On Your Big Day

Mara, you are going into surgery today. Your mother told me that this might be one of the last things you read on your phone before you visit the operating room.

So before I write anything else, I want to say something important. Even though this is an overused phrase, and you’ll probably think I’m just throwing it around, I’m not. I actually mean this: God be with you.

In the letter, your mother told me how terrified you’ve been after you got your diagnosis. What if something goes wrong with treatment? What if you don’t wake up from surgery? You’re worried about these things.

So I wanted to write and tell you that, even though I am a novice at life myself, I know one thing: it’s all right to be scared.

This life scares everyone. Big and small. Old and young. The brave and the weak. It especially scares me.

This is a poor example, but I remember when I was about to start second grade. I was very scared. We had this teacher who seemed like the world’s most cantankerous, hateful, mean old biddy.

I tried very hard not to be afraid when it was time to go into her class. But the more I tried not to be afraid, the more I dreaded second grade.

Sometimes I would lie awake staring at the ceiling in a panic, thinking about how I would be subjected to the wiles of this madwoman.

She was a short lady, with silver hair, cat-eye glasses, and she barked at students like they were members of a military regiment. Whenever I passed her in the hall she would lock eyes with me, curl her lips, and I would swear I heard a low growl.

The morning before the first day of school I tried faking a terminal illness. When that didn’t work, I finally decided that I would run away. Yes. That’s what I’d do. I would join some traveling outfit. Maybe a sideshow. Maybe sing high tenor in a traveling gospel quartet.

I was sick over this second grade business. I begged my mother not to make me go. But my mother told me to be brave, so I tried.

On the way to school that morning I almost puked. My gut ached. And when my mother dropped me at the curb, I joined the other second-graders who were all milling around like lambs gathered before a slaughterhouse.

We walked the hallway alongside each other as though we’d been condemned to the gallows. Some kids were trembling, a few were sniffling, Billy Terry had already changed his pants twice.

We found our seats in the sterile classroom. We waited for ten minutes until the teacher arrived. My insides had turned to acid.

And here’s what happened:

The classroom door opened. The second grade teacher arrived. To our collective shock, she stood before the chalkboard dressed in a funny costume.

One student began to laugh. Then laughter trickled to the rest of the class.

Yes! That’s right! She wore a costume with a wig and everything! It was hysterical!

She told us she was dressed up as the World’s Meanest Teacher. We had no idea what to think. Was she being serious? Was this legit? Yes! It was! And as it turned out she was a pretty fun old gal.

All those years I thought she was horrible, and here she was the nicest lady you ever met. Granted, she wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but somehow we grew to love her more than all the other sweetie-sweet teachers in the world.

It would become my favorite school year. And to think, I almost joined the circus.

But then I have a long history of being afraid of things, Mara. In fact it embarrasses me to tell you how afraid I’ve been in my life. I’ve wasted years being my own prisoner. I shrank away from life when I should have bear-hugged it. But never mind about me. This is about you.

Here’s something I know: I can promise that today, when this operation is over and you begin to deal with your diagnosis, and all that it means in the months ahead, you will become an even more beautiful child than you are now.

Something inside you is already blooming. Like a pasture of goldenrod in the afternoon sun. The old you will be gone forever, and a new you will be here. A wonderful you.

Does this mean life will always be great? No. Life hurts badly. It’s turbulent and unruly and it stings. It’s unfair, and unjust, and indifferent. But it is also bold, and gentle, and pretty, and so very gracious. And you will know this better than most.

No matter what happens, I promise that you will not look back on these hard years with horror. Even if the bad memories sometimes outweigh the good ones. You will remember instead the sun-filled moments. You will recall all that is vivid, wonderful, and only that which is joyous.

Long from now, when your earthly work here is done, and your hair is gray, if someone were to ask if you’d ever consider going back in time and doing life all over again, even though the experience hurt like fire, you will find yourself saying yes. Yes. You would do it again. Of course you would. And on that bright day you will laugh at yourself and wonder why in heaven you were ever so afraid when, all along, God himself was right beside you.

And still is.

And always will be.


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - November 14, 2020 7:32 am

    You are such a mensch. Thanks for all you are and do for others.

  2. Barbara - November 14, 2020 11:14 am

    We all would do well to remember this. Faith over fear. God is near. Call upon his name in the time of trouble. Prayers for you, Mara.

  3. Linnea Miles - November 14, 2020 11:31 am

    Oh, you sweet, brave Mara! My heart is with you today, and my tears with Sean for his amazing story and comfort to you.

  4. Marilyn - November 14, 2020 11:44 am

    Thank you for the powerful reminder that God is always with us, wherever we are! Prayers for you Mara.

  5. Margaret E Odell - November 14, 2020 12:07 pm

    Amen and God be with you too!

  6. Ann - November 14, 2020 12:31 pm

    Amen!🙏🏻And God bless you and your gift!

  7. Pat Nichols - November 14, 2020 1:16 pm

    And Mara, you don’t know this yet, but after all this is behind you, you are going to be surprised at all the friends who need friends God will send your way. You are so special to Him, and now thanks to Sean, all of us who read his column daily. Stopping to talk to my Father to talk about you right now.

  8. Sheila B Ahler - November 14, 2020 1:40 pm

    Thank dear friend is Sunday’s sermon!

  9. Denise Pizarro - November 14, 2020 1:50 pm

    Beautiful words of encouragement from one human to another. Prayers for the heart of a lion in the breast of a dove

  10. Jill - November 14, 2020 1:57 pm

    Sean Dietrich, “You beat everything…you know that.”

  11. Jo Ann - November 14, 2020 1:58 pm

    Mara, you have a lot of people praying for you & your family. I hope you can feel the warm feelings being sent your way. Blessings to you, Mara, & all who have lifted you up in prayer today & always.

  12. Valerie - November 14, 2020 1:58 pm

    How wonderful this is and you are! Perfect timing, too, as I have a friend, Debbie, who has a stage 4 cancer and is dreading her future….

    Thank you.

    Oh poo, also it’s a regiment, not regimen

  13. Jeri Bishop - November 14, 2020 2:06 pm

    One of my favorite Methodist hymns is God Be With You Until We Meet Again. God be with you Mara today and always. Praying your surgery goes well.. Thank you, Sean for your daily reminders of kindness and hope. Bless you and your sweet wife, Jamie.

  14. Sharon Lawson - November 14, 2020 2:08 pm

    Oh Sean. Thank you for the ending. I am going through my own struggles. Your closing confirms for me that God is always by our side regardless of what we’re going through. Thank so much.

  15. Jane - November 14, 2020 2:18 pm


  16. Carolyn Waldron - November 14, 2020 2:20 pm

    Wonderful post, Sean! As usual! Thank you!

  17. Shelton A. - November 14, 2020 2:40 pm

    We’re never really alone. God is always with us and that is a comfort. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Jan - November 14, 2020 3:29 pm

    Awesome! God bless you and keep you, Mara! And you too, Sean!

  19. Bill in Tennessee - November 14, 2020 3:33 pm

    Lovely entry, as usual, Sean. So many years ago, while looking into matters of life, life after death, and the eternal nature of all mankind, I came across a saying, “Every human life is an act of courage.”

    I thought I knew what that meant at the time, but later I developed an even deeper understanding of it. To me it means that long before we were ever born into this life, we were souls living in a most wondrous heavenly place. But living eternally in such a place allows for very little spiritual growth. So some souls, not many, elect to be born here on Earth to learn lessons and especially lessons that will force us to grow spiritually in ways we may be deficient in.

    And the decision to come here, voluntarily no less, IS AN ACT OF COURAGE. The spirit world knows how hard life can be in the physical realm, here on Earth. They know that coming to earth would be hard and dangerous. It would be like any of us already her choosing to go live in a pig sty, in the mud and muck. That is how different life on earth is compared to the glories of our eternal home. Coming here is an act of courage that not many souls care to experience.

    As I draw closer to my own end here on earth, looking back on my strange life and the many lessons I have learned about fear, courage, transcending terrifying issues (cancer, war, and too many lesser issues to enumerate), I can only hope I have succeeded in my main task… of learning the things I needed and wanted to learn before I came here.

    God bless us all.

  20. Betty F. - November 14, 2020 3:52 pm

    Please pumping out the positivity! Thanks.

  21. Betty F. - November 14, 2020 3:54 pm

    Oops! Please keep pumping out the positivity! Thanks.

  22. Denise Chavez - November 14, 2020 4:48 pm

    So true. It is the hard scary times that molds you & gives you the strength & courage to continue. I wouldn’t change my past even though it was definitely difficult at times. It made me who I am today. Thank you for the “to the point article”. I am going to send it to my grandsons.

  23. Cynthia Russell - November 14, 2020 5:03 pm


  24. William Strawn - November 14, 2020 5:50 pm

    You are a good man, Sean. Ask your bride for extra hug tonight. Tell her I’ll pay back when we meet.

  25. MAM - November 14, 2020 6:24 pm

    Sean, you are a wonderful messenger from God! Keep it up! This is from ol’ leaky eyes.

  26. Linda Moon - November 14, 2020 6:37 pm

    When my two cats lock eyes and growl at each other I get scared for them. They’re warm and fuzzy for me always, but not so much for each other at times. So I just get out of their way and let the fur fly. LIFE’s fur flies, and when it lands on children it’s worse. But God shows up. Deus Ex Machina were Sean Dietrich’s written words from this internet machine to Mara!

  27. Eileen - November 15, 2020 12:07 am

    Sean is not just of the South. Worldly words.

  28. Elizabeth LeDuc - November 15, 2020 12:12 am

    Beautifully said.

  29. Pat McGilberry - November 15, 2020 12:28 am

    Beautiful. I have a friend about to enter a scary part of her life. I hope I can figure out how to send this to her.

  30. Pam H Thompson - November 15, 2020 1:34 am

    It is biddy and regiment. But that’s ok, we got it anyway.

  31. Richard Gethers - November 15, 2020 2:13 pm

    Very good column. In the beginning it reminded me of my 3rd grad class. Finishing the 2nd grade i was scared to death of the 3rd grade because all the other kids were talking about how mean the 3rd grade teacher was. I worried about that all summer and when the fall semester started I had a teacher I’d never seen before. Ahh I realized I had skipped the 3rd grade and this teacher was very nice. It wasnt untill half way through the 4th grade that I found out that I hadn’t skipped the 3rd grade, they had started a second 3rd grade class because the the school was growing in size.

  32. Celia Harbin - November 15, 2020 3:30 pm


  33. Suzanne Moore - November 15, 2020 4:22 pm

    Wonderful, wise words,Sean. I wish Mara the best, and I always wish you continued brilliance in expressing yourself. I am completing reading Stars of Alabama today

  34. Kristi - November 16, 2020 4:08 am

    Regimen is treatment, regiment is a large fighting group. Her regimen now includes a regiment of prayer warriors now, though!


Leave a Comment