Love Letters - 11/05
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Thu Nov 24 14:19:42 EST 2005
November 24, 2005
Learning to Write Their Love
Men in church workshops express themselves, word by painstaking word, in an
unlikely medium: the humble letter.
> With divorce rates steep even among faithful churchgoers religious leaders
> have long sought creative ways to engage men in family life.
This looks like a great idea that many of you could incorporate into your
programs. And, lives. - diane
By Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer
McKINNEY, Texas After 26 years of marriage, Charles Batson says his wife
means everything to him. He just wishes he knew how to tell her.
"We're always going in a million different directions and when we talk, it's
almost like a text message: Hey, I love you. Gotta go." That's not enough,
he said. Not for the way he feels.
So Batson enrolled in a church workshop to learn how to write a love letter.
The course has become a surprise hit in scores of churches across the nation
this fall, promoted by pastors who hope the old-fashioned letter can
strengthen the frazzled modern family.
Intent on writing not only to their wives, but also to their children and
their parents, more than 5,000 men have joined support groups to help one
another put their feelings to paper.
The groups led by men trained at an evangelical church here in suburban
Dallas are springing up in California, South Carolina, Oregon and Alaska;
in a rural parish in Little Axe, Okla., and a mega-church in Jacksonville,
Fla.; in congregations of Quakers, Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists,
Lutherans and Southern Baptists.
Participants get a list of recommended adjectives, sample letters to crib
from, even a CD with a 60-minute tutorial on "The Lost Art of Letter
Still, many say the Letters From Dad program is the toughest challenge they
have ever faced.
"This isn't something I do," said Steve Weller, 69, a retired software
His two daughters are grown, with children of their own, but Weller never
told them he loved them. Then he took on a mentoring role in his church; he
felt he should push himself to open up.
Weller started with a letter to his oldest daughter. The tone was a bit
distant, with praise for her "sensible, mature outlook" and her "focus and
But he ended with this: "You are a daughter I am very proud of. I love you,
He planned to present the letter at her 40th-birthday dinner. "The whole
time, I was wondering: Will she see it as foolish? Will she accept it? I was
After dessert, he took out his three paragraphs, neatly typed. As he read
them aloud, Maria's eyes misted; she put her hand on his knee. He reached
out and rested his hand atop hers.
"That was a great, great day," he said.
Weller described the moment to his writing support group at McKinney
Fellowship Bible Church. The love-letter movement began with congregation
member and veteran video producer Greg Vaughn, who thought the writing
workshops could be his biggest venture yet and his most rewarding mission.
Vaughn, 57, found his inspiration while doing a chore.
Cleaning out the garage one summer day three years ago, he came across a
rusted fishing tackle box belonging to his late father. He went to toss it
out, then stopped, realizing that the tangled lures inside were all he had
left of his dad.
Vaughn cursed his father for not leaving him anything more meaningful. Then
he asked himself whether he had done better. If he died right then, what
would he leave his four children and three stepchildren?
Vaughn had made a point of always telling his kids he loved them something
his own father had never been able to do. Vaughn had even written them sweet
notes from time to time; his daughter Brooke cherished a "Love You" that
he'd scrawled on the paper wrapped around a wire hanger.
But as he held the tackle box, Vaughn knew a hanger wasn't the legacy he
wanted to leave. He resolved to give his children letters expressing his
pride and his faith in them; his hopes for their future; his memories of joy
He didn't have the slightest idea how to go about it.
Vaughn is dyslexic and has always hated writing, so he scoured his address
book for friends he thought might be able to advise him. A dozen agreed not
only to help, but also to write letters of their own.
Their first efforts were ready by Christmas 2002.
Dana Hansen was 15 that year and sure she had disappointed her father
forever by quitting basketball to take up cheerleading.
Under the tree, she found a mahogany box and inside, a letter from her
dad, Dirk Hansen, one of Vaughn's friends.
He wrote that he was proud of her for making her own choices. He told her he
loved her even when he couldn't understand her.
"I didn't always know he felt that way," said Dana, now a freshman at Texas
Tech University. Her dad has continued to write her, and she saves every
"He's more expressive in letters than he is in everyday," she said.
Carol Regehr, 50, received a letter that December from her husband, Clint.
"My husband is a math guy, analytically oriented, not all that touchy-feely.
So for him to have articulated the cherishing, the love, the depth, the
commitment all those words really touched me," she said.
Such comments spread quickly through church barbecues and PTA meetings, and
soon Vaughn was besieged with requests to teach more men to write.
A producer of Christian videos on topics such as parenting, marriage and
morality, Vaughn felt sure he could sell the Letters From Dad concept to
many of the 85,000 churches on his mailing list. So he set about developing
a curriculum that he could license to pastors. He launched it this summer
with the publication of his book, "Letters From Dad."
In five months, Letters From Dad has become the primary focus of Vaughn's
20-employee business, Grace Products Corp.
At least 80 pastors have come here to take Vaughn's $595 workshop. Next
month, dozens more will listen in on training he plans to broadcast over the
Once pastors take Vaughn's course, they're free to offer the program in
their home churches. Each of the pastors' students pays Grace Products $95
in tuition, which buys him Vaughn's book, the writing tutorial, a packet of
linen stationery and a leather binder for storing his drafts.
In four monthly sessions, the men watch motivational videos and discuss good
writing, then break into small groups to share their work.
"The pain these last few months has been excruciating," Jim Pitcher told his
group at the McKinney church.
He stared at a scribbled-over page that was supposed to be a love letter to
his wife. "We've been struggling in our relationship," he said.
He and his wife were fighting so often, he had trouble sleeping. Pitcher,
47, said he resented her efforts to make him "a better man" but he also knew
she was right.
"If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing," he said.
"Now, that's the way to begin a letter!" Evan Miller, 45, told him. "That's
the opening line."
Pitcher's early efforts had been far less personal: "As a mom, you are
selfless. You listen and care. "
"Give your wife your heart," Miller suggested. "Show how you want it to be
better. If you can picture a good future with her, maybe that's a way to get
past this pain."
Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox calls Letters From Dad an effort to
"domesticate men in the pews."
He's not surprised it took off.
With divorce rates steep even among faithful churchgoers religious
leaders have long sought creative ways to engage men in family life.
The Christian movement Promise Keepers holds boisterous sports-stadium
rallies to urge men to be more attentive husbands and fathers. Many
congregations assign men "accountability partners" to keep them on track in
love and life.
Men's ministries at churches large and small offer regular seminars or at
least inspirational videos on connecting with loved ones. "They realize
that men are often the weakest links in families," said Wilcox, who studies
such programs at the University of Virginia.
The activities that draw the most men, however, tend to be the ones that
demand the least emotional commitment.
There's always a good turnout for bowling night. "But when you get down to
the soul stuff, men kind of sneak out on you," said Dave Fortuna, 55, a
pastor in Shreveport, La.
Letters From Dad seems to be different. The course draws men of all
backgrounds: carpenters, lawyers, oil-field workers, chefs, newlyweds and
grandfathers, executives in business suits and guys in "Fear Factor"
T-shirts. Vaughn says he's on pace to expand the program to 1,000 churches
in the next 12 months.
In the meantime, he's still leading workshops at his home church in
A session last month was supposed to focus on writing to elderly parents.
But most of the men were still stuck on the previous assignment: the love
letter to their wives. "I've wore out more than a few legal pads on this,"
Charles Batson said. "I gotta tell you, I was going to quit tonight."
He pulled out a single typed page. "It doesn't communicate what she really
means to me," he said, blinking away tears. "I'll let you guys read this. I
Slowly, Steve Weller read the letter aloud.
Batson, a 48-year-old salesman, had praised his wife's wisdom, kindness and
grace. He closed with a quote from King Solomon: "Many daughters have done
nobly, but you excel them all."
As he finished reading, Weller put his hand on Batson's. "You take this home
and you read it to her tonight, as is," he said. "This will mean more to her
than you ever could imagine."
Batson slid the letter into his binder, unconvinced. His words seemed so
Vaughn hears that a lot. His response: Relax.
"Just say two things: I love you and I'm proud of you," he advises. "There's
no way you can botch it."
Letters From Dad excerpts
These are some of the sample letters men in the program receive; they're
encouraged to take them as models. They were written by some of the earliest
participants in Letters From Dad.
My Precious Mary,
On April 28th, 1972, in a small church auditorium in Crescent City,
California, my life began. I was already 16 years old, but I hadn't begun to
LIVE until that Friday evening when I first met you.
I know no other way to express to you my deepest love than to try and live
it each day through my words, my actions and my prayers for you. Even though
there have been too many times when I haven't shown you my best still,
there you are always loving and forgiving me with open arms.
I pray you find the joy in me as I do in you. For you are everything and
everything is you.
Loving you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.
My Dearest Carol,
Did I ever tell you that I am the most blessed man on earth? God has given
me the most precious wife of all time.
Not only are you my best friend, lover and companion, but an incredible
mother to our children. It's amazing how often you have made me look good in
front of our kids. Thank you. I have no idea of how they would have turned
out without your never-ending love and devotion to them.
You are truly an amazing woman that I clearly do not deserve. I never want
to take our incredible gift of love from God for each other for granted.
Therefore, this letter is the first of many that you will be receiving from
me to share my love for you. I pray that these letters will be a blessing to
As I write this letter you are a senior at Texas Tech and I'm sure that you
must now be sick of Lubbock and dreadfully tired of delivering flowers and
pizzas. As you look to the future, I know that you will continue giving life
Always remember that we, your family, will always be there for you,
applauding the great things God will accomplish through your life.
This Christmas I wanted to give you something more than the "stuff" that
usually rests under our Christmas tree. I decided to give you something I
always wanted but never really got from my father A BLESSING.
The first thing I want to tell you is how very much I love you and how
deeply I treasure our relationship. Now, as I see you growing up to be such
a man of character, I find my joy even greater. I often find myself telling
others what a wonderful person you have become and how the world is a rich
place because you are in it. Oh how very proud I am to be called your
So my Christmas gift to you this year is these genuine words from my heart.
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