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.

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?

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 Lady Still Longs For a Gentleman

“What do you think about a gentleman?” I ask.

Her eyes shine, a smile inching across her face, and she gathers her knees to her chest. “I love when Harry rises when Ginny walks into the room.”


Dear Daughter …

When many say that in our day chivalry is no longer demanded, wanting not your heart to believe the lies, I’ll be a little more candid.

When searching for the qualities to seek in this modern age, Daughter, let’s open wide the Bible and respectfully turn the page.

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When you are weak, needing strength, and struggling to see this thing thru, He will take your lifeless body and breathe life back into you.

When you’re feeling abandoned, lost, not knowing what to do, He’ll offer you his hand, giving counseling and guidance, too.

When past mistakes try to compress the air from the weighted chest, He’ll cast them all away, as far as the east is from the west.

When bad choices seem to define you in all the perceived land, He’ll push back your attackers, drawing a firm line into the sand.

When your simple, best attempts somehow seem to become divine, it’s because he’ll turn the humble water into the choicest wine.

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When needs are short, supplies are few, and takers come in droves, He’ll take the little you possess and multiply the loaves.

When your downcast face reveals the painful details of your day, He’ll listen to your earnest heart, hearing every word you say.

When you’re dying inside, a harmful action could surely kill, He’ll sooth your heart with gentle words; His loving touch will heal.

When you are blinded by the enemy’s daily, constant lies, The Gentleman’s hand will grace your face and open wide your eyes.

When at the end of all your self, conviction jabbing like a knife, He’ll give you hope anew that day by laying down his life.

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Oh, Daughter …

When you feel confused, Dear One, you needn’t wonder any more; simply knock, and He will answer, opening every door.

When He treats with favor, rising with your entry to a room, know these are the gracious actions of a gentle, treasured groom.

When you hear the world’s many false complaints against the God-made plan, Daughter, fix your eyes and take the strong hand of the Gentle Man.

©shelli littleton

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“God created man in his own image …” –Genesis 1:27


I’ve heard men say that some women won’t let them open the door for them. Unreal. I want my daughters to value those kind actions … to seek that gentleness and respect, because there are ladies who still treasure those actions. What do you want young people to know?

A Crown-Of-Thorns Moment

Trying to hold my heart and stomach in place where they belong, I take the long walk from the dining room to the stairwell. “Honey?”

“Yes, Mom.”

My hand grips the stair rail, and I lean hard against the wall. “I waited too late to get the tickets. They’re all sold out. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

“It’s okay, Mom.” That’s all. She seemed genuine in her forgiveness. There’s nothing more I can say or do. If I could have an outer body experience and get behind myself, I’d kick myself. My hands drop to my sides in the quiet, and I walk away. How could I have been so …? She’d been asking for weeks about going to see her friend in the Fiddler on the Roof play, a high school play. She wanted to go for support. And she’d been in the same play a few years back. And I’d let her down.

I pull out a chair and sit down at the dining room table. Footsteps speed down the stairs. The garage door opens. “I’m going walking.” Her voice … something unpleasant in her voice.

“I thought you forgave me,” I say. I’m sensing other feelings have begun to emerge. She’d had a few moments to think. The door shuts. I thought you forgave me.

I wait all I can. I walk out the door and see no sign of her. She’s on the trail, I figure. The sheep aren’t in the pen, so she must have let them out. I cut through the middle of the back property. The fabric of her white capris summons me through the forest of trees, the greenery. She’s sitting on the swing.

I feel like a fallen tree, humbled to my knee.

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The two sheep stand there, staring at me, accusing me, almost daring my approach. Like she’d poured out her very soul, her feelings, to the sheep … and now, everyone knows.

Her eyes are red-rimmed and swollen.

My stomach and heart plunge. I wipe off a spot on the swing and sit down. “I’m really sorry. I feel awful. I didn’t want to go to the play without dad, and once I found out he was going with us, there were so many seats still available … I got busy with work. And I just can’t believe they sold out so fast. I can’t believe I did that.” I twist my hands. “Maybe it’s dad’s fault.” We both laugh.

“It’s really okay, Mom.” She smiles at me. We talk it through. “Think we could do pizza and  a movie tonight? Something fun?”

“Sure.”

We head back through the trail, toward the barn. “Look, Mom. This is a mesquite tree. We had these in San Angelo.” She points across the path. “And another one.”

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“It sure is.” I can’t believe it. I’d never noticed them before. Two mesquite trees amongst all the oak and cedar. “We had these in Wichita Falls, too.”

“Look at the long thorns,” she says in cautious admiration. She feels over the leaves on top, the groups of tiny leaves covering the thorns all the way down the limb. “But the leaves are so soft. Like roses, something so soft and pretty needs protecting.” One sheep stands tall, trying to eat the leaves, and fearful that she’ll poke out her eye, we manage to maneuver her front legs back to the ground. “Do you think this is like Jesus’ crown of thorns?”

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“It probably is.” I wind the long limb into a circle. “It’s beautiful though, isn’t it?” We stand there, imagining what it must have felt like to have those long thorns pierce through our foreheads, one by one, all the way around. Or maybe all at once. Gratitude fills my heart for the punishment He took for me.

“Be careful, Mom. Don’t let that pop back on you.”

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“I will.” I release it gently, moving back away and examining the events more closely.

We begin our journey toward the house, sheep following. Peace links our hands together, our hearts together. The capacity of love–nailed to a tree, to be given away, free. A love so soft and pretty, it needs protecting. And I realize that she could have driven the thorns into my head, but she placed the soft side on me instead. 


Have you had a moment of forgiveness that you can share about?

Making Bible Stories Come Alive

“The girls and I walked into the small, empty chapel. ‘Let’s sit up front,’ I said. I led the way, and we took our seats. I smiled, taking in my surroundings—my teenage daughters were with me at a women’s retreat. I’d just signed them up, without their permission, and they hadn’t given me any flack over it.”

I hope you’ll join me at WMU’s website for more of the story

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Have you had a moment where a Bible story just came alive to you? Maybe you’d heard or read it a thousand times. But suddenly … Want to share?

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.