MailboxRomans 12:12-15 encourages us to extend hospitality and rejoice with others.

One way we extend hospitality beyond our front porch is to send birthday and anniversary cards.  For years I did an excellent job of getting cards out in January and February, but by August I was weighed down with guilt from all of the missed birthdays.

A couple of years ago, I found a solution that works for me.  I decided to leverage my it’s-a-new-year-I-can-do-this-thing momentum.

Since I am energized and committed in January, I do ALL of my card shopping in January.

Yep.  All of it.

My husband watches the kids.  I head to the card store with a list of birthdays, anniversaries, known graduations and weddings that we want to celebrate in the coming year.  A few hours later I come home with over a hundred cards, a Pepsi, and a headache (just keeping it real).  I’m also usually in a bit of a panic because I just saw the whole year pass before my eyes. But, a few deep breaths and a swig of Pepsi, and I’m back in January again with the whole year ahead of me.

So here’s how I do it:

  • I stand in the card aisle with my list and I go through it month by month.  Last year I was a little low on energy, so I started with December and worked backwards.  That way I had to finish, because who wants to miss the January birthdays after you’ve spent the afternoon buying cards, right?
  • I think about the person – how old they’ll be this year – and I have this ongoing prayer for that person as I read through cards and try to pick one that is great for them.  Then I move on to the next person on my list.  At the end of a month, I stop for a breather, clear my head and look at something else for a few minutes, and then get back to cards.
  • I stack all the cards in order from the first of the month to the last of the month, creating 12 piles of cards in my basket.  It is important to make sure they are paired with an envelope and that the bar code is accessible.  Otherwise the orderliness gets all messed up when you go to check out.  If you explain what you are doing to the salesperson, they are usually great about helping you to keep your cards in order.
  • Yes, the bill is a bit shocking, but it’s done for the whole year!  And there’s no more last-minute modifying a sympathy card for an important birthday:  “With deepest sympathy on your loss… of another year without me present to help you celebrate this awesome day!  Missing you on your birthday…”  Really.  I’ve done that.

The trip to the store isn’t the end, though.  What is the likelihood that I’ll remember which card is for whom when September rolls around?  So, when I get home, I process all the cards.

  • I start by writing really tiny notes under where the stamp will go.  I put the person’s name, the event date, and the date I need to mail the card to get it there in time (accounting for time to shop for a gift if we include one, holidays, weekends, and how long it takes to get mail there). I usually write the person’s age, too, until they turn 21, and then note special things like 40th birthday or 25th anniversary.  It looks something like “Jane Doe, 12/7—>12/2 (50th).”  The first year, I did address all the cards in January, but some people moved between when I bought their card and when I mailed it and I ended up with messy envelopes.
  • Next comes scheduling the cards so that they come to my attention at the right time to mail them.
  • I have a small file set up with 43 folders in it.  Twelve are for the months of the year.  Thirty-one are the days of the month.  This file is not exclusively for cards, but cards work perfectly into my system.
  • I put my under-the-stamp-area labeled cards in the folder that corresponds to the month I will need to send them.  When a new month rolls around, I empty the entire month folder.  I file each card in the folder for the day BEFORE I need to mail it.  That way I find it in time to have our whole family sign it before it needs to get to the mail box.  The month folder then goes to the back of the file. In this way, the current month of days is always in front of me.  Future months are to the back.
  • I have developed a habit of checking this file every day.  (Incidentally, this is a great way to manage permission slips, notes about testing, papers you need for a doctor appointment, party invitations, and other things you cannot keep digitally that need to be dealt with on a specific day.  Many systems call this a “tickler file.”)

So there you have it.  Cards ready for the whole year in about five hours.  It’s great because I’d spend a lot more time on individual trips to the store throughout the year.  And as I mentioned, lots of times I ended up using inappropriate cards to get the job done.

Ultimately, I don’t want it to be about “getting the job done.”

We send cards because we love these people.  We want to rejoice with them.  And removing barriers and guilt lets me do it with grace rather than obligation.

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Photo Credit:  By A.L. SIMPSON [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons