This week, one of the greatest cries of my heart and answers to my prayers turns thirty-four.
From the start, my first born began to show his true colors.
He would hurry for no one! Not to be his Grandma's birthday present in early February. Not to be a Valentine’s gift to his great-with-child mommy. Not even to be a Leap Year baby for his very excited daddy. And, he definitely was not in a hurry to arrive on his due date. No, he waited and waited and waited. Then finally, after twenty-four hours of intense labor, my newborn was thrust into his new world via c-section, 17 days late on March 7. Our son was finally here, all 10 pounds, 3 ounces, and 23 inches long of him.
Despite all the drama and trauma, we were smitten! We completely and utterly fell in love with our newborn son, forever and ever! Even through the next three years of long sleepless nights and napless days. And, even as it became clear that he would be a tester of boundaries and a challenger of authority.
He was very cute and sneaky, as his personality began to shine through. Like the time his daddy sternly told him, "Daniel, do not touch that," each time his chubby little fingers reached out, again and again, for the colorful lights on our stereo system. We thought our little guy had listened, as he plopped down and stared. Until, he began to scoot forward, stealthily stretched his leg and bent his foot, until his toe was touching the forbidden object. Then our baby boy looked us right in the eye, as if to say, "and just exactly what is the boundary line?"
Our battles had just began. Our contentious little guy continually challenged our instructions and our conversations, just for the love of an argument. Until, early in his teen years, when his clever dad signed him up for a debate class. Our son was so mad. Until, he realized he was being taught to argue, and to argue well, and to argue to win. After that, he signed up for debate classes on his own.
This boy who loved to argue, who tested boundaries, and slowed down his ever-in-a-hurry mom, also loved to talk late into the night, to take things apart and put them back together (often creating something new), and still held his mama’s hand (much to her delight) even when it was not “cool” to do so. Plus, he was a lover of books, music, fun, as well as a faithful friend.
He also loved to be the boss, of everyone! Thankfully, my very wise husband saw the gift of God in the very behavior that drove us crazy. So, often, he would tell our son, “Daniel, God has given you the gift of leadership. You can be a bossy leader or a servant leader.” And after showing him what that looked like, he would add, "who would you rather follow?"
No surprise, the teen years didn’t get any easier. There was the phone call from the principal informing us that our son had been threatened by another student. And although my heart stopped, and I was sick with worry, I confess my very first thought was, “Oh no! What did he do or say?” (to bring it on). And, then there were the police officers who escorted him home after he was caught drag racing. (Our car won)! And, the phone call in the wee hours of the morning, our son frantically telling us that there was a car following him, the driver wielding a gun.
As tough and challenging as raising our first born son was for this mama, nothing prepared me for the long season where my growing-up boy had to seek out his own personal faith, not just the one we had tried to pass on to him. And my heart broke, and my soul prayed, as I watched him pull away his last year of high school, and, even more so, when he moved away to college.
Hundreds of miles away, with new found freedoms, we watched and waited and prayed through some poor choices, challenging attitudes, scary stories, and shakey acdemic moments. And yet, he loved for his mama, and his family, to visit him. When I did, he invited me to meet his friends, and to share with them my faith and love for Jesus. And, much to my bewilderment, because he was not commited to a church or serious about any kind of fellowship, each time we visited he handed me his tithe money to give to his old church home. It was one of the few spiritual disciplines he maintained. Go figure!
For three years, this mama wore callouses on her knees, praying for her wayward son. Until, the phone call. The one I didn't hear in a loud restaurant on a Friday night date with my husband. Our son knew to call me first. (I am the softy). But when I didn’t answer, he finally called his dad. And I watched my husband’s face, as I heard him ask, “why do you need to know the date of your last tetanus shot?”
Then I realized why God didn’t let me hear my phone. And, I understood why my husband was the one to learn the news that our son, our oldest, our first born, was in the hospital, his foot crushed from the impact of the car which hit his motorcycle, as he split lanes, in rush hour traffic, on the freeway, earlier that night. And, our shaken son, he knew he had had a brush with death. And, he acknowledged God had spared his life, one more time.
God was in it. My son’s heart heard and he turned back to our faith, but this time it became his own. And I wept. That was the spring, and in the fall I almost fainted when this son, whose former goal was to make a million bucks and live his life free and unencumbered across the border, called me to say, “Mom, I think God is calling me to ministry!” Sheer shock and total awe, as I never imagined I would hear those words out of the mouth of my first born son.
Our man-child began to change. He met his true love, and miraculously graduated college. Ironiclly, he became a not-millionare youth pastor in Las Vegas. And then my, “I will never get married and have kids,” son did get married and became a faithful husband and a loving daddy, as well as a hard working man. Plus, each time we go for a visit, we are blown away that he has also turned into a masterful gardener and a skilled craftsman, with interests and skills and gifts we had no clue where inside of him. Including a quality he had all along, but I'm sad to say, one that I missed enjoying all together, because I was so distracted with raising a never-in-a-hurry, boundry-testing, and contending son.
But, thankfully, one day, as we drove down the freeway near his home, my heart eyes opened and I beheld a wonderful quality he had always possessed. It was a quality, looking back, I now know I missed when he went away to college. For our house had become quieter, more peaceful, with fewer fights, but also less laughter. You know the deep, belly, laugh-until-you-cry kind of laugher. Laugher that always made me worried we'd be thrown out of a restaurant. (Wouldn't that have been fun). For the quality I had missed, and thus not enjoyed, was that my man-child is the most positive and happy person I have ever had the privilege to know, let alone to raise.
So, here we are, my dear first born son. It is your 34th birthday and I’m writing to tell you how very proud and beyond blown away I am that my not-in-a-hurry, tester-of-boundaries, lover-of-arguments son has grown up to be such an amazing, generous, kind, wise, selfless, and godly leader and man.
And, I write to you dear Mamas, to encourage you that your especially hard to raise babies will grow up. And you will love them more than ever, even though there are sleepless nights, and long days, and scary phone calls, and seasons of prayer for a prodigal to return home. Your son or daughter will grow up, and it will be worth all of your lost sleep, shed tears, undying love, and unshakable prayers!