Happy birthday, Nelson. You turned one this week, you adorable person. May your hair always flame out like a halo. May your smile be broad and welcoming – even when you have a few more teeth. May you still make your cousins laugh even when you’re all in your 80s.
It’s not an easy road, being a boy. At least the kind of boy that I’m pretty sure God, your parents and Grandpa and I hope you will be. No pressure, though.
Some years back your dad (long before he even knew your mom) and I were at a restaurant that had little conversation starters at the table. Your dad read his and asked me its question: “What superpower would you most like to have?” I thought for a while and answered, rather lamely your dad thought, that I wanted to help people around the world learn to love one another.
“No, Mom,” your dad laughed. “Not that kind of superpower. Something like invisibility. Like leaping tall buildings. Never needing sleep. That kind of thing.”
To me, those were much less interesting answers – and much less powerful.
So – if I were doling out superpowers, what would I wish for you on your first birthday?
Today, this week, amid swirling, sorrowful news stories, I wish for you integrity. I hope you become a man whose actions match your convictions. I know we all fall short thanks to this mortality gig we’re currently in, but it’s a noble effort, a satisfying but rigorous process with many benefits both for you and for all who will eventually associate with you. Like when you’re in pre-school.
I wish for you a listening ear. Your dad has one of those. (Only one works well, but what a fine job he does with it!) Listen to wise advice from any source. Listen to the miraculous sounds of nature – chirping, crunching, swaying, flowing. Oh, they are magnificent. Listen to your parents and recognize how smart, kind and passionate they are. Listen to anyone who needs to tell you their stories – even when they are painful to hear and a burden to carry. Carry those stories in confidence when you must. Also be sure to share them with conviction, force and precision when lives and well-being are at stake. Listen to truth. Believe truth. Advocate for truth. This is important.
I wish for you humility. Jesus was all about this. He was no braggart. He really was “All That and a bag of chips” but He didn’t behave as if He were. He was too busy loving, perceiving needs, meeting needs, considering the lilies, healing, serving, wandering in the wilderness for a while to regroup, saving the world and hanging out with His friends (even friends that other folks looked down on). Lean on grace and dole it out generously. Yes, you have both the challenge and the privilege that comes from being a white boy in our society. Stay humble and be a good steward of your gifts.
And speaking of gifts, I think my grandmotherly birthday pattern will be a toy, a book and something to wear. But, since “you’re never too young to learn,” this year I’m bestowing these superpowers of integrity, a listening ear, and humility on you, too.
Always the right size. Always the right color.
I love you more than you can imagine. God bless you, my great and little Nelson.