Posts filed under finding{and telling}your story

all things - even this - even now [side a]

Growing up, there was a skating ring next door to my school. I spent many, many hours perfecting the hokey pokey while rolling around and rushing to get into one of the four corners without busting my other knee. I can still smell the acridity of borrowed skates and nacho cheese and cotton candy. 

But most of all, I remember his hands.

I was in 7th grade. My friends and I sat together on one of those circular benches whispering and giggling about the couple skate we knew was coming up - would they play Mariah Carey? Boys II Men? That new guy with that one song - what's his name - Tony Rich? They decided they had to know and skated off toward the DJ while I stayed behind, guarding our spot. I didn't care about the song, my stomach was too busy playing hormonal pin-ball over the possibility of my crush asking me to skate with him. Rumor around the rink was that he was thinking about it. 

A 40 year old man beat him to it.

When he came up and asked me to skate with him, I thought he was joking at first. I smiled and laughed under my breath - the slow uneasy laugh of one who suddenly feels unbelievably awkward - and he held out his hand. Palm up, fingers curled, wedding band shining.

"I'm serious, Elora. Come skate with me."

I never said yes. I might have muttered okay. I wanted to say no.

The DJ ended up playing Mariah Carey's Sweet Fantasy. And the whole time, I wanted to fall into a hole and disappear. I wanted to rip my hand out of his grasp and wash the warmth away. I tried not to freak out when he tightened his grip. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. 

But I smiled, and I skated, and when it was all said and done I found my friends and ignored their jokes and laughter and hid the pain of seeing my crush skate with someone else because our teacher got to me first. 

//

I completely forgot about this story until last year. My husband came home excited one day because we were invited to a birthday party for one of his coworkers' kids. When he told me he was at a skating rink, I fell apart. After a few hours of him prodding me, I was able to tell him the story of the moment I wanted to say no but couldn't find the words. Of how cheap and used and guilty and stupid I felt for following through with the teacher's request. 

Of how I felt stupid even then - sharing the story and seeing the shock on his face - knowing I should have said no. Knowing there should have been someone else standing in the gap for me - another teacher - a worker at the skating rink - someone - to reach in and look at a 40 something man-handling a middle schooler and force him away. 

But most of all, it shook me to my core because it captured so much of my childhood - finding myself in uncomfortable situations, not knowing how to speak for myself, feeling cheap and used afterward as a result.

And even then, I wasn't sure there would ever be something different.

A few weeks later, we combed through Goodwill in order to find my husband an appropriately tacky velour jacket he could wear. It was the night before the party. He was giddy. I was hesitant. He kept talking about how much fun we would have and I would smile, raise an eyebrow, bite my lip and set my jaw. 

On the way home, he squeezed my hand, “What's going on, love? Are you still nervous about tomorrow? Will you couple skate with me?”

And everything came back - the darkness, the suffocating shame, the invisibility. I blinked back tears and forced a smile, “you know my last experience wasn’t that great, right?” 

“Yeah. I know.” he answered, glancing at me as we drove home. “But this time it'll be different. This time I’ll be there. You'll be safe.” 

The next day dawned and all of the misgivings  seemed quiet compared to the banging around they did in my heart the night before. I looked forward to the party - to the reminiscing and the laughter and the curiosity of whether or not I could even stay upright with four wheels attached to my feet. 

The smell hit me first.

It was the same acridity - the nacho cheese, the cheap middle school cologne, the skates. I grabbed my husband's hand and held tight, taking everything in while he found the party. We sat down on the same upholstered benches and put on the same light brown skates and when my feet touched the rink it made the same rush of squealing and whooshing of skaters whizzing past me as before. 

Nothing had changed. And yet, I felt my husband's hands wrap around my waist as he came up behind me and kissed me on the cheek.

Everything had changed. Including me.

We’d already been around the rink a few times, grabbing each other’s hands and giggling like elementary kids breaking in new sea legs. After the break of pizza and cake slicing and gift-opening, I heard the first few chords of a cheesy love song begin playing over the speakers. I grabbed Russ’ hand and leaned in to whisper, “will you couple skate with me?” 

He looked at me and smiled.

“Absolutely.”

 And we grabbed each other’s hands and gingerly made our way to the rink. 

Later that night, I remembered Joel 2:25 where it talks of restoring the years the locusts have eaten. I thought about my day - of how circular time can be when we stop and think about it - and in my heart I heard the whisper, "I make all things new. Even this. Even now." 

- Check back on Friday for a continuation of this post. - 

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Posted on April 9, 2013 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.

the story of a maniac (or, finding myself in memories with my mother)

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It can cut you like a knife, if the gift becomes the fire 

 

I remember sitting on the floor of our rental home, watching my mother’s feet pound against the carpet. Arms swinging, head turning, sweat pouring, she’d turn the volume up so loud our windows would rattle against the rhythm of the record player.

She’s a maniac….maniac I sure know.

A smile would curl her lips and her feet would move to the beat and I would see what it looks like to lose yourself. Her breath would catch and she’d take a swig of TAB before prancing over, grabbing my hands to pull me close.

“they all think she’s crazy….” she’d sing in the off-key way of hers and I’d giggle as we turned in dizzying circles around the living room. Leaning close, I’d breathe in her scent and catch a little of what it means to chase a dream – to lock rhythms with the beat of your heart.

It felt a little like coming to life.

 

I'm over at Deeper Story today - you can finish reading here.

 

Posted on February 3, 2013 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.

for when your heart collides with purpose

Every once in awhile, I'll post something from my manuscript. Today, these words are from my memoir and will be linked in a synchroblog for the new book Inciting Incidents - won't you take a look around their website?  Blog

They say every story begins with a shattering. There were moments where at the time I felt as if I experienced a porcelain-like fall. For ten years I claimed my trip to Haiti after high school was where I “lost my innocence” and in a few ways, this is true. I re-entered society that summer different - the American dream essentially ruined.

But I wasn’t shattered.

I had my heart broken in college by a boy who I thought I’d marry. He wrapped me tight around his finger and dragged me along for about another year after we broke up, and I think I cried more tears that year than my whole twenty-two years combined. But I found my anger for a brief moment that November, and tore through my dorm room throwing away everything his hands touched. I went to bed that night reeling, praying for God to make me new.

I woke up the next morning restored. My feelings for this boy who’d been my world just short of three years were gone. It’s hard to believe and even now I shake my head with wonder at the putting back together that happened overnight. Two months later, I found myself in the middle of the most healing relationship with one of my closest guy friends. He’d later ask me to marry him - twice, and I’d say yes - both times.

There’s smaller moments :: my husband planning a surprise party in which no one wished me a happy birthday or spoke to me, my principal yelling at me in front of my students, my husband losing his job, us ringing in the New Year crying on our living room floor because of a betrayal...

...but all of these didn’t break us in a way where who we were changed irrevocably.

For me, the fissures in my heart began to shake in March of 2010, when my husband and I found ourselves in the middle of a high school ministry for inner-city youth in Austin, Texas.

We stumbled into involvement - having promised ourselves we’d try and stay away from anything youth related for awhile after serving as sunday school teachers for middle school and high school at our local church before we moved to Austin. But, like it usually happens for us, God sort of picked us up and planted us regardless of what our plans were before.

As a member of our church’s story team, my first assignment was to cover the story of twelve inner city kids and (maybe, hopefully, prayerfully) begin a writing mentorship with them in storytelling. The plot :: a local teacher was taking a few of her students to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. They held weekly meetings, students were required to find a mentor, and Jesus was spoken of often. I was practically giddy with excitement when I pulled up and parked next to the barbed wire fence of a nearby home on the east side - where their meetings took place.

I saw him as soon as I walked into the living room and found a seat in the corner. His headphones were in and he was writing furiously in a notebook. His head nodding with the beat, his hands moving in miniature tutting choreography, he was completely oblivious to the craziness around him. Two girls next to him were fighting over the length of their cheerleading skirts. One of them, motioning with her hand the length of her skirt vs. the length she wanted her skirt ended up bumping his arm. He looked up - if only for a moment - and shook his head before returning to his writing.

I smiled. I liked this kid. Focused. Calm. Intense. There were deep paradoxes visible just beneath the surface of his eyes.

I wanted to hear his story.

One boy hollered at me from the other side of the kitchen, his hands raised above his head - the local sign of acknowledgment. I turned and gave him a head nod and a smile and then returned my gaze back to this boy completely immersed in his words. I recognized him from the video I watched before coming over. I remembered his name - Devonte - and remembered he performed a spoken word that gave me chills for a solid five minutes after I finished the video. I didn’t even hesitate in immediately showing his words to all of my classes the next day.

“See this kid? Hear his words? His pain? This is vulnerability in writing. This is courage.”

I think I knew then. I think I knew the moment I saw him this was my son.

From that meeting, two things happened: Russ and I suddenly found ourselves signed up on this trip to Africa, and I began mentoring Devonte and another student - the boy who hollered at me across the living room - in writing. We’d meet weekly for both - team meetings and coffee shop tutorial sessions. Here, I developed a relationship with Devonte, learning his affinity toward dance and spoken word. I pulled him outside after a session and taped his spoken word “listen” - going home and adding in some music and posting it on youtube. Even then, the pride I felt in watching him do something he loved moved me in a way I wasn’t anticipating. So when I found out that a family tragedy pushed him into some decisions that prevented him from going to Africa, I was heartbroken. Slowly, he stopped showing up to tutorials and for a brief moment I thought I’d never see him again.

I knew better though. This 17 year old had positioned himself nice and cozy in a corner of my heart and there wouldn’t be any movement for awhile.

God never let me forget.

We ended up moving into that house where I met him. It was on the east side, closer to the ministry we found ourselves somehow leading with these kids. The moment we moved into this house was the precise moment I felt as if my life was on a trajectory of adventure. Late night tejano beats, roosters crowing in the morning, old recliners on porches for lounging in the summer sun - I loved it there. I felt home there. And these kids - these teenagers I traveled the world with just a few weeks prior - they were my home too. We shopped more for groceries those first few months than ever before, and for good reason :: having about ten teenagers in and out of your kitchen and pantry at least three times a week will do something to your steady food supply. We hosted game nights, movie nights, prayer nights and the weekly gathering of about thirty-seventy (and sometimes more) high schoolers complete with hip-hop, freestyle and hoops. Those nights the kids never left without hearing they were loved, we believed in them, and they better not screw up because baby, you’re better than that. 

Throughout the summer, what was normally a simple burden for their well-being became a little heavier than I expected when I thought of Devonte. The closer we got to school starting, the more God would bring him to mind - so I did the only thing I knew - I prayed.

I prayed and left comments on his Facebook - making sure he knew I hadn’t forgotten about him. I wanted him to know I was still willing to listen. I told him we missed him, I told him I’d applied at his school to teach English, I told him I wanted to hear more of his writing...and I listened. I listened when I ran into him at two-a-days and he told me I was one of the only people he would listen to when it came to writing. I listened when he mentioned he wanted to talk to me about something. I listened when he gave me a side hug and whispered just low enough his buddies wouldn’t hear, “miss you guys.”

The first week of school, I felt like my heart collided with a freight train. Random students of mine, living in a completely different city, would ask about him off hand - remembering the video I showed them the previous year of his spoken word. And then, on a Sunday afternoon, my husband and I saw him walking down the street. Before, he lived fifteen minutes away. Now, he was meandering down the main thoroughfare by our house. Nothing - but everything - made sense. It was like I couldn’t get away.

This is how God works with me. I call it the faucet effect. Jon Mark McMillan mentions it as sinking in an ocean of grace. Whatever it is, everywhere I turned, Devonte stood waiting. It was only a matter of time before those fissures in my heart would crack and I would be undone.

It happened Labor Day Weekend.

He asked with little fanfare - more of a statement. A wish.

“Elora, I want you to be my mom.”

I sat there, my eyes bent in confusion. I waited for a few seconds, processing this boy sitting next to me on the stairs. I looked around my living room, the very spot I met him six months before. I thought of my life - how I’d gotten here - in this moment. This second. With a teenage boy sitting next to me asking me to be his mother.

“Your...mom?” I asked.

A smile played on his lips and he fidgeted with his phone. “....yeah. I don’t have a mom. She left me.” He looked at me then - square in the eyes. “I want you to be my mom.”

Something inside me shifted. I couldn’t ignore it. I stared at the side of his face - waiting to see if he’d turn to look at me again, but his gaze stayed locked on his phone. Eye-contact never lasted long with these kids, and when it happened, you took it and locked it away somewhere safe.

“I’ll be your mom, Devonte.”

At that moment, I’m absolutely certain you could hear the crash of the remnants of my heart falling all around me.

Posted on September 4, 2012 and filed under adoption, finding{and telling}your story.

write like everything matters

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help me find my story. 

i woke up to this email this morning - one that declared this brave soul would love to start writing things that really matter. and i would say to this person ::

write like everything matters. 

it's easy to categorize. i do it if i'm not careful. it's easy to look at moments in life and deem one worthy and the other lacking. but really, grace and inspiration are everywhere - we just need to use our eyes.

the sunrise on a commute, the sunflower field out back, the summer road trip, the memories lurking in the shadows - every piece means something. every bit of our lives plays into something larger - a puzzle we can't see.

so we become students of ourselves.

for me, i ask the hard questions :: why do i act that way when this happens? how do i need to respond? and then, the hardest part :: waiting.

this is the most difficult part of finding your story. looking around you and reaching back to find the patterns. sometimes the answers surprise you. sometimes they hurt. most of the time you feel as if you found another piece. you always feel more complete.

ann voskamp speaks about us living chopped off - refusing to hold the bad and the good - only seeing the blessed moments as grace-filled. we begin to live half-lives when we refuse to risk - refuse to lose - refuse to hold our hands open for what He has for us. we live half-lives because often, it's in the breaking He sets us right. it's in the ripping apart that He's able to put us together in a way we were meant to be all along. we need to also live like everything matters.

because it does.

my soul's pull toward the ocean, the way my heart pounds a tribal rhythm when in the mountains, how my veins pulse when reading words or listening to a song that echo who i am in my deepest parts, my distaste for standing barefoot in the grass, how large crowds and loud noises overwhelm me, the fear that creeps in to my blood when i'm left somewhere, the way my throat constricts and starts to hurt when watching a movie where i see myself, how i feel most at rest in the arms of my love...

it all matters. all of it.

so how do you find your story?

write like everything matters and listen for the whisper of your beginning. it's there. i promise.

most importantly :: don't forget to live. in living, you will find more answers than you ever imagined.

Posted on August 13, 2012 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.

the fear of them

when patterns are broken, new worlds emerge - tuli kupferberg

this morning marks a little over a week where i've had all the time in the world to create.

and let me tell you - i've deleted and restarted more posts this past week than i ever thought possible.

at first, i chalked it up to the wall of summer. i hit it every june, the bone-deep exhaustion of finishing a school year - a hibernation of sorts. but, even though i allowed myself (and am still allowing myself, to be completely transparent) the moments of complete sabbath, i knew there was something deeper festering with my words.

i've gotten too preoccupied with they. 

you know - them. 

no one in particular, just the voices you hear when you begin to chase your purpose. the ones who bring you back. the ones who fear your success. the ones who gloat in your failure. the ones who cheer you on as long as you don't rustle any feathers.

the thoughts come quick, usually right as i sit down at the keyboard, "will they read it? what will they think? will they be upset? will i offend them? will they get it? will they even understand?"

and it's all i can do to keep pushing the keys. keep writing. keep forming thoughts. keep praying and keep creating.

recently i was reminded of a conversation i had with God a couple years ago. i'd been asking Him how He viewed me. what my name was and why i was here.

and while driving a dirt road in the middle of a rainstorm, he whispered fiercely against my soul - you are My speaker of Truth.

at first, i dismissed the feeling as just that - a feeling. but slowly, a steady pulsing began to beat deep inside and it wasn't until recently i understood the pulsing to be a heart awakened, a heart hearing her name for the first time.

and while we're being honest here, i'll go ahead and let you know that most times i don't enjoy this purpose. in fact, most times, i fight it.

"why do i have to be the one who says this?!" i'll ask my husband, tears streaming down my cheeks, message hot in my chest.

 "because you're the only willing to see." he'll respond, taking my hand and giving it a squeeze.

but i'll still fight it. i'll doubt and question and push it away and wait for it to leave but it never does. the words just grow hotter, the message firmer.

speak Truth, the phrase will rattle my bones and again, my heart wakes to His voice.

so i'm learning. i'm learning they hold no power over me. i'm learning my words are just that - my words and my story is the one He gave me so others may know His grace.

and when He puts the two together, there is nothing left but Truth, regardless of what they say.

Posted on June 18, 2012 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.