To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 16th Birthday

Dear Elliot,

It’s a pretty decent possibility that this is the last year of me being taller than you. Probably also the last year (and maybe even the last month!) of me being a faster runner than you. You’re already more advanced than I am at hair-styling… soccer skills… abdominal muscle definition… affinity for contemporary musical trends… and all the strategy, tactics, and technique in the gaming world of Fortnight.

You’re surpassing me.

In my line of work, I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to the sensation. Sometimes it feels as if I’m merely jogging in place while all these young college students race past me in their social, emotional, and physical development. It’s weird, though, when this happens with a young man who used to be a young boy in our household, and even a tiny infant in our arms. What an absolutely breathtaking experience, to watch your life unfold in real time! In just a minute, it would seem, this cycle will reset and you’ll get to experience some of these same dynamics for yourself.

For now, however, you are sixteen years old. And even if another sixteen — or even sixty — years pass, I’ll still be proud to call you my son. My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.

I really do love you, Elliot. I am proud of the person you are, and the person you are becoming. No matter how much adolescent angst, aggression, impatience, indecision, and insecurity may occasionally get layered upon our interactions in these short years of our lives, I still see greatness in you.

I know about the difficult decisions you’ve made to steer clear from the classic pitfalls of high school social life. I’ve been observing at the way you treat the young women you’ve taken to school dances and such. You are a man of character.

I’ve watched you bear the burden of difficult decisions and absorb criticism from others like the time when your classroom geopolitical strategy backfired, as you tried to bring Portugal to the brink of world domination. I’ve seen you set goals, establish new habits, and push towards those goals. You are strong.

I love to watch you light up a room with your social energy. And on a more subtle level, I’ve observed the way you look out for your sister when she’s in an unfamiliar environment. I’ve seen how you throw your brother a rope of laughter, when he needs to be pulled out of a pit of discouragement. You bring peace and joy to others.

You’ve set yourself apart at Roosevelt High School, in academics, and music, and sports. You play a key role in the youth ministry at Riverwood Community Chapel. You take command of neighborhood sporting activities. You are a leader.

You are something truly special — and I’m not just saying that because it’s your birthday! I probably don’t tell you these sorts of things often enough, but it is evident to me that You are full of the surpassing power of God.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We’re all too aware of our imperfections, aren’t we? Even as I was writing out the thoughts above, it occurred to me how it can be tempting to dismiss words of affirmation, when we’re painfully acquainted with our deficiencies and shortcomings. I know that you’ve got cracks in your earthenware, Elliot. You’re not perfect because no one is perfect. But God is with you and in you, my son. You are a vessel for his glory and power.

I’m praying for you, this year, that you will be able to keep God at the center of your universe, more than yourself, or a girl, or an academic pursuit, or whatever… I’m praying that you will invite Him into your areas of insufficiency and insecurity, to remind you of His truth and power… I’m praying that you will use your areas of strength to serve others… I’m praying that you will continue to grow and surpass all of us in more and more ways.

But I am hoping that I can keep beating you in basketball for one more year.

Happy Birthday, Elliot. I love you more than words can ever say.

Much love and prayer,

Dad

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