a letter to my future self {or, the days in which i learned to shine}

there will come a day, dear elena, when you’re going to need to read this, to remind yourself that all of life is seasons, and the hard times eventually give way to something soft and quiet, like the air after a summer thunderstorm. you’ll want to remember these days, what it feels like to turn your face to the sunshine, and the stillness in your soul in the midst of the busyness and chaos that swirls around you. you’ll long to hear the laughter of little ones you love that now fills your days, and you’ll remember that though it’s exhausting, you delighted in seeing them grow and thrive and learn. and there’s a contented satisfaction that settles itself in deep in your bones as you realize that you–yes, you–got to play a part in that.

these days, the air is sweet and heavy with possibility, and though it normally drives you crazy to not know where you’re headed, you’ve come to appreciate the joy of the journey. hope pumps itself through your veins again, steady and sure, and i want you always to remember, sweet girl, always remember that you belong to the resurrection people. life is hard sometimes, and you grieve and mourn and every part of you feels the loss. but you’ve come to understand that you’ll always find what was taken from you later on down the road; in a different form, perhaps, a different way; but found nonetheless.

these days, you’re drinking more tea than you used to, which seems like an odd observation, i know. but i remember the days when you needed to drink only coffee, when you needed something hot and bitter and heavy, something of substance, almost as if something in the way you cradled the mug in your trembling hands weighed you down, but in a good way.

but these days–it’s tea, sweet and watery in a chipped china cup, white and dotted with blue flowers. it’s more delicate, somehow, more frail; it’s light and airy and the way fresh feels in your lungs.

these days you’re learning to use your voice, starting to recognize that there is power and force and potential in the words you speak and the words you write out for the world to read. i remember when this used to scare you, the idea of speaking up, speaking out, being loud, but gone are those days. because these, these are the days of coming out of hiding, the days in which you no longer shrink back. i suppose it really all can be traced back to somewhere around your thirtieth birthday, in which you suddenly, almost as if overnight, started to come into who you are, who you’ve been meant to be all along. it happened without you thinking about it; it was quick and certain, and at once you realized:: you’re a person, a voice, a body, a heart and soul, and you started to own that. you began to fit in the freckled skin you wore for three decades, and at long last, there was an ease, a comfort, in which you moved with it that had never been there before.

dear heart, i want you to remember these days. i want you to engrave them on your heart, on the palms of your hands, in that secret place inside your mind that no one else knows about. there is something sacred about the act of remembrance; it calls truth into being, draws upon faith even in the midst of what is unseen. elena, i know; oh, how i know:: life has not always been kind to you. i know your heart’s been scarred and your tears have been many. i know you’ve felt the ache and the weariness of living in the thin place, in the messy-beautiful in-between. and yes, those days might come around again, but the darkness is not your forever. your very name, sweet girl–the essence of who you are which you carry with you always–your name means light.

you were made to shine in the dark places. 


[Photo by Christian Holmer // Creative Commons // Flickr]

only two days ago, you read the scriptures and scrawled out the words of a prayer in your notebook:: “let me shine, Lord. let me shine. set me on fire that all may see me burn.”

these are the days in which you’re shining, and it’s so, so beautiful. and no matter what happens, no matter what tough times or unfortunate circumstances may come your way along the journey–nothing can take that from you. you’ll always remember in your bones the way it feels to shine.  and i know, and i’ve seen:: you always manage to find your way back to the light somehow.

love you forever,

a love letter to my body

[i’m a little late at jumping on the “love letter to my body” train that’s been taking the internet by storm lately. but better late than never, right? so here it is. and ps: more info about this project can be found on SheLoves magazine’s syncroblog.]

to the body that belongs to elena teresa ann:: this is my love letter. for you. {yes, you.}

i know, i know. why the sudden kindness?, you ask. you’re certainly not used to it. we’ve spent many, many years together, and i’ve hidden you away for most of them. i’ve covered you up–because i was ashamed. i’ve compared you to every other woman i have met–and despised you because you didn’t measure up. i’ve whispered ugly, hateful things about you–sometimes even to you.

i am sorry. it’s taken me nearly twenty-nine years to get it, but now that i do, i am so, so sorry.

i’m sorry i treated you like a curse instead of a blessing.
i’m sorry that i’ve only seen your faults and never once praised you for your beauty.
i’m sorry for feeling like you’ve let me down.
i’m sorry for wishing i could trade you in.
i’m sorry that i have never been thankful for the miracle that you are.

really. you’re extraordinary, and i love you.

i used to be disappointed by you because you’re weak. but you are not defined by your weakness. you are so much more; you have seen so much more. you have grown wide in amazement at the sight of indescribable beauty. and you’ve wept countless tears that have healed the soul from the inside out.
eyes, you are beautiful.

i used to be angry with you because you’re big. i see now it’s because i was listening to a society that tells me something is beautiful only if it doesn’t take up much space. that is not true. yes, you’re big–but you’re also pretty cute. and i like your freckles, by the way.
nose, you are beautiful.

i used to stare at you in the mirror and wish you were different. more…plain. easy. not the unruly mane of wild curls that you are. i’ll be honest:: i still wish that most days. but i am learning to appreciate you for the fierce beauty that you possess.
hair, you are beautiful.

i used to pinch you in all the places that seemed just. too. much. i treated you as the enemy instead of being thankful for all the ways you have been my friend. you have held children:: sick children. crying children. hungry children. you have rocked them and loved them and comforted them. you have done beautiful things, arms.
you are beautiful.

i used to loathe you because you’re wide. i hated you because you never let me fit into those skinny jeans, no matter how much weight i lost. but now i see that your curves are one of the most beautiful things about me. i know that you will help me give birth to my babies one day, and i will be grateful for your width.
hips, you are beautiful.

i used to cry over you because you would never become what i wanted you to be, instead of accepting you for who you are. you give the world’s best belly laughs, and you know how to appreciate a good meal shared with good friends. i love that about you. and one day, there will be a child growing inside you. and you will love him and nourish him and help him grow. thank you.
tummy, you are beautiful.

i used to hide you because i didn’t like the way you dimpled in certain places, and i was embarrassed of how you looked in certain outfits. that was unkind of me, and i am sorry. you are so important to me, legs. you have enabled me to walk down roads that many others have not, and to do it with strength and grace.
legs, you are beautiful.

all of you, every single piece of you, is beautiful.
because you were knit together by a wonderful Creator who doesn’t make mistakes.
and yes, you will grow old and one day return to the dust.

but i am determined that, when you do, it will have been after a life of living in peace with the soul that inhabited you.

Back to Liberia…

Tomorrow’s the day! After an entire YEAR, the time has finally come for me to get on the plane and return to my beloved ‘Mama Liberia.’ So much has happened in the twelve months that I have been home. I caught up with old friends and made new ones. I traveled. I moved across the country. I switched jobs…and then did it again…and then again. I lost my Papa to cancer. I walked through a time of deep healing in my heart. I prayed, I fought, I learned, I struggled. I changed—was changed. And because of all that, I feel incredibly prepared (emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually) to handle whatever Liberia may throw at me.

I am eager to see the kids again, to hug them close and talk about life with them. I can’t wait for the singing and dancing, rice and fresh plantains, beautiful sunsets, morning porch times with my journal and a cup of coffee, joyful reunions with friends and teammates. A year is a long, long time…but I think it makes the return even sweeter.

I’ve spent the last week or so soaking up everything America, greedily indulging in all that I will miss once I cross the Atlantic. I just had a warm bath, washed my face, brushed my teeth—all the while aware that I will soon be without running water for the next six months. I’ve eaten my fill of Mexican food, ice cream, and fresh fruits and veggies, and I’ve definitely had my fair share of Starbucks. I’ve managed to make a trip to Target pretty much every day for the past ten days, sometimes just to walk around and marvel at the sheer enormity of stuff. I’ve downloaded new music and updates for my laptop, knowing that I’ll soon be saying goodbye to Wi-Fi (and fast internet in general). And I’m just about ready to crawl into my comfy bed and (hopefully) sleep sweetly under fluffy blankets and on soft pillows—for I know that the Liberian heat and noise will often keep me awake at nights and/or wake me up way too early in the morning.

I’m looking forward to sharing stories and photos with you from my life in Liberia in the coming months, so be sure to check the blog and my Facebook for updated posts. Until then, keep your fingers crossed that all my luggage makes it safe and sound, that I get a good seat (i.e.: one without anyone else in the row so I can curl up and sleep) on the plane, that customs goes smoothly, and that I manage to make it through about 24 hours of travel!

Until then,