It’s likely that your life has been packed with the blessings given to you by mentors, coaches, teachers, sponsors, counselors, pastors, youth group leaders, employers, supervisors and other people who helped you become who you are today. They deserve to know how their investment in your life turned out!
Few of these individuals expect to know the eventual results of their efforts on your behalf, so your grateful recitation of your life story will be a surprise. It may also be a precious gift to them, especially as they age into the later years of their lives. They will be gratified to realize how they made a difference to you. Your recounting of their influence will also answer the question many older people harbor inside them: What was the net effect of my life?
As I engage these precious people from my past, I ask myself questions like these. Perhaps they might be helpful for you, too!
When is a good time to do this?
For decades I’ve selected one of these now-elderly teachers/mentors as recipients of our family’s annual Christmas newsletter. I add a special page of grateful thoughts. Other good times for you might be: The end of a school year; Easter; the anniversary of a graduation; events celebrating the retirement of these individuals or their receiving awards.
How do I find these folks?
Here’s a good chance to put online search skills to good use. Don’t forget former colleagues/classmates or the SEARCH bars on the Web sites of other enterprises where your life-guides may still be active. Institutions of higher learning and religious denominations maintain lists of retired clergy, staff or officers. I’ve rarely had trouble eventually finding contact information for the people I want to write.
What do I send?
I usually write letters or send cards, being mindful about the possible state of recipients’ eyesight and mental acuity. A new possibility: The capabilities of Smartphones to send audio recordings. If you’re a social media denizen, think about those message-sending capabilities.
What do I say?
I convey thanks for specific traits, attitudes, or knowledge that these life-changing elders have given to me. I try to refresh their memories about me (back then), and then trace how my life’s twists and turns have been impacted by their guidance. That information can include career, special capabilities or responsibilities, personal situations—family, present location, hobbies—awards and publications. Where possible, I try to connect notable parts of my life with a specific piece of their influence—an experience, unforgettable lesson, personal quality or insistent advice.
I acknowledge deeper matters—a listening ear; quiet approaches to life; respect for others who are struggling; generosity of spirit; wisdom—in this person, and tell how those spiritual traits have also embedded themselves in my own values, my sense of calling or vocation.
As you write, unveil the heartfelt part of your spirit, so that these wonderful words cut through politeness or obligation. There’s something deeply emotional about all of this, so don’t be afraid to use that kind of verbiage.
What comes of all of this?
Most of the time I get a response—always surprising to me, too! Then I know that I’ve helped comfort and encourage these cherished mentors in their later years. In a small measure, I have repaid an invisible debt of gratitude that I’ve owed these benefactors for all this time.
This can be a sacred task, a steward’s account of our lives and a gift given to these people who have made us who we are. These messages can help us understand how we can come full circle on our previous relationships, adding an exclamation point to the purposed lives of these wonderful people and fulfilling the debt of gratitude we surely owe them.
Something they clearly deserve….
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