It's been our little joke for the last couple of years, how on the day you turn 18 you'll get the "Grownup Handbook" that tells you everything you need to know to be a man. Things like how to fix a leaky faucet and drive on icy roads; how to endure an annoying co-worker; where to invest your retirement; the name of that trustworthy mechanic.
But you already know a Handbook isn't really coming. We become adults by trial and error, and if we are blessed, by following in the footsteps of others who've gone wisely before us. You've been blessed with godly men to follow: your father, your grandfather, your uncles, our friends. They will have much to give you in the days and years to come. But on this week of your birthday, in the space between childhood and the adult world, may I share my heart with you as your mother?
~ You begin your life with a rich heritage. You come from a line of stable relationships, security, health and generations of faith. Such wealth has allowed you the freedom and safety to develop a wise common sense about life. As you go out in the world, remember that so many others have not had such abundance. Don't despise them for not knowing. Live the wisdom you carry, but be patient and understanding with others.
~ And don't become puffed up with the knowledge you've inherited. Remember that people have all kinds of wealth you may not recognize at first. Everyone you meet can teach you something - everyone. Be teachable. Listen to others and find their wealth. Don't let yourself dismiss someone because they seem poor. Rather, surprise them and surprise yourself by finding their riches.
~ And when you find those riches, be affirming. Take a look around you at the cynical, self-driven world we've created. It can crush the soul. Son, it's easy to find the flaws in others, but it can take great grace to find the good. Train yourself to discover something to affirm in every person you meet. And make it a point to tell them. Don't be stingy. Bless. It's a good habit for you and you never know which words will build hope in another.
~ Practice what you believe. Don't be one of the hoards who talk endlessly and never do. Theories and theologies and ideologies abound; they mean nothing without action. Practice your faith. Always be working towards a harmony between your living and your believing. If you believe you are saved by grace, then live grace. If you believe God forgives you, then live forgiveness. Don't lie to yourself and others by professing a faith you aren't willing to live.
~ Give as much as you can away. Everything's for sale in our economy, even in the church. Reject that way of living; it makes you small and petty. Be generous with your talents and your things. Earn a fair living - but always have something valuable that you are giving away freely. Keep yourself uncluttered. Never sell the thing that God wants you to use for ministry. Look for ways to bless, to share, to surprise.
~ There's so much more that I could write, but I will close this letter with this final, most important thing. You've been steeped in the faith from the time you were born. You've attended church and read your bible, heard sermons, practiced traditions, been baptized, been tested, been faithful. Don't ever forget that Jesus is a Person. He's not a holy book, not a collection of behaviors or rituals. He's not a community of believers, not a way of believing. He's the flesh and blood revelation of your God. Talk to Him, listen to Him, be with Him, study Him. Libraries of books have been written, lifetimes of sermons have been preached about how to be a Christ-follower - but nothing will help you without a living relationship with Jesus Himself.
You are my oldest son, the first to become a man right before my eyes. You should know how proud I am of you, how much I trust you, how sure I am that you are going to go out in that world and live well.
Thank you for your respect. Thank you for your obedience; for your kindness, your tender heart, your determination to do right that has convicted me so many times. Thank you for your wit and all the many laughs. Thank you for gracing us with your art and your intellect. You're something special.
All my love,
(Click here to see pictures of the new 18 year old - the brilliant (and funny!) guy behind all the pictures on this site.)