Loaves and Love

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We paid off the new church.

We got a new pastor.

The newly paid off church almost burned up in a wildfire.

The new pastor had to be threatened to put down the garden hose and leave the church in the face of the wildfire.

For your personal edification, I asked my dad (He Who Used To Work For A Bishop) if there was any official protocol for evacuating a church in the event of a wildfire.

“Take Jesus and go.”

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Father Freddy is from Columbia and he has his English in such a way that he knows the words, but he sometimes says them in the order of the Spanish in his head. This is not the way we speak them. It is so much better.

Today the reading was about the loaves and the fishes, which is propitious because next week is VBS and it’s all about encountering Jesus and one of the focus stories is loaves and fishes. So when Father got up to preach, I snuggled down into the pew to listen.

It was beautiful. He talked about how the little boy in the scripture brought what he had, which was not much. He gave it willingly though and Jesus took it, blessed him and made it BIG. Five thousand people big—well, scripture says men, so if they had wives and kids with them, it was even bigger than that.

Jesus fed them all til they were full.

Father said if we could just be like that little boy, and bring our love to Jesus, he will make it big. Even if we don’t know how our little love could be enough. Jesus knows.

I was super on board with this. Yes. YES. Father is using metaphor. The loaves and fishes are a metaphor for the love we have for others. And if we bring that love to Jesus, he will bless us and make it BIG. Awesome. I am SO using that at VBS.

And then, a little voice inside my head wondered if maybe Father should have explained the metaphor better because you know, not everyone is a used-to-be English teacher.

I started thinking how I would make that connection for the kids at VBS, maybe a giant math equation with a loaf and a fish and an equal sign to a heart…

And then it hit me. He’s not saying love. The whole time, he’s not saying love.

He’s saying LOAF.

The English teaching in me went down screaming, because she doesn’t like to be wrong. The rest of me laughed all the way to Communion.

I mean, it still works. Bring your loaf, which by your very willingness to bring it, shows your love. Jesus will multiply it and use it to feed others. But for reals—the story has stood the test of time. It doesn’t need improvement.

Just better listening skills.

Welcome, Father Freddy. I promise to try harder.

 

 

 

 

The Luxury of Hesitating

I have noticed that white women do this thing when they hear something that shocks them.

They go silent.

I know—because as a white woman, I have done it—that the silence reflects a thought process along the lines of Did that just happen? Did it mean what I think it means? Did everyone else hear the same thing? Is anyone going to say anything?

And then Should I say something? What will happen if I say something? Will others support me? What if they don’t?

And finally Maybe I’ll just let this one go. I’ll remember what was said and who said it, but no use calling it out now.

In a word, we hesitate. And the chance to set a new boundary of what is right and decent passes us by.

Here is what we need to understand about our hesitation. Really, really understand it so that we can find a way to change it: Our hesitation is a luxury.

After all, we do not fear when we send our young men out into the night. We do not fear that anyone will rip a nursing baby from our arms. We do not worry that our children are treated differently at school because of the color of their skin.

We know these things happen. But they happen to other people.

So we tolerate the bigots on our social media. We don’t report them or unfriend them because we don’t want to anger them.

We stay quiet when our friend’s husband or our first cousin makes an inappropriate joke. We don’t want to rock the boat.

We tell circumspect stories of racism and bigotry without naming names, which serves no one but the racist.

We indulge our privilege. We hesitate.

I understand the challenge of what I am saying. I have fought for my voice my whole adult life, against those would have me be quiet. I had to unlearn my hesitation and then I had to learn to speak the right thing—the truth and not my anger, fear or shame. I still don’t always get it right. I particularly struggle with the bigots in my faith community, since I want church to be a refuge. I hesitate.

But it’s time to face the challenge. We can’t afford this luxury anymore, and our sisters of color could never afford it. We either speak up for what is right, or we are part of the problem.

 

 

 

 

 

Intimidation

A couple of weeks ago, Serena Williams pulled out of the 2018 French Open due to a pectoral injury.  She dropped out before meeting Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.  In 21 their meetings, Wiliams has beaten Sharapova 19 times. Nineteen.  One-Nine. Her overall record is 19-2.

Before Serena pulled out, however, she was interviewed by Bill Simons from Inside Tennis.  Aside from dismissing her time with her daughter, telling her to “work with [him]”, and calling her “baby”, Simons asked, perhaps the most ludicrous, insulting, and outright clueless question that anyone has asked a female athlete in the history of the world:

“After the 2004 Wimbledon match with Maria, I had the opportunity to interview Donald Trump on his L.A. golf course, and he said that Maria’s shoulders were incredibly alluring and then he came up with his incredible analysis: that you were intimidated by her supermodel good looks. My question is: Have you ever been intimidated by anyone on a tennis court, and what are your thoughts about that occurrence?”

#1 – Really? Are we now taking tennis analysis from Donald Trump, the man who openly admits to grabbing women by the p*ssy? And you waited 14 years to ask Serena that?

#2 – So, I’ve been an athlete since 1986.  Actually, I was playing sports before then, but I was first on an organized team in 1986.  I went through playing sports in high school, at a Division 1 college, on the national stage at the Final Four, and then internationally as a professional.  I’m even going to an open gym today.  And I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that an opponent’s good looks have never intimidated me on the court.  Not once.  Not when I was 11, not when I was 21.  And not even today when I’m 42 and playing after 2 c-sections and a hernia.  In fact, I never even thought about equating good looks with athletic ability until this interview question.

#3 – You want to know the one other woman that I can ever remember being openly intimidated by on the court?  I was playing for University of Virginia in 1993 and we were awful.  I mean, like we-only-won-2-conference-matches-that-year awful. I went to college early so I was only 17 and in early October that year, we played against George Washington University… and Svetlana.  She was this foreign player from Russia. Obviously.  And at that point, she was the biggest woman I had ever seen on the court.  She had to be 6’4” and must have weighed over 200 lbs.  When she called for the ball, she had this crazy Russian accent.  And she hit the ball like she was using the hammer from the Russian flag itself. Think Ivan Drago in female volleyball player form.  And when I was in the back row, she was in the front row, and our blockers were probably about 5’6”.  When she went up to hit the ball, I prayed for my life.  Yep.  Svetlana intimidated me.  And as chance would have it, Jen played against her, too.  It’s one of those funny, small world things that happens between soul sisters.  And Jen remembers her by name too.  Svetlana looked at Jen through the net one time and said, “I block you,” in that same Ivan Drago voice. Intimidating.

#4 – One more thing… Jen and I (and all of our teammates since the beginning of time) would probably actually like to play against some pretty girls.  And we hope they have little pretty names. And we will destroy them.  I know this because when I was thinking about names for my second daughter, I really wanted to name her Cosette.  I thought Jen would be all in because we both love Les Miserables.  Seems legit, right?  But I still remember Jen telling me, “Do you know what I would do to a girl across the net who was named Cosette?  I’d block the hell out of her and tell her to go back to her Castle on a Cloud!”  Ouch.  Truer words were never spoken.

So Mr. Simons, and all of The Media, please stop with this kind of ridiculousness.  Stop pitting women against one another based on looks, because we really don’t think about that kind of stuff on a daily basis.   We women are just out here being the best mamas, teachers, athletes, grandmas, real estate agents, oh, and PEOPLE, that we can be.  With or without our lipstick.

 

Biblical Sisterhood

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Two weeks ago I served on a retreat team, and made a presentation. I’m sharing it here in edited form. 

The story of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible is the source of that beautiful church song “Wherever you go, I will go”. It’s popular at weddings, but the deep truth of that Scripture is about sisterhood:

Once upon a time there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi;

 Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now Naomi was left without either her young men or her husband.

One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home;

Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go home and live with your mothers. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!”

They cried. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye.

But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”

I don’t know why bonds of friendship are different for women than men. I just know that they are. We have been uniquely gifted with a natural sense of connection and nurturing. We are intuitive, empathetic, and seasonal. Cooperative learners and consensus builders.

This is not to say that we are limited to positions in life that are only related to these gifts.  We can do anything to which we set our minds.

But it is to say, that when we are doing anything to which we set our minds, we bring these gifts with us.

The Bible is full of women who show us that these gifts are truly God-given. Like Ruth, who stayed with Naomi and became a great-grandparent of King David. Queen Esther, who stood up for her Jewish people during the Babylonian exile and saved them. The Blessed Mother, who said yes. Martha and Mary, true sisters who showed us there is not one right way to follow the Christ. Mary Magdalene who humbled herself to follow Jesus, and followed Him even unto his death on the cross.

And on Good Friday, when the men fled—all except John—the gospels tell us the women were there, huddled together in their sorrow, at the foot of the cross.

This says to me that sisterhood—true, deep and meaningful community among women—is biblical and essential.

And yet, we make sisterhood hard. We let the secular world drive us apart. All of us carry wounds from sisterhood gone wrong. Mean girls in school or at work. Unkind grandmothers, mothers, sisters. Friends who have betrayed us. And friends we have betrayed. Even in the churches, women have been responsible for destroying communities with gossip, petty arguments and power struggles.

In our throw away world where everything and everyone is expendable, we are losing our generational sisterhood. The voices most dominant in female culture are young, and our crones—the true meaning of this word speaks of wisdom and respect—our crones are left with no one to hear them.

And now this age of instant social media brings the constant pressure of comparison which, as the saying goes, truly steals our joy. It sows the seeds of dishonesty, confusion and distrust and then we reap the harvest in higher levels of fear, anxiety and depression.

I know there is a better way. Sisterhood in my life has evolved as I have aged, but the foundation rocks—God, family, team—have always been the same.

My first sisterhood started in the whirlwind of my 20s. I had a job and an apartment in a beach town in So Cal within walking distance of shops, bar and restaurants. My sisterhood was a group of semi-Catholic, rowdy, ride or die, Happy Hour, Sunday Bender, boyfriend problem solving, dancing queens.

We were not living our best lives.

But we have some crazy stories to tell.

These women are still the closest friends in my life. Partly because there are 25 years of friendship between us. And partly because we all grew into an adulthood together. They know me at my best and my worst. It is impossible to lie to them, and we have gained the right to speak truth at each other in love and support. Our relationships are sacred and timeless. And even though we are now, in our second seasons of life, spread from Hawaii to Eastern Canada, the connections are strong and intuitive.

I call them my Committee, and when my husband married me, he knew they were part of the package. Sometimes I talk to them before I talk to him, which he doesn’t mind because it saves him from all the female processing.

After our marriage, Shea and I moved 70 miles away from LA and made some new friends. This time they are marriage-making, baby-having, toddler chasing, no sleep getting, queens of their castles. We are guided in our wifehood and motherhood by Proverbs 31: 28-29

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and laughs at the days to come.[m]
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom;
kindly instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over[n] the affairs of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband, too, praises her:.

I call them my Women Who Come Running When—in the middle of the night so I could take a child to the ER, on a Friday afternoon when it was either me or the kids but someone was going to die, on birthdays and moms nights out, for a cup of sugar or two eggs to make pancakes–for dinner—we share the struggle of being wives and mothers with young children. They are also Catholic and we all attended the same parish. Many the times we spent our Saturdays together in fellowship and celebration and met again in the pews Sunday mornings.

These women—the Committee and the Women Who Come Running When—are the reason I survived my cancer in 2010.

Cancer, as anyone whose had it knows, is both terrifying and clarifying. Shea and I grappled with trying to keep life as normal as possible in the beginning, but were forced to finally strip away all the excess and admit: there was a great big ol’ pile of cancer crap in our lives and we were sitting in it.

In my experience, there’s only one way to handle cancer: honestly. But not everyone is prepared for that. At times, we felt like emotional roadkill. The trainwreck where no one could look away. I can tell you what happens to the eyebrows of a person when they are already imagining the tragedy of your funeral. I called them Emotional Jackals, feeding off our tragedy.

Which by the way, was not a tragedy. My cancer was in my thyroid, and it had a very clear path of treatment, and 95% survival rate, and I have been cancer free for 8 years now.

But the jackals don’t care. They want to watch the struggle. They want to pick up bits and pieces they can report back to their gossipy prayer circles. Let us pray for the mother dying young

Some of the women who I had considered friends became emotional jackals during my illness. They were very frustrated by the fact that there was no outward sign of my illness. I did not lose my hair or my appetite. I wasn’t tired.  They didn’t like that I was still working, still going to the gym, still cheering on my kids at practices and games.

They would ask how I was, but only as an opportunity to immediately turn the conversation to themselves and talk about their aunt who died from cancer in her 30s.

One day I showed up to a meeting feeling great. My surgery was finally scheduled, my hair was newly colored, and I felt hopeful. Right away, one of these women met me at my seat. “Oh my gosh, you look so tired!” she said—which is code for “you look awful”—“let me get you something to drink.”

I remember deflating like a balloon. But then, I got angry. I did not look tired. I looked great. I felt great. I don’t think she meant to be malicious. But I know for sure that her actions in that moment served her more than they served me.

That was the day I circled the wagons. I realized that a lot of my energy was being spent on making others feel better about my cancer, to the point that I stopped telling people I was sick.

This is not sisterhood.

Sisters show up. They witness. They listen. They do not fix, or save, or change. But when you sit a group of them down at your dinner table and say you want to go radio silent on your cancer so that people will leave you alone, they might growl and ask you to name names.

Shea and I always wanted three kids. I discovered my tumor in January of 2010. If there had never been a tumor, we would have started trying for a third baby that summer. Instead, we got a tumor.

Standard treatment for my type of cancer was dictated by size and spread. My tumor was encapsulated, which means it had not spread beyond the thyroid, and not even the whole tumor was cancerous. So the doctors said that the safest course of action would be a total removal of my thyroid and one round of radiation.

Removing my thyroid meant taking a daily dose of synthetic hormone for the rest of my life. It is very difficult to moderate this hormone and can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. In addition, one round of radiation meant I would have to wait a year before I could consider having a baby.

On the day I heard this news, I was 38 years old. I would be 39 before I could start trying to have another baby and 40 when I delivered. If all went well.

Or. I could have the thyroid removed, have and nurse the third baby, and then have the radiation.  I would be waiting 18 months to 2 years to have the cancer killing radiation treatment and in the meantime, my body would be full of HcG, a pregnancy hormone that grows all cells, not just baby cells. I could be growing a baby and a new tumor all at once.

This was a hard decision for me. I struggled with the idea that I was sick, since I didn’t feel sick. I was reluctant to let go of my own plan for my life, because I’m human. And I was uncomfortable being the center of everyone’s attention. Part of me felt that choosing to have the baby first was self-sacrificing and noble. And part of me was trying to wrest some control over my life back from the cancer.

I needed to explore the options. That was my process. I needed to speak out loud that I may not have my third baby. I needed to speak out loud that having the third baby could make my cancer worse. I needed to hang on the cross of my life in that moment and grapple with the unfairness of it all.

You guys, in hindsight, I know this was a silly wringer I put myself through. The answer was clear and since I am here and I already told you that we have 3 kids, we picked the obvious answer.

I had the surgery, the radiation and the baby at 40. God is good.

That is not the point of my story. The point is that when I brought this silly conundrum to the sisterhood in my life, not one of them asked what the heck was wrong with me. They didn’t tell me to fight the cancer, how they wanted me to live, how they couldn’t live without me. They didn’t cry, judge, get angry.

The sisterhood gathered at the foot of my cross. They promised to stay in the lives of my children if I died. They promised to show a picture to my 2 year old every day so she wouldn’t forget my face.  Most importantly, they let me talk about the fact that I might die. They didn’t let me dwell there, but they understood that I needed to consider these things, and that I needed them to bear witness to the considering.

I made them all promise that if I got really sick, was dying and decided I was done fighting, they would respect that decision and help me plan the most amazing funeral in the history of funerals. They promised.

Although my cousin Lesley, who is my person in this world, later made me promise back to never do that to her again.

They got on their knees for me. They prayed for God to keep His promise from Isaiah 45:2-3:

I will go before you and level the mountains; Bronze doors I will shatter, iron bars I will snap. I will give you treasures of darkness, riches hidden away, That you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.

Like the women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, they weren’t completely sure what was going to happen next. But they had faith that what Jesus had promised—a resurrection, earthly or heavenly—was possible.

Do I know now how hard it was for them to hold my pain? I do, because since my illness, one of my sisters lost her dad to cancer; another, her mom to dementia. One had her only child diagnosed with autism. One lost her marriage to a man wracked with untreated mental illness. Two suffered postpartum mental illness requiring intervention.

In each moment, I have witnessed at the foot of their crosses, gotten on my knees for them and held their pain, with the same strong faith that resurrection was coming.

That is sisterhood. That is what we do. As faithful sisters we believe what Paul told the Romans in chapter 8:28:  “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,[f] who are called according to his purpose.”

Or, as Glennon Melton Doyle Wambach says: “First the dying. Then the rising.”

I wish I could tell you that my sisterhood is eternal and unchanged. But of course, it is not. We are human, and we sin and we fail. Our lives change. Some of the women who stood by me during my illness are no longer part of my sisterhood. That is ok. Sisterhood should be easy. When it gets hard and honest conversations can’t fix that, it’s ok to let relationships go. Everything in its time and place.

And the goal of biblical sisterhood is not perfection. In fact, it is an acknowledgement that we cannot walk alone, that we need those around us who share our Christian values of faith, hope and love.

In writing this presentation and realizing how soundly this type of relationship is rooted in scripture, I’ve started to reflect on all the ways the secular world puts us in competition with each other and threatens the power and sacredness of sisterhood. As active, vibrant women of faith, we are uniquely situated to change this, in ways big and small.

Not as the values police. More by our actions than our words. Starting with reflecting on who and where and how we spend our time with other women and the ways that could or should change.

In closing, I will say this:

I believe we can do hard things, for ourselves and each other, clothed in our strength and dignity, gifts uniquely given to us by God.

I believe that when God tells us He is with us ALWAYS and in ALL WAYS, that often looks like the dear friend holding your hand.

I know we can refuse to live in fear, jealousy or judgment because we are each in control of our own joy.

And I believe with every hopeful, faithful and loving fiber of my soul that together we can bring peace and joy to our families, our friendships, our parishes and our nation.

 

Advice for the Bride

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Last weekend we had a bridal shower for Teresa and I had this brainstorm that as we ate, all the wives could give her advice based on the length of their marriage. I called it Sage by Age.

We probably had 20 married women at the tables. Their advice was amazing and honest and funny.

The first wife was Rachel (5 years) and her advice was to argue naked and never go to bed angry.

The middle wife was Teresa’s mom Lorri (26 years) who said she does go to bed angry but maybe she’d try the naked thing and see if that helped.

The last was my mom, married 50 years in August.

I filmed her. I should have started earlier, but the whole thing was off the cuff and then it was so good that I was listening and learning and it didn’t occur to me to film until it was my mom’s turn.

But I got my mom and it was worth it for that alone.

Share with the brides and wives in your life!

Question of the Day

This post is thanks to the nasty comments on an article about a priest somewhere in this nation who excoriated the local Catholic schools on his Facebook page for allowing a gay couple to serve on the annual fundraising dinner committee.

You can imagine the rhetoric and vitriol that followed.

I was just about to leave the comments when I noticed that this one guy was being such an ass. I felt called by the Spirit to tell him to lay off.

His answer was that he was RIGHT. We’ll call him RIGHT Guy.

I have been known to have the RIGHT disease. As I’ve aged and decided I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life, I’ve come to understand that it’s better to be right and humble, right-ish and/or right with a side dish of not really sure.

Because the minute anyone seems to think they are the only one with the RIGHT answers, things start to go poorly.

The Pharisees are an excellent of example of this. Jesus told the Apostles they must be careful of the Pharisees: “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:3-4). And indeed, the Pharisees were so busy being RIGHT that they crucified the Christ.

Whoops a daisy.

RIGHT Guy was so comfortable in his RIGHTness that he was running all around the comment section calling people idiots and damning them to Hell. Not to say there weren’t other RIGHT folks firing back. There was a lot of cherry-picked Scripture.

RIGHT Guy kept insisting that it was our job as faithful Christians to point out sin and keep pointing it out until the sinners finally realize how RIGHT we are and give us an award for being RIGHT everyone was worthy of their salvation. He called himself a defender of the faith.

It’s interesting that he thinks banging others on the head with his RIGHTness is defending the faith of Jesus, but maybe he’s reached a place in his faith I haven’t gotten to yet. Benefit of the doubt.

That’s still only half the job Jesus gave us. Love him faithfully and obediently.

But also—as in both/and, not either/or—love others by bringing them to him.

So I asked RIGHT Guy what he’d done that day to bring others to Jesus.

He exited the conversation.

I felt triumphant for a second because I’m human, y’all. Then my Catholic guilt kicked in and I asked myself the same question.

What have a I done today to bring others to Jesus?

That’s a good question, isn’t it?

All the Devils are Here

The idea of Satan used to be unpalatable to me.

He felt mythological, fairy tale-ish. A way to scare children.

But that was when I wasn’t such a good listener.

Since I have tried to let God be the Alpha Dog in my life, the existence of dynamic evil is something I can’t ignore. At the risk of sounding all Jonathan Edwards, I need to share this story.

I have a colleague who has been a successful realtor for 16 years. The last few months have been dry, which is normal for the market—buyers and sellers tend to hibernate for the winter—but in a smaller town with 1200 agents, those months can be long and dark and start to feel like there will never be customers again.

Like any good veteran agent, in the meantime, she has taken advantage of the classes our brokerage offers on marketing and social media and farming and what not. She could probably teach the classes, but she knows that there is always something new to learn.

So she picked a farming strategy for her favorite neighborhood and sent a letter out, introducing herself and talking about the market. Her letter was light and kind and full of experience, because that’s the kind of agent she is.

She sent out 500 letters.

This week she got one back.

It came from a man named Clint in Nevada. By his perfect cursive, I will guess he is in his 70s or 80s and at some point in his elementary years, was taught by the good sisters at a Catholic school.

I can tell you though, the only thing he learned from those sisters was handwriting.

Clint took it upon himself to copy her letter, correct it like he knew what he was talking about, and send it back to her with this charming note at the bottom:

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It crushed her.

“I have great faith”, she told me in tears, “and I have prayed and prayed and asked God if this is what I should be doing and promised to follow His plan. Every time I think I’m going to do something else, I feel that I should stick with it. And then this happens. What kind of a person does this?”

The fact that her letter fell into the hands of a nasty old man in Nevada who was so bent on hurting someone that he copied the letter, corrected it and mailed it back to her in Oregon says that this is more than coincidence.

For one hard, tear-filled hour this morning, she was filled with doubt and hurt. Those feelings tried to teach her a lesson about the world, that people are mean and selfish, and she should pack it up and go home because the world is a nasty place. That also is not coincidence. That is what Clint meant her to feel.

Satan works in big ways, like despots and starving babies and chemical weapons.

But he also works all the time to steal the joy, faith and love right out of our hearts, and he uses people like Clint to do it.

Luckily, there is a large contingent of faithful women at our brokerage and one by one, after hearing the story, we said the same thing to her: “That letter is Satan trying to derail you. Don’t let him.”

She didn’t.

She made the changes to her letter that Clint suggested.

Then she copied that sucker and sent out 100 more letters.