A Tribute to My Eldest Child on Her 18th Birthday

Click on the image above to play a 3-minute slideshow of Ann Ferris through the years.

My eldest turned eighteen today. On the books, Ann Ferris now is an adult. In my heart, she always will be my little girl. But truth be told, Ann Ferris is not a little girl anymore. She is growing up into a beautiful young woman. As I reflect upon this gift whom God put in my care almost two decades ago, several thoughts rise to the surface as I seek to describe God’s grace in her life.

  • Ann Ferris loves to laugh. She is so fun to be around. It is difficult to describe the emotion that will be expressed in the tears that her parents and siblings will shed when she leaves for college next fall. We are thrilled about the next chapter in her academic, spiritual and social life and want her to go make the most of it, but we will miss her terribly.
  • She is a friend’s friend. If I were a teenage girl, I would pray for an Ann Ferris to be my closest friend. She is honest, loyal, repentant and forgiving, demonstrating the best of what a gospel friendship is supposed to be.
  • She is discerning. I do not think that I have met anyone her age with such a robust and functioning biblical world view that centers on the gospel of grace in Jesus. This has led to much mutual encouragement in our home as well as deep, rich, edifying conversation.  In this, she is not only a role model for her younger siblings, but for her parents as well.
  • She is intelligent. Her range of knowledge, from literature to history to philosophy to science, art and theology far surpasses mine. And I am the one with the doctorate. Yet, with her unique intelligence, she is neither condescending nor proud. Intellectual brilliance combined with a genuine humility can only be attributed to God’s grace.
  • She is a writer. From the time that she began reading at four years old, she has wanted to be a writer, a gift that now is more reality that mere dream. I am stunned not only by the clarity of thought she is able to communicate through writing, but also by the power of logic, reason and creativity. Whether creative writing or a paper for research, she is most at home when putting her thoughts on paper.
  • She is musically gifted, both instrumentally and vocally. From her role as Ariel in our community theater’s production of The Little Mermaid to leading worship for our church on Sundays, I love to hear Ann Ferris sing, whether she is on the keyboards or just at the mic. And when she leads on Sundays, she does not just sing the words, she feels them. She actually worships as she leads. I just love it. Soli Deo gloria.
  • She is an apologist. She loves the gospel and is able to engage quite easily with those who do not. Yet, her goal is never to win an argument or prove her case. She does not merely desire to defend, but to commend the beauty of the gospel so that others will come alive to the wonder of God’s grace in Jesus through the cross.
  • She has a missional heart. I suppose much of this could be attributed to the fact that she has grown up in a church planting, missionary family. Yet she has personalized the mission. She owns it and I expect that she will carry her missional heart with her wherever she goes. Sharing God’s grace in word and deed is now in her spiritual bloodstream. In fact…
  • Grace is the defining truth of her life. She knows that her righteousness is not in any of her accomplishments or gifts. After all, I could easily create a long list of reasons why she, along with her daddy, needs Jesus as her sin-bearing, righteousness providing substitute. Since we all have thorns in the flesh, we all deal with besetting sins and a variety of weaknesses. But it’s no fun to bring up those details on a birthday tribute! 🙂  After all, because of Jesus, we are now the totally forgiven, perfectly righteous, eternally treasured objects of the Father’s affection. If there is one thing we’ve wanted to emphasize to our children, it is that message, and believing that changes everything.

After eighteen years of child-rearing, Kristy and I thank God for his work of grace in her life and in the lives of our other children. Be sure of this, Ann Ferris is not the product of good parenting. She is the progeny of God’s grace. And we could not be more grateful! This emphasis on God’s grace cannot be overstated, lest it appear as if we are advocating some form of insidious moralism where the goal of parenting is to raise “good kids.” No. The goal of parenting as disciples of Jesus is not be mere behavior modification. Rather, the goal is heart transformation, where the child comes to understand and embrace the grace of God for them as a sinner. We do not merely want rule keepers. We want to raise Jesus lovers, who love him because they know that they have been loved by him.  Additionally, any good thing that we do or any commendable virtue we manifest is totally and unequivocally the work of the Holy Spirit from within. This includes our children. God gets the glory for saving us (justification) and changing us (sanctification). As the gospel tells us, the Father does not love us because of what we do. He loves us just because we are his. And the same is true of our love for our precious, treasured daughter, Ann Ferris. We don’t love her because she is beautiful, fun, smart, or talented. We are grateful for those graces. But we love her just because she is ours.