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Dear Stepsister,

We made a reservation for four at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, 1900 Park Fare. We’d been there the year prior for the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast and it was wonderful, so we came back, this time for Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner.

We were very excited to dine and meet Cinderella, Prince Charming, Cinderella’s Evil Stepmother, and the three Stepsisters, one of them you! Our reservation was late and the dining room was running behind, so we were among the last to be seated for the evening.

Shortly after we were seated, a dad, mom, and young preschool-aged child arrived and sat at the table next to us. I glanced at their table and made some quick observations when I overheard the parents engaging with the wait staff: 1) The child had very short, blonde curly hair and was wearing a blue shirt. 2) The child had some notable facial pigments or breakouts. 3) The parents were talking to the wait staff about their child’s food allergies.

As dinner progressed, Cinderella came to our table for a visit, as did the Evil Stepmother and Prince Charming. Next came the Stepsisters, one by one. You were the one in pink. ALL three Stepsisters were in full character, but you were really playing it up! When you came to our table, you embodied the Stepsister character completely. Note your “smile” for the picture with my children, and you were even crabby and feisty as you interacted with them at the table! Since we were among the last in the dining room, we were the recipients of some extra special treatment – you and two other characters engaged in dialogue with our children at our table, completely in character! It was definitely an intimate and “magical” Disney experience.

After you engaged with our children, you proceeded to the table next to us where the mom, dad and young child were seated. Up until this time, I had thought the child was a boy, but as you approached their table and I looked closer, I realized the child was a girl. She had put on a crown and was wearing a blue Cinderella t-shirt.

The little girl LOVED you and was clearly intrigued by your character. What caught my attention was that she kept giving you hugs, and she wouldn’t stop. It was as if this little girl was in desperate need of hugs, hugs, and more hugs. They weren’t just quick one-stop hugs you’d give any Disney character. They were long embraces, embraces that signaled I need your presence and comfort right now, Stepsister. I need more of that, Stepsister. You obliged and hugged her sweetly, as many times as she needed.

After a while, you were called away from the little girl’s table, as there were still a few other families who had not met you yet. We continued to eat our meal, as did the little girl and her parents next to us.

You and and the other characters wrapped up your time with the other families in the dining room, and by then, the room was REALLY clearing.

Then, I looked up and realized you were on your way to visit the little girl at the table next to us – again.

While you were still Stepsister, I could tell the little girl had captured your heart and there was something about the way you approached that signaled to me you had stepped out of character a bit. The little girl, of course, welcomed you with a huge smile and open arms, ready for more HUGS. You, of course, obliged.

You lingered at their table. And it was beautiful. The little girl I once thought was a boy, who had allergies and notable breakouts or pigments on her face, was being specially noted, cared for, and loved. You could have remained in full Stepsister character, been completely rude and passed right by after a first brief meeting. But no, you turned your interaction with this little girl into an art form, adapting and crafting your response so that child’s unique needs were met.

It was the spring of 2011. I had been feeling a call to write on and off since the spring of 2003. And it was another full year beyond our family’s encounter with you that I finally decided to start a blog.

But I want you to know – I’m certain I was supposed to meet you in that dining room that particular day, at that particular time. I’m certain I was supposed to see you interact with that little girl. I’m certain God knew I would be moved by your response to her. And I’m certain He wanted to use you and that little girl to call my attention to stories that needed to be told.

This story, your story, was one of a few that led me to believe that God had given me eyes to see stories unfold, stories that might otherwise go untold.

Today, I’m telling your story. A woman who gave it all – to a little girl who needed it all. One night, in a Disney dining room.

It’s not rocket science and it’s not mind-blowing headline news, but it’s precious, it’s meaningful, it’s a story that should be told.

So thank you – for your hugs, your character, your warmth and sincerity for a little girl, and for your inspiration,


*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!

Dear Briana,

Sometimes we find ourselves in places we never thought we’d be.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we imagined only for others.

Sometimes we find ourselves in places so cold, so dark, so alone.

Time passes. More time passes. Even more time passes after that.

It’s still cold, it’s still dark, and we’re still alone.

After a while, the sheer volume of trauma and pain becomes almost unbearable, hard to believe, even for us in it, us who don’t have a choice.

So friends sift out. Because it’s too much to bear. Because they don’t know how to respond. Because it’s unbelievable. Because they don’t condone certain behaviors. Because they believe wrong paths have been chosen. Because they’re tired of hearing you talk about it all the time. Because they have their own lives to worry about. Because they want to believe life is all rainbows, puppies and butterflies. Because they don’t want to believe the fight of our lives is between good and evil. Because they don’t know how to sit in the center of someone else’s pain. Because it’s just way too stressful, too overwhelming, too emotionally taxing. Because it’s just too much. Because they believe there’s no hope anymore, no hope anyway.

Childhood friends, college friends, old friends, new friends, boyfriends, work friends, even church friends – they drift away, they’re sifted out – most slowly, a few suddenly.

Some days, some weeks, some months, some years, some many YEARS in a row – you’re drowning, and you need a whole crew of friends to swim out and rescue you.

But one day you wake up and realize there’s only ONE friend, two or three if you’re lucky.

It’s not ideal nor fair for ONE to shoulder the burden of care.

But really, it only takes ONE to believe the damage is repairable.

It only takes ONE to believe it’s possible.

It only takes ONE to hope, just a little.

It only takes ONE to throw a lifeline when you’re drowning in the storm.

And really, you only need ONE to sit on the shore with you and wait for the tide to pass.

So Briana? Today I want to thank you for being that ONE for my sister.

That halfway house wasn’t your run-of-the-mill place for a baby shower, nor the circumstances ideal for celebrating a mama-to-be and beautiful baby girl about to be born. None of us could have imagined any of it up.

But you showed up.

You were the ONE.

Your presence that day was a testament to true friendship. It was, perhaps, one of the most beautiful displays of friendship I’ve ever seen. You proved you’re the friend who’s there, even in the deepest of valleys. You proved you care, regardless of circumstances. You proved you’re willing to show up, even when it’s hard. Because real friends don’t just show up when life is running perfectly smoothly.

I’ve yet to fully process and understand that day, those weeks, those months, those years that proceeded and followed it. Nothing was “normal.” None of it was expected. And there was absolutely nothing ideal about any of it.

Circumstances had us at a halfway house for a baby shower, but there was an undeniable beauty about that moment. Me, mom, my sister, YOU, and a lot of ladies we didn’t know, who needed to know – there’s hope, reason to celebrate, always opportunity to circle around one another – giving thanks for the gifts we’ve received, the blessings we’ve yet to receive.

Thanking God for your model of true friendship,


SPECIAL NOTE: I want to take a moment to acknowledge that there are at least FOUR other friends I’ve personally seen show up in my sister’s life the past 9 1/2 years. I won’t name those individuals here, but I want you to know I’ve noticed your faithful and loving presence in her life. If you’ve read this far, you probably know who you are. Thank you.

*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!

“At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me – some because they cared about me  and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had no words to make me feel better, they sat in silence…and I loved them for it.” – Harold Kushner

Dear Fairy Godmother,

It was a wonderful week. It was truly amazing.

We’d been on Disney vacations several times before. But this one was special. We brought both of our children to Walt Disney World for the first time, and dedicated the entire seven-day vacation to Disney.

After a long, late-night flight, our family unloaded at the Disney value resort Pop Century. We woke up the next morning, ate the first of many meals from our dining plan, and got right to it. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were our stomping grounds for six days, and just as we expected, all four of us loved it!

It was truly a vacation of a lifetime. No doubt – many more Disney vacations were in our future!

But there’s something you need to know, Fairy Godmother.

While I was enjoying the most spectacular week away at Walt Disney World with my husband and children, and most definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, I did find my mind wandering to another place.

Our whole family had spent the past 5 1/2 years battling a war against my sister’s addiction and mental illness, and then she found out she was pregnant. A few months into her pregnancy, she was ordered to a lock-down facility where she stayed about six weeks. While she was at that facility, doctors found a significant mass (CCAM) in the baby’s lung. A month prior to our visit to Disney, my sister had been transferred to a different facility where she was ordered to stay until she delivered the baby. The new facility was closer to the perinatal specialists and surgeons so the baby’s health could be monitored every week. Everything was in upheaval, and everyone was stressed out to the max. There were so many worries, and we didn’t even know if the baby was going to survive.

So you see, Fairy Godmother, I was a Cinderella-of-sorts that week. I was worn down, tattered all up inside. Nothing was certain, and miracles seemed near impossible.

I’d been successful at temporarily escaping reality that week at Disney, so I didn’t even realize I could use you until I found you that day at Magic Kingdom.

Anyone who frequents Disney regularly knows Fairy Godmother is a rare sight, but we found you hidden behind the castle. We were the first to discover you, so we took the opportunity to greet you before the crowd grew large. My husband knows me well, and knew right away you were EXACTLY the character I needed to meet and greet. So I leaned in close and he snapped the shot.

If you look at my eyes, Fairy Godmother, you’ll see I was almost in tears as I stood next to you, hidden behind that castle.

I know you’re not really magical, but Disney’s good at making days magical, so I accepted your presence for what it was. A sweet gift, a promise that miracles are possible.

While I couldn’t ask you to wave your wand and make it all go away, you brought me joy and a sense of peace. And in that moment, I knew it was all going to be alright.

May God continue to work through you to grace thousands with peace and the promise of hope in tattered times,


*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!

Dear Ladies,

This is going to be a whole lot of words and a mixed bag of emotions to make a couple of simple points, but bear with me, I’m hoping by the end of this letter you’ll understand why I’m grateful you got me out of the house one cool night in November, 2009.

I received an invite to join you for ladies night out, and truth is, I really didn’t want to go out.

Before I go any deeper, let me explain girls.

I was an extroverted party girl for two years of my life, at most. But those days are long gone.

I’m an introvert by nature, so if you ask me at any given moment to plan my ideal weekend night, I’d list the following:

1) Stay at home, have pizza delivered, and watch a movie with my husband.

2) Go out for dinner with my family, come back and play a game and/or watch a movie together.

3) Go out by myself, do a little shopping and catch a double feature.

4) Stay in for a quiet evening at home, then once everyone’s in bed, read a book, write a blog post, or watch a drama or chick flick of my choosing. Add a box of fruity candy like Mike ‘N Ikes or Sour Patch Kids to make it even better!

If I do get out with other ladies, it’s usually a planned in advance one-on-one coffee or lunch date during the weekday.

I know, super boring and predictable. 🙂

I’m not much of a going out girl. Starting the night at 9:00, 10:00, or 11:00 p.m. very rarely entices me, even if it’s something fun. Going with a big group of people into loud places with lots of hustle and bustle during late night hours typically empties me rather than fills me up.

I’ve struggled with this, girls. Because I know – “Girls just wanna have fun!” And as moms, we really do need a break once in a while.

There have been times I’ve wanted to be the party girl again, I’ve wanted to be the one to organize ladies night out, I’ve wished I was the extroverted one so you knew I’d go out at the drop of a hat. But the truth is, it’s not going to happen, it’s not who I am. I’m over the wishing and wanting to be someone I’m not.

So take all of that that natural introversion, add five years three months of non-stop trauma and drama with my sister who had been battling addiction and mental illness, add the announcement of her pregnancy the month prior, and then add your invitation to go out for ladies night.

I was a mess.

I really didn’t want to go out.

All I wanted to do was stay in, be quiet, and watch a movie with my husband. I believed what I needed was a heavy dose of self-care, time alone, time away at some retreat center, or maybe someone to come over, bring me a big piece of chocolate cake and chat the night away just the two of us.

But I had no excuse. The night was completely open. And I’d told my husband about the invite. Being the (almost always) extreme extrovert he is, he of course encouraged me strongly to join you all for ladies night. And he won!

Only, I wasn’t a very eager participant. I got ready, but buttoned myself up in a turtle-necked tank top and heavy wool sweater.

And here’s the thing you don’t know, ladies…

I cried while I got ready, cried when I came downstairs to tell my husband good-bye (he, of course, reminded me I was going to have a great time!), and had tears on and off again until Jamie drove in the driveway to pick me up.

I was so tired, girls. So exhausted. So spent. So DONE.

Going out to a restaurant and bar for ladies night was the least of my concerns at that moment.

It was dark when you pulled in, Jamie, so I’m pretty sure I wiped my tears and tried to pretend they were never there. Or is my memory failing – did I let some out when I got into the car, but wiped them before we picked up the rest of the girls? I’m not sure, and that detail doesn’t matter. The point is that I didn’t want to go out, didn’t have the emotional or physical energy, and maybe should have opted for self-care in the bathtub instead of karaoke and drinks at a bar, but I knew I needed to do this for my own good.

And here’s the reason I wanted to thank you today…

I actually enjoyed myself that night. I smiled. I laughed. I had fun. Because you invited me.

We went to a nice restaurant to eat, then headed to little bar nobody would know about unless they were locals. There was a bar brawl, and a couple of you sang karaoke after the “famous” local TV anchor took his turn on stage. We chatted about our lives as women and moms, and all was good with the world.

One night out with the ladies. It was as simple as that. No obligation to do it every week or every night. Just one night out. And it made all the difference.

Little did I know, the months ahead would prove to be some of the most exhausting and challenging of my life, which makes me even more grateful looking back, realizing you provided a little relief, a little reprieve, in midst of the storm.

So thank you. Thank you for inviting me, thank you Seth for forcing me strongly encouraging me to join the ladies night out, and thank you ladies for making the evening enjoyable.

With all sincerity and gratitude for who you who you are,


*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!

Dear Eli,

I’m writing because I want you to know that you were an amazing swim instructor for my son several years ago.

When we found you, our son had already been through three rounds of swimming lessons at other facilities. NONE of them had been successful. He spent most of the time kicking, screaming, crying, and refusing to get in the water. When he finally did get in the water, he didn’t learn much of anything. It was all so embarrassing, and as a parent, I didn’t know what to do.

But you took our little boy, repelled by formal swimming instruction and unwilling to get in and try, and made him into a swimmer! There were moments where he’d still resist, especially the first several classes, but you had a way about you that made him receptive to trying. You worked your magic, and half way through class, you had him swimming like a fish! My son came to love you and was particularly excited when he’d hit the jackpot of swimming lessons, those random days where he was the only student in class and had you all to himself!

We were sad when our weekly swim lessons with you came to an end. We’d gotten to know and appreciate your style quite well over the 12-16 week period. Why would we want to give you up? You taught our son how to swim. He started off sitting on the side of the pool, hating the whole thing. By the time you were done with him, he was jumping in and swimming several feet all by himself. And even on the last day of class, he was still progressing. What more could a parent ask for?

You instructed with skill, care, and ease, and knew how to inject a just-right dose of humor to motivate my son. Your personalities meshed perfectly.

We assumed you’d continue your work as an instructor at the swim school since it was commonplace for instructors to continue from one session to the next. But we assumed wrong. When we made the request, we were told you were no longer an instructor at the school and that you’d become a personal care assistant. While I was so disappointed you had left and knew we’d never have you again for a swim instructor, I knew the child you were caring for was going to be blessed beyond measure by your assistance.

Thank you, Eli, for what you did for our son. Thank you for breaking the cycle of negativity. Thank you for building in him a confidence he never knew prior to meeting you. Thank you for understanding him, for adjusting your teaching style to meet his needs. And thanks for being you – a great guy who was, is, clearly headed for a bright future.

Sincerely and all my best to you,


*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!

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