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I prefer to write notes to each person on my Christmas card list. Some of my friends create masterpieces that are printed multiple times. Those letters contain all sorts of up-to-date information. I appreciate their gifts in describing the year past, but I’m not that kind of person. In 1999 I tried to be that other kind of person. I managed to reproduce a hundred or so copies of a Christmas letter, but I’ll keep that story to myself.

I sit with my battered address book and write brief notes on Christmas cards. My address book—very much a paper product inside a binder—is more than thirty years old. I could keep addresses on one of my digital appliances, but I prefer this old-fashioned paper record. The book contains the names of friends from my hometown, from different schools, from churches that I served as pastor. It includes names of writers and authors with whom I worked, musicians and artists and a politician or two. These names and addresses tell personal stories. The scratched lines of address changes remind me of other changes in our lives.

Interspersed amid the names of the living are people now dead. I keep them nevertheless in that address book. I pause at each name, remember how and where we met and the nature of our friendship. Some are teachers who offered wise counsel during school and college years. Some are dead classmates. Some committed church members remain who dealt patiently with a young pastor whose ideas they considered different or even radical. Long-dead family members remind me of our peculiar history, and I always smile at my second cousin with the delightfully improbable name of Ferdinand Kaimakamian–a musician-composer and more. My favorite uncle, a retired Air Force Colonel and a bit of a rogue, shows on another page, and I remember many stimulating conversations concerning Presidents and US foreign policy.

The names remind me of different chapters in this life—chapters that were stormy and loving and peaceful and wretched and wonderful.

To sit with this address book is an Advent-Christmas practice of gratitude, a practice for all of us–whether we use paper or digital address books. May the gift of gratitude abound in all our lives!