Jesuit spirituality tells us that if we are seeking God in earnest, we can find Him even in ordinary things. Recently, I found Him in old cards and family newsletters.
It happened one day when I was unduly stressed and unsure about a lot of things. I decided to rummage through my old stuff in order to declutter and hopefully find some items I could give away to my favorite kalakal boy. Instead, I stumbled upon a box of old greeting cards and a folder holding our past family Christmas newsletters.
I took the cards first and went through them one by one. I was amazed by the number and variety of cards that I had stashed away through the years, going all the way back from the early days of our marriage almost 40 years ago. And, moved by the heartfelt sentiments articulated in every card and the memories evoked by them, I started to tear up even before I was done reading the last card.
Most of the cards were greeting cards that my wife Thelma and I had given each other during our birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions. There were also plain cards given even without an occasion when we just wanted to say “I am sorry” or “I love you.”
The rest of the cards were from our four children, given on occasions like our wedding anniversaries and birthdays. At first, the children’s cards were just cute scribblings and drawings on plain sheets of paper with crayon colorings depicting happy faces of a family. Later, the handmade cards were replaced by store-bought ones with their default messages. But they were just as precious and meaningful to us because of the children’s personal notes on the cards’ blank spaces.
I put the last card back into the box and then turned my attention to the folder of newsletters.
A little background… I started writing our annual family Christmas newsletter some 25 years ago to replace the traditional Christmas cards. I felt then that the commercial Christmas cards I had been sending to friends and relatives were so impersonal, with all their canned greetings and just my solitary signature at the end. I thought then that a newsletter updating our friends and relatives with stories on how the year had been for our family would be a more meaningful and personal way of greeting and thanking them.
Initially, the newsletter was a simple one-page letter that I would send by e-mail. I would also print a few copies on plain copy paper and send them by snail mail to those without e-mail accounts. The children soon got into the act and embellished the newsletter with different fonts, clip arts and photos, and laid it out nicely. But the contents remained the same: stories about our family from the year about to end…
After rereading the last newsletter, I put it back into the folder, settled down, and reflected on my feelings before I could forget them.
I realized that going back through the old cards and newsletters was like going through my experiences, thoughts, and feelings through the years all over again. And there I uncovered moments of God’s presence, unseen and missed initially, lurking not only in the beautiful messages on the cards, but also in the stories that came alive once more in the newsletters. I found God in the family events that had gone unnoticed then, but have taken on new and unexpected meanings today. I realized God was there, too, at the most critical transitions in my life that had sent me in directions I could neither understand nor accept at the time.
In sum, the whole experience gave me insights into how God had been moving in my life during these past years. Reliving the sentiments expressed in the cards and summoning up the past through the newsletter stories enabled me to see His hand that has always been there after all.
As a dear friend, now gone, once said to me: “We do not have to go far to find God, pare. He is always there in our own life stories, not outside of them.”
Danilo G. Mendiola, 75, is an accidental writer. He is retired from corporate work and now serves in the Marriage Prep Ministry in his Quezon City parish.