A Tribute to My Son on His 18th Birthday

Traumatic is the word we use. When his heart rate crashed on the monitor, we knew something was terribly wrong—so wrong, that within moments, the NICU team had burst into the birthing room. A nurse soon climbed upon my wife, began pushing forcefully upon her swollen abdomen and commanded me to “get in her face and tell her to PUSH!” It was traumatic.

Only later did we learn that umbilical cord had become wrapped around his neck and during birth, had cinched into a knot, and cut off oxygen. Already in the birth canal, it was too late for a c-section. He would have to be delivered, and sooner than later. Seconds counted. Much longer without oxygen and he potentially would have severe brain damage.

As the well-trained team of physicians and nurses extracted Schaeffer into the world, he was a deep blue and straining for life. I continued to pray, silently, humbly, yet fervently. Eventually, the first breath of a cry could be heard and his body began to grow pink with freshly oxygenated blood flowing in his tiny body.

Whatever damage took place, it did not affect his intellect, nor his growth. Now, at eighteen years old and six feet tall, he will be riding a sizable scholarship into college. His 4.0 plus GPA is matched (and maybe surpassed) by athletic ability. If you can compete, he’s in. But not just to win. Schaeffer loves the fellowship of sport. Watching or playing, if it is a group activity where friends are together, engaged in the action, then he is in his happy place.

My happy place is when he is around me. I think his mother and siblings would agree. He makes any moment more alive, with a wit that is life-giving. Some folks who have missed out on the laughter in our home may hard time believing how genuinely funny (hilarious) Schaeffer can be. It can take him time to “warm up” to new friends. But when he does, the result is a devotion and authenticity that may be rare in friendships with young men his age.

What may stand out to me more than his humor is his kindness to the friendless. His radar for the lonely or marginalized is remarkable. It is a virtue that can only be attributed to the indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit. I should have recognized this being woven into his heart from a young age, when he would rescue spiders and ants, even scorpions, from the judgement of my heel. Rather than have me squash the invading pests, he would scoop them up in a cup or on a piece of paper, only to relocate them back into the woods, where they would be able, in his words, “to reconnect with their families.”

When I think about what life will be like for Schaeffer as he leaves home and makes his way in the world, I can only imagine how blessed his own family will be. If he can learn from all of my mistakes, he is going to make an amazing husband and father. Just to witness how much he cares for his sisters, and sincerely enjoys them as friends, is just a foretaste of how I expect him to cherish the girl whom he will marry one day. Not to mention the fact that God has established in him a biblically grounded, grace-centered worldview that not only is unshakable, but is a legacy that gives me great joy to know will be passed on to future generations.

When he was a boy, I used to pray over him every night that God would make him a leader. In honesty, I think I just wanted him to be able to resist the temptation from peers who may pressure him into destructive life choices. And of course, the kind of leader of which we normally conceive is the strong, domineering presence who knows how to give directions and issue commands. Little did I know that the kind of leader God would create would be a young man who does not lead by loud command, but by quiet influence. With a secure identity of who he is in Jesus, Schaeffer is not a people pleaser. However, that confidence of being comfortable in his own skin has not had the effect of repelling his peers, but just the opposite. People love to be around Schaeffer, which brings me back to my own personal experience of my son.

He not only has gifts; he is a gift. I am so very thankful that the Father has allowed me to be his father. From having him sleep on my chest that traumatic night he was born, to watching him cultivate a love for animals and a passion for sports, to playing wrestle with him on my king-sized bed when he was small, to watching him hit his first home-run in little league, to scoring his first touchdown in rec league football (and then the next, and the next, and…), to observing him trust God while persevering through a two-year hip injury sustained during basketball practice, to working diligently on his academics while battling the challenges of dyslexia, to our fishing trips together, to playing “horse” in the driveway, to hearing him pray “to Jesus” at the dinner table… all of these memories, and countless more, form the tapestry of a relationship with my son that I will treasure throughout this life.

Even as I try, I cannot adequately put into words how much joy it brings me to be his “Daddy.” Nevertheless, even though inadequate, words are important and they matter. So, “Schaeffer, never forget or let this ever waver in your mind: you are loved, accepted and treasured, period. Not because you are or ever will be successful, fast, good or smart, but simply because you are mine. I will never stop loving you. I will never disown you. You will be the object of my deepest affection for the rest of your life. So now, in the power, peace, hope and joy of the Spirit, be sent into this world as an adult, and live in the freedom of a beloved and treasured son!”