When I was in seminary, one of the ideas that was suggested to us students was that we each think of someone (alive or now dead) who made a major difference in our lives. At Thanksgiving time, we were encouraged to send them a letter of gratitude for how much they had helped us change or grow. The first such letter I wrote, back then, was to the lady who had been the Children's Librarian at the Oxnard Public Library, when I was a boy. All the knowledge of the world was in the 'huge' Children's Room of that library. (I've since seen the room as an adult, and I've had to adjust down my estimate of the size of that room.) Mrs. Oakley knew every book there and could help me find a book on anything I wanted to know. She taught me the joy of reading and finding information. I wrote that letter for me, and for her, not knowing if she still was there, but I also sent a copy to the City Librarian.
As fate would have it, in a fluke that almost never happens in our United Methodist system, fresh out of seminary I was appointed to be the Associate Minister at our church in Oxnard. I stopped by the (by then) 'new' library and walked in. Darned if it wasn't Mrs. Oakley checking out books at the desk—I recognized her immediately, even though I hadn't seen her in a dozen years. I introduced myself and she started crying, thanking me for my letter. Another librarian told me that the head librarian had read my letter to all those working at that library, and it resulted in a major crying-fest. They were all so happy to know that what they did made a difference in someone's life.
I've since written other such letters: to my sixth grade teacher whom I remember more for teaching us how to sing in harmony and the joys of music, than I do of the curriculum we had to learn; to my grandmother (long after she passed away) for making me find joy in the simple things of life; to a man at the Oxnard church (who recently died at the age of 100) for doing something he didn't even remember: going to the hospital in the middle of the night to give fresh blood for a transfusion for my brother, right after his birth. Because Percy Smith did that, my brother is alive and now 56 years old.
All of us can think of persons who have made a major difference in our lives. They probably weren't famous. What they did likely wasn't earth-shattering, but it made a profound change in the way we viewed our lives as Christians, as persons, as family members, and as citizens. I encourage you, this month, to think of someone whom you knew in your life (or maybe still know), who, in his/her own way, made a change in your life and who you are. Write him/her a letter; mail it to him/her if they are still alive, or read it aloud to the clouds if they have passed on. Express real thanks for their contribution to you and your life, your faith, your work, your personal being. It will brighten their lives, and do a world of good for you, too. It will tie you to your own history, and to that "great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us," as the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote. It may be the most worshipful act you do this year.
See you in worship!
Tom Griffith, Lead Pastor