Little Man’s birthday was today. He turned nine.
I know that’s not a “big” birthday to most people, but to me it was huge.
For the past several years, I’ve been struggling with the fear that my son would not be here for his ninth birthday.
I don’t have any specific reason I felt that way. There are certainly dangers in his life, more than for most children; there are things that could happen to him, but why I thought they would occur before he was nine, I’m not quite sure.
It was just always there. I couldn’t shake it. You have until he is nine, and then it will be different.
And it turns out, I was right.
The son I have known for nine years is no longer here. It’s different. Gone is the little boy who is the center of his own universe. In his place is a child who is navigating the balance of his own needs with those of a sudden-sibling.
He is so different. I am so different. We are not who we were two weeks ago.
He has aged before my eyes.
And what I see is both beautiful and raw, exhausting and thrilling.
Little Man has always been my teammate. I am of the philosophy that our culture too often separates career and work from family, the adult responsibilities from childish self-absorption. I have chosen not to. I believe that there can be and should be a healthy balance of responsibility and play, a working together to create a household. While children should be given the gift of innocence and the time to explore, I think that often we underestimate the ability of children to process and understand and invest in the lives of our homes.
I work from home, teaching English online—not much that he can do there to help. But he sees the payment envelopes arriving and knows that each check is a blessing of funds for our family. He does not worry for his needs, but he understands that his wants may go unmet for a season.
I also work for a film company, and his role there is much more active. He goes on every location scout with me; brainstorms ideas and suggestions for props and design and ways of setting a scene; searches for the elusive item needed to create a mood in a room. He takes such pride in his work, and I get to spend quality time investing in both my son and a craft that I love.
Certainly I am still the parent and I expect responsiveness from him. But I am on his side. I’m his team, his support system, and as I often tell him, I need all the information about things he is doing and thinking with all honesty so that I can be the best team leader I can be.
What I have been amazed by is how well this has translated to the hosting experience. We have frank conversations about the things that are hard for each of us, and we encourage one another to keep serving, to keep loving, to keep standing up and speaking the truth.
And so, today, the day that I didn’t think would come, this celebration of his ninth birthday…it didn’t come after all.
Little Man chose to give it up.
He asked to share the celebration with Soccer Boy.
Soccer Boy’s birthday was in April. But we don’t know how or if it was acknowledged. Little Man wanted to make sure he could experience the excitement of a birthday.
So he shared.
He chose to not have a large party with tons of people or have the spotlight to himself. Instead, we had a small party with my siblings and invited two families from church to join us at my parents’ house.
He asked that he get less so that Soccer Boy could have some, too.
The “wow”s were worth it.
We had a cookout, and I made a traditional birthday cake from Soccerboy’s and a traditional American birthday cake.
We strung their names up together.
The kids ran through the woods and chased each other and played basketball and beanbags.
There weren’t any official games or treat bags or bounce houses or exciting surprises.
There was just family and close friends, celebrating two lives. Two lives that matter so much.
I don’t know what the future holds for either of them.
The dangers are still there in Little Man’s life, the lurking shadows are ever-present. He is no safer than he was yesterday. But, praise God, he is also no less safe.
And Soccer Boy returns to his country in 18 short days. We might not ever see him again. He may not be safe, either.
But I don’t put my faith and my hope in safety or in a false sense of protection. Bad things happen. Children are lost, in distance or in death. But they are not forgotten. And they are no less loved.
Instead, I put my hope in the One powerful for protection and mercy, comfort and grace. His plan might not include safety, or proximity, or like-mindedness. But it will always include love.
I love you Little Man. And God loves you. He plan for your life may not feel wonderful to either of us at times, but it will always serve to make you more like him.
And I already see it.
Our time together may be long, or it may be momentary, but I am blessed to have had every one of those moments with you.