23 Jun 2010

One year of hand written love letters

{This is part 2 of my story on our cross-cultural marriage. You can read part 1 here.}

It was a cherry blossom romance.

And it was unexpected. He was all-American and I was a long way from home. Twenty one and studying social justice in D.C., determined to make my South African story count for something.  We became friends first. That’s always the most dangerous route, isn’t it? Laughter will often lead you unerringly and oh so easily into love.

Man did he make me laugh. And oh how I loved him. But I wasn’t ready to marry him yet.

Not until he knew my South Africa. Not until he had felt the Karoo under his feet and seen the place on the far vlaktes of the family sheep farm where my mom was buried. Not until he had tasted the bitter Cape winds in winter or smelled the fires that sweep through the veld in late winter.

Not until he had experienced my home with all his five senses.

Photo credit: Paul Manners

And, truth be told, not until we had grown up a bit. I had a lot of myself still to lose; a lot of him still to learn. So after a summer spent dating we were apart for nearly a full year. Me back to the East coast and college; him to a semester spent studying in Germany, Poland and England.

A year is a long time. A year without email, skype, instant messaging, video chats, and cell phones is even longer. We had to work hard at our friendship; harder at keeping the new spark alive. And we did it the old fashioned way – with ink and paper.

September 28: To Lisa-Jo: hey buddy! I have mountains to climb, oceans to cross, rivers to tame. Stand here with me, take hold of my hand. Don’t worry, I never let go! So let’s be off, life awaits and the future is impatient – it longs to become the present. Jesus is just ahead. All we must do is follow together. You have my hand, right? Good.

September 27: To Peter: Hi Honey: I’m sorry my letters have been so few and far between because I am hesitant to mail to random Polish addresses, doubting they would even get to you. However, when you get to London you will receive a plethora of letters from me! …  I am learning patience and I am learning about love, and am loving every minute.

We worked at our love with cramped hands and ink stained finger tips. We sealed up our hopes and dreams and stamped them “Airmail.” And we read each other. Slowly. Deliberately. We discovered the nooks and crannies that are easily overlooked in person. And savored them.

Today we have two boys and a treasure chest of correspondence. One year in the life of their parents serendipitously recorded for their kids to discover. That we were once impetuous too. That we were once fraught with the drama of young love. That we were once consumed by a passion they may not otherwise have believed we could relate to. And that we learned to wait.

Our letters tell our story.

I hold them in my hand. They give our history weight. And our future too.


This post happily shared with the folks over at A Holy Experience who are contemplating love letters today.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 2

    oh i absolutely love this!! so wonderful.

  2. 3

    How amazing is this?! To be able to look back at the foundation of your relationship and see what drew you to each other and how God has brought you even closer over the years! That is a treasure. :)

  3. 4

    This is just delightful, Lisa-Jo. I am a lover of love letters! They reveal the true heart and soul of the writer. They can bridge distances and encourage love (as your relationship and marriage testifies)! What a legacy you have for your precious babies.

    BTW, you are an incredible writer. :)

  4. 5

    Oh my friend … we have months of love letters too. Not sent via air mail … but a back and forth exchange of dreams and hopes and fears and transparency mailed tenderly between Alabama and Missouri. Letters sent by two twenty-three year olds who had seen enough of life to know that a shared moment of silence is just as significant in building a relationship as a moment spent in chatter. Cards filled with “I wish you were here” and “Can’t wait to see you” … and lots of anticipation for the day we’d finally become the mysterious two-in-one flesh.

    Scott preached a sermon a year or two ago and shared our box of cards and letters … and held up the very first piece of paper I ever gave him. A scrap of worn paper with doodles and drawings … and in the midst of the randomness, my name and phone number. That little scrap that had been folded and even washed was the first sentence in our written love story. A story that continues today with cards to “Wife” from “Husband” and vice versa.

    And truthfully, every day I find there is a moment where my heart has that heavy feeling, that deep anticipation, for in just a few minutes, I will see my beloved’s face. Not weeks between moments together … now, usually mere hours, but the joy of hearing the door open and waiting for the sweeping into his arms … that thrill has not diminished. In fact, the beauty of a true love story is this … that thrill becomes something far deeper than two twenty-three year olds could have ever imagined.

    {Here I go again, writing my best posts in your comments section! What a gift you have to bring out the storyteller inside my heart.}

  5. 6

    Beautiful story. I’m completely charmed.

    You’d like the movie: 84 Charing Cross Road which is a true story about letters and books.

  6. 7

    What a beautiful story! My husband and I weren’t apart much during the beginning of our relationship, but you have inspired me–why can’t I write him love letters now? Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of your life. I know your children will be blessed to see how their parents’ passions began!

  7. 8
    thegypsymama says:

    @TeriLynne: Oh girl, you had me getting all misty-eyed reading this. You have a poet’s heart and this is a post all of its own. You should totally link up to Ann’s place today!

  8. 9
    thegypsymama says:

    @Jennifer: Oh yes, do it! I think we should all write love letters more. Just re-reading our old ones makes me think how much I need to write more new ones!

  9. 10

    What a treasure… Seriously, this makes my eyes water today. I’m such a sap. I wonder what pieces of us our children will have to gather; they are our love letters…

  10. 11

    What a beautiful story and treasure for your children someday!

    We had quite the string of e-mails during our time apart. Not the same as handwritten love letters, but sweet, romantic words to one another nonetheless. I must see if I can find them now…my hubby does save almost every note I leave in his lunchbox even now though :)

  11. 12

    Just beautiful!! My hubby and I exchanged real letters and cards while we were dating/engaged too!! I cherish those special memories!!

  12. 13

    Isn’t it crazy how much the ways of love have changed in a decade? I cried when I had to get a new phone and all the text messages from when Hero Hubs and I were dating got lost. It was like a piece of our history was gone forever! So sad!

  13. 14

    How amazing to look back through letters. You are blessed to have that written history of your relationship at your fingertips. Thank you for sharing a piece of that with us; I’ve been blessed in the reading.

  14. 15

    I love the way you have got to know each other through your letters. I believe that we are more honest in our letters, words written are easier than words to your face. I mean this is a nice way, i could tell my husband how my heart beated so fast whenever i heard his name in a letter without feeling embrassed.

    Thank you for sharing this with us all.

    I have given you an award on my blog. Thank you for a great blog for me to read.

  15. 16

    “We worked at our love with cramped hands and ink stained finger tips”

    and how years later you work at love with ink stained hearts and cramped up backs… but how that pain fades in the beauty of knowing that there is a HIStory of life and loving together :)

  16. 17

    That is so incredibly sweet!!!

  17. 18

    i love the FEEL of a letter, the tactile experience of reading love printed. i love the wait and the expectation for the mailman and the stamps and the creases. and the heart that matches with dates remembered and mulled over and future foreseen.
    this is beautiful and i might be just a bit envious of your children, that they will hold that history in their hearts and hands someday. :)

  18. 19

    “And we read each other. Slowly. Deliberately.” Oh, that we would all spend a period of time writing such treasured confessions of the heart… heirlooms of love for generations to come! Few things come close to the worth of a tattered piece of paper, worn with adoration, inked with an out-pouring heart. Thank you Lisa-Jo.

  19. 20

    A beautiful love story. And what an amazing gift. There is something so significant about being able to pen our emotions and convictions mixed with a dose of vulnerability. I poured over my parents love letters to each other and it was indeed a treasure.

  20. 21

    What a sweet story. I have to say, though, that I think being friends first is the safest and best way. I’ve tried to tell my kids that. If you can’t be friends with someone, you have no business dating them, IMO. A relationship should be built slowly and on much more than physical attraction and romance. If you want it to last, you will carefully tend to that friendship first–and always.

    I have been married to my best friend (and high school sweetheart) for 20 years. We were friends first, though not very close friends. Our friendship did grow alongside of and prompted by our romance, but we were always friends and could talk easily and laugh together.

    I only dated one other boy before my husband. Last week he found me on Facebook. It was awkward for me, mostly because of who I was then and how that relationship went. We were *not* friends and we never became friends, but suddenly he wanted to be friends–at least on Facebook–and talk to me like we always had been friends. I think his life has been rougher than mine and he needs a friend now. Although it’s been a bit unpleasant for me to confront the memories of my awkward teenage self, I think the right thing to do is to respond with compassion and friendship. In talking over some things, I told him it was a shame we had skipped friendship. I know our being friends would not have changed the outcome in that relationship, but I think we cheated ourselves of knowing and caring about another person on a different level. I think when you are not friends you objectify the other person whether you mean to or not.

    Anyway…deep thoughts. This past week I have been extremely thankful for the relationship my husband and I have. I’m thankful, too, that I got it right on the second try instead of dating a lot, although I think most of the credit goes to my dh on that one:o)

  21. 22

    What a treasure to have those letters! Incredible. Our one year apart was just a few hours away (him: college, me: high school), so our “letters” are phone calls in my memory. :)

  22. 23

    Hi! I’m stopping over from Ann’s…
    got there late tonight… it’s the last day of school and close friends lingered long…

    Your story is beautiful… I love one of your last lines:
    “One year in the life of their parents serendipitously recorded for their kids to discover. ”
    How dear and precious all this is ~

  23. 24
    thegypsymama says:

    We never would have had them if they hadn’t been written “back in the day.” Sometimes being old fogies has its benefits! ;)

  24. 25
    To Think Is To Create says:

    Oh yes, our calls were made from home on phones with CORDS! I am so grateful our long distance bill wasn’t an international one! :)

  25. 26
    thegypsymama says:

    Let’s just say, my father and his credit card would have been much, much happier if ours hadn’t been international either. {Ouch}

  26. 27
    thegypsymama says:

    @ Jenni in KS: Yes, yes, yes. Me too! That was actually my point. That friendship is only “dangerous” in that it is such a comfortable and safe place to spend time that one can actually end up in love without even realizing it. I was just using a little literary flair to make the point you did so well below. Friendship first is absolutely the route I would want my kids to take too!

  27. 28

    I recorded in journals the first couple years of our dating relationship. All we did. Gifts he gave. The first time he held my hand. Maybe one day our children will find them and learn how their parents love grew.

  28. 29

    Beautiful!!! LOVE it!!!

  29. 30


    thank you for sharing this. I love how you talk about doing it all/keeping it together without emails, texting, etc. I love how you have a treasure box filled with these memories that tell a true love story. I love it all!

  30. 31

    All I have to say… I can so relate to this :) I think we spent more time writing one another and talking on the phone than in one another’s actually presence. Although very difficult, it taught us so much and grew us deeper in other areas of love that some people never get to experience. I think I will link up with Ann’s blog today as well :)

  31. 32

    Oh, I love this. Such inspiration. My boyfriend and I are about to be separated for 6 months at least, and although we will have Skype and cell phones, I will definitely be sure not to lose those handwritten letters.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa-Jo thegypsymama, Lisa-Jo thegypsymama. Lisa-Jo thegypsymama said: @sarasophia @heartandhome Since it's midnight, I'll share. Here it is: One year of handwritten love letters http://bit.ly/ajH6yQ […]

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