Happy 16th birthday son.
It was nearly 14 years ago when your mom and I pulled into the driveway of that old farmhouse in
That smile worried us at first because the social worker who was over the adoption process warned us of your behavior. She told us you were out of control, and maybe even dangerous. I had to wonder how “dangerous” a two year old could be.
We brought you home and that smile of yours won the hearts of everyone in our family. As far as your “behavior problems”, they were solved with the introduction of a little firm discipline and a lot of unwavering love. You still had a rotten streak a mile wide, but most times you were just a little boy, being a mischievous little boy.
When you were three or four years old, I quickly recognized a gift you had for showing love and compassion to those who seemed to need it most. I used to take you along with me to the nursing home to visit the sick and the elderly. They loved to see you coming into their room with that cherub face and that beaming smile.
One time in particular I lost sight of you while speaking to one of the nurses. As I searched the floor for you, I saw you walking down the hallway holding the hand of a confused elderly woman. You looked up at me and said, “Dad, she’s lost, I’m going to help her find where she lives.” We took her to her room and you climbed up on her lap. She thought you were her son from years past. She stroked your hair, called you by her son’s name, and rocked you for the longest time. You just sat there content to let her visit her “long lost son.” We prayed for her and she was so happy. I knew then that God had given you a very special gift of compassion.
Over the years I have seen that gift at work in the life of your brother Jake. I know you sometimes had trouble dealing with all of Jake’s disabilities. He vented his frustrations on you many times, probably because you were the smallest. But you never retreated too far and you always responded in love, patience and compassion. I think that is why when we go to visit him now he clings to you in a very special way. People always remember compassion.
You have also been an outstanding big brother to your little sister, Hope. I always take into consideration that if it weren’t for your persistence in prayer, we might not even have a daughter and sister. You used to pray every night (for years) that God would send you a baby sister. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a little boy praying for a little sister, but you did. Your mom and I just laughed, not even realizing that another baby was on the horizon of our lives. And against all odds, God answered your prayer and sent us Hope. Don’t ever forget that God answers prayer.
You have been a good friend to your brother Noah. It’s quite an honor and blessing to have a brother that is also your best friend. Both of you have been through a lot together, and you have overcome much with the Lord’s help. Do not ever forsake that relationship. Very few men find a friendship like that. Never take it for granted.
You have been a good son. I know I have made a lot of mistakes over the past few years as your father. You have seen me at my best and, sadly, at my worst. I haven’t been as patient with you or as encouraging as I should have been. I have often been slow to listen and quick to criticize. I have spent a lot of time majoring on the minors and picking at the flaws while missing the very qualities in your life that make you uniquely you. I am sorry for this. Yet through it all, you have never been disrespectful to me. You have never judged. You have always loved me with an undeserving love. Thank you for these things.
Now that you are 16, a whole new world is in front of you. You will be driving soon, Lord willing, and you will be a junior in high school this year. A lot of good times are ahead of you. I hope you make the best of them. This also means that you are approaching adulthood. It won’t be long until high school is over and the real world will be knocking at your door. I want you to be prepared to open that door.
So, as my birthday gift to you, here is a few things I wish someone would have told me when I was 16. Some I have borrowed from other great fathers; most I have learned from experience. The bad news is that I decided against the 2011 red Mustang turbo convertible. The good news is, in the years to come, this may become your favorite (and most useful) birthday gift ever:
1. The most important thing you can do is love God and love people. Everything in life flows from this one commandment. (Matthew 22:37-40)
2. Choose your friends wisely, they will influence you more than you realize. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Be a unique leader, not an average follower. Don’t let your desire to impress people make you do stupid things. Be yourself and people will be drawn to you, and respect you.
3. Who you are when no one is looking is a true test of your character. (But Someone is always looking, Proverbs 15:3)
4. Take your time with girls. Set the standard high. Find a godly woman. Look for a woman who most resembles your mother’s heart. She is the best example I have ever seen in a woman. If you find her--or she finds you, she will be more valuable than all the treasure you could ever dream of. (And she will be worth the wait, Proverbs 31:10-31)
5. Live your life in such a way that when people say bad things about you (and they will) no one will ever believe them.
6. Every decision that you make has a reward or a consequence. Your reputation is built over a period of many years, but can be destroyed in one minute with one bad decision.
7. Don’t just settle for a “job”. Find a career where your gifts (of care and compassion) can be used to the fullest. Move towards a vocation where you can live your life helping people. Your reward will be more than a salary.
8. Don’t waste the life God has given to you. You will have less regrets in the end if you do what God has called you to do.
9. Always be slow to anger, quick to forgive and quick to show grace. (James 1:19-20) Remember that Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins was a complete act of undeserved grace. Think about that when you are wronged or when you are treated badly by people. (Hebrews 12:2)
10. Be humble. (Proverbs 11:2) The truest form of strength lies in humility. Here is a good definition of what it means to be humble, “Humility is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing done to us, to feel nothing against us. It is to be at rest when nobody praises us and when we are blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed place in the Lord where we can go in and shut the door and kneel to our Father in secret, and be at peace when all around is trouble.” (Andrew Murray)
There are many more things I wished I knew when I was your age, but the truth of the matter is, you will discover them as you grow and live. Some will be harder to learn than others, but if you remember and recall these ten things, they will help you with the others.
I love you son. Happy Birthday.