Happy 17th Birthday Buddy

(this is my annual Birthday letter to our kiddo, Levi, who passed away a few hours after birth due to prematurity coupled with sepsis. I started this a few years after he was born and decided to write one every year–up until his 18th Birthday)

Dear Levi,

This is my second to last Birthday letter to you.

Some of these have been simple, others playful, and a few mournful.

Though never during one of the days over these last 17 years have I not felt a deep sense of peace about your passing. If I could change anything, well, I wouldn’t. Not because I don’t desire it (deeply) but I’ve always felt at peace that this was part of The Great Plan–even if, at a lot of times, I resisted it, felt incredible despair, or simply didn’t understand it.

But I’m going to come back to The Great Plan in a bit. 😉

Royce is finishing her Sophomore year at Colorado Christian University. She’s studying to be a nurse, which is PERFECT because soon, instead of googling my hypochondria tendencies, I’m going to have someone in the family that I can text or call 24-7.

I love going to the campus to visit her, even though every time I’m there I want to take photos together and there are all sorts of guidelines I have to follow, like “Dad, you can’t ask those kids to take our photo…and not those over there…not those kids either…but you can go ask the policeman to take our photo.” I keep trying to tell her, “Hey look Royce, I am sure all these kids will think I am a cool dad and I’m not going to say anything embarrassing and…okay I’ll ask the cop to take our photo…” I am so super proud of her.

Zoe is in her senior year of high school and is also doing great, she got a job at Trader Joe’s so  now I will spend time literally looking for something–ANYTHING–that we need in the kitchen so I can conjure up an excuse to stop by her work, pick up an item, and check in on her.

I go so often and am, apparently, so eagerly talkative to all the staff when I visit, that I’ve also got guidelines from Zoe that I need to “slow your roll, Dad!” including “Dad, you can’t just be introducing yourself to all the people that work at Trader Joe’s telling them you’re my dad and asking them all these questions and telling them how much you love Trader Joe’s and asking about me.”😂

Once you become a Dad, and I don’t know how to explain this, but it’s like some genetic code gets turned on and it’s with great resistance that one must try to throttle some of these idiosyncrasies.

Dad jokes are the most obvious example. But, apparently, so is walking around Trader Joe’s “shaking hands and kissing babies” being insanely proud of your kid that works there or walking around your kids college campus being equally insanely proud of your kid who goes to school there.

As a parent, one of the greatest things you get to experience is watching your kids grow and develop to become their own person. It’s also one of the toughest, because the decisions they make aren’t always (often) the ones you’d make as a parent. Sometimes they’re way better. Sometimes they’re not.

And that’s life.

It’s a great gift to be able to see someone develop their independence and grow into their greatness and purpose. And, always, that includes difficulty, disappointment, and struggle along the way.

That’s also part of The Great Plan.

On your Birthday, it’s often mixed with a lot of different emotions. As time passes contexts changes, too. And every year I feel more and more convinced that this, everything, all of it, is part of The Plan.

We’d all love The Plan to be a heroic journey with an amazing outcome that’s free of pain, friction, despair, and struggle and, instead, we would far rather achieve this outcome of a perfect life, full of abundance and riches, vibrant health, easy and idyllic relationships free of pain and suffering.

What I’ve learned this year, more than any other year, is that if left to our own plan we would end up in a disastrous state. It’s contrarian to much of today’s hyperbolic narrative–especially but not limited to my San Francisco backyard–where it’s often a story of pursuing your happiness and pleasure is paramount to pursuing a life of purpose.

Sometimes, maybe often, the two are at odds. The Great Plan is a life of purpose.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

And this includes all of the things: heartbreak, travesty, despair, disappointment, and brokenness. Sometimes the consequences of our own (terrible) decisions and actions. Other times, through supernatural events that are inexplicable and–seemingly unconscionable–but are a part of The Great Plan and directed by a sovereign Hand under which we have no control but only submission.

Among others, there are three truths in life:

1. God is Good; 2. God is Sovereign; 3. Bad things happen (there is evil).

How these three reconcile is still a mystery to me.

The only way this comes together to make any sense to me is through faith and understanding the fact that there remain many things that we will NOT understand, at least until the  afterlife and that as part of the journey we have to learn to accept and believe that “…all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

Even when it feels like a shitty outcome or that we’re dealt a bad hand. Maybe, especially, when it feels that way. And, it’s possible that often, what we see as good may not be good for us, and vice versa.

This is the reconciliation that I’ve come upon for your birth and death. That this was not due to some mistake, a lack of prayer or faith (over the years, some have implied this–for which I carry no resentment, but it’s a deeply flawed conviction that’s not backed up by anything scriptural), the fault of a medical doctor, traveling the week before you were born, or any number of interventions done or undone…but instead, this was just part of life’s journey, which includes heartache and heartbreak and the outcome of which can build within us a humility, seeking, and dependence on something that’s more powerful and meaningful than the “god within us” and, instead, a powerful “God above us” who has created for us a Great Plan that is incredibly more meaningful and purposeful than one we’d ever create on our own.

Buddy, I can tell you would’ve been a great kid. I have had many moments of joy thinking about what life would have been like with you over the years, and there have become many moments of really deep revelation and meaning watching other Dad’s with their sons. Often, this is as simple as stopping to watch from a distance as they play catch in the park, or are biking by, running errands….so many moments I’ve stopped in my tracks to take 60 seconds to live vicariously as an outside observer watching a Dad and his son, reflecting on just how epic it would be to have had a moment like that with you. Though it may sound sad, these small moments have given me great joy and peace.

Life is tough. And life is amazing.

All of it is a gift, and in the pain there is a great opportunity for us to get to move one inch closer to our purpose. I’m grateful for the gift of your birth, and am at peace with your passing as well, because however this has worked out because I know it’s part of The Great Plan.

By the way, as you know, our dog Ruby died this year. This was a far more emotional and deeply sad experience for me than I ever expected–and probably for reasons that extend beyond just Ruby’s passing, but every day I get this great comfort and sense that (in a way that I’m not sure is very rational or logical) there is now up in heaven a really adorable dog playing and hanging out with a really adorable kid. In some way, I think we’ve been able to release a part of us to be up with a part of you. Give Ruby a hug for us.

Happy 17th Birthday Buddy.

Love it. No matter what.



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