Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent hours ordering uniforms and supplies and schoolbooks. I’ve nagged you at least five hundred fifty-six times to finish your summer reading. I’ve carefully selected new book bags with colorful prints that reminded me of you and I’ve labeled your notebooks and binders and tab dividers. I’ve scoured the house for belts to match your shoes and I’ve made three separate trips to office supply stores so you have exactly what is required. I’ve purchased your favorite snacks for your first meal at your new lunch table. I’ve lain in bed at night worrying about each of you and whether you will like your teachers and your new friends and whether our decisions for your academic future have been the right ones.
With all these preparations though, I’ve found myself wondering if I’ve done a good enough job of preparing you. I’ve wondered if I’ve told you all the things I need to tell you. I’ve wondered if I’ve modeled kindness and joy and love enough. I’ve wondered if I’ve communicated the measure of true success. Honestly?
I’m not sure I have and I started to panic.
I’m an expert hand wringer or worrywart or whatever you want to call it, so I decided to communicate to you the best way I know how. I wrote down what I want you to know, what I want you to remember this year. You can use this list as a reference when you feel lost or when you (temporarily) forget who you are or when you’re tempted to claim I never told you the Important Stuff. I hope it helps.
1. You are a child of God and this is your most important title.
We live in America where success is measured by academic achievement and athletic accomplishment. Success is counted in tangibles—numbers, ranks, and scores. But your worth comes from Him, not from having straight A’s or perfectly reciting Shakespeare or throwing the fastest curve ball this side of Mississippi. Your inherent dignity is a gift, not something you can earn. Choose to behave in a way that always reflects the fact you are created In His Image.
2. God’s will for you primarily comes through your Dad and me.
Sorry, I know this one is a pain, but it’s true. If you wonder what God is asking you to do in a certain situation, pray about it. If you still feel unclear, ask your dad or me. Chances are, you’ll get some good feedback and direction. (Don’t worry; this is a two-way street. God’s will for me is usually made evident through you guys and Dad, too. His will sometimes hurts me as much as it hurts you.)
3. Accept failure.
Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team? Did you know that the New York Times Bestselling author Kathryn Sockett (who wrote the famous book, The Help) submitted her manuscript over sixty times before a publisher finally accepted it? Did you know Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded?
Successful people know failure. They know what it means to fall flat on their faces, but they get back up and try again. Be the kind of person who attempts difficult or new things. Be the kind of person who knows they might mess up, but decides to try anyway.
4. Be brave.
Stick up for the kid no one likes and sit by the person eating alone in the cafeteria. Don’t go along with the crowd just because it’s the cool thing to do. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing. At the recent World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis said it like this:
“I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.”
Yes, do what Pope Francis says. Be a brave revolutionary.
5. Maintain a positive attitude.
I was at the doctor’s office recently and had to wait an hour before my blood could be drawn. While I bided my time, I watched an energetic phlebotomist work. Every few minutes she’d appear at the door, announce a patient’s name and when she saw that person, she’d grab their arm and greet them like they were the first human she’d seen in a week.
“Good morning, Daryl,” she said to one 18-year-old boy, “My, you’re lookin’ handsome today. You cut your hair and you have on new clothes. Those ladies better watch out.”
She winked at him and then pulled him down the hall, chattering the whole time. I’ve thought about that phlebotomist for days because her joyful attitude was infectious.
Kids, no one likes a complainer. Don’t grumble about your academic responsibilities or your teachers or your classmates. Your education is a gift and you must try to avoid whining about it. Think and speak words that elevate, not destroy. (By the way, if you are practicing positivity, it doesn’t leave much time to gossip about others.)
6. Teach people how to treat you well.
Remember, Patrick, when that kid picked on you because of your small size? And remember how I told you to jokingly respond by saying, “Dude, I may be small but I’m gonna be your boss one day.” It’s okay to communicate to others—in a civil way—that they may not treat you disrespectfully.
7. On the flip side, remember to excuse the bad behaviors of others.
I once read this story about a father who was traveling on a train with his savage-like children. The man did nothing to correct his out-of-control brood, but just sat in his seat, oblivious to the bedlam. When the train stopped, a passenger approached the man and criticized his poor parenting skills. The man responded, “Oh, I’m sorry they disturbed you. My wife, their mother, just died and we are on our way home from the funeral.”
Imagine how the passenger must have felt after issuing such harsh words
It’s important to remember that we can’t always see the ways in which others are hurting. Maybe the class bully comes from an alcoholic family or maybe the anti-social kid has never had a real friend. Keep this in mind when someone is rude and you are tempted to respond similarly.
8. Always know I love you even if you fail a test or break a school rule or forget your homework.
I’ll encourage you to do better, but my love for you does not depend upon awesome academic or athletic accomplishments. I love you for who you are, not what you do.
I think that about covers it. For now, anyway. Have a great year. I’m here if you need me.