Happy Birthday! It’s a weird birthday, with everyone ordered to shelter-in-place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, I’m praying that it can somehow be a Happy Birthday.
You’ve brought so much happiness to my life over these last eighteen years — and a person’s 18th Birthday is such a significant milestone — that it just seems appropriate to with you happiness. But then again, I guess you’re also kind of weird, too (in a very lovable way). I think of your funny voices, the pranks you pull, your bizarre fascination with jumping from great heights into deep waters, and all the other weird and wonderful things you do. So, the weirdness of this occasion is perhaps also somewhat appropriate. So: here’s to a Happy, Weird Birthday for you, Elliot!
In all my 43 years, I’ve never experienced something quite like this COVID-19 situation that’s overshadowing everything these days. Such unfamiliarity is surprisingly rare at this stage in my life. I usually have some level of life experience from which I can draw wisdom for a given situation, or at least I know someone to whom I could turn for wise counsel. But not with this situation. We’re all learning as we go.
You may actually be in the most ideal phase of life to learn from this experience and allow it to inform a lifetime of leadership at home, in the church, in the marketplace, and in society at large. You’re old enough to understand and remember, but young enough to hold this knowledge for decades and decades into the future.
I’m hoping and praying that the COVID-19 pandemic will not be all waste and loss and grief — although these will be prevalent themes through much of life. I’m hoping and praying that there might be some light at the end of tunnel, like the Hebrew prophet Joel was promised by the Lord during a time of famine and plague: “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts… Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God…” (Joel 2:25-26). I really don’t know what the coming months and years will hold, Elliot. Nobody does. But I know Who holds the future, and that brings me a great deal of comfort.
Your mother and I were filled with a sense of awe and joy, when we learned that you had been conceived. I remember watching a sunset in August of 2001 and just soaking in the beauty and power of life continually renewed and reproduced by our Creator. I was so happy to be a father. It felt like such an honor.
But then, only a month later, our lives were challenged and changed by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. As I’ve been racking my brain for parallels to this pandemic, September of 2001 is the best comparative data-point my mind has been able to conjure. It was another time when millions of Americans vacated the public square, scattered to the confines of their own homes, worried about what might still be coming for them, and watched lots and lots of television to try and get a handle on what was happening. (It’s not anywhere near the scale, duration, or personal threat level that we seem to be experiencing right now, but still…). You were still in your first trimester of development — but suddenly it felt scary to be a prospective parent. The beauty and power of life was tempered by the terror of death and destruction. I was horrified to think that I was responsible for bringing another person into this mess. I was sobered by the realization of all the emotions and experiences that together make up life.
Over time, I’ve made peace with these things. A tenuous peace, granted. It’s been disrupted and unsettled many times — including the last three weeks of dealing with our pandemic — but I’ve always found my way back to faith, hope, and love.
You were born on Good Friday. We brought you home on Easter Sunday.
There’s powerful symbolism in those days of the Christian observance of Holy Week. I’m not trying to pronounce you as any sort of “Chosen One” (I mean, would a “Chosen One” really have that much difficulty putting his laundry away?!?). But I fully believe that you have what it takes, Elliot, to live a life that is informed and empowered by both the crucifixions and the resurrections of our world. You have what it takes to be a man who provides strength, courage, and leadership in a balanced, faith-filled, hopeful way that brings people back to the greatest thing that will remain: love.
Unfortunately, the “Fridays” are going to keep coming. You were brought into the world during a time of war. You’ve come of age in a time of pestilence. And in between, you’ve experienced all sorts of disappointment, disillusionment, and death. Your coaches have overlooked your potential. Your hard work for DECA has gone unrewarded because of state and national competitions being canceled. Your dating experiences haven’t amounted to much because of miscommunication and mismatched expectations. Your own sin and brokenness have caught up with you, as well. The loss of such a significant swath of your senior year is only the latest in a long line of losses to be grieved, past, present, and future. And even though I’ve often wished to shelter you from such pain, I’ve come to see that it’s impossible. No father (even our Heavenly Father) can spare his son from the “Fridays” of life. Now that you’re legally an adult, you’ll have to increasingly bear the brunt of this painful reality.
But take heart! Don’t be afraid! You have what it takes to reject passivity, embrace responsibility, lead courageously, and live with an eye on eternity. I believe in you. And I hope to walk with you for many years to come, providing love and support. From an appropriate distance.
The Good News is that “Sundays” are going to keep coming, too. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. The Cleveland Cavaliers completed their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA finals on a Sunday afternoon. War and pestilence cannot stop the daffodils from blooming each spring, and they haven’t stopped you from growing into a fine young man, either. You are remarkably full of life.
Physically, you amaze me with your size and strength. You drink three gallons of milk per week, and you eat twice as much as I consume in a given day. You elevate above 10’ basketball rims to throw down dunks with authority. You astonish me with your speed on the track and your power on the soccer pitch. Life is just bursting out of you as you grow, Elliot, and it’s amazing to watch.
Intellectually, you show an incredible aptitude for learning. How many books have you zoomed through already over the last two weeks of school being cancelled?!? Maybe ten?!? You were so ready to rock that DECA project with Kyle, before the state and national competitions were cancelled. You scored almost twenty percent higher than I did on the ACT exam! I’m super-proud of your intelligence.
Emotionally, too, I’m so impressed with your maturity and consideration for others. You are one of the best gift-givers I know (especially when it comes to gifts for your sister). You thrive when you’re around other people, and I think it’s largely because your heart is so big — so full of life.
Best of all, though, I have great confidence for your “entrance to adulthood” and your ability to navigate all of the Fridays and the Sundays, all of the crucifixions and the resurrections, because of the way that you exude eternal life through your relationship with God, in Jesus Christ. Spiritually, you’ve grown a lot in the last year. You’re taking off — like you do on a basketball dunk, like you do on a standardized test, like you do meming with Danny to make TikToks for millions — and with the Resurrection power of Jesus on your side, it feels like the sky’s the limit.
You are a large part of the reason why I feel so strongly that we’ll make it through this pandemic. You’ve got everything that you need for life and godliness through your knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 1:3). There’s nothing that can separate you from the love of God — so if He is for you, who can ever be against you? No one. Nothing. (Romans 8:31).
I’m so proud to call you my son, Elliot. I’m so glad that we get to celebrate your life today, even as there’s so much fear of disease and death around us. I really do wish you a Happy, Weird Birthday! I love you, and I’m looking forward to seeing what God does in your life.