4.9.17 Love for the Sake of Loving

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Sometimes I think that of all the words we can fill a conversation with, it is the smallest phrases that often have the most impact – phrases like: I trust you, I believe in you,  I love you, thank you, you mean so much to me, or please don’t go.  I don’t think we use these phrases enough. I don’t think anyone does. And I come to wonder what state this world might be in if we all heard them just a little bit more.

John C. Maxwell once said, “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” Though I’m sure I am oversimplifying, I really think that most problems in the world could be avoided if people just felt that they were needed … appreciated … wanted. If everyone felt even one of these things, how could feelings of ineptitude or desolation even exist?

So often I feel like I’m chasing an ideal version of myself that may never exist. I seek the writer who is able to be sustained by her craft of words. I chase the teacher who is no longer in the classroom, but who is instead sharing her wisdom in workshops or assemblies. I imagine the wife and mother who is able to do-it-all without becoming a ragged mess in the process. I desire to be the friend who always has time to write that card, answer that call, or meet up with everyone that matters to her. In reality – I am none of those things yet, maybe ever. But I wonder if that’s the point? From a handful of experiences recently, I am starting to think it might be a whole lot easier than all of those lofty ambitions.

This past week, a friend of mine was having a rough day. I didn’t have time to go out and talk for hours, but I brought him a coffee and recommended a great song to listen to. He lit up … his face filled with relief like giving oxygen to a drowning man. I didn’t deserve that response for so simple a gesture, but it was given regardless.

There’s a little second grader who hugs me in the hallway every time I see him. I am not his teacher.  Aside from giving him a nickname and passing on easily earned smiles … I cannot say there is much he could know about me; yet he hugs me still. I happened to chat with his mother the other day, and told her how much I loved his hallway hugs. She looked at me – eyes intensely focused and asked me if I had any idea what that meant. Pressing on, she told me that he is never affectionate. That he rarely hugged anyone, including his own family members beside her, and that a hug from him was the ultimate gift he could bestow. It took me a moment to catch my breath at that motherly admission, and I was humbled by the richness of lavish, undeserved affection.

There was an old man in the grocery store with the clearest blue, smiling eyes I’d ever seen. My kids and I were in his aisle, and I couldn’t help but offer him a smile and a chat about the day. His aged face became a beacon of delight. He proceeded to tell my children that there is only one place to get the “best mints” in town. He said that people called him, “the candy man,” because he loves to share a sweet and a smile with everyone he meets. After hearing about his bowling schedule and plans to make “poonchkies,” we were on our way. On impulse in the checkout, I grabbed a new bag of mints, purchased them and ran back to him, telling him that he needed to keep his pockets full for all the other friends he’d meet. He glowed. “I only give this to the most special people,” he said then, pulling a dark chocolate bar from his coat and snapping a piece off for me and my two children. Odd as it is, sharing that moment of melted chocolate and warm wishes felt as holy as communion.

And so I am left to wonder if that version of myself I’m trailing isn’t a bit of a waste of time. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the whole person, or the whole life, but the moments where you lean into living in the best way that make the difference of a lifetime. Jane Wagner once inquired, “A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential?” Funny thought. Maybe it isn’t what I have accomplished at all … my resume, degrees, and accomplishments seem of so very little importance in comparison with the memories of being in the moment when the opportunity to love for the sake of loving came about.

Lean in, and love.

Elle

 

1.21.17 Memoirs of a Wife Whose Husband Travels

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I take you back, to this … me … “Summer Me.”  Take note of the oversized sun glasses, the relaxed smile, the pool behind me, and the sun, dousing me with a healthy dose of Vitamin D.  One might say, wow – her life is idyllic.  But then comes THE SEASON.  No, I’m not talking about winter, I’m talking about the traveling season, and not a family vacation kind of travel, but my husband’s gone from November to February kind of travel with a few spotted weekends home here and there, (just so I don’t forget I’m married). 

I think it is ironically cruel that his job doesn’t make him travel during the summer months when, “Go play outside,” or, “Let’s go to the pool,” are the most common utterances out of my mouth.  My current pale-faced, dry-skinned, winter version of me also wears over-large sunglasses, but it is mostly to cover the twitch in my eye from lack of sleep, lack of Vitamin D, and – if I’m being honest – lack of sanity.  This is the time of year where we are the most contained.  Where things like indoor soccer, piano lessons, and dance lessons, and gymnastics lessons, rule my schedule and determine that I will have no time to devote to anything aside from a thirty-minute work out so I don’t go postal. 

Most of the time, I’ve totally got it together; and when I don’t, I fake it pretty well.  But this particular season is worse than usual.  You see, my husband has been in places for “work” like: The Caribbean, Trinidad, Tobago, Florida, and soon to be Dubai.  I’m not mad – it’s part of his job, and my life, but I’d love to give him just a little glimpse into what it’s like when he’s gone.  This one’s for you love … yes you, who AGAIN, is not here, and probably deserves to know what goes on without you. 

Memoirs of a Wife Whose Husband Travels:

*When you’re gone, we go out to dinner a few more times than usual.  And by a few I mean whenever I can’t get my work and their practices coordinated … which is pretty freakin often. I think we are on a first name basis with the staff at Chipotle and Jimmy John’s. 

*Idiotically, when you’re gone, I temporarily lose my sense of taste, and drink lots of lemonade. You know I don’t like lemonade, but I know you do … and sometimes (all the time) when you leave me, I order it … suddenly craving the soured-sugary concoction … because, well it’s your favorite. 

*Once in awhile when you’re gone, I let the kids watch marathon episodes of Disney Channel shows –sometimes until the Netflix shamefully asks, “Are you still watching?” I want to tell Netflix to stop judging me … it’s only been four episodes (maybe five) and everyone needs a break sometimes, right? 

*When you’re gone I wear your clothes, a lot.  As soon as I get home, I look at my side of the closet, and then yours, and immediately yours wins.  And I choose the softest long sleeve t-shirt I can find, and sleep in your boxer shorts. 

*Often when you’re gone I frequent Starbucks to get a decaf Caramel Macchiato with light ice at least twice a week. Okay, fair enough … I do that when you’re here too.

*When you’re gone our pets drive me nuts, and I swear that if I hear another bark or meow I’m going to lose it.  But then a wicked little part of me wants to go to the humane society and get another, because you aren’t here to tell me no! 

*At times when when you’re gone I get a little self-conscious. I think about the exotic people you must meet, and in my overactivity imaginative mind they are all young, accomplished, beautiful business women.  And suddenly I feel very dull by comparison. So I search my phone for the best picture of myself I can find, then I use the most forgiving filter to make it even better, and send it to you.  Now you know why. 

*When you’re gone, our pets or children inadvertently make a mess somehow.  A few years ago it was our dog and her explosive diarrhea episode.  This time it was our daughter and her projectile vomit all over our bedroom floor.  Why couldn’t either of these things happened when you were here to lug the power wash vacuum cleaner up from the basement? When I said I liked being independent … this wasn’t what I meant. 

*When you’re gone I don’t sleep well. And I know when you’re here I complain about your hot, heavy leg resting on mine … but without it, I wrestle the sheets and get annoyed at myself for NOT sleeping while I can.  I end up watching romantic comedies or romantic dramas, but sappily skip all but the romantic parts … and then I miss you more. 

*When you’re gone I go out for ice cream with the kids … sometimes before dinner, because why not right?  I know you’d do the same if I ever went anywhere … which I don’t, but if I did – I’ll bet you would. 

*Usually when you’re gone I end up accidentally hurting myself somehow, I whack my arm on the cabinet and get a monster bruise, or I sleep wrong and get a stiff neck.  This time, our son spilled water and didn’t tell me so I slid right into the wall and crunched all my toes!  And it’s no fun complaining to myself how much it hurts. 

*When you’re gone I implement mandatory nap times … though our kids are well beyond the age where they need one.  I need one, and they seem to agree, shutting their doors with a sort of, “Yeah, let’s have mom take twenty.” What smart kids we have! 

*When you’re gone I don’t really make dinner. We eat, but it’s more like a … “Hmmm, that looks like something that I could put together and call a meal.”  Oh, wait!  That’s what I do every day no matter what. Sorry. 

*Sometimes when you’re gone I get a little spiteful, and I might buy a new pair of boots, or an outfit, or a darker shade of lipstick just because.  

*But mostly, when you’re gone, I miss you. Plain and simple. And I think about all the parts of you I love best … especially the part that I know you’ll always come back. That might be the thing I do the most – wait for your return. 

Here’s to all who can relate, and to those of you who can’t, I hope you never take your local worker for granted. 

Elle

“Our journey isn’t perfect, but it’s ours, and I’ll stick with you ’til the end.”                    – Unknown

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

10.6.16 Even Trapped Farts in Tiny Cars

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Having taught for over ten years now, I’ve come to find that anything, and I mean anything can become a teachable moment.  I’m constantly finding connections to things and ways to integrate them into both my curriculum and my parenting, but I’ve found that God is no different, and he uses moments, unexpected and unconventional as they may be, to do the same for us.  There are hardly any “unusable” situations or scenarios that cannot bring us back to a sense of understanding the deeper connection to our lives as a whole.  Even, I would argue … trapped farts in tiny cars. 

This morning, as you might well imagine from my apt description … this was my scenario.  My children and I were on our way to school, as usual, and as usual we were stuck between unpredictable, chaotic traffic patterns that had us spending way too much close-time to one another in my Mini Cooper. As if there wasn’t already an edge in the air, as the minutes unforgivingly ticked by, categorizing our arrival time into “by-some-miracle-only,” standing, my son decides that he can no longer possibly hold in his gas, and passes it – loudly.  His sister, less than a foot away from him in the backseat, immediately shields herself from the inevitable, pungent onslaught about to overwhelm the five feet of squared space we share.  

“You did that on purpose!” she accused, shirt pulled up over her mouth in a makeshift gas mask. 

“I did not, I swear, I couldn’t hold it!” he defended, giggling like … well – a boy. 

“Yes you did,” she insisted, “and now you owe us a quarter.  It’s a family rule!” 

Really laughing now, he replied, “I didn’t mean to trap us in my fart, and now you’re making me laugh and I’m gonna have to fart again!” 

“Fifty cents!” she cried indignantly as another wave let loose.

Stuck with nothing but open windows of a slow-crawling car, and a full-blast vent that seemed to circulate more that eradicate, the day started with difficulty, to say the least.  In that moment there was really nothing to do but sit in it, and slowly wait for the air to clear, and the opportunity to keep inching forward. 

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, (possibly from oxygen deprivation) I really think that experience metaphorically paralleled the rest of my day.  There were unforeseen technology glitches,  attitude adjustments, and calendar conflicts to deal with.  Nothing was easy or error-free … and more than once I wondered if my brain was stuck on some pre-set slow motion setting.  There were tons of questions, emails, meetings, and expectations that, well – stunk to say the least!  I was stretched a little thinner on time and energy than I had.  But in it all, I caught myself laughing, realizing that just like in the car, there was nothing to do but sit in it, slowly wait for the air to clear, and find every opportunity to keep inching forward.  

So thank you God for autocorrect, for five more minutes, and drive through Starbucks.  Thank you for dishwashers that work, puppy kisses when I don’t deserve them, and scrambled egg dinners.  Thank you for functioning dysfunctional families and students who think I’m hilarious (whether I’m trying to be or not).  Thank you for phone calls from mothers, texts from brothers, and giving me a husband as exhausted as I am to live in this whirlwind with me. Thank you God, for little boys in tiny cars, fifty cents, in mason jars, and all the perspective they bring. 

Praying for your tomorrow, and frankly mine as well. Find a way to laugh through it. 

Much love, 

Elle

6/28/16 Don’t Fight Fair

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I always thought that the phrase “fight fair” was kind of stupid actually.  Instantly I think of the ridiculous pre-colonial “gentlemen’s war” rules of etiquette that dictated soldiers stand in rows and take turns firing.  As if anything could be more obtuse than standing before one another just waiting for a shot to come.  I much preferred Bruce Lee’s perspective, “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”  The only problem with that mentality is – it works, and when it works, you can’t exactly take anything back. 

I don’t fight often, but when I do I wouldn’t say I nobly wait for a comment to come cutting my way.  I have a long memory and my wit compromises my words in magnetic negativity.  As Lev Grossman once wrote, “In a way, fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe.  By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”  And at the end of it all … whatever it is I’m fighting for or about, let’s be honest – it is rarely for a noble cause. 

As painful as it is to admit, most of my arguments are without true merit or intention.  They are the aftermath of a crummy day, resulting in a radioactive bad mood that permeates everything within the vicinity of me.  My husband and I were recently discussing this, and though we are rarely upset with one another, we do tend to give one another the brunt of our “left-over” day.  I am sorry for this, and yet it is a reactive pattern that forms whenever something disgruntles to the point of “letting it out,” by “taking it out” on whoever is nearest – and he always is.   

Peter Wentz said, “The silence is the worst part of any fight, because it’s made up of all the things we wish we could say, if only we had the guts.”  Well, unfortunately, I have to disagree … because I think in these pointed comments I say too much.  I remember too much.  I call forth memories like armor and use them to dispel any logical repartee that might be sound. 

This week, our pastor spoke about the power of forgiveness, and reminded us that it is not only our words that argue, but our actions.  A roll of the eyes.  Shunning a hug.  Vacant responses. And I was convicted at just how unfair I fought after all.  Like I said before, I’m not much into arguing.  I’m not a pot-stirrer; I don’t enjoy battles, and yet even in the here and there, infrequent times, I succumb.  And in those moments my words are effectively lethal in killing a mood, or ruining an intention.

There are things to call forth justice to, but my petty disagreements are not one of them, and I need to find a way to settle myself into a pattern of silence when confronted with my own disagreeable mood.  Just like having an umbrella over my head won’t protect me from sideways rain … fights aren’t ever fair, not really, no matter what key phrases or memories I cover myself in.  So from now on, though I’ll be imperfect at it I’m sure, I will try to at least think a little more about what is really worth fighting for, and trying my humanly best to forgive the rest.  I guess it’s time to turn the battle inward, and follow the thoughts of Stephanie Lennox, “I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”  

Don’t fight fair, fight for something.

Elle