To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 19th Birthday

Dear Elliot,

I sincerely thought that last year’s birthday letter was a one-of-a-kind letter. I figured a once-in-a-century pandemic would be just a blip on the radar of life. A 1% thing, right? I mean, I didn’t love the way that COVID-19 overshadowed the end of your high school years (and, eventually, the beginning of your college years). Still, I’d hoped that living through such a cataclysmic event would at least be memorable. Like, maybe you’d get a good story out of the deal, if nothing else. We knew so little a year ago that we didn’t have much of a choice except to roll with it.

Now, though, I just hate COVID-19. It pains me to think that by the time this is all likely to be over, you will have spent 7% or 8% of your life wearing a mask over that beautiful face of yours. I hate that this pandemic has taken up a full 10.5% of all your birthdays to this point in life. I’m bitter that roughly 20% of your adolescent years have now been characterized by limited social interaction — especially seeing how you’re one of the most extroverted, most social people I know. I grieve with you the loss of opportunities that we must remember from the last year of life.

Happy Birthday, right?!?

Fortunately, there is still much to celebrate, Elliot. I’ve seen you grow stronger, more creative, and more empathetic over the course of the last year. I’ve witnessed your transition into adulthood through the way that you’ve studied, worked, and spent your free time. You really have grown. And here’s one of the ways I know.

The photographic record shows it.

Some of the year’s best photographs I have of you were provided by you. Or they were clustered around our family’s summer vacation or our holiday celebrations. Almost like I’m the parent of a college student or something! Interesting, huh? It’s not bad! It just speaks to the fact that you’re increasingly independent. You’re spending more and more of your time outside of our home (which is a testament to your resilience, considering the pandemic). And I want to bless you in that. Go! Keep living your life! Find your way forward, even when life is unnecessarily complicated.

I love you so much, Elliot. In the smaller collection of Elliot pictures that I do have, I’m amazed at how much you look like a college student now. The funny expressions on your face… the way your hair flops and flows… the swagger and style of your clothing… You’re a natural at this whole “college student” thing. Even if your experience of post-secondary school life is exceptional, I’ve seen enough of people at this stage in life to know that you’re doing great. Maybe even ahead of the game from where most college students are at this point. I’m looking forward to seeing how you’re going to keep taking hold of your life and your future. One step at a time.

As I thought about you and prayed for you in the process of writing this letter, my mind settled on an encouragement for temperance. By that I mean an approach to life that’s not too hard; not too soft. Not too timid, not too aggressive. An approach to life that is temperate.

On this occasion of your 19th Birthday, I want to remind you and exhort you to strive for temperance, as you keep growing further into adulthood. Young men make a lot of mistakes swinging the pendulum too far in one direction or the other. They do it with beer, either going too hard, too aggressive, ignoring wise standards for pacing, social engagement, and enjoyment of the beverage… or going too soft, too timid, ignoring wise standards for pacing, social engagement, and enjoyment of the beverage. But young men also do this with sports, or relationships, or academics, or expressing their emotions…

Mature men learn how to be temperate. They learn to avoid passivity and embrace responsibility, and to walk in time-tested wisdom. If you read in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2, you can find listings of qualifications for church leadership. And both of these lists (which are kind of the “gold standard” for spiritual maturity) include the word “temperate.” So I would encourage you to practice temperance, as well.

You’ve got so much power and potential, Elliot. Be confident as you step into the opportunities that life will bring your way (more and more, as this COVID crap clears). I seriously believe that you’ve got more reason for confidence than most! So be confident… but don’t be cocky. It’s a fine line, but I can see that you’re already learning to walk it.

I’m here to walk with you, as needed. I’m here to take pictures, as needed. But I’m also really happy and really proud to see you do it on your own, too.

Happy Birthday.


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