marking your card(s)

Earlier this week I was a bit flummoxed by the arrival of a Christmas card in the post. No, there’s nothing unusual about Christmas cards being delivered through the UK postal system. What flummoxed me was that I did not recognise one of the names on the card and the other signature was illegible so it didn’t give any clues.

I checked the postmark on the envelope and that gave me a geographical clue that has not helped at all. I am fairly sure that the card was not sent in error as it was addressed to me by name, as was the envelope. It’s frustrating because I don’t know who to thank if I see them.

But it did get me thinking about why we send Christmas cards. What’s the motivation? I have a few ideas about this. The first is that I think there are two main categories of cards – some are sent because of obligation and some are sent by choice:

Obligation – some cards are sent to people because we feel we ought to send them a card because of their role (eg business colleagues) or familial relationship with us. That does NOT mean we send the card grudgingly, but we do send it relatively automatically. These people will always be on our Christmas card list.

Choice – we send some cards to people because we have made an active decision to send them a card. We want to keep in touch with these people (even if it is just once a year) because we value them. These people would not receive a card because of their role or familial relationship with us, but even though it’s a value judgement as to whether we send a card to them we can’t deduce that they are more important if they are on this list.

So now some of you who receive a Christmas card from us will be trying to work out which category you fall into. Actually it doesn’t matter. What matters is that a card is sent. But what is the motivation behind cards received? I think it be any, some or all of these:

Keeping in touch – there are some people we don’t really hear from at any other time in the year. Our relationship is limited to the exchange of a printed piece of cardboard in December. But it is important to keep in touch with these people. We would be sad to lose touch completely. And sometimes we write things in the cards like, “We really ought to get together next year…” to express that desire, and on rare occasions we actually get around to it and it’s great.

Sharing news – there has been a noticeable drop-0ff in the number of cards we receive that have a letter in them that tells us what the sender (and their family) have been up to in the past year, and perhaps plans for the coming year. We enjoy reading these letters and try not to compare their year enviously with ours, particularly when they tell us about the six week holiday in the luxury resort in Hawaii.

Assurance of affection – some people with whom we are frequent contact send a card because they value that friendship / relationship. They send a card to confirm that the relationship is still valuable to them, and we return the compliment because we want to do the same. It can be awkward when someone sends a card for this reason and one is not reciprocated. It may be that the ‘replyer’ may not feel the same, or it may be that their card sending lacked efficiency. Sadly silence does not communicate the reason. There are always people with whom I have this imbalance and it’s usually me who fails to send, almost always because of the latter reason.

Expectation – this is almost always a card sent from the first of the two main categories. Not to send a card to these people may be considered rude or thoughtless. 

Charity – this is something I have seen growing where people post online that they are not sending cards this year but will be making a charity donation on behalf of all of their friends. I am attracted to this because it avoids some awkwardness and blesses others but it has the danger of the notice not being seen and people wondering whether you still care.

It’s complicated isn’t it? But I am reassuring myself with a couple of reflections:

There are very few people who will hold a grudge if I have forgotten to send them a card. This is not an excuse for failing to send one that you want to / intend to send but can make you feel better when your eye keeps getting drawn to that card on the mantelpiece and you know it’s too late to send it now.

A phone call or electronic communication is almost as good. If I have forgotten I can still call, text, message, send social media messages, and so on.

Behind the Christmas story we find all of these things: God sent his son into the world because of the relationship he has with us as our creator (obligation) and because he wants that relationship to be better (choice). The Incarnation (God with us) is his way of keeping in touch with us (and some of us manage it once a year at a Carol Service) – he would love to meet up with us next year. In the Christmas message he shares the good news of peace, hope, joy and love – there’s no need to be envious, he offers the same to all of us. He wants to assure us of his affection for us – not just ‘thinking of you’ but a passion and enthusiasm for you that will not give up even if you don’t reply. And he promised he’d do it, creating an expectation that we find fulfilled in Jesus. God’s desire is to bless all of humanity, with no exceptions, although his method of communication to us all risks his message not being heard and some people may wonder if he cares. 

Be blessed, be a blessing (and please don’t be too upset if you don’t get a card from me!)

post it

postit
actually, not this sort of ‘post it’

Yesterday I had three pieces of correspondence relating to the first church in which I ministered (they are still recovering 12 years after I left!).

The first was a letter from the General Register Office, who are the people who oversee the registration of births, deaths and marriages. The letter was sent to the church in Colchester where I minister. It said that they had sent me a letter which was returned marked ‘no longer at this address’ and so they wanted to confirm if this was the case – in which case they would remove me from being registered as the Authorised Person at the church (able to conduct weddings). I phoned the office, negotiated my way through the options in their menu, and explained that I had received a letter saying that I was not at that address (yet presumably sent to the address I was assumed not to be at!) After some keyboard tapping and mouse-clicking from the other end it was found that the letter that had been returned had been sent to the address where I resided when I was in my first church which is 100 miles away in West Sussex.

I was rather surprised at this as I had not lived there for more than 12 years!  The man at the other end of the line put it down to ‘computer error’ and corrected it so that in future correspondence should at least go to the correct town… (In case I have married you or am about to and you are worried that I am not legal, I am!)

The second item of correspondence I opened was a letter. It was from a lady who was a member of the West Sussex church where I first ministered and was incredibly encouraging. That she had taken the time and trouble to find out where I was now and to write (using a pen, children!) to me blessed my socks off. How kind and thoughtful!

The third item was from a friend in Horsham – a Christmas card. Now we get lots of Christmas cards and we love them all, it’s a special way of reminding someone that you are thinking of them (and it blesses Royal Mail shareholders too now). But this one had a personal message about our friend that brought a tear to my eye. (It’s a personal message so I am not going to share it with you, sorry!)

Isn’t it amazing the difference a letter or card can make? A letter based on an error could have made it very difficult next year when I tried to conduct my next wedding if I had not responded to it and corrected the error (it’s better to correct a mistake as soon as you discover it than to ignore it and hope it will correct itself or go away). A letter written to encourage me blessed me so much and revealed someone’s generosity of spirit that reflects God’s generosity and desire to bless. And a Christmas card with a personal note of just 8 words brought joy welling up from within.

So when you are writing the 101 Christmas cards, be encouraged by the thought that it may bless and encourage the person who receives it. And if you have a moment, think about whom you can encourage (I had another card yesterday from another friend with an encouragement in it) – perhaps someone who blessed you a long time ago.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Yesterday my sister posted a joke on Facebook about a hedgehog and it inspired me to find some others. This one made me chuckle:

The devout cowboy lost his favourite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a hedgehog walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth.

The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the hedgehog’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”

“Not really,” said the hedgehog. “Your name is written inside the cover.”