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?


Advertisements

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.