Happy Birthday, Elliot!
Fourteen years ago, you were just 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Only 18.5 inches long. Today, you’re buying your own running shoes that are about the same size you were back then (men’s size 10!). And you’re making the purchase with your own money, exercising your own judgment on the merits of cost versus quality, new versus used, Nike versus Asics… And you’re taking those shoes to run your own races (with the school track team), looking ahead to involvement in high school athletics next year…
It’s just crazy to me how BIG you are now. Not just physically. Not just in terms of the responsibilities you carry. I simply can’t help but notice the way you take up an increasingly significant space in our home, in your school, in the community. You’re developing competence and confidence as a young man, and I’m super-proud of the ways you’re rounding into adulthood. We all still make mistakes along the way. But I think back on the last year, since the time we jumped into the freezing cold waters of Lake Michigan — and Manhood — and I smile to realize how you’ve really done a great job of rejecting passivity, embracing responsibility, leading courageously, and keeping your eyes on eternal rewards. We’ve got a lot to celebrate with this, your 14th Birthday.
Still you’re at a very critical age. There is such amazing potential with your current phase in life! But also incredible pitfalls.
Do you remember the time about a month ago when we rented Star Wars, Episode II, Attack of the Clones? You guys were pretty excited to start the movie after we got home that afternoon, so you scrambled to get all the school stuff put away. At one point, you and Cor were both rounding the corner between the Mud Room and the Dining Room from opposite directions, and you collided with each other. Do you remember? Not that such collisions or moments of brotherly friction are all that exceptional. It’s what happened afterwards that stuck with me.
In the moment you responded with physical aggression: puffing out your chest, towering over your brother, raising your voice. Instinctively, I moved to intervene — to get myself between the warring factions — and that’s when you tried to push me away. And your size and strength were substantial enough that I couldn’t just brush off the contact. As far as I can remember, that was the first time you issued such a direct, man-to-man challenge. So, how did I respond? I called up my own primal power: puffing out my chest, towering over you, and raising my voice. My response was no more mature, no more measured. I responded like a silver-backed gorilla, a cagey old buck, asserting my dominance with the flash of my eyes and the breath of my nostrils.
After a brief cool-down, we watched the movie we had been in such a hurry to see. And in it, an adolescent Anakin Skywalker starts coming to terms with his own rising power, for good and for evil. In particular, Anakin Skywalker demonstrated a tendency toward overwhelming emotions of anger and passion. So much so that when I saw the film the first time (probably around the same time that you were born!), I thought that the actor’s part was over-played. I couldn’t relate to the character or the story-line. This time around, however, Anakin Skywalker’s development seemed like such a vivid picture of the fulcrum upon which your life — and our relationship — balances these days.
I have no reason to believe that we’re headed for the Dark Side. On the contrary, I’m very thankful that our relationship is quite healthy. The dust-ups, the incidents of antlers clacking, are brief. They blow over quickly. We have open avenues for communication into friendships, romantic interests, physical development, sports involvement, academic pursuits, and so on. You seem to be generally open to God’s voice in your life, regularly moved by something you hear at Riverwood or H2O, spiritually-charged after a retreat, and so on. Still, I want you to know that I’m praying about your ongoing development. I’m not praying from a place of pure desperation, but I am appropriately desperate to seek God’s guidance through this season of parenting. I want to be wise and take advantage of opportunities.
So in that vein, I want to pass along a Bible passage that came to mind as I prayed for you today, on the occasion of your 14th Birthday. The passage is Hebrews 12:1-3. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Harness your power and passion to this race, my son: the race of faith. Take those man-sized shoes you’ve got, and run hard after God. I hope to be an example and a part of that great cloud of witnesses who can spur you on — but regardless of the ways you and I connect or clash, I pray that you will lean into your relationship with your Heavenly Father. And let Him guide you into glory.
I love you so much, Elliot. I’m pleased with you. I’m proud of you. And I’m praying for you.