Actually, the journey began about nine months prior to this day and when we went for our final doctor's appointment, he told us to go from his office to the hospital without passing go or collecting $200. (We didn't even stop at the business office to pay $200. :) That would all come later. As we waited through the night and then went into surgery for a last minute procedure, the reality had yet to set in. Very soon though, I was holding the most precious gift I had ever held in my life. Could it true that this baby boy with long black hair was actually God's gift to me and to Karen? Turns out he was, and now the reality began to sink in. Fatherhood. Over the years, God has blessed us with two more equally precious gifts, and each time I have been in awe of God's amazing grace towards me.
Daniel grew up in transition. The Lord moved us from full time ministry to Ocala, Florida, where we lived for ten years before the Lord moved us to Wauchula, Florida, back into full time ministry. The last transition was to a small town in West Tennessee where we still live today. I have learned a lot as I have participated with the Lord in Daniel's upbringing. I wish I could say I always got it right, but the truth is that most often I got it wrong. Praise God for His compassion toward His children. He was and is the Constant Guiding Force in what otherwise would have surely turned out to be a disaster.
Being part of Daniel's growth has taught me a great deal. Daniel has traditionally been one to embrace new opportunities, something that is very difficult for me to do. Whether going alone into his kindergarten classroom (which I was not particularly fond of, especially considering that his teacher was a young blonde who immediately caught his attention and turned him into a Gator fan long before he saw the error of following the lead of young women), running confidently onto the soccer field, deciding to pick up baseball and football as a seventh grader among boys who had been playing all of their lives, having the strength to change sports in his high school years to something that he would actually enjoy, moving against the crowd and joining the youth choir at church (something that he navigated around at every other step of his young life), or choosing a college, Daniel embraces life and lives that moment to the fullest. Daniel is a great student and athlete (especially in the classes and sports he enjoys), but most importantly Daniel is a young man who loves the Lord and seeks to know Him more. We have had our share of struggles, and through it all the Holy Spirit has used His word as a sword to fight for Daniel's heart. There have been those Satan used to pull him away from the Truth, and there have been others the Holy Spirit has used to pull him back to the Truth. Too many times, I have been guilty of violating Ephesians 6:4, which commands us as fathers not to exasperate our children but to grow them in the admonition of the Lord. Funny thing about God, though. He actually loves Daniel more than I do and because Daniel is a follower of Christ, the Lord has not allowed attack from the enemy or mistakes from friendly camps to bring destruction to the journey. Instead, the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus Christ has used every circumstance to discipline and grow Daniel into the young man he is becoming. God really does cause all things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to His purpose.
I love Daniel for many reasons, but ultimately I love him because he is my son. He is God's gift and treasure, and the Lord has entrusted him to me and to Karen for the last 18 years. I know that we are anticipating seeing how he transfers his dependence from us to God, and no matter how difficult that will be, God has designed it to be that way. I can only pray that I have been faithful to God's teaching about raising Daniel and that the times (way too many) when I have approached things from my own understanding will be couched in the protective hands of a Heavenly Father who always knows and does what is best.
Eighteen years have passed since that morning dawned, and each day has been a blessing. I can't honestly say that I appreciated each day in the moment as a blessing. Sometimes I wondered if we had somehow lost the manual that most certainly should have come immediately following the final exit of the child from the birth canal. For the record, no manual poured forth from said experience. A manual does exist, though. We read many books and listened to many tapes. The manual that has meant the most, however, is the one written by the Creator. Interestingly, the manuals that make the most sense and hold the best instructions are the ones written by the Creator of whatever you might need a manual for understanding. God, in His infinite wisdom, prepared instructions for us thousands of years before Daniel was born. When I read the commands and instructions from God, gratitude and humility overwhelm me as I consider how specific God was about raising my son - a stewardship from Him - before Daniel (or any of the recent ancestors) was even born.
Today is a special day when the Lord reminds me how blessed we are. I pray that today and every day Daniel will know that I love him more than life. I pray, as well, that Daniel will stay close to The Father who demonstrated His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Happy birthday my son, my friend, and my brother in Christ. I look forward to many more years on the journey.