Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts posted in 2014

My son,

In this life, there will be many people who try to tell you what to do, who to be, what to care about, and what to strive for. They will try to apply a value judgment to you, try to give you a framework in which to determine your own self-worth, and will try to make you fit into their molding.

Don't let them.

Remember that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). God made you exactly as He wanted to, and that is a wonderful thing.

That's not to say that you're perfect and don't need to strive to be better - quite the contrary! For "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). And what completion is that? The goal and original design that God had in mind for you.

In that light, I urge you to figure out what that is. Decide for yourself who you ought to be, who you want to be, and then go and unapologetically be that person! Jesus never promised that his way would be easy, or that everyone will like you on your path, but He did promise that He "[is] with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). You will inevitably rub some people the wrong way, you will certainly run across people who don't understand your motivations or the things that you do, and will speak out against you.

Pay them no mind.

Know who you were created to be, and be that. The Apostle Paul uses the term ginwskein, which means "to know deeply". Know deeply who God wants you to be and run and follow hard after that. And know your mother and I will always love and support you, no matter who you choose to be.

My son,

I love being inspired.

One of the most inspiring things is witnessing the things man can accomplish. Watching a painter pour their soul onto their canvas, experiencing for the first time a new piece reflecting a musician's inner turmoil, reading a short story written to celebrate life's great virtues, or walking into the great architecture of the ages built as places of worship or safekeeping - all of these things inspire me to be better, to reach higher, and to aim for the stars.

It's a beautiful thing about life, this ability to create. We are all created beings, created in the image of God, in His likeness. That means we have God's spark in us, and with that spark comes the ability for us as created beings to in turn create. Now, obviously we don't have God's omnipotence, so we can't make something from nothing, but we have a glimpse of his creativity and imagination, and can in our own way create beauty where there was none before.

Whether it’s taking a year to write your own symphony or taking an hour to paint a sunset, I believe that something within us pulses stronger when we create. It is in that moment, that space where we forget about the world, abandon its distractions, and focus solely on the object of our creation that we are elevated from the temporary into the timeless. We see the world from another angle; we gain a new perspective, and with new perspective comes new understanding.

Have you ever noticed how things of great beauty are often epic and awesome in nature? Sunsets, canyons, monuments, masterpieces, mountaintops - all of these things are vast in their being, and bring us to a place of awe and wonder.

I believe that the wonder we feel is the creator in us resonating with the creation we're experiencing.

And so with that, I'll leave you with a challenge. Create! Build, paint, compose, craft; express the experiences, thoughts, and dreams that are uniquely you. Because you are beautifully and wonderfully made.

My son,

There are many virtues that great men of necessity have and strive for, but at the top of that list is Integrity. No matter what sphere in life you think of; sports, friendships, academics, politics, or your professional career, integrity is extremely valued. So what is it?

Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea.

It is the ability to stick to your guns, to stay upright in the face of adversity and not waver. It is the ability to say come hell or high water, I will hold fast to my convictions and stand my ground.

In construction, the term integrity is used to describe the wholeness of the object. When an object's structural integrity has been breached, it is no longer whole and can no longer perform its function, and needs to be repaired or replaced. It is prone to damage, and can no longer withstand the loads and impacts that it was created for.

So too is man.

When a man maintains his integrity, he is able to continue performing the functions that he was created for. He can fulfill his God-given purpose, and can reach the paragon of virtue that he was designed for. But when his integrity is compromised, he becomes incomplete, not whole. He is no longer able to withstand the forces, impacts, and influences that he was designed to overcome. He must be repaired.

Nothing in life is harder to repair than trust and integrity. Once lost, the damage man can cause may be permanent, unable to be rectified. By God's grace the man may be repaired, but his actions may have irreversibly negative and lasting impact. One can spend a lifetime trying to repair the damage and never fully succeed.

There comes a time in every man's life where he is tested. He is put to the fire, and is forced to decide what kind of man he is, and more importantly what kind of man he will be. When that time comes, I pray that you will have the strength rooted in a firm foundation to stay strong and resolute in your beliefs.

My son,

Recently, I took the opportunity to look back on some of the key moments of my life, and realized that while each of those moments was vastly different, there was one thing in common across all of them - I went big. I threw caution, fear, hesitation, and laziness all to the wind and went all out. I gave it my all, and the result was that I got it all right back.

If I haven't yet, bug me to tell you about my 30th birthday party, about proposing to your mom, about my bike trips around America, or about a hundred other stories from my college days. The common thread across all of them? We put all that we had into those experiences, and were rewarded because of it.

Now, I'm not saying that every adventure has to take months of preparation, weeks of practice, or days of concerted thought and effort. Rather, I'm encouraging you remember that time is the only resource in this life that we'll never get back, and to make the most of that time. When you go big with your time, you'll make lasting memories that'll span your lifetime.

So I urge you to go and wait in line for 3 hours with your best friend for the latest release of Halo, or to go and plan a big surprise for your mother's next big birthday. Go and plan a world trip with your friends, or take a spontaneous day off to try something really new.

Whatever you do, I guarantee you that if you go big, even if you flame out big, you'll build a memory that will last you a lifetime, and will make a great story for you to tell your children too.

My son,

One of the constant pressures that you'll experience in life is the pressure to conform, to be successful as our society defines success, and to follow a number of predefined "acceptable" paths. While there's nothing wrong with those paths, I want to challenge you to own your choice. Be deliberate about picking a path, whether it is a popular, acceptable one or not. Don't be afraid to veer onto the road less taken; often that's where you'll find many of life's hidden gems and adventures!

The verse your mother and I picked out as your life's verse is Romans 12:2, which urges us to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you can test and approve what God's will is; his good, pleasing, and perfect will."

Our prayer for you from the time that God was still knitting you together has been that you will be a man that does not conform to what this world dictates is acceptable, and that you will be intentional in deciding for yourself what your life will be. I love this quote from the late Robin Williams in the movie, Dead Poets Society:

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! … of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: that you are here, that life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

The world tells us that our identity is found in the job that we have, the clothes we wear, the people we are acquainted with, the school we graduated from, and how much money we have. While all of these things matter and are worth thinking about and pursuing, they can only define us if we allow them to. I urge you not to allow yourself to be defined - and hence tie your intrinsic sense of worth to - the external things of this world, but rather on the man that you are, the thoughts, values, and morals that you have, and by the character that you have developed.

On an archway in Delphi is written a phrase: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, which means "know thyself". The Greeks understood that life's true pursuit is to know thyself, to understand who one is, and to have the integrity to stand strong in that knowledge, regardless of opposition; and from that position, make your mark on the world, forge your path, and write your verse.

I want to leave you with a quote that I've found very inspiring in my own life.

“This is the test of your manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of yourself?” – Orison Swett Marden

My son,

My hope is that as you’ve grown up, you’ve begun to discover things that inspire you, things that provoke your thoughts and challenge your world view. These things can come in many forms – experiences, images, poetry, books, movies, music. The one thing that all of these inspiring mediums has in common is that they all tell a story. They may tell that story through a vibrant splash of color on an otherwise dark canvas, or through an uplifting major chord emanating amidst a dark and minor passage. They may speak to us through a surge of feeling as we stand atop a vast mountain range, surrounded by the breathtaking view of creation all around.

Whatever it is that inspires you, it has a story to tell.

Most of the highly influential people in my lifetime have been great storytellers. Whether they’re recounting an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity in their youth, or reminiscing about their first love; whether they’re channeling their innermost fire and rallying their audience to action, or expressing condolences to those that have lost, every great storyteller has the ability to bring you along with them on their journey, captivating your senses as you live in the moment that they create.

And what is it that so intrigues us when we listen to the stories of these inspirational giants? What is it that draws us into their universe and allows us to hear every sound, feel every touch, and sense every feeling in the world that they’re painting?


Every great storyteller tells stories that are wrapped in the consciousness of their existence. Whether they are ideas that resonate with them, challenges that they strive to overcome, experiences from their past, or dreams that they long to have fulfilled, every great story is laced with the soul and life of the storyteller.


Great stories are told simply. This isn't to say that all great stories are simple or that their contents are necessarily rudimentary; rather they are told in a way that is accessible to all who would listen. They are remarkable in their simplicity, yet can be equally expansive in their depth. The greatest stories can be understood by young children and studied by sophisticated adults all at the same time.


Finally, the greatest stories are timeless. They speak of virtues, values, and topics that span generations. They inspire us to look beyond the temporal and focus our thoughts on things that last, things that stand the test of time.

And so my hope is that you tell stories. Tell stories that inspire others to be better, to think of better things, to imagine the world as it ought to be. Tell stories that challenge your listeners to love recklessly and to dream big. Your mom and I deeply believe that you were meant for great things; no matter what you decide to do, who you decide to be, we will love you and support you every step of the way. My challenge to you is that no matter what all that is, that you tell your story to everyone who will listen.

My son,

Despite my best efforts, by now you'll have experienced fear in your life, and will hopefully have recognized how you deal with those fears, and what your perspective for responding to those fears are.

The etymology of the noun fear comes from the old English "fær" for "calamity", or "danger", and its verb "færen", meaning "frighten" but also "revere". Reverence and fear are very closely related, and can be seen many times fairly interchangeably in the Bible (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10, Ephesians 5:21). This is because they both inherently have to do with our reactions to things we don't fully understand or have control over.

Reverence is a response which focuses on the awe and amazement of the unknown. It deals with the sense of solemn greatness by which we approach the object of our reverence, and instills in us the desire to be better, to imitate, and to emulate.

Fear on the other hand, focuses on the threat and possible danger of the unknown. It places emphasis not on the unknown, but on ourselves, and the damage that can be done to us by the unknown. It causes our self-preservation instincts to kick in, and makes us take a defensive posture thereby drawing our vision and attention inward.

As a father, I've come to a whole new level of understanding of fear. Where my life before merely had my own personal well-being to be fearful for and that of my loved ones, those threats and dangers were never particularly imminent, and were easily understood and mitigated. Being a father though, changes everything. As I'm writing this, you have just turned 9 months old, and there are so many threats in the world that are very real and can cause a severe amount of damage to you, and that is certainly something that causes fear in me. Suddenly, all the physical, emotional, and psychological pains that you might experience become very tangible and within the realm of possibility, and I'm forced to learn to trust that God will take care of you when I can't.

They say that faith is fear that has said its prayers.

I believe that to be true, and though I may not always be able to live it out, and my fears may sometimes get the best of me, in the deepest places in my heart where my convictions and ideal projections of myself live, I know it's true.

The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). My prayer is that in your life, you will understand and experience the deep and perfect love that God has for you, and that you will never doubt the deep and complete love that your mother and I have for you as well. I pray that our love for you can help you approach the unknown with awe and wonder, and can help encourage you down the path of reverence rather than fear. I pray that you will grow up always knowing that you are deeply loved. Know that we want to do our best to support you and walk with you through it all. I love you, my baby boy.

My son,

If you're anything like me, you'll probably hate horror movies, and hence may have never watched an Alfred Hitchcock movie. If that's the case, don't worry, you're in good company. The genius of Hitchcock however, is that he discovered the key to building suspenseful situations that cause every hair on the back of your neck to stand up - music.

Other filmmakers have picked up on this technique now, and every great movie almost always has a great soundtrack accompanying it. Filmmakers have learned how to use music to not only build suspense, but to elicit joy, bring out a care-free spirit, instill a desire to be better, bring about a feeling of nostalgia, and even light a spark of hope in their audiences.

Why is this possible?

C.S. Lewis, in discussing the Biblical imagery of music in heaven, writes that

"Music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity."

In other words, music is the closest thing to heaven we can ever experience in this world. It is the thing that God has hard wired into the very fiber of our being so that even the most unmusical person experiencing beautiful music can be moved.

I love how film director Peter Sellars describes music:

"It touches some idealistic core of your being, where even the greatest cynic has not given up hope - that's why we listen to music."

It touches our idealistic core, it resonates with the center of our being, it stirs something so deeply fundamental to our very soul, such that even the greatest cynic can see a glimmer of hope.

By now, I'm assuming your mom and I have gotten you into piano lessons, maybe some other music lessons as well, and this is why. It's because music draws out the epic, elicits the grandiose desire to think of things as they ought to be. It can inspire, it can motivate, it can encourage. It transcends time, and can bring people of all ages together under a common love and purpose. It can be your most trusted friend, comforter, and encourager. And if you let it, it can be your lifelong companion.

My son,

They say that you can tell the caliber of a man by the company that he chooses to keep. I would take that one step further and say that you can also tell the strength of a man by the type of company that he is.

By now, you'll have met many different types of people, all with unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. By now, you'll have also decided which of these people you want to keep as company, who you'll want by your side as you conquer life's struggles. With each mountain you climb, with each struggle you overcome together, you'll not only learn more about the man that you are, but you'll discover as I have, that loyalty can't be bought; it must be earned, built, refined.

Above all other things, it ensures that no matter what life throws at you, you will not be alone, that you will have people to overcome those situations with you. Loyalty says that no matter what happens, no matter what new bad discovery or situation, come hell or high water, I will be by your side.

Loyalty is a two way street, built together from both sides. Earned, not bought. Just as you must earn the loyalty of your friends, your loyalty too must be earned. Don't give it away freely or easily, but roll up your sleeves, get into the grit of life, and build it.

Adlai Stevenson writes:

"The dedication of a lifetime — these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them."

Loyalty. Faithfulness. Dedication. Devotion.

I urge you to think about these things, to consider the traits that you wish to develop in yourself, and to choose wisely what kind of man you want to be.

My son,

By the time you read this, I hope that you are starting to understand the difference between things you know and believe because you know and believe them, and things you know and believe because you've been raised to know and believe those things.

When I was your age, your grandfather and your uncle Tim were heroes to me, and I took their word as truth and believed what they taught me to believe. Things like right and wrong, goals and aspirations, what was honorable and worthy of pursuit; these were all based on what they taught me. Even my faith was founded in the stories and truths that they shared with me.

But over time as I grew up, and that wasn't enough anymore.

There comes a point in every man's life where he needs to know and believe things for himself, based not on someone else's authority, but on his own experiences. He will need to evaluate for himself, to test and approve, and to be come convinced of his values and beliefs.

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes,

"It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs … that are plausible rather than ridiculous and offensive."

We live in a world that has faith deeply engrained in its very fiber, and in a time where faith, religion, and spirituality is slowly surfacing to the top of social awareness. The more prepared you are to give a reason for your faith, and the more thought out your answers are, the better equipped you will be to add value to those faith conversations, and to make an impact on the world.

There will come a day in your life where you'll be tested. Your values will be questioned, your beliefs examined, and your faith scrutinized. When that day comes, it will not be enough to have those values and beliefs founded upon the authority of someone else; you'll have to defend them and stand up for them on your own authority. My prayer is that on that day, you will stand strong with your head held high and your faith strengthened from the victory of knowing full well who you are, and what you believe.

My son,

By now, I'm sure you've heard many slogans and jingles about how short life is, and may have even come to terms with that notion yourself in your experiences. I love the timeless sentiment from Robin Williams:

But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary

I love that word he chose, "legacy". Listen to the legacy of those who have gone ahead of us. And what is that legacy? To seize the day, to make the most of the days that you have, to aim to live an extraordinary life.

Extraordinary, in this sense, is not a judgment of value upon the life or the series of actions that make up that life; rather, it is merely a description of those actions. Extra, meaning "outside of", the ordinary. The charge is to live a life that is different, that takes chances, that strives to be more than what society funnels us to be. Like we talked about last time, Be a first-rate version of you.

The phrase Carpe Diem goes slightly further, and suggests not only to be the best you that you can be, but to make that you something unique, something unexpected, something different than the well-trodden path that the world tries to impose on you. Set your heart and your mind on being extra-ordinary.

This concept of choosing your own path is really part of your namesake. Maverick means one that doesn't conform to society, but chooses one's own path. Romans 12:1-2 speaks also of not conforming to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you can determine, test, and approve God's will for your life.

That, ultimately, is the prayer that your mom and I have for your life - that you will intentionally choose your path, and that it will be a God-pleasing path. Seize the day, and encourage others to do the same.

My son,

By now, I hope you know how much I love the epic. I love experiencing things that make you think of things as they ought to be, that make you want to be different, that make you strive for more.

The danger though, is that in trying to emulate the characteristics that we experience and read about, we may overstep that boundary and try to be like the characters themselves instead of emulating their characteristics. It's a subtle difference, but it's there nonetheless, and if unchecked, can lead you places you may not have initially intended to go.

My challenge to you as you grow up and experience all these rich and wondrous experiences, characters, and stories, is to always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else. Know who you are, who you want to be, who you were purposed to be, and use that as your measure. Don't compare yourself with others; rather, be inspired by their example to strive for more yourself.

The world will try to pit you against others, will try to compare you on a variety of axes and scales, will even try to tell you that your worth is relative to others. Don't listen to them.

The Bible tells us that we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and that God knew us before He formed us (Jeremiah 1:5). That applies to you! You are our perfect little boy, and your mom and I love you and will always love you, no matter what you choose to do and who you choose to be.

My prayer is that no matter what kind of person you grow up to be, no matter what experiences you have, what pursuits you take, and what company you choose to keep, that you intentionally choose all of those things, and that you be the best you that you can be!

My son,

Jesus says that "you will have suffering in this world" (John 16:33 NIV). It is a certainty, and as much as I would lay down my life to keep it all from you, I can't. You too will know suffering just as Jesus did, just as we all do. The true test of a man's character, then, is how he deals with that suffering, how he responds to it, how he chooses to live his life in spite of it.

As you already know, I love the epic. I love the pursuit of greatness, the passion for the human spirit, the desire to "have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). In light of this suffering, my charge to you is to love recklessly as a response.

By the time you are old enough to read and understand this, I hope that U2 is still around and you'll know have heard the song Pride, which puts it in such a beautiful way:

"In the name of love! What more in the name of love?"

Pride pays a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King (the last verse sings of April 4th in the Memphis sky, which was the date and location that Dr. King was assassinated), and is a response to the legacy and example that he lived. Despite the assassination, the song writer poses the question, "what more in the name of love?" What more can we do, in the name of love? How can we follow this example, in the name of love?

When we love recklessly and focus on seeing, believing, and fighting for the good in people, it doesn't only change our world; it changes us too. When our response to conflict and tribulation is to ask what more we can do in the name of love, we change our perspective. To be reckless means to choose to take an action, despite rational thought telling us otherwise. The more we choose to be reckless, the more our rational thought adjusts to compensate. This in turn removes the inhibitions of what we believe is possible, allowing us to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be - and that is certainly a good thing.

And so my prayer for you is that you respond to the obstacles in your life not with frustration, anger, or disappointment, but with a response that throws reason out the window, and just loves.

My son,

One of the things that I hope you learn about me is how much I love the epic. The epic story, movie, music, view, experience, ride - I love it all. C. S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity says that "Music is the closest thing to heaven we will ever experience on earth." What a beautiful statement of a deeply emotional, primal, overwhelming experience of music, and what a magnificent description of the epic; it is the closest thing to heaven we will ever experience on earth.

And that's what we all want, isn't it? To experience heaven in all its glory, to experience perfection, to experience existence - friendship, relationship, joy - the way it ought to be.

Ayn Rand considers this the definition of Romanticism with a capital 'R'. In the preface to her book, The Fountainhead, she writes:

Longevity - predominantly, though not exclusively - is the prerogative of a literary school which is virtually non-existent today: Romanticism. This is not the place for a dissertation on the nature of Romantic fiction, so let me state - for the record and for the benefit of those students who have never been allowed to discover it - only that Romanticism is the conceptual school of art.

It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. It does not record or photograph; it creates and projects. It is concerned - in the words of Aristotle - not with things as they are, but with things as they might and ought to be. And for the benefit of those who consider relevance to one's own time as of crucial importance, I will add, in regard to our age, that never has there been a time when men have so desperately needed a projection of things as they ought to be.

I've spent much of my youth thinking about things as they ought to be, and trying my best to turn those thoughts to reality. Now that you’ve just turned 4 months old, I realize that my thoughts have shifted slightly; the grandiose statement I would spend hours thinking about - how the world ought to be - now has a minor shift in it.

I now think of how I believe the world ought to be for you.

If there's anything I've learned over my short existence, it's that life is what you make of it. The pursuit of something greater, of something epic, of making the world a little more like how you believe it ought to be; these noble pursuits take a series of events and elevate them into something much more than the sum of their parts. They take our lives and give them meaning, direction, and purpose. They allow us to exercise passion, ingenuity, excellence; beautiful qualities of the human spirit.

And that is certainly the way the world ought to be.

And so my hope for you is that you too would live life looking for the epic, basking in the moments when you find it. Take time to think about the world as it ought to be, surround yourself with people that share that vision, and remember that passion is contagious; if you dream big and continue dreaming big, those around you will start doing the same.