I thought about trying to make a connection here to crisis communication. Such as saying (as I believe) that raising a family is the biggest most important job anyone can do and the fact that so many are ill-equipped to do it, failing miserably, constitutes one of the greatest smoldering crises of our day). But I won’t do that.
I’ll just introduce this amazing, wisdom-filled letter by telling you a bit about the author. Ryan is a former employee at my PR firm. Hired as an intern, he quickly demonstrated some remarkable abilities–great people skills, strong project management, terrific work ethic, a strong sense of what is right from a PR and communication standpoint, and, as you are about to see, an unusual ability to write simple, compelling sentences.
My wife Lynne and I had the privilege of having dinner with Ryan and his very pregnant wife, Jennifer, a couple of nights ago. Ryan recently completed a course of study at Oxford and now is on to Duke. He will be joined in Durham by his wife and new baby girl, Emma, soon after she is born–in a couple of weeks if all goes to plan.
All of you who are parents, take this wonderful wisdom to heart. If you are a grandparent now, as we are, send it on to your kids and pray that they show this kind of wisdom and insight. And, if you care about our world, help everyone who cares about it see this.
hi there, princess. it’s me, ryan. your dad. the one with the lower voice who you hear every once in a while when you’re trying to nap. or when you’re in the middle of your water aerobics routine.
you’re not far away at this point. very soon you’ll be joining us here, in the world, rather than reclining in the warmth of your mother’s womb. and we can’t wait to meet you.
we’re getting things ready for you here. picking out clothes for you to wear. setting up your bed. and tucking away plenty of fuzzy blankets. the world is getting ready for your arrival.
and i know you won’t be able to read this for a while yet, but i wanted to take the time to write you a note. i thought i’d give you a heads-up on the world that’s preparing for you, so you can prepare for it.
now, i haven’t been here for long–less than 30 years, at this point–and i’m far from having things all figured out, but i have been here long enough to take note of a few things. and so i thought i’d scratch them down for you, hoping one day they might be helpful for you.
some of this may be helpful right away. other bits will likely not be helpful until years later. and the rest, well the rest may not be helpful at all.
and if, for some reason, it turns out that none of this is all that helpful by the time you’re old enough to read it, i apologize. but know i’ve given it my best.
to start, i thought i’d tell you a few things about your mother. you’ll be spending a lot of time with her, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get to know her for yourself, but i’ve known her for some time now. more than 10 years, i guess. so i have a bit of a head-start, and i thought i’d give you a few pointers.
first, and most importantly, the thing you should know about your mother is that she has been waiting for you for a long, long time. in fact, you should know that you are your mother’s dream come true. it may not always feel like it, particularly when you get to the age of 13 or so, but it’s true. ever since i’ve known your mother, she’s dreamed of welcoming you into this world.
and so, on those more difficult days, never forget: long before you showed up, your mother dreamt of holding you in her arms. that will be true whether you’re 16 months or 16 years old.
the second thing you should know about your mother is that she likes her sleep. i tell you this because, if you want to earn some major points with her someday, let her sleep in. and then bring her breakfast in bed (preferably pancakes with chocolate chips). she’ll smile at you with the kind of smile that stole my heart years ago if you do.
thirdly, you should know your mother sees things in black and white. and i love that about her, mostly because it’s very unlike me. if you want to have a long conversation as you think through things, you will find i’m the man for the job. but if you don’t have time to waste and you just want a straight answer, you’re probably better off asking your mom. she’s a straight-shooter.
the last thing i’ll tell you about your mother is that she likes gerber daisies, peanut butter and chocolate (especially together), fuzzy socks, and puzzles. she does not like bananas, spiders or feet.
i could go on, but that should be good for now. i have a few other things i want to tell you that i hope might be helpful.
perhaps it’s good i started with your mother, because the next bit isn’t quite so nice.
you see, the thing is, emma, you’re being born into a world with a lot of wounds. i’m very sorry to say it, but we haven’t been very good to one another. the people who came before us weren’t very good to each other, either. nor were those who came before them.
and so what you’ll find as you move through life is a lot of brokenness. and hurt. you’ll find people have a hard time trusting one another. you’ll find people getting frustrated over things that really shouldn’t matter all that much. you’ll find people saying mean things and generally acting pretty ugly to one another a lot of times.
but don’t take it personally. it’s not about you. it’s about all of us. and the pain we share.
you didn’t create this pain, but you will be born into it. just like all of us. and like all of us, you will be asked to carry an overwhelming amount of this pain. more than seems fair. more than you can bear.
i’m very sorry about that, but my hope is that you may be able to help do something about it. in fact, my hope is that your life may be lived in such a way that you might help to heal it from the inside out.
now i know that seems like an awful lot to ask of you. and i know you’re probably asking yourself how you are possibly supposed to help heal the wounds of this world that has been broken and hurting since long before you arrived.
my answer? with love.
and yes, i know. i know that sounds terribly idealistic. i know it is sounds so simple. and it is. but it isn’t, at the same time.
you see, if you want to make a difference in this world, emma, if you want to help heal the brokenness and the hurt, you have to love.
love those who show you love. love those who don’t. love those closest to you. love perfect strangers.
and no matter how useless or thankless it seems, keep going. not to be noticed, not to be rewarded, but simply because you believe in it.
mother teresa, a woman who left us before you got here, and a woman who not only believed in love, but who embodied it, has this great quote where she says,
“do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. what we need is to love without getting tired.”
i hope you find a way to love like that, emma. without getting tired. if you do, the world will be better for it.
now i know it’s a little early for me to be talking to you about work. don’t worry. for the first 18 years or so of your life, we’ve got you covered. (and probably for a while after that, the way things are looking at the moment).
but eventually, there will come a time when you have to start thinking about what it is you want to put your hands to. we all do. here are my thoughts for when you begin to think about this.
when it comes time to consider what it is you’d like to invest your time doing, don’t over-think it. instead, trust your heart. you’ll find, as you go through life, that you like certain things. you’ll also find you dislike other things. you’ll find there are things you’re pretty good at. you’ll also find there are things you’re not so good at.
if you can, find a way to combine what you enjoy doing with the things you’re pretty good at. if you can do that, this world will not only reward you for your work, but you will find that the world will be rewarded by your work.
another thing you’ll find in this world is that everyone has questions, and everyone is looking for answers. people want to know why we’re here. they want to know where we’re going. and they want to know what happens when the curtain of this life comes tumbling down.
you’ll find, as you go through life, that people offer a lot of different answers to these questions. you’ll find some people who say their answer is the right one. and you’ll find others who say all answers are right, just as much as the next one.
we’re going to spend a lot of time together, you and i, so you’re going to find out very early on what i believe. and you’ll probably even be influenced by my beliefs. but i’m honest enough with myself to admit that there will come a day when you start poking around to find the source of Truth for yourself. when you do, here are three things i hope you’ll think about.
first, when you’re considering whether something provides answers for life’s great questions, ask yourself, “does this help make sense of what i know about the world around me? or, instead, does it sound like something someone would make up, out of some sort of wishful thinking?”
secondly, and order is important here, ask yourself, “is this aesthetically pleasing?” what i mean by that is, when you’ve found something that you think makes sense, ask yourself if it’s actually attractive, as well.
and then, lastly, after you’ve done all that, ask yourself, “does it make a difference with the pain and the hurt of this world?”
i say order is important because if something simply doesn’t hold water, in the first place, then don’t bother with how much you’d like it to be true.
but, if you find it seems reasonable enough, in light of what you know of this world, then go on to ask how it satisfies your taste for beauty. when you hear it, does it make you smile? does it make you smile uncontrollably? while not necessarily a guarantee of Truth, beauty seems to be an awfully good indicator of it.
and then, when you’ve done all that, ask yourself whether it actually makes a difference with the brokenness of this world. i can’t imagine Truth suggesting we run from the brokenness and pain that surrounds us. i can only imagine Truth healing it. any offer of truth that doesn’t do something to heal the pain and hurt of this world is too thin to be True.
i think what you’ll find when you’ve really considered things, emma, is that Truth is both intellectually satisfying and aesthetically pleasing. you’re not likely to find that all of your questions are answered with a watertight solution, but if any attempt at an explanation for our questions does not satisfy both of these requirements, and if it does not then actually attempt to make a difference with the brokenness of this world, be careful how much you trust it.
and one more thing, while we’re on this topic: there are going to be many, many people who disagree with you once you’ve arrived at a particular position. and plenty of them will be much more intelligent than you.
don’t let that bother you. but don’t shut them out, either. listen to other people’s questions. go deeply with them, and allow them to critique your ideas, as you do theirs.
but at the end of the day, when you still have questions and their arguments still scratch at the back of your mind, don’t believe or disbelieve something simply because of what others say. believe in what you think to be true and beautiful because of what you know of the world around you. at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that will provide a solid foundation for anything you hold to.
a handful of thoughts
i’m sorry these final thoughts don’t fit into any neat categories, but here are a handful of thoughts i wanted to share with you before i go.
there are an awful lot of things in life we don’t get to choose. friends is one exception. i hope you surround yourself with great friends.
i hope you surround yourself with the kind of people who love you enough to tell you the truth, even when it hurts. and if it hurts you to hear, know it hurts them to say.
if you’re hurting or struggling or lonely or confused, and you find yourself feeling like you’re the only one, remember, you’re probably not. there’s an awful lot of us. because of that, there’s someone who has likely been where you are who can help.
growing up, my grandpa (your great-grandpa) used to say, “if you see something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. don’t wait to be asked to do it.”
i think that’s a pretty good rule. except if it’s your mom’s things left out. if that’s the case, know they’re probably there for a reason and don’t need to be picked up. trust me on this one.
i mentioned this previously, but you’re going to find things in life that you’re pretty good at. i realized i should also tell you, you’re going to meet people who are better than you at whatever that might be.
don’t let that get you down. do what you cannot not do, and do it in the way only you can.
and on a similar note, remember that we’re not likely to always be the best, the smartest, the fastest or the strongest, but we can always choose to work the hardest at whatever it is we do.
one thing you’ll come to learn is i married your mother, in large part, because she has one of the biggest hearts of anyone i know. i love that about her. i also inherited a big heart from my parents, which means you can expect to have one yourself.
two warnings about that: first, guard it. be careful. you will find your heart often leads you to love people in a way that they might not always return. and that can hurt. others aren’t always going to love as you do, and expecting them to can lead to disappointment.
at the same time, be careful you don’t guard your heart so much that you don’t allow others to feel its warmth in a way that makes their life better. that is, after all, the reason you have it in the first place.
as a girl, and later as a woman, you’ll have the temptation to believe that you ought to be defined by your body. i hope you don’t. i hope you know that you’re so much more than that. cs lewis, an author who has helped me out a lot, as you’ll come to learn, once wrote, you aren’t a body, you have a body. you don’t have a soul, you are a soul. and i think there’s a lot of truth in that.
on a similar note, one thing i hope you learn to avoid is allowing others to determine your value. what i mean is, know you are worth more than what others might think of you. or not think of you. you see, living to please others is like starting a race that has no finish line. if you can avoid this, you will save yourself an incredible amount of time, energy, and hurt.
at the same time, know that the greatest experiences in your life will come from the times you put others before yourself. they’ll come when, in one way or another, you were serving another. it seems counter-intuitive, i know, but that’s how it goes.
you’ll also find, as you go through life, that the most rewarding experiences will come from the greatest challenges. i wish it weren’t the case, but it seems to be a universal truth. knowing this, in advance, can help when you’re facing those challenges.
and, lastly, when life brings you to a point where you simply don’t know what to do, when you have to make a decision and you have no idea how to move forward, imagine yourself having to explain your decision to your future son or daughter one day (when you’re much,much older). that’s what i did with you, long before you arrived, and it helped me with some of my most difficult decisions.
see you soon
well emma, you’ll soon be making your way into this world. and we’ll be here waiting for you. like friends and family at the airport after a long flight. we’ll be wearing smiles, and we’ll be crying. well, i will be. your mom claims not to cry when she’s happy.
but here’s the thing, princess, no matter how dark this world will seem at times, know that you never have to go it alone. not ever.
when this world is overwhelming, when pain and fear is so great you want to run and hide, i want you to know this: your mother and i are here for you. and we love you. we love you with the kind of love that doesn’t make any sense. we loved you before you entered this world, and we will love you long after you arrive. we will always love you, with the kind of love that doesn’t get tired.
and at the end of a long day, a difficult month or even year, when you still have questions, you’ll find me waiting. patiently. you’ll find my lap to crawl in and my ears attentive. and when you’ve grown too big for my lap, you’ll still find my ears patiently waiting. and then, as now, i’ll give it my best.
see you soon, princess.