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The joy of receiving (and writing) letters

When I opened my mailbox last week, my heart skipped a beat. There amongst the bills and junk mail was a letter! The postmark was from Bismarck, N.D., and I recognized the neat handwriting -- it was a letter from my friend, Carolyn.

Ah, the joy of receiving a hand-written letter! Oftentimes, letters are much better than a telephone call or an e-mail. I think that's because you appreciate a letter. It means someone took the time to sit down and write their thoughts on paper.

Letters make life slow down a little bit. The quiet time it takes to write a real letter is an hour that nourishes your own soul. It's sort of like cooking. When you choose a recipe, you are creating something from scratch. You may even add a few extra touches to make the letter special -- photos, cheerful stickers, a newspaper clipping or a surprise tucked inside.

My grandmother was known for her beautifully written letters and the surprises she'd include inside. While she loved to talk on the phone, she spent much of her free time writing letters to her family and friends she and Grandpa had acquired over the years.

I remember being the recipient of my grandma's letters while in college as well as after college when I lived 300 miles from home. Again, my heart would flutter as I carefully opened one of her letters. I couldn't wait to hear about news back home -- even if it was about the simple things, like ... "We got two inches of rain, but we sure needed it for the crops. Your grandpa was very happy; he even danced a little jig around the living room!" Or she'd write: "The church dinner is coming up on Sunday. Our group made 30 gallons of coleslaw. I bought you a raffle ticket so I hope you win the quilt." She'd close the letter with her usual thoughtful, loving way: "God bless you, Sugar Plum. I pray for you every day. Love, Grandma."

While it may seem like simple prose to most folks, to me it was a glimpse into a life I used to be around all the time. My grandma's commentaries were the best medicine for me when I was lonesome for home. Oftentimes, I would re-read the letter three or four times and then file them in the top drawer of my dresser.

Besides hearing news from home, I used to love how Grandma would slip in a surprise or two. Typically, it was a newspaper clipping or a funny quote she cut out of the church bulletin. And I could always count on one thing - she would include a $5 bill. To a college student who was usually low on funds, that cash was like gold! I think Grandma knew the money was greatly appreciated, but she also knew she'd be the recipient of a thank you card or letter from me.

I've kept many of my grandma's letters, which are now more precious than ever since she's passed on. I miss receiving those letters. That's why I always cherish letters I receive from my mother and my friends.

I admit I don't write as many letters as I used to. But it seems most people I know don't either. Has letter writing become a lost art? Have e-mail and blogs replaced the old-fashioned letter? Are people too busy to sit down, gather their thoughts and compose a letter? Or perhaps people have forgotten how to use their good penmanship skills?! Whatever the reason, writing letters shouldn't be lost to computers, cell phones and the hurry-scurry of life.

One of my favorite authors, Richard Carlson, who penned the best-seller, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," challenges people to write one heart-felt letter a week. Carlson wrote: "Picking up a pen slows you down long enough to remember the beautiful people in your life. The act of sitting down to write helps to fill your life with gratitude."

So pick up a pen, sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and start writing. I know I will: Dear Carolyn ...