The lost art of letter writing

My kids love to hear stories about when Traci and I were dating. We started dating in high school (which we highly discouraged with our students during 16 years of youth ministry!!!) and continued through college, though we both went to separate schools across the country. During our college years, the internet was just coming into its own, and email was just becoming a daily tool used by the common folk. Forget about texting…cell phones were still the size of small pianos, and everyone had a Costco calling card to make those ghastly-expensive long distance phone calls.

But during that time, we also wrote letters back and forth. The arrival of a letter from Traci could radically change the course of my day. If my day was going poorly, it suddenly improved, and if it was going well, it suddenly got great. Her letters had power.

letters

Letters in general have that effect. I still love receiving letters in the mail, and though I do the vast majority of my communication through email, texts and social media, I try to make it a habit to mail out four or five letters/postcards, every week. In fact, Traci and I still mail letters to each other, encouraging cards, or those mushy romantic notes that make me blush when I read them in my office.

After we moved to Michigan from Oregon, I’ve tried to help our kids develop a weekly letter writing habit, too. Each Sunday they sit down and write at least one friend, one cousin or a grandparent a quick note, tell them about life in Michigan and maybe send a long a picture or two. Although they often complain when initially asked, they actually end up enjoying it. Often, they write more than they intended and then of course, they are thrilled when they get a response back!

There’s something special about letters in the mail. Over the years, I’ve written CEOs of large companies, conductors of orchestras and choirs and even coaches of sports teams. I’m amazed, because I almost always get a response when I put a letter in the mail. Maybe it’s because it’s too easy to send an email, and honestly, if your inbox looks anything like mine, 197 emails are tough to sort through and make thoughtful responses.

Of course, in Bible times letters were the only way to communicate to a person, or a group of people, without having to make a trip to everybody you wanted to connect with. Even 2,000 years before Jesus was born, there are records that the Egyptians had a developed message delivery system that carried official documents, cargo and letters all over their empire. Letters have always had an important place in human culture.

I think letters can also be a huge encouragement to someone trying to live the Overboard Life. Paul wrote churches in the early first century AD, pleading with them to follow closely after Jesus. His letters were always instructional, usually encouraging and full of wisdom, grace and practical application. He thanked people personally, he offered correction gently and he shared his heart for those he loved. We know his letters had impact, because they were shared from church to church, from house to house, and then divinely preserved for the past two thousand years.

One of my favorite of Paul’s letters was the one he wrote to the church in Colosse (Colossians). He starts with such a warm welcome, and ends with an equally warm farewell:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints…” (Colossians 3:3-4)

“Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house…I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 3:15, 18)

He starts with joy, then ends with personal greetings reflecting his heart and love for the people of Colosse. They weren’t just a church or a group of believers, they were people who loved God and loved Paul, and Paul loved them. His letters expressed what he couldn’t do face-to-face. I can only imagine the encouragement and challenge his words brought as he penned his affections to those in Colosse.

Will you write a letter this week? Surprise someone with an “old fashioned letter” in the mail, and encourage them to live the Overboard Life. Maybe you can thank them for who they are, express your love for them because of their connection to you, or show appreciation for something they did that may have gone unnoticed.

A few years back I attended one of Tati’s choir concerts at her high school. They did a beautiful performance of a song I had heard in Israel at the Holocaust memorial just outside of Jerusalem. The choir’s performance was masterful. They captured the language and the beauty of the song, in a way that was somber and honoring to those it was intended to pay tribute.

I wrote the director and thanked her, and she sent back a very touching response. We began a short dialogue about the piece she directed and the God to which the song references. I don’t know what will ever become of that contact, but I do know this: a letter gave me access I might not have had otherwise.

Send a letter this week and see if God gives you access that you might not have had otherwise. Encourage a friend, love on your spouse or kids or point some one to the great God who loves them dearly, and has spared nothing in order to bring them into fellowship with Him. What are you waiting, write that letter today!

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

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