What Alzheimer’s Can Never Take Away

Sweet, familiar faces greet me at the glass screen door. Through tender hugs and peering over beloved shoulders, I begin my search for her. It’s hard to believe this day is here. I’m amazed. Her kids weren’t sure she’d live to see this day. It’s been a rough road lately, I hear. But she’s entered into the hour of her 80th birthday.

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The last time I was here, she conversed with me. She won’t be able to today.

I see her. I take in her sweet details from a distance.

She’s so loved. Disease can take so much from a person. People can give up on you, and one can choose to give up on themselves and others, but from where I stand, Alzheimer’s can’t take away your loves. She is curled up on her side, on the couch, cuddled into her pillow and blanket. So much princess pink. Her loyal Maltese blends in to the white cotton pillowcase, taking up more pillow space than my aunt’s precious face is. The beloved caregiver beckons the help of my cousin, the daughter, and they ease her to standing at the walker. The caregiver cups my aunt’s face in her hands and kisses her forehead.

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She’s so strong, even in her weakness. Because she’s all heart–all heart that fought for grandkids, that survived cancer, that survived the loss of two beloved children, that survived the loss of a husband, that fought and survived so much more than I’ll ever be privy to. Her fragile fingers grip the walker rails. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away a fighting spirit. Time after time, her kids wonder if she’s being escorted away into the arms of God, but to everyone’s surprise, He wonderfully escorts her wandering mind and body inch by inch to the table through the hands and feet of Christ. She takes a seat at the queen’s chair, the candles are lit, and everyone gathers around her with love, in love.

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She’s so tiny. Always has been. But a recent chest cold pummeled on top of Alzheimer’s leaves her frailer than ever. Her beautiful skin clings to her precious cheekbones. Yet a glow emits from her eyes, as her two remaining daughters sprinkle her face with kisses. She looks, in part, like a ten-year-old with her sweet braids. The room fills with the fragrance of a struck match and a rising melody, happy birthday over her. And the words we know so well since childhood seep from her lips … happy birthday to you. “She’s singing,” I say. “She’s always singing,” says her caregiver, smiling. She is. She sings hymns with her sisters–my mom, my other aunt. One voice begins and hers will blend, like always, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your treasure. A tiny package containing years of stored-up infinite treasure. Childhood treasure. Leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms kind of treasure.

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She’s so determined. She sits there, wobbly. But she will see this through. Her daughter opens the presents before her, for her. Chocolate and more chocolate. Giggles disperse. I think back over my conversation with my cousin, when I’d inquired over what I could possibly get my aunt for her birthday. If time is short and space is limited, what can I give her? “Chocolate,” said her daughter, my cousin. “She can still eat chocolate?” I asked, surprised. After the week she’d had, being so sick … “She sure can.” Would you look at that? My cousin places a slice of cake before her, crackers and Coke. All her favorites. She parts her lips for one tiny bite after bite, one tiny sip after sip, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your favorites. 

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She’s so … Heading home, I ponder my aunt in admiration. I can’t quite put my finger on the situation. My oldest says, “Mom, did you hear what Aunt Novie said when we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ … when we sang ‘and many more’?” My daughter giggles. I glance at her through the rearview mirror. “No. What?” I say. My daughter gasps for air, trying to compose herself. “She asked, ‘There’s going to be more?'” I laugh. That’s exactly right. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your humor.

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And that’s when I put my finger on it, really put my finger on it–when it seems one doesn’t have a lot to go on, one goes on what they’ve got. Illness can take away much, but some things found in this life can never be removed without authority–love, treasure, a fighting spirit, determination, humor, Coca-Cola, chocolate, and best of all, Jesus. 

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Do you know anyone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer’s? What can you add to the list that can never be taken away? 


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©Shelli Littleton

I Guess I’d Follow My Daughter Anywhere


“I wish he would quiet down,” said someone … I can’t remember who. “Boy, that’s annoying.”

Ever since we let Azzie, our cat, out of the house for a few moments while we hung up the Christmas lights, he’s been completely discontent. We never let the cats out much because … this right here. The cat balks louder and louder, over and over. And not to mention the summer fleas, the many critters excluding the fleas that would eat him alive. And boy, what if he ran under the deck? 

And right now, it’s cold. It’s snowing. It’s actually snowing (it snowed one day, a week ago … you get the idea). A novelty in these parts of Texas. And the wind is whipping around something fierce.

My snow-girl. Her New Year’s resolutions are to become well-rounded and to get in shape.


My daughter goes to her room and places on her winter gear. She puts the collar and leash on Azzie. He’s really balking now. 


My daughter. I’m not surprised. She’ll go the extra mile for anyone, especially those she loves. Every Sunday, during “shake-a-hand” moment, she walks all the way across the church to hug and talk to our realtor, the first person we met when we moved here and the very one to invite us to her church, our church. Yes, she ventures all the way there because she loves Ms. Frances. I love her, too, but I’m not so great at going the extra mile. I wave across the way. 

But that’s my daughter. She’ll walk the extra mile. She’ll brave the new ice cream flavor, while I stick to the safe mint chocolate chip. But she lets me try the new. She’d give her last dime. Her last bite. Her coat. She loves the lovely and unlovely. She doesn’t meet a stranger these days. My shy, quiet daughter is coming into her own God-given gifts. A friend to all. A giver.

The wind rattles the house, along with the windows.

My daughter picks up the cat, opens the front door, steps her new boots out into the snow. 

I throw on my winter gear, grab my camera because when it’s all said and done, I guess I’d follow her anywhere. And I want to love like she loves. And I want to capture her love on camera. 



She sets Azzie down into the snow. He leaves a trail of paw prints.

And in no time, we’re all outside.



And almost lying prostrate for a good photo, I think about the prints I’m leaving on this world, on my girls, on my friends …

I want to leave the kind of heart-prints my daughter has left on me. I want to throw open the door, brave the wind and cold, the unknown, and step out in love … to love. And I know if I ever step out, I’ll never be content to stay inside.














What moves you to action? Others’ words or actions? 

A 16-Year-Old’s Guide For A Happy New Year


“Do you want to walk the trail with me?” I asked my dear friend.

“Yes!”



I wanted to hold her hand and skip down the lane. Could my heart contain the happiness inside? Or would it burst from joy? I hadn’t seen my dear friend in over 20 years. We’d moved to Spokane, Washington, in my mid 20s with the air force. We bought a home in the country and immediately formed a tight bond with a farming community. My friend, a farmer’s wife, welcomed me into her home, church, heart. We loved each other like sisters from the start and only had a short time together before we returned to Texas. 

She and her family came to Texas to vacation last week (I want to think I influenced her a bit), and they spent New Year’s Eve with us.

We headed to the back property, released the sheep, and made our way around the trail. I couldn’t take the smile off my face, the definition of happy.

“Is that a mailbox?” my friend asked. “What’s that doing out here?”



It’s an acceptable question that I find myself explaining to everyone. We didn’t want to leave it behind, so we brought it with us when we moved. It was a truck, but it began to deteriorate over time, so we took off parts here and there, keeping the bare necessity. Now, it looks like a set of bulging yellow eyes staring at you. It’s planted right across from the swing. 



“We write letters to each other … or at least, we used to. Like love notes. Now, it mostly holds used popsicle sticks, spider webs.”

The red flag stood tall. My husband pulled the handle down, revealing mail. Mail? Mail!

Three letters. One was addressed to: Mom (that’s me)



I opened it … from my Katelyn. 

I teared up a tiny bit. I read it out loud to my friend, unable to share it fast enough. It was just one of those proud mama moments … raw, tender … for someone else to see the love your child really does have for you as a parent. Three paragraphs, three points, that pave the way for my 2017. And I’ll be glad to loan them to you, too. 

1. Apologize

To Mom:

I love you, Mom. Sorry for acting horrible when you guys want to watch something. I don’t know what’s got me agitated recently …

2. Encourage

Mom, you need to keep writing. You are great at that (and everything else. You are the best mother someone could ask for). I love all the books you write.

3. Love

You are the best thing anyone could ask for. Keep doing what you’re doing. I love you so, so much.

–Katelyn

That’s my Katelyn. She doesn’t like watching TV much, she reads everything I write, and when she loves, she really loves. 

I gave her a big hug when I got inside. “Katelyn, I loved my letter. When did you write it?”

“Six weeks ago.” She chuckled. “I thought you’d never find it.”

It took me six weeks to discover her love, her voice, her heart … 

That’s not acceptable. But what beautiful timing. God-timing. 

Father, take me down your path … the path … for me … for this 2017. Let me apologize more, encourage more, and love more. Keep my eyes open. Don’t let me miss opportunities. Don’t let me deteriorate. Father … 

I want to go where you go.

Karalee (kid lover), me (Word lover), and Katelyn (animal lover) from earlier in the year



And y’all, life has been so crazy that I wasn’t sure I’d get a blog post written. I’d cherish your continued prayers for a close family member. And … Katelyn gave me her permission to use the letter. *Grin*

What other ingredients can you add for a happy new year?


Following The Star To Bethlehem


I love this time of year. The glow of the Christmas tree radiating throughout the darkened living room brightens and lightens my heart, especially in the early mornings. 

And my heart’s been heavy. 

I sit crisscross-applesauce by the tree and remove the star ornament. I lay it at my feet. The cat walks over and touches his nose to it, investigating this new thing. The amateur photographer in me snaps a quick picture.



Maybe I’ll post this picture on Instagram, I think to myself. I travel back to my closet and retrieve my Bible from my church bag. 

I’ll quote Scripture of the star that led the wise men to Jesus, I decide. Sitting down on the floor, all alone, I flip through my elderly Bible’s pages, turning straight to Luke. I search and search for the star. I read all of Luke 2. Everyone knows Luke 2 is the nativity scene. Where’s the star? Not in Luke?

Matthew? I flip to Matthew. 

There. There’s the star. The star’s in Matthew.

I smile and release my held breath.

My finger follows the wise men over the beautiful pages for every mention of the star.



And I wonder … why isn’t the star mentioned in Luke? Hmm. 

“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

As I followed the star to Bethlehem, I thoughtO Soul Within, maybe, just maybe God left the star out of Luke, placed the star in another location, so that one might search for it. On this day. 2016. So that one might search a little harder, a little farther, for The One, the Christ-child, the God-man. And come to worship Him.

Who else is searching for the star in this moment?

I tuck my knees under my chin and hug my legs. 

Shelli, when’s the last time you searched for the star? 

The star will always lead to Jesus. It will always bring one out of the east.

“After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2: 9-10

Oh, Lord, I never want to stop looking for the star … looking for you. I never want to stop placing you in my daily life, with purpose. I never want to bog down with anxiety and deny the joy and peace that is my birthright as your child. 

I’ve been bogged down, Lord. 



Thank you for going ahead of me. I want a Jeremiah 29 moment with you, Lord. For always. “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.” 

Thank you for giving me a reason to search for the star. To knock on the door. 

Make me wise. Make me search. Remind me to sit at your feet. Make me desire you. Help me to follow you.



See Him. 

This new thing, new every morning. Don’t miss it.

O Soul Within, see the glow. Feel it. The wonder of it all. Open your heart, your treasure, and lay those burdens down. But not just anywhere or to anyone … to The Onethe right one providing the right place. And receive the joy and peace.

“On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their teasures and presented him with gifts …” Matthew 2:11-12

Merry Christmas
I love you.
Shelli





A Peek Inside Operation Christmas Child


“My friend invited us to go with their family to work with Operation Christmas Child.” My daughter thumbed through her text. “The day after Thanksgiving. May we go?”

“Yes.” 

Come Black Friday, we drove the hour trip into the Dallas area, met the family, and walked into a huge warehouse filled with plain brown shipping boxes, showcasing “Samaritan’s Purse.”




The warmth flooded the room, the smiles, the greetings from strangers. We ushered into a holding room and watched a film over our volunteer work. I placed my “chaperone” sticker and my name tag on my shirt. The kids received the “student” stickers.We followed a lady through the huge warehouse full of tables and workers. 

Shouts rang out.

“When a shipping box is completely packed with shoe-boxes, everyone shouts, competing to see who can shout the loudest,” the lady explained.

She led us to our very own worktable#13and opened one huge brown shipping box. We peeked over the edge to see it packed to the brim with green-and-red shoeboxes.

Everyone received their assigned job for the day. I took on the job of sorting through shoeboxesin other words, each packed box had to be unpackedensuring each individual shoebox was full and that there was nothing harmful in itno liquids, no weapons. My youngest daughter stood at my side sorting through boxes with me, with her older sister next to her, who helped tape the boxes we passed along.



I glanced up between boxes to see smiles on faces. I reached for a new box, and my daughter beat me to it. We laughed.

My feet stood right where they needed to be.

My fingers felt over my “chaperone” tag on my jacket. Me? Chaperone? No. Me? Student? Yes.

I yearned to exchange tags with my daughter, letting her wear the “chaperone” and letting me take on the “student.”




















Without my girls, without the invitation, my feet would not be planted on the Operation Christmas Child’s warehouse floor. My heart had not been invested in the past. Oh, I’d assembled boxes, but never with my whole heart. I would never have driven that hour in Dallas traffic, the day after Thanksgiving, on my own. Never.

My heart needed nudging, prompting. My hand needed holding, guiding, leading, encouraging.

We placed hands on the boxes before us and prayed over them.



Something strange happened. The brown turned to green-and-red. My heart began to feel invested, invested in the children whom I couldn’t even see, whom I’d never even meet. 

I stumbled across a shoebox that wasn’t packed properly. And I found myself getting defensive over each one I checked and packed. I felt slight aggravation at the unknown persons who’d assembled them poorly.

But who was I to grumble in my heart? I thought of all the shoeboxes I had thrown away that year. I reprimanded myself secretly. I hadn’t packed a shoebox in a few years, since the girls have gotten older, since they hadn’t prompted me to help make one. Since they hadn’t held my hand and led me there. 

Since my eyes weren’t fully seeing.

I reached into the bins full of toys before me, selected a few things, like a stuffed animal or a children’s Bible, and filled the shoebox. It only lacked one thingcandy. I wished for a bucket of candy so that I could add sweetness to the boxes that were lacking. 

My heart is invested.



I ran across a shoebox that clearly had been packed with an over-abundance of lovedolls, stuffed animals, candy. Someone did it right, and some child will be blessed by their hands. My heart clapped for those unknown persons.

I passed the finished shoebox along, and my daughter taped it shut. Friends packed the beautiful Christmas color into the plain ol’ shipping box, bringing it to life there in the warehouse, there in my heart. Shouts rang out, starting a contagion of shouts down the line. We’d filled another shipping box, ready to go overseas.

“Do you want to go to lunch?” the lady asked.

I turned to the girls. “Are y’all hungry? Do you want to take a lunch break?”

“No, let’s keep working,” they agreed.

I smiled. “Yes, let’s keep working. Our time’s too short. We can eat after.” We can eat anytime.

Why?

We took a peek inside, and now our hearts are fully invested.





We took a peek inside,
our stubborn hearts were tested,
and now we see in color,
our hearts fully invested.

~~


Thank you, Peek Family

**

Are you volunteering anywhere special this year? What is God teaching you?

God Uses The Broken Teacups


Company would be arriving soon.

I evaluated the dishes through the dirty glass. Evaluating my options, I saw the good, and I saw the broken. Through my distorted lens.


I opened the door and reached inside the cabinet.

My fingertip circled the the porcelain edges, settling and lodging into the chipped surface, and I thought not to use that piece. Another dish had been pieced and glued back together. No good.

Cracks and lines showing. Stained.

They weren’t good enough to use. They weren’t presentable. I’d been told that all my life. Someone could get injured. Someone would be embarrassed.

Use the good. Use the best. Act as though you’re serving the King.






















My heart sank low. What if God never used the broken? What if we embarrassed him? What if He kept the damaged hidden away? Because of the way that it looked or the way that it felt.

What if He had the mind of man? My heart sank lower.

I’ve felt it all my lifeI’m fake. I’m not whole, not good enough, not proper enough. I’m not deserving. I’m an embarrassment. 

To those who aren’t broken.

Don’t pick me. Don’t use me. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t share your faith. Don’t put her on display. She’s broken. You’re broken. 

Shelli, you’re broken.

Your family can’t be this or can’t be that because … you’re broken.

She might hurt others. Being rough around the edges could hurt someone, inflict slight injury. They might think it’s okay to be broken.


But He has the mind of God. Glory. My heart began to rise. And He whispered to my heartI’m the glue that binds you. I’ll break you, but I’ll bind you. I’m the glue sealing you together. I’ve settled and lodged into you. Because I’m your all. Does that not make you special? Valuable? User-worthy and user-friendly? 

Like me.

Fractures and chips chisel character into your life, like a vintage home’s crown molding.

And If the cracks cause others to bleed, maybe they need my broken and binding, too. You leave that to me. God whisperedmaybe I know what I’m doing.

O Soul Within, who are you to judge who can and can’t be used? Don’t judge yourself, Shelli. Don’t bully yourself.

God sees all. The glass is never too dirty for Him to see. He’s sees the broken and unbroken. 

And He reaches for you.


He sees you from a distance, and He sees you magnified. God sees the whole picture.





















He sees the lines, He feels the cracks, and He still takes you by the hand. 

Because what is real? Real is what you have to give. What I feel … what I see … me.

When the brokenness causes a resemblance to Himbroken like Jesusplace out the fractured, chipped, and the glued. Set the table.

His is the company we seek to please. We’re serving the King.

Gratefulness in my heart had awoken.

We serve a God who uses the broken.



Scraping Certain Memories Out The Back Door


My grandmother never wasted anything, not a plastic butter container, not a milk jug, not a scrap of fabric. What didn’t clutter her kitchen counters, cluttered her storage spaces. She didn’t throw away anything, not even leftover scraps from a meal. Surely a sheer reflection of the Depression. Because a scrap of fabric could be used to make a quilt, a milk jug could store water for electrical outages.

Watching her scrape off the plates, all extra food going into a tin plate, is a sweet memory. “I’ll throw it out to the dogs,” she’d say, and wipe her hands on the front of her flour-covered blouse. When all the plates had been cleared and washed, the counters and tables all cleaned, we’d take the tin plate, heaped with food scraps, and head to the back door. The screen door would screech open, and the dogs would come running. There was no disguising or mistaking her scrap-pile… the dogs ran to it and so did the swarming flies. Stomach-turning remnants covered the ground.



Memoriesit’s what we bring into the storehouse of our hearts and minds. It’s a precious commodity, something we keep. Something we hope to hang onto all our lives, until our last breath.

But we have good, and well, we have bad.

And sometimes it seems like the bad just grows and grows, like yeast has been added to the disagreeable ingredients. Just gets fatter and fatter, busting and bursting out the doors and windows of our minds and hearts. The guest overstays his welcome and takes up too much space. The guest gets bossy and decides who’ll eat where, who’ll sit where, who’ll sleep where, and who’ll need to make accommodations for the night. He pushes out all the good.

And he just eats and eats away at your nerves, your confidence, your faith, even your memory of good.

And we look around and see that our counters are covered and cluttered with leftovers, dirt and grime, and a stench that can’t be described, unworthy of description. Even the cow-trails remaining are threatened. Leftovers needing to be thrown out to the dogs and the flies.

We can’t always choose what comes in and out of our lives, but we can choose what stays, what stays inside. We can choose what needs to be thrown out.



Like standing at my front living room window, at only eight years old, watching my daddy drive away … away forever from my family. Tears pouring out my eyes, I cried, “Daddy, Daddy, I love you.” Oh, my daddy.

Like feeling the sting of rejection. The 8th grade boy who walked by my middle-school desk and said with a scowl, “You have long, skinny fingers. And your hair looks like Medusa.”


Like grieving over a huge mistake. Only a kid and ruining my life.


Those are leftovers, throw-out memories. Not throw-away, just throw-out. We’ll never be entirely free of them. But our good memories don’t deserve to be pushed out the door. Our good memories deserve the guest of honor place at our table.


And O Soul Within, some ground-breaking news, that’s what we’ll make up our mind to do. We have to be intentional in this life, tend to the memories, because another has unhealthy intentions for us.

O Soul Within, gather those leftovers, one by one. The ones that stink and destroy. Scrape them into the tin scrap bowl of honor. Because that tin bowl deserves a place of honor, too. It’s the temporary storage that keeps our countersour hearts and mindsfree and clean. Free of all the dirt and grime, leaving room for all the cleanthe China, the teacups, faith, Christ-esteem, space, lovely space.



Take those steps, one by one.

Open that back door and bask in the beautiful sounds of the screechy screenthe gatekeeper to our hearts, the one that stays closed and only opens when you choose. Only opens when the bad needs to be thrown out or used … blessedly used for good. Not used for bad. And that’s why they aren’t throw-aways because sometimes God uses our throw-outs. 

Scrape it out, sweep it out, let it drop, let it fly. Toss it to the bottom-land, like nobody’s business. Let it stay. Let the dogs come, let the flies swarm. Because that’s the back door. The scrap pile. No one else needs to go there, because it’s nobody’s business. Only your selected few come through there.



And then you smile, walk back into your clean kitchen, take a deep breath, and bask in the wonderful sights and smells of the new, the apple pie scent wafting, the fresh bread baking, the sun shining in through the front window, rays so vivid and beautiful you could reach out and touch them

Like knowing your daddy loves you with all his heart and remembering how he tells you often, how you’ll always be his little angel no matter how old you get.

Like being named Homecoming Queen your senior year, and the one who called you all those names wants to escort you.


Like feeling the tiny fingers and toes of your newborn, 18 years ago, and counting them one by one. And knowing your mistake may very well have led you here, to this child, to this beautiful place.



  


Like knowing with all your heart that God knows what’s best and directs your steps, and even uses your past.

Prop open the front door, and hang the welcome sign. Bring out the white, clean tablecloth, unfold it a tad, and thrust it out. Open wide. Spread it out over the dining room table in your spacious heart, and place the best China because … well … it’s time for a new meal, for a real meal, for a feast. A beautiful, clean, new feast. With guests of our choosing. Only guests of our choosing. Welcomed guests.

With remnants of love, blessing, and honor.


~~~

Do you have difficult, painful memories? Have you struggled with letting them keep a prominent place in your mind and heart? Do you have any thing you need to toss out?