A Letter to My Daughter on Her 13th Birthday

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 13th Birthday

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.


Dear Kendall,

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.

Love, Dad

The Importance of Compassion

The Importance of Compassion

Not long ago, I wrote about a memorable moment shared with my 9-year old daughter, Kaelyn, who revealed to me in a wonderfully subtle way, her strong sense of empathy and compassion. I feel that the ability to recognize and share feelings such as sadness or happiness being experienced by others is one of the most important qualities an individual can possess. Consequently, I also believe it’s one of the most important attributes for parents to nurture in our children.

Like all things, given a bit of purposeful attention, compassion has the power to grow and evolve. What begins as a simple feeling inside of a child’s heart can morph into a desire to help others. That desire can turn into an idea. And that idea can blossom into acts that transform lives for the better.

My 12-year old daughter, Kendall, recently provided a great example of how a strong sense of empathy can mature into something greater over time.

Kendall is a sweet, kind, intelligent girl. Like her mom, she’s beautiful with a gorgeous smile and dimples. Everyone who meets her seems naturally drawn to her (Yes– I am a “Doting Dad” and don’t apologize for it! I may ask to be excused for this, but will never say I’m sorry for it!). Although people have always enjoyed engaging with Kendall, she herself has always been relatively shy and quiet, and never one to dominate socially.

Last year, Kendall entered 6th grade and that transition proved challenging for her.

Most parents understand the anxiety a child faces when moving from elementary school to middle school. All of a sudden, our children are no longer being coddled. They’re getting up at the crack of dawn, being thrown together with kids from other schools. Their bodies are changing. They have class schedules and lockers. And for 6th graders, well, they’re at the very bottom of the totem pole and perhaps their greatest wish is simply that no 7th or 8th grader will even notice them at all. They’re just trying not to get run over during the stampede between classes.

As much as Kendall loves school and being with her friends, she struggled against a merciless battle with anxiety last year. She was continually plagued with fits of nausea. She would throw up– often several times a day, moving back and forth from class to the clinic. Often, she would have to come home. She missed parts of over 60 days during the year! Most heart-wrenching, Kendall didn’t even understand what was happening to her. She was excited about 6th grade and desperately desired to be at school with her friends! That excitement was simply morphing into anxiety.

Fortunately, we are blessed to live in an incredible school district with some outstanding administrators and teachers, as well as an awesome community of supportive friends and family. Our local school officials provided us with heartfelt support, helping monitor Kendall and helping her stay current with her classwork. Similarly, our friends reached out to help any way they could.

Eventually, Kendall began to overcome her anxiety. Her bad mornings and clinic visits became more spread out, her self-confidence started to grow and by the third quarter of the year, she seemed to hit her stride and put those anxious feelings behind her.

Kendall’s fierce battle with –and ultimately, victory– over severe anxiety was no secret in our social circles. So it was not surprising when we began to get inquiries from other parents about our experience. Apparently, several other children in our local community were having similar issues and their parents wanted to learn more about how Kendall had overcome her problems. They wondered if she might agree to speak with their children about her own experiences, peer-to-peer. Of course, Kendall understood and happily obliged.

Shortly thereafter, a 5th-grade teacher approached us with a similar request, this time asking if Kendall would speak to her entire class. And once again, she obliged cheerfully.

Finally, after the third request from yet another teacher, Kendall came up with an idea: What if she created a support program for any and all new 6th graders who might be experiencing anxiety over the daunting transition into middle school?

She more than anyone understood these challenges and how to deal with them. And so, “Ask Me Anything” was born. Kendall came up with the idea for the peer-to-peer program and the name. She thought through the mission, goals and structure of the organization, and then created a powerpoint to present her idea for it to her school.

“Ask Me Anything” is beautifully simple and straightforward. If a child is having difficulty with anxiety for any reason, they can call on Kendall or another volunteer peer mentor, boy or girl (Kendall has since recruited some of her friends to assist), to simply reach out to that child– to speak with them, be a friendly face in the hall, help set their expectations, and basically provide encouragement from a friendly, “wise elder”– one who has lived through the experience.

The school has since called upon Kendall to assist three times this year, both with individual students and larger groups. And not just sixth graders but also students transferring in from outside school districts. All the while, true to the universal, reciprocal nature of giving and sharing, Kendall’s own self-confidence has continued to blossom.

I am sharing Kendall’s powerpoint here. It is an easy program to duplicate and apply at any school and doesn’t require that that peer volunteers have to had to suffer from anxiety, themselves. It’s simply about being on-call to provide support and encouragement to anyone who may need it.

Beyond just sharing the program with those who might be interested in it, my greater point in writing about Kendall’s experience is this: Like her 9-year old sister, and many other young, sensitive children, Kendall, from an early age, always seemed blessed with a strong sense of empathy and compassion. Her mother and I recognized it and we always made it a point to nurture those feelings.

Now, at age 12, we’ve watched Kendall’s special qualities give birth to an idea. That idea evolved into action. And that action may well be helping a few people through a very difficult time in their lives.

If this is what compassion can develop into by age 12, what might it become in another 5 years … or 20?

We can’t wait to see.


Soul Surfer, Too: Our Children, Beneath the Surface

Soul Surfer, Too: Our Children, Beneath the Surface

As almost any parent will attest, there are many moments in life when our children make us proud.


When they bring home straight A’s from school…

When they score that first goal, or achieve some other kind of athletic milestone… 

When other adults remark how beautiful they are, or even better– how polite and well-behaved… 


But there are some moments that are better than all of those, combined. 


They are typically more subtle in nature and can rarely be anticipated. They are fleeting moments of revelation that provide us genuine clarity about who our children really are, and if we are so fortunate, perhaps also a little affirmation about the real jobs we’re doing as parents.


I enjoyed one of these moments just the other night.


Our family had huddled together in bed to watch Soul Surfer, the movie about Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm at age 13, to a 14-foot Tiger Shark. Somehow, she not only lived to tell about it, but learned to surf again with one arm. It’s a great story about faith, determination and never giving up. I highly recommend it.


There’s a scene in the movie, when, after deciding to try and compete again and struggling bravely against rough currents with one arm during a surf contest, a  frustrated  and emotionally defeated Bethany heads to the parking lot post heat, ready to give up surfing for good.


As she sulks back to her parents car, two young fans, about 10 or 11 years old, approach her for an autograph. 


Dejected, Bethany quips, “Here’s something better…” and proceeds to give both of her surfboards to the girls, who delight in their good fortune, and run away excitedly to show off their new souvenirs to their friends.


Eventually, Bethany makes up her mind that nothing is going to stop her from surfing again, training herself to duck dive with one arm, then returning to competition. 


I won’t spoil the ending, but will say that both of my girls, ages 9 and 12, really loved the movie.


Later that evening, I was lying in bed with my (newly) 9-year-old, Kaelyn, putting her down for the night. The movie had clearly affected her in different ways and she seemed to want to talk about, and process it.


“Dad, do you really think she didn’t scream when that shark bit her?”


“Does she really surf that way in real life?”


“Can you teach me to duck dive?”



And then she said it. Just a sweet little comment, stated thoughtfully and solemnly…  



“Dad, you know when those girls took her surfboards?”




“I wouldn’t have done that…”


“What do you mean you wouldn’t have done that, Kaelyn? You wouldn’t have done what?”


“I wouldn’t have taken her surfboard…”


“Really? Why not? What would you have done?” 


“I don’t know. I just wouldn’t have accepted it. She was feeling sad, you know?…”


“Yes, I know.”


And of course, Kaelyn didn’t have to explain it to me further. I knew exactly why she wouldn’t take it. It’s called “empathy” and “compassion” (coincidentally, an important secondary theme in Soul Surfer) and it so warmed me to see it  in her that instant, on display in such a simple, honest way. I can’t think of many times as a parent when I’ve felt so proud of her.


To me, and I would guess for many parents, it’s little moments like these that really leave their impressions.


So much more significant than than winning a trophy, ribbon or a medal.

So much more substantive than good looks or even bringing home a good grade.

So much more profound and revealing….


About who our children really are. 


About the efforts we’re putting into raising them.

They are little moments that whisper and affirm… “You’re getting this right.”

Author’s Note: This is a piece I originally wrote for The Inertia, the highly-popular website based out of California billed as, “Surfing’s Definitive Online Community” for thinking surfers. To see the response and full discussion of the article, please visit: http://www.theinertia.com/author/tim-hamby/