A Letter to My Son: 15 Things I Want You to Know on Your 15th Birthday

Dear Trey,

Today, you turn 15. As I write this, you’re not *quite* 15 yet, although you were hard at work to make your grand appearance. To think that 15 years have passed since that unforgettable day – that day when my whole world changed, when my dreams became reality, when suddenly everything I’d ever wanted was snugly wrapped in a soft white blanket and placed in my arms – doesn’t seem possible. But I look at you – now taller than me – and I know it is not only possible, but reality.

To think that you’re 15 kind of blows my mind. And yes, it freaks me out a little, too, though probably not for the reasons you think. I’m less freaked out about you getting your learner’s permit than I am about the fact that you are only three years away from adulthood. I’m less freaked out about you being old enough to hold down a “real” job than I am about the knowledge that you are closer to living under your own roof than under mine. I’m less freaked out about you being taller than me than I am about the realization that pretty soon my voice will no longer carry the weight it once did, that other, more important voices will be the ones demanding your attention and guiding your decisions.

And so, while I still have even the slightest bit of influence over you, while you still reside under my roof and are compelled to listen to my voice, I want to write this letter to you. Because these are the things I want you to know. Because these are the things I wish and dream and hope and pray for you. Because these are the things you need to carry with you. Because, no matter how old you get, these are the things that will always – always – be true.

1. You are created.

Let that sink in. I know, I know. You know this. You’ve been taught this your whole life. But this isn’t just a catchphrase, or a metaphor, or a figure of speech. It’s your reality. Though I may have carried you for 40 weeks and 4 days, I was merely the studio where the Master Artist did some amazing work. You are not an accident of nature, an evolutionary achievement, or a result of biology and genetics. You are a created being. You were put together exactly as you are: your emotions, your intellect, your personality, your talents and interests – by Someone who loves you. And, as with all His created beings, you are “very good.” In my eyes, you’re perfect.

2. You are wanted.

Long before we knew about you, we wanted you. We hoped for you. We prayed for you. We ached for you. And when it took longer than we’d expected for our dreams to become reality, we cried for you. You have two parents who – together – wanted you. Deeply and desperately. All those 40 weeks and 4 days I carried you, I wanted you. Your dad wanted you. We’d stay up at night talking and dreaming and planning all the things we wanted and hoped for you, all the things we couldn’t wait to share with you, all the experiences we wanted to do with you. We loved putting your nursery together and getting all your clothes and toys and books and equipment set up and ready for you. But that wanting didn’t stop when you were born. You were wanted the day you smiled for the first time, and tried your first baby food and grew your first tooth. You were still wanted on the days you were fussy and cranky, blew out your diapers, or pulled every single kleenex out of the box, tore them up, and tossed them all over your room. You were wanted the day you rode a tricycle, then a two-wheeler with training wheels, and finally your own “big boy bike” for the first time, the day you hit a baseball or kicked a soccer ball. You were wanted the day you suffered with an ear infection, ran a fever, or threw up all over the living room carpet. You were wanted the day you started preschool, kindergarten, middle school, and high school. You were wanted the day you went to Twilight Camp, Vacation Bible School, your youth group retreat, or left for a mission trip. You were wanted the day you forgot your homework assignment and received a zero, the day you failed a math test, the day you didn’t make the marching squad. No matter what, you were wanted. As we look forward, you will still be wanted the day you drive a car for the first time, the day you have your first date, the day you ask your first girl to HoCo or prom. We will want you just as much the day you go to your first job, receive your first college acceptance letter, the day you move into your own apartment, the day you ask the girl of your dreams to be your wife. Whatever day it is, know this: you are wanted.

3. You are loved.

Based on my previous point, this may seem obvious. Like, as in “well, DUH.” Sadly, however, not all parents who want children actually love them. Sometimes parents think they want children, and then when the children come along and they’re all noisy and smelly and rebellious and disobedient and DON’T EAT THEIR BROCCOLI and LEAVE LEGOS ALL OVER THE FLOOR (ahem) the parents decide, “You know what? This parenting thing is hard. I don’t like it very much.” And what that says to their children is Parenting YOU is hard. I don’t like YOU very much. But you, my son, are different. No matter how noisy and smelly you are, your dad and I will always love you. No matter how rebellious and disobedient you choose to be, we will continue to love you. No matter how many times you DON’T EAT YOUR BROCCOLI or LEAVE LEGOS ALL OVER THE FLOOR or forget to clean up the Wii games or take out the trash, you can count on this one thing: we love you. Period. We may not like you very much at those moments, but we will always love you.

And just to embarrass you further, it’s not just us. You have extended family who also love you more than you will ever know: grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles (and even some really-terrific aunts and super-awesome uncles), cousins, second cousins, third cousins twice removed on your second great-aunt’s side. There are friends and mentors and teachers and coaches who all love you – whether they demonstrate it by chest-bumping, fist-pounding, high-fiving, or just a simple nod of the head. And of course, there’s always the One who loves you most and best of all: God Himself.  Make no mistake about it: you are – and will always be – loved.

4. You are strong.

No, I’m not crazy. I’m your mother. And I know that strength is more than just bulging biceps or ripped abs (though those things are nice, too. Girls like them. Trust me on this.) or being able to bench press the weight of a small African country. Physical strength is good and, to a degree, necessary. But it’s not the only – or even the most important – kind of strength. What I’m talking about is inner strength. Big-word strength, like integrity. Character. Responsibility. Loyalty.  And it’s there, in those big-word kind of moments, that I’ve seen you flex your inner muscles and show your true strength.

Those times you left your friend’s house and came home because they were showing a movie or playing a video game you knew was inappropriate for you? Integrity.

Those times you continued to reach out in friendship to one who had just ignored you, drifted away, or let you down? Loyalty.

That time when you, as a kindergartener, told those 5th graders on the bus how you felt when they took away the football they said you could keep? Character.

Those summer days you woke yourself up early and got yourself ready for marching camp, or the Saturdays you set your alarm and make your own breakfast and lunch to be ready to volunteer at the Heritage Guild? Responsibility

Never give in for a second to the idea that because you don’t have muscles like a comic-book hero that you lack strength. You are far stronger than you realize, and are capable of doing great things because of the strength of your inner man.

5. You are gifted.

And no, I don’t mean in that educational mumbo-jumbo, gotta-take-a-test-to-qualify, gotta sit in special classes and do lots of extra work kind of way. Because you were created, that means that you were intentionally put together with certain special abilities. Talents. Gifts. Some of your gifts shine in the academic world: your number sense, scientific curiosity, spatial reasoning, and quick memory. But you have other gifts, too. Gifts that shine in other areas: your incredibly tender heart, your strong sense of right and wrong, your desire for justice and truth to prevail, your ability to connect with others, your love for God. As you’ve grow older, these gifts have become more and more apparent, as if you’re just starting to truly unwrap them so they can be enjoyed and used. Continue to use these gifts. Never be ashamed of them or wish you had different ones. These gifts define the essence of who you are; they were carefully selected just for you and given to you with great love by your Creator. Cherish them. Use them. Enjoy them. Celebrate them. These are your gifts. And no one can take them from you.

6. You are unique.

You’ve seen the meme: Be unique, just like everybody else. But you are unique; there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone else like you in the entire history of the world. Because you have been given special gifts, because you were put together in a special way, you are truly one-of-a-kind. And if I can step out of my “mom” shoes for a minute and give you a totally objective opinion, I can honestly say: I’ve known a lot of kids. It’s kind of been my job since I was, well, practically a kid myself. I’ve taught them and babysat them and child-cared them and mentored them and coached them, and not a single one of them is exactly like you. The day you were born, I didn’t look at your tiny little face and say, Oh, he reminds me of that student I had that one year or Yes, he’s just like that other baby I used to babysit for back when I was in high school. And when flashes of your little personality burst out of your tiny newborn body, your dad and I were surprised and delighted as we uncovered the uniqueness of you. You definitely have your own way of doing things, your own little idiosyncrasies, your specific ways of doing things. And it’s those things that make you, YOU. No one else thinks just like you do. No one else does things exactly the way you do them. No one else comes up with your ideas or puts things together or enjoys your hobbies or thinks jokes are funny in the same way you do.  In your lifetime, you’ll meet lots of people. You’ll discover common interests, passions, and thoughts with many of them. You’ll share life with several. You’ll bond with a few. You may even pledge your undying love and devotion to one. But even in all your similarities, be assured of this: no one else is exactly like you. You remain a true original, often imitated but never duplicated. You are unique.

7. You have a purpose.

There’s a reason you’re here. There’s a reason God created you and placed you on this earth. And it wasn’t just “because He felt like it.” God’s a bit more organized and methodical than that. You have a job to do, a purpose to accomplish, that can only be done through you. That’s why you were given special gifts and abilities. That’s why you are uniquely fashioned. No one else can do the thing you’ve been created to do. Just like Spirit, the horse who captured your heart and imagination at the ripe old age of 2, remember who you are...and whose you are. Just like Luke Skywalker, the young Jedi knight whose tortured journey thrilled you and consumed your thoughts at age 7, you have a destiny…and it’s not joining the Dark Side (even if they have cookies, which I have yet to prove). Just like the Marvel superheroes and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who inspire and fascinate you now, you were made for something bigger than yourself...even bigger than defeating Hydra. No matter how much better you think others are, no matter how difficult the job may seem, no matter how discouraging or overwhelming or confusing or disorienting the task appears, it belongs to you and you only. Walk humbly, seek God’s direction, and rely on His strength. Do this, and fulfill your destiny you will.

8. You are not alone.

Sometimes, you’ll feel that way. All of us do. Life will be going along great and then – BAM! – all of a sudden your problems will seem bigger, your friends will seem farther away, your resources will seem smaller, and it will seem as though there is no one – NO ONE – who understands, who cares, who can help. It’s in that moment you must remember this truth: you are not alone. I’d like to scream it into your ears so it’s seared on your eardrums. I’d like to pour it into your soul so it overflows into every fiber of your existence. I’d like to permanently etch this onto the membrane of your brain so that every synapse that fires, every memory that’s triggered, every conscious thought that travels from one lobe to the other carries this message with it. You are not alone. You are NOT alone. For one, your dad and I will always be there. So will your sister. That’s what families are for. That’s why God placed you in this one. We will be there to listen, to pray, to commiserate, to offer advice, to brainstorm, to analyze, and yes, when appropriate, to defend, to step in, to advocate, to assist, to direct.

You will also find that your friends are probably not as distant as you think. Most people are looking for opportunities to help. It makes us feel good to do something for someone else. But you have to be willing to ask. And you have to be willing to accept a few “no’s” in your search for just the right “yes.” Extended family, church family, community resources – these all exist for one purpose: to support each other. You may have to taste some humble pie first, but if you can get past that first bite and be willing to ask for help, you’ll discover the truth that in this great big connected world, you are never, ever alone.

9. You matter.

It was Mark Twain who popularized the phrase (originally attributed to Leonard H. Courtney, but who’s ever heard of that guy?): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damnable lies, and statistics.” That insidious, degrading voice that hisses within you, Your life doesn’t matter. You don’t matter. The world wouldn’t change, wouldn’t care, wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t exist. classifies as the dirtiest, meanest, most low-down, sneaky, diabolical STATISTIC in the history of statistics. And you know how I feel about math.  Please don’t make me stage an It’s a Wonderful Life intervention, though I will if that’s what’s needed. Because the truth is, you matter. You matter to me, for one, because I carried you for 40 weeks and FOUR LONG DAYS and you still owe me. Thinking a little deeper than that, though, you matter for a whole host of other reasons, including – but not limited t0 – the eight I’ve already mentioned in this letter: you matter because your Creator thought you were worth creating and bringing into this world. You matter because you are wanted. You matter because you are loved more deeply than you can ever imagine. You matter because you are strong and gifted and have a unique purpose to fulfill. You matter because you are surrounded by others,  ensuring you are never alone. Disregard the statistic and focus on the truth: you matter.

10. You are precious.

Before you think I’m getting all mushy-gushy and sentimental on you, just stop. Stop it now. You’re 15 now and that calls for a certain level of cool, of reserve, of maturity. But when I think of that tiny, little baby Trey with his precious little fingers and his precious little toes all bundled up in his precious little footie pajamas with his precious little blankie sucking on his precious little paci…. well, I realize those days are long gone. And that’s a good thing. Because, honestly, how awkward would it be for a 15-year-old boy to still be wearing footie pajamas?? But I won’t tell anyone about your blankie. The truth is, you have always had a certain affability (No, I’m not telling you what that word means. You have a smartphone. Look it up. It means a good thing, I promise. And it might help you on your SAT someday.) that just endears others to you. (Yes, that’s two words you’ll have to look up. In one sentence. I’m your mother and I know what’s good for you. Let the eye-rolling commence.) You have an enthusiasm toward life that is contagious. You are outgoing and friendly and you genuinely care about others and their feelings. You are witty and fun, charming and likeable. Don’t let life – or negative people – beat you down or convince you otherwise. Bless your heart, you are too precious for that.

11. You make a difference.

Whether you know it or not, whether you witness it or not, whether you realize it or not, you make a difference. That boy you said “hello” to in the hall between classes? You were the only one who noticed him that day. The girl you complimented after her presentation? That was the first positive comment she’d received after all her hard work. That teacher you thanked? You gave them the encouragement to keep going. That clerk you looked in the eye and told to “have a good day”? You were more than just a customer at that moment; you were another human being. Those children at the Naomi House that you served? You were the hands and feet of Jesus. The workers and volunteers at CASA, where you helped clean the playground and spruce up the grounds? You freed their time to focus on advocating for the welfare of the children they serve. In big ways and small ways, through physical labor or genuine emotional interest, you make a difference in the lives of others. Whether you are just having fun – hanging out or kicking back – or working hard, you find a way to reach out to others, to connect with them. That makes a difference. You may not be George Bailey, saving your kid brother from drowning in a frozen lake or preventing the pharmacist from making a fatal error, but in your own way you make a difference. Keep looking for those opportunities.The phrase the world is a better place because you’re in it is more than a slogan. It’s your reality.

12. You are enough.

As your mother, I’m genetically hardwired to offer advice whether or not you’re asking for it. It’s one of the perks of my job. And if I don’t do it often enough, I run the risk of getting fired. Or of having my pay docked. Or of having my circuitry blow up. None of which is a particularly pleasant mental image. So I’m going to let you in on one of the greatest secrets of life right here: there will always – ALWAYS – be someone better than you. No matter what the issue, someone somewhere will always be just a little bit – or in some cases, A LOT – better than you are or can ever hope to be. But here’s the thing: regardless of that fact, there will never – NEVER – be anyone who can do what you do as well as YOU. Playing the trombone? There are hundreds, even thousands, of professional trombone players around the world…but not a single one who can play trombone with the personality of you. Telling jokes? Scroll the tv guide and you’ll find comedians on every channel…but none of them can match your style and flair. You don’t have to be the very best, you just have to be YOUR very best. That is enough. Keep striving, keep growing, keep reaching for the stars, but as you do, keep your feet on the ground and your heart true to who you are, because you are the best you there ever was…or will be. And that is enough.

13. You can.

You know how I feel about “I can’t.” Just so you know, I’m not alone. Personal trainers, coaches, teachers, motivational speakers, world leaders…yep, they all say the same thing: You can’t because you won’t. You can’t…YET. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You eat the elephant one bite at a time. If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. They all mean the same thing: no one ever accomplished a great thing by sitting around doing nothing, no matter what the history books or Guinness Book of World Records say. There are certain 4-letter words that we don’t include in our vocabulary because they’re crass, dirty, degrading or demeaning. Well, the word can’t falls into that same category. You are capable. You are strong. You are a problem-solver. You are smart. You are clever. You are focused. You are determined. You have the ability. You have the skills. You can. With God on your side, and the support of your family and friends, you most certainly can.

14. You will.

So here’s a theorem for you: If you can, then you WILL. It may not be easy. It may take time. You may have to start over, regroup, or try a different strategy. You may fail the first time…the second time…the third time…even the 15th time. You may lose friends or co-laborers along the way and end up going it alone. But if you persevere, the day will come when you WILL. You will succeed. You will prevail. You will finish. You will be rewarded. You will see results. I’m not sure if this theorem applies to ever liking broccoli, but for everything else, I’m pretty confident it’s true. You have just enough of your mother’s stubbornness and your dad’s singular focus to make it happen. Know it, believe it, live it: You can, and you WILL.

15. You belong.

The day is not far off when you’ll take those steps onto your own path of adulthood: choices of college and career and home and lifestyle and friends and even your future family. That’s right and normal and natural, and as parents we will encourage you along this path. But no matter where your choices take you – whether you live in a far-off city or study in a foreign country or travel around the globe for business – you always have a place you belong. There will always be a soft place for you to land when you need to rest. You will always find a warm welcome, a place of familiarity, when you need to reconnect. You belong, first and foremost, to God of course, but He has loaned you to us for this brief period we call “life”, and during that time you belong to us as well. You don’t stop belonging just because you turn 18, or 21, or *gasp* someday 30 or 40 or even *yikes!* 50. You don’t stop belonging just because your job or your school takes you outside the Great State of Texas. You don’t stop belonging just because you join a church that’s different from your mom and dad’s. On the contrary, those give you new places to belong, new extensions of family and friends that enrich your world and make life more meaningful and fun. Sure, we will miss you, but know that in our hearts and in our home, in our family and in our small circle of the world, you will always find that place where you belong.

Happy birthday, my wonderful son. It may be your birthday, but you’re certainly the best gift I’ve ever received.

With all my love,