I hope that where ever you are when you read this, whether the tears are fresh on your cheeks or you’ve just been staring at the bluest sky, that you will know that you are loved, and important, and valued. Even the most ordinary things you do matter to someone. I know sometimes you feel like no one sees, like no one knows how much you sigh or how lost you sometimes feel with life. I know you’re sometimes just very tired, but it all matters. Really. And even if I’ve never seen your face, or I don’t know that you stop a while here to visit, I pray for you. Every week, God and I talk about you, how you might feel, what you might need, and I ask Him to bless you. And today, I have asked Him to give you certainty that you have been used to bless. This world is better because of you. Don’t grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
I wrote my mom a letter today.
I sat down at the table with a note card from a set a friend had given me—butterflies in every color floating across the front, an “E” settled in the center in script.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in letters. And I still believe that what we write to each other matters just as much as what we say.
I love the notion of a time when messengers arrived at the door with hand-written, wax-sealed invitations to lunch, or tea, or just a walk planned for a sunny day. I love the feel of fine stationary in my hand, the weight of a good pen, finding the perfect place to sit and compose. I love that letters once had structure everyone understood, a patient cadence—greeting, body, conclusion, salutation. I love that when replayed, a letter remains the same, even if the passage of time heals the interpretation of the words. And I absolutely love antique writing desks, and the idea that letter writing once held such importance that ladies and gentlemen had furniture dedicated to the task.
In my closet, boxes of letters give shape to years I’ve forgotten. My PaPa and I live in those stacks; a little girl and her grandfather, writing about birds and funny things. I pick the pages up and look at the smudges of ink, the places where his print seems to shake right off the page with the tremble in his hands. I can see his wrinkled fingers, the ones I used to hold, grasping the pen. I hear the copper bracelet he wore clacking against the table. Once or twice in all those lines, PaPa complained about that handwriting, calling it sloppy and illegible. So, a few of his letters are also typed. But my favorites are the ones he wrote himself. Some of his letters even rhyme; my PaPa loved to make me laugh. All of his letters make me see his face again, the way he smiled at me, the love in the crinkle at the corners of his eyes.
In the same place, ribbons tie together letters from friends who wrote to me in high school. Across miles and pages of ink, we declared affection and worked out so many questions, all the anxiety of growing up winding through our prose. One friend who wrote to me even decorated the envelopes with flowers and fancy letters that made her communications feel like the nights we used to spend at camp, laying on our bellies in a bunk, laughing.
I have an album where I keep notes I’ve received in adulthood, bits of encouragement and time taken, love poured out, composed, sent. Those letters are a balm when I’m wounded and looking for something genuine to cover over the hurt.
As a little girl, my parents handled bookkeeping for a stationary store just a gravelly walk away from their office, and sometimes I got to go visit with my dad to deliver paperwork. The whole shop smelled of ink, and bits of cut paper in every color covered the floor of their work area. On the whole, the place looked messy, disorganized, and pretty much the opposite of composition. But. On the desk sat these beautiful, amazing, LARGE portfolio books so full of stationary samples that they wouldn’t close all the way. While Dad talked to the owner—who stood beyond the counter with ink always smudging the tips of his fingers, adjusting his glasses (think large, brown, square-framed 70’s glasses)—I would stand on my tip toes and browse through those books, pressing my fingers against monograms embossed softly in pink, roses trailing along the side of a note card, butterflies watercolor-stamped on top of ivory linen. For my birthday one year, I asked for some of that stationary and received it, all pristine and monogrammed, in a box as beautiful as the paper. In college, when I needed a study-break, sometimes I would wander to the campus bookstore and browse through the Crane & Co. paper (Incidentally, they now have a paper called Beach Glass. Yes. They do.). The stationary is itself a message, a bit of the person sending it, like the waft of distinct perfume or the trail of a silk scarf. My PaPa wrote his letters on plain white sheets or notebook paper, the ink bright blue.
Writing letters takes thought, time, heart, the expression careful and unhurried. So much of what we do these days happens in a hurry, and word-abuse runs rampant. We jot, text, abbreviate, truncating all our feelings and punctuating them with digital chimes instead of the short-tap of a pen. We toss words like darts, forgetting that these sounds are sharp tools. Words can carve life into art, but they cut deep when they hit wrongly.
In the beginning was the Word,
wrote John (John 1:1), the logos, a word that means both the spoken utterance and all narration, written or otherwise.
…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).
More than once, scripture describes Christ, who in Heavenly glory looks more like fire and lightening than anything else we know, with a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16). James wrote some of the most searing Spirit-penned words about the tongue and it’s use in his letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (James 1:1),” wherein he labeled that fat bit of muscle an untamed and “restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8),” capable of setting a whole life on fire, “itself set on fire by hell (James 3:6).” While Christ exists as life-giving, life-creating Word once made flesh, we are warned, because:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9,10).
Historically, human beings have spoken and written too quickly, too thoughtlessly, too carelessly. It would seem, in the age of the “always on” generation, that all our technology only makes the problem worse. It’s too easy, ignited by anger or hurt, to sit down at a screen or pick up a smart phone and spew forth the destructive, accusing, ugly soot-thick fire of hell with all its trailing, suffocating smoke.
A few nights ago, I broke a rule I made for myself a while back: no email just before bed. Sometimes I go days without opening email at all, because I never know what I might find waiting in my inbox. But this night, lacking wisdom, standing next to the bed, my whole body sore with the day’s work, I checked my email. And the email I opened wasn’t angry, or ugly, or hurtful. It was emotionless. Confession: when you write to me, I can hear your voice. No, not the pitch, but certainly the cadence. I once guessed my secret sister at church from the short messages she wrote in my cards—the words she chose, the pauses, the punctuation. This email read flat, businesslike, staccato, and brusque. It held no blessing, no encouragement, no recognition of affection. And standing there all weary with the day, all spent and weak like a husk, the message felt like a brick. I looked at Kevin and said, “Whatever happened to, ‘I hope you’ve had a good day,’ at least, before we pelt each other with language?”
I’m not sure I understand why we’ve let corporate efficiency strip our letters of love. For all our social networking, it seems life tries hard to rob us all of the time it takes to strengthen, to touch, to bless.
So, for Mother’s Day, I wrote my mom a letter. I put soft-colored note cards and pens beside the kids’ chairs at breakfast and encouraged them to do the same. Riley’s letter, all sealed and dropped in the box I had on the counter, started with an inside joke she shares with Mom, scrawled across the front of the envelope itself.
I’m not sure how long it’s been since I’ve written something just for Mom, but the problem for me is never finding enough words. It’s having too many. Sitting down, uncapping the pen, immediately I knew the small space would never be enough, not even after I covered the back with the crazy curls of my own hand, all those loops that fly across the page. The feeling reminds me of the way the apostle John finished his gospel account:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25)
It was a writer’s way of saying, “there aren’t enough words, nor even enough space to tell you everything He means.” It’s how I feel writing my mom a letter about how special she is, the things I love, the ways we treasure her. Putting it all down, curving the words into feeling, would take books. The small space forces me to choose, to focus deep, to set aside other things for other letters.
It’s a lost art, this effort, but I wonder if you would take the time to write a letter too? Maybe even to someone gone, someone you miss? John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, wrote a letter to his wife Nellie every month after she died. And maybe you don’t see that it’s so, but God has written letters to you, all bound with leather. That’s what the Bible is, really. A stack of love letters. And the more in love we are, the more we read the letters, until the pages are dog-eared, underlined, smudged, and cross-referenced. That’s my favorite thing about the scripture—so many pages written by so many different authors, so many different pens, some in prison, one writing from island exile, some dictated to scribes, some carved in stone, but all–all—in the One voice, the cadence well-woven, the pauses and repetitions clear, familiar, and sovereign. I wonder: Do you hear that voice too, when you read?
Life just thunders on so hard, and we live weary and overwhelmed and piled high. The pace we keep makes all of us long to just breathe deep. Perhaps there’s something to be said for sitting down at a table with a pen and taking the time to think about what to say and how maybe we can use words to pour out grace and give shape to the here and now of the Spirit.
May the LORD bless you and keep you. May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the LORD turn His face toward you, and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).
Praying an overflowing for you,