Small Gestures

My mother is famous (in our corner of the world, at least) for sending greeting cards–hundreds each year for birthdays and anniversaries.  Nearly every day, she sits down and chooses birthday cards, signs them, puts them in envelopes, addresses them, stamps them, and dates them to put in the mail box.  She has learned over many decades just how long it takes for cards and letters to travel to various parts of the country and world, and times each card to arrive as close to the actual date of the event as possible.

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As a girl growing up, I found this ritual time-consuming, wasteful, and bizarre.  The calendar was a crowded mass of names, copied faithfully from last year’s calendar and crammed full of new births and recent marriages.  Once the card had been chosen and signed, Mom would have to look up addresses in an ancient address book crammed with scraps of paper and index cards with changes, notes, and other esoteric information.   Mom sent cards to people I had never heard of or met– old friends she knew from school, people my father knew from his army days, distant cousins, people who used to live in the neighborhood from before I was born.  Each year, there would be cards returned to sender as people we barely knew moved and mom lost contact with them, often for good.

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When I was old enough and sassy enough, I asked her why she bothered.  What value did she see in doing something so simple, yet so complicated– who cared whether someone they had never met (or barely remembered) sent them a 2-cent greeting card?  She patiently answered that perhaps no one cared (though she hoped it meant something), but she did it because one year, when she was young and times were very tough, she had received a beautiful birthday card from an unlikely source– the only card she received that year.  It came from her “uncle” Ralph, who was not actually her uncle, but a dear friend of the family.  “Uncle” Ralph had grown up in an abusive home, and had lost two sisters in childbirth.  He knew the pain of being forgotten on his own birthday, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to his “niece.”  Mom’s birthday wasn’t “forgotten” that year, but there was no money for fancy cards that year– just enough for a small, unfrosted cake and many good wishes.  Mom faced other “tough” years as a young wife and mother, when she couldn’t afford gifts or cards for birthdays.  This one small gesture so impressed my mother that she made it her mission, when she could afford to do so, to send as many greeting cards as she could to as many people as she could.  As a follower of Christ, moreover, she does it from a heart that wants constantly to show love to just one more person for whom Christ died.

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In the many years since my impertinent question, I have seen the incredible ministry my mother has had, and have heard from some of the many lives she has touched with her cards and her kind thoughts.  Time after time, I have heard of people who were strengthened and encouraged by her example and her thoughtfulness.  She is the living extension of God’s heart as she lovingly signs each card, walks it out to the mail box, and sends it on its way.

Many people have stopped sending greeting cards– we are more likely to send a text message or tweet a birthday greeting– if we think about it, or if it pops up in our news feed and we can just click a button. Yesterday was my birthday…I received three actual paper greeting cards (and yes, one was from my mother, one from my mother-in-law, and one from the ladies’ group at church).  I was blessed and touched by each one– and by the dozens of on-line greetings and random birthday wishes in the days before (and probably after), as well as the hugs and special time spent with my husband and other family members.

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I don’t send cards through the mail as my mother does, but I find myself typing Happy Birthday greetings on all my friends’ news feeds– sending happy thoughts to them,  their children and grandchildren; their spouses and cousins (though I’ve never met them)–and each time, I am reminded that even a seemingly small gesture can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.  And, because of Mom’s example, I write every name in my prayer journal.  As I turn the pages each day, I see the names of two, three, or even ten precious souls– all infinitely and passionately cherished by the creator of the universe–and I have the honor to lift each one up in prayer to the One who knows and loves them best.

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