “We would like to remember those who are with us in spirit”
  • “As long as you both shall live”

Top 5 Songs NO ONE Wants to Hear at a Wedding But We All Hear Them and Dance Anyway

  • YMCA (puke)
  • Celebrate Good Times (COME ON!!!!)
  • The Chicken Dance (Who in their right mind ever thought it was a good idea to dance like a fowl? That’s what I’d like to know.)
  • Shout (Let’s not and say we did!)
  • American Pie (I don’t like pie on a plate, or in a song.)

Top 5 Things That Happen When Wedding Guests Don’t Realize How Much They’ve Been “Celebrating” 

  • They get louder … and louder … and louder, until they speak to you like they’ve been at a concert and are temporarily not only inebriated, but deaf
  • They speak more freely (and tell you life stories that should never have been lived, let alone shared aloud)
  • They dance with more (false) confidence
  • They get friendlier with brand new acquaintances, inviting them to dance like they were best-college pals
  • They “enjoy” every song, perhaps too much, singing every word like they were the ones that wrote it

Top 5 Things Everyone Hates to do But Does at a Wedding

  • Wears uncomfortable shoes
  • Chooses clothing to match their significant other
  • Eats salad before dinner (although some ARE really tasty)
  • Introduces themselves repeatedly, answering and asking the four redundant questions one must ask when meeting someone new (how you know the couple, what they do for a living, where they live, and if they’re enjoying themselves)
  • Dances to one of the top five worst songs in recorded history

Top 5 Moments You Wish You Could Capture in a Jar

  • When the flower girl dances with her daddy, and you see his eyes glisten with the knowing that someday, it’ll be her turn
  • When the groom takes the bride’s hand under the table, and looks at her with new found wonder at truly being “his”
  • When the mother of the bride watches her daughter dancing, and is caught in the memory of her own wedding day
  • When the bride dances with her grandfather, and you know it may the the last time he leads a woman on the dance floor
  • When the night is over, and the bride has her head on the groom’s shoulder in contented exhaustion, a small smile on her face as she commits every detail to replay later in her mind

Top 5 Moments From My Own Wedding

  • The groom
  • When my mom flew in my favorite flower, Lillies of the Valley, to put in my bouquet since they were out of season
  • Dancing to “Goodnight My Angel” with my daddy
  • Being surrounded by all the family and friends who taught us what love really is, and how to experience it
  • When my new husband took down my hair, one bobby pin at a time

Considering how I feel about weddings, you’d understand that I would LOVE to hear your top five!  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE post and share your top five “about weddings” or about your own.

#weddingsarethebest!!

Elle

8.9.15 Not Accepting the Unacceptable

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This is a photograph of my daughter.  She is beautiful; and she knows it.  She knows it not because she is arrogant, but because we tell her so … day in and day out.  We shower her with lovely words, embrace her with confident thoughts, and do the best we can to walk in kindness with her.  We tell her she is smart.  We encourage her to speak up for herself (or as I say, not be a “damsel”).  She doesn’t always want to believe in herself, but we don’t give her much choice otherwise.  I’m sure to some outside viewers we are too lavish with our affection, with our words of affirmation and our unwavering attention, but I know what happens later – and I need her to be strong enough now, for then.  

You all know “Then,” because you’ve been through it.  You’re living in it.  “Then” is the “real-world,” trying to steal your joy,  knocking down your door to take whatever light you’ve got that makes you special, just to momentarily satisfy the sarcasm, or the shock-value, or the “I-told-you-so.”  “Then” is conformity … doing or saying what’s expected instead of what you should have done or said.  According to Virginia Woolf “Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul.  She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.”  I think the last line is the one that strikes me deepest … “outer show and inwards emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.”  Indifferent – it is such a sad word.  To be past caring enough to even feel, what could be worse?  

If you want to know why I spend so much time and energy on my kids, on my students, and on the random smile-laden conversations with strangers, this is why.  It’s because this life is just waiting for us to conform.  To “go along.”  To become numb to the callous and dark … and I refuse.  I remember hearing my pastor once say that we are to “Do what is best, not what is allowable.”  I think the problem lies in people determining what is best in a world where anything is allowed. 

This whole little “stream of consciousness” started for me this past Wednesday at a farmer’s market of all things.  Would you believe it?  Something as innocent as a place to buy organic produce left me shaken, asking what is acceptable versus what I am willing to allow.  I was at a stand, buying something for my dog, when a man from another stand with dog leashes asked me to come see his merchandise.  I wasn’t in the market, but I looked over his work, and was considering getting one.  I was being picky … I’ll give him that … but typically, when you don’t really need what someone’s selling, you have the right to be.  I was just about to get the fifth leash I looked at, when I saw it was dirty and asked him for another.  That’s when he leaned in, nudging me like we were old pals and said, “You really are a b*%^ch aren’t you.”  

Now I’ve been pretty blessed to surround myself with people who encourage me.  I don’t think I’ve been called that word more than a small handful of times in my life (and never to my face).  Seeing my obvious shock, the guy tried to backpedal, saying, “I know I can say that to you because you’d know I’m kidding around.”  And I looked him in the eye and said, “No, actually, you can’t say that to me.  And I think we’re done here.”  He tried to apologize, but there are some things that just aren’t really okay.  

Some might say I was being too stiff.  That he wasn’t serious and I shouldn’t take him so seriously, but I guess I think that there are just some standards we shouldn’t disregard.  If you know me at all, then you know I love to joke around.  I teach middle school for heaven’s sake … I can take sarcasm, I can take a joke, and I can spit a comeback at you faster than you can think of a new one.  But I was not raised to tolerate disrespect, and it’s accepting the little things that really are unacceptable that begin to tear down our personal foundations.  

I look at that picture of my daughter, and I know that someday someone is going to hurl an insult at her.  And I know it might shake her.  It might bruise her ego or fracture a small piece of her heart.  But it will not break her; because Lord willing we will have given her enough courage to love herself to a strength that withstands the blows of others.  

So whether you have been given an upbringing of armor, or rags … I pray you take this moment, here and now to decide who you are and what you are willing to take.  Because if God put you in my way today, I would like to believe that it is to tell you that conformity is not your answer … and what is simply “allowable” is not necessarily acceptable.

Do not let others put you down, no matter who you are or who they think they are.  

Do not forget that you are precious, and created for a purpose that no one else can fulfill. 

Do not forget that you do not have to be okay with things that are not okay.  

You are not alone.  

Elle

4.19.15 For You, I Will

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So it’s almost that time of year again.  The time where I have to part with 80 of the messiest, craziest, most annoying, demanding people that I absolutely adore.  My students.  I know that being a teacher is all about the Mary Poppin’s theory, you know the “I’ll be here until the wind changes” and all of that … but sometimes I wish those darn winds of change would make a change themselves and stay put.  Because I hate goodbyes.  Hate them.  Anyone who has ever really known me, knows this is true about me because they’re obviously still in my life as I’ve never let them go!  And yet I’m forced to … year after year.  Kind of a dramatic irony when you think about it.  Or maybe a test of will?  Either way, I am not looking forward to June for one reason, and one reason only – I am going to have to say goodbye.  Again.

Believe me there are some lovelies I will miss less, but the truth is … they’re my kids.  I am with them for better, but mostly for worse, (they are middle schoolers after all) but none of it matters because they are mine.  When people ask me “Why middle school?” (and they do) I try to explain that these kids, these emergent human beings, just need someone on their side.  And it is true that they’re sometimes awful, and it is true that they are always exhausting, and it’s even true that sometimes they go too far.  But I come back to them day after day, because while I believe in going too far, I don’t believe in a point of no return.  So I am their return.  

As important as I feel that it is for you to know this, it’s even more important that they know it.  So below is a poem that I plan to give my students this year for graduation.  I’d like your thoughts to make sure it’s “good enough” first.  And if you love and live for anyone who deserves to hear this … then I also wrote it for you to give to them.  

For You, I Will

Sometimes, (most times maybe) you make me crazy –

but somehow, your version of crazy keeps me sane …

and I need you

Maybe even more than you need me …

sometimes

I know you know how much I care about you –

but I don’t think you know what I will do

For you, I will cross the fissure-cracked social lines that others dare not pass

On the shattered shards of broken reflections and unforeseen potential

I will walk …

for you

For you, I will confront the darkest shadows –

the ebony-ink choices that stain,

and scar

I won’t close my eyes; I won’t turn away

though many times

I might want to, because seeing you hurt,

hurts me

For you, I will stay

I will stand beside you as you face down your demons

so that if at any time you lose your way

I can take your hand

and bring you back to the place of remembering who you really are

or might be,

if you let yourself get there

I know I am not strong enough to chase the light for everyone

but for you

I am … and I will

Because I believe that one day, your constellations will be cast,

and the vast sky will blueprint an iridescent future you couldn’t yet imagine

Someday doubt will be a road you have passed and you will find yourself sure

reaching toward the sun as high as your roots are deep

I know something true, that you soon will …

you are almost ready

So I, almost have to be

Your time with me has been a chrysalis – a home of transformation,

but your wings are steady, and must now be tried on winds much farther than I can sail

It is only because of this that I would ever find the strength to let you go …

for I do not say goodbye easily

But time is no longer on my side –

it’s on yours

Your silver-linings are set on the dawn, full-glowing

And you have already begun to outgrow me

please know it’s okay … all is as it should be

Loss is a beautiful pain to endure,

but for you …

I will

So sometimes, (most times maybe) you make me crazy –

but somehow, your version of crazy has kept me sane …

and I need you

infinitely more than you need me …

always

But I love you

and love is at its best when it is letting go

So I refuse to part with you for me,

but for you … to allow you the chance to begin your own precious adventures …

I will

9.16.14 Be Found

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“The greatest gift in life is to be remembered.” Ken Venturi

I was having an email conversation back-and-forth with a past student recently, and near the end of the string of messages, he asked me a really significant question. I ended my last email by saying I miss you, and when he responded, he asked “Do you really miss me? Or all of us together?” That simple, sweet, innocent question reminded me something very central to the nature of all of our hearts – everyone wants to be the one who’s remembered. Everyone wants to be that significant, special, and unable to be forgotten or replaced. Whether or not you admit it, I believe it is at the core of our being to want to be wanted.

What’s hard is that the world doesn’t make us feel this way. More often than not we are made to believe we are no more than a commodity – completely replaceable and able to be moved on from. Even those who love us best can do it. Someone moves away, or gets a different job and suddenly phone calls become more sparse and visits don’t seem as big of a priority as they were intentionally promised to be. It isn’t that the person isn’t special to you, it’s just that life gets in the way of what you thought you had time for. Each other.

I think that this is one of the biggest reasons why I find such comfort in my faith. Because to God, I’m not replaceable, I’m not returnable, I am just me. Me: exactly as he made me to be. Me: a daughter of his kingdom. I’m not going to lie, I sometimes have trouble thinking of myself in this grand way. It’s hard to make myself feel that important, but it’s not about what I think I’m worth, it’s about what God thinks I’m worth. I think the best it was ever described to me, was by my pastor. He talked about one day when he was at a birthday party with his three children, and his youngest got away. He talked about the frantic nature of their search, and how absolutely, heart-stoppingly afraid he was that his son was lost, and at such a large facility.  After starting his story, he then interjected with the ridiculous thought that he had three kids, only one was lost, so why should he worry about losing only one?  At least he still had two, right? This was the part of the sermon where any mother or father with decency began to open their eyes wider and wider in shock at such a ludicrous  statement. What an offensive thought, that having a child or two still at home would make you be able to accept losing another … it was crazy. But then he went on to explain his metaphor; he said that’s how God feels about us. That even though he has so many wonderful, saved children, it doesn’t take away the pain, the grief, or the search for those who are still lost.

I really believe that sometimes we tend to put all our focus on being needed, noted, and worldly-significant in the here and now, without any thought to how fleeting the gratification of now really is. I tried to give just a glimpse of this idea to my middle schoolers, when I asked them to tell me 10 facts about George Washington. After about the fourth or fifth fact, they were tapped out. They didn’t really know many details of the man besides his presidential station, his hair color, who he was married to, and the fact that he had false teeth (totally vital to know). Given the idea to do this by a pastor of ours, it helped them to realize that even one of the most famous historical figures in America was now only a shadow. He was significant surely, he mattered to the fabric of our nation’s history, but not many people aside from historians truly remember the man for who he was, only what he was. And there’s a difference.

I tell my students, as I tell you now, that most of us, regardless of how successful we are in this life, will not have more than a handful of facts remembered about us in 200 years. Many of us will be lucky to even have our name somewhere, still attached to this world. I don’t say this to depress you, on the contrary, I think it is really inspiring. How can I possibly be afraid to try anything, to be anyone, if I know that here is so fleeting. It really takes away my worry of embarrassing myself, or anxiety about trying for something big and failing. Because whether I make it, or whether I don’t, is far less significant than who I become in the process. From what I have come to believe, this life is a journey that prepares us for what’s to come … for a place that isn’t fleeting, and a type of significance that cannot be washed away with time. So I hope you allow yourself to be found by the one who’s been looking for you all along. Identify yourself in God, and know with certainty that you are wanted. You are needed. And you are worth remembering.

“My legacy doesn’t matter. It isn’t important that I be remembered. It’s important that when I stand before the Lord, he says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ I want to finish strong.” James Dobson

 

Literarily yours,

Elle

5.17.14 Really? A Dollar?

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Before I begin today, I need to set a little disclaimer that I am a law-abiding goody-two-shoes.  I mean it.  I am.  Ask my family I even won my high school class award for it!  I rarely do anything more significant than occasionally speed (okay, more than occasionally maybe).  But aside from a few heavy-footed tickets, I’m clean. That said, I need to admit that the older I get, the more I think certain rules are just plain stupid … punitive and unnecessary.  
I feel like some laws are made just to be mandates and too often edicts are spoken to exaggerate authority.  I think Emerson had the right idea when he said, “A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us.”  A few!  Not a litany … not a handbook’s worth … a few.  Sadly, in every facet of our lives, we are surrounded by much more than a few.  How we file things, how we make claims, how or when we address whoever or whatever.  There are even rules when we make orders.   
Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit jaded right now.  I just got off the phone with one of my favorite restaurants … Jimmy John’s.  So, that place is supposed to be simple right?  It’s quick, it’s easy–no mess, no worries. Except it’s not apparently.  You see, my daughter doesn’t really like sandwiches, but she will eat a cheese sandwich.  Recently, she’s added cucumber to her short list of sandwich-likes, so you can imagine we were pretty excited to accommodate her small palate.  But can we just add cucumber to a cheese sandwich?  No.  Instead, according to Jimmy John’s, “Policy” you have to order a veggie sub and proceed to order off everything you don’t want on it as opposed to just adding the one thing.  It has been a source of frustration, to say the least, but today was worse.
Today, I called in an order after soccer but before ballet to squeeze in something semi-healthy that wouldn’t ruin my somewhat clean kitchen.  Calling, I ordered “easy cheese” on my sub (Who needs six pieces on one sandwich anyway?) and then added cheese to my son’s (as he only wants turkey and cheese, nothing more or less).  I’ve gotten used to the little notes of, “We’ll have to charge you extra for this,” and “It is an up-charge if you want it like that.”  Whatever.  The annoying thing was, I gave the cashier my credit card number, she said they’d be ready and we hung up.  About two minutes later, she called me back and this is how it went:
Her: “I’m sorry but I need your credit card number again.  I forgot to charge you an extra dollar for the cheese you added to the turkey sandwich.”
Me: “A dollar?”
Her: “Yes.  I am sorry for the mistake.”
Me: “Well, I took off three pieces of the cheese from my other sandwich, can’t you just put one of those on my son’s?”
Her: “No.  Sorry.  It is against our policy.”
Me: “So, even though you forgot, and we’re technically paying for cheese we aren’t going to eat, you can’t move it to my son’s sandwich and you need my credit card number again for a dollar.”
Her: “Yes.  Sorry.”
But you know what?  I don’t really think she was.  I’m not saying that the poor girl didn’t have policies … but I felt like saying, “You’re really calling me over a dollar for your mistake!?!”  I was flabbergasted to say the least and my lettuce-wrapped sandwich tasted just a little bit bitter.  The thing is … it’s not the dollar, it’s the principle–the “policy” that bothers me, because who on earth would sit around and think up something as illogical as not being able to transfer a piece of cheese?  How long is the sandwich-making handbook of amendments to the menu?  
I wonder how many of us are subject to rules like these … little pin-pricks, paper-cut annoyances in our days that make them harder.  Again, it isn’t that I don’t respect policies, procedures and laws, I just wish we’d focus our time on things that matter more!  Don’t chew gum in class, for example, seems a lot less important to me than the bullying, belittling and biases going on.  When looking into schools that where we wanted to send our son, I came across a list of rules longer than my college literature course text book.  One of the billion said, “Male students will retain a hair length no longer than the collar of their shirt.”  Immediately, I knew this was not the school for us, not because his hair was too long, but because that shouldn’t be their concern!  As an educator, there are endless things we have to worry about: test scores, lexile reading levels, new standards, changing curriculum–comparatively speaking, call me crazy, but hair length doesn’t seem too high on the list.  I know that rules are imposed to set order, but if you culture an atmosphere of respect, are that many rules really necessary?  
I guess when I filter my feelings to the source, I just feel like I’ve begun to discover that rules are relative things.  They are important, but humanity, fairness and truth matter more.  If we nurture justice, if we honor that basic code of right and wrong that is within us, I have to wonder if they could be enough?  William Blake once said, “ Jesus was all virtue, and acted on impulse, not rules.”  One more reason His life, is one rule I proudly follow.  What rules rule you?

 
Literarily yours,
Elle