Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Guess I'd Follow My Daughter Anywhere


"I wish he would quiet down," said someone ... I can't remember who. "Boy, that's annoying."

Ever since we let Azzie, our cat, out of the house for a few moments while we hung up the Christmas lights, he's been completely discontent. We never let the cats out much because ... this right here. The cat balks louder and louder, over and over. And not to mention the summer fleas, the many critters excluding the fleas that would eat him alive. And boy, what if he ran under the deck? 

And right now, it's cold. It's snowing. It's actually snowing (it snowed one day, a week ago ... you get the idea). A novelty in these parts of Texas. And the wind is whipping around something fierce.




My snow-girl. Her New Year's resolutions are to become well-rounded and to get in shape.

My daughter goes to her room and places on her winter gear. She puts the collar and leash on Azzie. He's really balking now. 


My daughter. I'm not surprised. She'll go the extra mile for anyone, especially those she loves. Every Sunday, during "shake-a-hand" moment, she walks all the way across the church to hug and talk to our realtor, the first person we met when we moved here and the very one to invite us to her church, our church. Yes, she ventures all the way there because she loves Ms. Frances. I love her, too, but I'm not so great at going the extra mile. I wave across the way. 

But that's my daughter. She'll walk the extra mile. She'll brave the new ice cream flavor, while I stick to the safe mint chocolate chip. But she lets me try the new. She'd give her last dime. Her last bite. Her coat. She loves the lovely and unlovely. She doesn't meet a stranger these days. My shy, quiet daughter is coming into her own God-given gifts. A friend to all. A giver.

The wind rattles the house, along with the windows.

My daughter picks up the cat, opens the front door, steps her new boots out into the snow. 

I throw on my winter gear, grab my camera because when it's all said and done, I guess I'd follow her anywhere. And I want to love like she loves. And I want to capture her love on camera. 






She sets Azzie down into the snow. He leaves a trail of paw prints.

And in no time, we're all outside.





And almost lying prostrate for a good photo, I think about the prints I'm leaving on this world, on my girls, on my friends ...

I want to leave the kind of heart-prints my daughter has left on me. I want to throw open the door, brave the wind and cold, the unknown, and step out in love ... to love. And I know if I ever step out, I'll never be content to stay inside.
















What moves you to action? Others' words or actions? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

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?


Monday, December 19, 2016

Following The Star To Bethlehem


I love this time of year. The glow of the Christmas tree radiating throughout the darkened living room brightens and lightens my heart, especially in the early mornings. 

And my heart's been heavy. 

I sit crisscross-applesauce by the tree and remove the star ornament. I lay it at my feet. The cat walks over and touches his nose to it, investigating this new thing. The amateur photographer in me snaps a quick picture.




Maybe I'll post this picture on Instagram, I think to myself. I travel back to my closet and retrieve my Bible from my church bag. 

I'll quote Scripture of the star that led the wise men to Jesus, I decide. Sitting down on the floor, all alone, I flip through my elderly Bible's pages, turning straight to Luke. I search and search for the star. I read all of Luke 2. Everyone knows Luke 2 is the nativity scene. Where's the star? Not in Luke?

Matthew? I flip to Matthew. 

There. There's the star. The star's in Matthew.

I smile and release my held breath.

My finger follows the wise men over the beautiful pages for every mention of the star.




And I wonder ... why isn't the star mentioned in Luke? Hmm. 

"Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:2

As I followed the star to Bethlehem, I thoughtO Soul Within, maybe, just maybe God left the star out of Luke, placed the star in another location, so that one might search for it. On this day. 2016. So that one might search a little harder, a little farther, for The One, the Christ-child, the God-man. And come to worship Him.

Who else is searching for the star in this moment?

I tuck my knees under my chin and hug my legs. 

Shelli, when's the last time you searched for the star? 

The star will always lead to Jesus. It will always bring one out of the east.

"After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed." Matthew 2: 9-10

Oh, Lord, I never want to stop looking for the star ... looking for you. I never want to stop placing you in my daily life, with purpose. I never want to bog down with anxiety and deny the joy and peace that is my birthright as your child. 

I've been bogged down, Lord. 


Thank you for going ahead of me. I want a Jeremiah 29 moment with you, Lord. For always. "'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD." 

Thank you for giving me a reason to search for the star. To knock on the door. 

Make me wise. Make me search. Remind me to sit at your feet. Make me desire you. Help me to follow you.




See Him. 

This new thing, new every morning. Don't miss it.

O Soul Within, see the glow. Feel it. The wonder of it all. Open your heart, your treasure, and lay those burdens down. But not just anywhere or to anyone ... to The Onethe right one providing the right place. And receive the joy and peace.

"On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their teasures and presented him with gifts ..." Matthew 2:11-12


Merry Christmas
I love you.
Shelli





Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Peek Inside Operation Christmas Child


"My friend invited us to go with their family to work with Operation Christmas Child." My daughter thumbed through her text. "The day after Thanksgiving. May we go?"

"Yes." 

Come Black Friday, we drove the hour trip into the Dallas area, met the family, and walked into a huge warehouse filled with plain brown shipping boxes, showcasing "Samaritan's Purse."






The warmth flooded the room, the smiles, the greetings from strangers. We ushered into a holding room and watched a film over our volunteer work. I placed my "chaperone" sticker and my name tag on my shirt. The kids received the "student" stickers.We followed a lady through the huge warehouse full of tables and workers. 

Shouts rang out.

"When a shipping box is completely packed with shoe-boxes, everyone shouts, competing to see who can shout the loudest," the lady explained.

She led us to our very own worktable#13and opened one huge brown shipping box. We peeked over the edge to see it packed to the brim with green-and-red shoeboxes.

Everyone received their assigned job for the day. I took on the job of sorting through shoeboxesin other words, each packed box had to be unpackedensuring each individual shoebox was full and that there was nothing harmful in itno liquids, no weapons. My youngest daughter stood at my side sorting through boxes with me, with her older sister next to her, who helped tape the boxes we passed along.




I glanced up between boxes to see smiles on faces. I reached for a new box, and my daughter beat me to it. We laughed.

My feet stood right where they needed to be.

My fingers felt over my "chaperone" tag on my jacket. Me? Chaperone? No. Me? Student? Yes.

I yearned to exchange tags with my daughter, letting her wear the "chaperone" and letting me take on the "student."



















Without my girls, without the invitation, my feet would not be planted on the Operation Christmas Child's warehouse floor. My heart had not been invested in the past. Oh, I'd assembled boxes, but never with my whole heart. I would never have driven that hour in Dallas traffic, the day after Thanksgiving, on my own. Never.

My heart needed nudging, prompting. My hand needed holding, guiding, leading, encouraging.

We placed hands on the boxes before us and prayed over them.




Something strange happened. The brown turned to green-and-red. My heart began to feel invested, invested in the children whom I couldn't even see, whom I'd never even meet. 

I stumbled across a shoebox that wasn't packed properly. And I found myself getting defensive over each one I checked and packed. I felt slight aggravation at the unknown persons who'd assembled them poorly.

But who was I to grumble in my heart? I thought of all the shoeboxes I had thrown away that year. I reprimanded myself secretly. I hadn't packed a shoebox in a few years, since the girls have gotten older, since they hadn't prompted me to help make one. Since they hadn't held my hand and led me there. 

Since my eyes weren't fully seeing.

I reached into the bins full of toys before me, selected a few things, like a stuffed animal or a children's Bible, and filled the shoebox. It only lacked one thingcandy. I wished for a bucket of candy so that I could add sweetness to the boxes that were lacking. 

My heart is invested.




I ran across a shoebox that clearly had been packed with an over-abundance of lovedolls, stuffed animals, candy. Someone did it right, and some child will be blessed by their hands. My heart clapped for those unknown persons.

I passed the finished shoebox along, and my daughter taped it shut. Friends packed the beautiful Christmas color into the plain ol' shipping box, bringing it to life there in the warehouse, there in my heart. Shouts rang out, starting a contagion of shouts down the line. We'd filled another shipping box, ready to go overseas.

"Do you want to go to lunch?" the lady asked.

I turned to the girls. "Are y'all hungry? Do you want to take a lunch break?"

"No, let's keep working," they agreed.

I smiled. "Yes, let's keep working. Our time's too short. We can eat after." We can eat anytime.

Why?

We took a peek inside, and now our hearts are fully invested.




























We took a peek inside,
our stubborn hearts were tested,
and now we see in color,
our hearts fully invested.

~~


Thank you, Peek Family

**

Are you volunteering anywhere special this year? What is God teaching you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When A Broken Heart Yearns For A Break


From my heart to yours this Thanksgiving



My daughter's normal morning 3-day-a-week school routine begins.

"You awake?" I text to her from downstairs, under the covers, snug as a bug in a rug.

"Yup," she texts back.

One foot slips out from under the covers, then the other. Un-snug as a bug out of a rug. Leaning over the bathroom counter, I get partially ready for the day, make-up and hair, then I'm off to scan the living room and kitchen to see if my daughter has left any school work there that she might need for the day. I grab a bottled water out of the garage fridge and a granola bar from the pantry for her.

My heart yearns for her success.

The door to her stairs/bedroom billows open and the rush begins. I open the garage door, hug and kiss her goodbye, shoving the water and granola bar into her backpack. She backs the car out, careful not to hit a tree. I wave goodbye and blow kisses to her ... she stalls the car to wave and return my kisses. We realize it's our last gaze at each other. 

That little black car zooms off down our driveway, kicking up leaves, beginning that 35-minute commute by busy, 18-wheeler interstate.




And I pray, like every dayLord, watch over her, protect her, get her home to me.

My heart yearns for her safety.

But this particular day, after some 5 minutes have passed, my phone buzzes with a call. It's her.

"Hey."

"Hey, Mom." Her tone is urgent. "I left my driver's license in your car. I'll be home in two minutes. Will you get it for me?"

I run out to the car. There it is. I open the garage again.

My mind starts going wild. Will she be late for school now? Will she drive too fast to get there on time? She's almost home ... she said 2 minutes. I'll save her time.

My heart yearns for every good and perfect thing for her.

With barely a moment's thought, I take off down my long, wet driveway, barefoot, in my pajamas. I'll meet here there at the end of the road. Lord, please don't let me step on a stick or an acorn. As I near the end, I see her car between trees. 




She pulls into the driveway. She sees me running. Her expression? Priceless.

My heart yearns to make her smile.

"I can't back out, Mom."

"Yes, you can. I'll help you." I walk out into the middle of our county road in my pajamas, guiding her, motioning to her which way to turn her wheels. She does it. I knew she could do it. 

My heart yearns for her to be confident.

She zooms off again. My prayer goes up once again.

At the end of the day, she barrels through the door, crying. Wrapping her arms around me, she spills her precious heart. She barely missed being in an auto accident. I sink in despair over the details her precious eyes witnessed. My fractured heart looks heavenward, and my prayer shoots upthank you, Lord, for bringing her home to me.

My heart yearns for peace. 

For her. For me.

Every week, I hear her near misses or what she's witnessed on the road. My heart can barely take it. 

My right eyelid's been flickering like a fluorescent light for days now.

It's all worry, y'all.

My daughter's first semester of college has been the hardest change for me. If there is one downside to homeschooling that I've discovered, it's that a mama's heart is too sheltered. It's the mama's heart that's cause for concern. And the heart stays invested regardless of your child's age.

But she loves it. She loves every single thing about itthe school, her classes, the commute, time in her car, lunch out with friendswhich is all that matters. And I'm so thankful. 

But this mama thought she knew how to lean on God. This mama's heart is learning to lean, lean on my Savior, more and more. 

After Thanksgiving, my daughter will only have about two weeks left of school, before she has a month break. I'm so grateful because

My broken heart yearns for a break. 






What has you concerned lately? And can you imagine our Father's love over us?

~~~~

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. And many thanks to all who entered the magazine subscription giveaway from the last post. Thank you for playing. I'm blowing kisses your way. I cherish you. 

And the winners are ...

Cindy Hasko and Norma Brumbaugh Wieland

Woohoo! I pray you are blessed by the magazine all year long.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

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.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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.