When my wife was fourteen-years old, she lost her father to cancer. A spot on his tongue spread eventually stealing his capacity to speak, and then, his life. But just before he died, he wrote each of his children a letter. As you can imagine, my wife treasures her letter from her father.
After my cancer diagnosis in 2014, I decided to write my children a letter, starting with my oldest, Matthew. I share this letter with you as encouragement to do the same for your children.
It’s raining outside. Actually, it’s pouring. The repetitive patter creates a rhythmic backdrop for thought. An occasional rumble of thunder breaks the pattern. Otherwise, I’m alone with my thoughts and my Heavenly Father.
This morning, the rain reminds me of His grace, His life-giving hope to an otherwise dying soul.
Has it really been five years? Is my little boy really five-years old?
Whoever wrote the words, “Time is on your side,” well, they lied. Time seems more like a nemesis, stealing away precious moments, casually rushing by, careless of its effects.
Amid these moments in time, there are some cling to and others we would prefer to erase. Oddly enough, your birth and the events leading up to it represent both ends of this spectrum for me. If time has done anything, maybe it has helped me find comfort in both.
This morning, the thunder brings a piercing echo of a painful past and the rain, a soothing reflection washing it all away. I’m not sure why, but I have an inclination to write you a letter. I’m not sure if there is a true purpose in writing it, but these are some things I’d hope to tell you if I never get the chance, or if I just simply forget.
Your Grandpa Jim, whom I never had the privilege to meet, wrote your mom a letter just before he died. Similarly, my dad wrote me a letter that I will forever cherish. Although you may not understand now, my prayer is that someday, you will. I pray that these words will be a warm companion along your life’s journey.
My road to fatherhood was anything but enjoyable. If you ever read my book, and I hope you will, you’ll see these words:
“I began to lose count of how many times I would wait outside the bathroom to see if that month’s treatments had worked; waiting to hear Liz’s shouts of joy from a positive pregnancy test. Instead, it was the continued loss of hope.” -from Redefine Rich
This awful cycle lasted nearly three years—some of the worst moments of my life.
I finally see the truth. Back then, I was too busy listening to the lies. I have come to learn that lies create fear and the only way we can overcome them is to face the truth. The truth is, my social drinking was an attempt to mask the thing I couldn’t fix. Furthermore, the countless hours I poured into my work were a hopeful attempt at achievement, another facade hiding the failures beneath.
If you hear nothing else, hear this: trophies and plaques and money are about as helpful at healing brokenness as that fifth rum and coke. I hope you never have to learn that the hard way.
At rock bottom, I held on to hope—the hope that God hadn’t left me. Just as His word promised, He hadn’t. Actually, forget what I said a few lines ago, this is the most important thing I hope you read in this letter.
No matter where you are or how separated you feel, God hasn’t left you. He loves you too much. At times, my love will fail you, but His love never will. Whenever you feel like He’s finished with you, He’s just getting started.
Marriage counseling helped your mom and me process through our challenges and it encouraged conversations that had long since been abandoned. Those hard conversations were necessary for our growth and stability. You see, we thought children were the ultimate goal—that kids would fix our problems. As much as we love you and your brothers, marriage itself is the blessing. It is our opportunity to honor each other in service to God. If you miss that, you’re missing the point.
Children fix a bad marriage about as well as drinking fills that empty hole in your stomach.
I laugh now at my own naivety, but you’ll learn that wisdom and clarity and discernment are very difficult to grasp. The enemy will try to keep you blind to their importance, telling you they don’t matter. Don’t listen to that garbage. They matter immensely, and you must search for them.
As we traversed these new perspectives, we began to find new strength. A familiar support from above that we had nearly abandoned. Your mom and I had finally come to a place where we truly began to love each other. Our love to that point wasn’t fake, it was simply immature—circumstantial at best.
True love transcends circumstance. That’s when you know it’s real. It becomes a reflection of His love.
As we were beginning to find this true love, it happened. The hope-crushing words from the doctor, “It looks like, if you are able to conceive at all, it won’t be naturally.”
A passage from the Book of Joel was painfully fresh:
“The joy of mankind is withered away.”
Up to that point, I’d never considered not being a father. It hurt a lot more than I thought it would. But I needed those words. For a man who’d always been so sure of his abilities and inner determination, I needed to rely on something other than my own strength. God was beginning to show me that my deepest longings were simply a call to trust Him.
As the prophet Joel wrote:
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.”
That’s exactly what we did. We wept and we mourned, resting in the grace of God. He became our hope. He knew better than we knew for ourselves. He always does.
One month later, on November 12, 2009, your mom was waiting for me when I walked in the door. Her bloodshot eyes carried this look of disbelief mixed with joy. Grace flooded her, making her more beautiful than I had ever seen her. She didn’t even have to speak the words. I knew I was going to be a father.
In God’s own special way, He was trying to tell us something. You see, November 12th is Duke’s birthday. It is also the day Grandpa Jim died. For your mom and me, it was God’s reminder that our father’s legacies were to continue. And that our Father was in control. As we would soon realize, we desperately needed Him to be.
Our struggle to conceive was certainly a reminder that you were a gift from Him. Even before you were born, He knew this would be your name. Matthew means gift of God.
Meme chose it for her son for a reason, her reason. Your mom and I chose it for our own. Some will call it “southern” and others may call it “traditional”. For us, there was no other name: Matthew Derrick Ham, Jr.
There were two events during your young life that called us to rest solely on the hope of His grace and His grace alone. They further confirmed that you were, in fact, a gift.
Seven months into the pregnancy, your mom and I went for an evening walk around our neighborhood—our nightly routine. It was an unusually cool June evening, but the pavement still radiated the heat from the sun’s rays. As we walked, we didn’t notice the slithering object on the sidewalk ahead: a snake taking advantage of the warm concrete.
Your mom hates snakes. She despises them. And lest you think I’m more manly than I really am, I hate them too.
The sight of the serpent sent both of us into a panic. In the dimly lit dusk, a simple corn snake might as well have been a rattler. My terror froze me in my tracks while your mom took off running. It all happened so fast. Just a few steps into her dash, her shoe caught the curb, which sent her headlong into the street. Her hands didn’t break her fall, her belly did.
The impact from the fall sent her body into preterm labor. Her anxiety escalated into sheer panic. I remember her screaming, “Oh my God, I’ve hurt Matthew! Please God, not my baby.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen your mother more terrified than she was in that moment. I immediately placed her in my car, my hand holding fast to her stomach as we drove. I prayed for you. I prayed aloud to God for your safety as we raced to the hospital.
Son, tragedy will come. In those times, if you remember anything at all, remember His grace. Life can strip you of every freedom you have, but it can never take from you your freedom to trust in His provision.
In these moments, the world will provoke thoughts of fear. Fear is a thief. It steals from you the fullness of joy. Remember His words:
“Do not be afraid. Perfect love drives out all fear.”
The run-in with the snake and subsequent collision were frightening, but doctors were able to stall the labor process. Your mom suffered some nasty asphalt burns on her hands, knees, and belly, but we returned home after they stabilized her contractions. However, just when we thought we were in the clear, God had one more reminder in store.
On August 4, 2010, we welcomed you into the world. After nearly twenty hours of labor, our baby boy was finally here. The joy of the moment was quickly replaced by fear as the doctors noticed something. Your umbilical cord was tied into a true knot.
Somehow, you had configured your only sustaining lifeline into a knot. It’s a common occurrence, something like one in two hundred births. However, the tighter the knot becomes, the more damaging the effects.
You were just like your father. Your condition at birth was so incredibly similar to my own journey, tying a knot in my lifeline, suffocating myself from true life. Further wrestling for freedom on my own terms often tied the knot tighter and tighter.
When the doctor handed you to us, he said, “Everything looks to be okay. His Apgar score came back fine.” You were crying, so your mom and I figured we’d join you. The three of us sat in the delivery room and wept, together.
Son, no matter what you do, don’t neglect your lifeline.
Only now, as I look back on the five years of your beautiful life, I’m reminded that you’re my son by birth, but you’re my Father’s son first. Matthew, you represent a small fraction of the grace and mercy He has shown me. For that, I am eternally grateful. My prayer is that you would come to humbly appreciate this for yourself, giving you great confidence in His provision for your life.
Last night, you woke up after an accident in your bed. I went upstairs, changed your clothes, and wrapped you in my arms. You involuntarily placed your head on my shoulder, although I don’t think you really woke up. As I walked you down the stairs, I held your warm body close to mine. These precious moments are growing few and far between, but they take me back to the humble place where I realize all that God has done for us. I paused for a moment, smelled your hair, and kissed you on the crown of your head. I weep as I write this, but I also smile because I remember a final passage from the book of Joel that will eternally remind me of you:
“And you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you: never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will be people be shamed.”
As we celebrate your birthday, I am reminded that in God, there is no shame. No matter what you face in life, Matthew, I hope you would come to know the same.
Someone asked me why I would share something so personal, but when the stories and encouragement began to pour in, I saw the power in writing a letter to your kids. Would you join us in encouraging parents to write letters to their children?
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About the Author:
Matt Ham is a father to three sons: Matthew, Jr., and identical twins, Wyatt and Greyson. As a speaker and author, Matt helps people uncover the keys to living a whole life.
His first book, Redefine Rich, was published in 2015 and can be found at www.redefinerich.com.
For speaking inquiries, please visit www.mattham.com/speaking