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Writing Words to Treasure

You can't put a price on the gift of a letter of personal appreciation.

Do you remember the last time you changed jobs or offices and cleaned out your files? Did you save a folder of good reviews, thank-you letters and commendations? We all treasure written words of gratitudesomething we can take out, reread and cling to during rough times.

As writers, we long to create profound prose. Writing and receiving personal letters of appreciation can impact the life of the recipientand the sender. Before my father died, I wrote a letter expressing my appreciation of his love for me. Although he had difficulty expressing his own feelings, the letter opened up a conversation that allowed me to better understand him.

Expressing written gratitude strengthens relationships. After mailing a letter of appreciation, one of my friends received a phone call from her mother-in-law, who sobbed, "I didn't know you felt that way about me." Before my friend mailed the letter, she and her mother-in-law already had a good relationship. It's even stronger now.

How to get started
Letters of appreciation are great gifts when we are low on cash but long on love. You can write a letter of appreciation to anyone for any reason. Start with the first name that pops into your mind. Is it your mother for her sense of humor? An older brother who protected you from the school bully? A special teacher who believed in your talents?

Write for five minutes about your relationship with this person. Consider how this person has blessed you. Remember the precious, usually intangible, gifts he or she has given you. Then, write the person's name on a blank piece of paper. Jot down the first word, phrase or sentence that comes to mind for each of these steps:

1. List an admirable attribute, quality or trait that this person demonstrates.

2. Identify a related example, event or experience. Give specifics.

3. Fill in the related "W"'s and the "H"—who, what, where, when, why and how. Include only those that apply.

4. Add the relevant senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Paint a word picture.

5. Share your feelings about what you've jotted down. Write from your deepest heart. This is the most important step.

Repeat these steps twice for a total of three sets. If you identify more than three attributes, qualities or traits, consider writing additional letters to the person later.

Next, rank the attributes in importance to you. Using what you've written in steps 1-5 as a starting point, write for five to 15 minutes on another blank page. Do not edit or erase. Begin writing with the attribute, quality or trait and related information that you ranked as the most important. Continue with your least important ranking. Come back strong and end your letter with your middle ranking. Each attribute and its related information becomes the basis for one or more paragraphs.

Wrapping it up
Pick stationery and stamps that match the letter's mood or theme or that remind you of the other person. Write in longhand for a personal touch. However, if your handwriting is illegible, type your letter. Consider any special needs—for example, when writing for someone with poor eyesight, write large or create a recording.

Finally, write your letter in full sentences and paragraphs. Read your letter aloud to check the tone and revise if necessary.

Determine how you are going to give this gift of a letter. Will you mail it? Or read it in person or on the telephone?

Some day, someone may be cleaning out a loved one's papers. Inside a jewelry box, a Bible or a memory book, he or she will find your letter. After reading it, the survivor will be touched that you took the time to write a letter of appreciationand your words will have a profound impact on yet another life.

EXAMPLE

Aug. 7, 2001

Dear John,

Eighth grade started out as the worst year of my life. I was in your homeroom/English/social studies group, and my four best friends were together in another group. The kids who I knew in your group I didn't like, and they didn't like me. That was obvious the third week of school, when Luanne asked every girl in homeroom except Gayle and me to a slumber party. I dreaded every lunch period and lived for algebra, when my friends and I could sob about the injustice that I had been separated from them.

But as the year went on, I realized I was the lucky one, because I had you as a teacher for 2 1/2 hours per day, and they didn't. You taught me a love of language that I still have 32 years later. The weekly lists of spelling words for advanced students spurred me to explore the power of words on my own. In social studies, I memorized Lincoln's Gettysburg Address for what I expected would be an easy A; I got the A, but it wasn't easy. You didn't let me get away with rote memorization; instead, you worked with me on cadence and on understanding what Lincoln was saying with each phrase. Genealogy is one of my life's passions these days, and every time I visit a Civil War battlefield or look at an ancestor's military record, I think of you sitting at your corner, standard-issue metal desk, asking if I understand why Lincoln said "Four score and seven years ago" rather than "87 years ago."

You helped me love English. And, who would have guessed it? Once I started participating in your classes and stopped complaining about not being with my friends, I made new ones. In April when Luanne had another slumber party, she opted for a small one—her best friend, Gayle and me.

Thank you, for being the first teacher to show me there was more to English than an easy grade, and more to life than always hanging with the same crowd.

Linda LaMar Jewell teaches journal and letter-writing workshops. Her work has appeared in magazines including Today's Christian Woman. She has had short works included in books such as A Letter Is a Gift Forever by Florence Littauer (Harvest House).

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