Home / Stories / A Mantra for the Possible: An Interview with Lay Missioner Tim Shelgren

A Mantra for the Possible: An Interview with Lay Missioner Tim Shelgren


Editor’s note: Missioner Stephanie Ashley Caban shares an interview with fellow missioner in training Tim Shelgren.

Tim Shelgren is one of those people you can’t possibly forget. His kind nature and listening ability stand out of the crowd more so than the loudest person in the room. Always the first to clean up after dinner and always the last to leave a genuine conversation he’d been having with someone. The other night, Tim patiently listened to and laughed at all of our antics at the pasta dinner at St. Francis Hall. He then quietly got up and asked the Franciscan friars if they needed help cleaning up. He comes back with the biggest leftover trays of pasta and salad that will feed us for the next week. Curled up on the couch in the Romero room at Casa San Salvador where we are living during our Formation period before going overseas, I asked him about how his family influenced his life.

Tim has worked as a cosmetologist, yoga teacher, and counselor. As soon as we all met him and his hair, it became clear that he had some knowledge on style. He opened up his own business after going to cosmetelogy school at 16.  In his twenties, he started cutting hair and in turn, listening to all of his clients stories. He went to college at 30s armed with knowing how to listen to people and studied pscyhological counseling. As well, Tim’s patience and love for the body comes from his many years as a yogi, learning about eastern philosphies and how to ground oneself. 

As an 18-year-old, Tim had his own apartment and was working full time. He soon married and had three beautiful kids running around. As he sits barefoot with his feet on the couch, Tim strokes his beard and recalls his parents and how pivotal they were in his life. “My dad had me in his twenties, so he was a kid when I was a kid. He didn’t know what he was doing,” Tim says as he thinks back to the tender age of 9 when he wanted to play the piano. His father didn’t encourage this interest, wanting him to do Little League instead, and it was at that young age that Tim noticed he wanted to go his own way.

Growing up, Tim continued to pursue his path, which involved music and fashion, no matter what anyone said and with a lot of great support from his mother. Tim always had a special desire to please his mom whenever he could. It wasn’t until his thirties that Tim thought, “I don’t have to be good all the time. I can even fail.” It was then that he realized he didn’t have to please her because she loved him and supported him with such sincerity anyway.

As Tim is going through Formation, he makes sure to send her regular updates and pictures about his time here in training, knowing that while this only takes a few minutes of his day, to her, it means everything. Tim’s father passed away before he could see Tim join FMS. While he and his father clashed, Tim recognized that there was a great deal of love in their relationship.

He remembers asking his father on his deathbed about whether or not he believed that anything spiritual awaited him when he died. When his father expressed that he still didn’t believe, Tim adamantly said, “Well, you have to believe, because I’m telling you to. And when I meet you up there later, I’m going to say ‘I told you so.’”

I laughed when Tim told that story. It showed a firm side to him that still brought out the compassionate and understanding Tim we all know and love. It also shows a strong spiritual side that has sustained Tim throughout his life.

We moved from the topic of passing away and conversion to Tim’s knowledge of Eastern religions and then back to his parents. Tim said his mother’s longevity is due to the fact that she is stimulated by her sons and her grandsons. A question occurred to me.

“Do you have a reason, Tim? To be alive?”

“Oh yes,” he immediately replied. “Oh yes, to be a grandfather and father, but also, to grow. To grow into this more than average.” Every night, as a sort of mantra that no doubt is aided by his yoga practice, Tim repeats a Bible verse from Matthew 17. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing is impossible.”

Tim is preparing to take two years away from his mother, children, and grandchildren to start a new chapter of his life as an overseas missioner. He has shared some of the spiritual practices that keep him centered during this time of transition and every day. During one of our spiritual community nights, Tim led us all in some simple yoga strectches whilst praying and facing the altar in the chapel. Using our bodies to speak to God was emotionally wonderful, and we learned how deeply moving it was to use all of our senses and the physical being God created for us to show our love to Him.

How great it is to have Tim here at Formation with me to remind me that nothing is impossible with an open heart, a little bit of yoga, a desire to ask questions, and faith. 

Reflection question: Which family member has been a supportive influence in your life? 

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Stephanie Ashley Caban considers faith, acting, service, and Spanish to be fundamental aspects of her identity. A lifelong New Yorker, she was active in service during high school and then college at SUNY New Paltz. She then commited to a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA position at Reading Partners, a nonprofit literacy organization where her main job was community engagement. Stephanie's hobbies include acting, yoga, archery, hiking, reading, and going on adventures. Serving as an overseas missioner falls in line with her drive to embrace people of different backgrounds with an open mind and heart.