It is just a random Tuesday, so today is as good as any to tell you all my dreams for your life. I don’t want to wait until your graduation parties or rehearsal dinners or some big moment when important words will get swept away in the hustle. Plus, a bunch of this can’t wait until you’re grown because it matters right now. Also, you are all asleep, so I’m feeling very tender toward you because you are 1.) safe and snug in your beds and 2.) silent. (I love you so, but this family has a lot of words.)
You’re just kids, so you have no concept of how much Dad and I think about you. We just seem like bossy parents, I’m sure. One day you’ll understand. When you are moms and dads, you’ll see. We would forfeit any of our own dreams to make yours happen, but that’s hard for you to grasp; we mostly seem like lame buzzkills right now. You’ll go crazy mad for your own kids one day and get it.
You span fourth through twelfth grades, so this is our last year under one roof—the Family Years. I cannot believe it. These childhood years are all you know, but Dad and I realize how special they are, how far they reach, how long you’ll talk about them. We will remember these Family Years in similar ways, just from the other side. We know they are fleeting because we’ve already been through them once at your age. Family Years go fast but they matter for a lifetime.
With Gavin departing soon, then the rest of you launching every other year, our days of influence are shrinking. I guess I want to put pen to paper here, make sure you know exactly what we hope for you and from you. They might not be what you think. Oh sure, we harped on grades all these years, but the
honor roll isn’t really our main jam. We have dreams other than raising by-the-book kids (not that you ever were).
Kindness. This pulls right to the front. Dad and I have lived half our lives or so, and we’ve known every type of person. The ones that shine outstanding in our memories are the kind ones. We so deeply want you to be tender toward people. Empathizing is key to a wholehearted life. I pray for your kindness more than your success, because the latter without the former is a tragedy.
God measures our entire existence by only two things: how we love Him and how we love people. If you get this right, you can get a million other things wrong.
And guess what? You have the best place to practice right now: public school. I can’t remember more insecure, difficult years than middle and high school. You are all a mess, but some kids have it worse, because they are so, so different—and the teen years are not safe for the different. Some of your classmates barely get out the door every day. You see them. They are picked on or mocked or completely ignored, as if they don’t even matter. They pretend they don’t care or can’t hear, but you know they do. These years will hurt for so long.
First, I hope you see them. This is harder than it sounds; you have to learn to see hurt people, because they figure out how to act invisible. Kindness needs recipients. The whole world is filled with lonely and left-out and humiliated and sad kids, and seeing them is the first step. Because they are just as precious as you. If you can learn this during the Family Years, it will change your life, because you’ll develop eyes for pain, which is exactly how Jesus walked around on this earth. If your mercy radar is strong now, God can do anything with you later.
My dream is that you see hurting kids and do the simple, brave work of kindness. This isn’t fancy at all. It sounds like: Do you want to sit with us? or I really like your outfit or What’s up,man? or What are you reading? It doesn’t seem like much, maybe, but if it’s the only kind word they’ve heard all day, it can literally give them strength to go on.
Sometimes kindness requires more serious courage, because hurt kids make easy targets, and cowards both bully and look the other way. I hope you stand between abusers and the abused, refusing to silently watch one kid break another down. I hope you say NO. I hope you say LEAVE HIM ALONE. I hope you tuck hurt kids into your arms, into your friend circles, protecting them, valuing them. Bring them home to our table, and we will love them together. The tiniest scrap of hope is enough to save a lonely kid from drowning. You’d be surprised how powerful kindness actually is. I am not being dramatic: you can save hearts and lives with grace. Do this good work now, and you will do it for a lifetime.
My next dream for you is the courage to be exactly who you are. Dad and I think you are five dazzling kids. We love and like you. Not one of you is the same as the next, and we wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing. We love your humor and quirks and passion and fire, and it is clear God designed you exactly so. We are tickled to death over you, delighted we get to parent such interesting kids. Seriously. We are smitten with you.
We are in our forties, so we’ve learned the advantages of being true to ourselves, but you are young when “being yourself” is a slippery concept. It is so tempting to bend, to go along, to fake it. I know this. I remember. I always hated big crowds and loud parties, but I pretended to enjoy both. I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to be genuine. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it wouldn’t even matter, that my real friends liked the real me and they were the only ones who would stick.
At your age, it takes courage to march to your own drumbeat. So few kids try. Popularity is a terrible goal, because you have to lose yourself to find it. If you sacrificed one precious part of yourselves, it would be a calamity. At no point, in no environment, among no friends must you be anything but exactly who you are. There is never a need to act less weird or more enthusiastic or extra eager or remotely mean to please someone else. When you want to say no, say no. When you want to say yes, say yes, even if no one else does. Dad and I have your back.
Gavin, you are so freaking funny. You love humor like I do; listening to stand-up comedy podcasts with you is my favorite thing. Be that guy. Don’t diminish your personality; you are wired this way and we can’t get enough of it. You are so fun. Sydney, you resemble a grandmotherly librarian who loves the world, recycling, and local food sourcing. You are a joy. If you forfeited one solitary quality, I would die. We are so into you. Caleb, you are this stylish, hysterical kid with big feelings and clear dreams. You know what you love and can’t stand injustice, and Dad busts me all the time staring at you with Lovesick Mom Eyes. Ben, you are one of the kindest, brightest kids on earth. You work hard and love hard and have overcome so much to still be so tender. What a delight you are. I cannot believe I get to be your mom. Remy, you are a bright, shining star. You are so loyal and precious, so loving and funny. Girl, no one loves numbers and calendars and dates like you. We wouldn’t wish one single thing about you to be different. You are our treasure.
If you learn to be true in childhood, you will bypass the devastating “undoing” so many endure later. You won’t have to reinvent, reimagine, or rediscover who you are in your twenties, when you are making the most important decisions of your life (a terrible time for an identity crisis). It will take courage to live truthfully, but do the hard work now or later when it is harder. Some folks never do this and live halfheartedly their entire lives.
Be you, because you are superb.
Finally, let’s talk about God. You are a pastor’s kids. Sorry about that. We try not to put unreasonable “shoulds” and “should nots” on you guys, but I’m sure we do (you can sort this out with your therapists one day). It’s weird for you to think of Dad and me as real people, but we are. We became parents at twenty-three and twenty-five, barely old enough to vote. I know we don’t get even half this parenting thing right, but we so hope that however imperfectly we do it, we give you God.
He is the only thing I’m sure of. I have no idea what your careers will be (something that helps you move out) or whom you will marry (please pick fun and funny spouses). I don’t know where you will live (Austin) or how many kids you’ll have (grandbabes!), but if you love Jesus, I am not afraid for you. Long before you were ours, you were God’s. I cannot imagine the plans He has for you, but I’m sure they are spectacular, because He is and you are.
Love God and follow Him. Really, nothing else matters. If you are ever unsure what to do, remember how Jesus loved people. He was the best at it. You can trust Him because anywhere He asks you to go, He has been there too. This is not an easy path, Lovies. Jesus went to hard places and did hard things; He loved folks everyone else hated or despised. But if you trust us at all, believe me: this is the life you want, this Jesus life.
When people fail you—and they will—Jesus is ever faithful. When circumstances tank—and they will—Jesus will hold you fast. He is the most trustworthy, dependable Savior, and you will never be alone. This gives me such comfort, because as imperfect parents who failed often, we are terrified to send you out knowing we didn’t do enough. But Jesus is enough for all of us. He is enough for you. No one is safer. No one loves you more. No one will lead you better.
So those are my dreams for you:
That’s about it. Everything else will fall into place. If you are kind and genuine Jesus-lovers, you will marry well, parent well, live well, love well. We are so excited to watch. We believe in you. God gave us five remarkable kids, and these raising-you years are a joy and a gift and the delight of my life.
The launching season begins next year, and I can hardly speak of it. It went so fast. People told me it would and I didn’t believe them, but here we are in the home stretch; the finish line is near. The Family Years are waning and it literally takes my breath. (Dad says you are just growing up, not dying, but I’ll cry about it IF I WANT TO.) You are my heart’s full joy, and if I could write my perfect story from scratch, it would be our exact life. You are my treasures on this earth—mine, so adored. When I am eighty-nine years old, I will look back on the Family Years and say, “We had such a good time.”
Be kind, be you, and love Jesus. Dad and I are cheering you on, Beloveds.
Taken from For the Love by Jen Hatmaker Copyright © 2016 by Jen Hatmaker Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.