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. ♥

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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.

What Makes Us Work

“Let’s get pictures in the bluebonnets,” I say. It’s that time of year. It’s a Texas thing. Everyone does it. From young to old. You can’t fiddle around too long, because they only last about two weeks.

“You wear your blue sweater …” I say.

“I’ll wear my new sundress,” one says.

“I’ll wear …” I enter my closet, excitement flooding my heart.

But then my heart sinks. Because year after year, I know who is coming along.

Our same ol’ spot isn’t there anymore. We head to another patch. It’s not as pretty. Hilly. Rocky. A house is being built close by. Getting decent pictures is going to take some brainstorming. Creativity. But who has time for that? “Shelli, you should have pre-planned.” The words whisper over my ear.

DSC_2601DSC_2608I pull the car onto the old county road and ease over to the side. One girl gets out, fabric swaying to the breeze, another exits, I place my pink boot onto the asphalt road, and then Attitude slides out. Every single time, Attitude comes with us. We didn’t even invite her.

“The ground is wet,” one says.

Attitude grins.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s once a year … Come on.” It’s possible that I say that. “I’ll go first.” I grab a raincoat, hand over the camera, and evaluate the situation. After placing the coat on the ground, I try to sit where my bottom won’t get wet. My new pants, you see.

“How do you want this picture, Mom?” asks the camera girl. A truck needs to drive by us. Camera girl scoots to the side of the road, allowing the vehicle to pass on that narrow strip. Another car. Scoot to the side. Another truck. Scoot. What? Grand Central Station? Isn’t this the country?

I can’t even imagine the look on my face.

Attitude smirks, rubbing her hands together.

DSC_2561 (2)“Be creative,” I say. Attitude walks up beside me and leans over my shoulder, wanting in the picture. I can’t even begin to push her away. And actually, I suddenly kind of like her. Her dress is pretty and so is her hat. Look at those sparkly sandals.

“I don’t know what you want, Mom.” Another truck passes, another truck, and another truck. My girl scoots over. Scoot.

“Just do it. Hurry. Before another truck comes.” Fighting the persistent breeze, I attempt to put my hair back into place. Another truck. Another truck. Scoot. “Switch places. I’m done.” I take the camera. Another truck. Another truck. Pink boot scoot. Boot scoot.

Construction is clearly taking place down the road, while I’m deconstructing.

“It’s wet.” Another truck. “There’s a bee.” She’s terrified of bees, and I’m the bee-charmer.

Another truck. Scoot.

DSC_2606I look at my two girls. After 20 years, I still can’t believe they are mine. The mine-of-the-heart kind. I find myself climbing into my grandmother’s lap, in my mind, and she says, “No matter how big you get, you’ll always be my baby.” My babies. No matter how big they get. I love these babies. And I loved my grandmother. She wasn’t perfect, but I loved her so. What made it work? What makes us work?

Attitude taps me on the shoulder and points a finger, letting me know one girl is bothered by another bee. And then look … there’s the pesky breeze.

DSC_2567 - Copy (2)In the car, Attitude locks her passenger seat door and turns up the heat.

I scan through the photos on my camera. “I look aggravated in that one. Why didn’t you tell me? We’re supposed to help each other out.”

DSC_2598 (2)Attitude smiles.

“We didn’t get one good picture.” I stomp my proverbial foot. Can you even have a proverbial foot? “Why does it always have to be like this? It’s once a year. Can’t we just manage once a year? One day you’ll be so glad to have these pictures.” Or will they? What will they remember? Attitude? 

“You’re a bad mother,” Attitude whispers, and she locks everyone’s car doors and laughs. And goodness, it’s hot. Where is the air conditioning?

I load the pictures on my computer, once we return home, and browse through.

Attitude peers over my shoulder, shaking her head.

Well, I don’t know. I think I disagree. That one turned out okay. And look, that one did, too. I open the door and invite Attitude to leave.

One baby is sitting there. The other sits there.

DSC_2574 - Copy (2)DSC_2564 - Copy (2)A knock comes to the front door. I hurry to slip out of sight, not wanting him to know anyone is home. Because I know better than to let Pride into the house.

“Look, baby girl.” My arm slips around one. “We got a good one.” I smile. She smiles. We all smile. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

They climb onto my lap, and I rock. “No matter how big you get, you’ll always be my babies.” And right there, I know.

I know what makes us work.


What do you do when Attitude slips into the room?

Shards Of Glass: Letting Go Of Fear In The Grip Of Pain

Something pierces the inside of my cheek.

As I feel for the problem, piece after piece breaks apart. It’s not just one. More break apart, more crumble. Opening my mouth, I empty the multiplying fragments into my hands. Like shards of glass. With one sharp and shiny piece after another, my hands begin to fill. They never stop coming. So many. More than I can hold. I grasp for them.

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Sometimes hard times–nightmares–call for dancing. Because so much has happened to my family since January–health issues, loss, rejection. Instead of allowing the broken pieces to fall into the hands of my Savior, I always tend to initially internalize the pain.

So I am honored to be a guest writer at Jerusha Agen’s website, sharing about my struggles in dealing and not dealing with the pain and fear. I appreciate Jerusha for the invitation. Please click on the link to join me there for more of the story … and a giveaway.

Love, Shelli

 

A Hummingbird Moment

The garage door opens, “Mom, hurry! Come here!”

“What’s wrong?” I wipe my hands dry with a kitchen towel.

My husband opens the door. “Shelli, hurry, it’s a hummingbird.”

What? I’ve bought two hummingbird feeders, and the only thing I’ve seen feeding from them are grasshoppers, the size of hummingbirds.

My daughter slips under my husband’s arm, and she’s cupping the tiny thing in her hand. She’s really holding a hummingbird.

“Let me grab the camera.” I run like lightning for the camera and return, opening the garage door. The tiny thing is sitting so contentedly in the palm of my daughter’s hand. Maybe it’s too frightened to move. I take a picture here, a picture there. “What happened?” I ask.

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My daughter tells me that while her best bud was leaving through the garage, the bird hit the fluorescent light. She shut off the light. Her friend saw it land on the shelf and took it down. “Its little wings were spread apart, so I placed it in my hand and folded its wings back into place.” She smiles.

“It was probably confused by the light,” my husband says. “How many people can say they’ve held a hummingbird?”

I marvel at that for a minute.

“Okay, let’s let it go,” says my husband.

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I run into the kitchen to put down my camera. I fly back out the garage door, past the car, and make my way to the darkened sky, to where my family is gathered.

“I opened my hand, and it flew away,” says my daughter, smiling. “It was so soft.”

“It was so soft,” declares my other daughter.

“It flew strong,” everyone says.

“I heard a thud,” someone says.

“No, that was a crow, Mom,” daughter says, possibly rolling her eyes. “It flew strong. I just barely opened my fingers and it took off.”

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Why did I put away the camera? I could have video-taped the moment. I could have left the camera on the car or put it around my neck. I stand there in confusion, a finger touching my temple. I wonder how, in the midst of everything, I missed nearly everything. And the fog clears …

I had hovered right over it, and yet, I didn’t feel it. I missed the softness. I could have touched a real, live hummingbird.

I was so close, and yet, I didn’t see it fly strongly.

I love taking photographs, capturing our lives. I enjoy seeing the world through a camera lens, but nothing can replace the real thing, real life, the real moments in time seen through our eyes. Sometimes we can get a bit confused, get lost in technicalities, get distracted, and head toward the wrong light.

Sometimes we need a hummingbird moment for a little redirection. 

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(And right here is where a video could have been inserted. Ha! But notice the 2 grasshoppers on the door in the picture above)

~~~

The morning after, I plop down on my daughter’s bed and laugh at her puzzled expression. “Tell me about the hummingbird.”

“Mom, you seriously sound just like Pockets from Hatari! …” She laughs (That’s a John Wayne movie we’ve seen a thousand times).

“But I missed everything. I didn’t feel it’s softness. I didn’t see it fly strongly.”

She snuggles up to me. “It’s okay, Mom. I barely saw it.”

“It was fast, wasn’t it?”

She nods.

“You opened the garage door and told me to hurry,” I say …

And we relive the story together once again.


Do you have a hummingbird moment you’d care to share about? A moment where you needed a little redirection.

The Things A Mother Didn’t Do

It’s uncovered … once again.

I open the drawer to my daughter’s chest-of-drawers, shuffling a few items around to make room for the new. Beside me, my daughter’s sweet hands work, shifting and folding.

Ooh, what’s that? My hand glides over the shiny, smooth surface–the object lining the drawer. Stashed away. Purple. Paint. Prints. “Oh.” We carefully reveal and pull it out. It’s the baby, when she was a baby … her tiny handprints. Made in Sunday school.

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Frustration and disappointment sink to my lower tummy. My heart follows, weighing down a little heavier. “I never did hang this,” I admit. I look to my daughter. “I meant to frame this.” I stumble for words. “I just kept forgetting.”

How many times have I said that over the years? How many times have I stumbled across the thing I never did? How many times have I failed to make a change, make a difference? And now, it seems really too late.

“It’s okay, Mom.” She smiles, always assuring. Always forgiving.

We read over the words together, smiling, laughing, remembering how artistic and messy she could be. Oh, the stories there to share.

“Look how tiny your hands were.” She smiles and gives a little nod. It’s amazing how something so tiny can fill you so full … full of wonder and joy and love.

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We plop down for a game of Princess Uno. I marvel at how I manage to get my teenagers to play Princess Uno still. I never managed to shift to the older version. I guess I enjoy hanging onto all little all I can. And I laugh at the irony–that I played the older version when I was a kid, and now I play the princess version as an adult.

We eventually move to the bed, side by side, talking about her best bud, school, drawing, cats … The daughter who doesn’t love to dance jumps up and takes my hands in hers, and we waltz, laughing, tripping over each other. “You’re going to make me fall,” I say, with a frightened giggle.

Before I know it, best bud is joining us and sister, too. We’re looking and sorting through all the items stashed away in baskets on her bookshelf. And laughing. White wicker baskets, lined in pink-and-white polka-dotted fabric. It’s little items. Cherished items belonging to both of my daughters, from their childhood. Things I just couldn’t part with. Things I cherished too much to stash away in the attic. Because … what if we needed to see them, look at them, read them, breath them in … remember? Now.

I pull out tiny baby Bibles, framed baby pictures, tiny photo albums, and notice the dust covering the stuffed animals. A wave of embarrassment washes over me. I never did make my teenager a teenager room.

I mean … it’s cute, but it’s still a little girl room.

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“Do we need to change your room?” I ask. “Are you happy with the pink paint? It was named ‘Lauren’ … remember? After your best friend. Remember how we had moved away, and you were so glad the paint color had her same name?”

“Yeah. I think we should repaint and change things up some,” daughter says, with her cutest typical smirk–the smirk that tells me she loves me just the way I am, behind and all.

“What color would you possibly want? Other than this color?” I can’t think of one that would be better. Not a single one. Translation: do I have one more paint job in me?

She mulls over the idea.

“Can your room just stay little?” I ask. I know the answer to that. I love being a mama. I thought I’d never be one once. And I’ve loved every step along the way. But the uncovered truth is–I always seem to remain a world’s pace behind. What’s wrong with me?

I didn’t do this. I didn’t do that.

Days pass.

Daughter rushes toward me carrying something precious. She cups the tiny somethings in her hand, like she’s protecting it, guarding it, loving it.

Her eyebrows raise, eyes sparkling. Her smile grows. “Look, Mom. Look what I found in the basket on my bookshelf.” She beams, extending the treasured possessions to me, with her fresh prints anew.

It’s two tiny “A Little” Little Golden Books–The Poky Puppy, Little Golden Book Land. “I can’t believe I found these,” she says. “I didn’t know they were there. In my baskets. I loved these.”

One tee-tiny book, having been read so much, is bound by tape. Bound by love. Some things, some actions are just bound to be. Do you agree?

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And something is uncovered right at that moment. Embracing that second-in-time to my heart like a cherished friend, I’m so thankful I didn’t do what I never did. I’d never do what I never did again for another moment like that.


Happy Mother’s Day! Do you have a similar story to share?  Have you found a little favor through your failures? 

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