This is a letter I wrote to my daughter celebrating her 13th birthday. For this special occasion, Kendall’s mother and I decided to do something a little different than the usual party, instead opting for something a little more meaningful, memorable and empowering. We invited several influential women in Kendall’s life (grandmothers, mothers of friends, spiritual leaders from church, teachers and friends) to shower her with Godly blessings as she embarks into her teenage years. It was a very simple setting of speaking, followed by desserts. Casual. Informal. Some spoke off the tops of their heads. Others like me, wrote messages and read them to Kendall. We all expressed ourselves from our hearts. As her father, I was the only male present and went last. It was an extremely emotional experience from start to finish (a lot of tears), and while challenging on that front, it was extremely fulfilling. My wife got this idea from her close friend, Lissa Slade, who is an Assistant Pastor at Christ the Redeemer Church here in Ponte Vedra Beach. I had never heard or, nor thought about a celebration like this, but when Lisa recently held a similar 13th birthday event for her daughter, Gretchen and I both immediately recognized the profound nature of it. It is a concept that I believe should be more widely known and practiced. It would be equally valuable for girls or boys. If you have a son or daughter coming of age, I would encourage you to think about doing something similar. I believe our daughter will carry the memories of this event with her for the rest of her life.
I’d like to begin by expressing a couple of very important things. Things that maybe I’ve never said to you before, but that you should know. The first is just how grateful I am for you! You are a child who was born out of a deep love between your mother and I. We prayed hard, and very specifically for you. We had no assurances that we could even have a child. I remember praying to God so many times that if he would only deliver you to us, that we would always love you, teach you to put Him above all others, and guard your soul with our lives. Your mother and I both know that one of the primary reasons we were put on this earth was to love and care for you and your sister, and to ultimately lead both of you closer to Him.
Another important thing I want you to understand today is how full you have made my life. Our world is unpredictable and none of us are promised tomorrow. As you may have come to realize, there is a part of me that is modeled loosely on Peter Pan, a boy who refuses to grow up. Correspondingly, I expect to be around for many more years to come! But please know that if anything were to ever happen to me, that you, along with your mom and sister have helped to make my life full and complete. I would die without a single regret; would always be by your side spiritually; and would be delighted hanging out with Jesus in Heaven, waiting for a blessed reunion with all of you one day! Kendall, I pray that you would know a life of similar joy, peace and satisfaction, one spent pursuing your passions without regret, made full by loving friends and family and complete by Jesus Christ. There are many ways to enjoy life, but there is only one God and you will only know real, eternal happiness –the kind I have come to know– by putting that relationship first before all others. There is no other way.
Kendall, I am so happy for this opportunity to speak to you before our family and friends, to publicly proclaim some of my life’s wishes and blessings for you. Like you, I am inherently shy and easily embarrassed. But I believe that there is great power in letting others know what you stand for– openly, honestly and publicly. God himself requires this of us. My wish and blessing for you is that God will grant you the wisdom to understand the full power of honesty, and of having the courage to stand behind your convictions– the personal beliefs that you know are good, right and true because God put them in your heart. I speak from many years of experience when I tell you that nothing will empower you more in this life than living honestly with yourself and others, and not allowing external pressures to influence you to act (or sometimes, not act), in the ways that you know you should. Conversely, dishonesty only leads to hurt, disappointment and more problems. Believe in yourself, Kendall and others will believe in you. Be consistent. Reputations by their definition are built over time, yet they can be destroyed in an instant.
Kendall, God has blessed you so abundantly! He instilled in you a sensitivity and overwhelming sense of compassion for others. Patience and kindness flow from you naturally and these qualities are a blessing to others around you. My prayer is that God would continue to work through you to help others with your gifts. Whether this is manifested through ideas like your Ask Me Anything Peer Mentoring program and volunteering; or in more subtle, but equally significant ways like simply listening to others when they need to talk; standing up for them when called for; encouraging them when they are down; and putting the needs of others before your own. I pray that you understand and will never forget that every person around you holds great value in God’s eyes, no matter their circumstances, nor even their faults.
Kendall, like your mom, God blessed you with uncommon physical beauty. Like all gifts, I pray that you would embrace this with a sense of gratitude and humility. More importantly, I pray that you will always remember that your looks do not determine who you are. Real beauty emerges from within one’s heart. Like all people with Jesus in them, His light is what makes souls beautiful in a truly meaningful and lasting way that will never fade due to the effects of time or gravity.
Kendall, in the coming years, your internal and external beauty, and many wonderful qualities will no doubt begin to draw the attention of boys, some of whom you may have no interest in at all, and others, who you may find yourself drawn to. I pray that God would bless you with the wisdom to be able to discern the good boys from the bad. And I promise I will always be here to help you do that. Good boys, like good girls, are patient, kind and compassionate. They respect themselves, their families and all others and do not try to manipulate or pressure their friends or girlfriends into making poor decisions.
Kendall, loves may come and go, but you will only ever be able to surrender your purity once in this lifetime and I hope that you would find the patience and strength to be able to share that precious gift with the man you choose to marry many years from today. Most importantly, I pray that you will never, ever settle for anyone less than exactly who you are seeking, who God put you on this earth to be with. I had many opportunities to do the same throughout my life, but never stopped searching until the day God brought your mom into my life, with all of the qualities I had ever hoped for, and then some.
I pray that you recognize that you have the power to live a life without compromise, and that you will. I pray that you continue to acquire a good education and a college degree so that you will never be financially dependent upon another person, except by your choosing, and then, with the ability to sustain yourself should it ever become necessary. This is important, even if you ultimately aspire to the noble role of a full-time stay-at-home mom. In life, it is always wise to have a Plan B and I would encourage you to never stop learning.
Kendall, you are so intelligent. Another gift to cherish and be grateful for. But more important than intelligence is wisdom. And real wisdom –the knowledge of life– is found inside the Bible and staying close to, and learning more about God. After all, He is the “Giver” of life. The “Knower” of all. The “Maker” who created you. He sent his own son to die for all of us, which trust me, as a parent, is an incomprehensible thought, all so that we might be saved from sin. Saved from ourselves.
Kendall– finally, while you have been blessed with so much, and all of us here have so many hopes and wishes for you, I would pray that you never, ever fall into the trap of allowing yourself to feel as though you have to somehow be “perfect”. None of us can ever be that, nor will we ever have to be. Jesus was perfect for us. We honor Him to the highest by simply being the unique people he created us to be, holding Him close in our hearts and trying to live our lives with purpose, in all the ways he laid out for us in the Bible. My prayer for you is that you will simply always be near to Him. He is the one and only key to a full life of peace and happiness, now and forever.
When it gets right down to it, there’s not much more that you need to know.