A few months ago, I gifted my mom a book called 100 Life Challenges. It’s a fill-in-the-blank type calendar full of (100 to be exact) 30-day challenges, introducing the concept of developing good habits and at a time like this, Lord knows we could all do with some healthy new norms.
I can sometimes be a selfish Sally so I had to buy myself the same book because 1. Your girl loves a good challenge and 2. Filling things out; forms, applications, lists.. they bring me all the comforts and joy. Don’t @ me for being nerdy. *pushes glasses up*
See, before this whole book thing came about, my mom had been sending me challenges for years. I don’t know when it started or how but I know she was the first to offer up a challenge. This typically has always revolved around health in some capacity by the way of Hydration Challenges (getting your 8-10 glasses a day in) to Overcoming Couch Potato Syndrome (move your butt before you sit on it) to Stop & Drop Challenges (stop what you’re doing and do a minute of squats)! Drop it like it’s hot, ladies and gentlemen.
Those were fun.
Anyway, I figure that success and follow-through sometimes requires a group effort so in giving this book to both my mom and I, I had hoped that she’d accept the invitation to do the challenges with me and she was up for the double-dog dare! Exciting!
Since October, we’ve done six challenges in this book so far. The primary focus is self-care. The challenges range from easy things like “light a candle when you get home” or “watch an ASMR video” to harder things like “look in the mirror and say out loud what you love about your body” or “set a bedtime and stick to it.” Some will become habits and some won’t but in those that we have done so far, I’ve taken something positive away each time and began developing new routines that may seem like little nothings but add up to a whole lot ‘a somethin’ when put together.
In that time, I’ve been making my bed daily, lighting candles to give my apartment a more homey feel, and taking time to actually reflect before bed each night about the moments and people throughout the day that I’m grateful for.
Don’t get me wrong, in all these months at home, my blue-light consumption has not improved much and I definitely don’t have a solid morning routine. I’m 31 years old and still hit snooze 17 times before rolling out of bed. I don’t usually bother with breakfast either and I shut down when I feel excluded.
BUT, this little book of challenges is slowly encouraging me to find the sweetness in the small things. It’s prompting me to think outside of the box. Never have I ever tried daily dry brushing or gone thirty days without watching TV but those challenges are up to bat on pages 168 and 154, respectively. And I’m here for it.
Because I’m a planner-McPlanner-ton, I looked ahead in this challenge book to see what was upcoming and noticed that the month of December would challenge me (us) to write a letter to someone each day.
Talk about pulling at a girls heart strings, I thought we were easing into this. I used to write to my great-grandma Elsie for years. She must have initiated it when I was a teenager or maybe even earlier. I’d like to think that I’ve kept every single one (I do have an entire basket full of letters) but I may be missing a few. I know I didn’t reply to each one, especially back then. I’m sure my busy little 16-year-old life was too important to bother replying as quickly as my last name implies.
But I did, eventually.
She would write pages and pages in her perfect “grandma Elsie scribble.” It was always a challenge in and of itself to read her writing and I managed to do so pretty well, I think. But I’m not sure the kids in school these days could make out her old-school cursive anymore. Many times, she’d also include a handmade doilies!
I don’t think I realized the impact that she had on me at the time and the compassion that she exuded in comparison to the legacy she’s left on my heart in the years since she’s passed. Through her letters, she shared with me little well-being tips like placing a bar of soap at the end of your bed under your blankets if you’re having leg cramps to stories about how she’d met my great-grandpa Nick and how she’d felt in the decades since he’d passed. She’d share stories about the ladies she’d go to dinner with and the conversations she had.
In her letters she’d talk about her relationship with God and wondered aloud why she was still living. She had lived a long, happy, and full life. She walked three miles a day nearly ’til the end. She transcribed the entire Bible front to back and kept every single card, letter, photo, and news-clipping she was sent. For everyone, from everyone. She did all the things and prayed all the prayers wondering what it was she was left here on Earth to do all this time without her Nick.
She would sometimes start a letter on Monday evening and finish it on Tuesday morning. She was consistent and persistent in her letters. She never gave up writing to me even if I wasn’t as prompt as she’d likely hoped. She wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable. She was interested in my life and she spoke to me in the letters as if we were right there next to one another.
Now, I don’t know if she ever got her answer here while living, about why God bothered having her live for so dang long but I like to think she figured it out if not then, hopefully by now. I know she had many more people in her life, more than I am years old, but I do think reaching me in the way she did from afar was without a doubt, an act of God. She never gave up and I’ll cherish every single one of these letters for the rest of my life.
And you want to know what else? She is not the only grandma that has habitually written to me. Going through my basket of letters and re-reading them this last week, I didn’t realize how many I also received from my grandma Darlene. I don’t think I realized it until now because growing up, I saw her much more frequently in person. Thinking back, I recall reading letters from her and when seeing her, we’d chat about them. I know I replied to my grandma Darlene in written form too but not nearly as often as Elsie. How wild and cool is that? It gives me goosebumps to come to the realization of how blessed I was then to have two grandma’s pour into me for years and years and I didn’t even realize it at the time.
But I do now.
Where was I? Oh yes, a letter writing challenge. I’ve written letters off and on in the years since my great-grandma has passed. I’ve taken time over the years to write quick thank you’s and even heartfelt messages to people I’m close to but it’s never been consistent and I don’t know why other than using the excuse of “life gets away from you sometimes.”
Writing a letter introduces a level of self-care that I didn’t even consider before. Not only does it help the writer to slow down a little, create a moment of mindfulness, and an opportunity to be technology free, but it helps the recipient too; to pause. To be a part of an experience that is rarely felt anymore; to open your mailbox and see something other than junk mail, other than bills.. It’s like a blip of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy chore.
I went hard on this challenge, too. I hadn’t prepped for any of our other challenges but you bet your butt I did this month. I wanted to both finish this weird (and kinda mostly negative) year on a positive and channel my inner GGE.
In order to do that, I needed to be as prepared as possible. I ordered supplies for both my mom and I (think envelopes, notebooks, cute stickers, stamps). I even purchased address labels for the first time in years. #feelinprofesh
But in order to really do this right on my end, I needed to be accountable and the only way for me to be accountable in the middle of a pandemic is through social media so I posted a series of stories on Insta and Facebook enlisting trusting volunteers to dare receive a handwritten letter filled with scribbles by yours truly.
Through that medium alone, I was able to reserve 26 of the 30 days of this challenge but I do have a couple more days to fill so, if you’ve made it this far and would like to receive a letter before the month is up, fill this out! Or text me or slide into my DM’s or whatever is less weird for you. (I promise it won’t be as long as this post!)
Honestly, I hope this reaches enough people that it’ll exceed my challenge goal because while this started out as a challenge, it’s really given me time to reflect in ways I hadn’t before. It’s given me the opportunity to take pause and think about the people I’m writing to, who they are as individuals in this world. What I know about them, how I know them, how I keep in touch with them, if I do at all.
I ask myself how they are hurting, how they are coping through all the shit of this year. I want to know what makes them wake up in the morning and what they worry about when they go to sleep at night. And I don’t know any of that, about any of them. And I try to relay that in my letters but I don’t know if it translates well. We live in a world now where everyone seems to be so established in their lives and it’s hard to break down the walls to let people in, or at least that’s what I’ve experienced thus far.
It’s easy, especially with the blessing/curse of social media, to think we know people when really, we don’t.
So, to those I’ve written to, I hope you’re doing well far beyond what my keyboard-prone fingers would allow me to write. Trust me when I say, had I had the stamina, I would have sent each person a five-page letter like my great-grandma did with me, maybe one day. But I hope the 1-2 pages of handwritten, probably illegible, letters will be the start of many exchanges (in some form or another) for years to come.
And to those who haven’t received a letter yet. Hang tight. It’s only the 21st of December. :)
I have two hopes as I finish out this challenge:
- I hope that I continue writing, pen to paper style. I hope that there are people interested in receiving letters. Maybe I can find a non-profit to work with and write letters to the elderly or the sick or reconnect with my Norwegian pen-pal from fourth grade. Who knows?
- And I hope that I can be the light in someone’s otherwise cloudy year even if just for a moment. I don’t care if my letters end up in the trash and I don’t expect responses in return, but I do know what it’s like to open the mailbox to something other than the reality of everyday life and I sure hope it makes others feel like everything will be okay like it does to me.
With that being said, I’ll leave you with a transcribed excerpt from my great-grandma Elsie:
By the fall of ’39, we moved to Warroad, Minn. When we got there, the lady wouldn’t let us live in the place we were promised. We moved to a town with no where to go, no home. Keep in mind my sweet little son was only a year old and it was nearly winter. We did end up moving into the empty Lindamood house for awhile sharing it with Dave and Martha. They had the two boys and we had baby Larry so they lived in the big kitchen and upstairs, we were in the living room. Larry’s fingers were so cold so he had to sleep between us in the bed.
Later, we bought a place from J.W. Pearson but there was no house, no outhouse. Just a road and a 1/2 mile full of manure. So, the church men came and cut logs for us. Hubert Hamlin sawed it into lumber and they all helped us build an 18×26 home; 1 large room and 1 bedroom but we were happy then, to be by ourselves. Helping each other when we’re down, that is what we called Christianity.
P.S. If you’re interested in the 100 Life Challenges book, I did link it at the top of the post but you can also find it in Fargo locally at Barnes & Nobel or Target. Thank you for reading!