It’s not that I didn’t see this coming, right? I’ve known for a long time that Oakli, my oldest child, would turn 18 this week. Come to think of it, I guess I’ve known for, well, 18 years.
It’s also not as if I could have possibly forgotten. She’s been reminding her mom and me of this date for, well, 18 years.
Recently, while discussing her big day, I asked if she’d allow me to dedicate this week’s column to the lessons I hope she’s learned during her journey to 18. Not only did she approve, she offered to write her own version and share her own view of the lessons. (Click here for Oakli's perspective.)
We agreed not to collaborate and she submitted her own article to my editors at the Deseret News under her own byline. I can’t predict what five lessons she’ll come up with. I only know that choosing just the five I hope she’s learned hasn’t been easy.
First, I hope she’s learned that God lives and that because of his perfect love for her, he has provided a path home and it is found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. By making and keeping sacred covenants, she can return to live with him and experience an eternal life of happiness. Many other life lessons will come, but they all point back to this one. The gospel is true.
Second, I pray she’s learned she’s beautiful and has been reminded of it every single day. Not because she has her mother’s lovely hair or stunning eyes, but because she radiates divinity. She is beautiful because she is the daughter of a perfect God who doesn’t make mistakes; he only makes miracles. The world will tell her that unless she mirrors the images of beauty as sketched by Hollywood and New York’s ad agencies, she’s nothing special. I hope she’s learned to see through those lies. She is beautiful.
Third, I want Oakli to turn 18 with the unshakable knowledge that she has unique talents. Just like your children, she was blessed with the capacity for greatness. But the realization of that greatness doesn’t come by accident. Talents are an asset that require active investment. They will not grow by absentee ownership. I hope she’s learned that the parable of the talents isn’t just an entertaining Bible story, rather that it’s a heavenly principle.
Fourth, I want her to know that family comes first. Friends and fads come and go, but her family is the eternal anchor. All those family home evenings, crazy traditions and late night trips to Wal-Mart in our pajamas weren’t just about good times. They were deposits in our family account, and she’s invited to withdraw for the rest of her life, whether she’s living across the hall, across the street or across the country. Family first.
Fifth, I hope she’s learned the life skills to be successful when there isn’t a chore chart hanging in the hallway. Keeping a clean, organized room isn’t just about finding her favorite sweater when she's running late and her mother won’t always be there to remind her it's laundry day or that her bed won’t make itself. I want her to believe that internal and external cleanliness often reflect one another. It might not be found in scripture, but it’s still true. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
If you have your own 18-year-old, I suspect Oakli’s road trip to adulthood sounds familiar. There have been mistakes, triumphs, heartbreaks and countless lessons learned in every imaginable way.
But since we are counting, I think I’ll add a sixth. I hope Oakli Shane Wright has learned how much she is loved on heaven and earth. May she always know that I love her on the days she turns my hair gray and I love her in the moments she makes me so happy that my soul smiles.
Oakli, I love you because you’re my daughter.
Oakli, I love you because you remind me of your mother.
Oakli, I love you because you make me want to be a better dad.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "Picturing Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, picturingchristmas.com or jasonfwright.com