How to Be the Parent You Want to Be: 40 Things Every Child Must Know Before They Leave Home
Dear Son —
You have to know how your unfolding from me was a miracle.
That’s the miraculous thing about miracles – they really do happen.
How is it in this crazy, holy world does a girl-woman bear a boy-child?
How does she raise a squalling boy-child into a man? What can a woman know about raising a man?
And this the thing: there’s only so much time to go from point A to point B.
How did I waste so many days? How do I make you know everything you need to know before you go?
How to love a woman and when to say yes and when to wear black socks instead of white and when to ask for directions and when to say no.
That you’ll be — radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness and vows and the real hills worth dying on. That you know how to make a bed and how to make a child laugh and how to write a letter home.
Did you know, right when they laid you wrinkled in my arms, you had this curl of hair, this swirl of hair on your forehead? You got it from me. That turning, swirling cowlick that I got from my Dad. Who got it from his mother. This is how these things go, this turning around and passing torches on.
I turn around and you’re 16.
And you’re leaving for a jet plane at 3:30 am.
When the first time you ever get on a plane, you’re flying to the jungles of Indonesia, the farthest away from us on this spinning blue marble.
Your father says that now this farm won’t be big enough to keep you anymore.
When he says it, he says it a bit like something hurts inside.
He’s made his life about showing you what real leadership is: not climbing higher towards power and status, but bending down in prayer and service. He’s been dead to all ladders and that’s what made him so alive — reaching down, to the lonely, the lost, and the least.
I roll all your shirts and stack them, one upon the other, like all the years, and know that this is just the beginning of the leavings. I bite my lip hard and try to be brave, like the day you were born. How could my mothering take so many u-turns and still get here so fast?
I remember when you were small enough to hold in my arms, warm against me, this sun bathed stone, us engraved into rock here. I hadn’t known how fast the wings would come and that you would fly into the dark, into the sun, and so soon. That when you became a man, I’d feel so empty – and so very fulfilled. I wish we had read even more books.
And I had said yes to every game of Scrabble.
The Bible’s true, son.
Every infallible, sword-sharp, breathing word of it. Don’t let anyone ever rationalize one beautiful iota of it away. Love it because it’s your Life.
And the only life living is the scandalous one: scandalous love, offensive mercy, foolish faith. Kiss babies. Always have one friend that feels on the fringe, that you have to pray to love, that makes the neighbors scratch their heads.
Stubbornly pray for your enemies till you see enemies are illusions and everyone is a friend and somehow grace. Believe in every woman’s God-sized dreams. And rub her feet at the end of the day.
Be the kind of person who apologizes first because that’s the only way happiness can last.
And never forget that happiness is when His Word and your walk are in harmony. Never stop keeping company with Christ– and all the sinners, tax-collectors and cast-offs. Be an evangelist and use your words with your hands because your part of a Body and never stop loving God with all your heart, mind and soul, and loving others as yourself. Make that your creed.
It’s true, son: Be different and know everything you do matters. It’s what the Christ followers know: One man with God can change a culture. God didn’t put people in your path mostly for your convenience; He put you there for theirs. Loving the poor will make you rich, I promise.
The only life worth living is the one lost.
No matter how loud and crazy and broken the world is, child? Let joy live loud in your soul.
And believe that you are His beloved – it’s only when you trust He loves you that you really begin to live. Really, count a thousand blessings more, never stop. Why wouldn’t you want joy? Sing to no one and everyone on the front porch in the rain and laugh so much they question your sanity. Pet the dog long.
Because really, none of us knows how long we have. Remember that a pail with a pinhole loses as much as the pail pushed right over. A whole life can be lost in minutes wasted… in the small moments missed. None of this is forever grace. That’s why it’s amazing grace.
Do it often: grab a lifeline by stepping offline. You’ll see your true self when you look for your reflection in the eyes of souls not the glare of screens.
This is what you always need to know: You have nothing to prove to anyone – if you’re in Him, you are already approved.
Be okay with not being liked: life’s about altars not applause. And be okay with not being seen or heard. It’ll let you hear and see better.
It’s late when you lay your Bible on the last of the packed clothes and check off the last thing, thinking you’ve remembered everything.
I know I’ve forgotten something – many things.
This parenting gig’s an experiment in radical grace and the work of every parent is to fully give to the child.
And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents. This is how it turns, the torch passing from one to the next.
Remember that we made meals and beds and mistakes and memories – look hard for the good ones.
You zip up the suitcase. I try to keep it in, what’s blurring and spilling. And I rummage about in the closet for that necklace I’ve been saving for someday and I think today’s the day. That necklace that maybe can call you to what your mother’s been stammering to say.
And I go to hand it to you. No – put it around your neck.
Like a benediction.
No matter the road or what paths you cross: Wear the call to His sacrificial, radical way.
You finger the steel in your hands.
You’ve taken hold and I’m letting go.
Maybe that’s what I am trying to say?
I will never stop loving and letting you go. A mother and child live the first great love story and there is no love story without loss, and this is always gain.
Remember this no matter where you fly?
who believes in the thousand-fold miracle that all is grace.:::::
from the archives, a yr ago this week…& I’m there all over again as he now fills out university applications
Q4U: As our oldest is about ready to fly this coop — this mama needs help? Could we quietly open up comments and make this place a watering hole today for parents? Can we mamas (fathers?) gather round and share any parenting wisdom? I really need all the help I can get — maybe we all do?
Share one thing you regret as a parent? One thing you desperately want as a parent — desperately want for your kids? Add your wisdom to the 40 things Every child must know before they leave home?
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