June 23, 2016
Dear Hyde Park Family,
Today I am officially the father of two teenage daughters.
I don’t know how that sentence strikes you. For those who have been down this path with your own children, the idea of having a teenager in the house, let alone two, might give you the shivers. Not me. At least not yet. So, just as I did for her older sister Grace when she turned thirteen two years ago, I decided to process my emotions with a letter that I wrote and shared with Madelyn this morning:
Thirteen years ago today, you took your first breath and opened your eyes to a world that instantly became brighter the moment you entered it. You don’t remember any of your earliest days, of course, but your mother and I would not trade in any of those precious moments for anything in the world. There are memories I will always treasure, more than nearly any other: comforting you at night by laying you on my chest to feel the thrum of my throat and the beat of my heart; swinging you in my arms in a makeshift baby swing that elicited your tiny, gleeful shouts of “Again! Again!” And singing along with you to the soundtrack of Disney’s Mulan as I drove you to preschool every morning.
Along the way, you have became your own person. As our little “adventure baby,” you have often thrown yourself, full bore, into exploring the world around you. You have a natural curiosity and a gifted mind for understanding the way the world works. Numbers dance in your head, scientific principles have become your second language and your reverence for creation fuels your respect for the planet and your empathy for all of God’s living creatures.
But you are not just an adventurer; you are also an artist. Yours is a world of music and beauty, choosing to learn the trombone when both your sister and your father were devout clarinetists. With courage and confidence, you auditioned and earned roles in everything from honor bands to community theater productions, and you have given each role the hard work it deserves.
You are a determined and stellar student, and your mother and I have never had to worry about your conduct at school, or the way you behave around the other students. You are kind, generous and loyal to your friends. Those who get to know you are all better people because of you. In you, they have a friend for life. Those qualities will serve you well as you enter a new chapter of your life that will be marked with dramatic changes and roller coaster adjustments. That is all part of being a teenager.
Teenager. You know, Maddy, if we stop and think about it, the label “teenager” is really just a construct of our numerical system. Because we happen to name the numbers after twelve and before twenty with the suffix “-teen”, we ascribe them with some special significance. It is true that your teen years will encompass a wide gamut of developmental, relational and psychological changes, from junior high all the way up to college. But adolescence doesn’t begin the moment one turns thirteen, just as a teenager doesn’t instantly become an adult when one turns twenty. It is much more complicated than that.
Think about how different cultures designate “coming of age,” for youth. Jewish people observe bar mitzvahs for 13-year old boys and bat mitzvahs for 12-year old girls. When girls in some Latin American countries turn fifteen, they are celebrated with a “quinceanera.” Korean youth come of age on precisely the Monday of the third week in May of their nineteenth year. And even in this country, some would consider turning thirteen to be not nearly as big a deal as turning sixteen, when they get their driver’s license, or eighteen, when they are able to vote!
So, in some ways, today is really just another day. But it’s still a good day. Because it links past with promise, fond memories with future possibilities. Your twelve years of joy, curiosity, intelligence, and hard work have set you on a course to chase your dreams and make a difference in the world. But to get there, you will have to clarify your passion, hone your skill, set your convictions and figure out who you really want to be.
That, if nothing else, is what being a teenager means.
So here is my prayer for you. It’s straight out of the Bible, which, as you have learned in our Confirmation class, can be a source of great guidance throughout your life. These prayers come straight from some of the most famous youth in the Bible. Emulate them, and you will walk the path that God has set before you:
- Like Samuel, may you sharpen your listening skills to hear God’s voice and seek the guidance of elders in your life.
- Like Esther, may you exhibit courage and compassion for the sake of others, “for such a time as this.”
- Like, Miriam, may you grow in your love for music, and may your song lead people to new life.
- Like Joseph, may you withstand any adversity that comes your way, compromising neither your convictions or your principles, and practice the transformative power of forgiveness.
- Like David, may you cultivate a love for God in your heart, and may you learn to prioritize your inward character over your outward appearance.
- Like Mary, may you always be obedient to God’s best purpose and will for your life, so that your soul may magnify the Lord, and so that you may be a bearer of good news for others.
- And most of all, be like Jesus, who during his teenage years “grew in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and with people.”
Maddy, always know that I am immensely proud of you, and I know your mother is, too. You are loved for who you are, regardless of what your successes and failures in life may be. Enjoy these tender years of your youth and seize each day fully, so that the potential of tomorrow becomes the foundations of your past. And remember that you will never be alone.
I love you,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park