Years ago, my mother-in-law, Hope, discovered her husband was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Stunned, I felt helpless in the face of her suffering. What could I do? Finally, I had a moment of inspiration: I decided I'd fill her mailbox with encouraging notes and funny snippets to make her smile. A few days each week, I grabbed a pretty card, scribbled a quick note to say she was in my prayers, enclosed cartoons and photos of her "grand dogs" (no grandkids at the time), stuck a stamp on the envelope, and mailed it.
"Your notes were like a warm blanket around me," Hope told me later with a smile. "Even though you couldn't take away the hurt or make the situation change, you helped take my focus off my pain."
Today we communicate by telephone, cell phone, fax machine, e-mail, and the Internet. In the hectic pace of our busy lives, who has time to correspond the old-fashioned way? Yet the more convenient our communication becomes, the more temporary it is. We can't hold an encouraging phone call in our hands or refer to it later. Faxes don't come on scented paper, and e-mails, even when printed, don't please the eye as much as a beautiful floral note card or post card does. We forget how meaningful that personal touch can be. Nothing beats opening a real mailbox and pulling out a real piece of paper written on with real ink by the hand of a real person.
I was 13 years old when I wrote my first encouraging letter. In just a few months, my new youth pastor, Andrew, had shown me how exciting being a Christian could be. His enthusiasm for the Bible and his love for the Lord were contagious. Even as a kid, I wanted Andrew and his wife to know how special they were. So I chose a note card, filled it with heartfelt words, and felt a warm glow come over me as I dropped it in the mail. I knew I was doing a good thing.
At the next Bible study, Andrew told the whole youth group how much my note had encouraged his wife and him. After I got over my embarrassment (I was a teen, after all!), I was pleased my letter had made these two special people feel good. And I never forgot it. Now, almost 30 years later, I'm still sending encouraging cards and letters. I've written to family and friends, colleagues and coworkers, pastors and mentors, moms and moms-to-be, children and well-known Christian leaders, and more. I still get that warm glow inside, too. And I'm not the only one.
A few years ago, Michelle Williams, a stay-at-home mother of two, noticed certain people kept coming to mind. She felt compelled to write them but ignored the promptings, telling herself she was too busy. That is, until she realized God was urging her to write to them. Now when a name enters her mind, she immediately sits down to write a note. And it isn't a struggle for her to come up with the right words: "A whole letter forms in my brain," she says. Michelle writes encouraging notes for a variety of reasonsfor people who are grieving or depressed, who lose their jobs, who accomplish something to celebrate, or who need to be praised.
After Michelle wrote to a man whose father had died, the man thanked her. He said, "I'm having a hard time right now, and I appreciate your prayers." While she's glad to know her notes encourage others, she doesn't write them to get thanks. She does it because she senses God urging her to. She feels blessed that God's using her this way.
For four years, Carmen Leal also had what she calls "a letter ministry." A single mom with two young boys, Carmen worked full-time for a publishing firm before starting her own business. Yet she found time to encourage others by writing after her quiet time or at night instead of watching television. Carmen explained, "Every day during my quiet time I'd pray over the church directory to see who God wanted me to encourage. It was truly amazing to see how those little notes ministered to the women to whom I wrote."
Crystal Miller, who worked part-time volunteering with several organizations while raising four young boys, took to heart 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." She wrote to many people, including the women in her Bible study group. Crystal prayed about the people before she started writing and thought about their gifts and abilities, about what made them special. Then she made sure to mention those things in her letters.
If you'd like to encourage someone but aren't sure what to say, point out his or her gifts and abilities as Crystal did. Or ask yourself what would lift your spirits if you were in the same situation. For example, I wrote this note to a young mother of four: "In case you sometimes forget, or in case you need to hear it today, I want to remind you that you're doing valuable, priceless, precious workGod's workand he'll reward you for your faithfulness. He loves you and your special little ones, and he'll always keep youand themin his care." I enjoyed writing the note because I knew how encouraged I'd feel if I received it.
Like that message, many of my notes are only a few sentences long. Some simply say, "I'm thinking of you today." You don't have to write a lengthy letter on expensive stationery. A short note on a pretty blank card, an art post card, or a simple sheet of paper will do. If I find a recipe a friend would like, a magazine article that reminds me of someone, or even a sheet of stickers that my niece would love, I send it with a line that says, "This made me think of you. Enjoy!"
In the fragrance of kindness, author Cheri Fuller says, "Letters have the magical capacity to encourage not once, or twice, but as many times as the recipient pulls out the faded paper on which the words are writtenand rereads them." Words have the power to give encouragement long after the writer has forgotten them.
Three years ago, during a painful time in my life, my sister, Donna, wrote me several wonderful letters. I've read those messages of love over and over. One of my favorites says: "My heart aches for you. I would do anything for you, anytime, night or day. You have always meant so much to me, and I love you like no other. Please lean on me; please let me help. You are a beautiful woman of God, and I know he has you on his mind every second of every day. He has plans for you, to give you a hope and a future." Those words were like a salve to my aching heart.
Another one from Donna I'll always treasure shows an outline of my 17-month-old niece's tiny hand, representing God's hand. Inside the hand is written, "My dearest LeAnne." Underneath Donna wrote Isaiah 49:15-16: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." It's a beautiful visual of God's boundless, limitless love for me, as well as a special keepsake for a proud aunt!
A warm smile and a cheery comment can make someone's day, but the written wordwhich represents an investment of the sender's time, however smallcan cheer up a person repeatedly. In his book, The Power of Encouragement , pastor David Jeremiah says, "Written encouragement comes directly from the heart, uninterrupted and uninhibited. That's why it's so powerful."
It only takes a few minutes to pick up your pen and write, "You're in my thoughts today." Those few minutes you spend can have the impact of a warm hug on someone who desperately needs it.
It takes so little to do so much.
LeAnne Benfield Martin is a writer and speaker.