Dear Mom & Dad,
It was truly difficult for me to sort out what to get you for Christmas this year. I struggled with the decision to not buy you guys anything because I love to do that, as you guys love to do that for me. It has been hard for me not to have a salary at Christmas, made me feel guilty to not have the ability to give you anything.
But it was more than just not having any money at the moment. I also felt like a hypocrite, because I have talked to you both so much about not how gift giving should not simply be focused on buying “stuff” just because it is Christmas, unless that “stuff” is bought from place of Love and is something so perfectly suited (in your heart and mind) for the person you are giving it to. And here I am feeling so torn-up inside and remorseful that I don’t have a “thing” wrapped up for you to open, but this year there was no “thing” that my heart latched on to give you…discretionary funds at hand or no.
It is because I am trying to practice what I preach, and because of the belief you’ve instilled in me that gift giving should come from an intentionally thoughtful heart, that I give you both the following this year: a personal & public proclamation that you both (by God’s grace) are the foundation of all the good in me and all the good that has come to me.
The point is this, I wanted to somehow relate to you how much you both mean to me. How much I am overwhelmingly thankful that you are my parents. In truth, I am almost crippled by the weight of just how much praise to God is due here: I could not be anything good that I am without having you as my parents.
And as I write this I feel that “this is silly, surely they know.” But maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t see how much you have positively shaped my life. Perhaps you do not realize that you are a rare breed of parent, a gift to me from God that keeps on giving every day of my life. Every day. You love me to a point that is too much, that is annoying, that is impossible not to see and believe because it is in-your-face evident, which of course makes me squirmy. And I would not wish it away, as uncomfortable and unworthy as I feel of it. For I have seen others who are on the opposite end of things, with parents who show little care. What a sadness that is. How grateful I am not to have to live in such a sadness.
There is a large list of things I could put here that would not have come into my life without having you as my Mother and Father…so many experiences, my education, my faith, my rich wealth of friends…all a product of how you have raised me and how you have emotionally and financially supported me over the years.
But, I am going to focus on one of the more immediate things that would not be possible if I did not have you as my parents – pursuing forestry.
Most parents would not financially or otherwise support their daughter quitting a job with a salary and benefits to pursue a fancy, a dream…not to mention a seasonal job with no benefits and minimal wages. You did not tell me I was too old to start over, that I should have figured this passion point out earlier…before you had already put me through college and graduate school. Most parents would have scoffed at this notion, called it whimsy, or at least counseled against it. You, however, did no such thing.
Maybe you thought about it, maybe you wanted to, but you didn’t because you could tell it was something pulling at my heart, and you supported and encouraged my chasing of a dream instead. What a gift that is to me. You really have no idea.
And because I had your backing, I was able to be dauntless in diving in to this. I didn’t have to fear a forth coming “I-told-you-so” from my parents if the whole project should crumble to dust, cave in on itself. I have been free to just be present, to “see how it goes,” and not worry too much about the future.
And me not worrying? I mean, what a miracle, right? And that was made possible by God and by you both. Because not worrying is rather out of character for me, as you two know full well.
How I got here, how I have developed this new direction is largely influenced by what you both fostered in me as a child:
Mom: all the times you took me outside on walks, allowed me to grow curious about nature, answered my endless rattling of questions. Those many sunny afternoons that we would catch tadpoles in creeks and take them home to watch them transform into frogs over the following days. You let my curiosity grow and fed it by teaching me in and taking me outdoors (even when I often just wanted to read books inside) to develop an affection for the beauty of that which is wild. You also were a model in “doing less is more.” You are not naturally in a hurry as my personality so often is, are able to just be present, and that has translated into a rediscovery for me of late that slowness is something to be embraced…especially slowness in nature. You have modeled to me the heart of a servant – you give so much of yourself to others as a volunteer, teacher, friend, wife, and most especially, mother. You enjoy doing something for the benefit of others, without needing to get anything back, and that has instilled in me a desire to devote my life’s work to doing something that enhances and blesses the lives of those around me, in an anonymous, almost seamless way. Not to mention that you are an utter bird nerd, love to simply watch them, marvel at their color, shape, and song – and now I am one too.
Dad: the many lessons you have given me in working hard, giving one’s all, and not giving up when you get bruised or broken. Try, try again. You have always encouraged me to be brave, to not fear exploration or adventure, to go and see, and see what happens. You instilled in me an enjoyment of, well, getting dirty and the satisfaction of a good sweat because both say : “you did some good work today.” You have helped me work the muscle of being true to myself, to be my true self to others, and to not fear failure (or at least lie to myself that I do not fear it even if I do). And all your patience in teaching me new skills, prodding me to try new things, and shouldering my tears and many frustrated calls to the heavens that “I can’t!” (with many a well-justified smirks when I later learned “I can”) – has revealed to me that we are capable of so much more than we might believe. All the stories of you growing up on a farm have given me a longing to work outdoors, to reconnect with the earth, to pursue a slower path. Growing up as a Navy Brat has given me a desire to join my strengths and efforts to something bigger than myself, to something that betters the lives of others – and to wear a uniform. You are an illustration that an uncommon path, a harder path, is often the best one to choose.
And I know that you both must have very often felt nervous about letting me go off and explore – trips alone to foreign countries or camping trips with friends. I am certain you were hesitant watching me sign up for difficult challenges: seeing me struggle to train for a long race or put myself to high expectations of perfect grades in school. But your support in both, even when it was hard for you to give support, has allowed me to become more confident in my ability to find a sense of self outside of my comfort zone.
You two have been nothing but my coaches, champions, and friends (yes, I consider you such) my entire life. And in this season in which I in many ways am starting over, falling down and getting up, and learning to recognize the sound of my own voice – all I feel is the freedom to fail but a belief that I shall not – will not – because you guys stand behind me with open arms to catch me if I fall and to support me to stand upright as I go.
I know this is just a letter, but it is also my way of trying to say “I love you” in a way that roots down deeper in both your hearts, such that you never doubt it, never forget it for a moment, and begin to see what you are in the eyes of God and in the eyes that my heart.
So Merry Christmas.
And Bonus Gift:
I hereby proclaim, as a never-to-expire coupon, with the world (my oh-so-many readers) as my witness, that I shall give you free, personally guided, educational hikes in any forest or wilderness area we travel together to during every stage of my walk in forestry.