Snail mail.

There’s something about the process of choosing thank you notes and cards that makes me excited. Maybe you're already thinking, "Process? What process?" Trust me. It's a process. There's so much to consider: it’s the font and the colors and the photo (if there is one) – the whole look of it that has to be perfect. It has to feel like me - fit my style. Some people collect shoes or coins or pogs (hey, you do you!) but I collect wrapping paper, tissue paper, and thank you notes. I always like to have something cute on hand, so I pick them up at the store now and then and before I know it I have a whole drawer full of ways to wrap up little gifts and cards.

All of this is because I love snail mail. In a world of full of text and email and staring at a screen, it's fun to receive something in the mail that you can hold in your hands, something that's not a bill or a past due notice that makes you want to have a stroke right there at the mailbox. I love to see people's handwriting – a little piece of them on the page. Handwriting is so personal, isn't it? When the only font we all operate in is our smartphone's Helvetica Neue, it’s nice to see the creativity of handwriting, pen to paper, there in front of you. Snail mail also holds to standards our digital world doesn’t quite hold anymore. You’re generally not going to find abbreviations for because or laugh out loud in a handwritten card – at least you won’t when it’s coming from me. Snail mail, the kind where you actually lick the envelope and buy a stamp and send it off, takes time and money and care that an email doesn’t. It requires that you’re not in the rush or the hurried fluster you are when you shoot off a text that says “Thx, g2g.”

My grandpa was a mailman for many, many years when mail still went to each house - when you put that person’s mail in their own little box. It think it's out of convenience for our mail carriers that most of us don’t have individual mailboxes anymore – we have these big metal squares somewhere in the middle of the suburban block that holds all the mail for the whole street. But I remember when we had our own mailbox and my dad took ours off the wooden stump it was on and painted the whole thing black except for the flag. The flag was red, for flair I guess, and maybe so the mailman could know for sure that we had mail waiting to be picked up. Remember when you had to do that - notify your mailman that you had mail to be picked up out of your box? Raise the mail flag! We've got mail in here! There was a time when you knew who your mailman was and maybe you left treats in your mailbox for them to pick up on a cold day. I don't know, but I hope you had to raise your mail flag for that kind of thing too and then when your mailman arrived thinking it was just another stack of letters, boom, a plate of sweets! Maybe people still leave gifts in their metal square of a mailbox, but the whole transaction seems to be less personal these days. With online shopping, banking, ordering, EVERYTHING, we have lost the relational aspect of a lot of life. Relationship is always the sacrifice on the altar of convenience.

Think about it: Microwaves, for example. We can warm our food up in three seconds and eat it standing at the kitchen sink, or in the car on the way to the next event because HEY! THIS IS FAST! But, what about meals at the table with your people, and the conversation that happens as you cook slowly in the kitchen? And the blessed Internet. We can look up ANYTHING really quickly and we never have to wonder or even think because we can just read it ourselves from a Google search that returns 628,000 results in .49 seconds. Do you realize you could sit at your house ALL DAY and do everything from the Internet? Order up your favorite food, buy something to wear, read the news, watch a movie, have everything delivered directly to your door and you never have to have a conversation with anyone. Ever! Such convenience! I’m not saying these things are bad. Common grace has allowed us so many wonderful things for the sake of convenience.  But, these conveniences do distract us and we now have to intentionally make space for relationships if we want to have them at all. They don't come easily in a world where we can hide behind any number of screens each day.

So, for all of these reasons, because it’s inconvenient and takes time and thought and going out of the way, mailing thank you notes and cards is my jam. It started when I was a senior in high school. There was a period of time where every week I picked out one of my friends, made them a card and stuck it in their locker. Texting didn't exist at this point (yes, I'm practically a fossil) so it wasn't unusual to get handwritten notes, but I wanted it to be separate from the notes we folded into those paper football shapes and only contained questions like, "What are we doing this weekend?"  I wanted them to know they were special to me and I was thankful for their friendship. The world is full of takers and I want to fight against that in the fiercest way possible. I don’t want to be a taker – I want to be a giver. I want people to know that they are appreciated. Maybe a friend saved a seat for you in the lunchroom. Or maybe they put you up at their house for the weekend. Maybe they drove across the city in the middle of the night to hold your hand when the boy/girl suddenly decided not to choose you or maybe you were in the depths of despair for another reason. I just think it’s important to recognize when people show up. I don't know if you realize this or not, but show up is basically the only thing I can say to you - the only thing I will say to you forever and ever. It's my theme song. Broadcast it over every channel. People need each other.

I told you about Hannah Brencher when I started my contentment challenge. We are from the same cloth I think because her whole career has been built on the mailing of letters. Well, one time she put out a request on Twitter and asked her followers to write letters to anyone who might be in the midst of heartbreak. She planned to use the letters as part of a digital project so that anyone could read them when they needed a word of encouragement. I took the time to sit down and write a letter, but then my letter never made it to Hannah or her project. So, as my own little snail mail letter to you today, in case you haven’t received a letter in a long time, or in case you don’t know just how worth it you are - if no one has appreciated you lately or you feel like the world is heavy and dark - here’s the letter I wrote to whoever might need to hear this today. I guess this kind of goes hand in hand with the last post I wrote about the importance of our words. So, here are some words for you or for someone you know and maybe they are the words a soul out there needs right now. And I encourage you this morning, on a regular Wednesday, to write a note to someone who needs it. Write a love letter. Write a thank you note. Be a giver of love in loud and intentional ways. 

Dear beloved,
Did you know that you are exactly that - beloved? It means 'treasured' + 'adored'. It means 'dearly loved' and you are just that. You are precious to so many, even though you may not feel it today. See, I have been there - in all of the ache and desperation. I've been there - in all of the tears on the bathroom floor. I've been there where the light escapes your eyes and the minutes of each day linger like their own separate eternity. I've been there in the depths of sorrow, swirling in the feelings of worthlessness and longing. But if I could shout one thing to you through that hazy fog of brokenness, it's that you are not alone. Do you hear me? Don't believe you are. Not for one second. These feelings will fade like the ocean pulls the waves back from the shore. And you will breathe again.  Crisp air in your lungs, you will live again. Hope again. Dream again. Keep fighting. Every day, it's just one second to the next. One foot in front of the other until one day you realize you're not counting the minutes any longer - you're too busy building something beautiful to care anymore for people who refuse to see what you're worth. Because what you are is BELOVED. Pure gold. Cherished with every beat of your fiery, fighting heart. You are worth every fierce second of your one beautiful life.


Since I started my contentment challenge, which has been going pretty well so far, I decided to do a two part post on gratitude and being thankful for what we have been given. This is part one. 

I turned thirty just over a year ago and it was kind of a big deal for me. My friends will tell you this. In the weeks leading up to the big day, I often fluctuated between wanting to celebrate and wanting to cry. I couldn't even get the word thirty to roll off my tongue. Thirty felt grown up. Thirty felt like a serious business suit - a pencil skirt with Louboutins, when you're used to wearing jeans and a pair of Toms with a hole at the toe. Your twenties still feel young. The world gives you permission to be figuring things out – you're graduating college, settling into a job, finding a place to live, wading through relationships. They urge you not to take yourself too seriously. Make mistakes, they say. Learn. Adventure. Grow. But as you inch closer to thirty, people kind of expect you to have it together. Or maybe I just expected myself to have it together.

As I navigated my twenties (navigated is a loose term, as it was more of a blind stumble) I imagined thirty would be like reaching some kind of adult life pinnacle. My ideas of 30 when I was 20, 23, 27, were turning out to be just that - ideas, dreams. I had all of these expectations for myself because the thirty-somethings I knew were married, often with kids, usually with a house – sometimes in the process of building a whole house – and pretty settled into their lives. When it came to those life choices and circumstances, I was not on the same page. I was basically scrambling to find the page, hoping the teacher didn't ask me to read aloud. I felt like I was behind. Can I just have another go at 28 and 29, please? I haven't done enough yet! I haven't had enough time! 

Maybe you find yourself feeling entirely opposite. You're approaching twenty or thirty or forty feeling like life has, for the most part, just worked out. You found the spouse and he/she is obviously the BEST in the whole world, or at least in your Facebook post. You have the kids or the dog or both. You built the house. Your career took off, or it didn't but you feel okay with where you're sitting. But, you're bored. You feel stuck in the mundane and you're slugging it out. Somehow getting everything we think we want doesn't usher in unending happiness. It doesn't deliver the goods the way we dream it will. So, then what?

In the spring prior to my birthday, I was in a Bible study and we went through the book, A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. If you’ve never read it, I recommend it. Ann is a beautiful, poetic writer who really picks at the heart of where we find our joy and contentment. This isn't about happiness. We're talking a deep-in-your-heart joy. I was struck at the time that she was actually able to come up with 1,000 separate things to write down - 1,000 separate gifts she had been given. On the verge of thirty, with almost nothing in my life going according to my plans, I felt like I had maybe five things to be thankful for and that was if I rounded up. 

I had seen other people hit 3-0 with a lot of celebration and excitement. My sister’s husband threw her a surprise party. Another friend’s husband put together a book of notes from all the people in her life who loved her. With no joy for 30 and no plans to celebrate, I determined I wanted to make thirty significant anyway.  So I decided to spend the thirty days before my thirtieth birthday writing down thirty things each day for which I could be grateful. In her book, Ann writes, Being joyful isn't what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful. That punched me in the guts. I needed a fresh word on joy because I was feeling everything but joyful leading up to thirty. I was feeling left behind. Forgotten. Not enough. My dreams had shattered over and over. I was throwing myself a spectacular pity party.

So, I went to work on my list each night. For the first week, it was a challenge. I’d get stuck around number twelve and wonder what else there was to be thankful for that day, or in my life as a whole. Midway through this 30 day challenge, I journaled about my progress: 

I can write all the things I'm grateful for up to 900 or 9,000 but I still feel the weight of, "This isn't how it's supposed to be. This isn't what I dreamed and this is never what I wanted."

Clearly it was going well. But, as the month went on, I found myself thinking throughout the day, “Yes, this makes the list" or "Definitely writing that down." Knowing that I would write something down each night made me more conscious of every moment as a gift. That text message from my mom? Gift. A smile from a stranger? Gift. Rain? Gift. The smell of my sweet nieces/nephews after a bath. Baptizing Kaely and Abby. Learning hard work from parents/grandparents. Seeing a counselor. Learning to wakeboard. Sweet friends who understand. The watercolor sky. Gift, gift, gift.

As people with plans and dreams and expectations that often go unmet, we tend to be easily irritated and our default position is one of complaining and discontent. This is mostly because we like to be the point and if we're not, or if life isn't going how we thought it might, we're mad - mad at others, mad at God, mad at ourselves. But if we truly believe that there is someone who orchestrates our days, then nothing is happenstance. None of those unfulfilled dreams go unnoticed. Nothing is mistake. I recently read the book, Anything by Jennie Allen and in it she wrote, You have to thank God for the seemingly good and the seemingly bad because really, we don't know the difference [until we get to heaven].” So if we view it all as gift instead of good or bad, we not only have a better outlook but we are that much closer to joy. I realize this is more difficult when the bad is a heavy, heartbreaking grief. I know because I have felt it. In that, the only salve for your wounds I can offer is the promise of Psalm 30:5. And it may feel like a very long night, but the promise is joy on the other side.

I was told recently that I seem more relaxed than I used to be and I would say it's because I stopped trying to control. Grasping for control spins you around and around – constantly searching and striving and never really getting there - until you're left puking off the side of the merry-go-round. I was so concerned with getting there - reaching those self-imposed or even society-imposed benchmarks and milestones - that I didn't know how to enjoy anything.  I woke up every day trudging through, waiting for the day my life could really start, the day when all those dreams came true, so I missed a lot of good gifts and missed out on a lot of joy.

I finished my thirty lists of thirty things and on my 30th birthday, I wrote in my journal:

It's snowing this morning. I lit my favorite candle, made breakfast and coffee. It's so quiet I can hear the clock over my desk ticking. My house is quieter than I thought it would be on my 30th birthday. Smaller. Emptier. No babies crying for mommy. No one to kiss my face and say good morning. My life is not bad. It is different. Because of all the choices I have made in my given circumstances that have led me to sitting here alone... And that is okay. I can choose joy. 

For the record, my friends put together an amazing brunch for my 30th birthday and I have never felt more special or loved than I did that day. It was more than I could have ever known to ask for on any list. I really think that’s why I enjoyed 30 (and, so far, 31) so much – because I learned to be grateful. I learned to find joy in the every day and 30 became the most life-giving, heart-stretching, laughter-filled, best year of my entire life.

All around you, every day, in the small and the extraordinary there is a gift. Don't wait for life to start when _____ finally happens. You'll miss the joy of today and today is a pretty good day. Joy awaits.