I pick out a pretty piece of stationery, gather a few extra sheets of paper, and find a favorite pen.
The words flow naturally from my fingertips, through the pen, spilling onto the paper.
“Dear Kim . . .”
I’ve written those words for almost 10 years now – words to an old friend from high school. Before our senior year, I moved away, and we’ve kept in touch with letters.
Handwritten letters have held us together.
Looking back, there’s always been at least one person with whom I’ve exchanged letters.
As a child, I wrote “Dear Kyle . . .” before placing a few fun items, like pencils or erasers or gum, inside a plastic fish. (That’s right, a plastic fish — it made for some fun mail!)
As a teenager, I corresponded with one of my cousins: “Dear Anna . . . ”
Time passes, people move to and fro, and there are more names to add to the list.
“Dear Liz . . .”
“Dear Alicia . . .”
“Dear Makenna . . .”
The first word says it all, really: “Dear.”
My friend, you are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And that is why we write.
We’ve written a lot over the years. I have a box full of handwritten notes I’ve kept – and that’s not even all of them. They came on different kinds of paper in different sizes of envelopes from different zip codes.
We could fill novels with those letters.
And yet, we rarely see each other. Most of the people with whom I exchange letters are those I haven’t seen for the longest time. It’s been 2, 3, even 4 years. And with most of them, letters are our primary way of communicating.
We talk on the phone or Skype once a year, maybe twice, if a lot has happened. We might text once in a while, just for fun. We rarely use Facebook with each other — some of my close friends aren’t even on Facebook.
And yet, we’re close.
You don’t have to live close to be close. And you don’t have talk all the time to know each other’s hearts.
In precious letters, my friends and I share things we’d never dream of posting on Facebook. Things the world doesn’t need to know. Things that are too big to be summed up in a few hastily typed words.
We don’t know each other’s daily activities — I couldn’t tell you what some of my friends ate for dinner, which movie they just saw five minutes ago, or which character some Internet quiz says they are most like.
But we do know each other’s deepest struggles and greatest joys.
And we know them because we’ve chosen to share them, one-on-one, with each other.
When I hold a handwritten letter, it feels as if I’ve been given a piece of someone else’s heart. Someone else has taken the time to choose her words, for my eyes only. She has written them down, sealed them up, and sent them to me.
When I open that envelope full of words and pull out those lovingly penned pages, I don’t want to just read it quickly and send a fast reply. I want to savor it, like the treat that it is, and read over each word carefully. I want to take my time in crafting a response.
But it’s more than words that get sent in the mail. When we take the time to write to each other, and write authentically, it’s like entrusting little bits and pieces of our hearts with those we know will protect them.
Certainly, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are fun, but one letter that shows up in my mailbox is worth more than 1,000 “likes” or comments. If I had to choose, I’d rather have five friends with whom I write letters than 500 Facebook friends.
And sure, I enjoy the convenience of technology, but there’s something about a handwritten letter that no technology will ever be able to replace. There’s an intimacy. An authenticity. A tangibility.
And what history we have in letters! In my letter box, I have mini-histories of friendships that show they have blossomed over time. Letters of great historical figures give us a glimpse into people’s lives outside of the public’s eyes.
And think of the Bible — several books of the New Testament were originally written as letters, shared across the miles to teach people and build them up in Christ’s love. I love reading the greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters, like this one, in Philippians 1:1-5:
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now.”
What an incredible letter that is! (And not just the beginning, but the whole book — I love Philippians.) On a larger scale, I’ve heard the Bible referred to as God’s letter to all of us. Truly, what a gift.
Thinking about all the people who have written letters throughout history inspires me to write more — and to write more meaningfully. The intimacy of letters makes them the perfect place to share our hopes and our fears, to provide encouragement for each other, and to remind each other not to give up.
As long as there is a postal service, I will write letters. My friends will send me little pieces of their hearts, and I will write back, sharing mine, because my friends — my friends are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And so we write, “Dear friend . . . ”
When was the last time you wrote a letter – the old-fashioned kind you drop in the mailbox? I challenge you – find some paper and a pen, and write one. Even if you don’t get a reply right away, I guarantee that you’ll brighten someone’s day.