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Changing the World Word by Word

Shelli Spotts is a writer. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing, belongs to a writers’ group, and teaches college students writing and composition. You will see she has mastered the art of writing when you read her work and experience her poetic gift of weaving a tapestry of words and emotions. But that wasn’t enough for her. She says she volunteered to write for Big Ocean because, “I was feeling like I was spending all of my time on the ‘art’ of writing, but was not making much of a contribution…. I wanted to be able to tell the stories of others in a way that communicates to others and makes an impact.”

Her decision to be a contributing member of Big Ocean is a perfect example of its tenet she holds most dear, The Model of Powerful Impact. When her cousin, Erika Decaster, introduced her to the organization she says, “I lurked for a long time. I followed all the social media, signed up for the newsletter, and was so impressed by the causes that Big Ocean got involved in.” She hesitated to do more because she was finishing her MFA in creative writing, teaching, raising four teenagers, sewing for the local theater, teaching violin lessons, and working in PTA (Parent Teacher Association). “I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to get involved. But it seemed the more I put it off, the more I was thinking about it.” Could the scarce moments she might squeeze in to write for Big Ocean be enough to make any impact? The answer came:  Yes, perhaps she could “change the world word by word.”    

Shortly after she graduated from Brigham Young University, she offered to write a couple of articles. She attests, “sometimes life is still crazy busy. That hasn’t changed. But I think we all try to make time for the things we are passionate about in our lives. For me those passions include my four children and my husband—our family is very important. I want them to see the amazing things others are doing to change the world. I want them (especially my two daughters) to know that they can change the world around them. They can inspire others, they can serve, and they can be instruments of change wherever they stand.”

She continues her thoughts on The Model of Powerful Impact. “I think our world has become disconnected from what we call our infinite source, or God, and that is limiting the ways we can change ourselves and our communities. Faith can inspire miracles, and not simply what we think of as ‘biblical’ miracles, but the simple miracles of the world around us. A neighbor understanding when we needed help and just showing up. A friend being there to listen or take a crying baby when it has been a long day. A teacher reaching out to a struggling student. A sister sending a text at midnight because she was thinking about you. The actions of the people around us are miraculous and can change us in large and small ways. If we are connected to God, if we have faith and are open to the world around us we will have the ability to be the miracle for others.”

When asked what she might do to impact the world she responded, “I think one of the most important things we can do to make a difference is to listen. Everyone has a story, but not everyone has the opportunity to tell it. If we can be a voice for those who would not otherwise be able to share their thoughts and ideas or if we can be the safe place for those people to come to talk, I think we can change the world word by word.”

She also finds opportunities to make a difference through Big Ocean. “I feel like stepping out of our comfort zones to make a statement that women can be strong and powerful influences while also being faithful mothers and stewards in their families is important. We can stand for faith, family, and freedom from oppression. We can serve our families and those who need our help and advocacy. We can be empowered women who also believe in the importance of the fathers and other men in our lives. These things are not in conflict, but support each other, and Big Ocean can help educate and advocate for these values.”

Shelli is passionate about reading. Her childhood dream was to “read all the books. Really, I loved to read, and would go home from visiting the neighborhood Bookmobile (oh my, do they even have those anymore? It was amazing. A traveling library!) I would be carrying armloads of books. And I would finish them all and wait impatiently for the next time the Bookmobile visited. It was better than the Ice Cream Truck! I grew up in rural areas in Northern California, Oregon, and North Dakota, so reading became my way of visiting new, exciting places, and getting to know different kinds of people. And that, to me, is the power of the written word. It teaches us so much about empathy, and about those who are different from us. It shows us things we could never experience ourselves and lets us see the depths of the human spirit. (OK, I’m getting carried away. But really. I might be a little passionate about this topic.)”

Word by word, she became a reader and also a writer. “I think every reader has the ability to be a writer. And writing is, at its most basic, simply a communication between the writer and reader. I have always loved that sense of connection that you can get when you read a great work, and I love it when something you write has that same sense of connection. I was afraid of saying I wanted to be a writer for a long time, although I wrote constantly, filling journals and notebooks, and the backs of my textbooks with thoughts and ideas. When I was finishing college, after switching my major three times, an amazing professor took me aside to talk about my writing and suggested graduate school. I think that was the first time I admitted how much I really wanted to write. He encouraged me to go after it and do my best, and I will always be grateful for his mentorship.” So are those of us who are enriched by her gift.

What is Shelli’s definition of a perfect day?  “Cold rain, warm soup, a blanket, and a notebook. Maybe a good book. Sewing a quilt. Or a costume. Baking. Dinner with my family and a walk under dripping trees covered in bright fall foliage, or along a misty, rocky beach. I tell my husband that Oregon is my spirit home, and never miss a chance to drag my family into the Pacific Northwest on vacation. Short of actually being able to go somewhere else, my perfect day would be one filled with great conversation and good friends.” We have the feeling that every day, perfect or not, Shelli will continue changing the world, word by word.



Written by Norma Hendrickson