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Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Letter of Love




The details of a loved one's life are never tedious.

That's what I found myself thinking as I read a real, handwritten letter from my dad earlier this week.

Letters are so rare, so to find one in my mailbox was a real treat. I remember the days when checking the mail used to be exciting--there might be something in there from a real person. Now, it's mostly advertising junk and the occasional bill that doesn't come electronically. So a real letter from a real person--it almost feels surreal.

I love my dad's handwriting. It implies that he is in a great hurry. The letters slant so far to the right they appear to be running across the page. I feel like I must read quickly before they tumble off the righthand margin. I imagine that he is trying to write as quickly as he thinks. When I handwrite, as I do in my prayer journals, it is in part because I intentionally want to slow down my thoughts and let them take full shape. Handwriting lets me process outside of my own head, often a very good place to be. But I don't sense a slowing in his letter, which is interesting, because his life has very much slowed down from what it used to be.

I hear his voice in the words he uses too. He grew up in a fairly rural area of West Virginia. There are colloquialisms and word choices he uses that are common to no one else I know. ("Kindly," for instance, shows up in unexpected ways.) It's his voice there on that page. When I read it a second time, it's even more his voice.

The content is not anything someone will find in my attic decades from now and use to rebuild important events in human history. He tells me about his day and his health. His breathing was good enough and the temperature cool enough that he sat on the porch for an hour. A simple pleasure he can't always enjoy. The day he made two trips to the grocery, and the friend he saw there. "She looks beautiful," he says. "I always worried she was too tired and thin, but today she looked rested and healthy. I'm glad. I was kindly worried about her." He tells me what he made for dinner, and why--a superfluous bounty of squash had arrived at his door when he was out at the store. He doesn't know who the giver was, but "that was nice of them."

And as I read, I realize these everyday details that I'm not there to live through with him seem so much more valuable because of our distance. And that the details of a loved one's life are never tedious. I want to know.

I don't mean to suggest a litmus test for love. If you grow weary of the same old, same old from someone in your life, I don't mean to suggest that you don't love that person. (Something in the fact that you are there hearing those details, even if you are weary, still suggests love, doesn't it?) But yet, when I notice how precious they are to me, I realize the affection I have for him. It is a gift. I shouldn't take it for granted. So I will keep this rare letter, and maybe one day my daughters will try to decipher the racing letters, and envision an ordinary day in their grandfather's later life, and want to know him more, and actually, by reading it, they will know him more.

I have a friend at church who is often reminding those of us who will listen that God's writings to us are love letters. I love that. A letter of his love from Father God. In the details of my own life, which are many and at times tyrannical in their urgency, I far too often find myself reading that Father's love letters to me with all the affection I might feel reading an instruction manual for changing a lightbulb in the microwave. Looking for the instructions. Trying to meet my grown-up responsibility and check off that one thing for the day. Ugh. Forgetting that these words are what I need, for my good, to know him more, to hear his voice in the pages, to delight in his view of this life and this world and all his great purpose in it.

His fingerprints are all over my life. I know it. He's writing my story into this greater one, and when I shake myself awake from the tyranny of the urgent, there it is: His voice. It's not in the whirlwind of all the requirements of the day. It's not in the fire of other people's expectations and judgments. It's in that still, small, quiet voice, aware of the other turmoil, but holding steady beneath it and above it and speaking to me, like my earthly dad--come into my story, be comforted, be held, know that it's all for a purpose, I have taken care of it, and I'll never let you go. The book isn't a burden. It's a love letter.

And the ember of affection ignites.