He set the goal when he was 5 years old.
He’d attended his very first belt testing as a Tiny Tiger at our local martial arts studio, and Superhero 2 fell in love with the discipline and values and challenge of tae kwon do.
“My goal is to become a black belt by the time I’m 10,” he told us following that first ever belt test where he traded in his white belt for one of yellow color.
For the last four years, this dedicated superhero has attended tae kwon do class after tae kwon do class, training up to seven hours per week this summer in order to meet this goal he set for himself before he could even tie his own shoes. He’s attended seminars and trainings and bo staff classes and local tournaments, and we’ve watched as he’s grown not only in competence, but in character.
And last night, at the age of 9 ½, he traded in the 10 different belts that went before this one and achieved a goal he set almost half his lifetime ago.
Last night, Superhero 2 became a black belt.
As our family and a fan section that included our family, my parents, an aunt and uncle who drove their kiddos eight hours round trip just to attend the event and even two of Superhero 2’s incredibly supportive former teachers cheered him on, my heart just swelled staring at this boy who has done something I would have never done at his age.
Followed through on a dream that took half is lifetime to complete.
Though he faced hiccups and challenges, and though there were seasons where pushing through the challenges of a new form or a new move were more frustrating than others, he marched forward, pressed onward and didn’t let even his failures deter him.
Not in tae kwon do, and not in life.
To celebrate this occasion, Super-Spouse and I asked some of the special adults in his life — former teachers, coaches and family members who have watched this superhero grow over the years — to write him a letter sharing how they have seen him wear his belt not only around his waist, but around his heart.
This is the one I bound in his collection.
Superhero 2, we couldn’t possibly be more proud of you. You, sweet boy, teach US so much about life each and every day.
Thank you for the gift of YOU.
Dear Superhero 2,
On this day where you celebrate the culmination of four incredibly hard years of work, I just wanted to tell you something.
I am so, so, so, so, so, so PROUD of you!
Baby, you have done what few other kids your age would dare to seek out to do. You set a really hard goal for yourself, and then you spent not just hours, not just days, not just months but FOUR YEARS of your life putting in the time and effort and energy and sweat to achieve that goal you set for yourself after your very first yellow belt testing.
That is almost HALF YOUR LIFE striving to meet this incredible goal you ambitiously set for yourself at age 5!
That speaks volumes not just to your motivation and work ethic, but also to your perseverance.
We know taekwondo hasn’t always been easy. There have been frustrating days when you struggled with foot position or couldn’t break boards on the first try. We know there were days you felt like you would never learn your bo staff form, or times in your life as a lower belt that you didn’t think you would ever achieve the power needed to execute a black belt form.
But you never gave up. You never gave in. You KEPT working. You KEPT trying. You kept attending class (sometimes two or three in a row) to gain the experience and teaching time you needed to make sure you were not just a martial arts participant but an A+ student. And look at you now! You, sweet boy, have come SO, SO FAR, and though you are usually the youngest in your belt at every belt testing, you give your ALL, you give your BEST and you leave nothing in the dojo. You are in, 100 percent and then some. You are an A+ student every day, every time.
I LOVE how you give your very BEST, not only on the mat, but in life.
You challenge yourself, and you dare yourself to be better.
By doing so, you also dare those around you to up their game.
It brings my heart SO MUCH JOY to watch you interact with your classmates and teammates. At school, you set an example of following instructions the first time, giving your teacher your utmost respect, and in Odyssey, you set an example through leadership. You give your coaches your full attention, you focus, you participate fully, and when it’s time to work through challenges as a team, you use kind and loving words and lots of affirmation.
You have an amazing ability with people, and others want to work with you and cooperate with you and follow you because you always take the time to affirm them and encourage them. Never lose that beautiful, beautiful trait.
What I am most proud of more than ANY of these accomplishments, though, is your HEART.
You, precious boy, have a black belt HEART. You constantly seek out the weak and the fatherless, the downtrodden and dismissed. You find those in our society who have the smallest voices or the least notice, and you make it your job to LOVE them, NOTICE them, EMBRACE them, CARE FOR them.
That’s the pure, unfiltered, unadulterated heart of CHRIST.
Whether it’s kiddos at your school who have superpowers like your brothers or children at Down syndrome walks with sparkly extra chromosomes, or dogs and pets who need some extra love and care, or babies who need held while adults have long conversations, you NOTICE those around you who could benefit from your sweet, tender spirit, and you ALWAYS jump in to help.
It melts my heart every time I watch you with babies or pets or younger kids or those the world says are “different,” because you don’t see “special needs” — you see superpowers in disguise. And you use the biggest weapon God has gifted you — that big, huge heart — to FIGHT for them with your LOVE.
Joel, you have learned at age 9 what many adults will never learn their whole lives long.
That LOVE is the best weapon of all.
You love SO BIG and SO WELL, and you don’t ever allow others to define for you whom should be loved or to what degree.
Not orphans. (You donated an entire Christmas and an entire birthday to them.)
Not students with superpowers. (You are your school’s special education class’s biggest cheerleader, and your Christmas gifts to them and your support of them at the Special Olympics means more than you will ever know.)
Not those around you. (One of my favorite stories is the one where you voted for the mascot name suggested by the little girl in your class who you didn’t think anyone else would vote for, simply so her vote wouldn’t stand alone.)
You allow God to work through you and that huge heart He gifted you EVERY SINGLE DAY, and your LOVE, baby boy, is going to change this world.
Because it changes other hearts.
It changes other minds.
It inspires others to get outside themselves and start living for others TODAY.
Black belts are leaders in their families, communities and countries. And as you step into this prestigious title today, we know that you are going to lead out in it so well.
Because you’ve been leading with your LOVE your entire life long.
So, so, so proud of you, and so thankful for the young man that you are. Jesus is using you bigtime, baby boy. Keep passionately pursuing Him.
Love you with all my heart,