While sorting through my files recently, I came across the file of letters from my children. As I read through their years of notes, I saw highlighted in their own handwriting four gifts they have given to me through the years.
In some measure, each of my children gave me all of the gifts below, but as you will see in excerpts from these letters, each of them had a unique strength.
Danielle: the gift of respect
Being the first child, meant that Danielle was the first to grow up. She was the first to start dating and the first to transition out of our home as she married Peter.
This time of transition was also a time of learning for us. At times, I had fatherly cautions (a.k.a. fears of how to do this right) and asked Danielle to slow down or reevaluate. Yet, through this entire process, Danielle chose to honor Terrie and me through that time. At one point, she wrote me a beautiful letter to help me understand this transition. Here are some excerpts:
You are the kind of dad every girl dreams of. I thank the Lord all the time for placing me in our family… Thank you for raising me in a Christian home… in a godly and balanced environment. Thank you for staying in one place my whole life and for providing consistency and security in our home. Thank you for being such a great leader. Thank you for staying faithful to mom and our family. Thank you for staying faithful to the Lord. Thank you for being the world’s greatest pastor… for providing godly influences and hundreds of opportunities to make decisions for the Lord and to grow spiritually in one place. Thank you for ensuring that we received a quality education. Thank you for starting a Bible college. Thank you for the spiritual battles you fight for our family. Thank you for all the long talks – helping us with bad attitudes or bad grades or bad friends. Thank you recently for all the long talks about dating and the future. Thank you for incredible family vacations and for the thousands of wonderful memories we share. Dad, you are the best. God has blessed me beyond measure by allowing me to grow up in your home. I love you and thank you for all you’ve done for me.
Thank you for all the counsel and time you’ve given me in my relationship with Peter. Thank you for loving and guiding me through this transition in my life and for being patient…
After much prayer, Bible reading, and meditating on counsel from you and mom, I believe God has given me a perfect peace that Peter is the one for me. God has given me a peace that my heart is not dividing love between you and Peter… but enlarging my heart to be able to love you both differently.
Because the Lord has given me such an awesome and secure upbringing, I have struggled in the aspect of trusting the Lord in my relationship with Peter in one area: I’m leaving the known for the unknown. But I do want to enter the unknown with Peter. I don’t know what God will have in store for our future, but I am trusting the Lord and am excited to see what He will do with our lives.
I love Peter because he loves the Lord. He has a desire to serve Him. He has a drive to be the best he can be for God. He is patient with me, yet firm when he needs to be. He loves me and is incredibly good to me. He has a consistent spirit and temperament, and he has a good attitude. I love Peter because of his desire to grow… personally and spiritually. He seeks counsel and lives life on purpose. He makes decisions based on principle, not on whim or preference. I believe that our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other and make us more effective in the Lord’s work. He’s the first person I want to share things with and my favorite person to be with. He’s got the chemistry, competency, and character you’ve always told me to look for.
Dad, my desire is to live my life in a way that would please the Lord and make you proud. I love you so much…
Danielle’s very spirit of honor and respect—at a time when it would have been easy to react—was a gift that helped me through this transition in our lives. Today, Danielle and Peter are happily married and are expecting their second child—our third grandchild.
Larry: the gift of generosity
I don’t know of anyone who is more generous than my oldest son, Larry. From a young age, he had a particularly tender heart toward anyone in need. Once when Terrie and I were going out of town, Larry wrote me the following note:
I love you so much. I hope you and Mom have a great time together. Here is some money to help you get out of debt.
Included in the envelope was a bit of change. I don’t remember how much it was, and I don’t remember why he thought we were in debt, but I will always remember his loving unselfishness.
Years later, when Larry was working for a law firm to pay his way through college, he received a generous Christmas bonus. He was serving on a bus route at the time in an underprivileged area of our community. Larry cashed his check and drove to Marie Callendar’s where he spent his entire bonus to purchase pies for the kids on his bus route. He then personally delivered the pies one at a time as he visited the homes of his kids.
To this day, Larry’s generosity seems to know no limits. I often see him give to others in ways no one else will ever know about, and I’m sure he often gives in ways that I also do not see.
Larry and his wife Ashley recently announced that they are expecting their first child. We are delighted for them! And for us…it’s great to be a grandpa!
Kristine: the gift of gratitude
Over the years, Kristine has given me dozens of thank you notes—for everything from taking her out to lunch, to buying her a new dress, to just spending time talking. I didn’t even have to do something “extra” or out of the ordinary to merit a note from her. Often, she would write just to thank me for being her dad.
Gratefulness is one of the most attractive qualities a person can posses. It didn’t surprise me then that when Kristine was dating the man who is now her husband, Jon wrote me a note about how he appreciated Kristine’s attractive personality.
…I love everything about Kristine, but the thing that I love most of all is that she loves the Lord and wants to follow Him whole-heartedly with her life…. I will never have to worry about whether she wants to follow God or not because there is no doubt in my mind that she truly does love Him.
I love Kristine for her personality. She has the greatest personality of anyone I have ever met. She is a lot of fun to be around, she is sweet, and she has a great sense of humor. One of the greatest things about her personality, though, is her heart for people. She is always concerned about what she can do to help others….
Another characteristic I love about Kristine is… [and he continued for three pages :)]
Kristine’s consistent thankfulness is not only a blessing to me as her dad. It is also a reminder to me to purposefully cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Kristine and Jon serve the Lord faithfully together, and they are the parents of our granddaughter, Delanie. Delanie just turned one a few weeks ago, and we can already see her mother’s gentle, sensitive personality in her.
Matthew: the gift of patience
The youngest of our four children, Matthew was our strongest-willed child. And Matt and I soon discovered that I am a strong-willed parent! Sometimes this caused us to butt heads, especially as Matt was wanting the freedom to make his own decisions.
As I read through some of the letters from Matt’s teen and college years, I’m impressed with his patience with me as a dad. Most of the letters are too personal to share, but here’s an excerpt from one:
Thank you for all your counsel this week. Even though at times I felt you were forcing yourself into my life, I know I needed it and am thankful. Dad, as hard as it may be for you, I AM growing up I know you love me and want what is best for me, but you will not always be there to just step in and call all the shots. I am thankful and will be thankful for all your future counsel. I AM open to it.
…I love you and Mom both and am just trying to share my heart with you. There will probably be times when I am not open to counsel as I should be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it. I am just growing.
Looking back, Matt and I both learned through some of the more difficult moments; but I’m thankful for his willingness to hear and grow through the years.
Matt is serving today as a youth pastor in Oceanside, California, with his wife Katie. Terrie and I rejoice weekly as Matt shares with us what God is doing in their youth group and the young people he and Katie are seeing saved.
The most valuable gifts
If you are a parent, you know that the most valuable gifts your children have given you are intangible. Take a moment to reflect on the blessings you have received from your children, and perhaps express gratitude to them for these gifts.
If you are a young person, I challenge you to purpose to give one of these gifts to your parents. It’s common for young people to approach their parents with an open hand, continually wanting to be given to. But when a young person chooses to focus, not on what he or she can get, but what he or she can give, that is a mark of maturity.
As Proverbs 10:1 says, “A wise son maketh a glad father…”
And I am one happy father.