How do you translate a heavy-duty family mission statement so it makes sense to a couple of kids who are just starting to lose their front teeth? Here’s our attempt. (family mission statement at the end of the letter)
Hey there kids. It’s your dad. Your mother and I would like to take a moment to tell you how proud we are of you. Today marks the first day since you were born where both of you will be spending seven hours per day in a taxpayer-funded paradise we call public school. Granted, you really didn’t have to do anything to make it to this point. Every kid gets to go, so long as they can fog a mirror and their parents fill out the requisite paperwork. But, it’s a milestone for your mom and me. Between the hours of 8am and 3pm, neither of us will have to wipe a hiney or cut up someone’s food so long as we can avoid being involved in an unfortunate accident involving rogue farm equipment.
But before we send you out into the world with only a backpack and an insulated Thermos, we wanted to give you a few tips to help guide you through the treacherous waters of Harpeth Valley Elementary School. So listen up. This stuff is important.
* We’ve waited so long for this moment!
Do Your Best
On your first day of school, your teachers will introduce you to something new. It’s called judgment and evaluation. When things are going good for you, it will show up in the form of scratch-and-sniff stickers and smiley faces. When things aren’t going so well, it might look like a sad face or a recess spent writing 100 pointless sentences into a notebook while your friends play dodge ball on the playground. Take it from me, the latter does not improve your penmanship. Not at all. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to decipher one of my thank you notes or grocery lists. Ever.
But here’s something to remember. A smiley face doesn’t necessarily make you a good person, and a sad face doesn’t make you evil. Your mom and I have a big pile of both of them to prove it.
More important than faces, and stickers and sentences is something called “effort.” Effort is a bit tricky, because it’s harder to see than those other things. But you can sure feel it. When you try your best and work as hard as you possibly can, it leaves you with a good feeling no matter what face Ms. Carrico gives you. That’s called “integrity.” “Integrity” feels like one, never-ending, last bite of your favorite cookie.
And, when you don’t give it everything you have, it leaves you with a feeling called “regret.” This feeling is a bit like a tiny grain of sand in your shoe. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you add a grain of sand every day or two, it starts to feel like a pebble. And it is really hard to shake. I still have a few rolling around in my shoes all these years later. Trust me. You can ignore them all you want, but they’ll always make you walk kinda’ funny.
So, given the choice, go for the cookie feeling. Every time.
Own What You Have
You guys may not have figured this out yet, but your mom and I have decided we are not buying any “stuff” this year. We call it the “Year Without A Purchase.” Even if that wasn’t the case, we promise that you will never have the coolest lunchbox, the most fashionable wardrobe, or the best bike among your friends.
This probably isn’t the message you want to hear. And don’t get us wrong. We totally understand the appeal of being the envy of the school. It’s fun!
But here’s the problem with all that.
Envy is based on comparisons. And comparing yourself to others is the fastest way to start feeling unhappy about your life. Because someone will always have a better lunchbox. Or car. Or job. (Once you start caring about those). And somewhere along the line we start equating “best” to “happiest”. And it’s a big lie. Like Bigfoot. And monsters under your bed. And Fat Free Ice Cream that tastes like the real thing.
So instead, your mom and I can promise you this. You will always have lunch in your lunchbox, clothes on your back, and an “I love you” ringing in your ear. All a gift from God.
And it is enough.
In know you’re both still young, and neither of you has been around a long time on this planet, but one thing your mom and I love about you are your big personalities. You are both such happy, boisterous, confident kids. Some teachers will love this about you. Others might be, shall we say, less than impressed. Either way, it’s OK.
But there will be some kids who don’t like the same things you do. They may even go as far as to make fun of the things you like. Knocking your love for mismatched pattern clothing, broccoli, or the way your teeth grow out of your gums. And I’m not gonna’ lie to you. When this happens, it’ll feel like you just got punched in the hoo-zee-whats-its.
That’s when you’ll see an easy way out. You’ll be tempted to start liking things that other people like and doing things that other people do. Even if it adds another pebble in your shoe.
But before you drop that sand behind your heel, take one last look in the mirror. Don’t look at the clothes your wearing, or the color of your skin, or the straightness of your smile. Instead, look into the eyes. Deep within. And if you don’t recognize the kid staring back at you, then I recommend giving yourself a time out. Drown an Oreo in a glass of milk, sing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” at the top of your lungs, and hug someone who has known you since you were born. Then, and only then, will the kid in the mirror start to look more familiar. The one that God made. The one that God loves unconditionally. And the surest way to honor God is to be true to yourself.
Stick up For The Little Guy
Finally, somewhere along the line you’re going to run into a bully. A bully is someone who makes other people feel bad so they can feel better. The good news is, they are easy to spot because they usually introduce themselves to you on the first day of class. The bad news is, they do this by taking the best thing in your lunchbox, pushing you out of your chair, or delivering a textbook-perfect Atomic Wedgie.
Your mom and I know you guys are strong. Even if that bully takes your mandarin oranges, we are certain he can’t take your pride.
But sometimes that bully will pick on someone who may not feel so strong. In fact, the kid getting pushed around may actually feel like he deserves to be bullied.
And worse yet?
The bully might be your friend.
So what do you do?
We know it’s hard to believe, but there is actually something stronger than friendship. It’s called brotherhood. And it’s a tie that binds us all together. The strong and the weak. The helpful and the helpless. Like we’re all sharing one heart with the same blood pumping through our veins. And this brotherhood is what calls us to something greater.
In the moment, brotherhood feels a lot like fear. And it will tell you to stand by and not say anything. Because you feel so connected to that other person that you can feel what it would be like to sit in their desk or walk in their shoes. And no one wants to feel like that.
But here’s a little secret. Hiding under all that fear is a joy the likes of which few people ever get to experience. All it takes to unlock that joy is to say the magic word:
We want that joy for you, kids. The joy that flows from a generous, courageous heart. So learn the magic word and use it.
Well. That’s it. We’ve given you a lot to remember. But there’s just one last thing. And it’s the most important.
Jake, we need you to read this letter out loud to your sister. We know, it’s a bit of a pain. But Audrey will learn to read soon enough, just like you. That’s the beauty of kindergarten. But for now, she may need some help.
And once you’re finished reading, we want both of you to sign it. In big bold crayon. With backward letters. Then fold it up, and give it back to us.
Don’t worry. It’s not that we need proof that you read it. That’s not it at all. Because you both already know these things. They live in you.
No. We want you to give it back because your mother and I need to be reminded of these truths born in the heart and soul of every child. Truths that we’ve forgotten somewhere along the way. And we are filled to overflowing knowing you will be there for the next twelve years.
With arms outstretched.
Guiding us back home.
Mom and Dad
Our Mission: To tirelessly seek God’s will by living lives of integrity, owning what we have, growing together in faith, and serving others to build a world without need.