This week I spent hours going through cards and letters I have saved for fifty years. Yes, I have kept every card and letter I have ever received since 1970! Fifty years! I have saved Christmas cards, Mother’s Day cards, Valentines cards, thank you cards from students, parents, and others, love letters, and every other letter sent to me for fifty years. Why? I have no idea. However, I have totes full of them and decided it was time to enjoy and discard. While it was a daunting and at times emotional task, I was encouraged by the unexpected epiphanies about life I received from such an endeavor and decided to document five of them so I would not forget.
1. Humans are not as “one way or the other” as we often portray them in our minds. Reading back over many letters and cards, I discovered that some conclusions I had come to about people from my past were not so cut and dried. “Selfish people” had sent cards of support and love, so had “neglectful people.” “Uncaring people” had shown caring that I had simply forgotten. It caused pause. Lord, let me see the truth about people with generous assumptions- not just from my past but today.
2. Sometimes my perceptions are dead-on-accurate and need to be acknowledged and validated, even if only by myself. I have a tendency to be hard on myself and when a conflict arises, I first assume that I am the major culprit. Somehow, this (whatever “this” is) has to be my fault. Reading through some of the old letters made me realize that there are times when I have truly been justified in my anger, pain, or perception. It helped confirm that I can listen to my instincts and act accordingly to take care of myself.
3. I hurt people too. It was hard to read letters in which the writer shared hurt or frustration I had caused them. It was much easier (years later) to look back and see those moments with clarity and remorse at some of my selfish actions. It was also comforting to recognize the grace that I had been given and to be filled with gratitude for that grace. It was good to be reminded that I hurt people too. Rereading these hard letters also created a strong desire in me to be mindful to share the grace I had been given with others who had hurt me.
4. Often what I feared the most never happened. Even after all these years, I cherished the letters I found that provided comfort, support, and love. I was reminded of some brutally hard times (events I still struggle to write about) and the fear that accompanied them. I remembered envisioning all the tragedies that could happen as a result of these events and those imaginings were far worse that the reality of the experience. Looking back became a clear picture of how fear can become a fierce dictator that often does not show up to make true upon his threats. Most of what I feared never happened. What an encouragement for the times of today.
5. With God’s ever-present faithfulness, I can get through even the worst of times. Nothing reveals God’s faithful presence more than taking a walk down memory’s path and revisiting the many times His intervention has comforted, protected, strengthened, and guided me through. I am so thankful for every time he used friends and family to be a conduit of His love through verbal and written words and/or just a well-timed hug. More importantly, it was the reminder of how faithful His everlasting arms had been to hold me during those difficult times that strengthens me even today.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
After I threw out 3 and 1/2 trash bags full of cards and letters from my past (I have to admit I still kept a fair amount of them) I sat back grateful for the time spent doing something I would probably never have done, the purging it allowed and the lessons it taught. Thank you, Lord.