I dread August. That’s when Joel leaves for college. It will be a long time before I get used to his not being here. His happy smile and tender hugs have always been a stabilizing force for the emotional ups and downs of our three teenage daughters. After Joel is gone, my wife and I will be left to deal with those mood swings all by ourselves.
Letting go is hard. I’ve been mourning Joel’s upcoming departure since his last show choir performance in March, the sadness growing with each major event on his school calendar–his final concert choir, Prom (with his new sweetie), and his graduation ceremony. The emotions I’m feeling are a bittersweet combination of sorrow and pride. The sorrow comes from the regrets I feel for all the things I did wrong. I didn’t impart enough wisdom to help him navigate the pains and difficulties of life. I neglected to show him how everything works–how to replace an alternator, how to take apart a snow-blower, and how to rechain a chainsaw (who am I kidding–I can’t rechain a chainsaw to save my life). But I am proud of Joel because in spite of all my failures as a father, he seems to have turned out just fine. Moreover, I have great confidence that he will do well.
Why such confidence? Because Joel is under the loving eyes and powerful arms of a gracious God who designed and created Joel precisely and purposefully. As Joel takes his next steps in life, I’m confident that God will direct him–not necessarily on the easiest path, but most certainly on the best path. God granted Joel some of the finest qualities a person can possess–qualities of genuine friendliness, self-motivation, and relational maturity. With these wonderful gifts, God has equipped Joel for good works devised at the beginning of time.
Joel’s tender friendliness makes others feel comfortable in his presence. Joel has always been a hugger since his early days when he used to twirl his mother’s hair while nestling in her arms. He was a fierce wrestler, pinning me on the family room carpet many times. His enjoyment of being close to people has remained constant through his adolescent years, and his tenderness has not waned. There’s nothing as disarming as a genuine hug, and there’s nothing quite as uplifting as a well-timed hug from Joel. The world had better get ready–a whole lot of tenderness is coming its way, courtesy of Joel.
Joel has always been friendly, but this year in particular, I have been impressed by his initiative. He would never call himself a math genius or physics whiz, but he is bold enough to ask questions. Joel is not a natural book-learner, but he applies himself, works hard, and engages people. He’s the kind of person that learns best when he tries things on his own. He was the first in our clan to apply for and secure a job at a local movie theater. With determination, he applied himself and got the scores he wanted on his ACT and math placement tests. And, he was the first in our family to try out for show choir where he excelled, earning the Director’s Award and Most Improved Senior honors. These confident, self-motivated acts are the kinds of things that change the world, things you like to see in your kids.
Finally, I will comment on Joel’s relational maturity. Joel is so much more emotionally prepared for life than I was at his age. In my high school years, I was a complete psychological mess of immaturity, self-absorption, and reclusive insecurity. Joel, on the other hand, is comfortable in his own skin, thoughtful of others, and most alive when surrounded by people. Of course, Joel had an unfair advantage–he grew up in the middle of four sisters; two older, two younger. I had none. It was just me and my older brother. Girls were alien to me. I had no idea how to act around them, was obsessed with what they thought about me, and completely insecure in my own scrawny frame. In mixed company, my conversations were awkward and forced. Dances were horrifying. But not so for Joel. He has natural confidence to mix in any crowd. He brings out the best in others without having to think about it–he just does it. When I was Joel’s age, I let my values be influenced by those I was trying to impress. By contrast, Joel always seems to know the right thing to do–and he does it. In all of his relationships, Joel has earned the trust of his mother and I. By far, this is the most valuable gift a teenager can give his parents, and a gift this world needs desperately.
I’m grateful for all of Joel’s peers, especially his friends at Marion High School. I’m thankful for the way they accepted Joel, made him feel at home (although it is not too difficult to make Joel feel at home!). He didn’t have the history of growing up in that school system, but that didn’t matter. They considered him one of their own, even though his time with them was short.
In every bit of creation, we see an aspect of God’s character. When I see Joel, I think of God’s loving, friendly, relational nature. For 18 years, I’ve sat in many a bleacher seat watching Joel perform. This next phase will be exciting as God develops and matures those qualities–and I’ve got the best seat in the house! My prayer for Joel is Paul’s instruction in Philippians 1:9-11…that his love may grow in real knowledge and discernment by his growing closer to the God who defines love, the God who created him with powerful gifts designed to bring people joy.