Happy 3rd Birthday, Alden and Asa

To my dear Alden and Asa:

Today is your third birthday.  For your previous birthdays, I’ve written you open letters (open to the extent that anyone else actually reads our family blog).  Last year, I took a multimedia approach in celebration of your life, and the letter I wrote on your first birthday still rings true to me as it churns in the desperation of the fleeting time.

As the clocks tick, Alden and Asa, you continue to grow into distinct persons with different interests, gifts, and limitations.  While I write to you together again this year, I recognize that next year’s letters must be to you individually.  For now, I want to share something that I think will be applicable to both of you as you continue to grow.

Our family has a principle that you will learn over time--that you can take back words.  That is, if you overstate your case, blubber over-generalizations, shout something ridiculous, or say something hurtful, you have the opportunity in this family to take it back.  And, no matter what was said, it is as if it was never said at all.  At least in theory.  We have this rule because of my big mouth and my never-ending ability to bombast without regard to others’ feelings or, sometimes, the facts.  Without a doubt, it is a discipline to grant such sweeping forgiveness and forgetfulness; but we have chosen to err on the side of open communication, often at the cost of our egos and the sting that our ungraceful utterances and clumsy phonations can cause.

Outside of our family proper, however, you should watch your mouth more carefully.  I hope you will be bold but responsible communicators, never forgetting that there are some things worth saying without regard to the opinions or feelings of others.  There is, however, a much larger category of words and actions that can just cut people to shreds without any meaningful benefit or purpose, and you will have done evil and harm to others in a world already saturated with this type of darkness.  But all is not lost.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have caused hurt, your first inclination may be to do “damage control” to limit your own exposure.  If you want to move from birth to death without any meaningful principles or commitment to your community, then this will be fine.  But if you want to truly learn from your mistake and experience deep growth--even a proverbial re-birth--as a person, your only “damage control” should relate to the damage you have already done.  And this is the threshold step, to get over yourself and embrace a position of humility.

It is unrealistic and unfair to expect others to forget you ever did them wrong, and there may be very real consequences as misplaced words can easily destroy the closest of relationships. But, if you are want to demonstrate love and maturity, you need to embrace the seemingly antiquated practice of confession.  It is a cord of three strands: (1) admitting to yourself that you have done wrong; (2) telling the person you have injured that you feel true sorrow that you have taken any part in such an action; and (3) asking that same person to forgive you in such a way that you can still bind yourselves to one another for the rest of brief time that you still have to share on this planet.

You may not be forgiven, and there is nothing you can do in that situation but to cling to the sorrow for your actions and the fractures that they brought to a relationship.  But you may be lucky enough to come out in an even stronger communion with others because you have exposed your own real brokenness and vulnerability.  And that payoff is worth the cost of your exposure in a position of weakness.

My birthday present to you in this letter is my commitment to raise you in an environment where we allow you to practice confession and repentance knowing that you will experience forgiveness and reconciliation.  That our bond and experiences together will not be easily torn by words that we never really meant outside of a brief moment of frustration. That is the heart of the "take it back" principle. And my hope is that your mother and I will model this for you in a way that you can see the resiliency of the human spirit and that its capacity for forgiveness is a light in the darkness that could so easily overcome us.

Happy birthday, twins.  We love you, and, as long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it.