It’s your 17th birthday.
You were once small enough to fit on my forearm, and I remember it but I don’t believe it. Not now, not when I look at you, the age of 17 and on the brink of being your own man. I’m ok with it though. I really love watching you grow.
I hope you remain compassionate like you are now. You’ve always been that way, so I think it will stay with you. Remember that even though the world around you may look like we’re all very different, fundamentally we’re pretty much the same. We hurt the same way when the world doesn’t unfold like we think; we bleed when we’re cut and we cry when we’re sad. We all struggle, some of us more than others. Be aware of that, and tread kindly with those who come in to your life. Everyone is just trying to do the best they can with what they’re given. Including you.
It’s not always easy to listen to the adults around you, or to think you need to pay attention to what they say. I know that you feel like you know everything because I was 17 once too. But I hope that when we talk that you’ll take my words and file them away in a place you can always go to, so that somewhere, when you’re ready, you can remember what I suggest. By no means do I think you should do anything I tell you. I raised you to make up your own mind about your life and you will do that, I have no doubt. But please, just try to remember what I tell you, and what we talk about. I’ve seen things in my lifetime that I pray will never happen in yours.
Use kindness in your words, and in your voice. I know that we all have the right to say what we want, but once those words leave your mouth, you can never, ever take them back. Learn to use a filter between your brain and your tongue. Sometimes it’s hard but when you learn how to really use it the right way, it leaves you much happier. I know. Trust me, I know.
I never reached far from home to find out what it was like. I hope you find a spark inside you that leads you away to explore, to visit, perhaps even to live. I’m ok if you go. I want you to go when you’re young enough to boldly explore the wild places, to climb the mountains or forge the streams that cause others to balk. I want you to be the one to answer a call, or a yearning. I want you to stand up and go when something needs to get done. I want you to know that when that voice inside you says ‘Let’s lend a hand’ that you jump up and do it. That voice inside you always means something. I hope you will listen. And trust it. Explore the world, go to places far away, share your smile and laughter with people of other cultures. We all laugh when we’re happy, it’s a universal language. Spread your beautiful smile, and amazing laugh around the world, if you dare. I know it will change you for the better, and take you to places of staggering beauty, that which you can see with your eyes but more importantly, beauty which will dwell inside you forever.
No matter where you go though, how far you move or reach or dream, my door will always be open to you. You are my only child, my only blood. I will be your landing pad no matter how old you are, or how far you go. You can always call me, regardless of the hour, or the need. Even if you just want to talk. Or not talk. I’m happy to just hear you breathing on the other end of the line. I hope you remember that.
I hope that you never resist doing something out of fear that you’ll fail. We all fail. I failed. I failed many, many times and yet I still got up and kept moving because I had no other choice. Even when it was hard, and it was hard more times than I will ever tell you. This life that you’re growing in to can be terribly hard and difficult. And imperfect. And unforgiving. And you will fail, but don’t ever turn your back on this life. Someday it will all make sense and you will find the path that’s right for you. It’s ok if it takes a long time. Mine did. Just know that every experience you have, those that deeply move you and the ones that bring you tears of sorrow, they will shape and mold you in ways you can never imagine. Don’t ever wish a bad season of your life away, because when you rise up out of the fog and the view becomes easier, you’ll find a deeper appreciation of that beauty when it’s placed next to life’s ugliest moments.
Remember when you were little, and I used to tell you that I would never punish you for telling me the truth but that if you lied and I found out, there would be consequences? Do always tell the truth. It’s far easier, even when it’s hard. Lies are dark and ugly, and they become absorbed by your soul and live inside you, telling you all sorts of awful things. We really mean it when we say ‘The truth will set you free.’ Because it does.
I hope you learn to trust your gut instinct; there’s a reason why some things just feel wrong to us. Don’t disrespect that instinct, or brush aside that uneasy feeling if it comes. Pay attention to your conscience, we all have one. And it’s the real deal. That voice inside you is the voice of your God, your Creator and He speaks to you through your heart. When you listen and pay attention, it becomes this glorious guide you simply can’t ignore. If you don’t listen, you may head down roads that take you to places no man should ever tread. Listen. Respect. Trust. You know that your God would never steer you wrong, but this world will try hard to drag you down, to immobilize you and close your eyes to His beauty and Grace. Many times you may not feel God’s love in you, but it never, ever leaves. Remember that.
You have a story, Griffin. It’s just beginning to unfold and it will be at times exciting and full of promise, but also will have moments of darkness and self-doubt. But it’s your story, and no one else’s. You build it and shape it according to the path that God has set you on, and no one has any right to push you off that road. Listen to your story, learn from it, but at the same time, pay attention to the stories unfolding of those around you. Care for their stories too. Never discount anyone’s life experience, never try to tell them their story is wrong. Every moment matters, even if it seems trivial and common. We’re all searching for the same thing; a place to belong, a life to call our own. Carve your path and allow others to carve theirs too. There will never be another You in all of time. In the thin vapor that is your life on this earth, make it shine farther than the deepest galaxy, trickling into the people around you. Others may forget what you’ve said; they may not remember everything you’ve done, but they will never forget how you’ve made them feel or the way you touched their hearts.
Find you, your dream, your path and your heart, and make your life remarkable. Make it extraordinary. It’s my hope that your 17th year on this earth is full of the bottomless joy of discovering more of who you are and where you are to go in this world. I’ve been blessed, amazed, humbled and honored to be your guide and I look forward to your adulthood with joy and wonder.
My truly thought-provoking friend Heather, who writes at The Extraordinary Ordinary, penned a letter to her two sons recently that inspired this post to my young man in honor of his birthday. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that her words have stirred a response in me. Love your heart, Heather. xoxo