Twenty-one years. Who could have known it would pass by so quickly?
I woke up this morning looking at old photographs, wondering what happened to the copper-topped little boy that used to sleep on my chest at night and ride around on my shoulders during the day. You were never too heavy. You were always a joy to carry.
It seems like only yesterday when your mom came to me with the news that you would be our son. You were so small, fragile and unassuming to this world. Born to abandonment, you were the chosen son of our youth. The Defender of orphans set you in our family with meticulous purpose and beautiful design.
We named you “Jacob”, after the grandson of Abraham. He too was born small, weak, and seemingly insignificant; yet he was chosen by God to be a Patriarch of a nation. God always chooses weakness to display His strength—smallness to magnify His greatness.
I still have the picture of you nestled inside my old ball glove wearing that miniature baseball uniform. Maybe you wouldn’t grow up to be a Patriarch, but I was sure you would be an all star someday.
I can remember coming home from work late at night (actually early in the morning), just in time for your 2 AM feeding—warming up a bottle and walking into your nursery. All the ugliness of my night-shift police patrol was wiped away when I lifted you from your crib and held you in my arms.
There in the peace of the morning, I was so content just sitting in a dimly lit room watching you watch me—your eyes glued to mine—both of us speaking in deep, father-son conversation, without ever saying a word.
As you lay there on my lap taking your bottle, I would fascinate over your tiny hands, smooth white cheeks, and fine strawberry hair. I couldn’t believe I was a dad, and you were my son. I was twenty-six when you were born and it was one of the happiest times of my life.
Then, just after your first birthday, you got very sick and had to spend a lot of time in the hospital. Your mom and I were young and scared and didn’t know what to do when you stopped breathing and had seizures. We spent that entire year in hospitals and doctor’s offices trying to figure out what was causing you to be so sick. No one could give us any answers. No one could help you get better. You were fading fast. I was falling hard. We cried a lot that year. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
But just as we were about to give up, we found a Doctor who could help. Or perhaps I should say, He found us. This Doctor was indeed a healer and I quickly discovered that the greatest sickness was not yours, but my own.
He picked us up from our hopelessness, held us up with His strong arms, and wiped away our tears with His gentle hands. He changed our lives forever by changing our hearts. He even healed your seizures with His mighty power.
His name is Jesus and you know him well, for it was you who introduced us to Him.
From that point on, everywhere I went I told people your story, which has become my story, which is still today God’s story. He turned your seemingly tragic disability into a wonderful ability to impact lives and spread His fame.
He taught us that all things work together for good for those who love Him. Even sleepless nights, and broken dreams, and seizures, and autism, and cerebral palsy, and pervasive developmental disorder non otherwise specified.
He has a good design for your disability, and we will not waste it.
The past 21 years have seemed most difficult indeed. But I am amazed looking back, especially in pictures, I don’t see the difficulty. Your smile and your magnetic personality are most obvious. The photographs simply show you and your brothers doing everything that brothers do, making our lives look so wonderfully normal. And when your sister came along, your smile got even bigger.
I can hardly find your disability in those pictures. I suppose this is just one ounce from the weighty greatness of God’s mercy and grace in my life.
I am still amazed at your one simple life, so well lived in His amazing grace, with such a display of His fantastic love. You were (and still are) an all star on His team—a trophy of grace on the shelf of God’s fame.
Jesus proclaimed that a certain man’s disability existed, not because of sin or tragedy or misfortune, but that “the works of God might be displayed in him.” I love that scripture passage.
Today, as you turn twenty-one, the works of God have clearly been displayed in your life. Thousands of people all around the world have heard of God’s grace in your story. Countless souls have been helped, healed, given hope, and saved. Someday, perhaps millions will hear your story.
But your story is still being written. As you grow older today, your strawberry hair has turned to rust and is thinning to baldness. The once smooth, white face is now roughly scarred with battle wounds of dark wars gone by. The voice that cooed in the morning is now a deep baritone, too often filled with anxiety and unease. Your hands are calloused; your eyes foggy, your teeth crooked, and your feet fit pale and bent inside your leg braces.
You are the most unlikely patriarch.
And I am the most unlikely man to be chosen as your father. How great is the grace of God’s unlikely choices!
I am now forty-seven years old, and as I sit here writing this letter to you I cannot help but wonder where the past twenty-one years of my life have gone. I am getting older and weaker; you are getting bigger and stronger.
Today we stand eye to eye, and I can no longer carry you in my own strength. But I rest in a strength that will carry us both to the end.
Sometimes when I look into your silent eyes, I still connect with those quiet mornings in your nursery, when all our dreams were before us—so young, fresh and new. And I wait patiently, in hopeful anticipation of future grace, for the time to come when you are set free from your disability. A moment of eternity when we will walk steady and talk of deep things that fathers and sons discuss.
It has not been easy being your dad, but it has been great. Greatness never comes with ease. I am proud that you are my son. I love you more than you will ever know this side of heaven. I cherish the memories of the past twenty-one years, and I look forward to the future adventures in your life as you display more and more the works of God for all to see.
Happy birthday buddy,