Signed, Sealed and Delivered
Signed, Sealed and Delivered
TV producer Martha Williamson is still a believer in the value of a handwritten letter.
Like most people these days, I can’t imagine life without e-mail. Texting is even more convenient, especially since I have two teen daughters. But there’s something about a letter, something more personal, more meaningful.
It says that someone took time to put on paper what they felt. Sometimes people reveal something they might not have told you any other way, something that can touch your life forever.
Let me tell you about three letters that made a difference to me.
Freshman year of college I was struggling. I’d ventured far from home, from Colorado to Williams College in western Massachusetts.
Williams was and still is one of the most academically challenging colleges in the country and looks like a movie set: ivy-covered walls, Gothic columns, expansive green lawns in a charming village.
It seemed as though half my classmates had gone to boarding school. They’d already lived away from home and arrived on campus with an air of sophistication I couldn’t match. (All I knew of preppies was from the movie Love Story. )
I’d been named “Outstanding Senior” at Denver South High and was the editor of the school yearbook. I’d led my church youth group and won a prestigious scholarship. None of that seemed to count for much with my accomplished classmates.
But I loved to sing, and I was cast as the lead in the Freshman Revue. Finally something at college I could excel at! The rehearsals and performances didn’t allow much time for studying, and then there were friends to make and parties to go to.
Despite my straight A average in high school, I didn’t have good study habits. My first college report card proved it. I sat on my dorm-room bed, staring at C’s and D’s.
I knew my parents had gotten a copy of my grades. My mother was an advocate for women’s education and the treasurer of an international organization of university women. My dad ran his own business and was a pillar of the community. They’d been so proud I was following in their footsteps.
I could have called home, but long-distance calls were expensive then. Besides, telling my parents, “I couldn’t cut it in college. I’m so sorry I’ve disappointed you” hardly seemed attractive.
Mail was delivered to the student union, where every week I’d find waiting for me a thick packet of Denver news clippings from Mom with a “Daddy says hi” tacked on. I put off checking my mailbox but I couldn’t avoid the student union forever.
Finally I walked in and Mrs. Marlowe, who sorted our mail, announced, “You’ve got something.” I peeked inside my mailbox. No clippings this time. A letter. Two letters.
I grabbed them and sat on a bench outside to read. My dad’s letter was typed on his business stationery, onionskin paper that crinkled in my shaking hands.
The keys on his old Smith Corona would strike the paper so hard that some letters were raised like Braille and others made holes. I could see through the f ’s and the o’s. I could hear his voice, quiet, firm, kind.
“I understand you are struggling. We have all been there,” he wrote. Dad, struggle? He always seemed so confident! “We all fail sometimes. We disappoint ourselves. And our family. But those who deserve to be at the top, when they fail, get right back up to the top again. And I know you will.”
Then he quoted a Scripture: “From those to whom much is given, much is required.”
I put down the letter, running my fingertips across the paper. Dad wasn’t ashamed of me. He believed I could succeed. If only I could believe in myself as he did!
Then I opened the envelope from Mom, addressed in her generous, unmistakable hand. As I read, the miles between us disappeared and her words went straight to my heart.
“I suspect you are carrying burdens and feeling overwhelmed...perhaps you feel guilty about choices that you are not proud of....” I hadn’t told her about the partying. She knew.
“This is the time when everything we’ve taught you will kick in. Persistence. Forgiveness. Faith. Remember, you can tell us anything, but if you can’t, there is always One you can go to.”
I’d never heard Mom speak so personally about God. About needing him. She sang in our church choir and we said grace at dinner, but here, in this letter, she was sharing something much deeper. She was sharing her relationship with God.
He wasn’t someone I’d left behind when I came east for college. He was right here, ready to help. All I needed to do was talk to him.
I did, often. College got much better. My grades improved. I joined the Ephlats, an a cappella group that sang at dinners and concerts. I discovered a passion for writing. I also fell in love with a guy in the Ephlats.
Steve was three years older, a smart, thoughtful scientist. I thought we were the perfect match, the soprano and tenor harmonizing together, happily ever after.
Steve graduated and went off to grad school at Cornell. Ithaca, New York, wasn’t that far from Williamstown, Massachusetts. I figured I’d see him on weekends. But I didn’t hear a word from him, not a call, not a letter. I took his silence to mean it was over between us.
We’d had long conversations about what we believed, what we hoped to do in life. Had it been just some end-of-college fling for him?
I’d thought freshman year was rough. This was devastating. Now I dreaded going to the student union and seeing nothing more in my mailbox than the usual packets from Mom. Please, Lord, I prayed, make this heartache go away.
Then one day, Mrs. Marlowe, no doubt detecting my misery, said hopefully, “You’ve got something!”
I opened my box and took out a blue card. “Undeliverable. Postage due,” it read. “What does this mean?” I asked.