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Dear Derek
Expanded Web Edition
By Jay Mills

Dear Derek,

Today is the day you leave for college. As I pen this letter I am confident you are still asleep (I’m up early again as usual). My thoughts are on you, and I felt led to write them down.

I remember telling your mom shortly after your birth that all your “firsts” will be our “lasts.” I attempted to relish every moment I could and enlist a memory to sustain as you grew. First words, crawling, steps, day in school, and so on. I will cherish those memories the remainder of my life.

As you take this next step on your journey of life I felt the leading to share insights that might assist you along the way. I’ve heard it said that life is to be learned backwards and lived forward. My goal is to be transparent and share what I’ve learned through my successes and through my failures. It is the desire of my heart, Derek, that you realize all your dreams as you live life forward.

In no particular order:

1. Every mistake I’ve made has come when I departed from God’s Word. Successes and failures will come and go; its regrets you don’t want to have. Regrets are when you could have done something different and you didn’t. Failures are when you did your best and came up short. Stay close to God—you’ll never regret it.

2. Wisdom comes from God (Psalm 111:10). It’s the most important worldly possession. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs (a book of wisdom). Make it a daily discipline to read the chapter that corresponds with that day of the month.

3. Think positively (Philippians 4:8). This must be practiced daily. Don’t dwell on the inevitable negative. One technique I’ve learned is to shout it out. It’s impossible to shout (speak) a word and think something else at the same time (Romans 12:2).

4. Mistakes—They only become failures if you repeat them. If you learn from them, they become experiences. Forgive yourself (God did) and move forward.

5. Associations (1 Corinthians 15:33)—Be very careful who you spend time with. Make sure they have the character traits you value. A strong relationship means you can openly and honestly hold each other accountable. This goes for dating as well. Choose wisely! Many strong men have fallen due to pride (e.g. “It can’t happen to me,” or “I’ll change that person”). Move on if it’s not a fit.

6. Choose your core values. Once you decide on them, choose your priorities. You have to know what you stand for and where the line is that you will not cross before the temptation comes, and it will come and in many forms. You must also know what your priorities are so when decisions come you have a basis for making a good one. Or if there are competing interests you can choose the higher. It’s been said that a boat without a motor/rudder rarely drifts where you want it to go. You must guide and power it.
Also, don’t be afraid to make a decision. No decision is a decision, and, if you don’t make it, someone else might make it for you. A clear set of core values and priorities will be your guide. Pray! Remember point #4.

7. Happiness vs. Joy—Happiness is temporal and based on circumstances. If you focus on happiness you’ll be affected by everyone and everything. It is external. Instead, focus on joy. Joy comes from within. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is a choice and insulates you from the effects of the world.

8. Collect experiences, not possessions. Possessions fade, break, get lost or go out of style. Experiences last forever. Similarly, pursue eternal rather than earthly rewards. The former is of infinite worth whereas the latter is short-lived.

9. Have faith in God rather than fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). God is in control. No man can do anything to you without God’s knowledge and permission. Even if it appears negative, remember you are God’s son whom He loves. He will cause it to ultimately work out for the good.

10. It’s about Him, not you. You have passions (i.e. golf), and when you focus on Him, He promises to give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). If you make it about you, He will do something to get your attention and remind you that He comes first. Remember, a passion does not define who you are. Whether you succeed or fail, it is what you do. Who you are is your purpose. Your purpose defines your identity. Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose Driven Life”) states that you have five: worship, fellowship, evangelism, ministry, discipleship.

11. Free will vs. Responsibility—You have the ability to choose (and thank God we live in the USA where we can exercise this freedom). Since the beginning of time, people have tried to utilize free will without wanting to be responsible for the choices they make. You cannot separate the two. We all will be held accountable for our decisions (Romans 14:12).

12. Obey authority. The only exception is if the authority asks you to do something that conflicts with God’s Word. God places us under earthly authority to train us to obey Him. The true test of obedience is when you do not agree or the authority is harsh. It doesn’t matter; you’ll be held accountable for your submission or lack thereof (1 Peter 2:18).

13. Forgiveness and Trust—We are called to forgive (Colossians 3:13). We do not have to trust someone again. There is a difference. Remember, if someone has hurt you, their sin is against God, and He’ll take care of it. Don’t seek justice or vindication. You must forgive and move on, but don’t put yourself in a position to be hurt by them again.

14. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t underestimate eye contact and a firm handshake. It is proper etiquette to not shake a women’s hand unless she extends hers first.

15. Problems and Difficulties—When handled the correct way, these will bring about maturity, develop character and build self-esteem. The biggest mistake your generation makes is looking to be happy. It’s a short-sighted outlook that causes them to avoid or quit rather than persevere. Nothing of value can be achieved unless someone is committed to see it through. Obstacles are inevitable. The alternative is boredom. No test=no testimony (James 1:2-4). Rarely will God remove you from a difficult circumstance, but He will equip you to persevere through it. Don’t ask Him to get you out of it; ask Him to teach you and give Him thanks while you’re in the circumstance. He will exceed your expectations by doing this. Problems only last for a season (there’s a beginning and an end). At the conclusion, God will reward you for your faithfulness.

16. Final Thoughts…
Success is doing the best with what you have, where you’re at today. It’s striving for excellence, not necessarily winning. 
b. Prepare—This is your job. God is in the business of promoting. You never know when opportunity will come. Be prepared and wait for God to say NOW!
c. Love—Read 1 Corinthians 13. This is a good test to see if someone truly loves you and if you truly love them. To me, the key is “not self-seeking.” Self-seeking is manipulative and thus not love.
d. Women—You don’t go to them to get something you need. This is a sign of weakness. You go to God when you need fulfillment. You go to a woman to offer you strength. That is the wisdom of author John Eldredge, and I believe it to be incredibly insightful.
e. Work Ethic—Proverbs makes two promises: 1. All hard work brings a profit. 2. A man skilled in his work will be recognized for it. Genesis attests that a man was designed for work.
f. Accent your strengths instead of always working on your weaknesses. Do what you do well and do it better. Get someone else’s assistance in areas where you need help.
g. Don’t trade future blessings for ease today. As John Maxwell says, you can pay now and play later or play now and pay later. One way or another you’re going to pay! You get much more to your benefit by paying the price earlier, rather than for a lifetime.

Derek, these are just a few of my thoughts. They represent the old saying, “If I knew back then what I know now…” They are part of a game plan for life. As I tell my team, “Most games are lost rather than won.” I hope these thoughts will help guide you, and I hope I’m around as a trusted counselor for a long time.

I love you! I’m proud of you! Now, go take on the day!


Copyright 2007 Sharing the Victory Magazine

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