For some people, crying is a rare event. But for people like me, crying is a typical activity. And because I fall into the weeping crowd, I love it when other people cry -- in a good way, that is.
As I have been in the process of writing my 365 Letters, a common response from recipients has been that the words I sent were so meaningful that it made them cry.
Based on this response, I'm recognizing how much people need to hear words of affirmation. And not just once in a while. Even if we have heard it before, we need to know that we are loved and appreciated. That we are seen and not invisible.
So next time you have a few minutes, write someone a letter detailing what you appreciate about them. It just might make them cry.
When I set out to write my 365 Letters at the beginning of this year, that number was significant to me because it communicates a daily practice.
Before I started this project, I recognized that 365 is a lot of letters. While my desire would be to never miss a day of writing, I would likely need a measure of flexibility. The odds that I might get sick or have an incredibly hectic day was a strong possibility. My plan, therefore, has been to double up on letters for those occasional times that I might miss.
Well, this past Saturday was the first day of the year that I missed writing a letter. My husband and I were helping my sister and her family move into a new house, and by the time our evening church ended and I crawled into bed, I had completely forgotten about it.
The next day, when I realized I had not written a letter, my first inclination was to emotionally abuse myself. Words like failure popped up as that achievement part of my personality kicked in.
However, I soon realized what was going on internally and asked myself the question:
"Why am I writing letters to people each day?"
Am I seeking perfection? Or am I developing a lifestyle of blessing people? Is this a law or a way of love?
As I wrote my "make-up" letter, this led me to consider how many other areas of my life would be more enjoyable if I viewed them as practice rather than perfection. I would probably be more consistent with exercise, healthy eating, and creating if I viewed them as lifestyle rather than as a law.
What are the areas in your life that you are developing as a practice? Is this becoming a law or a lifestyle for you?
It's a four letter word, it starts with the letter "F," and it drastically affects our lives.
Okay, so it's not that "F" word. No, the word I'm thinking of is Fear. A familiar enemy, Fear is a crippling force that steals joy and hinders creativity.
Recently, I encountered Fear after writing a letter of thanks to someone I didn't know very well. Afterwards, I was concerned that my gesture would seem silly to the other person, and I avoided delivering it for a week.
Why Do I Fear Vulnerability?
Why do I hold back when I have so much love to give? Why do I fear being vulnerable?
Pondering this unsent letter has brought to mind other opportunities when I have restrained myself. One of the reasons for this has been due to past rejection. My prior expressions of love have not always been reciprocated; believing that the rejection was my fault, I have held back words of affirmation.
It's All About Me
In this cycle of Fear, there has been a lot of focus on myself. I am concerned about what others think of me, and I don't want to get hurt.
But what if I switched focus and considered that people who reject my love might do so because they are afraid? What if love scares people, and they reject it when they feel unworthy? When they feel vulnerable?
Once I acknowledged that Fear was keeping me from delivering this particular letter, there were only three options:
1) I could continue in fear and not deliver it.
2) I could wallow in agony over missed opportunities from the past, which would probably cause me to default back to option one.
3) I could reject fear and deliver it, regardless of the outcome.
With a muster of courage, I chose option three. With nervous steps, I discreetly slipped the letter into the recipient's mailbox and breathed a sigh of relief. Whether my words are received or rejected, I have released another letter of love, and that feels pretty good.
How are you conquering Fear today? How are you releasing love? I'd love to hear in the comments below.
In response to one of my 365 Letters, I recently had the pleasure of receiving a letter back. This bit of correspondence was from my nephew Malcolm.
Now, because he is only three years old, I assume that one of his parents did the actual handwriting portion; but it was clear from the contents of the letter that he had dictated the words himself.
Below is some insight that I gained from reading my nephew's letter:
No Sloppy Kisses
Since I have the cutest nephew in the world, I love to show him affection. Apparently, however, there has been a bit of personal space invasion on my end. And I quote:
"I like your hugs, but I don' like your sloppy kisses. Just nice ones."
While we may not agree on the nature of my kisses, the point is that I need to love Malcolm in a way that he can receive. Rather than cram my love down his throat, I need to be respectful of his needs and only sneak in auntie kisses every so often.
One specific mention Malcolm made was looking forward to a sleepover at my house. This tells me how important special surprises are for little ones. It reminds me that adults need to schedule special events on their calendar as well. We all need something to look forward to, to hope for, to get us through long days and difficult work weeks.
Special Note: Malcolm and I did have our sleepover last week, and it was a grand success.
The last point in Malcolm's letter was to thank me for jelly beans. The first round of jelly beans I gave him was for Easter last year. I'm not sure if this was the first time he'd ever eaten them, but ever since then, jelly beans have been our special treat.
Even though this may not seem like a big deal to me, I'm reminded that kids appreciate special traditions. When I was little, one of my favorite treats was Peanut Buster Parfaits that my dad got me from Dairy Queen. Whether a pile of jelly beans or an ice cream sundae, children show me that simple gifts can be the most precious.
Watching the news, we see a world that devalues children. We hear stories of abuse and neglect that make us shudder. This leads me to look at me own life and ask:
How do I honor the little ones in my own community?
One way I'm releasing love and respect to my youngest friends is by including them in my list of letter recipients. Granted, due to their short attention span and smaller vocabulary, these are shorter letters than those addressed to my adult friends. But as I write, I want to communicate that I value them.
While adults may feel that children benefit from us, we are, indeed, the ones who are better because of them.
What if my words run out? What if I have nothing left to say? What if my creativity runs dry?
These questions often swirl around as I attempt to move forward. Recently, this happened as I began to write my three hundred and sixty-five letters (read my post 365 Letters to learn more).
The first letter of 2015 was addressed to my husband Ben. Before I had even written the salutation, doubt bubbled to the surface. The fear that manifested was, "Do I have anything new to say to this man?" If I couldn't come up with anything new at this point in our relationship, what would happen in ten years? Twenty years? Thirty? What would I have to say to him then?
This train of thought brings about creative paralysis. As fear enters the equation, the very thing I dread happens. I freeze. I don't live.
If this life is humanity's grand opus, then I should fear the end and work to achieve maximum success before I die.
But what if I changed my perspective? Rather than looking within myself for inspiration, what if I gazed up at the stars? What if I stared into the ocean or tried to count the sand on the shore?
What if I embraced the belief that God exists? And if God does exist, He must be infinite - infinite in time, thought, and creativity. A limited god would then, by definition, not be God.
What if I go a step farther and believe that human beings reflect the nature of the Creator? If I choose to be inspired by God, I have an infinite source of inspiration.
If I consider the possibility that this life is merely a prelude to an eternal symphony, then I am free to create without fear of failure, without fear of a creative end. I would be COURAGEOUS. Creative paralysis would subside.
These are some of the thoughts I penned in the letter to my husband. The words came, and they will surely come again. As I gaze at the stars in the sky, I choose to believe in infinite possibilities.
Back in the day, there was an episode of Little House on the Prairie in which one of the townsfolk staged her own death so that her loved ones would finally come visit. She knew they would have to come to her funeral. In disguise, she attended her own wake and listened in on the conversations.
Some of us would love to attend our funeral, while some of us would avoid the experience altogether. But in general, we all desire to be remembered. We want to hear that our life was significant.
Unfortunately, we often delay verbalizing our care for one another. For some reason, it can be easy to express what irritates and bothers us, while affirming what we love is a struggle.
Recently, I had the overwhelming privilege of being publicly blessed by the employees and volunteers of the S.E. Portland Pregnancy Resource Center where I served for the past seven years. I tend to have mixed feelings when a group of people publicly expresses appreciation of me. While I crave thoughtful words, I also fear what might be said, fear what might not be said. All the attention focused on me...
As I was able to sit and hear these incredible women share their appreciation of me, some of my greatest fears and insecurities were relieved. Everything I would desire to hear about myself as a colleague, as a supervisor, and as a friend was expressed. It felt like having the opportunity to attend my own funeral.
This "funeral" experience inspired my decision to write 365 letters. I was so moved by my friends' generous words that I have become compelled to do the same for others.
We mustn't wait until death to affirm others. Life is fleeting, and now is the time to bless. Give everyone the chance to attend their own funeral.
The challenge has been proposed, and I have accepted. Three hundred sixty-five hand-written letters to friends, family, acquaintances, and even a few strangers.
Unlike many endeavors, this is not merely a project to complete. No, this is a journey to release love. By taking the time to write out words of blessing, words of affirmation, words of care, I have the opportunity to defy fear and embrace vulnerability.
We hold the power of life and death in our words. And just because we aren't saying cruel things doesn't mean we are saying encouraging things. We withhold love when we have the ability to speak words of life and don't. When we keep silent, we hold love hostage.
I anticipate learning more about myself, about others, and about God throughout this process. At the end of 2015, I expect to have an increase in my soul's wealth. By giving love, I will gain.