The Gift to Soothe Pain on Valentine’s Day

My heart sinks into the depths of the mattress. How heavy I feel without air in my lungs. The emptiness puzzles my every thought. I trace my steps again and again in my mind, in my heart. Love and kindness abounded, and my heart weeps.

DSC_9094 (3)Where did things go so wrong?

Inching up to a sitting position, I reach for the precious book, Miss Fannie’s Hat. I’ve used it for an Instagram photo, but until this very moment, I couldn’t write barely a word. Emptiness. Loss. How can you be full of God and somehow still feel empty?

DSC_9096 (3)Tears prick my eyes, and I long for my grandmother. I long to sit on her lap, to hear her say that I’ll always be her baby no matter how big I get, to nestle my face into her chest with her arms wrapped around me, to feel the sway of the rocking chair by her precious feet, to feel her welcome without a sound the outcry of words from my heart.

“I miss Ma-Maw. I need to talk to Ma-Maw,” I told my baby girl a few days ago. “I could tell her everything.”

It’s just like yesterday, so vivid in my memory. Sitting at that bar stool, in Ma-Maw’s kitchen, I can still see her kneading the plentiful dough with her beautiful hands, spooning apple-pie filling into the folds of the soft flour mixture, and sealing the edges closed with a fork.

Can she hide the emptiness from everyone but me?

“When I feel sad,” my grandmother says, “I make food for others.” And I know that the apple pies are not meant for our time together, not for her table. They’re not meant to keep. They’re meant to give away.

Resting in a dazed state in the comfort of the mattress, I turn the softened, worn pages of the book and realize that’s exactly what Miss Fannie did. The days of her life had passed by like watching a speeding train from a window, like they do for all of us. Her hair had frayed and grayed, and all the steps she’d taken so many times before had to be taken for her. But the one thing that could never be taken away became the theme of the book, became Miss Fannie’s life story, became my Ma-Maw’s life story. So much can be taken away; so many things ease away from the clasp of our hands–people, houses, and possessions we hold dear.

But no one can take away the ability to give, to give a nod, to give a wink, to give love, to give kindness, to give forgiveness, to give a cherished possession.

I close the tender pages of the book and look heavenward, to the One who knows my heart and my emptiness. I know that this day will be absent of my grandmother, absent of others so special to my heart, and absent of a certain rightness I held so dear. But I have words and as long as my chest soars, as long as air fills these lungs to make me feel like I am floating and to breathe in me a reason to rise …

I can give.

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Are you missing a loved one today? Do you give like my grandmother did to ease the pain? I don’t know about you, but I want “giving” to be my life’s story, too. Because how can kindness be wrong? And I hope with my heart that you are given the most wonderful Valentine’s Day of all.

Finding That Conversation Place

I trail the soft, cleansing cloth over each hill, every valley. So much dirt and stain. Why did I ever think I could wear white? What’s wrong with me? The brown would have been a better fit, hiding impurities, all the unlovely, embarrassing yuck. He tried to tell you. Why didn’t you listen?

O Soul Within, it’s been years. You need to wear white. You need to own this. It’s yours. It’s yours for the taking. And it was costly. Don’t let it go to waste.

I swipe my forehead, as the temperature soars to summer-unbearable that only our beloved Texas makes bearable. Every locust on site tunes in to my fuzzy channel. I head inside and grab a popsicle from the freezer. Walking back out, I stand there evaluating everything before me.

Just do it, Shelli.

I sit down in that stained rocking chair that used to be so white. I own it. I start rocking. And this feels so nice. I grab another popsicle and head back out.

Everyone must think I’ve lost my mind. Sitting in that dirty chair? It’s one thing to plop down in what you can’t see, but to take on the seen?

DSC_7273 (4)Little Bit, daughter #1, pops out the door. She couldn’t stand it any longer. “Can I sit with you, Mama?”

“Of course. Grab popsicles.”

It doesn’t take long outside to realize why the chairs are so stained. June bugs, grasshoppers, things that sting (mosquitoes, wasps …), spiders overhead. It’s a jungle out there. Truly it is.

We rock. My hands freeze, as I push up the icy-blue sweetness. “I can’t write,” I say. “At a time in my life when I should feel the most encouraged, I have never been more discouraged. I can’t even manage a blog post. A simple blog post. What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re a good writer, Mama,” Little Bit says.

I release my empty popsicle package to the ground.

DSC_7275 (3)I push out of that chair, grab more popsicles,  and nudge the grasshopper off the seat when I return, while begging his pardon. We continue rocking.

Breaking the short silence, my girl says, “What’s wrong with me, Mama?”

“Not a single thing. You’re perfect just the way you are. You have to be patient, trust, and wait on God,” I say.

Little Bit tosses her empty container to the ground.

Baby Girl, daughter #2, sticks her head out the door. It was only a matter of time. She has forever been my “I go where you go” daughter. “Want another popsicle?” she asks.

DSC_7277 (3)We two smile big and unanimously say, “Yes!”

Baby Girl hands everyone their cold treat and sits on the front porch step. I need one more rocking chair. And in her quietness, she sips on that pink ice until she releases her trash to the ground, along with all her heart’s unspoken. We know.

I toss my hair over the chair’s back, like the once perfectly white, stained wooden slat is a pony-tail holder. I don’t care what my hair touches … stain, tiny spiders. I don’t look; I just use it. The stain doesn’t bother me anymore, and come to think of it, that weathered look has always appealed to me anyway, the perfectly imperfect.

And would you look at that? Each baby girl has followed me, owning that white, distressed as it may be.

The cool air greets my flesh. I prop one bare foot up on the seat, while my other sways that chair and me back and forth. And somehow everything feels so clean and new. Just right.

I observe the pile of emptiness that’s fallen to the ground. “I think we might need a trash can out here.”

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Do you have anything needing to be tossed away? What is threatening to trash your confidence? And do you have a place you love to gather with those who get you? How did you stumble across that conversation place?

I would crawl into bed with my girls when they were little, and we’d talk hours into the night. But somewhere in their growing up, we’d lost that cherished time. I’m so glad I sat down in that rocking chair at the onset of summer, that I found that conversation place, because every day I hear, “Let’s go sit on the front porch.”  I drop everything, because I know that means we’ll gather popsicles and do some mother/daughter talking. I know their reasoning is partly because they get a break, and partly because they love me, but mostly because we always see God.

God Uses The Puddles

Would she really trade me for ice cream and candy? On the way home from my meeting, I stew–the warm, tasty kind. My girl … she was just a little too excited for me to depart from home today. “When are you leaving, Mom?” she’d asked with a smile.

I pull into the garage. My girls step out of the house, waiting to hug me. My focus locks onto my youngest. “You are in so much trouble,” I say. I head toward her. She laughs, crouching into the wall. “You wanted me to go.” I tickle her. The veins on her neck pop out, like always, through her belly laugh.

Don’t ever want me to go, baby girl. 

“Let’s go jump in the puddle down the road,” I say. The girls slip on their rain boots, I grab my camera, and we trek down the road. The marshy ground boasts hoof prints and foot prints. The sky recently released loads of rain on us. A once empty bucket under a tree now holds over ten inches of water. Such a novelty for dry, Texas land.

We pass our neighbor’s home that burned completely to the ground two years ago. Rebuilt. Loss, but brand new. Oh, how we needed a downpour that night. Many of our neighbors’ front yards resemble ponds now. Even lakes. Water threatens their doorsteps.

“Have you decided what you want to do for your birthday?” I ask the youngest. We pour over a few ideas as we reach our destination, still lacking vision.

“Let me go a little farther, so I’ll capture the prettiest scenery behind you.” As I turn around, the girls step out into the water that covers the road. They touch it, really feel it. They stand there across from each other, smiling.

DSC_1288 (5)DSC_1379 (5)Don’t ever lose these moments, I want to say, reflecting over the past. Hold on. You’ve shared so many amazing years together. Don’t trade them for anything. Always be there for each other, no matter how old you get. You’re sisters, not by birth but by your worth. God loved you so much, that He had a plan for your lives. After He knit you together, He placed you together.

Oldest one is already soaring in the air. I watch that youngest one. She crouches.

DSC_1387 (4)My baby turns eighteen this month. Eighteen.

I bend to the ground, trying to capture their moment. My moment.

At 13 months old, I didn’t know if my youngest would make it. Tears poured from my heart on her 2nd birthday, because she’d made it. Cancer crushes. Disease destroys. We’ve waded through so many puddles along the way. We’ve tripped and fallen into the puddles because chemo weakens the ankles of a small child. We’ve wandered in the puddle of how to stop holding hands, when attachment keeps you from falling but you’ve outgrown it now. We’ve muddled through the puddle of fear, fear that another puddle is looming up ahead, threatening. So much personal loss …

But brand new. Stronger. Closer.

In that bent position, her once thinned hair is long and flowing, curly, healthy, bouncing in the breeze.

I don’t want you to go, but I know you will. Oh, how blessed I’ve been.

She soars.

DSC_1397 (8)And when you soar, baby girl, you leave all those puddles behind. And I’ll stay right here and watch you, for as long as I can. While you’re still in sight. And when you land, because we always tend to land, we stomp them. We make a splash–on ourselves and others. The clean, pure kind–brand new–so welcoming to a land of drought. Because nothing is wasted, young one. Touch it, really feel it.

God uses the puddles.

Happy 18th birthday, Katelyn Grace Littleton

 

My Little Girls Are All Grown Up

It’s going to happen. Everyone thinks it will finally come down, it’ll finally snow.

Oh, I hope my #1 daughter’s university cancels classes. Because at the end of her busy break, I just need a break. I need one more day with her. One more day to hold her close and never let go. One more day to put the phone down, put the TV remote down. One more day to focus on my true loves.

“Mommy …!” she shouts, running to me.

Lo and behold, her university canceled classes. I jump for joy and clap my hands. I get one more day with her, with absolutely nothing demanding of us.

DSC_0442 (3)And after a little so-called dusting of snow, or ice, commences–beautiful, pure change over the horizon–#2 brings me her writing assignment, asking me to look at it. Taking the treasured pages in my hands, I read:

Ever since I was little, I always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. I even wanted to be an animal myself for years, because I thought they were so cool.

I laugh out loud. She goes on to explain how she had wanted to be a vet, but seeing an animal surgery made her weak, nauseated, pale. A change of plans. She had to sit down, in another area. The vet’s cat came over and loved on her. The doctor gave her a chance to rest, regain her composure, and she returned to the surgery room. But at the sight of surgery, she continues to say–

I started slumping down the wall I was leaning against.

I returned to the chair with the cat.

I laugh again. Yes, my daughter wrote those words. The words that would begin her very first college English paper.

Did you get that? Her first college paper. My baby. Because while I was wishing for one more day with my #1, I had no idea that two days later I’d step foot out without #2. Both my babies are in college. Both. #2 hasn’t even seen the end of her senior year yet. I kick the ground. I know this isn’t anything new for most, but as a home-school mom, I’d anticipated a few more months with my #2 before she started college. Like next fall. But the door flew wide open, and somehow we tumbled right in.

Hugs and “mmmmm … smack.” I watch them head out the garage door. They’re weighed down with full backpacks. Their first day together without me. Because the first two days, I trailed along. I did. I had lunch with them and everything. It was glorious. But that’s it. No more. I’ve got to grow up, too.

Shivering, I slump against my car, leaving my imprint in the dust and watching them get situated in the car.

DSC_0447 (3)Words from yesteryear peek over my shoulder–

“Why does she pucker her lips like that?” he asked. “Monkey kisses.” He laughed.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Scan_Pic0024 (3)I turned to my daughter. “Goodnight, baby. Give me kisses.” I leaned in. I puckered. She puckered. Big puckers. “mmmmm … smack!”

Realization dawned and laughter tumbled out of me, causing me to collapse onto the bed beside her. It’s me. All me. I taught her that. I taught her the big pucker. The cutest monkey kisses.

Oh my goodness. The things I’ve taught them. The things I haven’t. Have I taught them enough? Have I left the right impressions on their lives, on their hearts? Will they be okay? Will I be okay?

The car inches forward, not waiting for the answer. All routine for #1. And now routine for #2. Could you just wait till I figure out the answer? Till I figure out this whole thing? The car stops, and they wave and blow kisses. The car can’t proceed without kisses. The sweetest monkey kind. I return it all, with all my heart and some. Onto the hand and thrown across the air, like my grandmother taught me. To #1 and now #2. I catch mine and they catch theirs. We prolong the waves and kisses for just a little longer, ensuring we see each other. Not wanting to miss a single thing. Like we could.

The car accelerates down the driveway, leaves kicking up behind it, and proceeds down our Texas county road. When they are out of sight, I push the button and shut the garage–the full weight bearing down and crashing to the ground–as a chapter in our lives unexpectedly ends and another beautifully begins.

I go sit with the cats.

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What chapters are ending or beginning in your life? May I pray for you? 

The Right & The Left Unite For A Merry Christmas

The phone rings. It’s my girl.

“Hi, baby,” I say, using my softest tone reserved for my girls.

“Mom, I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. I’m shaking.”

“What’s up?” My legs begin to tremble, and the hair on my arms raises.

DSC_9533 (6) - Copy“I’m in government class, and we’ve broken up into groups,” she whispers. “My group has decided to do a discussion about an issue that I can’t support. They all support it. But Mom, I’m afraid to speak up. I don’t know what to do.” Her voice drifts off into a lonely place. Surrounded by people, yet lonely. I’ve been there.

My heart plunges into my gut and begins to jostle around for freedom, for peace, for strength. Freedom, peace, strength for my girl. “Baby, you have to speak up. If you don’t, everyone will think that you believe it’s okay. And you won’t be okay with that.”

“I know, Mom.” Determination laces her voice. “But … I’m so scared.”

“You’ve got this. I’m praying for you.” Because we can let some things slide, but some things have to be man-handled. Girl-handled.

DSC_9511 (5) - CopyThe phone rings.

“Hi, baby.” Hurry words … assure me. God, let her be okay.

“I did it, Mom. I think several in the group were glad I spoke up. I think they believed like me, but they were afraid, too. The leader decided that half can discuss that topic, and the other half can discuss another topic. She didn’t seem too happy about it, but …” She pauses.

I exhale a sigh of relief, then laugh. “That’s great, Baby. I’m so proud of you.” Yes, you are discovering who you are, what you believe, and that it’s okay to have a different opinion.

“One girl from the group kept glaring at me through class.”

DSC_9519 (6)DSC_9516 (6)Weeks pass.

I step into Chick-fil-A and take a seat across the booth from my girl.

“Mom, government class discussion went so good today.” She bounces on the bench. “Someone just had to bring up another controversial topic.” She nearly slumps. “But, Mom, we had such a good talk.” She straightens and smiles. “Those of us against it gave our side. We just told them that though we didn’t agree, we don’t dislike them for having a different opinion. We aren’t mad at them. One guy said that he didn’t understand why we felt the way we did, but he told me that he liked how kind I was about everything I had to say on the issue.”

One hand extended and the other accepted. The aisle between disappeared, leaving only people. Beautiful feet. Good people. Kind people. Because difference doesn’t always have to equal division. Surely, difference can be united with love.

“And Mom, he said he’d never met a Christian before.”

“He’s met one now.” I nod.

“At the end of class, we all walked out of the room, smiling, high-fiving, and talking with each other. Happy. Friends, Mom. And when I glanced over at our teacher, he shook his head, smiling in amusement at us.” She giggles. “He said, ‘Y’all are the best class I’ve ever had.'”

I shake my head gently, my lips pressing into a smile. My girl is my hero. Oh, yes. Making friends with non-likeminded people. A beautiful concept. Because one might lean right and one might lean left, but we can all lean in with kindness.

DSC_9530 (4) - CopyI wrap myself in the warmth of my jacket. “Baby, that’s so awesome. I’m so proud of you. I think people should be able to disagree, but love.” We mingle together in this sorted world constantly. And why not?

“Yeah. God fought the battle for me, Mom. It was such a great day. Even the girl who had been glaring at me has been smiling at me instead.”

My heart glows–my girl is acknowledging her Savior. All those years of teaching, trying to help her see and understand … yes. Thank you, Father.

Because when the soft strand of the right sweeps over the doubled over strand of the left, with a gentle reach and a little heart-tug, they come together to make the most gorgeous bow. If one tends to be right-handed. And when the soft strand of the left sweeps over the doubled over strand of the right, with another gentle reach and a little heart-tug, they come together to make the most gorgeous bow. If one tends to be left-handed. Because it’s all in the reaching, the softness, the kindness–the sweetest Christmas present to this mama, for her girl. Love bestowed by and on her girl in the difference by the different. Yes, Lord, yes.


Do you have a story of kindness to share? Merry Christmas, Y’all.

A Return to Family Devotion


I inch open the door. Two teeners are playing. I’m so happy to see them playing, taking life by the reins. Like they used to. When did life get so serious? 

One’s perched on the other’s back, having turned into some type of cowgirl. The other’s on all fours, and somehow I’m waiting for a “neigh” to bellow out of her mouth. Instead, all contagious laughs, giggles, smiles.



“What?” I nearly fall over laughing.

They jump up, place sweet hands in mine.

It’s bedtime.

“Do y’all want to start reading together through the New-Testament-in-a-year?” I ask the girls, switching gears and interrupting their Lone Ranger and Silver moment. But it’s been weighing heavily on my heart. 

Both nod so eagerly.

Whew! Because I’m going on fumes right now.



And I need to get at least one weight off my heart. Taking something off my shoulders would be nice, too.


We always did pretty good at family devotions when the girls were small. But things shifted somehow. I tried to get them started on Bible Gateway, helping them establish their own routine. No more “we” but God in thee. That went good for a while, but like with all things, discipline tiptoes out the door, and we’re left crumpled on the floor. And that’s a complete disservice to my girls.

I need jumper cables. Um, okay … spurs kicking into my sides.

Because when serious sickness enters your home, even teens can only go on fumes for so long. Anxiety hugs the heart, pinching in the night, demanding conversation.

And one daughter wraps her arms around me. My teetertotter emotions …. “I understand, Mama. Shh. It’s okay.” I adore her motherly way. What gave it away? Hands that I used to hold everywhereonce so tiny with tiny nails that I used to clip with the baby clipperssoothed over my face, wiping away the moisture. Tight hugs. My other daughter gifts me with one, too.

Life has been so busy. Where has my time with them gone?



Is it okay for a mama to admit she’s scared? She’s scared of the present, the past, the future. She’s scared of every day she tried to make it on her own and failed miserably. She’s terrified of the scars etched into her heart from days without holding her Savior’s hand. She’s scared of every reminder, every memory. She wishes for white-out, do-overs, the delete key for her heart. 

What does she yearn for more than anything for her girls? A clean piece of paper, a clean heart. One prepped and ready to type God’s beautiful future, beautiful present on their hearts, to accompany their beautiful pasts.

But we can’t pour out our heart’s desire on that blank page what we aren’t pouring in. The page will be written on, but it won’t be desirous, the Godly way. It’ll never sell.

And when I’m too tired, I’m reminded I’m too tired not to. I’m loading dirty dishes in the dishwaser, and I don’t think I have the stamina to finish, but I will. That’s my disciplined, determined self talking. And I’ll collapse into that bed.

And a brush of wind swirls past me, sweet arms envelope me. “You ready to read our devotion?”

“We better do it now, while I can.” Anxiety only falls away when we fall into the arms of God.

We plop down onto the floor, circle around, maybe hit the couch, maybe climb into my bed …. She takes my phone, hits the Bible Gateway App.



“The verse of the day,” she says, “is Ephesians 4:2‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.'” She clicks on “Begin A Reading Plan” and continues right where we left off. “Matthew 20:1-16,” she says. 

Verse 16 ends with, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

We all chuckle. “I used to say that to you when you were small all the time,” I say. “I wanted you to be giving. It feels good to give.” And I didn’t want them to fight. But my version usually came out like“If you want to be first, you have to be last.” And that’s where I might blow a raspberry, if I were that kind of mama.

fishing in the swimming pool … caught a plastic fish each and every time




floaties in the shallow end

They laugh. Then nod.

“I remember, Mama. I say that to all my Sunday school kids,” one daughter admits.

Yes. They haven’t forgotten. Full circle. God is writing on their hearts. The giving has been received. Because when we give, we always receive. An honest servant is always rewarded in time. It might seem like a rough draft, but it’s the real, published deal, where purchases are final. It’s sitting on the heart-shelf, waiting to be taken, to be given to their friends, anyone blessed enough to receive from their hands, maybe their future kids.

We take the limited time in this life together by the reins.

A return to family devotion.

~~~


Do you have a family devotion? Have you had to take life by the reins recently? 


Stepping Into My Characters’ Shoes


God, what are you doing with my life?

“Do you want to go?”

“Yes, of course.”

My curiosity soars. My novel, work-in-continual-progress, has a scene in this very location. I’d love to go. I need to go. I need to get inside my characters’ heads more, know their hearts. Plant my feet where they planted theirs.

We pass Greenville, Texas, heading into Commercemy novel’s setting and the city I have grown to love. “There’s Karalee’s school,” I say. Wonder where she’s at? What’s she doing? Hard to believe my oldest daughter is there and I’m here. This thing called change is interesting. Our hearts are so intertwined that I feel present with her all the time. Rejoice when she rejoices. Cry when she cries.

We proceed out toward the state park, passing farm after farm. Beautiful Texas, always beautiful to this Texan. 

I gasp. A city limit sign announces “Posey” … Posey, Texas. My heart claps. That’s part of my itty-bitty character’s nickname. I missed that detail on Google Earth. Wow. Unbelievable. 



Believable.

God, you’ve got this thing covered. I know you do. And you’re showing me the signs. Thank you.


We park the vehicle. 

My youngest steps out, branches out, and begins exploring. The one who’s seen devastating hardship. My cancer survivor. She’s discovering shells along the water’s edge. She’s found her niche.

Have I found my niche? I think so. 

My feet hit the ground. I pivot, absorbing the surrounding beauty, standing right where my characters stood. Building their imaginary lives has been sweet. They’ve so obediently taken each action I’ve required of them. Walked when I needed them to walk, erased what I needed them to erase, built what I needed them to build.

God, you stood right where I’m standing. You made all things, and you came hereliving, serving, loving, building, accomplishing, finishingto know me inside out. To know your creation, your people. 

“I could stay here all day,” my daughter says, beaming. 



Stay here all day. That’s it. I made the connection.

God, sometimes I’m slow, but I made the connection.

Walk out on the water. Go exploring. Discover the growth. Through the difficult, the scary, the times of ease, the times of beauty, times of uncertainty, times of seasonal change …

 



When you don’t know what God is doing, do what you love. 

He’s given you love. O Soul Within, find what you love. Do what you love. Continue doing what you love. He gave you a heart, to please, to love, to obey, to build, to follow, to lead, to accomplish, to do the thing He’s called you to.

Step in character with whom God made you to be, into the very shoes He designed for you.

Change is never easy … but proceed.

So ask the hard questions. Get inside God’s head. Yearn to know His heart. 

You are His and He is yours, intertwined. He’s where you are. He rejoices when you rejoice; He surely cries when you cry.

Find that placewith Himwhere you could stay all day. The place to do the living and dying. The place to typeThe Beginning and The End.

Do you want to go?

~~~
How has God been speaking to your heart?