Pen-Pals

Almost exactly twenty years ago, when I was eight years old, my father put an advertisement in a Christian newspaper requesting pen-pals for me and my brother. We received a couple of replies, including one from a girl with blonde hair and glasses, who had the same name as me and was only four days apart in age. Sarah’s family didn’t subscribe to this particular magazine, but for some reason they received this copy at their red-brick house in Michigan, and the ad caught someone’s eye. So a letter winged its way over the Atlantic, and twenty years later we’re still writing letters.

I owe her a letter, I thought last week, as I caught up on some correspondence. And then I realised that this letter I needed to write would be the last I would ever send her under her current name, because Sarah is on the brink of getting married, and I’ll have the privilege of standing in the bridal party with her as she makes her vows.

And I wonder, who’d have thought, all those years ago, that we’d still be friends now? So many childhood friendships are outgrown or simply fade away. Ours could easily have done so: perhaps we would discover, as we grew older, that we had little in common other than our name and our age. Or we might realise, when we met in person, that the flesh-and-blood versions of each other were less appealing than the paper ones.

But in God’s kindness, neither of those things happened. Sarah and I share a love for the Lord, a love of literature, a love of beauty. We’ve visited each other over half a dozen times in the last two decades, and have become friends in “real life” too. She’s taken me to the sand dunes of Michigan, the windy city of Chicago, and through the streets of Paris and Dresden. I’ve shown her English gems like Oxford and Bath. We’ve prayed for each other in the hard times, and rejoiced with each other in the good times. And we’ve written lots of letters.

Hers are all there in the pine chest in the corner of my room, as mine are tucked away somewhere on her side of the pond. On one of her visits, she brought some of my old letters, and I dug out some of hers, and we had a fine time laughing at our old selves. Twenty years is a long time, after all, and the little girls we were then seem very different from the women we are now.

But through all the changes we both underwent, through all the hard times and the good times we’ve both experienced, through all the times we moved house (and between the two of us, we’ve moved house a lot), we never failed to take time to sit down, pen in hand, and write to each other, however slow our replies might sometimes be in coming. And in the age of Twitter and Snapchat, I think it’s rather nice that we’ve never entirely given up on a more tangible, treasure-able method of communication.

Here’s to another twenty years!