Shelli Graves was never bothered by my stress. Whatever my question or problem, she’d respond by either swooping into action or commiserating with me. That’s a beautiful thing, to have a friend who isn’t blown over by your emotions. And that’s the kind of friend she was to me. I still feel like she’s a phone call or text away, like I should be able to pick up my phone and get in touch with her within an hour. I miss her.
One of the last times I sat down and stared at a blank page on my computer screen was when I filled out the story of my last foster child for Shelli. So to sit here and talk about her in the past tense is a strange thing entirely. What I keep feeling is that Shelli = LIFE. For someone who had every reason to complain or decide to sit on the sidelines, Shelli was a mover and shaker. Shelli lived. As discouraging as her health issues had been lately, she still loved living.
I’ve known Shelli since I was a teenager. Sometime in our years at Covenant Presbyterian (where Grace Chapel is now on 40th & Sheridan) we became friends. Shelli became a friend of our family and that’s how I have long known her. Time passed and I got married and eventually adopted a child. I remember being on the phone with Shelli and our friend Brenda when my daughter hit age three and I could no longer figure out what I was supposed to do with the little strong-willed pistol. From their many years of working with children, these women gave me incredibly helpful parenting advice. They expanded the tools in my toolbox, if you will, and perhaps I have them to thank for preserving the life of my child—now a 5th grader who is doing well in spite of being three once.
I’d say that I knew, kind of, who Shelli was but I didn’t know her full scope of Shelli-ness until my husband and I began attending foster parent training classes with Christian Heritage. We got to see the REAL SHELLI. Shelli in action. Shelli where God used Shelli the most in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s no exaggeration when I say that the death of Shelli Graves is an incredible loss for the children of Nebraska. It’s true; this woman was an advocate for them. She was a fighter. A connecter. She knew everyone and what she didn’t know she’d find out for you. She understood these children’s needs and—this is where we came in—understood the families who had chosen to love them. Shelli was an amazing support for foster parents. In her capable hands, I knew we could work through whatever challenges faced us in foster care. She was compassionate, wise, resourceful and forward-thinking. As I reflect on her character, I think God made Shelli just a little tougher than the rest of us so she could do this relentless work of advocating for foster children and foster families.
Shelli and I had coffee a few months ago. (This is a refrain many people could say, I bet.) Though our foster parent license expired with the state last fall, Shelli valued us. She coached us through four foster children—and the one permanent one we had already!—and she had a long view on serving the kingdom of God in foster care. She still felt like I had worth to Christian Heritage and wanted me to serve on the focus committee, that in turn would serve the foster families of the agency. Perhaps that is what Shelli was about more than anything: she could see worth and value in people. She didn’t discard others based on their abilities or perceived worldly value, she saw our God-given worth and was ultimately a great point of encouragement for me as well as for others.
I was diagnosed with RA about ten years ago, and though Shelli dealt with problems greater than mine, we still had a sweetness in shared body problems. Over our last Starbucks coffee and tea, we shared our misery at joints that hurt, wounds that wouldn’t heal well, stupid weight gain from health issues and all the vanity a normal woman has when her appearance is messed with. And yet, I left our time together feeling relief and even joy at our shared experiences. To talk with someone who really gets it, with someone who can both be honest and yet somehow still hopeful, makes all the difference in the world. Shelli’s kindness to me was expressed time and time again in these years that we’ve known one another, and she cannot be replaced.
All of us who knew Shelli will have a unique Shelli-shaped hole in our worlds now. Though I cannot text or call or see her for coffee again soon, I take comfort in knowing she’s with our Savior now and that soon enough I will join her in Glory. We’ll get those new bodies, perfect and whole and capable of climbing mountains and running races, together. Our hope is in Christ. Praise Him.
These flowers were delivered to me by a beloved friend, and they’ve brought me much joy this past week.
I’m calling it: winter in Lincoln is over. Our grass is coming up in fuzzy green tufts, the forsythia is blooming—Livia and I have a FORSYTHIA! call we do in our best operatic voices when we spot the happy yellow branches—and everything is starting to bud outside. The warm weather has come so early this year that I wasn’t expecting or hoping for it yet. It still feels like an incredible and delightful surprise. Thanks, God. I’m grateful!
From top to bottom:
- little grape hyacinths are starting to come up
- sedum looks like small green roses
- our adorable front yard tree is starting to wake up
Below is the front year tree this morning, all covered in dew and gleaming in the morning light. In just a few days time the tree has changed. This tree in particular brings great delight each spring as it will eventually open up in an amazing display of white blossoms. Spring! I just can’t stand it. Every year my heart is filled with the colors and new life. I’m made for spring.
This morning I helplessly watched my daughter trip and fall on the stairs leading to school. I was pulling away from the curb, amidst the sea of SUVs and children in crosswalks and as I turned back I saw her slip and go down. Far from a moment where you maliciously laugh at someone’s fall, I felt like abandoning my car in the middle of the street and leaping out to scoop her up.
That’s what we moms excel at, right? Scooping up and cuddling and protecting?
I find myself operating at higher-than-normal anxiety levels lately. I’m responsible for a variety of different things and I can feel my mind skipping on details like an old record player with a damaged record. That’s pretty typical of anxious minds, they skip and get stuck and then speed up, only speeding up helps nothing. If I focus for a few moments and make sense of just one of the thoughts in my head, I see this: my daughter is getting older.
I’m the first in line to declare how awesome it is to have a child mature. It’s an amazing thing to watch her grow and learn and change in a multitude of ways. I am SO proud of this kid. But the brain-record began skipping a bit yesterday after I heard her belting out lyrics to a favorite song and the line, “I wanna feel your touch” came from her 11-year-old lips.
It was startling, that’s for sure. It was nothing racy or concerning really, but wow, hearing that line from my precious daughter’s mouth was a bit jarring! People, WE ARE NOT FAR OFF FROM THIS NEW REALITY. Someone hold me!
Letting her grow. Protecting her eyes for now and working to reach her heart. Not being able to pick her up when she falls. I cannot do these things well on my own. It occurred to me this morning, as I watched our principal trot over to make sure Liv was fine, as I watched her walk without any trouble into the school building, as I reassured myself that she couldn’t do so if she was injured, I realized how much I need my mind renewed to the truths found in the Bible. It’s a *daily* thing.
On my own, without renewal to God’s promises, I’m a skipping record. My brain can’t touch down, it spins and spins over all the details I’m worried about, all the people I’m thinking about, all the things I’ve said I would do. But none of it can take root and turn into anything beautiful as long as I’m not settled in God’s word.
I think of 2 Corinthians 2:16-18 that encourages me to take heart. Outwardly life may look one way, but inwardly we can be renewed day by day in Christ. It gives me an eternal perspective and reminds me that God is in control.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9
Yes! This is the power of our God. The God of Moses, the God of Joshua. Who can tear down walls with shouts of praise? Our God. Who cares about you much more than the lilies of the field or the little birds that sing on your back porches as spring approaches? Our God. Who will pick you up off the steps time and time again, even as you trip and stumble and try to rescue yourself but are ultimately helpless? Yes, our God. He is mighty to save. And he loves you. And me. This is the message I need to hear day after day. My memory is short. My brain, it skips. Lord, renew us. Amen.
Don’t be so glum,
Don’t feel beaten.
You were made
to be eaten.
But don’t you know
that deep within,
beneath your juicy flesh
and flimsy skin,
you bear a mystery,
you hold the key,
you have the making of
a whole new tree.
I read about a high school classmate’s successes the other day. It only took a few minutes—and yeah, a few Google searches—before the deprecating voices crept in.
This guy? He’s got his doctorate. He’s teaching and writing and researching and influencing how many scores of people in his field. And what am I doing?
It’s that last question that takes me down a really unhelpful and discouraging path. The path is littered with other questions, each rating my lack of measurable success and making me feel smaller and smaller. Where are the books you’ve planned to write? How about the children’s book you were going to photograph? The graduate degrees? The office with your title on the door? “Are you still unemployed?”
That last one wasn’t my own. I was on an insurance call not so long ago. It had been a really productive morning, I was cruising through life, getting it done left and right, and the question brought me to a screeching halt. “Are you still unemployed?” Well dang. Now that you say it… I guess so.
I let my self-worth, in that moment, be defined by the word “unemployed.” Three syllables of condemnation—to my ears, at least. I stopped and considered it and realized, Holy cow, I AM unemployed! My mind raced through all the ways I felt employed, thankyouverymuch. Sure, I take in a very small amount of money through my photography business at the moment. But money’s all we’re talking about here, right? If she had asked, “Do you work?” I could’ve explained the thousands of things I do on a daily basis and it would’ve added up to all kinds of labor the world sees as employable labor. I DO STUFF, lady. But what I really wanted to say was: I am worthwhile.
I had a conversation with a friend today where I learned how many birthday parties her kids go to each year. I can count on three fingers how many parties my child has been invited to in the last 12 months. I wasn’t grieved by the comparison because I know that my kiddo has a small friend set, but I paused internally and wondered if I should spend time being grieved by this. In the end, I think I’ve landed on a sweet understanding and it’s that birthday parties in grade school are equal to lines of resume earned by your 20th high school reunion. You can use these things to measure success, but—and this is a big but—you should not.
Friends matter. Degrees matter. Job titles and books and salaries actually do matter. But they are not ultimate things. They do not get to define a person. They are not what gives you value.
You are born valuable. Made in the image of an Almighty God, you are not worthy because of what you do, you are worthy because He made you. And He loves you. This love story has been around a long time, it was set in motion before the world began. It involves a Creator who is far more than a disinterested party somewhere in the universe. He made man special and he made man to be in relationship with him.
My takeaway is that I have a choice about how I spend my time. I want to put money and accolades in their rightful place. I want to use my gifts to serve the world around me—and sometimes that looks the way it looks today where I have this privilege to be UNEMPLOYED and yet not care because being unemployed does not define me. Whether I have three friends or fifteen, I want to love well. Whether I’ve written one blog post or five top-selling novels, I want to write well. Whether I volunteer for the PTO or for making church coffee, whether I am awesome at folding laundry or barely keeping us in clean clothes, whether I take my neighbor cookies or serve at the City Mission, I want to work with my whole heart. And I want to work from a place of worthiness; not because my work defines me, but because I am already safe and whole and loved by God.
**Blog title taken from the one of the most quotable movies ever, and one of only two VHS movies in our possession when we moved from Oregon to Nebraska in the summer before 7th grade. Do you know it?
We figured out the math this morning. I’ve got to say, this kid is my favorite kid in the whole wide world. She’s fun-loving, compassionate and beautiful. I’m proud of her.
Babies arrive in all seasons, in all kinds of weather, and no matter what the skies are doing, they bring sunshine with them. Such is the case with little Adam Wittmann who joined big brother Noah and big sister Mary in January. I was utterly charmed with Noah and Mary during our photo shoot last spring, and felt no differently with Adam. This baby! Oh, he’s wonderful. See for yourself below. And give me a call if you’re interested in a newborn shoot in your home. I love capturing these *very* brief moments before they slip away.
Here’s a little peek into our in-town retreat last Saturday. It was a lovely, encouraging, restful and rich day as we spent time with God and each other. There was a lot I didn’t capture with my camera, but here’s what I did manage to preserve…