Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Cards

Yesterday at my Scrap Happy Ones Together (SHOT) meetup (the scrapbooking group I organize), a controversial discussion topic arose: Send Christmas cards vs. don’t send Christmas cards? Email vs. USPS mail? The opinions expressed ranged anywhere from “I don’t think it really counts as a Christmas card unless a reindeer delivers it to my doorstep,” to “Ba-humbug! It’s a waste of money and time because no one really cares how many soccer games my kids won this year, or how our poor dog FiFi had to be hospitalized for her severe dog asthma.” Me, personally, I love both sending and receiving Christmas cards in the mail. Email doesn’t do much for me; but an actual physical greeting card in the mailbox, complete with a note, annual letter, and/or a family picture is always fun to receive! In fact, I so love this tradition, that I actually designed and fabricated my own version of a Christmas greeting cards holder. I’m selling them, too, as they have been quite popular! Typically, the cards received just get taped to the back of the front door or thrown in the “inbox” with the other bills and junk mail. But, I decided since I really love getting these cards and accompanying pictures and notes, it was worth making a display. That way I could enjoy and remember my friends and family all season long. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about anyway?

It’s a shame that late November and the entire month of December usually get so busy with scheduled events, parties, shopping, etc., that too often we find ourselves overextended. We barely have enough time to accomplish the tasks of our “ordinary” daily routines, let alone extra events and shopping. Too often the notion of sending out Christmas cards gets pushed to the low rung of the priority pole. It’s understandable. In addition to being pressed for time (and energy for that matter), we may find ourselves thinking, “I don’t have anything interesting to write in a Christmas letter,” or “What’s the big deal? My friends and family know I love them? Why do I need to send a silly little card at Christmas?” While I can’t answer those questions and concerns for everyone, I can speak for myself.

The main reason I make it a top priority to do the whole Christmas card “thing” is because I really want people to know that they matter to me. If one tangible way I can express my gratitude to them is by sending out a little greeting card once a year, then I’m on board. I may not have talked to the person all year, or even for 3 years. Some of the people I send cards to I haven’t really “talked” to in over 10 years (college roommates, etc.). But, I send those people a card every year as a simple way of saying, “I know we don’t really keep in touch much anymore. I know our lives have gone in different directions. But, I just want you to know you are, or were at one point, a really special person in my life and I appreciate you for that. I will always remember the good times we shared and hope you and your family are happy and blessed.”

Now, I know that everyone has his or her own different Love Language (see Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages) and “Words of Affirmation” don’t work for everyone. For some, getting a card doesn’t mean much at all. They do better with one of the other 4 Love Languages: “Quality Time”, “Receiving Gifts”, “Acts of Service”, or “Physical Touch”. But, since I usually can’t spend quality time, afford to send gifts, hug or touch or do much to serve those far away, I do the best I can by sending words of affirmation and love.

I openly admit that I struggle with depression. It’s taken many years to get to a point where I am willing to admit it and talk about it. There’s a “stigma” that seems to accompany this malady. Although, nowadays, people are becoming more aware of mental disease or defect, there are still some who are uneducated who don’t know how to deal with it. Nonetheless, it is a real affliction for me. Although I take a daily medication to help “even out” my highs and lows, there are still some days that are not as “level” as the others. There have been many, many times when I have had to run errands, go to work, church or whatever, even though it seemed to take all the effort I had in me just to get out of bed that morning. On days like that, the simplest kind word or deed can help me so much! Although not everyone struggles with depression, as I do, everyone needs love. Have you ever had someone unexpectedly let you know he or she really admires you? Or perhaps someone gave you a sincere compliment and it made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? How about the random act of kindness you received, or the welcome smile and greeting the grocery cashier offered? It’s amazing, to me, how much these little things can do.

Christmas cards are really a “little” thing. They’re pretty inexpensive (except the 42 cent postage stamp for each—don’t get me started on the United States Postal System again), and sending them really doesn't take that much time, once you set down to do them. But, they can have such a BIG impact in someone’s life. You just never know how much someone might really need an extra boost—to know that he or she is in another’s thoughts. Maybe not. Who knows? But, personally, I’d rather err on the side of sending a kind word than not. I mean, you never hear stories of people sitting around lonely and sad because he or she received just too darn many Christmas cards in the mail and died of annoyance.

Today I was opening the mail that had accumulated on my desk this week. Imagine my surprise to receive not just one, but five Christmas greeting cards! Okay, granted, one was from the CPA who does our taxes, and another was from the Vet where we take our dog, but still! Five! WOW! That felt really great! They are promptly being hung on my “Seasons Greetings” card display.

My older brother, Connon, shares our home with us. He also gets his mail here. I noticed he and I both received a Christmas card from our Dad. That’s pretty cool. I won’t go into a long history about my relationship with my Dad, but I can tell you that it hasn’t ever really been very good. My Dad is a recovering alcoholic and we had a pretty troubled childhood growing up under his "reign." Even though as an adult, I’ve tried to make peace with my past, it’s not the easiest task and definitely isn't “finished.” Occasionally, I find myself still harboring ill feelings or resentment toward him. It’s not right nor Christian, and I try to practice true forgiveness and repentance for being so hard on him. Nonetheless, forgiving doesn’t necessarily equal having a great relationship now.

Before opening my card from my Dad, I noticed that the two cards (mine and my brother's) looked different on the envelope. While I easily recognized my Dad’s beautiful penmanship (he’s always had this gorgeous, artistic looking penmanship)on Connon's card, I was confused at the writing on my envelope. I started to look more closely at the differences between the two envelopes. While the return address labels were identical on both cards, the writing on my card didn’t look much at all like what I knew to be my Dad’s. It was kind of crooked and jagged looking and looked like it may’ve taken great pains to scribe.

That’s when I found myself crying. It started slowly, but then built into a full-on weep session. My husband, Lloyd, came over to see what the matter was. It took me several minutes to calm down before I could explain. My heart just felt so much sadness and sorrow. Here I sat with a wonderful husband and family and friends nearby, counting my five Christmas cards received in one day. Conversely, my Dad could probably be found sitting alone in his little one-bedroom house wishing for a call or letter—from anyone. My dad has some pretty serious health-issues. Some of them, like his heart problems and knee problems, the doctors don’t even know how to fix. He lives with some fairly intense pain at times, and at best, limited mobility. My parents are divorced, though they still both love each other deeply. All my siblings have difficult relationships with my Dad, as well, and he doesn’t get much family interaction.

With all this, my Dad is sending Christmas cards. He has been beaten down by life in so many ways (some a result of his own poor choices and actions—but aren’t we all that way?) Yet, still, he makes the effort to send a little note to those he loves. He isn’t expecting us to return the favor. In fact, he probably pretty much expects us not to, given the troubles we’ve shared. In reality, there’s probably not much Christmas or any other kind of “cheer” in his life. Nonetheless, he sits and painfully addresses a card to each one of us, as a way of saying, “I love you. You’re in my thoughts. I care about you.” There’s probably even a cup or two of “I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve ever caused you,” written in there, too.

And so, I sit weeping. How can a man with so little give so much? How can someone who I have hated at times make me feel so loved? How can someone hurting so much make such a sacrifice to make others feel better?

That’s why Christmas cards are important to me. They’re a little thing that can mean SO much. Everything won’t magically be “fixed” between me and my Dad. But, my resolve to continue working on our relationship has returned. My desire to learn from him has increased. As much as I have fought it over the years, I am my Dad’s daughter. I am like him in so many ways! I have to wrestle with similar weaknesses, but have similar strengths to improve upon. I am a passionate person. I FEEL things. I get that from my Dad. While I can accurately say that I learned most life skills from my Mom, Teachers at school, and Church Leaders, I’ve learned a great deal about how to LOVE from my Dad. Throughout my life, I’ve watched him get knocked down (or trip and fall, whichever the case may be) again and again and again. But, the most amazing thing is that he ALWAYS gets back up. I don’t know how. I really don’t. But, he does it. I believe a large part of it is because of those he loves. I don’t believe he’s done it necessarily for his own sake. I believe it’s been because of his love for my Mom or us, his children.

While I’ll probably never fully understand my Dad, I am learning to admire different things about him. From him, I’ve learned the value of family and friends—that they are what matter most. That’s why I put aside time each Christmas season to express my love and care for those who matter in my life. I don’t want it to take 35 years (as it has for me) for those around me to recognize how much I love them.