How the Things we Keep, Keep Us

by | Oct 17, 2016 | On Writing | 14 comments

May 12, 1974

“Dearest Jody,

I’m writing you today to say, “I’m glad I’m your mom.”

I am now, and always have been, so proud of you, Jo. Can’t remember a single moments’ “trouble” that you’ve ever been in or any periods of anxiety that you have caused. Sure there were minutes of panic…like the time Colleen hit you with the baseball bat. But so far as the really important things like your character and independence and industriousness are concerned, you’ve never caused me any doubts.

With much love, Mom”


As a newly retired teacher—first Fall without students—woohoo!—I can FINALLY get to some gargantuan projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for like ever. Seriously; we’ve lived in our house almost 24 years—that’s over half of the time I’ve been married.

One such task was culling through almost a lifetimes’ worth (well, since I was 18) of old letters I’ve saved.

What a treasure trove it has yielded–sparks of memory fanned into flame, words from the the past that have fluttered across my vision, sadness and melancholy and sweet joy all rolled into one.   It has been a sobering experience, actually.

The process took about three weeks. Boxes everywhere, piles of old letters threatening to topple and spill, pounds and pounds of ‘who in the world is this card from?’ and “who is Katie and why do I need this Valentine from 2nd grade?” ending up in the Recycle Bin. A very satisfying activity, especially when I downsized my paper estate to two medium sized boxes.

I love to write and send cards and letters. Still. And better still is the joy and pleasure of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail; it’s like finding a sweet surprise.  Saving and keeping old (and new) cards and letters is preserving the bedrock of the past. A bedrock of shared history, a running record of highs and lows and in betweens—the events that make up the everything that is our life.

I have letters my husband wrote when we were first courting, then engaged.  He is effusive in his love for me and his love for Jesus (I think He loved Jesus more—still does).  There are intimations of some of the challenges we faced back then in our Jesus People days, but nothing fazed him. He was a little starry eyed (I’m sure I was, too.)

The most precious letters are those from my mother who died over 30 years ago. Reading her thoughts was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because I didn’t remember all the kind things she’d said to me (like those above), but bitter because of course, she’s gone.  I think my grandchildren will enjoy getting to know their Great Grandma Helen a little bit when they read her letters, too, someday.


“April, 14 2016

Dear NaNa, I will do more vidos in futur. When we went to the beach mom brang choklete cake and we rented a beach house and stayed there for 2 and half days and we had so much fun (no period)

Love, Abigail “

(Abigail just turned 9 in September)


Keeping what we love is a way to share a legacy with those who come after us, too.  Old books, letters, quotes, poems, pictures—they all tell a story of our lives by revealing what’s important to us, what makes us tick. What keeps us.

But letters, especially—the writing and the receiving—are a way to make ourselves known—and don’t we all long to be known? The things I keep are a way to tell you who I am—what speaks to me, touches my heart, moves me to laughter or tears.

When I write my name in a book it means (usually) I’m going to keep it and read it. And if I like it a lot, and think you may like it too, I’ll offer to share it.  Talking about stories and words that have touched us is a way to build a bridge that connects us heart and soul, a way of saying, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “what, you too?

Words are a way to carry the weight of being known. The words we love, the words we keep, keep us.


Postage stamps are still only about 43 cents….you can’t put a price on a pen and ink epistle. Who will you write today?


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  1. Jody, this is my first time reading your words. I must say, I could have written this piece with only a few changes. I am a hoarder of memories. Of history, photos, even text and email conversations. Oh, and checkbook registers. All these items are like a diary or a journal of our lives. They tell us what was important to us and when. I nearly cried when my brother shredded our parents’ check registers because they held such a wealth of information on what our childhood was like and the fees for scouts, and dance, and registration for majorette camp. Thank goodness, my mother is a record keeper and pulled out a notebook filled with the event’s of our lives in chronological order. Priceless. And about those letters from your husband, I have the ones my husband sent me and he has the ones I sent him. Reading them together in order is a delightful long distance relationship blossoming from friendship to courtship and eventually to marriage. Priceless. I discovered letters from friends and family that I’ve been able to scan and share with the writers. They tell what was going on in each of their lives. Again, like a journal. Needless to say, the friends or family were thrilled to take a walk down the memory lane of their lives. One extra special batch of history lies in postcards from a hundred years ago from one uncle to another. Brothers discussing life in the midwest, the weather, church, and who’s doing what. To top that off we have years of letters from my husband’s grandfather to his son, my husband’s father. Those go right up to the week he died. I read them chronologically and cried a couple of letters from the end because I knew he was about to pass but he didn’t. It was like reading a memoir or autobiography of life in the early 1900’s. Your post has caused me to really think about all these memory keepers and almost write a blog of my own on the subject. Who knows? You may read this reply as a blog post sometime in the future. Thanks for writing such an inspiring piece. Lisa

    • Oh my word,Lisa, thank you for the follow and for your sweet comments. What rich treasures you have–we have!–eh? I so appreciate you following along. Welcome.

      • Thanks so much.

      • And thanks for the follow. Nice to meet you. Look forward to reading more.

  2. “Words are a way to carry the weight of being known.”

    Love this so much, Jody! I think they carry release, too. I know that for me when I tell someone something really heavy about me, there’s always tears. Or the threat which ends in them.

    Thanks for this. ☺️

    • Words definitely carry a release, too. I find that is truest when I’m journaling–sometimes I don’t know what I think until I write it down…. Thanks for reading, Julia.

      • That’s the same with me. Not knowing what I think until I write it. You are welcome, Jody ❤️

  3. Indeed, “words connect us heart and soul” and “the words we keep, keep us.” With words, we can connect with those who lived long ago as well as our contemporaries. With words we keep, love, wisdom, and encouragement are at our fingertips. Words are a powerful resource–to be shared. Thank you for this heart-warming, inspiring post, Jody!

    • The best thing about being older? you have more treasures to show for it….all those keepsakes along the way 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, Nancy.

      • I’ll have to add “wonderful keepsakes” to my list of Advantages of Growing Older! 🙂 ‘Have to confess, though, we’ve had to pare down our moments as we’ve moved place to place. But praise God for the memories of special people and places, even without physical reminders.

  4. …the weight of being known. Do I really want to be known? Do I believe anybody really wants to KNOW me? As I search for words to ‘make myself known’, I stare into middle space and wonder. Thanks Jody for this thought provoking post!

    • Judy, YOUR words have given me something to ponder. So appreciate you reading my friend.

  5. Oh, Laurie…your words will be a treasure to her. I appreciate your words here, too, so very much.

  6. This: “Words are a way to carry the weight of being known. The words we love, the words we keep, keep us.”

    Holding those two sentences close to the heart today. Thank you, Jody.

    I will write to my friend (whose mama died 2 days ago) amid my friend re-learning how to walk (post-trauma and two surgeries), and I will hand-deliver the card with warm cookies, a thermos of tea.


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