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.”

DSC_7271 - Copy


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.

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.

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


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

“Yes!”



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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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



I opened it … from my Katelyn. 

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

1. Apologize

To Mom:

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

2. Encourage

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

3. Love

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

–Katelyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to go where you go.

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



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

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


A Thanksgiving Giveaway


Gratefulness swept over my heart as I opened my editor’s email, revealing my article contracts for the upcoming yeara blessing and a gift. Another year of writing, of hearing amazing mission stories, of listening to the hearts of people across the globe and to the hearts of people just down the road. 



I don’t take the writing opportunity for granted because one, my confidence level doesn’t soar, and two, there are boo-koos of writers to fill my disposable shoes.



Every single story touches my heart, changes me, in one way or another. Thankful.

Two missions touched my heart so much that I’ve written novels about them. And I’m looking for a third idea, so if you know of a heart-touching mission, I’d love to hear about it.

Closing down my email, I realized that it’s been 8 years since I’ve been writing for Woman’s Missionary Union. Eight years. Thankful.

When I first received the invitation to write for WMU, it was July 4th weekend of 2008 and family was visiting. Excitement spiraled through me over the opportunity, but fear shook me.

My sister-in-law sat in the rocking chair next to me.

“I got asked to write a missions article. I don’t know what to do,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll be calling Africa, and talking to a 19-year-old young woman from Brazil. Her story is too important … entrusted to me? I’m scared.” Tears surfaced. “I’m scared I can’t do it or won’t do it justice. She deserves better than me.”

“Shelli, you can do this.” She smiled, rocking in that chair. “You can do this.” Thankful.



And I’ve been doing this for 8 years. I can still hear that sweet girl’s Brazilian accent … and I’m so blessed to keep up with her on Facebook, all the way in Brazil now. Her mother even wrote to thank me for the article. Her letter was written in Portuguese, and I had to ask for an interpreter. Thankful.

When I receive the magazine that one of my articles is in … my heart swells with gratitude. Seeing my work in print never gets old. But seeing God use the stories to bless people or encourage missions or support missions … that’s the sweetest. Thankful.

I’ll tell you that sometimes I feel a tinge of guilt that I write about missions more than I do them. But my editor continually reminds me each year that writers are important … that they help share what’s happening in missions around the world. That it takes everyone doing their part. Thankful.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret … I’ve been a stay-at-home wife and mom for most of my adult life, and because of that, I’ve always had to watch each dime. And here’s the secretI look forward to the day that I can take a week or two mission trip overseas. What group will God have prepared for me? What will their sweet faces look like? What will their hugs feel like?

But missions is everywhere and needed everywhere. My latest November 2016 cover story is on missions here at home, in Philadelphia, about being thankful in tough times. There’s much need all around us. And I have my sights set on a mission to help here in Texas … I’ve just got to get in gear and join in.




















So with this 8-year-mark, I want to shout out my gratitudefor writing opportunity, for God’s undeserved grace and mercy, for so many things, but especially for you. Thank you for always reading my “scribblings” and supporting me. Even a “hello” brings so much encouragement along this journey. Thankful.

And because of that, I’m so excited to do a fun giveaway, offering two one-year subscriptions to Missions Mosaic magazine. If you have a heart for missions or have a family member who loves missions, this giveaway is for you. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for yourself or a loved one.























What should you do to enter? 

Be a U.S. or Canadian resident and simply leave a comment in the comment section, stating that you’d like to be entered. Or hop over and leave a comment on my Facebook page or my Instagram @shelli_littleton

If you comment in three places, you can be entered up to 3 times, max. 

*2 Winners

And I’m so sorry that I can’t offer the giveaway to my dear friends across the water. I so love you.

~~~

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18


What are you most thankful for? Is there something you hope to do/accomplish one day?

*The giveaway will close November 17th at midnight Central Time and the winners will be announced on Nov 22nd. The subscriptions will be ordered immediately, just in time for Christmas.



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?


A Prayer For A Persistence That Will Stand


The truck veered off the busy county road. 

My eyes widened. Really? I’ve been wanting to take a picture of this for forever. A warm smile spread over my face on this beautiful autumn day. 

“Watch where you put your foot.”

“I will.” I opened the door, stepped one foot out. Just tall grass. And honestly, I don’t care. You know that car pulled over, someone taking a picture on the road-side? Yes, that’s probably me. I’ve suffered swarms of fire-ant bites to feed baby calves. It’s irrelevant. 

There she stood. Tall, broad, but rusty and weary. Falling to pieces. Watching her, I could imagine the groans on the inside. But she’s still standing. The most beautiful barn I’ve ever seen. Well, not quite. I guess that position will always belong to the barn on my grandparent’s property. But each barn is so beautiful to me. 



The timing, the setting=perfection. The tall grass wavy in the breeze. A perfect pond set in front of the masterpiece. A clump of old logs sat piled off to the side. 


I rested my arms over the gate, steadying myself for the perfect photo. Something to capture what only my eyes can fully embrace.

Got it. Well, maybe.

Only then did my eyes shift past the beauty to the busy interstate beyond. Cars, trucks zooming by. Businesses, billboards, and clutter lining the background.



I released my held breath.

Lord, give me persistence to endure this life, this writing life, this family life, this walk of faith, this daughter life, this mother life, this sister life. 

Keep my eyes focused on you, on the beauty, for forever. 

I thought over my first published article, 2007, like the moment was yesterday. I pressed the answering machine to hear the recording. “Congratulations, Shelli. Your persistence paid off.” Tears streamed. Joy filled my heart. A characteristic some would loathe took me one step further down the road I so love. 



I snapped picture after picture. 

Rested my arms again. 

Father, you know my inward pains and groans. You know my heart. Give me what it takes to persist. Use me. Gift me. To gift others. Let my resolve be strong. 

Let my foot keep stepping out in spite of the surrounding fears, in peace. This little girl from Texas, the one who sweat bullets to stand in front of others. The one whose greatest fear in life was an oral book report. The one who ducked down low in her seat to keep from reading aloud, praying the teacher’s sight would pass me by.



Father, how you can take our greatest fears and turn them into our greatest dreams is beautiful. Breath-taking.

Keep me standing. Keep my resolve tall and broad through the rusty and weary moments. Because the rusty and weary add character and beauty to my life’s picture. The clump of old logs that seems a hindrance to the photo adds beauty. Vintage beauty to a life. 

Help me to embrace, utilize, and see with your eyes all that is before methe encouraging friends lining the view whose support and nourishment seems miles deep, those continually waving me on.

Allow my persistence to be beautiful to someone. Let my resolve persist like an old Texas barn, still standing after all these years. Because Father, your timing, your filter, your setting equal perfection. 








   

Do you have a heart request? How may I pray for you?

And I have an article in October’s issue of WMU’s Mission Mosaic magazine and a cover story in November’s on missions in Philly.


All for Love

Driving to church, on the way to Vacation Bible School, she saw something odd on that old county roadside. It wasn’t a rabbit. It wasn’t a squirrel – the usual sightings. Her mind scrolled like a computer through the assortment of possibilities, crossing off each one.

He said, “It’s a kitten.”

She said, “It was! Turn around!”

He whipped that car around, pulled over on the roadside, and hollered, “Hurry! A car’s coming.”

She and her two girls jolted out of that car, and three tiny kittens came crying to them, seeking help. Hands outstretched with love, those babies were picked up, one by one. Ensuring she wasn’t leaving anyone behind or there wasn’t a momma cat, she searched the nearby brush.

Out of the brush, a tiny black baby came crying. With outstretched hands, she caught hold of it.



Three boys and a girl


The black one is the strongest and most active.

The calico is the weakest, most needy.

And the gray ones are just right. They snuggle.

We have nourished and cleaned them. Thankfully, we’ve taken fleas off them and haven’t taken fleas for them yet.

Loving and comforting them came so easily.
 
A tiny salsa bowl.
 

Shades vary. Strengths vary. Different, but they all have purpose. They are all beautiful. They have all taken our hearts. We have known them for mere days, and …

our hearts are wrapped around their tiny paws with claws.


Unable to keep them, we’ll begin looking for good homes. And already, tears flow at the mere mention of the parting.

***


Can you imagine how Jesus must have felt turning his back, in a sense, on John (the Baptist)? If He wept over the temporary death of Lazarus, how His God-man heart must have ripped over John. There John sat in prison, and Jesus could have rescued him, just as he could have saved Himself on that cross. But the plan. There was a greater plan.

God saw our desperate need, whipped around, and with outstretched arms, Jesus embraced the cross. And we’d be fools not to run to Him. John was definitely part of that plan.

To aid us on this journey, nourish and clean us up, God often brings a variety of folks into our lives with outstretched arms to  encourage, offer advice, give direction. Valuable ones come into our lives, by no mere coincidence, leave their mark, and sometimes exit the plan.

***


Last week, I voiced a concern on a middle grade novel I’m working on. I often wonder if I’m wasting my time. Will it ever leave my computer desktop? Should it? God brought a dear friend into my life to relay this to me:

“Shouldn’t you trust us – the people who appreciate your skill and faith – to like what you do?

In team-building exercises, there’s the famous ‘falling backwards’ exercise, in which you trust the people you’re teamed with to catch you before you crack your head.

We’ll catch you, Shelli. We love you.”

There is no way to express what those words meant. They are now forever etched on my heart. They brought courage.

There are those who bless our lives more than we could ever relay. We never know how long they’ll grace our lives here today, out tomorrow.

But we take the painful risk over and over again.

All for love.