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Power of the written word

Words have power. Words can be good or bad, positive or negative, constructive or destructive. Words can heal or hurt, uplift or tear down.

The right words can encourage, uplift and inspire others. They can bring comfort and healing in difficult situations. They can restore relationships and create joy and love in our lives.

On the other hand, the wrong words can discourage and hurt. When words cause deep hurt, they can be intense, long-lasting and destructive.

As someone who enjoys reading and writing, I understand the power of the written word. I like to write personal notes.

In a previous column more than a year ago titled "You've got mail!" I talked about the fun I had from writing almost a daily note to my kids.

It was really through my daughter that I first experienced and realized the tremendous power of the written word.

One evening in January 2007, I was having a hard time with my seven-year-old daughter, Amy. Because she didn't eat her vegetables for dinner, I didn't let her have the snack she wanted.

That caused a power struggle between mother and daughter. She acted negatively. She refused to do things or deliberately did things in the wrong way.

Finally, Amy did what was asked of her to do, very reluctantly. But lots of precious time was wasted because of her bad behavior. It was very frustrating for me.

It was already past 10:30 p.m. when I went to her room to tuck her in and say good night. I still felt frustrated and angry in my heart.

Then Amy handed me a note she just scribbled on a piece of paper. It said:

"Dear Mom, I am sorry. I was not good today. I love you. Love, Amy."

The moment I read the note, all my negative feelings toward her were gone. This very simple note softened my heart and melted away my frustration and anger. Instantly, I felt compassion and love for her, as if nothing had happened.

I was struck by the power of the written word, to forgive, to heal and to transform.

I remember another instance when a written note impacted someone else's life.

Once I wrote a thank-you note to a couple in the church for all the work they did, some I knew and could see, some behind the scene that I didn't even know.

Soon, I got an e-mail response from the couple.

It read: "I have to thank you for the encouraging and sweet note you sent us. Thank you! It meant so much to us, and we saved it to pull out and reread when we're feeling tired."

I was very touched by their note. As I look back, I realize that this has been a learning process for me.

A few years ago, for the first time, I went to a big conference in San Antonio. And for the first time in my life I did a PowerPoint presentation.

Needless to say, I was nervous. After the presentation I wished I could do better.

Several days later, I got a surprising thank-you card in the mail from a total stranger.

She was in the audience during the presentation and told me that I did a good job.

I was glad to receive such encouraging words. But I have to admit that at that time I found it puzzled that someone would take the time to write to a stranger.

Another time, a stranger wrote to me after reading an article about me. It was nice to receive the feedback.

Nowadays, I am not longer puzzled by mail from strangers. I got some e-mails from strangers as the result of writing this column.

It was through people like these I have learned to take the time to write thank-you notes to others and to be an encouragement and blessing for others.

Over the last couple of years, not only have I sent thank-you notes to people I know who are nice to me or have done something for me, I have also sent thank-you notes to people who don't even know me.

I wrote a Christmas card to a farmer from whom I had bought vegetables many times.

I wrote a thank-you card to the manager of a grocery store to compliment about the helpful employees there.

Once I even wrote to someone I happened to come across on the Internet whom I found very inspiring.

He is a fellow Chinese immigrant from my home town and is now the head of the English Department at a big university in the South. After browsing his website, I felt so compelled to send him my congratulations and admiration for what he has achieved.

Then it turned out we are not only from the same city in China, he also knows my English teacher, who was his tutor.

I was glad that I took the time to write to him.

I wrote to columnists whose columns I enjoy reading. My favorite columnist from Wall Street Journal responded with "Thanks for the extraordinarily kind e-mail" and continued with some advice on column writing.

I have learned that when I write thank-you notes, it not only shows my appreciation and brings encouragement to other people, it also lifts myself up and brings gratitude and good feelings to myself.

In our fast-paced world, more and more people use phone, e-mail or instant message to communicate with each other.

Handwritten letters are becoming rare and a lost art. We no longer send handwritten letters or cards, except for special occasions such as birthdays or Christmas.

I, too, found myself using e-mails more and more than pen and paper.

I want to challenge myself and also encourage you to take the time to write a thank-you note to someone you know or don't know.

A handwritten letter really stands out in the mail that has nothing but junk and bills.

Who is excited about getting junk mail or bills every day?

With a handwritten note, you will definitely brighten someone's day.

And in today's high-tech, low-touch world, you will certainly touch someone's heart.