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Home words bound

Rev. Benton Heisler reflects on the time capsule created through a collection of annual Christmas letters.

benton3Tucked away in the box of Christmas books that come out every year in our home is a rather obscure file folder. In the folder are dozens of letters. They go back to the 1950’s and cover many of the decades until the present. This time capsule of family history is probably much like many of the annual letters you may have composed through the years. The typewriter on which my mom whacked out the stencil or master copy holds a place of honor on an old school table in our family room. 

The letters contain stories of “new births and first steps”. There are brief highlights of vacations in a station wagon, usually staying with and visiting relatives, along with the occasional motel stay, provided it had a “kitchenette” so that money could be saved on meals. I believe a piano recital is mentioned, some details about yet another sporting activity or band award and the acquisition of a driver’s license. (Thankfully the story about needing two road tests to acquire it, even after years behind the steering wheel of a tractor and the experience of driving thru Kansas on the interstate at the age of 15 with no license, is omitted.) 

The letters also tell the deeper story of an older brother with an illness that today would be manageable, but in 1949 turned my parent’s lives upside down and eventually contributed to his early childhood death. There was the auto accident my mom, and then three-year-old sister, was in and afterward was told by her physician that she would not be able to bear any more children. The Christmas letter three years later bears witness to my parent’s faith, a gracious healing God and the doctor’s false prediction. I am personally grateful to God for such a gift!   

The stories continue with messages of a relative’s death, my sister’s college graduation from U of M College of Nursing, a change in jobs, a move to a new town, marriages, and grandchildren. Then they pause. The heartache of my father’s unexpected death at age 70, arthritis and limited resources caused this family project that had grown into an address list that nearly reached 400, to experience a major scaling back. 

No more mass productions by my mom, but a solid number of handwritten cards still made their way to her closest friends and relatives. And then…the internet. She discovered the typing skills that had served her since high school would now keep her connected to a list of email addresses that again rose above 300 as she lived to be 93. Linda and I have added to the file folder with our own similar version of “family tales.” It brings a smile to our face to see those early handwritten signatures of our daughters and to relive some of the memories of trips to both the favorite and once in a lifetime vacation spots. 

With all that said, imagine you were composing the “Year-end Christmas letter” for the MI Area. What would you be sure it contained? What would be worth recalling 50 years from now? There could be stories of a generous response to a hurricane that devastated Haiti and the east cost of the US. There would be the testimonies of an outpouring of compassion in response to the Flint water crises. An adult might read this letter 50 years later and recall that they were one of the hundreds of children who gave their life to Christ in a camping experience. Another family would retell the story of their home being destroyed by the flood in Detroit in 2014 and how UMCOR stayed connected. That family would recall that they were the 500th home that was restored as UMCOR completed this $600,000 two year relief project in 2016.  

There might be a couple of lines about the historic combined Annual Conference session in the Breslin Center of MSU. A couple more lines would celebrate the four year ministry of Bishop Kiesey and the warm welcome given to Bishop Bard. Fifty years later a person might read about the creative and bold work the Design Team had been doing, only to realize that the design had truly contributed to a “turn-around” in the United Methodist Church in MI of epic proportions. (Hey it’s a Christmas letter! Of course it has high expectations!!) 

But most of the letter would be filled with stories of lives that were transformed as a result of the ministry of one of the over 800 congregations that area scattered across every one of the 83 counties of Michigan. The stories would tell of people that found hope, experienced healing, gained a new meaning for life, discovered the constant message contained in Scripture of God’s daily provision of grace and there they encountered the forgiving love of Jesus and it changed everything for them! 

So I encourage you to write your letter remembering the goodness of God witnessed this past year. Who knows how God may one day use it to change the world. I wonder if Luke ever imagined how his testimony would shape our lives every December  “….an angel appeared to the shepherds watching over their flocks by night and said, ‘I bring you Good News of a great Joy.  For this day, in the city of David, a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord! And suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest… ” (Luke 2:8-15)

~“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.
You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:13 New Jerusalem Bible.)”  Each article I write for this column is based in the guidance of a particular Scripture passage. I pray that these reflections, stories and information will assist you in your own witness and service as a Disciple of Jesus Christ.


Last Updated on November 7, 2023

The Michigan Conference