Someone once said, “A big man is one who makes us feel bigger when we are with him.” There’s no one this describes better than my cousin Derek Russ.
Derek is passionate, full of courage, humble, and genuinely kind. He’s always been a few steps ahead, showing me the way to go (he is a little less than a year older than I am). I look up to him immensely and asked him to write a “Gift” to his son, Wyatt, knowing that his words and his heart would bless you, too.
I assume I was like most fathers when they hear that their first born was going to be a boy. I immediately jumped up and shouted, “yes” as I was overcome by a feeling of joy. My response may have made others think that I wouldn’t have been happy with a girl, which was definitely not the case. Having a boy, for me, meant an immense feeling of pride.
My mind immediately flooded with traditions passed down from my father; weekends at the cabin, coaching little league, basketball games and of course teaching you the numerous lessons that were taught to me while hunting in God’s outdoors. You see, being outside with your grandfather and uncles taught me to be a man that loves the Lord, as well as, strengthened my faith to withstand life’s greatest challenges. I had no idea that those same lessons were God’s way of preparing me for you.
The joy I felt soon turned to dismay when your mother and I were told that something was not right. You were measuring much too small for your age and the doctors appeared concerned. I was scared to death. Your mother and I ran through tests and procedures that eventually concluded that you weren’t “normal”, a word we’re constantly trying to define. You were diagnosed with a “Ring Chromosome 1,” a genetic disorder that was so rare that a prognosis could not be made. We were told that there were five other reported cases and that you were “not viable with life.” There was a good chance that you would not be born alive.
Your mother and I were overwhelmed…stunned…afraid and angry. How could this be happening? Why did this have to happen to you? We were no longer preparing ourselves for baseball games or hunting trips, girlfriends or driving cars… we were preparing ourselves for the possibility of losing you.
This is when I seemed to check out. Wyatt, I began to lose faith, I didn’t want to hope, I didn’t want to talk, but mostly I didn’t want to feel. In a strange way “facing the reality” meant keeping things realistic and listening to the doctor’s conclusions. I guess this is a typical response from us men, when we feel as though we can’t “fix” things we tend to ignore the problem. I became an expert at putting on a good face and saying the right things, but on the inside I was furious.
All of this news came during the fall and I spent much of my down time, as usual, out in the woods hunting. Only this time I wasn’t focused on the hunt, I wanted answers. I spent hours upon hours wrestling with God, crying out and begging for a solution to a Ring Chromosome 1. Over and over God continued to answer my unending questions with “Be still and know that I am God.” It seemed like He had a bigger plan for you and I was limiting my faith to a conclusion made by a doctor.
The fall came and went with you still making small gains. Your mom was told to count your kicks each day to make sure your heart was still beating. I don’t know how she made it through that, she is so strong. As we approached the end of January the time came for you to be born. After a day and a half of induced labor medication, your mother was scheduled for a C-section as your heart rate occasionally dropped. I prepared for the worse.
The moment they pulled you out of the womb I remember sitting there… starring, wondering if you were ok. Your mom couldn’t see a thing and asked “Derek, is he alive?” At that moment you let out the most wonderful cry I’ve ever heard and we were overjoyed. You were here. You had made it…now what? I wasn’t expecting this outcome, I didn’t plan for this, I prepared myself for the worst and there you were 4 pounds 3 oz. breathing room air and feeding like a champ. The strength you showed gave me back my feeling of hope and my feeling of pride.
You are two years old now and just over 10 lbs. You have so much patience and are one of the most content people I have ever known. Life continues to bring you challenges that you overcome with God’s grace. The experiences I once envisioned us doing together have drastically changed but new adventures have developed in their place. I no longer dream of homeruns or watching you shoot your first buck. I now pray for an opportunity to hear you speak or watch you take a single step. The only gift I’ve ever wanted to give you has been the one out of my control, the gift of Life.
You see Wyatt, you’ve taught me so much about the little joys life brings and have placed into perspective all the blessings I often take for granted. I’ve learned that being a father means to set aside my expectations, desires and wants, to truly understand and appreciate the role that God has entrusted to me. My job is to accept you as God has made you, love you as God has loved me and encourage you to find His perfect will for your life. I pray that God continues to bless you with many more years, days and unforgettable moments. I’ve been blessed to be your father and for that I am proud.
I know this article is supposed to be about me passing along a gift, so here it goes. I would like to pass this gift to the father’s reading this passage. I hope that you have an opportunity to see your son’s as I’ve seen mine. I hope that you witness their “imperfections,” their “flaws”, their “shortcomings,” and that when you do, you would display the same mercy, grace and humility that Christ has offered each of us. My initial expectations for Wyatt were performance based, selfish and honestly, shallow. Change your assumptions of what your son’s “should” accomplish and teach them to live a life that longs for an intimate relationship with God. Appreciate every moment you have together as you lead them towards the true “gift of life” that comes from knowing Christ and guide them towards eternal life.