Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Oh my leaping letters!"

"The seventh binder. Done." I sigh with relief as the scanner hums through its save-as-OCR process. Click on title. Type in "Letters 1994-95." Finished. Those binders sat on the stairs since last week, when I pulled them from the guest room shelf to make room for our kids' move-in.

Hundreds of pages litter the floor beside my office chair. They're typed, handwritten, and printed on computers. I've just scanned a decade of life, recorded in letters written (and a few received) between 1985-1995.

I call my friend Martha to read her a snippet. The words capture a shared memory of her daughters, and their family's preparations to move for work in Asia. She was in transition, as I am now.

"This was your version of blogging ... before there was blogging," she observes, laughing.

She's right. My survival mechanism has always been writing. I recorded our move to Seattle from Canada, through three rental homes, and building our own place.

My husband loved his work at the university. I was homeschooling and raising our kids: we explored everything from the fire station to the pizza shop, from music lessons to sports events.

Everything was fresh, different, and interesting. My new friends helped me understand the distinctions between our cultures. But sometimes I wondered if we'd landed on another planet.

In the early 90s, we spent 5 years getting county permits to build on our property because of the "wetland" created by one neighbor draining his gutters onto our land. We spent another year placating the neighbor on the other side, whose tree our contractor had accidentally taken down. C'mon, what would you think over the roar of the track-hoe engine, if someone pointed at a 100 foot tree, shouted and gestured, and then backed up the driveway? Yup, our track-hoe guy graciously picked up the neighbor's maple tree and tossed it into the woods "as a favor." The sheriff was preventing a murder when we arrived. (Thereafter, Darrin refused to talk to us during the 5 years he lived next door.)

I penned observations about the birth of our fourth son in a strange country. We were stunned by things we now take for granted, like huge insurance premiums, topped by a bill for $2000 to cover a total of five doctor-office visits, no attending physician at the birth, and one night in hospital with our baby before I got kicked out. I'd lain in bed for three hours with my newborn, waiting for a nurse to wash him and get me into a clean bed in the ward. It was a slow night and the nurses were gossiping at the nurse's station down the hall. They'd forgotten about us after W went home: the time from hospital arrival to birth took 10 minutes.

I finally buzzed the chatterboxes, said, "Look, you can keep the poor little guy if you want, but he needs a bath and I need to sleep!" They left a baggie of drugs at my hospital bedside: enemas, pain-killers, and laxatives to take at my discretion. What?! I sent it back to the pharmacy, intact. In Canada, we'd had two children for "free" after our minimal health insurance payments. The third cost $5 when we registered at the front desk of the hospital. Our family doctor had delivered the kids. (In the USA, our family doctor refused to have anything to do with the birth: I was sent to an OB-GYN who didn't know anything about us or our family history.) Those post-natal home visits by a community nurse? Gone.

And I wrote it all down. The good and the just-plain-seems-weird.

Who got letters? Friends, family, and a few regulars:
  • Two friend spent a few years overseas, one in the Philippines and one in Africa. I wrote  one every week about our shared communities of faculty, friends, and family. I wrote monthly to the other, mostly about new books, studies on common interests, and people we'd known in youth group at church.
  • Every week, I updated a friend while her husband did his doctorate in another state. At our university, they were the most community-minded couple. They knew everyone from alumni to retirees to current students. At church, they taught a Sunday School class for couples and young families. I couldn't imagine a year-long gap in their institutional and personal memory, so I wrote them about faculty and friends at church. The special occasions like weddings and funerals. The color of bridesmaid dresses. Who dated whom. Policies being formed at the university and who had a stake in them. (Though my husband rarely talked about his workplace, others were quite vocal; plus, I chaired the women's committee.) Later, as alumni director, I relied on these dear friends for 40 years of institutional memories.
  • My brother lived in various parts of Europe. I wrote my sister-in-law a few times a month with news about family and people we'd grown up with.
  • My aunt and uncle, beloved "second parents" to me, got at least a letter a month. Auntie M since passed away, but I still write to Uncle E.
I paused to read some of the letters as the scanner churned out the pages. I pulled out several written by others, for return to their writers this week. My daughter used to pen a few lines to her cousin at the bottom of my pages: she'll get a kick out of herself as emerging artist and writer. My college roommate is in transition: she may be encouraged by what she wrote 20 years ago. My son's mother-in-law and I meet next week: our past correspondence will stir up happy memories of when the kids were little.

Throwing out those letters is like destroying a piece of me. I stowed them to remember how and what I experienced in my 20s and 30s.

It's been helpful when working with younger women, to pull them off the shelves and understand how we mature. The letters reminded me of how much work God has done around and inside me. They expose His goodness, favor, patience, and kindness. Oh, I am grateful!

So if you find a letter in your mailbox next week, enjoy it. It's who we used to be, the feeder roots for who we are today, by God's grace

Read more:
*The Lord loves righteousness and justice. Psalm 33:5 NEV

*Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100 NIV

*Paul said, "Through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38-39 NLT

*Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that
we may present everyone mature in Christ. Colossians
1:28 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Savior of the world, you provide the chance for us to be clothed in your righteousness, bought by your suffering. Grant that we who aspire to please you do so remembering that it is your sacrifice that allows us to do so. Amen.

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