Day 30: Dear Erin

*It’s the last day of the Dear Gratitude project! My friend and soul sister, Amie Seaton, is today’s guest writer.*

Dear Erin,
I just got in from spending time with you today. I have so much fun with you these days. We didn’t even do much, just unloaded all your clothes into your new apartment. But, during those hours (let’s be honest, you have WAY too many clothes), I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else on this earth than with you.
amieerinlapIf I say I trust God, then I must believe He had reason for not having us grow up together in the same home with the same parents. I’ll never forget finding out I had a new baby sister. By that time, I was nine years old and had spent much time playing alone in my room, wishing I had a sibling to play with me. I didn’t get to see you much as an infant, but I do remember once when your mom brought you over to our house. You were about nine months old. You looked like one of my baby dolls as your mother held your hands and you tried to balance on your wobbly little legs. Your precious little face topped with wispy white hair looked up at me and smiled a gummy grin. You then reached for me, and pulled my hair… you little toot. I am so grateful for that memory.
Many years slipped by and although I was so thankful for a stepmother who wanted to arrange for us to spend time together, and she did, as often as possible, I still felt as if we lacked that sibling bond. Maybe we dodged a bullet by not living together. Fighting over the phone and yelling for you to get out of my room, tripping over your Barbies and bickering over who gets the last cookie. But, in my imagination, everything would have been amazing. Long talks, late night giggles, hair braiding and baking cookies. Maybe Dad taking us fishing on occasion. As a teenager, I loved thinking about what we could’ve been. It was during this time that I committed my life to follow Christ and began to pray for you and your mom, as well as our daddy, to someday follow Him as well. Later on, God spoke to my spirit, telling me that He would indeed call you, and that Mom and Dad would follow. The doubting Thomas in me thought, “I guess we’ll see.”
amieerin1Still time passed. We both did some growing up. We both had some wonderful accomplishments, and we both hit a few brick walls, trying to fill voids that we were never intended to fill. In passing we’d share hugs and smiles and words of encouragement. I have always felt blessed to have you as sister to call my own. But, I still wasn’t sure what our relationship was supposed to be. It was about the time my second marriage was spinning out of control that I started to get a glimpse of what “sisters“ was supposed to look like. One afternoon, you let me cry my eyes out. You didn’t tell me what to do, but instead reassured me that you’d always be available for me at times like that. I remember feeling very humbled at the thought of my baby sister acting so mature. Not long after that, in the midst of troubles of your own, you hit the bottom of the deepest pit I’d ever seen a loved one fall into. I hurt deeply for you. I spent countless moments on my knees, crying and pleading for God to snatch you up and save you. At times, I felt physically sick with worry and wondered if you‘d make it out of the mess alive. I remember hours on the phone, trying to talk you through the turmoil, but I just didn’t have the words. You needed Jesus.
About a year ago now, you shared with me that you’d been attending church services with a new man in your life. I remember feeling a little sprig of hope spring up in my heart, and thinking, “Lord, it won’t be long now, will it…” Sure enough, one day I heard the words, “Sissy, I said YES to Jesus!” I was overjoyed to say the least, and my hope had been restored! 20 years of praying for you, and the time had finally come. HE SAVED YOU, SISSY. He pulled you up from that pit. He held you in His arms, then set you on your feet and made you something new. He washed you clean and called you His own beloved daughter! And what do you know… Mom and Dad came shortly there after. My God is SO good. He was so sweet to answer my prayers. I began to see changes in you, Sissy, and I knew your conversion was absolutely real. I will never forget watching yours and Mom’s baptisms. (Still praying for Dad to get up the nerve.) And, certainly I will always hold close to my heart the Father’s Day I stood next to Mom, you, and Daddy as we worshiped together.
amieerinbeachJust recently, I had another thought. We finally have Jesus in common. You know, physically we are as opposite as can be, with the exception of bad eyesight and flat feet. (Thanks, Dad..) We have very differing personalities as well (not discounting our mutual love of animal humor.) But, I think I finally figured out that the cornerstone of the relationship I had always wanted with you…. was Jesus. So, now I see us in a whole new light. You are becoming a kind of best friend I’ve never had before, and I pray I’m becoming that for you. God gave me the gift of you, many years ago, knowing we would end up here. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Proud to call you sister,
Amie

Day 29: Dear Dawn

*I’m thankful for my college friend, Lorie Mink for sharing her letter to her friend, Dawn, on Day 29 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

Dear Dawn,
Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

I remember the day we met like it was yesterday. It was June of 1980, and I was three months shy of turning 9. We just moved into the lower level of Mr. O’Brien’s house, and mom and dad were busy sorting the boxes and unpacking. Mom insisted I go outside for a bit as I was getting in her way. Since it was a new neighborhood, I was only allowed to go into the backyard, but it was beautiful there. Mr. O’Brien kept plots of a variety of flowers, some I’d never seen before, and I spent time wandering around them pretending I was a fairy tending to the latest crop of magical flowers.

I remember seeing you and your friend splashing around in the above ground pool in your backyard, but I pretended not to notice. Oh how envious I was of the two of you because you were both laughing and splashing and carrying on, and I was on my own. I never spoke to you or even looked over, except for a few glances out of the corner of my eye. Your aunt made the first move, coming over to the fence to say hi. I remember thinking she must be your grandma because of her white hair. She had a bright smile and was very friendly to me, and I shyly smiled back at her.

You and your friend finally acknowledged my presence then, hanging onto the side of the pool as you called out questions to me. I didn’t think you liked me as you dismissed me pretty quickly and went back to playing in the pool, though your friend remained to talk to me. It was several weeks before you said anything to me, and that was to tell me to stay away from your friend. She came over with her Barbies, and we played on my front porch while you watched from the window up above. It took her calling your name several times for you to come down. But you wouldn’t play with us, no matter what. It took your friend moving away for you to finally show interest in being my friend.

And what a friend you became.We were together so often back then; your grandma kept saying we must be stuck together with glue. You were my first sleepover friend, and I was yours. You finally played dolls with me, and I rode bikes with you, keeping a happy balance between the girly girl I was and the tom-boy you were. No matter who I hung out with or what I did, you were always with me and vice versa.

We forged a bond that would go on to last over 30 years, though we haven’t seen each other since 1987.Through phone calls, letters, and emails, we stayed in touch over the years, keeping our friendship strong the only way we could. We’ve been through it all together via phone and letters. I remember the day you called and told me your grandma passed away. She was the only mother you’d known, as your mom had passed away when you were only two weeks old. You were heartbroken, and I tried to find the right words to comfort you.You did the same for me when first my mom, then my dad passed away. Saying things I needed to hear and telling me how much you wished you could be with me. And it never failed that the days I seemed so down and defeated would be the days I would receive a letter or a card from you full of love and encouragement. How did you always know when I needed you most?

I can look back on a wonderful, fun-filled childhood thanks to you and your family, who always made me feel welcome, as if I belonged in your family. I only hope my family did the same for you. I pray every day that we will get to see each other again before we die. It’s the number one item on my bucket list. But even if we never set eyes on each other again, I know our friendship will last to the very end because of the powerful bond we created back in those early days when life still had that special glow and our biggest concerns were having enough money to get penny candy from the store or a ride to the local skating rink on Saturdays. I will always be grateful for the special friendship we created and managed to maintain for over 30 years and hope we have many more years of friendship to come.

Day 28: Happy Thanksgiving!

*I’m thankful today for my pastor, Paul Seay, who wrote Day 28’s post for the Dear Gratitude project.*

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”—Philippians 4:6 NRSV

Dear Readers,

Pastor Paul at my daughter's christening, March 2013

Pastor Paul at my daughter’s christening, March 2013

I don’t know why I am a reluctant blog writer, but for whatever reason, it is difficult for me to take the time to write what’s on my mind.  I do have my own blog, “Circuit Writing,” but I write more for “Daily Dose of Gratitude” than I do my own.  I think it’s because Bethany gives me a deadline that I have to meet.

Since my assignment is for Thanksgiving Day, I have had the opportunity to read many of your ‘thank you’ letters here and have been reminded of things for which I am thankful.  So thank you, dear readers, for opening your hearts and sharing a little about your lives with us.

Paul Seay and his wife, Rebecca, at the River Jordan

Paul Seay and his wife, Rebecca, at the River Jordan

First of all, I want to thank my wife, Rebecca.  When we married she didn’t realize that being the wife of a United Methodist pastor was going to be in the cards, but she has supported my ministry in more ways than most people realize.  I certainly have not been the perfect husband, but I try to do better every day.  She has forgiven me more than seventy times (or seventy times seven as the King James Version reads), and I am grateful for that.  Earl Thomas Conley and Emmylou Harris sang a song, “We Believe in Happy Endings,” and I think that is how Becca and I believe about our marriage and our life together.  Our children, Ed and Jeff Seay and Allison and Jeff Chandler are special also.  I am proud of the success they have had in their lives and in the ways that they have helped others.

Most of all, I am thankful for God’s Grace.  Without His Grace it would have been impossible for me to be doing what I do today.  I was called to ministry as a teenager, but ran from my call for nearly 30 years before giving up on myself and allowing God to be God.  There were many times that He could have given up on me but our God is a loving and forgiving God who allows us to make mistakes, to fail, and to even turn our back on Him.  But as the Apostle Peter discovered as he was trying to walk on water and began to sink, all he had to do was cry out, “Lord, save me!” In our desperation, God is always there, through His Son, Jesus Christ, to reach out and pull us from the deep.

Harold Bales, a retired United Methodist pastor in North Carolina writes a “Daily Nugget” that I read on Facebook each day.  This past Sunday he wrote, “Every person is a preacher of one sort or another.  How we are observed living is the most genuine indicator of the gospel we embrace.  This isn’t only true of clergy.  It is true of everyone.  Our value systems are always on display.  And Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on these values, give thanks to God for our abundance, and push the reset button on our lifestyles.”

So, Dear Readers, on this Thanksgiving Day as you take a moment to be thankful for the ways you have been blessed.  Be thankful for those who God has put into your path for you to influence, and I pray that you influence them in a good way.

In Christ,

Pastor Paul

 

Day 27: Dear heaven-sent lady

*Thank you, Cecilia Baker, for sharing your love story with us on Day 27 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

Cecilia Baker weddingI wish I could thank the lady who decided to do her laundry one Friday night.  She was my fairy godmother.  She appeared one night, and I guess I will never know her until I get to heaven.

The thing is she was not too busy to speak to a young man who had recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to take a new job after having been in the Army for two years. He was doing his laundry as well in the apartment laundromat. She struck up a conversation and said, “What is a young man like you doing his laundry on a Friday night?  You should be out with your friends having a good time.”

He must have told her that he was new in town and didn’t know anyone yet. She just “happened” to go to Belmont Heights Baptist Church and decided to tell him they had a Single Young Adult department that had around 50 young professionals his age and that he might like to visit the class. Being shy, he probably wouldn’t have gone to the class without more encouragement.

It didn’t end there because she remembered his name, John Baker, and told the director of the Singles class and must have also told him the apartment number. A few weeks later John had a knock on his door, and the director, Joe Haynes, and a young man from the class were paying him a visit.

Maybe you have participated in an outreach from your church before and visited newcomers to your town or visitors to your church.  Don’t ever think it’s just a minor thing to do. It can change someone’s life.  These two fellows introduced themselves and told him about the class and gave him directions and the times of services, and one Sunday when he was not going back to his home in Memphis, he decided to visit.

He walked in the door of our class which was in a house adjacent to the church. I saw him right away and really didn’t get to meet him personally that day.  I was disappointed when they put him in a different small group from mine.

He started coming when he was in town, and I did meet him later. The whole Singles department was planning a weekend retreat, and the week before the retreat, I summoned up my courage and asked him if he wanted to sign up to go on the retreat.  He said he was thinking about it.  I told him it was the last chance to sign up today, and he said he would like to go if I would ride with him!  Of course I said yes.  Cecilia Baker's wedding

He and I began dating after that, and the rest is history!  I am so thankful for the mystery lady who I now think was heaven-sent to encourage a young man to go to church, my husband, Johnny Baker.

Day 26: Dear writers

*Day 26 in the Dear Gratitude project is by yours truly again–only four more days of this project left!*

Dear writers,

You have shaped who I am, and you’ve shaped what I do.

When I began to read

When I began to read

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ann M. Martin, E.B. White, Francine Pascal, and the rest of you who wrote the children’s literature I still love. I carried your creations with me everywhere. I crawled under my bed, books in hand, with a flashlight night after night. I fell asleep there, midway through a fascinating story that transported me to Wilbur’s pen or to Sweet Valley High or to the woods of Minnesota.

Because of you, I started writing my own stories, complete with intricate concrete descriptions of characters and settings. I stole phrases from you and learned to incorporate figures of speech and theme and symbols into my stories. My mom thought I was a genius; I’m sure my stories weren’t much better than any other fifth grader’s. But her encouragement led me to write more, and as my former creative writing professor, Andrea Hollander, wrote on my poems countless times: “Keep writing!”

So I did.

I kept reading, too, because I discovered more of you as I grew older, and reading your words helped me write my own. I developed my own taste for literature, and I pooh-poohed the notion that I ought to read classics for the sake of reading classics. I probably annoyed my college professors at the small, private, liberal arts school I attended, who touted the likes of Faulkner and Shakespeare incessantly. I had no real use for those guys. I knew what I liked, and I did my best to avoid wasting time reading things I didn’t like. I tried reading awful books like Wuthering Heights on multiple occasions–my mom always taught me to try something more than once before deciding to cross it off my list. Those same professors introduced me to some of you who are now my favorites–Cormac McCarthy, Sherwood Anderson, Chaucer, Nye, Kinnell, Wordsworth, and Steinbeck.

I stopped spending time with  all of you after graduation. I was sick of you, honestly. I needed a break.

I took one for several years. Then you, Tolkien, reminded me how wonderful it felt to curl up in a warm blanket on a cold night, mug of steaming cocoa in hand, and turn the musty pages of an old book to the tune of my cat’s contented purr. I was hooked again. I started reading all the books I’d bought in college but had only half-read due to time constraints. To my surprise, I liked some of them. I formed relationships with more of you–Welty and Joyce, to name a few. I dug into non-fiction, too, and my perceptions of the world were altered by you: John Eldredge, Wendell Berry, and Dan Allender.

Thanks to all of you–writers who moved me–I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s in English Language and Literature. And now I’m teaching students how to write, how to use words as tools, how to shape the world with language.

Thank you, writers. Thank you for teaching me, inspiring me, transporting me, entertaining me, and changing me.

I hope my words do the same for someone else someday.

Day 25: Dear Need

Day 25 in the Dear Gratitude project is submitted by yours truly :).

Dear Need,

I first remember meeting you, Need, when my father fell from his heroic platform in my mind. Grappling with drug addiction, he stood in our living room in Augusta, Kansas, in 1984, and admitted that he had fallen for Caroline. I remember my mom crying, scorching, angry tears spilling over, commanding him to explain himself to his four daughters. He tried to. And then he left.

And I didn’t shed a tear, although I was surrounded by four emotionally distraught females.

My dad, circa 1984, who I've grown to love again

My dad, circa 1984, who I’ve grown to love again

I didn’t know then how much I needed a daddy and how much the lack of having one would alter my path in life. I didn’t know that, as Naomi Shihab Nye claims in her poem The Traveling Onion, “It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten.” I didn’t know these things, but I would learn them later. Because of you, Need, I spent years trying to replace my dad with insufficient substitutes. I can’t say that I’m proud of that, but I know that you, Need, are often something I can’t even detect in myself—but God can. Thanks to you, Need, I eventually found a Father. Thank you, Need, for leading me to create a path of destruction uglier and more harmful than the mess left behind in Wichita after a tornado. Seeing myself realistically finally led me to accept and love my dad again.

Need, you became a part of our daily family life. We needed food, clothing, and shelter, our little family of five, a single mom with four daughters under the age of seven. You, Need, introduced us to welfare. You acquainted us with embarrassment and shame. You moved us into a trailer park. You are the reason I cried for an entire afternoon because I did not have a denim skirt to wear to my friend’s birthday party, and you are the reason my mom could not purchase one, even though she wanted to.

But you, Need, are also the reason that my mom went back to college and pursued a career in dental hygiene, something she is still passionate about. You are part of the reason that I studied so hard to try to obtain a scholarship myself. You are the one to thank for the circumstances that led to my mom becoming best friends with Kay Egan, a woman with a gigantic golden heart. You’re to thank for the chance to grow up with near-cousins and to be loved by near-grandparents, for the chance to climb trees, explore barns, and ride tractors. You, Need, are who taught me that I’m no better than anyone else. That people in poverty aren’t always stuck in the mud as a result of poor choices. Thank you for making it impossible for my mom to take care of us on her own. If she’d been able to, I wouldn’t have received countless gifts of kindness and selflessness, like my Sunday School teacher in first grade who offered to pay for me to learn gymnastics, which is still my favorite sport.

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Need, I could choose to hate you. But I don’t. I’m thankful for your place in my life, even today. I’m thankful for the irritability and negativity that rises up in me when I don’t focus on the Solution. That need prompts me to change. I’m thankful for the times when I have to spend less and save more. This keeps me humble and dependent on the Giver. I’m thankful for the times when I can’t make my daughter feel better and for the times when I can’t figure out how to get her to eat more, nurse less, or go to sleep. It keeps me from attaining parental perfection, and that leads me to accept help and input from my Wise Dad who knows my child better than I do. I’m thankful for my own powerlessness and lack of ability to manage every situation solely.  This keeps my egotistical, self-righteous self from bragging and annoying everyone I meet, and it keeps me coming back for help from the Ultimate Guru.

I need you, Need, to get me to gratitude.

I need Need to get me to God.

 

Day 24: Dear Ricco

*Day 24 in the Dear Gratitude project is written by my friend and former fellow board member, Latresha Woodruff. I’m thankful Latresha was willing to fill in for another writer and still submit today’s post for the project, too.*

RICCO

Latresha and husband 2I want you to know I think you are the most awesome husband anyone could have.  The day I met you my life changed for the better.

You are all I could ever want in a husband; you love the Lord, you’re caring, you’re a good father, you’re a good person, you take care of me (sometimes better than I take care of myself) and you would go to the ends of the earth for me.

I have fond memories of WXVT because doing that job (even though they worked my fingers and nerves to the bone) led me to you one sunny day down by the casino on Lake Ferguson.  That day propelled me into the happiest time of my life.  We’ve had nine wonderful years together, and I pray GOD blesses us with at least 109 more.

When I have a bad day I know that when I get home you will be there to comfort me and let me know things will be alright. Wherever you go, I will follow because you are the best part of me.  You make me a better person.    Latresha and husband

I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. YOU’RE MY WORLD.

YOUR WIFE,

LATRESHA