Thirty-two years ago today I became a father. The oldest of our four children, Caitlin, was born on December 1st, 1983. It was an absolutely amazing day. Almost eighteen years later, I wrote the following words and letter to Caitlin as she was starting her senior year of high school. Time sure does fly, doesn’t it? As Caitlin celebrates her 32nd birthday today, I am thinking about the amazing journey God has taken her on. She’s now a wife and a mother. Fun to watch!
This morning as I was sending her a birthday text, I remembered the hopes and dreams I felt so deeply for her thirty-two years ago today. Then, I remembered how I stated those hopes and dreams to her in the letter I sent to her as she was starting her senior year in high school back in 2001. Back in December of 1983, the fall of 2001 was light years away. But in hindsight, it went as quickly as an overnight. It’s as if I fell asleep holding my newborn first child in my arms, and then I woke up, looked down at her, and found myself staring in disbelief at a young woman. I remember older more experienced parents warning me that it would happen this way but I didn’t believe them. I guess they were right.
I wrote this short letter to Caitlin and share it here. It doesn’t include everything I wanted to say to her as she started her last year of high school. But it did communicate my prayers and desires for her as her father and as one who watches the culture in which she found herself living everyday. To be honest, my words were not written to Caitlin alone – they were for me as well. Perhaps you’ll find them challenging too.
Lately I’ve found myself consumed with a confusing mix of emotions as I think about this, your last year of high school. My guess is that this will be a year of many “lasts” for you – your last year at home, your last prom, your last year playing high school hockey and soccer, your last year of math (hurray!!!), etc. I know these are things you’ve been thinking about too.
The hardest part for me has been thinking about the new kind of “goodbye” I’m going to have to learn how to say when me and mom drop you off at school next fall. That will be an exciting time of new beginnings for you and it will be one of those parent/child conversations I’m sure none of us will ever forget.
As I make a deliberate effort to enjoy your senior year with you while learning to “let go” of my oldest child for the first time, I’ve found myself thinking back over the years to the many wonderful conversations and times we’ve spent together. Those memories always start with December 1st, 1983, and the moment I held you for the first time. That moment seems like yesterday to me. You were maybe five to ten seconds old when Dr. Edwards put you into my arms. I had the privilege of excitedly telling your mother, “Lisa, it’s a little girl! And she’s beautiful!” Then I said some words that were probably pretty frightening to everyone in the room – “. . . . she looks just like me!” That was the first time you heard my voice. Shortly after that – not surprisingly – you really started to cry. Sorry to have done that to you! Fortunately for you and the rest of the world, God’s shown His favor to you by allowing you to grow up to look like your mother!
Since that most incredible of days, you’ve heard my voice over, and over, and over again. I hope you agree that most of our conversations have been good. Some, we probably both regret. But, while our many memorable conversations are too numerous to recount in this letter, there’s one of my favorite conversations that we had too many times to count. When I think about it, it always makes me smile. Do you remember the recurring conversation I’m talking about? I remember the first time we had it. You were little – maybe three or four-years-old – and I said to you, “Caitlin, I love you.” You eagerly responded, “Daddy, I love you too.” Then I asked you, “How much do you love me?” You answered, “I love you 12!” I just assumed that was the highest number you knew at the time and it was your way of telling me you loved me as much as any little girl could. We had that conversation so many times when you were little. From time to time over the years we’ve stepped back and relived that interchange as you’ve continued to tell me that you love me “12.”
As you’ve grown up, our conversations haven’t always been as humorous or positive. We’ve disagreed, argued, and been frustrated with each other. That’s normal. But, while I know you sometimes get tired of hearing my voice – all my little talks, instructions, and never-ending questions – you can be sure that you’ll have to endure the same kind of adulthood that your grandfather has given to me. Yes, I’ll continue to offer my advice regardless of whether or not you ask for it. Some call it “a father’s privilege.” I think it’s something more like “a father’s love.” So once again, I want to show my love for you by passing on some words to a daughter who has brought me such great joy through her passion for life, sense of humor, creativity, and yes – even her impulsive spontaneity!
Because the number “12″ was such a big part of your expression of deep love for me when you were little, I want to lovingly remind you of 12 character traits that I hope and pray will be descriptive of who you become as you prepare to leave our house and move out into the world. Because of my deep love for you, I pray that these traits would be evident in your life – during your last year of high school and throughout your future.
Because of my deep love for you, I’m reminding you of your need to pursue Godliness by asking God to help you to “become” each of these 12 traits of what I believe is Godly character. Each word describes a quality highly valued by God that is increasingly forgotten or frowned upon by our culture. Caitlin, if you prayerfully seek to live out these traits in today’s world, you’ll be fulfilling the purpose you were created for as a dearly loved child of God. I know you are looking forward to the rest of your life with great anticipation. Nothing can be more rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling as knowing Christ and living in the freedom of obedience to Him.
First and foremost, glorify God in everything you are and everything you do. Live for the one who died for you by turning to Him as the guide and director of all your thoughts, all your feelings, and all your actions. The world will encourage you to see yourself as “#1.” But don’t be self-centered. You were made by God to be God-centered. Praise and glorify God by how you live, how you study, how you play, how you converse, and how you relate.
Second, strive to be consistent in your faith. If you are looking for models on how to talk about following Christ while actually living by other priorities, there’s plenty out there. In fact, the church is increasingly marked by “dis-integrated” Christians. Caitlin, ask God to help you look closely at your life each and every day. Ask him to expose those areas of your life where you must allow him to rule. Strive for a life of integration. Your faith should not be just one part of your life. Instead, it should guide, direct, permeate, and inform every area of your life – at home, at school, in the car, with your friends, on the athletic field, etc.
Third, be full of thanksgiving. Everything you have, are, and do is a gift from God. Don’t think they come from you. Instead, realize that all the good gifts you experience are purely by the grace of God. And when you experience emotional, spiritual, or physical difficulty – and you will – be sure to thank God for those gifts as well. Why? Because He’s gives you those difficulties as part of the refining process. He’s growing your faith. Gratefully recognize the source of your blessings.
Fourth, develop and use discernment. Your life will be full of choices – many of them difficult. Caitlin, the world is encouraging you to make decisions based on what “feels good” to you at the moment. You’re already surrounded by people who live that way. It will only get worse. Make all your decisions – what you listen to, what you watch, who you choose as close friends, who you marry, how you spend your time, what you do vocationally – on the basis of God’s unchanging Word. Don’t trust your changing feelings as a gauge to discover and do what seems right. Instead, study and follow God’s Word so that you can choose to do what is right.
Fifth, live a life marked by grace. I realize how much I’ve failed to live this way in my relationship with you. I’m learning that as your earthly father, I must relate to you with the same measure of grace my heavenly father has given to me. Grace is undeserved favor. It’s greatest expression came in the gift of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf – something we could never earn or deserve. Caitlin, show that same grace to every person you encounter.
Sixth, continue to be a person of compassion. Mom and I have always been proud of you for the way you seem to go out of your way to love those who don’t get too much love. I remember when you took a slow time in the mile run when you could have easily finished at the front of the pack. Instead, you ran with a girl who struggled to even finish – encouraging her all the way across the finish line. Jesus was a friend to the friendless. He was sympathetic, kind and merciful. Do the same.
Seventh, always show humility. Don’t ever believe that your talents, gifts, abilities, successes and achievements come from you. If anyone deserves a pat on the back for those things, it’s not you. Don’t ever allow yourself to be full of self-centered pride. Do you know those conversations I’ve had with Josh when we are watching a football game and someone does one of those “Hey aren’t I great?!?” dances in the end zone after scoring a touchdown? I’ll say the same thing to you that I’ve told him – “Don’t ever do that!” Don’t ever be puffed up by a false sense of your own self-importance.
Eighth, live a life marked by self-control. Rein yourself in and don’t let the world set the agenda for how you live. The world will tell you how to live out your sexuality. The world will tell you how to view material things. The world will tell you how to treat other people. Sadly, the world will tell you that in these and all other areas you have the freedom to choose and use your own rules. But instead of living a life of excess, imitate Christ and live a life of discipline by striving to please God in these and all other areas.
Ninth, always, always, always respect and obey authority. God is your king. He has established authorities in your life who you are called to respect, honor, and obey as long as they don’t require you to do something in opposition to God’s will. Yes, I know I’ve always reminded you that children are to obey their parents! Caitlin, continue to respect, honor, and obey your teachers, your coaches and all others in authority.
Tenth, be a woman marked by sexual integrity. I’ve driven all you kids nuts on this one but for good reason. Sadly, you get to follow God’s will and design for His incredible gift of sexuality in a world that makes a joke out of God’s sexual plan. Don’t buy the lies that there are no rules. Stand firm on this Caitlin because there will be opportunity for compromise and resulting regret. Decide now to live what you know to be true – trust and believe that God has your best interest in mind and he wants you to experience the joy of sexual fulfillment in the context of your life-long marital commitment to one man. You won’t regret it!
Eleventh, maintain a strong sense of modesty. We live in a society that has lost all respect for female modesty. In fact, the world around you will encourage you to “let it all hang out.” Caitlin, work to carefully, deliberately, and consciously honor God through what you say, how you act, and what you wear. Remember that in God’s eyes – the only eyes you need to please – modesty, chastity, honor and restraint are all virtues.
Finally, never cease being fully dependent on God. Solomon wrote these wise words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6&7). There’s nothing I can add to that.
Caitlin, as you prepare to leave our house, my prayer is that you would continue to be beautiful – not in an outward worldly sense – but in terms of your character. My prayer is that as you grow in age and faith, you would be truly conformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Then every time I see you I could turn to your mother and say, “Lisa, it’s our little girl. And she’s beautiful – she looks just like Him.”
I love you “12″,