Leave Him Out of This

Dear Will:

It would no doubt embarrass my son Seth if I made this letter about him. Being embarrassed—often—is one of the risks you run when you’re my kid. Inexplicably, Seth doesn’t like it. So in honor of his 16th birthday, I have decided to leave him out of this thing altogether.

I won’t mention, for example, how he is one of the most driven people I know, self-motivated in a way that laggards like me only dream of. I’ll leave out his exemplary academic record and his over-the-top sense of responsibility. I won’t tell you about how he has worked since he was much younger and shorter to build his faith and testimony through daily prayer and scripture study. I’m not going to bring those things up at all.

And even though I’m sorely tempted, I won’t sneak in the fact that last week he learned that he has been chosen by the National Eagle Scout Association as the Orange County Council’s winner of the 2014 Adams Award, given in recognition of his outstanding Eagle Scout leadership service project (which, you may recall, involved the construction of a new enclosure for the bald eagle at the Santa Ana Zoo). Dana and I are, of course, too proud for words—which is why I have chosen not to even try tell you about it.

What I will tell you about is this: As you watch a boy grow from toddler to teen, morphing and stretching and contorting from a little and cute boy body into a long and skinny adult body, you can’t help but marvel. I’ve spent just enough time around just enough boys to state with some degree of certainty that God does have a hand in the development of those who invite Him in. We read frequently in the paper about those who do no such thing, but in scripture we read about remarkable young men who have accomplished remarkable things with God’s assistance, in stories that might not be at all believable had I not had the privilege of witnessing the whole boy-to-man transformation right before my eyes.

I think, for example, of David, who sauntered onto the battlefield to take on Goliath, a man so large and intimidating that no full-grown man in the Israelite army was brave enough to answer his challenge. As the boy David approached, armed with nothing but a sling and five smooth stones. Goliath was dumbfounded, then amused, and the following conversation took place:

And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?. . . Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.”

Then said David to the Philistine, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” (1 Samuel 17:4245)

You may recall that things didn’t work out so well for Goliath following that little exchange. And who’s surprised? He was facing a young man who had so lived that, when he needed to, he could place his faith and trust in God. And as a consequence, the Philistine was completely outnumbered.

At this point I might be inclined to draw a parallel between David and Seth, who is similarly prepared to battle whatever giants may stand in his way. But since it’s his birthday, that seems somehow inappropriate. Besides, I decided to leave him out of this thing altogether.


Answered Many Times Over

Dear Will:

I was a horrible Boy Scout, among The Worst Scouts of All Time according to some pundits. To wit: I never earned so much as one merit badge. Over the course of my Scouting career, I ascended to the rank of Second Class, which I think in those days required that you show up to a meeting and recite from memory the Scout Motto (“Be Prepared”). Second-class indeed. More like Low-class Scout if you ask me.

So you cannot begin to calculate the magnitude of my stupefaction over the fact that my very own son, Seth, has become an Eagle Scout. It’s an occurrence that seems simply impossible. If you’re anything like me (and I pray that you aren’t), your first thought on hearing that news is: Excuse me?

And yet it’s true, due in no small part to the excellent leadership of adults who are quite decidedly Not His Parents. He has been blessed with the inspired influence of several talented men who have provided him the instruction and good example that his father never could have. His Scoutmaster, Warren Owens, has set high standards for him and his fellow Scouts and expected them to live up to those standards. Since Seth became a Boy Scout at 11, Warren and others have taught him, coached him, tolerated and disciplined him, devoting time and attention and love to him as if he were one their own sons.

And then, to his credit, Seth has added to that good influence his own motivation to achieve. Case in point: To reach this rank, Seth has earned nearly 30 merit badges (whose son is this?). For his final project, he raised over $10,000 which he used to rebuild the bald eagle exhibit at the Santa Ana Zoo. You should go there and check it out, reminding yourself as you gawk that the work was organized and directed by a 14-year-old. Remarkable.

I’m reminded of the helpless feeling that Dana and I had when we brought our firstborn, Luke, home from the hospital for the first time. There was no owner’s manual, no service contract. There are more detailed instructions on a bottle of shampoo than you get when you bring home an infant. I remember all too well those first panic-filled weeks of parenthood. How do you hold this thing? What does that cry mean? Who would entrust us with something so fragile? I was fairly certain that we were going to break that little thing. (In fact we did: Luke’s leg was in a cast before he had learned to walk. But that’s a story for another time.)

We prayed hard in those days that our ignorant efforts might be supplemented by a steady dose of Divine Intervention: Heavenly Father, watch over our son. Keep him safe from harm and illness. Help him to be happy, and bless him with just enough success and sufficient opportunity that he may live up to his divine potential. Please don’t let our poor parenting be a detriment to him in any way, today or tomorrow or later in life. And when he is not with us, please send angels to watch over and protect him and show him the way.

It’s a prayer we have offered in some form for each of our children every day of their lives. A prayer that has been answered many times over by people such as Warren Owens. Angels. Sent from God. In answer to the heartfelt pleading of two parents in way over their heads.