Happy, Happy Birthday, Patrick!

Dear Patrick,

How happy are you this morning? We've put Fourteen behind us! It is my well-considered opinion that Fourteen is the most miserable age in the world for boys. And their mothers. And since, with you, everything is done in the superlative, Fourteen was pretty much the awfulest wasn't it?

Your Fourteenth birthday found you at odds with the world and me on bedrest, fairly powerless to help you navigate. We were knocked from our usual positions--with me behind the steering wheel and you navigating and entertaining in the seat beside me--and life was a bit chaotic for the first season of your Fourteenth year. I never thought I'd miss driving to soccer practice, but I did. Because I missed you. I missed the conversations that always began, "Hey Mom..." And I had a sense those conversations would never be the same.

After Sarah was born and I returned to my designated driving duties, you were silent. Fourteen had taken its grip and you were gloomy and pensive to the point of being unrecognizable. Gone was my angelic clown. Instead, we had Fourteen and all its ugliness and all its angry questions. You challenged the world in the dark winter of your Fourteenth year. You questioned everything and found most of the answers lacking. You stormed. Your eyes, once windows into sweet promise, darkened and flashed. And I was sad.

I missed you. I had seen Fourteen before, and I had great hope in what was to come, but for that time, I missed my darling little boy. Then came the spring. Honestly, I think Lori saw it first. From behind the lens of the camera, that day in the bluebells, she saw glimpses of the future. She captured images of the young man who was emerging in the springtime from the crucible of Fourteen. Her pictures gave us hope--both you and me. You didn't like being stuck there in Fourteen and you began to miss us.

Life moved along and on a glorious, victorious spring day, you saw that God was your own personal friend. Jesus became real and faith came to life again. I thought we'd vanquished Fourteen. The thing about Fourteen, though, is that it's often not just about the storm within; sometimes there is a storm without as well. You headed into a stormy summer the likes of which I could have never imagined. But now, we were united. We were strengthened by the survival of our storms. We were looking forward in faith.

You learned humility. You learned contrition. You learned to be forgiven. You learned who you your friends are. You learned how much Daddy and I love you. And unfortunately, you learned a whole lot about the ugliness of life in the grownup world. We learned beside you, because Fourteen is for parents, too. You handled yourself with strength and grace and dignity. You handled yourself like a man.

Now, we're back in familiar positions. I'm driving and you're talking to me. You're handling the directions, the iPod, the money for the drive-through, the happy conversation. We're celebrating Fifteen for all its worth. I know that we still have changes ahead. It won't be long at all before you're driving and I'm sitting white-knuckled in the seat on your left. Let me tell you a secret about that arrangement: when I sit on your lefthand side, I can hear you all the better (because my left ear actually works and the right one doesn't). So, keep talking. I love to listen to you.

I love you. And I couldn't be more proud of the hard work you've done this year. I couldn't be happier to celebrate with you the utter joy of Fifteen!

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Photo credit: Lori Fowlkes, who has a special gift for helping teens see themselves as God sees them.