by Emily Conrad
She and I hadn’t seen each other for about twenty years, and yet there was something very important I needed to tell her: she made a difference in my life.
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that I wrote my 8th grade English teacher about a month ago. From her perspective, I’m sure that thank you note must’ve seemed like it came out of nowhere.
I was terribly shy in middle school and rather shy in high school. Despite my love of English, I expect that to most of my English teachers until college, I was a face in the crowd, a reluctant voice in class.
But that quiet girl was listening. In a unit on creative writing in 8th grade English, I discovered a love that would carry me through high school, into college, and beyond.
So, I wrote my 8th grade teacher to thank her for the way she taught, using methods that helped me fall in love with writing in ways I’m not sure I would’ve, had the approach been different.
We met up for lunch this week, and I can’t tell you how much of a blessing that was. I’m still introverted and quiet, but two hours flew by as we discovered more and more that we have in common.
I’ve reached out to others who impacted me in some way, too. With these others, reaching out didn’t result in an instant connection like it did with me and my English teacher, but I’m still glad I took the time to say thank you. Because these people have given me a gift bigger than they knew.
These experiences have left me with a couple of takeaways.
Gratitude is Life-Giving
None of us become who we are in a vacuum. We owe a great debt to those who have gone before us, those who impacted us in the course of faithfully doing their job, and those who go out of their way to offer encouragement and help when they are under no obligation to do so.
I’m hoping as you read this someone’s come to your mind, too. Someone you can reach out to and say thank you.
They deserve to know their labor wasn’t in vain.
We can be the voice of encouragement someone needs today.
I waited until after my book was published to reach out to my teacher, but as I think about that now, I don’t think that was necessary. I think she might’ve appreciated even knowing I was striving for publication. Because published or unpublished, writing has been a gift in my life.
When someone makes a difference, it’s never too early to say thank you. We don’t need to wait until we’ve made what we might consider a success of ourselves.
Reaching out to say thank you isn’t about our own success. It’s about the success of the person who started us or encouraged us on a journey.
And in fact, it’s possible to wait too long. I’m so glad that, in my case, it wasn’t too late. But why did I risk that?
When we feel the prompt to reach out, let’s do it.
And in doing so, we may find, like I did with my teacher, that the blessing we expected to give ends up one we receive.
A generous person will be enriched,
and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.
Proverbs 11:25, NET
An easy, inexpensive way to be generous? Be generous with gratitude!
We Can Be Difference-Makers
I’m also hoping all of us will start to keep a better eye out for those behind us we can help.
Maybe we’ll have that opportunity in the course of doing our jobs with excellence, like my English teacher. Maybe it’ll mean saying yes to a request for help from a friend or even a stranger.
Let’s look for opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of our time. Sometimes, we’ll be called to a larger labor of love.
There’s so much negativity in our world today. So many tragedies. But there are opportunities, too, to let someone know their work matters and to help others along their journeys.
Do not withhold good from those who need it,
when you have the ability to help.
Proverbs 3:27, NET
When it’s in our power to give someone the gift of help and encouragement, let’s not hold back.
Don’t Be Discouraged
Some of us do work that’s more likely to garner a thank you than others. That doesn’t mean one person’s work is more valuable than another’s. Think of all the people who have impacted your faith, your career, your family, your education, your outlook, your health. I’ve been known to write thank yous, but I haven’t come close to thanking everyone who’s impacted me.
In a world where a smile at a stranger can set off a chain reaction of positive events, chances are, you’ve made a difference in more lives than you’ll realize this side of heaven.
Don’t be discouraged from doing good.
Matthew 6:1-4 is talking about financial giving, but I think it applies to acts of kindness, too:
“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. […] But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” (NET)
You may be doing important work, and no one may have paused to say thank you. Don’t let that derail you. Your Father sees, and His reward will be better than anything a human might send our way.
Need a little extra encouragement?
“And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NET
Let’s keep at the work, knowing we’re serving God. Let’s look for more opportunities to help others. And let’s say thank you to encourage those who’ve invested in us.
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