Day 40: Rick Warren

(Note: While I normally reserve these notes for personal relationships, the significance of the day and his book’s role in my life compel me to share a few words in this space. I’m traveling today, so this is brief.)

Dear Dr. Warren,

I’m struck by the significance of Day 40 in this 365-note undertaking. While I’m not much on the idea of mystical numerology, the symbolism of 40 and its representation of completion is undeniable.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-8-48-02-amMoses lived to 120 years old in three distinct seasons of 40. The great flood came for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus wandered the wilderness for 40 days and returned to walk another 40 days after his resurrection. It’s no wonder you divided your book, Purpose Driven Life into 40 days of purpose and study.

There are a handful of things that truly change our lives. I wanted you to know your book did that for me, as it did for so many others.

“Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.”
― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

Purpose Driven Life brought revelations as I’d never before had. Chief among them your simple conveyance of two important realties:

  1. It’s not about me, and;
  2. I have a lot to UN-learn.

Thank you for a greater understanding of these two ideas that have truly guided my life for 15 years. Were it not for you sharing these truths, I doubt this project, a year’s worth of grateful notes, would exist.

As each day passes, and every note written, I learn even more that it’s not about me.

Your grateful brother in Christ,

Steve Watkins




Day 33: Beth Jusino


(Note: Beth Jusino is a freelance editor, award-winning writer, teacher, and publishing consultant with sixteen years experience helping individuals share better stories. She’s also a fellow pilgrim, and we share the same camino tattoo image on our right ankles. How’s that for a quick bio?)

This sign is a beginning milestone for most pilgrims, but at this point, Beth was already halfway there. The Le Puy route is 1,000 miles.

This sign is a beginning milestone for most pilgrims, but at this point, Beth was already halfway there. The Le Puy route is 1,000 miles.

Dear Beth,

Just as my pursuit in finding gratitude became more intentional, it just as quickly became easy. There are good people all around who will lend a helping hand.

I realized it all the more this morning by way of your email reply. What a great realization of goodness.

But before that, allow me just a quick paragraph or two to frame this up. And by the way, it’s never easy when you’re writing a professional writer and editor. I’m already checking passive voice, wasteful prepositional phrases, and killing bees. (Was that last comma really necessary? I don’t know, but I like it there.)

First, I couldn’t have more respect for what you and Eric did on the Le Puy route. But I’m sure you know that. Pilgrim respect almost goes without saying. But a thousand miles… Whoa. It’s SUCH a big deal. It’s difficult to imagine my own caminos times two.

Secondly, I truly enjoy your writing. The storytelling flows seemingly without effort though I understand it’s not effortless at all. I know you work to make it good because you have so much respect for the profession. The care shows in the published product.

Beth and husband, Eric, on the final steps to the End of the World.

Beth and husband, Eric, on the final steps to the End of the World.

Perhaps even more than the storytelling, though, I appreciate the instructional writing you offer to those of us who aspire to maneuver both the craft, and the industry. In fact, just a few days ago I found myself wondering when you’d publish the next blog post in your current self-publishing series. It’s wonderful that you “give back” and share your experience.

Then there’s the tattoo thing, but, anyway … no need to get caught up in that sidebar.

When I wrote yesterday asking if you’d published materials on e-book formatting you graciously replied with a  healthy dose of valuable information. Thank you so much. Honestly, there’s some guilt I feel in getting so much for so little.

Beyond the resources, though, you even offered a nice bit of encouragement toward the end. It made me feel good and makes me want to keep going … makes me want to keep walking. There is an end to this journey, yes? It’s such a long road, and so sloppy at times. Thank you for the “ultreia-” like shout out. I press onward.

If the timeline for my first book project were lined up against a Camino Frances map I’d be somewhere just past Portomarin now. Thanks for all you’ve done in helping me get to the final steps on a path that’s been just as memorable as a long walk on that ancient footpath.

Your fellow pilgrim and storyteller,

Steve Watkins

Day 32: Phil Wilson


Dear Phil,

For the longest time that late afternoon I thought I might be the only pilgrim at the albergue in Villamayor de Monjardin. Then after a bit of a long trek you walked in.

It was more a nonchalant saunter, actually. I liked you immediately.

That's cool Phil Wilson (second from left) sipping a warm drink on a cool morning in Los Arcos.

That’s cool Phil Wilson (second from left) sipping a warm drink on a cool morning in Los Arcos.

As the placed filled up, it’s funny the two older guys chose the beds closest to the bathrooms. But we made our way on the camino with the best of them didn’t we friend?

It was a pleasure to meet you Phil. I wish we could’ve spent more time together, but alas, that’s how the camino goes, eh? I walked to the albergue where I thought we were to meet in Navarrette the following day, but I must have been mistaken. So we walked on separately, but I thought of you often. Still do.

I so enjoyed the conversation we shared that morning as Tanya walked ahead. We spoke of the things only guys our age understand in certain ways. Love. Loss. Heartbreak. Failures. Wounds. Higher callings. Higher powers. What life’s really about.

Thank you for asking me to tell my story and share my reasons for pilgrimage. I think you may have been the first person to do so.

But thank you even more for what you said (and did) and the conclusion of our walk that morning as you pressed on just before engaging a quicker pace. I’ll never forget  your question.

“Would it be okay if I prayed for you along the camino?” You asked sincerely.

“It surely would. It would be nice to know someone’s doing that out here,” I replied.

Thank you for praying for me,  Phil. It’s one of the nicest gestures anyone made toward me in those 40 days.

When we met, I quickly assessed you as honest and real, genuine and unmasked. I knew you were on a search for something just as I was also.

I pray you found it and carry it with you today.

Blessings to you my UK friend across the way. You’re one of the good guys.

Wishing you a buen camino today and through life,

Steve Watkins

Day 29: Meredith Tobin Heffner


Dear Meredith:

It often amazes me how the simplest gesture can make such a difference.

Lying in bed early this morning making my first bleary-eyed scroll through social media I came across a comment from a friend who said something really nice about a blog post from yesterday. It was endearing enough that it brought a tear. After the tears subsided I reckoned to a moment not long ago when you wrote me something equally as touching.

Something inside has always allowed me to detect certain qualities in people as a fairly quick study. It came in especially handy during interviews where the aim is often pulling information from people whose job it is not to reveal things. As mass communication has evolved and my spectrum of friends has grown I’d like to think I have that same sense about relationships on social media.

But it wasn’t difficult with you at all. Your hopeful words toward the end of my first camino were exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Some people are blatantly encouraging, and I thank God for people like you.

Meredith (second from left) with family last Christmas.

Meredith (second from left) with family last Christmas.

Post-camino and months later I wrote and asked the favor of a “testimonial” for another blog site where I regularly tested writing that will soon make its way into my first book. Your response was quick and immediate. “What’s my deadline?” I believe those were your first words. Thank you for saying yes.

But thank you even more for how you said it in a subsequent paragraph. I dug back through some notes to read exactly what you wrote in a brief encouraging sidebar.

“Steve, I read a lot of stuff and you’ve got what it takes, believe me. You really do have it. You’ve got this.”

Triumphant pilgrim.

Triumphant pilgrim.

I’m not repeating those words so to boost my own ego, I hope you know. I’m recounting them because they meant so much. Your words gave me a push at a critical moment when I needed a push. In fact, I recall a certain peace that came with your note as I stepped into something quite unknown.

Sometimes we all need to know we’ve got what it takes. Thank you for being the type of person who knows that, and acts on it. I have the feeling I’m not the only person who is the beneficiary of your gracious gestures. I aspire to be more like you in this way.

And yes, you’ll be one of the first to have an autographed copy. I still have that request.

PS: It was a pleasure to follow you on your own pilgrimage across the camino.

A fellow pilgrim in life, and with sincere gratitude,

Steve Watkins

Day 28: Pastor Terry Watson


“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. ~ Jeremiah 3:15

Dear Pastor Terry,

Yesterday, a pastor friend from South Carolina whom I admire and respect posted this social media message:

To my Christian Friends:
I returned yesterday from a conference for pastors. So many of my colleagues bear burdens you just can’t imagine unless you’ve been there (just as I cannot truly imagine childbirth). Please look for ways to encourage and build up your pastor. Question the reasonableness of your expectations, and don’t let them become your “demands.” Say “thank you,” and “I love you” and ask “How is your family (I mean really!)?” Have you ever bought your pastor lunch, not because you had some church business or grievance you wanted to discuss, but just to show kindness? Pastors are real people. They bear real people’s burdens. They bear them for their very real families … and for yours. Many are suffering in silence. The Church in America is weaker for it. Please be part of the solution, not the problem.

Moments after reading the post, I sent him a private message with a genuine question. I asked him what’s at the core of the pastoral burdens he mentioned.

It’s a cumulative list of things, he said, but among them “…It’s as if people are agitated, ginned up by politics and talk radio and uncertainty about their futures … and then that spills over into their spiritual lives. They’re often on the attack and don’t even know it! They have no inner peace, so they have no peace in their relationships. It’s not a new thing. But it is growing.”

Pastor Terry Watson at the Rock of Northeast Arkansas

Pastor Terry Watson at the Rock of Northeast Arkansas

No inner peace.

I’ve thought much about this lately.

Some time about a year ago as we drove from the parking lot onto US 49 headed to lunch after the 9:30  service, Dana asked as she always does, “Well what did you think?”

My response wasn’t the typical one she expects when I share a thought about the sermon you preached. In reply to her question, I offered this:

“I think it’s a pleasure to learn from, and observe a man who is completely at peace.” That’s what I told her.

I meant it as the highest compliment. The quest for real peace can go down lots of wrong detours in this world. But when someone has authentic inner peace … that peace that surpasses all understanding, you recognize it, and what a wonderful thing it is to witness. I have felt it too, for some time now, and because of peace, I am changed.

Isn’t it great and aren’t we incredibly thankful when we reach the point where we’re completely over ourselves?


But let me back up a moment to my friend’s social media post yesterday and the need he expressed to build up your pastor and church leadership.

What’s funny is not an hour before I read his post, I’d chosen you for today’s note. You’ve been on the list from Day 1, but something about today seemed right. It’s a little funny that I can say, “Pastor, you’ve been on my list for a while now!” Ha!

Tomorrow, you’ll stand in front of a thousand people over two services. Has the reality and magnitude of that milestone even really set in yet? What an amazing lifetime of ministry.

So many people would be inclined to look out and say to themselves, “Look what I’ve done.”

But the best thing of it all is I know how deep inside your heart you don’t take the credit. You know where the credit goes. You know what it’s all about. You know the identity of the real Senior Pastor.

I’m guessing tomorrow you’ll continue the series on Getting Real. Now, that’s my kind of stuff. It’s also the thing I appreciate most about you.

Your authentic, transparent, and humble example in a life well lived as a genuine servant leader is the best gospel message you can preach. But we like your preaching pretty well too, by the way. Ha.

There was a time in life when I was angry with the Church. Thought I didn’t really need the church. “I can have church any where, any time,” I thought to myself. I was wrong. I need a church family for more reasons than I can list here. Thank you for bringing Dana and me back to Church.

Thank you for being a good man and a trusted shepherd. That’s honestly the best thing I know to say.

You’re one of those people I wish I’d known longer. I wonder what things we might have done together, shared about, and dreamt toward. But it’s all good. We have an eternity for those things now, don’t we?

We love, and care about your family, and declare the best is yet to come.

PS: If you go to Wal-Mart today, remember you don’t have to click the lock five times. Three times will do just fine.

A thankful sheep in the flock of The Rock,

Steve Watkins

Day 25: Yalanda Merrell


Dear Yalanda:

What we need more than anything right now is two simple things:

  1. We need people who lead by example, and;
  2. We need people who are real.

Why are these things so difficult, and why so rare?


Yalanda Merrell and her husband, Shaun.

I’m not even sure we’ve met, but because I see it’s your birthday, first of all, Happy Birthday! Enjoy your day. I thought this would be a nice occasion to thank you for the gift you give me daily.

The parable stories you publish on social media are one of the earliest breaths of fresh air I savor each morning. I see your name. I see the parable. And I stop and read. Thank you for making me stop. It’s never, ever, a regret.

The morning parables are a great use of your creative gift for journalistic storytelling. There’s a quote that comes from my favorite writer, Pat Conroy, and I cite this quote a lot, but I thought you’d enjoy it:

“The most powerful words in the English language are, ‘Tell me a story…'”

When you combine personal, transparent storytelling with truth, you have a mighty powerful thing. Our testimony, our witness, we might call it. Whatever its label, it brings an experience that makes us all more human. We need that so desperately in this moment. Your gift is so rare. I know you’ll never take it for granted.

You’re ministering to others, and you’re taking responsibility for growth and maturity in your own life. It requires discipline what you do. It requires looking in the mirror. Introspective thought. It requires a vision that’s bigger than you. We need that example, too.

Keep going. Keep writing. Keep telling those stories.

Good job, Yalanda. I hope you enjoyed writing your story this morning as much as I did.

A grateful fan,

Steve Watkins

Day 14: Kathy Qualls

Kathy: Don't ask me the reason I chose this photo to represent my first thought about you. I can't find the words. I think I'll just let the photo stand.

Kathy: Don’t ask me to explain the reason I chose this photo representing my first thought about you. I can’t find the descriptive words. I think I’ll just let the photo stand for whatever the words might otherwise be.

(Note: Kathy Qualls lives in my small hometown of Monette, Arkansas. She’s a wife, a mom, an encourager, a volunteer servant – the kind of person every community needs.)

Dear Kathy,

More than a year ago when I decided to walk 500 miles across Spain, several thoughts came wildly rushing to mind in the pivotal moment I booked the plane ticket. The first thought was, “Are you a total nut job?” The second was that I needed some good people who’d have my back.

That’s when I wrote you.

Kathy (left) with a friend on mission in Costa Rica.

Kathy (left) with a friend on mission in Costa Rica.

I learned a long time ago that you need people who have your back. Although my first pilgrimage would be a solo walk, I knew I didn’t have to walk alone. You and four others agreed to pray for me every day, even before it began. Prayer isn’t my greatest gift. I think that’s why I gravitate so much to those who have it.

I knew you’d honor any commitment you made and that you’d even make it a priority. And I knew you’d go deeper that praying for my safety and comfort. You’d pray for my revelation, for insight, for wisdom and ultimately you’d pray God would be glorified through it all. That’s why you were one of the five I wanted on my team. I desired all those same things, especially the latter.

Whether you know it or not, when you prayed, you literally walked every step with me. You guys were right there, over the Pyrenees, through the Meseta, across Galicia. Truth is, I really don’t know if I would’ve made it those last three days without your prayers. It was surely difficult.

Thank you so much for honoring me with your commitment to pray, and for the countless others for whom you’ve done the very same thing and more.

There are some people who when you look at them, you can see Jesus. Thank you for reflecting and magnifying His glory.

Your prayed over pilgrim,




Day 11: Keith Carle


(Note: I’ve known Keith Carle in several capacities. He worked on my father’s farm one summer. Soon afterward he successfully maneuvered law school, and a dozen years later he was my boss’s opponent in three-way party primary in Arkansas’ First Congressional District.)

Dear Keith:

You’ve always worked hard, and sort of played against the rules. They’re the two things I like most about you.

The “system” doesn’t always offer the best possible answer, does it? If I believed in “other lives” you might well have been William Wallace or Pancho Villa. But you’re just a normal guy from a small town, determined to make his own way, a bit of a rebel.

Keith and his sister, Carol, who was also a high school classmate of mine.

Keith and his sister, Carol, who was also a high school classmate of mine.

What I remember most goes back to 1996 in that three-way primary race for Congress. Whether anyone realized it or ever acknowledged it, you really added a valuable dimension to that contest. It was a contentious race too, but you never got in that fray. You were always respectful, always on point, always steady. And even though we were on different sides, you were always nice to me. You never forgot your manners. Someone once told me you never forget the people who are nice to you in difficult circumstances. That’s true enough.

It’s enjoyable running into you occasionally at Kroger. You always have a smile and a kind word, and you always ask about the family.

Sometimes the simplest gestures are the ones that mean the most to us. Thank you for being the kind of person I aspire to be in so many ways, and for those occasions when you’ve rocked the boat.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins



Day 10: Ray Scales (The Rev)

Ray Scales, back in the day when everyone knew him as the best television camera man in Arkansas.

Ray Scales, back in the day when everyone knew him as the best television camera man in Arkansas.

(Note: I first met Ray Scales in 1988 when I was a cub newspaper reporter and he was the lead camera person for the local television station. A few years later he followed a calling to ministry and still pastors at New Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Each year, he serves as chair of our local Martin Luther King Day Parade.)

Dear Rev:

If I could assemble a roomful of people to solve the world’s most challenging problems, I’d want you in that room. Truth is,  you’d have a seat on the front row. In fact, yesterday I took a few moments to think about some of the wisest, most experienced people I know, and you were high on the list.

I remember the conversations we’d have during trial breaks at the courthouse, or waiting on a political candidate to show up 30 minutes late, even surveying the damage from a storm the night before. If news was being made, you were there. And you were good at it, too.

By the way, do you know you have one of the most unique, special voices ever? It’s

Rev. has a big smile, and a bigger heart.

Rev. has a big smile, and a bigger heart.

calming, full of assurance and peace. I would speak with you for hours just to listen to your voice, Rev.

It caught me off guard a bit when you said you’d decided to leave the news business for the ministry. I knew I’d miss you out there. But you’re also one of the first people I know who left something comfortable to pursue a true calling. I did the same a few years later, and I thought about you.

The first time I attended church at New Mt. Zion, I guess you could call it work related, unfortunately. Politicians feel the need to be seen in certain places – you know how that game is played – and I was just taking care of the boss. But honestly, I tell you, being there was a thrill.

Thank you so much for welcoming me back in the times I came because I wanted to be there. Those times were nothing short of joyful. Now that I think about it, I’m way overdue for another visit.

An after-church photo of Ray and me a few years back.

An after-church photo of Ray and me a few years back.

Thank you for the wisdom you’ve shown and the contributions you’ve made to Jonesboro regarding race relations. The open, honest conversations we’ve shared helped me see things more clearly. “We all carry prejudice,” I remember you telling me. “It’s just a matter of what we do with it and how we think about the way God wants us to treat other people.”

Thank you for not getting mad at me early on the Saturday morning following Jack Hill’s death when I woke you with an early phone call and picked your brain for memories. I loved hearing those stories so much. You guys sure did some great work back in the day.

You’re one of my favorite people, and I wanted you to know it, Rev. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Your brother in Christ,

Steve Watkins




Day 9: Bradley Harris

“Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent.” ~ Pat Conroy

My first meeting with Brad in 2012. We enjoyed brunch at the Blue Plate Cafe in Memphis.

My first meeting with Brad in 2012. We enjoyed brunch at the Blue Plate Cafe in Memphis.

(Note: I’ve worked off and on with award-winning author and editor Brad Harris during the last five years. Some people ooze brilliance. He’s one.)

Dear Brad:

Did you know that every single time I place two hands on a keyboard (like now) I think of you? You really got in my head, man.

I know it hasn’t been a lengthy time (see – my first instinct was ‘period of time’ which would’ve made you cringe) we’ve shared, but it’s been high quality. You’ve made an indelible impression. We don’t have much to show for it yet, but we will. I promise.

It was my good fortune we met at the Bartlett Christian Writers’ Conference in 2012. Your directness, intellect, and wit refreshed me so.

Honestly, all I thought I really needed was a cleanup guy. It was so completely arrogant believing there was so little left to learn. There was, in fact, a ton yet to learn. You showed me as much before we left the title page.

“Kill every be. Badly mixed metaphor. Artless sentence. Immaculately superfluous.” Your voice haunts me at every period. But I’m listening, Brad. I hear you.

If it’s not you, it’s Boris. Remember him – that imaginary character you created scoffing through my every graph? Yes, I see him there, twitching in his recliner, pouring a scotch in frustration with the prepositions and awkward syntax. Boris loves me one moment, loathes me the next. Thanks for introducing me to Boris, Brad. I hear him, too.

Every chapter draft, every social media post, I feel you watching. And why, oh, why, do I practice editing billboards at stoplights? Get out of my head, you tyrant! You think I’m kidding about this stuff? Nope.

Thank you so much for helping me with this craft, Brad, and for classy way you do it. Thank you for helping me improve at the thing I love so much. I hope one day you’ll be proud.

Your’s truly,

Steve Watkins