I have a file in my home office, a red one, perhaps red for emergency, just before one labeled “AMAZING GRACE” in large felt marker caps, a providential juxtaposition. In my lazy print, this one says “I Love Steve.” In it I try to place every written word of encouragement I have ever received. I’m blessed. It’s thick with love. Even if I don’t withdraw the file very much, I like seeing it there, and tonight, as I draw it out, it’s bulging heft alone is encouragement.
Pastor Oswald Sanders once said that the most needed gift of all was that of encouragement. And while we can and should encourage one another orally, the written word is the living word, the remembered word, the one that more often resonates in your soul. Sanders also said that true leaders write letters. I take these words out when I feel feel discouraged, to remind me of reality, to give me perspective, to put courage in me. I try to use it not to feed my ego but as a check on morbid self-deprecation, which is the underbelly of ego. Pride and self-pity, I learned long ago, both feed self- centeredness.
A brief glimpse at the file turns me away from self and toward God, in gratitude. Too long and I might err. In one note, a former co-worker says “I’m honored to call you friend." Someone else says “I can’t imagine life without you.” The scrawled penmanship of a teenage Ugandan boy says “I love you, papa.” One friend says “you have helped us to keep going when we felt like giving up.” In the middle of the card my eyes fall to the all-caps, bold, and underlined word “INCREDIBLE,” and I do feel incredible, reading that. And here’s a homemade Thanksgiving note, on orange paper, that references a litany of deeds, mostly small, and concludes by acknowledging “you kept on loving me through it all.” I stop there, as I am encouraged enough, for now.
A few such encouragements stay on my desk, 24-7, where I can catch them from the corner of my eye. A card from my wife is prominent, the latest letter in a bottle. There is a bundle of letters from camp written by my daughter, still carrying a trace of humid Ozark mountain air, addressed to “Dad and Mom” as if the letter carrier will know the very important addressees, and which bear watermarked stamps from Missouri with The Incredibles on them. And, not least, there is a handwritten note from my son about me as father which I would discount but for the fact that he is a truth-teller. These small pieces of paper are like gold, and it is barely enough to see them everyday. Scraps of paper, that’s all, etched with ink. But they speak life.