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A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

August 27, 2017

I remember those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. It was the moment I learned that you existed. I cried, of course. You were my dream-come-true. I always knew I wanted to be a mommy. You were the one. At last, my baby. 

When I look at you, I see not only who you are now, but I see all the Isaiahs you've been. The hazy peanut-shaped image on the sonogram picture. The squishy, red newborn placed in my arms after 8 hours of labor. The chubby, happy baby crawling around the house or curled up next to me for a nap. The little preschool boy who loved Thomas the Train and Lightning McQueen, whom you called "Light-ming NaQueem!" The boy who used to climb into bed with me on Saturday mornings to snuggle. The kindergartener. The baseball player. The LEGO builder. The artist. The video-gamer. The musician. The strong, quick-witted middle-schooler who is now an inch taller than I am. 

I have loved every version of you. And I miss every Isaiah that is a thing of the past. Dang it, I knew this would make me cry!

 My baby

My little boy

My teenager

As you turn 13, I must face the fact that you are quickly traveling to adulthood. In the next several years, you'll begin to learn who you are, who you want to be, and what you believe about God, humanity, and the world. It feels like such a privilege to guide you through this "growing up" stage.

These are some things I hope you will learn and practice in the coming years:

-Be yourself.

You don't have to try to be like anybody else in order to be special. Every one of God's children is unique and valuable. Don't change to gain favor or to impress others. I spent some of my time in high school doing this, and those were some lonely years. I felt like no one knew the real me. 

Don't gain the whole world but lose your soul.

-Be compassionate.

Just as you are a treasure, so is every other human being on this planet. You really don't know what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. Every person has experienced sadness, loss, insecurity, or confusion. Not one person has life all figured out. Don't be quick to judge by outside appearances. Remember how much God loves every person you meet, and reflect that love in how you treat them.

-Look people in the eye.

This is not only polite, it shows respect and bestows dignity. When someone leaves your presence, they should be left with the gift of feeling seen.

-Be a gentleman.

Good manners are a form of respect for others and a sign of your character. Every time someone politely holds a door for me, I feel a bubble of delight. It just seems to draw two strangers together for a moment, extending the Golden Rule. 

And show good manners to everyone you meet. "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person."

-Respect authority.

I pray this so often for you. You may not always agree with the authority figures in your life, but remember that they usually have your (and others') best interest at heart. 

Respect God, respect your parents, respect your grandparents, respect your teachers, respect your coaches, respect your bosses, and respect the law. If you don't have a healthy respect for authority, you'll end up in a world of trouble. Please don't be an idiot about this. 

-Choose good friends.

We end up resembling the people we spend the most time with. It's okay to spend less time (or no time), with people who aren't making wise choices. 

"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future." Or as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:20, "He that walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed."

-Don't be lazy.

The rewards of laziness are extremely temporary, and the long-term consequences really suck. Do the work, son. The rewards are great.

-Guard your gates.

You know I say this all the time. Be careful what you let past the gates of your mind. Once it's in, it's not likely to leave again. The things you watch, listen to, look at, joke about, etc., have a great impact on how you see the world  and how you will ultimately behave. 

"Garbage in, garbage out," as a friend of mine tells her son. Up until now, Dad and I have had the control about what you watch, listen to, see on the Internet, etc. But you're a teenager now, and those decisions will be made more and more by you in the next few years. Be wise, son. Guard your gates. And learn from your mistakes when you let things in that haunt you later. It's not worth it. 

"...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things."  Philippians 4:8

-Be respectful to girls/women.

Every one of them is somebody's daughter. Some are sisters. Or mothers. Don't look at a girl/woman and see just a body. Every woman has a heart and a mind that should be treasured. Sadly, not all women see themselves as priceless treasures. Son, do not take advantage of this. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem here. Treat them like treasures anyway. I know you and Dad discuss these things, and I'm so grateful. Your dad is such a good example for you. One day you'll realize just how much. 

-Have integrity.

Be someone you're proud of, whether anyone is watching or not. I do not lie, steal, or cheat. But I have done all of those things. I regret them. I pray you'll do the right thing, or learn from your mistakes like I have. Be someone you're proud of, son. 

-Encourage others.

You'll be surprised: when you build others up, it makes you feel good about yourself too.

"What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?" -George Eliot

-Be a learner.

Even if you live to be 100 years old, you'll never know it all. Keep learning. Study God, study others, study nature, study history, study how to love others it all, whatever you can, whatever interests you. Don't get stagnant. 

And know that every person you meet (or read their story, or watch their videos, etc.), is an opportunity to learn more. "Learn something new every day." Learning is exciting! Consider it a great adventure. Don't ever let your sharp mind get mushy. 

-Don't hold too tightly to your stuff.

Your clothes, your electronics, your car, your house, etc., can all be broken, stolen, or worn out. Enjoy your things, appreciate their value, but don't get so attached that you panic over materialistic losses. God will provide for actual needs, usually through people who care about you. But only if you've invested in people instead of things. 

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."   Matthew 6:19-21

-Don't be afraid of people who are different. 

I'm still working on this one at age 41. Maybe it won't take you as long. We tend to gravitate towards people that look, think, and live like we do. But I recently read that if we limit our interactions to those people that are like us, we miss out on so much of God's beautiful, diverse nature. He's reflected in others. People of all races, all ages, all abilities/disabilities, all standards of living from homeless to millionaires; all people have something you can discover only by spending quality time with them. Don't miss it. 

-Stand up for your sister.

You may not always like her, but she is your family, your kin, your blood. "Blood is thicker than water." That means friends may come and go, but no one can replace a family member. Family is forever. God designed families to stand together, fight for each other, and love each other, for better or for worse. You sure as heck better do that for your little sister.

I believe you will, if needed. I almost hope that someone will pick on her in your presence, so that I can beam with pride when I find out you said, "Hey, that's my sister! Leave her alone!"

-I'm your biggest fan.

I will always be behind you. I may not agree with every choice you make in life, but you will always be my son. I will always love you. 

-Lastly, most importantly, love Jesus. 

I actually debated about whether or not to write this in this letter, because I knew it would also be a public blog post. I considered writing something that every mom could identify with, whether she knows Jesus or not. But I was half-awake during the wee morning hours, and I realized I must always write from my heart, in order to be true to me.  And the greatest desire of this mom's heart is for you to LOVE JESUS. 

I recently told you and your sister that, as you get older, I want you to test your faith. God can stand up to your questions. Read the Bible and discern whether it's true. Talk to God daily and wait for Him to answer prayers and direct your steps. 

You have an amazing gift offered to you: a relationship with the King of kings. I pray you'll take it. You get to be friends with God. And you get to be a servant of God. And you get to be a child of God. I pray you'll be ever humbled and grateful and thrilled by your relationship with Jesus. 

Don't chase "happiness," son. Chase Jesus. And find true joy. 

Happy 13th Birthday, my son. Thank you for all the ways you've made me a better person, brought me joy, taught me new things, made me laugh, and made me hit my knees to ask God for help in raising you. You'll never know how big this love I have for you is. 

Well, maybe if you ever become a daddy one day, you'll get it. Maybe then. 

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