Letter to My Daughter Upon Her Graduation

So, last week, I looked at commencement speeches, and what they say about us. This week, I want to continue on the graduation theme — but on a much more personal level.

Today, I write a letter to my 18-year-old daughter who will, in 3 days, graduate from high school. Consider this my commencement speech — for one.

Dear Ruthie,

There are few things in life a guy can point to and smile broadly. Work accomplishments: rarely. Bank account or house size: not hardly. Sports team accomplishments: big deal.

But I am proud and grateful that I can point to you. You and your brother and sister are a source of joy and gratitude for your mother and me. It’s truly amazing to have a front-row seat to watch you grow. I love your sense of humor. I marvel at your vibrant self-expression. I’m impressed to see you come alive on stage.

But now, of course, the scene changes, as you move from high school to college and life beyond. You are incredibly gifted, and I look forward to seeing how your gifts will come together for you, and for those around you.

And as you prepare to take this next step, let me offer these humble reminders:

  1. Remember you are loved. Nothing compares to this truth, and nothing can change this truth. You are deeply loved — by God, by me and mom, by so many people who have been a part of helping you reach this point. That love, which begins and ends with God, is the source of your greatest identity. Don’t ever let circumstances, or people, or struggles, or successes keep you from this vital truth: You are loved. Deeply, eternally loved.
  2. Love sets you free. Because of this truth, you are set free to roam around in the great big embrace of God’s love. This Love opens doors to meaning and purpose that this silly world with all its silly concerns, simply cannot. Because you are loved, you have the freedom to explore who you are in this love. One of the things that graduates often get told, is: Do what you love. Let me modify that slightly: Do what you love because you are loved. Life isn’t about simply pursuing whatever you want; it’s about understanding that because you are loved, you are free to explore what that love sets you free to become.
  3. So, don’t settle. Don’t go the easy path, or walk the wide way that most everyone else is. Don’t be afraid to do the hard work of finding God’s path for you. And keep walking it, even when it’s hard to see far ahead, and when the way gets steep. The popular path is popular because everyone’s walking it. And everyone is walking it because it’s easy. But the most important things in life, including walking the way of faith, are a challenge. But it’s in the challenges that you find who you are — and who God is calling you to be.
  4. With that in mind, don’t be afraid of mistakes. You’ll stumble. Maybe even fall hard. As your dad, I really don’t want this for you. But I also understand that the failures and struggles in life are often what teach us the most. So, when you do hit a wall, or fall flat on your face, get up. Learn from it. And keep going.
  5. To do this, you’re going to need faithful friends for the journey. The longer I live, the more I realize I can’t do life on my own. I need friends to walk with me, to walk alongside me — challenging me, encouraging me, and picking me up when I don’t feel like getting up. Don’t ever go through life without at least 2 friends who are faithful, full of faith, and with you whatever you face.
  6. Remember grace. Don’t ever let go of grace — the powerful life-giving presence of God that is as essential as air. When you stumble, grace is there to pick you up. When you feel elated at your successes, grace is there to ground you. When you’re not sure what’s next, or where to turn, grace is the whisper of God that says: I’m here. I know you can’t see very far ahead. That’s ok. Just trust me for the next step. I’m here. Without grace, you’ll just spin your wheels. With grace, life’s successes and failures always come into perspective — for grace gives meaning to all of life.
  7. Finally, remember this: mom and I are always here for you. No matter where life takes you, or where you choose to go, we’re here. Our love won’t ever run out. Our listening ear will always be available. And though our love is imperfect and incomplete, it’s a glimpse of the Love that is perfect and complete.

So, never forget, and always remember: We love you!

Dad & Mom

Parenting, Kids, & Guarantees

Someone once said: It kills you to see your children grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.

It’s hard watching your kids grow up, especially as they work their way through the difficulty of the challenges they face. Sometimes, we who are parents & grandparents can step in; other times, we can’t (and shouldn’t) protect them from the realities of life. With three teenagers, I get to see this just about every day. But some weeks, there are just more challenges than normal. And there are no magic words to speak that will make everything better.

It reminds me of the joke about the young preacher, just married, who begins a new ministry, and one of his first sermon series is “The Ten Commandments of Parenting.” Then he and his wife have their first child, and when he comes around to another series on parenting, this time he calls it: “Five Suggestions for Parents.” He and his wife go on to have a couple more children, and the oldest reaches pre-teen status. This time, instead of a whole series, the minister does a one-week message on parenting: “One Suggestion You Might Try.” Then his kids become teenagers, and the minister can’t pull together a series, let alone one sermon. Instead, on the day he wants to talk about parenting, he stands up in church, and simply says: “Anybody got any ideas?”

Raising kids is one of the best jobs a person will ever do, and one of the hardest. And for Christians, it is a powerful opportunity to share our faith and shape the faith of our children. But beware of those who have simple answers, great theories, easy solutions. Parenting, like life, should not be tackled without faith. But parenting, like life, should also be approached humbly, constantly trusting, learning, and loving.

I have a friend who says that Proverbs 22.6 is not a promise, but a principle. Oftentimes, we like to quote that verse as an assurance — if we simply put our kids on the right path, they will stay on it (or eventually come back to it). But the Proverbs are not meant to be guarantees, but guidelines. This is the way life is meant to work; this is how we believe that a God-centered life will usually turn out. But kids are people, and people have the freedom to choose, to live, to go where and do what they want. Perhaps this is the hardest thing to learn to do as parents: to love, and let go. To rear, and release.

  • I’m still learning. But I can promise you this: I won’t ever do a “Ten Guarantees of Parenting” series. Instead of guarantees, there are guidelines — where we as parents, and grandparents, and aunts & uncles, love, pray, stay connected, and point our kids to Jesus. Where we don’t give up, but also don’t give in. Where we make hard choices, where we lose sleep, where we pour our heart and soul into our kids. Because parenting ultimately is about love, and who ever said that love would be easy? Come to think of it, isn’t that what we see in our Heavenly Father? A love that doesn’t come easy, but doesn’t give up. And continues to guide us, call us, and is there for us; no matter what.

That’s the kind of parenting I need. And the kind I want to give. Even in a house full of teenagers.

Thoughts about Graduation

20140609_160552My oldest daughter graduated from high school this week. With graduation comes a flurry of activity: family coming into town, graduation parties for friends who are also graduating, and, since my daughter works at Graeter’s, we just had to take her grandparents there. And, of course, there was the graduation ceremony itself.

And the moment that hit me the most at Sophie’s graduation wasn’t: when they walked in to “Pomp and Circumstance,” or when the ceremony concluded with the tossing of the mortar boards into the air. (Is it now required that every graduation ceremony must end with the graduates throwing those strange, pointy hats into the sky?) What hit home most for me was when they said my daughter’s full name. The name we gave her at birth. It was a reminder that the baby I first held in my arms early on that November morning in 1995 has grown up into a beautiful young woman. Where did time go? And am I really 18 years older than the guy who stood starry-eyed in that hospital room in Cincinnati?

Time does march on. Perhaps that is why they call graduation ceremonies a commencement. It is a commencing, a beginning. Graduation is the end of something, certainly; but, even more, it is the start of the next phase of life, of the next chapter of a journey that will hopefully take my daughter through many wonderful experiences and learning opportunities.

High school is over, but college awaits. And even when college is over, I hope Sophie continues to learn and grow — that her life will be full of many commencements, many new beginnings of learning and growth.

At Sophie’s graduation party, her preschool teacher brought her a unique gift. It was her assessment of Sophie when she was in Ms. Linda’s preschool class. She wrote some kind words about Sophie, including these: Sophie is kind, considerate, and loving to everyone. 

I mention this not to brag — okay, maybe just a little. But I bring up Sophie’s preschool evaluation because no matter how much we learn, or how much education we get — and no matter how old we get — the basics don’t change. There is a lot to learn in life, but no matter where my daughter goes in life — no matter where any of us goes — what we need most is to remember what we learned when we were 4 or 5.

Because, really, what is life but the continual opportunity to learn how to grow in love — love for God, and love for others. In fact, learning how to love is something we never graduate from, and is something we should commence doing every day.

So, Sophie: keep growing and learning. Don’t stop. But in the midst of all that you learn and all that you become, remember these simple words — striving to put them into practice everyday: Love God. Love others.

Because if you do, you can’t fail in the school that matters the most — the School of Life.