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Stop and think a minute: There are people you owe something to.

Acknowledge the gifts you have received.

All over this country, people could tell you a story of someone that helped them once–or maybe more than once–but significantly.

A teacher that pushed you to try harder; a parent or sibling that let you be scared in front of them so you could be brave in front of everyone else later.

Here’s a big one–a stepparent or foster parent who didn’t keep to the guidelines of being a “partial” parent and sacrificed above and beyond what was expected with time, money, patience and faith.

All of these people extended a hand of guidance and confidence to you and, typically of such friends, expected nothing in return.

But what if instead you gave them something in return; told them that you remembered that they made a difference in your life and that you simply wanted to let them know you are here today and where you are today because they were there for you back then.

I did this one year at Christmas, and it was the most rewarding experience I could have imagined.

First, I wrote to my sixth-grade teacher. She had been one of the first to crack a smile at my sarcastic humor. When something would happen in class and she’d glance at me, I would give her that Johnny Carson deadpan stare like, “Yeah, OK, this person has lost their mind,” and she would bite her lip not to laugh out loud.

Her willingness to let me be myself gave me a lot of confidence going into junior high school. I sent her a holiday card and told her so.

I got a letter back within the same week that just gushed with emotion and gratitude for writing to her. She had long since retired and seemed so happy to relive those days, if only for those few moments.

Then there was a guy who was a mentor in my last year of college. He helped me find my first job and we grew incredibly close in the six months that I was his intern.

After I moved back to Cleveland after college, we’d been out of touch for many years. My note told him of my current career accomplishments and how the skills he had helped me hone were still being used today.

Again, I got a response within three days, and he was ever so grateful for the words I had provided and the favorable light I shone on our history together.

As the years have passed, I have found this reaching back to become a habit. I have done it often and for people significant in my children’s lives, as well.

For instance, there was a former football coach my son had looked up to when he was 10 years old. I’d called upon him to back me up when that same boy had come up against some discipline problems at school.

I’d called him for a little “back-up” and good old Coach answered the call and came in like a SWAT team.

A Southern-raised Christian he was proud to be, and his booming voice filled and echoed in my wood-floored home as my son stood shivering on the second-floor landing. A firm disciplinarian, he didn’t even wait until the kid cleared the steps before he started reminding him of how fortunate he was that his parents didn’t believe in paddles or belts.

“If you were my boy, you’d be unable to sit right now,” he bellowed.

Ten years later, when that son of mine graduated from the police academy, that coach and his wife were in the front row watching my boy finish with honors.

The letter he got from us that Christmas hit the mark. His wife tells me it is framed at home and sits over his desk.

See, it is not an expensive thing, this gift you can give. It simply is an expression from your heart and one that most of us rarely receive.

It is a simple token that speaks volumes about your conscience and the value of properly receiving a gift instead of just knowing how to give one.

When these people are taking time for you, they are giving the gift of themselves; it is a choice they have made to donate that to you. You mustn’t ever squander such a present.

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