To the Letter

Two things seem to be antiquated: handwritten letters and printed books with pages meant to be turned. Both of these I genuinely enjoy, so they continue to take up space in my life.

There is a particular author who I have become fond of that has long since passed onto eternity, but I value his insight, and his voice of knowledge rings true for my spiritual growth. His books are still in print, and instead of downloading them, I have made it a personal goal to buy and create a library. I find myself scouring eBay quite frequently, looking for the price I want and the format I would prefer. Usually, this happens as I am engrossed in one of his books, and a reference is made about another title. This puts me on the hunt.

The last time this happened, I was doing my usual mental back and forth regarding paperback versus hardcover. Loud and clear in my mind, I heard: Go with the hardcover!

That narrowed my choices as there was only one. In an instant, it was in the shopping cart, payment was rendered, and I forgot all about it until it arrived a week later.

After retrieving it from the mailbox, I carefully unwrapped the package, then flipped through it to check for highlighted passages or see if any secret notes were scribbled in the margins. I never view these as flaws in used books, and I feel a little disappointed when there aren’t any. It’s fun to read what impacted another and to see if it would resonate with me.

The pages were crisp and clean, so feeling a slight letdown, I went to close it and put it aside until I had finished my current one. That’s when I noticed the letter neatly folded, tucked inside the cover. I smiled, thinking how I will use anything available as a bookmark. Gas receipts, car recall notices, and old bills have not been spared when I need a placeholder.

I unfolded it, saw that it was from 1998, and gave it a quick read. It’s funny how a person can look at a date and make an assumption. I figured the author of the note was either deceased or unreachable. I also had difficulty determining who had been the recipient and why the writer had sent it. It was apparent that there had been a passing, but who needed to be consoled? A widow, perhaps? Because I didn’t have time to delve deeper, I put the whole matter aside.

The following week, I thought that maybe my daughter would benefit from reading that particular book. As I gave it to her, I said,

“There’s a bizarre letter in the front of it. I don’t get it. It’s 23 years old, and probably everyone is long gone who was involved with that.”

Not listening to me as usual, she went online and quickly found information about the man who wrote it.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, there’s got to be a million men in the world with the last name Brown.”

I had tried to search for him and came up with half a million and quit looking. Talk about your needle in a haystack!

“No, this is him. I know it is.” She had this tone that left no room for arguing.

Still, I was unfazed. I had let my head take over, and I thought this would be an embarrassing situation if I contacted the wrong person. Because of her insistence that I can never refuse, I sent off a message. As soon as I hit send, I started to feel sadness in my chest, like when you lose something valuable, and you can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try.

I looked at her and said,

“I think you found the right Jerry. I don’t know how I am even saying this, but it’s him.”

Randomly, she opened the book to a page where the author discussed his recent North Carolina and Minnesota trips. A coincidence? No, because that is where Jerry was from and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis.

Within a few hours, I heard the familiar sound of my phone receiving a response to my message. I wanted to look, and yet I didn’t.

I found this stranger to be kind and appreciative regarding my efforts to get in contact with him. I had asked if he wanted me to mail his special note back to him, but he told me to keep it. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he and one of the men mentioned in the letter, Bryant, had been best friends. He had penned and given it to Bryant when his dad had passed in 1998.

The book had been on Bryant’s bookshelf with Jerry’s letter kept safely inside. He told me that in May, Bryant had died of cancer just before his 70th birthday. The magnitude of that hit me, and both my newfound acquaintance and I could not help but tell each other that we were sobbing. He admitted that he missed his best friend terribly, and it was startling for him to see the letter from so long ago. Both of us came to understand the profound meaning of what was occurring.

Jerry’s words of comfort were now being sent back to him from heaven. I was so glad that I had listened and chose the copy of the book I now owned. One minute I was laughing, the next, I had tears flowing down my neck like a river. Out of all the people in the world, I had been allowed to help lift another soul. Can anything compare to that? I don’t think so.

It is stated in Matthew 6:8: …for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him…

I didn’t realize that I needed to have this experience just as much as Jerry because it reminded me of how much we are loved beyond what we can hold in our hands or see with our eyes. God knows precisely what will touch us and bring us peace, right down to the letter.

Adapt

Last year right after Christmas, my local hardware store had a clearance on all of their seasonal products. I had been admiring all the candy canes glowing in backyards as I drove around, so I went in and purchased some for the following year. I put them in the closet thinking it would be a long time before I would ever even get to use them until suddenly it was November and unseasonably warm. Because I have struggled to put up lights in frigid bone chilling weather before, I decided to string them up while the weather was still decent.

After examining the instructions which basically showed a small stake being inserted into the bottom of the cane, I got to the task of unwrapping them, pulling off sticky adhesive and plugging them in to one another on the kitchen floor. For good measure I tested them to make sure they lit up, and I was pretty proud of myself when I lined them up in the yard across the front of the house like soldiers in perfect formation.

Amazed at the ease of all of this, I grabbed an extension cord from the garage with much enthusiasm to see my handiwork. When I tried to connect the two, they didn’t fit. I proceeded to dig up every single cord I could find to no avail. Nothing I had was working. Suddenly, my excitement was dying.

“I have to go the hardware store,” I told my daughter.

She knows full well my dislike for not having things work right, and on top of it, I had to go into a store that I consider more for those who like to get their hands dirty.

I brought a cane with me, and upon entering, a young teenage boy asked if he could help me. I explained my story, and with a frown he said,

“We have extension cords over in this aisle.”

He tried the black one, the green one, the brown one and the orange with no luck.

A woman who worked in the store joined him in his pursuit. Another young male crammed into the aisle as we all tried to find the right connection.  The store was empty so this was the height of excitement for them.  We all were coming up empty handed.

“This plug needs an older model,” the woman said.

“I just bought this in the store last year.”

“I know, but they change things all the time. I don’t know if we are going to have anything for this to work.”

My hopes were plummeting as she and the boys were getting nowhere.

“Jerry, can you come to aisle 4 please?” she said into her device. “I am having the store manager come over. He usually knows what to do.”

A tall dark haired man joined us in our quest to figure out an answer. I was reminded of an old joke:

How many people does it take…..to find an extension cord?

He frowned, he looked up and down the shelves and said, ‘no, nope, no’ as he went along.

I was starting to feel hot in my jacket not just from the warmth of the store but from the stupidity of what was happening. Not aimed at the help I was receiving but in regard to the situation of having something brand new, never used, and with the prospect of it already being out of date.

I peered around a corner and saw that the store was selling the exact plastic product that I had purchased on clearance.

“You are selling these right now, so how are people going to set these up?” I asked him.

“You are the first person to come in here with this problem,” the lady said to me as if this was something to be proud of.

Wonderful news, I thought.

As I followed behind Jerry to another aisle, I whispered to my daughter,

“There has to be a solution to this!”

That is when I said inwardly,

God, I need this fixed right now! I expect an answer to this problem.  There must be something that can make this to work.

Suddenly, the man stopped in front of me, went back to the aisle we had just left, and stood there for a second.  I saw his head jerk as if someone had slapped him.

“OH! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”

He reached up and plucked down a large orange object that had many different outlets around it.

“This should help,” he said.  With ease the two fit like they were made for one another.

I was able to go home, use this device and stand back and admire the beautiful lights that would not have been possible without getting something new to make them work.

With the fast paced world we live in, we often want to make the ‘old’ fit when times are calling to let in the ‘new.’

Change is inevitable even though some of us want to ignore it or fight it.

There are times when we don’t have a choice.  Divorce papers are handed over or a death comes unexpectedly.  How do we cope when a large gaping hole suddenly comes and brings despair?

The only thing I have found to work in all situations is prayer whether the change is a good one by my choosing or it is seemingly out of my control.

In Psalm 91:14-15 we are given this great assurance:

14 For the Lord says, “Because he loves me, I will rescue him; I will make him great because he trusts in my name. 15 When he calls on me, I will answer; I will be with him in trouble and rescue him and honor him. (TLB)

The only requirement mentioned is that you love God, and like a good Father, He will help out his children.

As we go along into the next year with unknown situations ahead of us, the most uplifting thing we can cling to is that we can call on our Creator who will not abandon us but will comfort us in our times of sorrow, will guide us in the right direction and will hold our hand when we need to adapt.

cane