My dear baby brother,
Today you graduate from high school.
Tonight you will be shepherded into the gymnasium where you’ve played and performed for so many years, one blue robe among a flock of blue robes, and an hour later–songs sung and tears shed and hats flipped wildly into the air–you will walk out the doors wearing your own clothes, clutching your own diploma, as your own man. Your friends will be beside you, and your family behind you, but the second you switch that tassel to the other side of your face, you will sense a new aloneness as you consider stepping, for the first time, into that wide-open “real world” your teachers have been warning you about. You will feel scared, probably, but you will also feel liberated and light and a hundred other emotions you won’t quite know how to hold inside your suddenly too-small heart.
You will be free. And I will be there, smothering you with all the pride and protectiveness I am entitled to as your older sister who loves you, who feels and fears for you, who is entirely and perhaps unhealthily obsessed with you.
(Yeah, this is going to be sentimental. Deal with it.)
I’m writing you this because I want you to know, specifically, how much I cherish you, and because I often suck at expressing that in speech. I’m also writing it because I know we will soon become so swept up in the gusts of graduation that we won’t be able to engage in much real reflection about you–the sweet boy you’ve been, the brave man you’re becoming. I want to be sure I honor you well during this formative time in your life.
Last week, when you and I were shooting baskets in the driveway and you asked me, casually, if I would come to a senior party at your youth group that night, I said yes right away, partly because I didn’t want you to be the only person without a guest and partly because I would do anything for you, and you know that. So I postponed my plans, and together we drove to the church and mingled with your friends and sipped punch from plastic cups, and I was glad to be beside you.
Then your youth pastor approached me and said, “So I guess you’ll be the one speaking about Matt!” My raised brows turned toward yours, and you apologized with your eyes. Public speaking has never come naturally to me, but I’ll do it if I have something to say. And if the topic was you–well, I could probably go on for hours. “I guess so,” I replied.
The plan was that one person from each family was supposed to share with the crowd three things about their graduate: a memory, a lesson, and a prayer. The pastor started things off with some sincere words about your class and the great privilege it had been for him to watch you grow. Then he invited the families to join in the reminiscing. No one spoke up, so–despite the fact that I had no idea what was about to fall from my mouth–I raised my hand.
I barely remember what I said, but you probably do, so I won’t rehash it all here. I know I talked about the trip you and I took to San Francisco last month, the persistence you showed in getting us there, the unforgettable memories we made exploring a new city in an adventure all our own. I talked about your spontaneity, your passion, the way you’ve always grasped fearlessly for whatever you want, without worrying about whether it will work out in the end. How I pray you will continue to trust your heart–whether or not it aligns with the expectations of the world.
(As I’m writing this, you’re playing the piano ten feet from my chair by the living room window. You’re wearing my pink socks, which I forgive you for because your eyes are fixated on the keys, your fingers tender upon them, and your tongue is sticking out in that little-boy focus you get whenever you enter that magical land of music. You don’t know what I’m doing over here. But I love to be doing this with you, this strange communion where I can write and you can practice and we can be together and alone at the same time. I’ll miss this when you move away in the fall.)
Anyway, ever since that night at your youth group, I’ve been thinking about what I said about you and, more importantly, what I didn’t. A few minutes of un-thought-out babbling can’t have been adequate tribute to what I’ve learned from you, or what I hope for your future. But neither would I be able to cover it in the span of a several pages, or even an entire book.
So I’ve decided to compile a couple lists, just a few lines long, about the lessons and prayers I associate with you. They’re far from comprehensive–in fact, I add to them every day.
what i’ve learned from you
- Life is like music. It’s a form of art that seems like play at times, work at others, but always a beautiful, extravagant gift.
- Relationships trump all. When given the choice between people and school–or work, or sports, or sleep, or whatever–you pick people, every time. This worries our parents sometimes–and rightfully so–but I know you have a heart that is more whole because of it. You inspire me to be someone who sacrifices myself more freely for others.
- Money doesn’t matter. Not when it’s pitted against family or friends or even, to some extent, fun–because fun is important too, and God wants us to take pleasure in the playground of world he’s created for us. I’m glad you get me to do reckless things, like take off for a concert in Minneapolis on a whim or travel to San Francisco for no reason at all, because those moments of abandon are what make the most special of memories.
- People were put on earth purposefully. Not “for a reason,” but for many different reasons, which we discover afresh each new day. As your multifaceted heart shows, it’s possible–and good–to love several things at once.
- In times of trouble, turn to the Lord. I’m often humbled by how much more dedicated you are in your devotional life than I am. Though you change your mind regularly about a lot of things, you never seem to waver in your faith, even when you’re trudging through a difficult time. I’m jealous of your relationship with Jesus.
- Talent doesn’t need to be noticed. It always strikes me that although you’re skilled in so many ways–guitar, piano, basketball, even writing–no one seems to know about it. You hide yourself away, and while sometimes I just want to shove you out into the spotlight, I love that you write songs in the quiet and shoot hoops alone in the driveway, because it reveals a modesty–and maturity–that’s hard to come by in a boy your age. You remind me that I ought to pursue my passions because they feed my soul, not because they bring me praise.
- Let love in, and let love out. When new people come into my life, I tend to turn away, shield myself from whatever harm I fear they might bring my way. But you welcome them readily. Sometimes you chastise me for being too hard on people, and though I usually roll my eyes in response, I covet your unfailing ability to find the good in others. You love hard. And I want that too.
what i pray you will learn
- You are adored. Probably more than anyone I know. Obviously, you are loved by the Lord, who hears your prayers at night and opens your eyes in the morning and carries you gently through each new day. You are also doted on by your family, who sees you always as the miracle child you are–the sick baby who wasn’t supposed to live through the night, the eight-year-old boy who lost his mother in an instant, who somehow saved us all from that tragedy with an inexplicable perseverance and peace, with your heartbreaking note to Santa written just days after her death: “My mom died, but I still have Christmas joy.” I know you struggle with feeling accepted by others, but trust me when I say you are absolutely beloved by those who know you well–you will never fathom how much.
- Intelligence manifests itself in many forms. Sometimes I fear you believe that because your gifts are different from Dad’s, or Kyle’s, or whoever’s, you are somehow lesser. But you are wise in ways the rest of us are not, and God made you unique, a one-of-a-kind work of his wild imagination. Love your mind for the masterpiece it is.
- Responsibility is not always overrated. I know, I know–this coming from the girl who plays hooky with you once a month, who procrastinates on every project she starts, whose bedroom looks like a junkyard of clothes. But I do hope you remember that although things like attendance and timeliness and organization are indeed minor in light of more important matters, they still matter. In college, Dad can’t call you in sick when you don’t feel like showing up to class. So shape up just a little, would ya?
- It’s okay to cry. You have a sensitive soul, one that seems, at times, too soft for this world. But it’s not. I love that you feel deeply. I hope you will continue to let your emotion inform your thoughts, to channel it into your music and prayer–as long as you temper it with what you know to be true, and remember that in the end, it’s better to dwell in the light than in the dark.
- Fear is a false motivator. You know that for years, I was scared of pursuing writing because I feared the unknown, feared failure. But I eventually learned that I can’t let those lies keep me from following my heart–and I am so much happier now that I’m trying to do so. I pray you will learn the same lesson. There are so many paths open to you, and they are all alluring and exciting and treacherous and good. And as long as you’re listening to the guidance of the Lord, you really can’t go wrong. Remember, Matthew, you are the only one–the only one–who can choose what you will do, where you will go, who you will become. So choose well. I know you will.
People are always assuming you and I are a couple–and considering we’re constantly together, and decently close in age, I can’t say I blame them. So here’s my little love letter to you, a graduation gift for the boy I loved first, and possibly always foremost. I’m as proud as could be–as proud as Mom would be–of the heart you have, the heart that’s beat on, despite all odds, despite the holes and discs and surgeries it’s endured since you were one day old, the heart that’s swelled to fit your faith and your dreams and all the many people you care about, the heart you’re growing into so very well.
So keep it strong, and keep it close. And keep me close too.
All my love,
Your big sister
P.S. Sorry for the sappiness. It’s just an emotional time, okay?!