Over the last month, friends from far and wide filled my mailbox with greeting cards to express condolences to me and my family when my Father unexpectedly passed away. Though I’m the worst at sending cards myself, I am not one to underestimate the power of the written word as we commemorate the mountaintops or muddle through the valleys of life. This ancient tradition is still an effective expression of friendship, special feelings, and kindness that marries together artists and wordsmiths who package emotions we might not otherwise have the power to verbalize. A greeting card, is nothing other than a smile in the mailbox. A hug. A best thought. Something that says, “You are beloved.”
In 1960, Helen Steiner Rice secured her place in American history as the poet laureate of inspirational verse in the greeting card industry and beyond when she penned The Priceless Gift of Christmas, drawing attention from Lawrence Welk and his global audience. Shortly after that, she wrote The Praying Hands which depicted the sacrificial acts of the ordinary person, catapulting Helen’s work into greeting card eminence.
Also born of the greeting card industry, was the wildly popular 1985 Off-Broadway musical Nunsense by Dan Goggin. Originally, his greeting cards featured humorous sayings of the Catholic clergy that captured the attention of readers. Within a very short time frame, he was inspired to transform the characters into live cabaret singers, becoming the the second longest Off-Broadway show in history.
Today, art is again being reflected in audio cards with increasing popularity among consumers. Hallmark has paired up with country artists like Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts to release just the right 30 second message for any special occasion. American Greetings capitalized on the same idea with country artist Taylor Swift. I couldn’t help but think of some of the best WORST COUNTRY SONGS EVER that would do for the greeting card industry what fortune cookies have done for the Asian dining experience:
If the Phone Don’t Ring, Baby, You’ll Know it’s Me; She Got the Ring and I Got the Finger; You’re the Reason Our Kids are So Ugly; Her Only Bad Habit is Me; I Can’t Pass the Bar and There’s One on My Way Home; If I Would Have Shot You When I Wanted to, I’d Be Out By Now; I’m So Miserable without You, It’s Almost Like Having You Here. Or in the case of Prince William, as he charms the world and slips not only the proverbial glass slipper, but the glass house, onto Kate Middleton’s life, You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too.
Now those are messages I hope you never find in your mailbox, Dear Reader!!!
As I looked back at Dan Goggin’s Nunsense greeting card-turned-cabaret phenomenon, I became tickled by the lyrics of his story, having grown up Catholic, investing 12 great years beneath a chapel veil at St. Joseph School. How could I help but dream about becoming a nun, especially when we ended EVERY recess lined up under the catwalk to pray three Hail Marys for young people to be called by God into the religious order!?
This was BEFORE I discovered fashion. Until then, my wardrobe consisted of three navy blue skirts, three white oxford cloth shirts, penny loafers, and a basketball uniform. That was it except for an Esprit shirt my Aunt Lynn gave me that made it from 5th grade until I was 36 when I finally decided to donate that sucker. And you might have grown up in the 80’s if you know what I’m talking about when I say that I had one pair of Girbaud jeans that made it all the way through high school until they became “cut-offs” in college.
So you can see how my 5th grade notion of wearing the habit and having a rosary for a belt was cool to me, as well as surrounding myself with singing children in plaid uniforms and saddle oxfords, Catholic school lunches, candles, and holy water. My Mama even took me to see Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she came for a visit to New Orleans in the early 80’s. That little mite of a woman was a powerful ambassador of Jesus who had profound wisdom. She was a walking, living, breathing greeting card! After hearing her speak, I remember recapping our day over a fancy green salad in a New Orleans restaurant. The cherry tomatoes were so sweet and made a complete circle around the greens as I was off in dream land about life in the convent.
But my budding idealization of ever entering the novitiate was quickly shattered by fairy-tale fever, when I was awakened by my Mama in the wee hours of July 29, 1981 to witness Lady Di walk the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral to meet her dashing (well, average, rather large-eared, but very rich) bridegroom. That big white dress was better than any habit I had seen on the Sisters of Divine Providence at St. Joseph School. It was the sound of music to me–even better than the day I missed school to watch Bo and Hope tie the knot at Oak Alley when Days of Our Lives was on location in Louisiana.
Today, as a grown woman, I take note when I drive by Trietsch United Methodist Church in Flower Mound and read the “ya’ll come” sign out front: Death by Suburb….
Dr. John Allen’s sermon series based on the book by Dave L. Goetz, describes spiritual malaise of life in the ‘burbs’ where life can be, well……less than a fairly tale. Our cookie cutter worlds and American affluence are rapidly becoming the leprosy of our souls. But why does the shoe have to fit? “What ever happened to American Honey,” I ask myself? Growing up good and slow. Steady as a preacher, free as a weed….where strong love grows.
Dr. Allen’s series reminded me of the old sentiments of Mother Teresa when she said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
And for we suburbians who vow NOT to die a slow death by suburb here in the North Texas box, we can tap into the abundance of God’s presence and rem
ind ourselves ‘if the shoe doesn’t fit, then we won’t wear it’ as we prepare to celebrate the most important Hallmark holiday and new beginning of all, Resurrection Sunday.
The remedy for death by suburb comes like a wild whisper in the wind when we celebrate the bridegroom like a long-lost friend. “You are beloved”, He says with might, like a great inheritance, a noble and wondrous estate. And the hungry souls, the fatherless, STILL find rest at the sound of His great name. His name is Jesus. In everything…..he is STILL the lamb of God.
Happy Easter, Dear Reader. May you find heirlooms in the dark days and the beauty of new life this Easter, from my desk to yours. For Dr. Allen’s podcast on Death By Suburb see www.trietschmedia.org.