Thursday, August 07, 2014


View from Beacon Rock State Park, Washington across the Columbia River Gorge to Oregon in 2007. Photo Credit: Pete Ward
Shirley Cameron was one of my best friends. We met when she and a mutual friend came to visit Oregon in 2007 and she stayed a couple weeks with me in my tiny downtown apartment.Less than two years later Shirley (or 'Shirls' as I called her) would return the favor of my hospitality when I came to the UK, with plans in my heart and visas to sort out, looking to settle for a few years. I stayed with her for a couple months while I got my feet under me and tried to figure out life in the UK. I'm so thankful for that time with her. We were both in major transitions in our lives, I just having moved 5,000 miles from life as I've always known it, and she just at the end of a 4+year relationship. We shared wisdom, tears, laughter, advice and lots of prayers and made it through both our transitions thoroughly bonded.

Shirls was such a tender-hearted, gentle soul, but she didn't shy from the truth. She had a way of making me feel safe to be myself in a time when I felt conspicuously different in this new place in which I was slowly establishing my life.Whenever we talked about our struggles she was honest with me and made me feel safe enough to be honest with her.

Some of the most treasured times we had were spent sitting in her car or in one of our living rooms talking through life trouble, man trouble or just the dreams we each had for the future. There was often tears and always prayer at the end of it all. Shirls was the friend you could text, or could text you, any time of day or night when life was hard, In May last year I sat in the exam room with her as the doctor confirmed the problem with her leg was cancer, and there were lots of those texts and prayers back and forth in the following months. 

A month or so on, she rang me after a difficult doctor's appointment to tell me they found lumps on her lungs and unless the chemo worked she had maybe a year left to live. I'll never forget that conversation. I was at church for a night worship and prayer vigil and was going to go up with the worship team in a few minutes when she rang to tell me her news. I found some forgotten corridor to pace as we prayed and cried and I did what I could to encourage and comfort her. The helplessness of that moment, and the disbelief that this could really be happening, still echos in me. It probably always will.

Shirls fought with courage, faith and dignity and let me pray for her healing until the very end. I never saw her angry or bitter about facing death. In fact, she never actually told me she was not going to make it, even when she knew. Maybe I was naive, but it caught me by surprise when the last days came and I knew she was dying. Even then I hoped and prayed for a miracle.

Three months ago yesterday Shirley went peacefully in the night with her parents beside her. I treasure every memory and miss her so much I can hardly stand it sometimes. Shirls planted and cultivated love, courage and faith through our friendship that has changed my life forever. I still find it impossible to get my head around the fact that she's not just a phone call, text or train away and how she can just not be here anymore. But I know where she is and, more importantly, Who she is with. She is completely whole, enjoying heaven and hanging out with Jesus. As much as I miss her I can't begrudge her that.

Monday, January 27, 2014


 A week ago I turned 39. I normally do fine with birthdays, but for the last couple years - about the time I realized how close I'm getting to 40 - I have been strangely uncomfortable with the whole getting older thing. 

In spite of having only a few romances in my approach to middle-age, I am mostly unbothered that I haven't been married yet or had my own babies. I also don't have any serious regrets, which is a pretty beautiful accomplishment at my age. I spent my 20's trying to come to grips with my own weaknesses and dysfunction and my 30's have been spent working on myself and then enjoying being healthy, happy and comfortable in my own skin. My life is good. I am happy. I have amazing relationships with friends and family and I'm living a life that would make me an absolute hero to my 19 and 29 year old selves.

Because it's just me and I've been doing my own thing for so many years I feel in some ways like my life is the same as it was when I was 25 and that makes it hard to gauge if my life is "successful". I don't have the normal benchmarks of seeing my kids growing up, or the tick marks I could make every wedding anniversary. I never finished college or university. I'm not a CEO, business or home owner. It's been years since I've even owned my own car. How do you gage the intangibles? How do you gain satisfaction with your life achievements when you can't list them on paper? How do you not let the world's definition of success discourage you and make you feel like you're a late bloomer that may never catch up? This is the tension.

I did some praying, thinking and soul-searching as I approached this birthday. I thought about all that has happened in my life and I thought about how some people look back and say that they wouldn't change a thing. I totally would. I would take away the things that really hurt - childhood abuse, watching my best friend's son die of cancer, betrayals, and maybe even a couple humiliating moments involving unrequited love.

Any part of life lived with a deficit of love leaves a mark. But it's ridiculous to think anyone could become who they are without being shaped by the pain of life. Strength is born of adversity, and there's no getting around it. so I celebrate the fact that love has won in the end, and no matter how much of my life is behind me, and how much of it was marked by heartache, the life that is still ahead is already marked with the giving and receiving of love.

In the end my birthday was a happy day and found me optimistic and excited about the next season of my life. It feels like I turned a page, or like I walked through a door and found a beautiful new horizon open before me. And most of all I feel more certain than at any other point in my life that my Father God adores me, that I'm His favorite, and that the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


This morning I had a big, ugly cry, but not because I was sad, mad or upset. It was pure thankfulness. This morning I booked a flight home to Portland, Oregon for a 3 week stay that will mean I am home for Thanksgiving.

You see, I have been living and working in England since March 2010 (although I first came as a volunteer for six months in 2009) and since moving here I have been back to see my family only once (in Aug 2011), and have not been home for the Thanksgiving or Christmas Holidays. Yeah, I'm nearly 40 and can handle being away like a big girl, but the truth is that I had never, ever been away from my family for the Holidays until I moved here. As much as I hate to admit it or give in to sadness or moping, It is never harder to be 5,000 miles away from my family than during the Holidays.

Every part of my going back for this visit is a gift from God. There is no way I could afford the $1,000 ticket on my own, but an unexpected $500 check for some writing I did about 15 years ago suddenly appeared just days after I'd done some intense, heart-pouring-out praying, asking God if He would make a way for me to be home for Thanksgiving. And then I waited and kept thanking God for providing my ticket, even before I had the other half of the money. 

I started to make a mental list of the things that I could do or buy while I'm home that I can't do/buy here and even put "haircut with Justin at Hickox Studio" (he's my amazing stylist back home) and then thought that might be a bit of a frivolous one. The truth is that I hadn't really even prayed about it, but my Father in Heaven loves me, and since I'm His favorite I guess He pays attention because a day or two later one of my best friends back home said that when I come to visit there will be a haircut waiting for me at Hickox. At this point I was still short half the money for my ticket, but God spoke through it to show me that even before the ticket was in hand He was (and is) taking care of my needs, and even some of my wants.

And then, about 6 weeks after the first half of the money for my ticket came in, I was in Dublin for 24-7 Prayer's global gathering and some of my good friends came to me with a heart-shaped post-it note that said "Sheena, we love you and we are giving you the $500 you need for the rest of your ticket". And I cried like a baby...loud, awkward, juicy, sobby, face-scrunched-up crying. It was one of those moments when you don't realize how much you want something and how careful you've been with your heart not to let yourself get too excited so you won't be devastated if it doesn't happen.

So today, when I booked the ticket and Heathrow airport shuttle and then saw the confirmations in my in-box I suddenly realized it was really, really happening and had a big cry. Thankful doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling right now. To see my 87-year-old Grammy, my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, life-long friends and my home church family after 2½ years is an indescribably precious gift, the value of which is not lost on me. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


"Death and life are in the power of the tongue".

I think most people have probably heard this line from Proverbs 18, even if they didn't grow up in church. It's one of those universal bits of wisdom that reveals itself in various ways. One of the ways it has always shone to me is in the power of life that comes from encouragement.

Merriam Webster's online dictionary  gives one description of the word encouragement as "something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident, something that makes someone more likely to do something". I like this description because it is one of my core beliefs that my words have the power to make someone "more determined, hopeful and confident" and that my words have the power to "make someone more likely to do something" and follow their dreams.

Honestly, I don't think I'm anyone extra special, or that my words are any more powerful than anyone else's. But I do know that not everyone gets that they have the opportunity to bring life to the people around them with something as simple as an encouraging word. The fact that I do get that means that I exercise that power where some others may not.

If you are in my life for any length of time you will be on the receiving end of the encouragement I try to bring to those around me. If there's something about you that I think is beautiful, inspiring, admirable or awe-inspiring, it's only a matter of time before I end up telling you. I also love easily. Not to say I 'fall in love' easily, (that's a different topic for another day!) just that I don't have an issue telling someone I have genuine affection for them. Again, not in a romantic sense, but that doesn't mean it isn't love and that they don't need to hear it. 

I'm openhearted by nature, and sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what to do with that. Sometimes I'm misunderstood and I've even had a few guys over the years think I was hitting on them, but in spite of that I keep speaking up. There's a saying that asks why we wait to give people flowers until their funeral. I'd rather give flowers now - to have you know that someone sees something in you, believes in you and is inspired by the beauty and essence that only you can bring to the world around you. I long to bring a spark that helps kindle your belief in yourself and makes you "more likely to do something" that you were created to do. If I know you and love you, I want to contribute to the framework that supports your dreams. I think words have the power to do that.

So please forgive me if I sometimes embarrass you or put you on the spot by telling you I love your courage, loyalty, beauty, creativity, your smile or some other aspect of who you are. I just want to give back a little of the life that particular thing about you gives to me. I just want you to have some flowers.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


choir practice at my church
I grew up in a city that, according to this Oregonian article, has officially become the "Whitest major city in the US". In spite of that dubious distinction (which doesn't surprise me) I still love Portland, and in my 20s I became a bit of a geek about Portland's history, and what I learned about how non-white ethnic groups were treated in the city's early days deeply saddened me, as did the realization that this precedence of racism still has an effect on the city today. Just Google "Portland racist history" and you'll encounter articles like this one that sum up the things I encountered when I was researching the city's past.

Throughout my years in Portland I knew it was a rather segregated city, but my parents always made sure we were exposed to other cultures and people who were different than us. They encouraged us to travel as teens, hosted lots of exchange students from Japan and Spain through one of the local colleges, and many Sunday dinners were spent with international students from our church's Bible college. I loved it, and I couldn't hear enough about Europe, Africa, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, and a myriad of other nations and cultures I had the incredible privilege to encounter in those years.

In retrospect I see that my parents instilled in me the understanding that "different" does not mean "bad" or "weird". In fact, when we're talking about people it's our differences of perspective, color, personality and culture that make us unique, interesting and beautiful. Living just outside London (a city where the whole world seems to exist together) for over four years has been a joy and delight. Amusingly, I think I have my white, middle-class, Portlandian parents to thank for that. But living here has brought race to the forefront of my consciousness in a way that never happened before. Dating an African man for about a year only added to it, but as I write I suspect this post will be longer than I want it to be, so I'm not even going to touch on the subject of interracial relationships right now.

In some ways I'm in two different worlds here. During the week I work in Guildford, an affluent area of England, with white, middle-class Brits, and am really blessed to work with them and to call them my friends. Then here in Reading, the town where I live, most of my social circle is my church of several hundred, where I'm one of less than 20 white folks. More than half of the church is immigrants, mostly from African or Caribbean nations, and even of the British-born folks in my church, most seem to be first generation Brits, having parents from African or Caribbean nations. It's been a fascinating juxtaposition. With Brits I often feel that my American-ness is something I'm expected to apologize for, whereas with my church friends I feel embraced and enjoyed for it.

The more I am surrounded by such diversity of color and cultures the more convinced I am of the ridiculousness of the slogan "love sees no color". I completely, unashamedly see color, because God sees color. God chose that I am white, female and American because He decided that was the most beautiful version of me He could make. He made my amazing friend Jenny a black, Kenyan woman because that was the most beautiful way He could make her. Why would I erase those things that make her beautiful and uniquely her? And words like "tolerate" frustrate me. That implies I'm humoring someone for being different than me. I don't tolerate Jenny. I enjoy and embrace the beauty and diversity that I see in her. The differences I see in my friends - black, white, Asian, Hispanic - are about who they are, whatever beautiful color their skin happens to be and all the cultural and life experiences that shaped them. They are lovely because of these things, not in spite of them.

In the privilege of walking out life with so many unique people here in the UK, I've found myself reflecting on race issues in America, and specifically in relation to African-Americans. It seems a lot different there than here. Yes, there are still racial prejudices and injustices here (and a black man here is also much more likely to have his car searched when he's pulled over than anyone else would be, so unfortunately some things are universal!), but in some ways it seems as much about economics as it is about race. But in the US it seems to me there is a lot of race-rooted distrust and resentment in all directions. Much of it gets blamed on slavery, and I think there is something to identifying with your heritage, but actually it's not that long ago that it was the norm for people of color to be treated less than human in many parts of the US. Many people that are alive today had to grow up seeing their friends or family members bullied, mistreated, raped and even killed because of the color of their skin. I'm not talking about the Civil War, I mean when my parents were teens. And yes, great strides have been taken thanks to those incredible individuals who dared to speak and take action against such ingrained injustice, but I can't help but sympathize with those African-Americans who still hold resentments. I get it. And I get why so many people of both races dance around it. This is not just a scar on our history as Americans, it is still a wound that hasn't quite healed. I don't really know where my place is in helping to bind up this wound for good, but I'm praying that if God gives me moments and opportunities to do so.

Saturday, March 02, 2013


March 4th, 2009 - four years ago this week - I boarded a plane and flew to England. I didn't really have a concrete plan, I was just going to take it one visa at a time. To be honest, I think that deep down I didn't think I'd be here this long.

Naturally, this milestone makes me retrospective. And today, as I think back over the last four years, I find myself a little amazed at all I've learned. I'm not just talking about the obvious skills you acquire when you live abroad (like learning to communicate differently, navigating a different postal service, healthcare system, banking system, or a dozen other things I could name), but I've also grown in myself and learned to accept who I am in this process of walking out who God created me to be. I'm imperfect, sure, but I finally truly see bits the beauty that God put in me, and I'm not afraid of it anymore.

Change is always painful, and we humans avoid it whenever we can. But four years ago I was so uncomfortable with my comfortable life that I was ready to embrace the most momentous change that had ever come across my path. I have to say that it's not been easy or comfortable, and if I knew then what it would cost me I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have come. But thank God I didn't know because now I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have struggled with culture and poverty, aching goodbyes, new friendships and broken ones. I have cried rivers, loved and lost, grieved deeply, and missed painfully. But I have also been surrounded by the beautiful peace that comes of knowing I am right where God thinks I should be. I have seen my heart's capacity to love, to be loved and dream carved deeper than it ever was before.

In spite of being 34 when I came, I feel like I arrived with a girl's heart, but have watched myself grow into a womanly nature. God has compelled me to draw strength from the incredible deposit of experience, wisdom and love that the people from home that I miss the most carefully and lovingly instilled in my heart and life over the last two decades. And He surrounded me here with people who have come to trust and love me, and who have recognized and encouraged the hand of God in my life.

I feel older and wiser, in a good way. Although the depth of my reluctance in this journey was only matched by the shallowness of my confidence, I still pushed, pulled, struggled, stood and fought to honor the faithfulness of God and of those who support and cheer me on. Even if I were to go home tomorrow, I would go a wealthier woman in experience, wisdom, love and friendships, and wealthier in my understanding of God's faithfulness, love and care for me.

Whatever the next four years holds I can be sure that I can't imagine what I'll experience, both good and difficult. But I can also be confident that my faithful God, who still whispers old and new dreams to my heart, will keep and uphold me in and through His limitless love.

Sunday, January 06, 2013


My Grandma Millie in January 1944
Today I pulled out an old letter from my Grammy (see picture) who turned 87 this week. It was in reply to a letter I sent her in early January of 1991 when US troops were heading for Kuwait for the first Gulf War. In my letter I was lamenting our country going to war on the eve of my 16th birthday. Her letter is one of the most treasured bits of correspondence I've ever received. Here is what she wrote...

Feb 8, 1991

Dear Everyone, but most of all Sheena!

Sheena, such a beautiful letter you sent!!

And you are so very right. I can remember vividly that Sunday afternoon getting ready to go to C. E. (Christian Endeavor) the program for young people at church and hearing about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, how our ships were sunk mercilessly, without ceremony, earlier that morning before people were awake yet. I was almost 16, had completed the first half of the 10th grade - called 10B - it had been moved to the Junior High because the High School in Pontiac [Michigan] was so crowded - and they never did get another high school even started until after the war. All building came to a grinding halt - no more cars were made in Pontiac (until after the war) all efforts and materials, sugar, flour and even shoes were rationed and each person had to have tickets (coupons) in order to buy some. Money didn't matter. And everyone but everyone was patriotic - how we hated those jobs!!! Boys in my class in school joined up and became HEROES!! And many of them never came back.

The high school went on shifts and as soon as I graduated (in January) I got a job typing bills of lading for tanks (not cars) - all Americans were Gung Ho to win the war - no sacrifice was too great - how different from now?? Then in 1944 fall I went to Wheaton College - it was practically all girl students. Any boys were rejects - 4-Fs!! No one had any dates then!!

There were no anti-war demonstrations - my dad bought and promoted Liberty Bonds - and gave some of his shoe coupons to me. He could not buy any new trucks or tires for his business - the old had to last - and we had a Victory Garden so that we wouldn't have to buy veggies - that way the troops could have more to eat. That was the beginning of all the Instants! Instant tea, coffee, soup, cake mix - and nylons [stockings] were invented and if our stockings ran we took them to a department store - they had a mending machine - because we couldn't afford new ones!!! Those were the days and the country was really united like it has never been since.

Well, enough of that I guess.

How are you doing in school now, Sheena? And what hobbies are you into now? What are your favorite books?

Well Carol, we've been thinking - only thinking - about coming to the reunion, but we haven't done anything about it. Can you give us an idea about who will be coming?

The weather here [in the desert of southern California] is about perfect now - 80ish in the afternoon - really pleasant.  Take care.

Mom & Pop
Grandma & Grandpa