If memory serves, I learned how to write a letter when I was in the fourth grade. Back then, letters consisted of a return address, the name and address of the recipient, a salutation, body and a signature. Many of the books of the New Testament are written in similar style – at least Paul’s letters are – thus creating a strong epistolary tradition in the church that has carried forward to this day.
Nevertheless, we have lost much of the art of letter-writing in our culture. I feel the pull of the Luddite every time I whip off a badly-worded email, a Facebook post with misspellings or a blog filled with typographical errors. And I’m not going to comment on my feeble attempts at sending carefully-crafted text messages with the blunt ends of my two-inch thumbs.
The fact is, I still love to write letters.
And I’ve also learned that people love to receive them.
Think about it. Since handwritten letters are now so rare, they can have a powerful impact upon those who receive them. A hand-written letter, a postcard or even a thank you note – are now so far outside the “norm” that when people discover one in the mailbox, they are astounded to find that these dinosaurs still exist. A paper and ink letter is an astonishing form of communication in this electronic age. And one of the reasons is – a carefully-crafted, handwritten letter requires time.
A few years ago, after I created professionally-printed letterhead with my name and address at the top, I began sending handcrafted letters (in flowing ink) to the people I wanted to thank and affirm. I now thank people at church for their generosity. I write letters of support and prayer. I try to write carefully-worded expressions or funny stories or some encouraging word to children and teenagers. Sometimes I write poems. And I have been known to write love letters to my wife.
I also write handwritten letters to publishers and editors, sometimes with gifts enclosed (a bribe), and some of these publishers actually enjoy working with me. They find me amusing and likely poke fun at me behind my back. Oh, I write letters for birthdays and anniversaries, too. Why pay Hallmark $4.95 when I can write a better poem?
I also keep those encouraging letters that I receive. I have a filing cabinet filled with affirmations (you should, too). So when I get discouraged, I go to this file and read those letters and cards of appreciation. Believe me, reading a letter can turn a bad day into a triumph.
Not long ago I received a handwritten letter from a little girl at Calvary Church. She wrote a letter as a school assignment and selected me as a person who had “impacted her life.” Her letter brought tears to my eyes, but also elation. I immediately sat down and wrote a letter back to her. To my knowledge, no one has read our correspondence except us – each letter in our own handwriting.
That’s the power of a letter!
Todd Outcalt writes his letters from Brownsburg and still buys rolls of postage stamps. He also writes for publications such as Preaching, YouthWorker and Midwest Outdoors, and has written essays on breast cancer for publications around the world. He also pens science fiction, mysteries and humor. His most recent book is Husband’s Guide to Breast Cancer.