Sunday, May 13, 2018

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. ♥

Thursday, April 26, 2018

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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

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?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

God Uses The Puddles


Would she really trade me for ice cream and candy? On the way home from my meeting, I stew--the warm, tasty kind. My girl ... she was just a little too excited for me to depart from home today. "When are you leaving, Mom?" she'd asked with a smile.

I pull into the garage. My girls step out of the house, waiting to hug me. My focus locks onto my youngest. "You are in so much trouble," I say. I head toward her. She laughs, crouching into the wall. "You wanted me to go." I tickle her. The veins on her neck pop out, like always, through her belly laugh.

Don't ever want me to go, baby girl. 

"Let's go jump in the puddle down the road," I say. The girls slip on their rain boots, I grab my camera, and we trek down the road. The marshy ground boasts hoof prints and foot prints. The sky recently released loads of rain on us. A once empty bucket under a tree now holds over ten inches of water. Such a novelty for dry, Texas land.

We pass our neighbor's home that burned completely to the ground two years ago. Rebuilt. Loss, but brand new. Oh, how we needed a downpour that night. Many of our neighbors' front yards resemble ponds now. Even lakes. Water threatens their doorsteps.

"Have you decided what you want to do for your birthday?" I ask the youngest. We pour over a few ideas as we reach our destination, still lacking vision.

"Let me go a little farther, so I'll capture the prettiest scenery behind you." As I turn around, the girls step out into the water that covers the road. They touch it, really feel it. They stand there across from each other, smiling.
DSC_1288 (5)DSC_1379 (5)Don't ever lose these moments, I want to say, reflecting over the past. Hold on. You've shared so many amazing years together. Don't trade them for anything. Always be there for each other, no matter how old you get. You're sisters, not by birth but by your worth. God loved you so much, that He had a plan for your lives. After He knit you together, He placed you together.

Oldest one is already soaring in the air. I watch that youngest one. She crouches.
DSC_1387 (4)My baby turns eighteen this month. Eighteen.

I bend to the ground, trying to capture their moment. My moment.

At 13 months old, I didn't know if my youngest would make it. Tears poured from my heart on her 2nd birthday, because she'd made it. Cancer crushes. Disease destroys. We've waded through so many puddles along the way. We've tripped and fallen into the puddles because chemo weakens the ankles of a small child. We've wandered in the puddle of how to stop holding hands, when attachment keeps you from falling but you've outgrown it now. We've muddled through the puddle of fear, fear that another puddle is looming up ahead, threatening. So much personal loss ...

But brand new. Stronger. Closer.

In that bent position, her once thinned hair is long and flowing, curly, healthy, bouncing in the breeze.

I don't want you to go, but I know you will. Oh, how blessed I've been.

She soars.
DSC_1397 (8)And when you soar, baby girl, you leave all those puddles behind. And I'll stay right here and watch you, for as long as I can. While you're still in sight. And when you land, because we always tend to land, we stomp them. We make a splash--on ourselves and others. The clean, pure kind--brand new--so welcoming to a land of drought. Because nothing is wasted, young one. Touch it, really feel it.

God uses the puddles.

Happy 18th birthday, Katelyn Grace Littleton

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Guess How Much I Love You



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

Mourning comes in the morning.

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

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

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

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

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

Those girls and their love for reading alone are enough reason to wake with a smile, to wake with assurance.
DSC_0866DSC_0861DSC_0865I grip the covers. What's wrong with me, God? Are you listening to me? I'm here, and I'm struggling.
DSC_0814 (3)I feel God speak over my heart--

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

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

I love you so much that I stretched out my arms ... this wide ...
DSC_0815 (3)I looked beyond the thorns ...
DSC_0816 (3)When someone lays down their life for you, Shelli Ann, every morning blade of grass is graced with joy. The joy that is down in your heart. The joy that you reached out your elementary-school hands to accept. You never have to guess if you are loved. You never have to wonder how to feel. You have been filled with the lifeblood of happiness, peace, joy, love. Know it. Feel it down to your bones. It's your story.
DSC_0763 - CopyJoy comes in the mourning, on any morning.

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

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Little Girls Are All Grown Up



It's going to happen. Everyone thinks it will finally come down, it'll finally snow.

Oh, I hope my #1 daughter's university cancels classes. Because at the end of her busy break, I just need a break. I need one more day with her. One more day to hold her close and never let go. One more day to put the phone down, put the TV remote down. One more day to focus on my true loves.

"Mommy ...!" she shouts, running to me.

Lo and behold, her university canceled classes. I jump for joy and clap my hands. I get one more day with her, with absolutely nothing demanding of us.
DSC_0442 (3)And after a little so-called dusting of snow, or ice, commences--beautiful, pure change over the horizon--#2 brings me her writing assignment, asking me to look at it. Taking the treasured pages in my hands, I read:
Ever since I was little, I always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. I even wanted to be an animal myself for years, because I thought they were so cool.
I laugh out loud. She goes on to explain how she had wanted to be a vet, but seeing an animal surgery made her weak, nauseated, pale. A change of plans. She had to sit down, in another area. The vet's cat came over and loved on her. The doctor gave her a chance to rest, regain her composure, and she returned to the surgery room. But at the sight of surgery, she continues to say--
I started slumping down the wall I was leaning against.
I returned to the chair with the cat.
I laugh again. Yes, my daughter wrote those words. The words that would begin her very first college English paper.

Did you get that? Her first college paper. My baby. Because while I was wishing for one more day with my #1, I had no idea that two days later I'd step foot out without #2. Both my babies are in college. Both. #2 hasn't even seen the end of her senior year yet. I kick the ground. I know this isn't anything new for most, but as a home-school mom, I'd anticipated a few more months with my #2 before she started college. Like next fall. But the door flew wide open, and somehow we tumbled right in.

Hugs and "mmmmm ... smack." I watch them head out the garage door. They're weighed down with full backpacks. Their first day together without me. Because the first two days, I trailed along. I did. I had lunch with them and everything. It was glorious. But that's it. No more. I've got to grow up, too.

Shivering, I slump against my car, leaving my imprint in the dust and watching them get situated in the car.
DSC_0447 (3)Words from yesteryear peek over my shoulder--
"Why does she pucker her lips like that?" he asked. "Monkey kisses." He laughed.
"I don't know," I said.
Scan_Pic0024 (3)

I turned to my daughter. "Goodnight, baby. Give me kisses." I leaned in. I puckered. She puckered. Big puckers. "mmmmm ... smack!" 
Realization dawned and laughter tumbled out of me, causing me to collapse onto the bed beside her. It's me. All me. I taught her that. I taught her the big pucker. The cutest monkey kisses.
Oh my goodness. The things I've taught them. The things I haven't. Have I taught them enough? Have I left the right impressions on their lives, on their hearts? Will they be okay? Will I be okay?

The car inches forward, not waiting for the answer. All routine for #1. And now routine for #2. Could you just wait till I figure out the answer? Till I figure out this whole thing? The car stops, and they wave and blow kisses. The car can't proceed without kisses. The sweetest monkey kind. I return it all, with all my heart and some. Onto the hand and thrown across the air, like my grandmother taught me. To #1 and now #2. I catch mine and they catch theirs. We prolong the waves and kisses for just a little longer, ensuring we see each other. Not wanting to miss a single thing. Like we could.

The car accelerates down the driveway, leaves kicking up behind it, and proceeds down our Texas county road. When they are out of sight, I push the button and shut the garage--the full weight bearing down and crashing to the ground--as a chapter in our lives unexpectedly ends and another beautifully begins.

I go sit with the cats.
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What chapters are ending or beginning in your life? May I pray for you? 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Right And 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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saying Thank You After 20 Years



The lady's picture of Michelle Ule's new book Mrs. Oswald Chambers caught my attention, and I "liked" it. The book's pages were marked with blue and orange tabs, and a pair of reading glasses sat off to the side.

The following day or so, as I scroll through my Instagram activity, I notice a new follower. Oh ... it's that lady. I click onto her gallery page and sense her familiarity. Yes, that's right. I had seen her picture from Michelle Ule's launch party. Because I had written a blog post on Michelle's book, I was led here, to this place.

As I glance over the lady's bio, words grab my attention--author of The Ache for a Child. My heart flutters. I know God is up to something incredible in my life. Anything God does for me, and I recognize it, is deemed incredible. Because it's usually the small things that bless my heart in the big ways.

I head into my closet and pull out the clothes hamper. And there against the wall is the bookshelf, the old bookshelf. The one that holds old things, heart things, book things that touched my hands and touched my heart. I can't part from them.
DSC_8934 (5)DSC_8931 (6)My eyes roam over the sections. I shift books around, looking for ... There ... there it is.
DSC_8923 - Copy (5)DSC_8921 - Copy (6)As I open the pages, my past reunites with my present. They hug. They cry in each others' arms. And after the weeping comes the rejoicing. What are you doing here, old friend? After this many years. Page after highlighted page explains away. I read over my scribbles in the margins, never doing justice to the words of comfort God scribbled over my heart. But how does a marginal human put into words something so vast, something that can't be contained in the tiny space of her heart?
DSC_8924 - Copy (4)I sit there on the closet floor, pondering God's goodness.

Because I did this ... because I walked through the door you opened, Lord ... you did this. I bow my head. I thank Him, oh, how I thank Him. I'm no stranger to tear-stained jeans.

I follow my old and new heart-friend back on Instagram and contact her. "Did you write this book?" I attach a picture of the book.

"Yes, a long time ago!" she says. "I'm in the middle of updating it. How did you come across it?"

How did I come across it? What a question. I picked it up from a Christian book store 20 years ago, as I stood there feeling alone in the aisle of  pain and misery. As I stood there wanting a family with all my heart and wondering if God would come through for me. After I took that book into my home and devoured it with my whole being, my pastor at that time, Dr. Robert Jeffress, asked me to start and lead an infertility support group for our church.

Holding that little book in my hands, I remember all the doors that God opened for me through the years.
DSC_8928 (2)Page after page turned in my life, and new words were written over my story ... my life came alive. God gave me two girls. God gave me a family. God came through with my heart's desire since childhood.
girlspink05fallrockfish 014 (5)"I can't tell you what your book meant to me," I write. "Thank you. You were a light in a very scary time."

I bow my head again.

Father, thank you. I follow you, but you followed me first. You loved me first. Your love conquers all fear. You know exactly how to wrap up the chapters in my life. And tie it off with a gold and pink bow. I'm thankful The End of this life hasn't come. I'm thankful you let me say "thank you" after 20 years. I'm thankful that Deb made herself vulnerable and emptied her heart on those pages so that I could find courage. Thank you for leading me to her words that became marked on my heart so long ago.

I like it, God. I so it.

Have you had a chance to say thank you to someone who helped you so long ago? Maybe someone who didn't even know they'd helped you? I'd love to hear your story.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pulling A Biddy: Michelle Ule--Author Of Mrs. Oswald Chambers--& A Giveaway


"I took a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow by myself on what happened to be my wedding anniversary, looking for a man at a train station carrying a copy of My Utmost for His Highest!" 

"You did?" I say aloud, smiling over my favorite line of Michelle Ule's author-interview notes to me and admiring her bravery. She was "pulling a Biddy," as she calls it--confident in God, no matter the circumstances.

Michelle asked the train-station stranger, a member of the Oswald Chambers Publications Association, "Have you thought about having a biography written about Biddy?" (Shortly after Oswald Chambers met Gertrude Annie Hobbs—later to be a Chambers—he nicknamed her "Beloved Disciple," which shortened to "B.D." And she was "Biddy" for the rest of her life.)
Sitting across the table from her now, steam rising off his Scottish meal, the stranger laughed. "Who knows? Maybe you're the one to write it."

Michelle shook her head. "I'm a novelist."

As time progressed, Michelle continued to pen her novel, which includes Oswald Chambers as a marquee character, but the stranger's words, regarding writing Biddy Chambers's biography, lodged deep into her heart. And while climbing through the pages of Oswald Chambers's history, she fell in love with his wife, Biddy.

Why, Michelle? Why did you fall in love with Biddy? What was it about her? My hand glides over the notes that I've read repeatedly, over Michelle's words that have wedged into my heart. I press God for direction on writing about Michelle seeking Biddy. In confusion, I hug my daughter and say into her golden hair, "I can't do this." Some things are too big for me. I google an image of the book cover of Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God on the internet and ponder direction. My computer crashes--the blue screen of death--and I know in my heart that it's no accident because resistance signals importance. And I know in my heart that I must press forward. Because I want to pull a Biddy, like Michelle. I want to see what Michelle saw, with her heart, in Biddy's heart.




Because I knew that Oswald Chambers wrote My Utmost for His Highest, the best-selling devotional in print for over 90 years. But I didn't know that his wife did his bidding some 10 years after his death. He died at 43, you see. 

Turning the page of my interview notes and slipping further into pain, I long for time and distance to clear. Because I want to wrap Biddy and Michelle in a hug. You see, Biddy found herself a widow, a single mother, and penniless at 34. But like so many, Biddy knew hardship. She had suffered from acute bronchitis as a teen, and as her health declined, her parents pulled her out of school.

But desiring to help her family financially, Biddy became a spectacular stenographer, according to Michelle, producing 250 words per minute. And in her days with Oswald, she recorded by hand every lecture that he presented to the missionary trainees at their Bible Training College. After his death, instead of choosing security, somewhere hovering over that beloved grave-site, dressed in stark black and wearing a full veil, she placed both feet on the path of poverty and spent her life turning those notes into 30 books with Oswald's name on each cover.

Biddy published all of his books after he died.

Rolling every penny back into producing the next book, she didn't use the money for herself or her child.
Their daughter Kathleen shared: "If my mother hadn't had bronchitis, she probably wouldn't have had the opportunity of learning shorthand to that extent. My father always used to talk about God's order in the haphazard, and that was haphazard in a way. If she hadn't had the shorthand speed like that, there wouldn't have been any books at all. None whatever."
Those books. Biddy reserved the right to mail those books, free of charge, to missionaries around the world, and she would do that--encourage them with Oswald's words--for 30 years, because knowing Jesus and sharing the Gospel was of utmost importance to them.
I turn the page of my notes to find more devastation: the London Blitz of WWII destroyed all the books warehoused near St. Paul's Cathedral. Biddy hadn't insured them, and the loss threatened to end her publishing house. Biddy said, "If that's God will, we'll do something else."

But Biddy found books and publishing plates, and she resumed her self-publishing ministry.
"Biddy Chambers's life," shared Michelle, "is one of a woman devoted to God's greatest glory, despite obstacles and difficulties that would have challenged the best of us. She remained committed to God and the vision and calling He put on her life, despite countless heartaches. From her, we can learn a great deal about faith, commitment, and the ways God uses the unexpected, the haphazard as it were, to produce blessings to a lost world. My Utmost for His Highest would not have been written if Oswald Chambers had not died. Is a book worth a life?

"If you think over the last 90 years--from the encouragement My Utmost for His Highest gave people through financial depression, war (copies were smuggled into POW camps during WWII), political oppression, and general life--a deeper understanding of what it means to love God came through the work of one woman who gave her utmost for God's highest glory. Can we do any less?

"My personal faith has grown as a result of spending the last 4 years with Biddy and Oswald. It's been an honor to bring this story to light, and I'm grateful I could participate."
Why, Michelle? Why? Why did you give 4 years to Oswald and Biddy? I turn my notes over, as a smile inches over my face, and scribble over the page: Love. That's why. It all backtracks to love--the kind that sinks down and lodges deep into a heart.
And with much of her life paralleling Biddy's as she wrote and traveled through the Chamberses' history--rejoicing as they rejoiced, mourning as they mourned, suffering as they suffered--Michelle endured as they endured, regardless of the obstacles and setbacks along her writing journey of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

You did.

Michelle Ule pulled a Biddy.

Bestselling author Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional and seven other books. You can learn more about her and read further blog posts about Biddy and Oswald Chambers at her website: www.michelleule.com.

You can also find Michelle on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Michelle is giving away one paperback copy of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, which released October 17, 2017. Leave a comment below for a chance to win! (Winner randomly selected October 31, 2017 and must have Continental U. S. mailing address.) You can find the book at Amazon or Baker Publishing Group, as well.

Among Christian devotional works, My Utmost for His Highest stands head and shoulders above the rest, with more than 13 million copies sold. But most readers have no idea that Oswald Chambers's most famous work was not published until ten years after his death. The remarkable person behind its compilation and publication was his wife, Biddy.

Bestselling novelist Michelle Ule brings Biddy's story to life as she traces her from her upbringing in Victorian England to her experiences in a WWI YMCA camp in Egypt to her return to post-war Britain, a destitute widow with a toddler in tow. Refusing personal payment, Biddy published thirty books with her husband's name on the covers, all while raising a child alone, providing hospitality to a never-ending stream of visitors and missionaries, and nearly losing everything in the London Blitz during WWII.

This inspiring story of a devoted woman ahead of her time will quickly become a favorite of anyone who loves true stories of overcoming incredible odds, making a life out of nothing, and serving God's kingdom.

To Michelle: I'm so in awe of you for giving your utmost for God's highest glory. I hear you, all the way from California to Texas. You make me love God more. Love, Shelli ♥

Have you "pulled a Biddy" like Michelle, confident in God, no matter the circumstances? Would you share? Leave a comment, and you'll be entered into the drawing for a chance to win a copy of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.