6.19.17 Thank you Daddy. Thank you Dad.

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It has taken me a while to write this post. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but rather, too much. How do you put into words what your father(s) mean to you? How do you even begin? My father, and my father-in-law, have been the most influential men in my life aside from my husband. Married at 21, (and dating for three years before that) we have grown up together, and I feel that we have two full sets of parents that have blessed, influenced, and molded us. 

I realize that most of the world does not have the experience of a father the way I or my husband have. Often (especially in the lives of my students) I am exposed to the painful truths that most children experience some version of cool complacency with a father who was never really there. And for this … my friends … I am so sorry. I wish you could have had my childhood – one that was filled with encouragement, faith, and the safety of knowing you are well and fully loved. 

One of my favorite memories was falling asleep in my father’s arms at a Summerfest concert with Rod Steward wailing away. I must have been three or four-years-old, and I distinctly remember the feeling of curling into my dad, amid all the noise and chaos, and not waking up again until he was carrying me out of the car when we got home. It might seem a trivial memory, but to me, it was foundational. It was the beginning of my daddy nurturing my dreams, literal and otherwise. Since before I could even recognize it, my daddy has been growing my hope, teaching me to wrestle with my imagination, and pushing me to demand more of myself than I would have thought I was capable of. He is the hand I hold in the storms, and the nudge forward when I want to escape. He sturdies my resolve, and pushes me ever on. 

When I met my father-in-law, years and years later, I hoped to love and respect him, but didn’t think I’d need much, as I never had a void in the dad-department that required filling. I was wrong. Throughout the years, my relationship with my father-in-law has become one of a true, dad/daughter bond. When I first met him, his love language was that of service. Doing things like washing my car, and fixing broken things around my house were his way of telling me he loved me. Now he uses words, and oh, how I savor them. A lover of memories, like me, he writes treasures for us kids to savor – listing out scrapbook stories and pieces of childhood I almost feel like I was a part of. He listens to me. He reads everything I  write. He is proud of me as his daughter, and has long since adopted me into his family for real. 

One thing I have learned from both of my dads is what Marie Beyon Ray once said, “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake.” They are live-in-the-moment men. Stand up, get knocked down, and stand up again men. They are I’m here for you, I’ll provide for you, I’ll show you how to do the same men.

I wish the world had more men like them. 

Both have epitomized bravery and courage to me. Whether battling occupations or health concerns, finances or relocations, they have remained men of faith and character. Neither has compromised his integrity in times when it would have been so much easier to take the “easy way.” They believe in hard work, in dedication, in family, and in this one, precious life the Lord gave them to live and journey through. I cannot imagine my or husband’s life without their guiding light and I am eternally grateful that God placed them as the pillars of strength in our family. 

Thank you daddy. Thank you dad. 

Elle

5.29.17 Perhaps

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Perhaps I feel the way I feel because of the season of life we’re in. Or maybe it’s due to the time of the year. (I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the time of the month). But regardless of the specific reason, there are some days that I think we as parents need to celebrate NOT going insane.

This may sound a little crass, but I’m perfectly serious. There are moments, breaking points where I’m pretty sure that our last nerve, the last straw, and the last word are each cast in turn, and it takes every fiber of our being not to snap.

Last weekend my family and I were headed up to my grandmother’s ninety-fifth birthday party. What should have been a smooth, reflection-filled two hour drive, was instead a test of my will and character. There were multiple times on the drive that I wanted to pull over, get out, and walk –ALONE! Mary Francis Winters once said, “Don’t become too preoccupied with what is happening around you. Pay more attention to what is happening within you.” Well, I’d argue that what was happening around me was in direct correlation to what was happening within me!

Perhaps I sound dramatic, but you know what? Some moments ARE dramatic, and if you don’t share them dramatically you’ll be ruining the whole dynamic effect of the story. So here goes … imagine a Kia (because that’s what we have) filled to the popping point with gifts, coloring books, ninety-six markers (with which to color in said coloring books), driving activity cards, an overly-tired nine-year-old boy, a super-chatty seven-year-old girl, and a husband who has NO desire to talk, at all, even if it is our only chance that day to do so.

The boy is tired, and as such – grumpy. His reply to everything is equal parts mischief and sass. The girl’s conversation is a low flying plane set to circling. She is neither discussing anything of import, nor is she running out of gas anytime soon. I was (naively) looking forward to some mellow music and a bit of brainstorming, but either at the exact moment I was able to form a coherent thought or my daughter actually stopped talking, then SOMETHING would inevitably happen to interrupt my thoughts.

            “Where are our snacks?” she asked, starting it all.

            “Didn’t you pack any?” I asked my husband (who’d been in the car first, waiting for me with seemingly nothing to do but honk from the driveway to hurry me up).

           “No,” I retorted. “I was getting gifts together, why didn’t you?”

           “I didn’t think of it,” he said blithely, “and you normally do.”

At this point I could literally feel the blood blush creeping up my cheeks.

           “What about water?” my son asked pathetically. “Did anyone remember to pack us that at least?”

           “No,” I said again. “Why didn’t anyone else grab it.”

            “You usually do,” my kids said together.

So we figured we’d grab some when we stopped to get coffee. Of course that was another debacle. The ever-growing line behind us would just have to wait for him to choose which kind of bread he wanted and her yelling at me to put the whipped cream back on her order because SHE likes it, HE doesn’t, and I needn’t take off her whipped cream just because he doesn’t like it.

         “So …” the guy on the other side of the ordering counter droned on. “Was that whipped cream or no whipped cream then?”

About ten miles down the road, my son piped up with, “Hey, didn’t we get any water?”

     “NO! We didn’t!” I practically shout. “You’ve got a smoothie.”

     “Yeah,” he says unfazed, “but I need water when I’m eating lemon bread.

     “Well you’ll just have to wait.”

     “That’s fine. I need to go to the bathroom anyway – now,” he said with casual urgency.

This is where I’m pretty sure my deodorant started working overtime. Angry and annoyed, we stalked into the gas station to use the bathroom. The girl’s bathroom was “out of order,” and traumatized as I was, I knew we’d never make it to the party if I started letting my germaphobia take over.

About five minutes later, my daughter, who’d been waiting for my son to get out, came to me with indignant tears, telling me that just when he’d finished and it was her turn, he pushed her out again and said, “I’ve gotta poop.” After another ten minutes of wandering around the gas station that didn’t so much as have a birthday card, (which I still needed for the party) my son came out – a self-satisfied smirk on his face, and my daughter, blotchy-eyed, pushed past him. Ten more minutes, and I quietly knocked on the door, asking her if she was alright.

        “I went number two mom, but then I feel like I need to go potty, but not yet, so I’m waiting until I do.”

Now, I actually, physically started to tingle. My heart was drumming inside of my chest with the passing of time … time that was meant to be on the road gaining distance, not taking a museum tour of a dirty gas station while my daughter and son “enjoyed” the facilities.

Finally back on the road, we encountered utility vehicles, Sunday drivers on a Saturday, construction, wrong turns, and a quick stop to purchase candles that said “95” on them. Sweaty and anxious, we dusted off and took a few deep breaths before stepping into the loveliest party I think my grandmother has had to date.

Surrounded by family, friends, and numerous great-grandchildren, her hazel eyes glowed with pride and memories … of which I cannot be sure. The rest of the party was filled with double-slices of cake, cousins reminiscing with bubbling laughter, skipping rocks at the lake, and all the joy that comes with too many kids on a playground.

Perhaps it was the fresh air, or the fresh faces, or the fresh perspective I gained when I  saw the product of a life so-well lived. But the ride home was sweet and calm. He was coloring. She was sleeping. My husband was driving, and all was well enough in the world for me to daydream – and just like that, the balance of life was restored. Another day of keeping my sanity. Thank the Lord for that because, as Scarlett O’Hara says, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Elle

5.14.17 A Mother’s Love

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“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” – Abraham Lincoln

When I think about my life, I can’t rightly imagine it turning out anywhere near the way that it has if I didn’t have my mother. In the chaos of my life, her voice has been the constant, soothing lullaby in the back of my mind, hushing my anxious thoughts, and setting the tone of my heart. I know full well that she is a rare gift, and I try never to forget just how blessed I am. When my own two children sweetly say, “Mom, you’re the best,” I know just how short-changed they are, because no one could even compare to what I have.

A few years ago, my mom and dad moved to another state, and not just another state, a state that is a fourteen-hour drive away from me. I’d be lying to say it didn’t wreck me just a little … maybe more than a little. Because of course, I’d planned to have the kind of life I grew up in – the kind where we saw cousins and aunties and uncles each week, and had brunch with grandma every Sunday. Not so it would seem. And while it has been so hard to be away from the family I crave, I will say that God is pretty awesome at filling in the broken places of my fragile heart.

While we may not be together daily, my mother and I talk often, and lift one another up even in absence, and for that I am grateful. But Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “The love of a mother is the veil of a softer light between the heart and the heavenly Father.” Aside from being an undeniably beautiful thing to say, I think it is the essence, the idea that motherhood is more than one person or one relationship – it is a form of love personified.

I realized some time ago, that if I believed this to be true, then the love of a mother, the love God bestowed for us is available in many places. And though I am lucky enough to still have a mother I run to, I would be remiss not to mention the other places my heart is restored.

I feel a mother’s love in the frantic phone calls my sister and I exchange. When we pick up one another’s broken pieces and gently put each other back together.

I feel a mother’s love when I witness the unconditional devotion of my mother-in-law to her husband. To her children. To me.

I feel a mother’s love in the late-night-textathons between my cousin and myself. When we laugh at our blunders, rant out our problems, and leave the conversation ten-pounds lighter than we came in.

I feel a mother’s love in the friendships that find me right where I am. In the conversations with women I do life with, and who invest their effervescent wisdom and beauty in equal measure.

In teachers. In neighbors. In strangers roaming the aisles of the grocery store who share an exhausted smile with me at ten PM. I feel a mother’s love in every place there is openness, gentleness, acceptance, experience, laughter, and encouragement.

So while I wish everyone a mother like I have, I know that cannot be (because I’ve already got her). Instead, I wish each of you open eyes and willing hearts, to accept the love of all the mothers around you, who are just waiting to take you in.

Be loved,

Elle

4.30.17 In-the-Making

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“We are all saints in the making.” – Unknown

Recently a friend of mine defined peace as, “Being whole. If you can stand yourself for that entire twenty minute commute without music or any distraction, you have peace within yourself.” I felt it a genius thing to say. Because truth? Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my quiet company is all I need, and other times I’d do anything to rid myself of the chaotic thoughts that crowd my conscious like a room too filled with people. 

Over time I’ve noticed that my level of inner-calm is not directly connected to the things this world associates with peace. It isn’t related to lavender, or bubble baths, self-help books, massages, or meditation. Though there is a definite place in my life for all of those lovely things, they do not sustain me. My faith has helped me realize that I am most tranquil when I am being of use to others. Being still is important, but I’ve found my spirit is most at rest when it is engaged in loving others. 

I often think of the words of Teresa of Ávila who said, 

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

Regardless of anyone’s background, of their religious position, you’ve gotta admit that Jesus’ one request, “Love one another,” was a pretty straight-forward imperative. It wasn’t, “Love those who are easy,” or “Love those who believe what you believe.” One another included everyone. Can you imagine that kind of love? That kind of peace? 

I most tranquil when I’m actively loving others, because only then are my “soul” and my “self” aligned in purpose. I’m carrying out my commission. And isn’t it just like God to heal my anxious spirit by encouraging equanimity in others? 

That same friend, went on later to say, “We should have peace up, and in, and out.” I’m thinking, for me at least, that OUT is the most important part. Because when I reach out, God reaches in, to lift my spirit up. I am certainly no saint … but it is an unequivocal gift to know that I am – you are – we all have the potential to be – in-the-making. 

Elle

4.23.17 More

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More

I am more than a sum of achievements

I am more than the things I have done

I am more than my mountain of losses

I am more than the times I have won

I am more than the fears that have chained me

I am more than the weakness I’ve felt

I am more than just simple emotions

I am more than the cards I’ve been dealt

I am more than how others might see me

I am more than reflections in glass

I am more than what I can’t accomplish

I am more than the time that will pass

I am more than my insecure moments

I am more than the world’s pain or schemes

I am more than the limits I set for myself

I am faith.

I am hope.

I am dreams.

 

You are more too.

Love always,

Elle

4.16.17 She Still

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 “She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.”  – Ariana Dancu

Recently I’ve been thinking just how lucky I am to have so many strong women in my life. I would list you here on this page, but you know who you are. You are the “she” that keep me going – that keep me running … and just like clockwork, you always know right when it is time to wind me back up again, when my tick-tock-self is almost worn out. I feel unmeasurably blessed by you, and this is to let you know.

She Still

She still knows when I need her –

without my asking,

or even hinting why or how

She calls me

and talks me rationally through my

ever

irrational

fears

It is her smile that carries my spirit

and whether in photograph,

or in person –

even a glimpse is enough …

to reassure my choices,

to soothe my chaotic mind,

to protect my wounded heart from anything it can’t handle alone

When the world presents itself in a tempest of fury,

her voice is my focal point

When I’m trapped in fractured pieces of a memory,

she reminds me of who I am,

not where I’ve been

Her laugh makes me laugh

Her sadness is mine

Her success is my win too

And though the dark will come,

and the storms will rage,

and the choice won’t always be ours,

she still guards my heart,

and gives me her light

and somehow we make it through

There is no way to tell

at times

who carries who,

but whether by crawling

or flying

it is she –

still,

who brings me back to who I’m meant to be

and who I’d never have known

without her

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

4.2.17 Bloom

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Bloom

There is a light, and though it be pale, it is powerful. Enter into it.
Don’t hesitate or wait for another sign.
This is your sign.

This day, this breath, this choice …
all of them are pointing you toward life. Embrace the possibility that it’s not just time, but YOUR time.

So whether it is your first step or your fiftieth,
take it.
Whether you’ve tried and failed a thousand times before,
or you’ve never had the courage to try …
try.
Unfurl your own version of brave,
of beautiful.
Even subtle things can capture the attention of one who is seeking. Never underestimate that you may be
exactly
what the world has been waiting for.

Leaving even a trace of your delicate presence,
is enough to illuminate the existence of another.
It is easy to cast off the substance of who you are,
when comparing to everyone else.
But when did you ever get the idea you were to be compared?
Are you, beloved, not invaluable?
Are you not the only one of you ever created in the history of days? There is no room to doubt that which is irrefutable.
You are ready, whether you believe so or not.
You’ve been given today.
So, like a flower coming awake to the sun for the first time –
bloom.

3.20.17 Like a Lady

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Whoever says that little girls should be seen and not heard has,

in my opinion,

no ear for beauty.

And whatever little girl has listened to such a sordid phrase,

has no hope of growing with a clear perspective of her own reflection.

Maybe that’s why so many try too hard … or not enough …

why women sacrifice their integrity –

in order to heal wounds from words that have already turned to scars.

And though thick and calloused skin has replaced the cuts,

they never notice,

because it still hurts.

I wish that every girl had a mother like mine,

who taught me to act like a lady …

because it is an honor to be one,

not a favor to the eyes of the world.

She taught me that elegance is the sum of grace and strength combined –

and that the only shame you should ever feel,

is when you cannot forgive yourself after God already has.

If there were a way to speak truth into the hearts of all the girls in the world,

to heal all the fractured, fissure-cracked self-images … I would.

I’d remind them that their identity is waiting to be reclaimed,

and that even if their childhood wasn’t golden …

even if they haven’t been treated like a lady in quite some time –

they still are.

It is their right to be respected,

to be admired,

to be listened and attended to.

I want the teenagers who cut to be noticed, screaming from the inside out to hear me.

I want the mothers who are losing themselves to daily routine, and can’t find the woman they once were to hear me.

I want the grandmothers who feel their beauty is disposable, and society has no place for them anymore to hear me.

I want the single women who haven’t accepted their own bravery to face this world alone to hear me.

I want the girls in school, masking their insecurities with name brands and makeup trends to hear me.

I want my seven-year-old daughter … who we adore, we dote on, we love, but –

who has already asked me if she’s pretty

who has already asked me if she’s fat

who has already asked me if she’s smart

who already questions if she’s enough to HEAR ME!

You are a lady.

You are grace and strength personified.

You are meant to be seen,

but most especially, my darling –

to be heard.

Do not ever quiet your voice … even if it only comes out in whispers.

2.5.17 A Little Angel Will Call You Barbie

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So I have many, many faults. Of this I am quite aware. I talk too much. Worry too much. I’m busy. I’m somewhat stubborn. I’m loud. But I would say that one particular strength of mine is my transparency. I don’t ever really try to conceal my true self, because I have a feeling (with my heart-on-my-sleeve personality) she’d just come out anyway. In the spirit of transparency, I am going to be honest. Lately, I’ve been feeling that I look old. Audrey Hepburn once said, “And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows.” I think she was right metaphorically, but sometimes, mirrors speak louder than figurative language. 

About a week ago, I was really hung up on the glints of silver peeking around my highlights, and the forehead creases that never seem to ease up, even when I try to tell my face I’m done being expressive. This self-criticism might have been amped up due to a certain time of the month when us women get a, heightened sense of emotion let’s call it, but that was beside the point. I was feeling insecure.

It isn’t ironic, therefore, that little hints (I’m certain were dropped by the devil himself) kept rubbing my doubts in my face. “Here’s a new age cream,” I heard one co-worker say to another, you’ll love it.” I leaned in closer, thinking that the fifty-something, lovely teacher with less wrinkles than I had didn’t need it, and I nearly swiped it off her desk when she wasn’t looking. Then, I came upon an infomercial, raving about the way his formula revolutionizes the skin cream world. Would you believe I wasted a half-hour watching before I was smart enough to look up the credentials of the guy, only to hear that the “doctor” wasn’t recognized in any of the institutions he bragged about working at. Finally, a friend of mine said the one thing that was sure to break me, “Your husband has such a babyface … don’t you think?” 

Insert expletive here. 

I was a little more than freaking out at that point, and when I went home that night, I decided to work out my frustrations by working out. Nerd to the core, when I work out I often watch documentaries … strong body, strong mind and such. Anyway, I decided to watch a show about the Edwardian Age, which demonstrated how, though inventive, many of the newest technologies were actually quite damaging to your health, if not fatal. Imagine my delight, therefore, when they began talking about the beauty treatments women underwent, trying to maintain their youth and elegance. In the next half-hour, I learned that many women went bald, trying to use new electric curling irons that burned their hair off. Women used facial products and powders made from camphor, bleach, lead, and ammonia to keep their skin unblemished. At the most extreme, they would eat arsenic wafers, which they were told, would take care of any offending skin problems. 

Insane and sad as it was to hear it, I felt a little flick on the forehead from God in that moment, to appreciate that I was not quite that desperate. I’m embarrassed that it took so drastic a program to knock me back to my senses, but then, as I said before, sometimes I am a bit stubborn. Sophia Loren, one of the most iconically beautiful women of any age described that, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” 

Yesterday I was at my niece’s birthday party, and there was an adorable three-year-old there who looked up at me, smiled, and turned back to her mother saying, “She looks like Barbie.” I laughed, taking it as a compliment, though Barbie is fifty-eight, and I am only thirty-four. After immediately falling in love with that kid, I did a little review of my insecurities only two weeks before. The truth is … I’m not super excited about my forehead creases, but I’m not about to stop being expressive. I’m not a huge fan of tinsel-colored hair, but I’m certainly grateful to have the extra sparkle. I don’t always appreciate when people (out of concern only of course) tell me I look tired, when I know those dark circles are hereditary. But it’s all a part of the wheel. You can’t have living without aging, and I’ll choose my crazy, loud, exhausting, wrinkle-inducing life anytime. Once in awhile God will make you laugh at yourself and be okay with it all – once in awhile a little angel will call you Barbie – and all those times in-between, I’ll do my best to appreciate the reasons for all of those smile lines I’ve achieved. 

Stay young-at-heart,

Elle