My soul has been filled lately with the magic of handwritten letters from those who have signed their names on the walls of my heart over the years.

Recently, I discovered a box of letters that date back to my college days and beyond. There were letters by both my mom and dad while I was a student at Fort Wayne Bible College, letters from my grandma, and a treasured card from a dear aunt, a pastor’s wife, in St. Joe, Missouri.

That last one is a wonderful reminder of three days spent with Uncle James (Rev. James Houston) and Aunt Druscilla (my grandma’s sister) during spring break in 1968. One of the students in my dorm lived just an hour south of St. Joseph at the time. I caught a ride with him and spent three very memorable days with a precious aunt and uncle who had spent 50 years in the ministry.

Although it wasn’t necessarily so, Uncle James always thought that I was named after him and was destined to become a pastor. I was actually named in honor of my Grandpa Langham (James Langham of Antwerp) but my folks didn’t want to burst Uncle James’ bubble, so we left it at that. After all, the ministry part did come true.

That letter tops a huge pile of one shoebox (of many) filled with hand-written letters that I have kept and cherished to this day. In fact, I have never purposefully tossed a handwritten letter in my life. Every relative or friend who has ever made the effort to write a handwritten letter has a special place in the heritage of my heart. Many have passed on, but I can still sense the warmth of their lives through the unique way in which they scripted the English language.

Several letters, and series of letters, bring back some of the most memorable moments of my life. I found the first post card I had written to my parents from church camp, a post card I had sent to my grandma from a Nebraska trip, and a letter I had written to my parents while I was attending a conference in California.

Speaking of post cards, there are boxes of “saved but unwritten” post cards stored that represent vacations and trips to all corners of the United States. My mother was enthusiastic about writing cards to friends and relatives and I followed in her footsteps. Daily, on such trips, we would seek post offices in towns along the way to mail post cards that had been written in motels and homes of friends along the way.

To this day, my heart leaps when I reread letters from friends from camp, college, and vacations. Each handwritten document still evokes emotion and warmth within my heart. They still ignite bygone memories of moments that have constructed the foundation of life as I know it today.

One of the most special letters from my mother was written and placed inside my suitcase when I left home to begin college. In my dorm room at Fort Wayne Bible College, I opened an envelope that simply stated, “Be strong and of good courage, be not dismayed, neither be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)

Even though my mom and dad are gone, to this day, the handwriting of that note is close by as a reminder of their heart, and the importance of reflecting belief in those words with my own life.

My father seldom wrote letters, but when he did, they had very special meaning. One such letter reflects a very discouraging time that he was going through, a letter cherished because he decided to really share his heart with his son. Another represented a “thank you note” for flying to Fort Wayne to be with him while mom underwent surgery.

Then there was the letter from my grandmother that simply “showed up” one Sunday evening after a very difficult day. I walked into my study and found her letter in the middle of my desk, 15 years after she had passed, a letter written to me in college to encourage me at the time.

I say all of that to say this. When is the last time you received a handwritten letter? No doubt, thanks to the introduction of e-mail and other modern modes of communication, mailboxes these days are void of personal letters. With that, something is missing. There is an emptiness of anticipation that used to accompany every trip to the mailbox back in the days when handwritten letters were the norm of life.

There are a few exceptions. For example, Aunt Frances, at age 97, still writes or types letters of encouragement and information, much as her family did 50 and 60 years ago. Such a letter arrived a few days ago. I read it three times, and then placed in a very special file of “heart material.”

E-mails are fine; they certainly have their ways of promptness. The creativity of such new entities as “Facebook” (which my daughter has inducted me into) is fascinating with its creativity and various means of communication.

But when I need a little strength, a moment to reflect, or a bit of spiritual encouragement, there is something special about reading, in her own handwriting, the words of Aunt Druscilla, “dearest nephew, may the joy of ministry that has sustained us all these years be yours long after we’re gone even as our prayers follow you.”

Now that, written in her own handwriting, is a heart treasure that lasts.