A few years ago, as I was preparing for my senior chapel service (a capstone in seminary), I couldn’t stop thinking about the different people who had formed and shaped me. People that I was in constant contact with, people I hadn’t talked to in years, people everywhere in between. Friends. Family members. Healthcare professionals. Professors. Mentors. Over the years I had spent time thinking about them with loving-kindness in my heart, but I thought more about how words of affirmation can be life-giving and connection-strengthening, and I decided to put these thoughts into action. I went to every Marshalls store in the area and bought packs and packs and packs of thank you cards, different ones to match different personalities, and I got to business.

Letting them know the positive and deeply important impacts they’d had on me turned into a spiritual practice of connecting with others and myself. While I was writing these cards with different shapes and designs and stamps that reflected the recipient, there was nothing else on my mind other than the memories and gratitude pouring out in words from my pen. I knew I would be providing joy to them, and it was giving me joy in return twice: in the moment of writing the cards and reading their messages if they reached out to me afterward. And I was surprised at how many people there were to thank as I kept writing. I wrote more than 50 cards. I became more aware of just how much love there is in my life and how much love there had been throughout the span of it, even in seasons when I felt alone. The process of writing these cards was one of my favorite parts of my senior chapel service, and multiple people came from far away because I had taken the time to let them know their importance in my life. My heart was – and is – forever changed because of that.

It’s a habit that’s stuck to me since. And it’s one of the acts of revolutionary love I practice, part of my resistance in a world that can be harsh, isolated, and lonely, part of how I get through hard times and remind myself of who I am at my core. Aware of the goodness that is in the world. Awake to the joys that can abound. Alive.

This past year, I’ve been in a difficult job that slowly chipped away at me. I’ve noticed my naturally optimistic attitude turn bitter and even apathetic if I wasn’t careful. I’ve watched my mental health go downhill more precipitously as the months went by. I finally left a few weeks ago, and one of the ways I began the fight to come back to myself again was to take out my cards and pens. As part of processing my unexpected and necessary departure, as a form of self-care, as a form of others-care, as a form of closure, as a form of resistance to what had hurt and harmed me the most, I wrote thank you cards again. And for that, I am thankful. It’s a sign of my slow and steady return, a reminder that I know how to find myself again, a joy that gives multiple times to multiple people, part of who I am.

Who do you want to pick up a pen for?

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a hospital chaplain in New York; a Reverend in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.

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