Once again I am up early this morning. It is not even 5:30 AM, and I have already been at my home desk wading through the treasures of yesterday, my birthday. Yesterday was a strange day, actually. I had a couple of pressing church-related responsibilities that kept me distracted and unfocused on the presenting event, beginning my forty-fifth year of life. The day itself was rather full, and the evening was no exception.
Two of our sons, Wilson (10) and Leon (14) had their first baseball games of the season, Claudia and I both had evening meetings, and there was no time to cook or prepare for any kind of celebration. Beginning at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon life in our home shifted into high gear as the component parts of our family began moving in different directions. Our fourteen-year-old daughter Mercedes needed to get to her job at McDonald's. Leon had to get to his game site by the appointed time. Wilson's game was close enough to our home that he could walk to the field. Ricardo had soccer practice. Dominyk was not yet home from his PCA (personal care attendant) time. Claudia and I wanted to share a little time together before heading our evening meetings. I wanted to catch at least some of one of the boys' first baseball games.
Amongst the drop-off's Claudia and I found about an hour to have dinner together, while our oldest at-home son, Rand (20), facilitated further schedule issues and coordinated the feeding of available family members. I dropped Claudia off at her meeting site after our shared meal and zipped off to watch the first forty-five minutes of Wilson's game.
If you read this blog regularly you understand that I am no sports fan. I have never been a sports fan, from the earliest days of my life. But I am a big fan of my kids, so year after year I have found myself sitting in uncomfortable portable chairs or on hot (in the summer) and cold (in the winter) metal bleachers watching everything from football, to Tae Kwon Do, to wrestling, to basketball, to soccer (a fan of which I have become over the past couple of years, by the way), to hockey and myriad other athletic pursuits of my children.
I do not always understand the lingo of each particular sport, nor do I fully grasp all the intricacies of the rules. (My wife, on the other hand, does understand most of those details, so I often turn to her for explanation. Yeah, I know. Kind of gender atypical, but hey, it works for us).
Last night as I sat watching my third grader play his first baseball game of the season I was blessed with a few moments of gracious solitude. I sat in my chair, not that uncomfortable, although I was a bit chilly (the past week or so in Minnesota has been unseasonably cool, with highs barely reaching 60 degrees most days). I observed these young boys and their coaches, grateful to have the opportunity to be the parent of a younger kid again. As time ticked by I began to wonder if I would actually get to see Wilson bat before I had to leave. Just before I needed to depart Wilson's turn came, and I watched with pride as he picked up the bat, eventually hit the ball and made it to first base. His 62-pound body with spindly legs can run, and his brace-toothed smile always brightens his face. As I passed by him on the way to the car I congratulated him. He smiled and waved as I said goodbye.
I must admit I was a little preoccupied and brooding as I drove into the church parking lot. The tightness of schedules necessitated a significant meeting on the night of my birthday, and I would rather have been watching my sons' baseball games. But responsibility calls, and I did my best to explain the situation to both Wilson and Leon. Wilson's earlier response to Claudia (when she explained the difficulty of our schedules for the night) had been, "Well, it's going to be hard for me to win this baseball game if no one is there to watch me." Fortunately both of the boys were gracious in understanding that last night was a difficult one, but that we would be at most of their games in the near future.
The focus of my meeting at church concerns the broader vision and future of our life together as a congregation. The content is not without controversy, but what was shared received largely positive feedback. By the time I walked to my office before coming home it was well past 9:00 PM. After making an important telephone call and sending a few quick emails I walked through the darkened corridors of the church facility to my car in the parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God for the opportunity to serve in a church with bright possibilities and huge opportunities for the future.
Pulling into our driveway a few minutes later, our house appeared darkened except for two windows. Expecting to be enveloped by the silence of sleeping bodies, I was surprised that a few people were still awake, awaiting my arrival. Our oldest son and our dog Gizmo were out the door before I got to the house. Stepping into our entryway our daughter Mercedes greeted me with a warm smile and a huge hug. She asked how my meeting had gone and I responded positively. Skipping down the stairs I looked into our darkened family room, where I had heard voices and said, "Hi," not certain who was actually there. Our sons Ben (17) and Ricardo (15) and one of the boys' friends (15) greeted me in return. Looking for the baseball players, I found Leon in the garage looking for a lost item in the van.
"So, how did your game go, Leon?" I asked.
"I won it," was his response. (I think it's always interesting when a kid playing in a team sport responds in the singular to a winning game than in the plural, but that's another story altogether).
"That's great! What was the score?"
"I'm proud of you, Leon."
Before I could issue another congratulatory word, he said, "Yeah. I won it for you, Dad."
I was momentarily stunned by the words. I cannot recall, in raising our older kids, many of whom have been involved in sports or other activities over the years, ever hearing one my kids tell me that. The warmth that radiated from his face, the delight in his eyes to know he has parents who care about what he is doing, the sheer joy in being part of a family that will never leave him ... in that split-second the emotions and the benefits of older-child adoption flooded me with gratitude. I thanked Leon for his words, apologized for not being there for the game and told him how much I loved him.
Stepping back inside the house I began to look for Wilson. He had just stepped out of the shower, wrapped in a large towel, his jet-black hair glistening with water, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"So, Wilson, how did your game turn out?"
I congratulated him and then listened as he reeled off several sentences of baseball jargon that I tried to follow. I gathered from his rapid-fire report that his work on the team had been important, that he enabled several home runs to take place and that he had the honor of taking home the game ball. (Or something like that).
"Oh, Wilson. I'm so proud of you. That's exceptional!" I responded.
And then he, like his older birth brother minutes earlier, touched my heart with a treasured word. "I put something in your 'treasure box' for you on your desk. It's a picture." Earlier in the day Wilson had been a Cub Scout day camp event and he had painted for me a green, glitter-covered wooden treasure box. I walked the few steps into our bedroom to see on my desk a 3 x 5 inch picture of WIlson in his baseball uniform, prominently displayed in the opened green, glitter-covered treasure box.
Smiling with joy a bit of a tear crept from my eye. "You know what?" I rhetorically queried Claudia, sitting nearby. "I think the kids we currently have home now are going to make up for all the pain and difficulty of our early years with our older kids. These kids are going to help me leave behind a lot of my disillusionment and cynicism."
Turning forty-five wasn't that bad. It was a day of mixed emotions and responsibilities, to be sure, but I feel like a very fortunate man to have had such a treasured day.