God's Handiwork: Reflections on Our Child's 18th Birthday
The following is an open letter I wrote to Stacy’s and my son, Mac.
For we are God’s handiwork. —Ephesians 2:10a
The sunrise was beautiful this morning. A canopy of still shot explosions in blue and pink melting into each other. It reminded me of what the sky over your head looked like on a July night ten years ago. The sun was going down, but not before you got out every last pitch you could. You loved playing baseball, and I loved playing with you.
It’s your 18th birthday today. Memories like those are flooding my brain this morning.
You being pulled from your mother’s womb, all six pounds and five ounces of you, screaming your displeasure at this shocking new environment, and then becoming suddenly quiet when the nurses placed you in my arms and I spoke to you.
Pouring warm water over your head when you had baths in the kitchen sink.
Your umpteenth drawing of Batman, Spider-man, or the Hulk that you would ask me to cut out for you so that you could then glue it onto a construction paper background.
Watching all four feet and four inches of you stand proudly at the stove, cracking eggs into a skillet to make your own perfectly overcooked breakfast.
That night I brought home a bucket of KFC and you looked at it with sympathy for the poor chicken and became a pescatarian, which you are still.
The tears raining down your cheeks when you gently pet a tired, old Gracie, the cat you’d known all your life, as you said goodbye to her.
Checkers and chess. Ping pong and pool. Spelling bees and swim meets. Concerts and recitals. Bike rides and hikes.
Your first words. Your artwork. Your baptism. Your confirmation. Your learners permit. Your drivers license. Your SATs. Your college applications.
These recollections and so many more are hitting me all at once. But even if I could articulate every single one of them, type them all into a book titled “My Memories of Mac,” those words would not be able to capture how I feel about you. How I feel about you being in this world for 18 years now. How blessed I am to have watched you and to continue watching you become the unmistakable work of God’s hand.
When I reflect on you being and becoming God’s handiwork, I’m not talking about a divine plan for your future. To be clear, I do believe that God has a plan for your life and for all our lives, but I don’t believe it’s some Calvinistic ploy mapped out with every pre-determined step in an inescapable trajectory, regardless of the choices we make and that are made for us.
On the one hand, God placed before the Israelites life and prosperity, and on the other death and adversity, and God invited them to choose life so that they and their descendants would survive and thrive (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). And to choose life was to choose each other: to cultivate community, to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable among them, and to make decisions for themselves based on their intrinsic belonging to one another. Put simply, God gave you a brain. Use it well by using it faithfully: thinking about not only yourself but the well-being of your neighbor and the earth you share. Making everyday choices like that will enable you to lean into your being as God’s handiwork, to authenticate your personhood as the imago Dei, the image of God.
No, my reflecting on you being and becoming God’s handiwork is steeped in these feelings I have. See, if my feelings about you are so immense that all the words and images I have about you cannot explain them; and if my thoughts about you, which are always immediately under the surface of my consciousness, are marked by overwhelming fear and deep hope and unconditional love; and if every cliche to describe a parent’s devotion to their child—“I love you stronger than iron and softer than feathers”—falls chasms short of those feelings I have for you, then I am left in trembling awe of the feelings that the divine Parent of us all has for you and for me and for each and every one of us: the work of Their hand. If God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:25), and if I cannot begin to fully explain the love I have for you as your dad, then I certainly cannot fathom how much greater God’s love for all of us is in contrast with my human love for you. This is what poured into my mind this morning when I look at the sun rising on your 18th birthday.
These reflections have me wondering something else, too: If you and your sister hadn’t come into your mom’s and my life, would I be able to see the colorful beauty of the sky the way I do today, or would some of that beauty be lost on me? And as I wonder about this, I imagine God looking at the beauty of creation and maybe taking even more profound pride and pleasure in it because you and I and all of us are a part of it. You are my 18-year-old boy, and in you I am well pleased. And we are all God’s beloved children, and in each of us God is well pleased.
I’m so thankful for you coming into my life, Mac. I hope these words explain even the half of that feeling. Happy birthday.