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.

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To All The Ruined Mothers

“I’m ruined, Shelli.”

One petal falls.

DSC_3014 (3)I can’t bear to hear her utter those words. I cover my ears and eyes. “La, la, la …” I love her so.

When did this point arrive? When did the words “ostomy,” “colostomy,” “colectomy” think they could enter their little world? Her son is only 10. He’s endured more over the last couple of months than most adults could bear. But he’s past the stage of hugs, and high-fives have taken their place. Yet I know that little boy inside that big boy yearns to reach his arms up, be taken up, and rocked, swaying back and forth, until all things are made better. Until the pain is all gone. Until the bed of tears runs dry.

“I can’t smile anymore, Shelli.”

Another petal loosens.

DSC_3016 (3)I can’t begin to imagine what it took, the struggle within her mother-heart, to give her consent … her consent to release something so important to her son. To let go. To say goodbye.

What can I say? What can I do? How do we help when one petal after another seems to slip away? One thing after another. Nothing is easy. What else can go wrong? Mothers so want good for our kids–a pleasant, perfect, pain-free, prosperous life.

What are you thinking, Mother? That this is your fault? That you could have prevented this? That you did something to cause this? That you didn’t do enough? Or that you simply want your child’s life the way it used to be?

“We are having a very difficult time finding an ostomy bag that is a good fit … and we’ve tried several,” she wearily says.

One more petal breaks free and drifts to the ground.

DSC_3021 (3)What if … you’re not ruined? What if you were ruined before, and you just didn’t realize it? Maybe what we thought was good was the ruination. Because the tissue was so damaged it was about to fall apart. “One more day, and it would have been a different story,” reported the doctor. One more day, and instead of arranging ostomy bags, they could have been arranging …

What do you know, Shelli? When have you felt ruined, Shelli? When you found out you couldn’t have children, your heart’s desire since childhood? When you found out you were doomed to be different. When all your hopes and dreams disintegrated. When your future didn’t look bright and pretty anymore. When everything was stripped away, and all that remained was a barren stem. When all you could do was look up, reach up.

Mother scans over his irritated skin surrounding the leaky bag, tears surfacing in her eyes. Only God knows the amount of tears she’s cried.

Another petal falls.

DSC_3024 (3)But what if when we love God so much, when we’ve given Him our hearts, we change? What if God is making a new thing? What if that’s exactly what He intended? What if the goal is to have the only thing remaining of you be Him, the lifeblood, the foundation that keeps us standing. We hold so tightly to the color of “the way things should be.”

If I could have given birth, I would have wanted to birth my daughters. My adopted daughters. My children. I wouldn’t select any other. No one could take their places.

Because what if God knows exactly what He is doing?

“It breaks my heart when I look at your bag,” Mother says to her son. 

The last petal breaks free. 

DSC_3031 (3)If we reach our arms up, do we think God would lift us up? Would He set us on new, different ground? Safe ground. Good ground. What if that new ground is our testimony? The testimony that makes us beautiful, colorful, whole. New. Healed.

“Well, it makes me happy every time I look at it,” he says, “because it saved my life.” 

DSC_3008 (3)And maybe that’s it. Maybe the stripping away is salvation. Maybe the ruination is our salvation. Maybe it’s God’s method of rescue, His method to rescue others. The old tissue is so damaged, wilting, it cannot remain. It must fall away. Because the truth is … that 10-year-old lifted his arms to his Savior over a year ago, and he’s been rocking with Jesus ever since. He’s waltzing in to his brand new testimony, and in his humorous and warrior-like attitude, he calls that bag “Frances.”

Mothers, why shouldn’t we see something new?

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Happy Mother’s Day, beautiful friends, especially to those who are hurting!

And prayers for a special Mother’s Day for my loved one. She’s so much stronger than she knows. She’s my person and a wonderful mother. She’s so loved. ♥

When The Right Door Opens

I barely have the strength to continue. I’d climbed that hill at the Mount Hermon conference center already once. My feet ache. The key wouldn’t unlock my room door. It allowed me into the building but not into my room. And now this new key isn’t working either. Darkness covers the sky. Loneliness surrounds me. I hadn’t slept the night before, actually days before, and I’d been on an airplane all morning, conference all day and night. The first time I’d flown alone since I was a 20-year-old.

Tears flood my eyes. Stopping on that cement path, I gather my coat around me. What are you doing here, Shelli? I throw my arms out to the open sky. “Lord, what am I doing? What is this carrot I’m chasing?” I’ve heard this whispered into my ear so many times, from behind my back. “Do I need to let it go, Lord? What my family must think of me …”

And I think of all the many things that transpired to get me here, to this place. One door open after another. “Would you like to write a blog post for my upcoming release?” a friend asked. Sure. And through that, I connected with a lady whose book helped me over 20 years ago when I dealt with infertility. I wrote a blog post about her. And through that blog post, that author’s friend contacted me–“Have you ever been to Mount Hermon Writers Conference?” she asked. No. “There’s a writing contest. You should enter.” And not long after, I received an email saying I’d won a trip to Mount Hermon.

Shelli, these doors aren’t coincidental, the trustworthy voice speaks straight into my heart.

“I’ll give it all up, Lord, if that is what you think best. I need your direction.” A not-so-pretty cry seeps out of my being. I struggle for breath, talking right out loud. I don’t even care if anyone is around, if anyone hears me. But I feel like I’m the only one on the planet. “My work needs so much help, Lord. What am I doing?”

DSC_2835 (2)I get one more room key. Bless their hearts. They could tell I was distraught.

The next day, I meet with an editor from a publishing house. She wants my whole manuscript. I’m shocked. The next day, I feel so free–I have an open door. By sheer accident, I sit down with another editor at dinner, because my friend is sitting there. When I share what I write, the editor pulls out her business card. “I want your proposal,” she says. My friend bangs on my leg underneath the table. I keep my composure, on the outside. Another open door?

The next day, I meet with the agent of my dreams, Wendy Lawton from Books & Such Literary Management. She’s so brilliant, and she represents amazing writers. I could never deserve her. What are you doing? You’ll never be ready for this. 

“Do you think you’re ready, Shelli?” she asks.

“I think so,” I say, staring at the ground and wondering where that hint of boldness came from.

“Let’s do this then.”

20180424_172245 (2)I walk to lunch in a daze, sit down at the table, and poke at my salad. I can’t believe … I have an amazing, knowledgeable person to help guide me now …

My dear friend–the one who banged on my leg, my roommate, Jennifer–finds me after lunch. “Well?”

“Sit down,” I say to her. I’m laughing to keep from crying.

She knows. Without saying a word, she knows. She embraces me the Canadian way, as she mocks my Texas talk in fun, like always, always teasing that I need an interpreter. And I love it. “You have an agent.”

I keep laughing.

DSC_2858 (4)In the quietness of our room, I ask Jennifer, “Do you want to know about that first night room key mix-up?”

“Okay …” she says.

Shelli (4)“I had been in the wrong building all along, the one right next door to ours … the men’s building.” It had been dark, you know. I’m new here, you know. “The key allowed me into their building, just not into what I thought was ‘our’ room. A man came out into the hallway because he heard a woman’s voice, and he knew a woman shouldn’t be in there.” I was so embarrassed. He probably heard me crying. “Then he got locked out of his room.” The funniest thing. “And I had to help him get back into his room.”

The door didn’t open, because I wasn’t in the right place. When you open your hands and release …  when you continue on … when you find yourself in the right place, the door opens.

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

 

Guess How Much I Love You

 

Can I be happy today? My first thought of the day. Underneath all the warmth, down feathers, and fluff, an empty feeling tugs at my heart. An uncertainty. I sink low into the pillow-top mattress. I ease back the covers from my face and gasp for air. Still in a daze of sleep, I wonder–Or do I have a reason to be sad today? Am I safe? Is life good right now? Or bad? Is someone upset at me right now? Have I disappointed someone? What’s pressing on me today?

Mourning comes in the morning.

The light shining in from the window covers me, as the framed-pane shadows inch across the quilt. Golden. I ease into peace. My breathing settles into a normal rhythm. No, all is good right now. You’re okay, Shelli.

My reasoning and questioning twists my stomach. How had life come to such? When did I start waking in the morning wondering if I could be happy? When did that become my story? That was a first. Ugh. And I don’t like it. When did outside factors take over my happiness? Life pressed me, I suppose. This. That. How had I allowed this wonderful life to stress me to such a degree?

I’m so thankful for this breath–the one I just took–regardless of what is happening in my life. I’m here … in this day. Do you hear that, Shelli? You’re here in this day. You woke to another day.

Regardless of the past. Regardless of anything the future holds.

My thoughts settle on my oldest daughter. Her love for reading came so early on, just a babe. She’d reach for a book, her treasured possessions, and start toddling backwards. My lap or anyone else’s had better be there to catch her fall. One of her favorite books was Guess How Much I Love You. When #2 came along, she fell right in line with the love for that sweet book. And the girls were so loved when they came into this world that they own four copies of that precious book.

Those girls and their love for reading alone are enough reason to wake with a smile, to wake with assurance.

DSC_0866DSC_0861DSC_0865I grip the covers. What’s wrong with me, God? Are you listening to me? I’m here, and I’m struggling.

DSC_0814 (3)I feel God speak over my heart–

You don’t have to wonder if you can be happy or if you are loved. Take my Word. You have so many copies of it, child. Take my Word for it. And start backing up. Fall into my lap. Because you are so loved. 

You know how much. Does it truly need repeating? After all these years. Truly?

I love you so much that I stretched out my arms … this wide …

DSC_0815 (3)I looked beyond the thorns …

DSC_0816 (3)When someone lays down their life for you, Shelli Ann, every morning blade of grass is graced with joy. The joy that is down in your heart. The joy that you reached out your elementary-school hands to accept. You never have to guess if you are loved. You never have to wonder how to feel. You have been filled with the lifeblood of happiness, peace, joy, love. Know it. Feel it down to your bones. It’s your story.

DSC_0763 - CopyJoy comes in the mourning, on any morning.

I throw back the covers and plant my feet on that solid foundation.


Am I alone, y’all? Have you ever woken like that? Not sure if you could feel happy or if you needed to feel sad, stressed? What a choice, huh? It really is a choice. No matter what … we can choose love, happiness, joy. And just look at the treasure I discovered in my M&Ms this week–

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Happy Valentine’s Day

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.