It was June 25, 1997, and we were gathering at my office with a few friends to celebrate my youngest son, John, on his first birthday. We planned the party at my office because my wife, Teresa, was just three weeks removed from major breast cancer surgery. She was able to attend, one of the first outings she had been able to have since the surgery, but certainly was in no shape to host something like that at our house.
I was feeling very blessed. And very frustrated.
Blessed because of what we had just been through – the prognosis was good, and Teresa was starting to regain her strength. Frustrated because I knew John would have no memory of this season of his life – a season that re-defined so much of our faith and would, no doubt, have a tremendous impact on John. So, after the last piece of cake was gone, I sat down and wrote him a letter.
On the outside of the envelope I wrote, “To John on your first birthday – to be given to you by your Mom on your 18th birthday.” And last week, 17 years later, she handed it to him.
The letter recounted the events of the three weeks leading up to his first birthday – the doctor visits, the surgeries, and the recovery still underway. It described the significance of what I believed God had done and was doing in John’s life while also recognizing he would have no memory of any of it. I guess I was trying to download the experiences of that time into John’s memory file… so that he too, could learn the lessons of grace we had seen with our own eyes.
But, the letter was also a statement of faith however weak it may have been at the time. Just saying, “To be given to you by your Mom,” was a statement I was clinging to… the belief that 17 years later she would be around to give him the letter. I did believe it. And she was. And she did.
Last week, after we read the letter, the three of us had a long conversation. We shared with John the whole story – beginning to end – filling in a few details John had never heard before. We were all reminded again just how gracious our loving God had been toward our family then and how He has provided since then.
It was such a rich experience it made me wonder why I haven’t done more of this kind of thing through the years. It occurred to me that this exercise was at least part of what Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 tells parents to do – Love God and His word and repeat the stories of grace to your children every way you can.
The letter ended with this statement – “So, John, on your 18th birthday, stop and thank God for your mother. Because He gave her to you – twice.”
And John agreed. We all did.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.