This week, my only child, John, turns 36.
It’s hard to comprehend. He’s 6-foot-2, has an MBA, a good job, a wife and five kids.
But in my mind, he ought to still be that talkative, geeky, tow-headed boy I used to haul to t-ball games and Ninja Turtle movies.
I loved hanging around with him then, as I do now. When he was little, I took him everywhere, sometimes even to the university classes I taught. He’d sit at a desk and draw until class was over. Then we’d stroll around campus and look at the fallen leaves and pick up acorns. He’d ask a million questions.
He was the sweetest kid I could ever imagine. Always smiling. Always glad to see you. Always adopting some stray cat. Always kind to younger kids.
Obedient. Funny. Curious.
When he was hardly more than a toddler, three or four years old, he stopped me in the hallway of our apartment.
“Daddy, where’s Jesus?” he asked out of the blue.
I launched into some theological soliloquy about Jesus having left the world and ascended to heaven and — he cut me off.
“No,” he said. He jabbed a little finger at his chest. “Jesus right here. In John’s heart.”
Back then, we lived over the kitchen of a Pentecostal church where I was the pastor. My office was a room just off the church kitchen. Sometimes when I went downstairs to study, he’d want to go with me. While I worked in my office, he’d head into the nearby sanctuary and bang on the worship team’s drum set.
As long as I heard the drums, I knew he was OK.
One day I was reading when the drums stopped. They didn’t start back up. I headed toward the sanctuary to check on him.
When I was just outside the sanctuary’s entranceway, in an anteroom, I heard him talking to somebody. I hadn’t heard anybody come into the church, so I paused a second to figure out who was there.
Then the drums started up again.
I went on into the sanctuary — there was nobody present but John.
“Who were you talking to?” I said.
He stopped playing again. “Jesus.”
“Oh, you were praying to God?”
“No,” he said. “I was talking to Jesus.”
“Where was Jesus?”
He pointed with a drumstick toward the aisle beside the front pew. “There. He was watching me play.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“He said, ‘John, I like it when you play the drums.’”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ And he smiled. Then he disappeared.”
How do you direct a kid such as that?
You just try to get out of the way.
After he hit puberty, I warned his mom of the trouble ahead.
“I was almost as sweet as he is until I hit about, oh, sixteen,” I said. “Then I completely lost my mind. Turned into a hellion.”
“John won’t ever do that,” she said. “The Lord’s hand has always been on him. He’s different. He’s not you.”
She was right. The kid never rebelled. He remained as tender-hearted and humble at 16 as he’d been at 6.
While he was in high school, his mom fell ill with cancer. Later, he chose to commute to college rather than live away on campus, so he could help take care of her.
During her illness and after her death, he became my boon traveling companion. The two of us roamed everywhere. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Charlestown, S.C. Memphis. New Orleans. Atlanta. Anyplace I could think to go, he was game.
We shared a house after his mom died, two bachelors, until he married in 2008.
He chose a marvelous young woman as a wife who has become like a daughter to me. She’s often said that John’s the best person she’s ever known.
They’ve given me five grandkids I adore — who frequently remind me of their dad when he was a child.
I say without hesitation he’s the best father I’ve ever seen. I tried hard to be a good dad myself, but he puts me to shame.
He and his family live an hour away, but they still drive back and forth to our church in Mount Sterling every Sunday. John still plays in our church’s praise band. He’s the assistant pastor, too.
We talk on the phone, or at least text back and forth, every day, no matter where we are. We discuss everything from UFOs to UK football.
Every time I see him, he hugs and kisses me hello, and he hugs and kisses me goodbye.
I simply couldn’t have asked for — or imagined — a better son.
I say none of this to brag. I take no credit for any of it.
Most lives, mine included, include great heapings of pain and disappointment. In this world, we surely do have tribulation. All of us. Nobody escapes unscathed.
But every once in a while, in one arena or another, God gives us better than we expect or deserve. He bestows upon us some special gift that bears nothing but joy.
For me, my son has been, and continues to be, such a gift.