Dave and I lost touch with each other after I left my first pastorate. He worked at the same engineering company I worked for. He had been a nice man, not always agreeing with my religious side of “coffee break discussions,” but never was rude like some were.
When I moved away, I lost ties to my former friends. So when my phone rang 20 years later and a husky voice on the other end asked, “Are you the Danny Carpenter that used to work in Dallas?” I was blown away. It was Dave.
It turns out Dave had converted after I moved away. Married, had a kid, and was now, 20 years later, a Sunday School teacher. And on Sunday his pastor had challenged members to remember the person or people who had impacted them for Christ, and find them to say “Thank you.” So Dave was calling me to thank me. Twenty years ago, he said, I made a lasting impression on him. It was a humbling moment.
After we hung up, I began to reflect on my own mentors. Men who had shaped my life. There were two men who made a huge impact on me. One was the principal of my 7th and 8th grade years. Harold Lichtenwald, principal of Sidney Lanier, took me under his wing and helped me. Saved me. One of the greatest men I’ve ever known.
The other was Fred Gregory, my high school drafting teacher. One of a kind. Cared about his students’ futures, not their grades. He showed me that character was more important than skill. And he helped me long after high school.
I decided to look them up. Mr. Gregory was easy. He still lived in the same house in Mesquite. I phoned him, and wrote a column about him in the local newspaper. My way of saying thanks.
Mr. Lichtenwald was a little harder to find. When I did, he was dying in a nursing home in Dallas. Parkinson’s, diabetes, and something else. But I walked in his room unannounced, and he asked, “Are you looking for someone?”
“You,” I said. “I’m a voice from your past.”
He smiled. “How far back?”
“Sidney Lanier,” I said, knowing he’d never guess. But to my surprise, he teared up and said, “Danny Carpenter.” I couldn’t believe it. He cried a while, and then, embarrassed, told me he couldn’t move his arms, and he could really use help with his running nose and eyes. It was my privilege.
I loved those two men. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they loved me, too. Mr. Lichtenwald passed away a year after I found him. Mr. Gregory just passed away a day after this past Christmas.
I am glad I found them. I’m glad I thanked them before they slipped away.
Who do you need to find? Find ’em. And thank them.
You’ll be glad you did.

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