The following is a letter from Jan Carr, Dottie Emo’s daughter, to the congregation of First United Methodist Church of Freeport. We think you will find it very moving and inspiring. You may want to have a tissue close at hand.
I was wearing a “bumpy” shirt … the kind where the threads ball up forming little knots all over from multiple washings. It was plaid. Pretty sure it was a hand-me-down from my brother. Don’t misunderstand. I did not wear “boy clothes” very often. That day, about 52 years ago, Mom had no doubt dressed me in something I could get extra messy. It was a big day. I was going to summer Bible School where I got to finger paint! I was probably 3 years old. That was my earliest memory of finger painting and my family at First United Methodist Church.
The memories did not stop with finger paint. I remember: large groups of kids waiting to open presents from Santa; stacks of pancakes at Easter breakfasts; memorizing the Lord’s Prayer; telling my dad he sounded like a lion when he sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”; finally getting to wear a white choir robe; singing in the children’s choir; going camping as a group; church picnics; getting butterscotch hard candy from Mr. Carpenter; sitting way up high in the balcony, watching bats fly around during a sermon at the old church; sneaking mints from candy dishes during table preparations for weddings and being confirmed.
I remember going caroling through the halls of St. Francis with my church family. I was touched by the little kids peeking out of their bedrooms in the residential facility in awe of the carolers. Years later I returned to St. Francis as a volunteer and fell in love with all children with special needs. I have been a special education teacher for 24 years. That caroling experience you provided me changed my life forever.
I married my husband of 33 years here. That too changed my life. I have been so fortunate in so many ways.
We moved away. But throughout the years First United Methodist has continued to serve my extended family with grace. You welcomed my grandmother into your hearts and activities after the death of her husband. She moved here from Arizona at age 85. You encouraged her to teach Sunday school. You gave her purpose. You wrapped my family in your arms when my grandmother died. I adored my grandma.
You gave my dad purpose. He mowed the lawn, fixed things, sang in the choir and, of course, there was the trumpet … You gave him a chance to shine. He loved that. I can’t hear a trumpet without thinking of him playing that horn right here. On the day God called Dad home you all again provided my family with food, comfort and, most of all, hope. It was a difficult time.
Now my point …
Last August we moved Mom far away from Freeport … a place she called home for 55 years. She told us she was not ready to leave. We did not really hear her wishes. After all how could an 82-year-old mother possibly know more about what is important in the life than her collective group of 50-plus-year-old children?
The answer, of course, is Mom knew so much more about life. She did not need to search for a new home. She wanted to remain right here in Freeport with her church and life-long friends. She was a trooper about the move and never complained, but she missed her life here in Freeport. She gave up more than she had gained. Like my dad, Mom found purpose and joy in serving here at First United Methodist. She missed having meaning and purpose in her life.
Last Sunday my husband and I were here. This time was special. We moved Mom back home. In First United Methodist style, you all gathered to support her and lift her spirits. You welcomed her with open arms. Tears of joy were shared. Mom was home. She can stay here until she wants to leave or health demands a move. We are listening to Mom this time … after all, moms know best, right?
If faith without action is dead, then let me say the faith that this group of believers exemplifies is alive and well.
I am proud to say my foundation started right here with all of you. I am humbled by your grace and compassion. This church is a blessing to so many. I have felt that blessing first-hand. I am forever grateful for all of you.
P.S. Thank you for letting me finger paint, ’cause Mom never let me do that at home!
Thank you, Jan, for this wonderful recollection of growing up at First UMC and for your insights on listening to older parents. We welcome back your mom, our good friend Dottie, with open arms.
Pastor Cal Haines