Graduation Letter

Dear Sarah, Garth and Talitha,

It’s no secret to you that Dad and I value education.  One of the greatest gifts we ever hoped to give you was the opportunity to pursue your dreams, passions and abilities by receiving a quality (although not loan free!) education.  We are especially thrilled that each one of you has pursued a master’s degree.  Having just come back from Talitha’s graduation from the Ross School of Business of theUniversity of Michigan, I can’t help but share this letter with all three of you.  Just think of it as one more example of Mom’s wacky advice.

I’ve been pondering 4 words that I hope for you as you live out God’s call in your professional as well as your personal life.  The first word I hope for you is responsibility.  “Responsibility” comes from the Latin root, respondere, which means “to promise back.”  I prefer to divide the word into 2 parts, “response” and “ability.”  Do you remember the scripture from Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”  Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases this verse in an easy way, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”

The ability to respond to the needs of our world is a gift of God.  You have been given far greater privileges and opportunities than most young adults in our world.  What is your “response ability” to look beyond yourself and act for the good of our planet, advocate on behalf of those afflicted by war, poverty, disease, and be a catalyst for systemic change?

The second word I hope for you is wonderWhen you were growing up, Dad and I were always amazed by your sense of curiosity about the world.  Garth, when you were 5 years old, we were lying outside looking at the stars, and you turned to Dad and said, “It looks like God took a big sheet of paper and poked holes in it.  Then God shined light through it and made the stars!”

One of my favorite quotes comes from E.B. White, “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.  This makes it hard to plan the day.  But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it?  In a way, the savoring must come first.”  All three of you teach me a lot about savoring.  As you know, I am pretty serious and intense and often need to lighten up.  That’s exactly why I love to see you laugh, joke around, enjoy your friends and have fun.  You have taught me to savor the world at the same time as I seek to save it. 

Never lose your sense of wonder and joy.  Keep learning.  Keep searching.  Love life.  Enjoy every minute. 

The third word I hope for you is persistence.  Each of you understands persistence because you are looking for jobs.  It can be demoralizing to be ready to enter the work world as an adult but have to spend day after day networking and searching for employment opportunities.  Yes, we did tell you from day one that a good education was the key to finding a meaningful work.  Well….

Be assured that you will eventually find a job.  But also know that this will not be the only time you are tested in life.  Rejection and failure are as common as affirmation and success.  I wish for you a mental toughness that takes intelligent risks and bold action and will never give up.  Remember that nothing worthwhile comes easily. 

You may think this odd, but I hope that you can embrace adversity when it comes.  May you choose to gain wisdom through the struggle, for life is a constant process of growth, stretching, death and rebirth.  What will help you move through the difficult times is a supportive network of family and friends and the knowledge that God journeys with you and loves you no matter what.  Doors that close can open up new worlds that help us to grow stronger and more confident.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who pointed out, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”  Remember the God who poked holes through the dark with the light.

The fourth word I hope for you is integrity.  The root word for integrity comes from the Latin word integritas (integer), which means whole, complete or undivided.  If your inner and outer lives are integrated, you will never act in a way that is contrary to the truths you have been taught and know about yourself. 

The characteristics of an integrated life are honesty, compassion, fairness and the courage to find your own voice in this world.  I call it leading from the heart, which is nothing more than integrating the physical, relational, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of your personality into a coherent whole.

So here’s the end of the sermon:

Mom’s Top 10 Suggestions for a Responsible, Wonder-filled,
Persistent, Integrated and Well-Lived Life

  1. Who you are is more important than what you doBe the change you wish to see in the world.” (Ghandi)
  2. Discover your passion and let your dreams lead the way.
  3. Don’t neglect your inner life.  Take time to reflect.  Be self-aware.
  4. Don’t forget to listen to your heart when you have to make tough decisions.
  5. Remember, God loves you not because you are good but because God is good.
  6. Have the courage to do the right things, show compassion for the very least of God’s children, and resist injustice and oppression wherever you see it. 
  7. Seek peaceful resolutions for every conflict in which you find yourself. 
  8. Don’t get sucked into a lifestyle that does not ultimately satisfy.  Money will never make you happy, but generosity will.
  9. If you hold on to anger and bitterness, you will only poison yourself.  Forgive at all costs. 
  10. Your mission in life?  Be an imitator of the whole life of Jesus Christ.

I am so proud to be your mother.  You are not my children, you are children of God, each with unique gifts to offer.  I am simply fortunate to have had the privilege of nurturing you along your journey. 

You have seen and experienced the world.  Now find your place in it.
You have discovered your voice.  Now let it sing.
You know who created you.  Now poke holes in the darkness and reflect God’s light.
“Carry the light-giving message into the night.”
(Philippians 2:15 The Message)

Love, Mom

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