6.12.19 Love Looks Different

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“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

I was married at 21. I remember people telling me I was really young and I remember thinking they were crazy. We had been together three years by that time, and when you’re 21, three years is a lifetime. Today is fifteen years from the day I said I do. And somehow, though back then three years seemed SO long, five times that has gone by in less than the blink of an eye … the beat of a heart … the length of a song.

I’ve often shared that I’m a hopeless romantic, and it’s true. I apologize to my husband because I know how unfair and unrealistic it is to be the way I am … and yet … I simply cannot help it. I love love. I even have a Pinterest board called that and pin romantic images. The thing is, after fifteen years, love looks different. At this stage it isn’t all sweeping gestures and classic eyes-closed kisses … but that doesn’t make it less … it makes it real.

For us at 36 and 37, with two kids and two dogs and two cats and two fish and two full time jobs … love is lived-in and a bit nicked up in places. My favorite home decor style is vintage romantic, and maybe that’s why … because it is still lovely, but aged … somehow sophisticated in its imperfection as if it has survived many stories worth telling. This is our love.

For us now:

Love looks like going to a coffee shop instead of a romantic dinner (neither of us have a huge appreciation for overpriced food).

Love looks like saying yes to acting classes and summer camps instead of get-away vacations for two.

Love looks like choosing to visit family every time we have a holiday.

Love looks like emptying the dishwasher, making the bed, and rinsing out the sink after shaving all without being asked.

Love looks like sacrificing Saturdays for soccer games and choosing your son’s travel league as your favorite sports team.

Love looks like saying yes to another dog because (at this point of fur) what’s the difference?

Love looks like stolen kisses at midnight because it is the only time our daughter might actually be sleep.

Love looks like laughing at old jokes … remembering first kisses … and being secure in the fact that regardless of the potholes life throws our way … we’re under construction together.

So yeah … our love looks nothing like my Pintrest board. It doesn’t sweep you under like a romantic novel or entrance you like a classic film … but it has stood the test of time; it is vintage and lovely, worn and comfortable. My love story, and the children who have come out of it, are the greatest accomplishments of my life. My husband is my living, breathing, there-for-me-when-I’m-being-a-weirdo, dream-come-true and I hope he knows it, even when I forget to thank him as I should.

Wherever you are in your love story … I sure would like to hear about it! You know I’m a sucker for romance after all … even when love looks different.

Hugs and kisses,

Elle

6.4.19 Esse Quam Videri

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“Esse Quam Videri” 

So our family is about to embark on a new adventure … we are moving from one part of these amazing United States to another. We’ve never before been out of the Midwest and now? We are about to be Southern y’all! The problem is … I love people too much – fiercely so, and with moving comes goodbyes; and goodbyes wreck me.

This past week I needed to say goodbye to my school … my students (present and former) and my friends. Do you know that the word goodbye actually comes from the 1500’s when the standard greeting was, “God be with thee.” I wish we still said that … a prayer in parting instead of a single word ringing with finality. I’m blessed enough to be going from a place that believes the same. I was grateful to be sent off with a jar of words … glitter … and a motto to live by.

Esse Quam Videri means, “To be rather than to seem.” Authenticity, love, and intention have always been my primary ambitions, and I am ever-so-enchanted to know that in this place … among these people, I have been nurtured to be myself, and encouraged to be more than I ever thought I was worthy of becoming – a bringer of hope, a believer in change, and now a dreamer of what lies ahead.

In these next days and months there will be a great deal of change for my family and myself, but one thing is for certain … wherever I go, I want to be, rather than seem … and I never want to say goodbye to anyone I’ve had the chance to know.

Please pray for me; I need you readers … your encouragement carries me more than you know.

All my love and God be with you,

Elle

 

 

3.5.19 Sometimes, They Do

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Anak​ sokhasabbay​ te. No … this is not a typo. It is Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, and it means, “How are you?” It is also the only phrase that I can seem to get myself to remember on the occasions that I get my nails done by my sweet salon that is filled with Cambodian women. I have gone to this salon, two minutes away from my house, for a few years, and I have made friends with the wonderful owner and her staff. I know who has a baby girl, and who has a baby boy. I ask after their families and when they might go on vacation. I make pleasantries and ask them, each time I go, to teach me a new word or phrase, but so far, “How are you,” is all I can manage.

This time, as so many before, I sat down with one of the stylists, and chose my color. I hadn’t had this particular woman do my nails before, but I had seen her numerous times, on the edge of conversations … in the margin of the flurry of chatter around her. Sitting down, we made small talk and for a time, nothing was out of the ordinary – until it was.

A lot of people in my life say I talk too much – that I make conversation with everyone and anyone, and that I never leave room for silence. “Maybe people don’t want to always talk,” is something I’ve heard a million times. But my answer is always, “Then they wouldn’t talk back.”

And so I was myself, it seems I have little aptitude for being anything else. I talked. I asked. I questioned. And she answered. I asked her where she was from. Cambodia. I asked when she moved. She said she walked to Thailand when she was eight.

“Walked?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

When I asked her to explain. She did.

Can I say,  and I am rarely ashamed of myself. I try to be open, honest, and caring. I love easily and well, and am always willing to learn something new. But sometimes, I realize that I not only can be ashamed … but should be. Because I simply didn’t know. A minor in history of all things … that is what I have! And yet I knew nothing about Cambodian’s sordid history. Between 1975 and 1979 nearly 24% of Cambodia’s population was murdered through a massive genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime under the hostile take-over of the government by a man named Pol Pot. Nearly 1.8 million people, mostly educated and well respected members of society, were killed with an attempt to rid the cities of their progress and set the country’s people to be agrarian (farm) laborers. She shared that her father, an educated man who spoke seven languages, was taken, and never returned. She shared that she and her mother and sisters were split up by age to work in different labor camps. She shared that it was her three-year-old sister who found them and reunited them to one another, and that sometime later, her brave mother and two sisters walked endlessly to reach the Thailand border. She shared that they hid in ponds with straws in their mouths to breathe as shooting picked up around them. She shared that when they arrived, they were placed in internment camps, and only years later, when her aunt had made it to America, worked for three years to grant them sponsorship, and flew to California to make a living, was she really free. She shared that she wrote about the experience of losing her father, and won a youth poetry contest.

And then another nail technician came over. She said something in a quick, clipped way, and took the storyteller’s place. “She’s taking too long,” she said. With heavy, knowing eyes, she walked away.

Before I left, I found her, hugged her, and asked her to bring her poem so that I could read it when I came back. She said she thought she knew where it was.

I went home and asked my husband, a VP of International Sales and Marketing if he knew the story of Cambodian genocide. He did not. So I researched it, and sure enough. The experience of her life and the lives of millions of others was splayed across thousands of websites.

Shame has no place among those who hope to make a difference. So I am no longer ashamed. But I am asking you to join me in knowing this tragedy … in feeling its gravity and honoring its victims. Mostly, I am asking that you take the time to ask. Because sometimes people don’t want to talk – but sometimes, they really do.

All my love and peace,

Elle

 

2.12.19 His

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They say all men are created equal

and I believe it

But in my experience, they don’t remain so

because some

(one)

has found a way to elevate my perspective on the possibility of everything

His is the memory I run to when I need to hear just one more story

the promise that nothing lasts forever, and tomorrow will be better than today

His is the patient voice on the other side of my endless why’s

answering when he can

and holding me when he can’t

There are few people who are able to possess the freedom of imagination

and the anchoring roots of integrity

but he does

His is the mind that recognizes my Neverland dreams

and the plank-walk inducing push to jump into the unknown

and keep swimming though I can’t see land

“Landing isn’t what you’re looking to do,” he will remind me

and I will carry on

I share his eyes, but not always his sight

and yet his is the calm to my tempest-beset heart

when the world overwhelms my “Why does it have to be that way,” view

“So then make it better,” he will challenge

Equal to none,

this is the man

I have made a lifetime of admiring

It is his hands that have held me

helped me

pushed me

and fiercely protected me

always

and today

it is his life

I am grateful for

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.6.19 Morning

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This morning my son woke up my daughter who had come into my bed sometime before and fallen back asleep, “Wake up, I need you to play a game.” 

“What game?” 

“It doesn’t matter, as long as you play with me. Leave mom sleep, but I want to play with you.” 

“Well then, you’ll have to carry me,” she said groggily. 

“Ugh,” he grumbled.

“Carry me or I can’t go,” she insisted.

“Fine, get on my back,” he replied dutifully turning around. 

“Nope, this way,” she said, curling her legs up for him to scoop her. “But don’t drop me!” 

“I’m not gonna drop you,” he said, shifting to get a better hold. “If anything, I’ll go down too.” 

After putting her down she ran back to me, “I just needed a hug.” I gave her a tight snuggle. And waiting behind her, was him. “I just need a hug too.” I held on for as tightly as he’d let me. 

1.21.19 Today’s Yesterday

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“Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”

It has been a hard week, to say the very least. There have been a bevy of emotional ups and downs, and at the end of it all … I was utterly exhausted. Usually, my day consists of waking up and dashing from one activity to the next. As awful as it is to admit, I usually need to think hard when someone says, “What’d you do yesterday?” But today’s yesterday is the exception.

Yesterday, after family coming and family going and hellos that came for goodbyes, my sister stayed. She  lives exactly 829 miles away, and it takes 13 hours and 29 minutes to get from one of our doorsteps to the other. We do not get to spend Sundays together, except for yesterday. Here for less than ideal circumstances and the passing of our grandmother (maybe the greatest lady who ever lived), we were granted an impromptu two days of “us.”

Emotionally (but never conversationally) spent, we sat in my bed for over two hours. We solved at least half of all the world’s problems. And mostly, we just rested and refueled one another’s emptiness. My sister is one of the only people who is allowed to see me in any stage, shape, or form of who I am at any given moment. She is the keeper of my secrets … the focus of my memories … and the protector to my fears. There isn’t a whole lot that cannot be solved by a day spent doing “nothing” with her … because her nothing is a whole lot more than something with anyone else.

Be grateful if you have a sister. If not … I’ll try to be one to you, as I’m pretty sure I’ve had the best training from the greatest example out there.

Elle

 

1.14.19 Not Now

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Today I lost my grandmother. And while I know each person’s pain is their own, this feels quite acute … as if a particular piece of my childhood-self, somehow, can’t fathom her world without her. Yesterday was a long goodbye, and today I missed her final breath by two minutes. Just two. I wouldn’t have wanted her to stay, but it was my turn to be the brave one. In leaving, it’s almost as if she was saying, “No, no little girl. This moment isn’t yours to bear.” And yet facing a host of tomorrows without her seems somewhat indomitable if I’m being honest.

After leaving, I wasn’t ready. So I stayed. I went to the lake and closed my eyes against the rare, January sunshine. I went to the park and swung in the swing she always sat in … second from the right. I bought sweets at the candy store. I ran all the way up the church steps … just to run right back down. Then I got my nails painted red – her favorite, flashy color.

I tried grandma, to have a day “bumming” around … just the way you’d like it. I smiled. I remembered. I played. And I know where you are. And I’m happy for you … but here’s what I’m feeling just the same.

 

There is an art to saying goodbye

to orchestrating a memory that you know will be your last

only nothing seems good enough

or long enough

because although you may have shared a million laughs

it seems a million and one …

would have been the perfect number

Maybe I could have been satisfied with just one more

if one more had been allowed

but then again

maybe not

In coming my memory flickered like moving pictures

each and every one starring that jubilant face,

but in going, I fear might fade

like the sound of a voice in the echo

like the shade of the eye I can’t catch

like the difference between holding a hand

and having yours held in return 

the coming

of going

hurts strong

There is an art to saying goodbye

and it would seem, I am no master

There are too many colors and

untidy emotions that don’t quite match

In a medium of tears and memories

of the words I’d planned to say

of the prayers I meant to pray

and moments I may have missed 

without knowing

I tried so hard

to paint pictures that would last

but now there is only beauty 

in retrospect

You’d think I’d have seen it coming –

but who looks for what they don’t want to see? 

Who studies what they never wish to know?

Who accepts what they’ve practiced to deny? 

There is an art to saying goodbye

and I’m sure 

somewhere

it is done prettily 

with noble tears

and released fears

and flower-petal softness

But art is only a representation of the parts we 

want

to remember

and today

I want then

not now

I’ll love you forever. Thank you for being you, so I could enjoy this life in a way I couldn’t ever pursue without the gift of eternal optimism, and relentless joy you showed me how to own.

I pray this poem helps you too, my readers, however you are hurting from whomever you’ve lost. There is an art to saying goodbye … and maybe the key to being the best artist … is to never say it at all.

Elle

12.24.18 Miraculously Still

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I wonder if the night was silent 

because it was too overwhelmed to speak

Maybe the fractals of light 

cast by the Bright Morning Star

were so incandescently stunning

that it somehow took nature’s breath away

and the gravity of heaven coming to earth

on the words of a promise

spoken by the lips of angels

resonated through the foundations of the world

in echoed whispers too sacred to be heard at all 

It might be that the love

transposed from ethereal divinity

into a mother’s young heart

was simply too pure to be translated into the

 imperfect reduction of words

Some feelings

after all

are simply beyond

Regardless of the why

the result of that ancient coming 

was simple

breathless

beauty

And the captivating 

overwhelming

absence of noise

must have come 

from the pivotal essence of it all

For one moment

for one breath

all

miraculously

was still

12.16.18 Holiday Cheer

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“Try to see things differently – It’s the only way to get a clearer perspective on the world and on your life.” – Neal Shusterman
Today I was reminded just how much perspective matters. I often try to look for opportunities to share a smile, a word, or a story with the people I come to meet and this particular trip to the market was no different. In the baking aisle, I was completely lost among ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground ginger when I saw a happy, very tall looking man glancing up at the shelves from a wheelchair. I asked if I could help him reach anything and he smiled largely at me, thanking me for the offer but assuring me he was fine and just waiting for his wife.

A few aisles later, I asked a worker where the molasses was, as I’ve never in my life made gingerbread cookies and had no idea. He told me it was on the top shelf near the syrup, but that it was probably really far back as a lot of people were asking about it today. He did not offer to help, just told me that I could find it there if any was left. As I made my way back, I saw the same pleasant gentleman and his wife and told them of my woes. They wheeled along with me and said they’d help me check. She finagled the last jar from the top shelf for me. I laughed and said, “Here I thought I was going to help you and you are helping me!” He smiled and told me that he was always the height-helper before getting Multiple Sclerosis. I apologized for his diagnosis and he simply smiled again and said, “You know what, it’s okay. It took a long time to progress and I’m doing alright.” His wife and I shared a few teacher stories, and after telling them I’d be praying for them, we shook hands and I was on my way.

In the checkout, I thought I’d continue the cheer and asked the teller if she was excited for Christmas. “You’re seriously asking a person in retail if they’re excited for Christmas?” she asked sarcastically.

“I guess so,” I replied. “I’ve never worked in retail so I wouldn’t know.” She continued to have a chilled demeanor and it just made me so sad. It’s true that none of us know one another’s story, but it struck me as so ironic that this seemingly healthy woman refused to find joy, and this ailing man, reduced to a wheelchair, couldn’t part with it. As I was leaving, I hoped that she would find a way to experience more than she expected this season … maybe the sweet man and his wife would find their way to her line and shift her perspective.

At home tonight, I’m blessed from my tired head, all the way down to my vintage apron. My husband and I decided to make something old and something new. He made his mother’s famous peanut butter cookies and I attempted my first gingerbread. We were both weary from a long work week, stressed with holiday finances, and overwhelmed with the all-too-soon promise of Monday morning – and yet we laughed and kissed and danced as we made a royal mess in our kitchen. Hours later, after endless cups of almond flour, loads of dishes, shared baking pans, and happy medium baking temperature (we wanted to each bake our recipes at the same time) we are in a sweet, sugar coma … grateful for the best gift of the season … one another.

I hope you are able to find yourself on the brighter side of the Christmas tree lights today and well into the new year. Be blessed dear ones.

Elle

 

12.7.18 One Heartbeat at a Time

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“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” C.B. Kelland

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I always tell people that I don’t believe in problems … I believe in solutions … but sometimes I am confronted with a life-dealt situation that seems  impossibly solution less. This is a picture of my husband Matthew, and his hero, my father-in-law, Pete. I met Pete over seventeen years ago, as a freshman in college who was head-over-heels for his son. I remember it clearer than yesterday … funny how some memories imprint.

Matthew was going to go home for the weekend and his parents were coming to get him. At the time we were “friends,” but I had ambitious hopes for more, and Matthew’s attention toward me led me to believe he might as well. I remember Matthew asked me to stop by his dorm to say hi to his parents. They were packing up his bags into the trunk of their car when they turned to meet me with open smiles and firm handshakes. I didn’t know it at the time, but Matthew said to me once that as they drove away, his dad said, “Well, I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of her.”

I love him for having said it. Because I’m pretty sure that there is no opinion in the world that my husband values over that of his daddy … and if I hadn’t gained approval that day, I’m not sure that I’d even be a part of Matthew’s story, let alone its leading lady.

The great thing (in my experience at least) about falling in love with someone, is that you get a whole other family, and after fourteen years of marriage, that is what Pete and Peg (my angel mother-in-law) are to me. They are family. They are not in-laws, they are not extensions of family. They are family – pure and true. We have built a life on shared experiences: vacations, holidays, parties, gifts, jokes, pictures, traditions … and now … diagnoses. Pete-the-Invincible, was diagnosed with Ataxia, a rare degenerative disease of the nervous system. As if that wasn’t challenging enough in the last ten years, he now battles Multiple System Atrophy as well.

It is my formed opinion, that there is a great lack of men of integrity in this world. I cannot watch the news for two consecutive minutes without thinking so … and yet I was blessed to not only come from a man of integrity (my own dad) or marry one, but also see my father-in-law continue to raise the bar of what it means. It is quite something to witness a man of increasing virtue when he is continually faced with having to reintroduce himself to a new version of his no-longer-working body. But, again and again, from cane, to walker, to wheelchair – Pete continues to convince Matthew and myself that he may just be some secret kind of superhero.

My husband and I are in the stage of life where days pass without our having said more than a few sentences to one another. We are busy, sometimes involuntarily so. We have jobs, and kids, and commitments, and to do lists that are ever-so-impossibly long. And some days, if I’m being honest – I take it out on Matthew. I resent not having time with him when he is the axis point of my life. It is ironically impractical to lose patience with and have no time for the person I want to be with more than anything. And in that way, in those times – I fail.

Then I look at my mother-in-law … at her ability to love in the most flawless way. Her hands are servant hands. Her mind is their shared bank of memories. Her heart is steadied by the realities of love’s legacy before her. And she carries on. Impossible as tomorrow may seem, she faces each sunrise bravely, with the gentle touch of a warrior.

And I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that I struggle in these … the best and strongest days of our lives, to love her son the way he deserves to be loved – selflessly, regardless of the amount of time we do or don’t have each day to show it. I have him. We have now. And by their example, I am confident in how to build this love story of ours … just like his parents … one heartbeat at a time.

Walk, wheel, crawl, or cry out to the one you love the most. Don’t leave anything until tomorrow.

Elle

P.S. This holiday season, please consider a donation to the further research of curing Ataxia.

https://ataxia.org