Today’s the day. Your golden birthday. Twenty years old on September 20th. Officially, you are no longer a teenager. And you look like a man with your hairy legs, lean and muscled body from running, and face that Dad and I still have to remind you to shave—at least on Sunday mornings.
Twenty years old. You turned four when we were in St. Petersburg adopting you on this date, sixteen years ago. We celebrated both your adoption and your birthday with an airplane-topped cake I bought in a bakery down the street from our apartment. And we all wore silly cone hats and blew paper horns and ate watermelon that our helper Ilya brought because that’s the Russian birthday tradition, he said.
Beside the busy street you walked with us, hand-in-hand, singing “machina, machina”, Russian for car, and we picked you up and swung you over puddles. You laughed joy. You were so little then—and pale. With not enough food to eat and intestinal parasites stealing even your meager supplies, dark circles under your eyes spoke your story.
When I look at you today, I can’t help but think about the odds. You weren’t supposed to survive your birth, but you did. And something in you determined to live, even without parents, even for four years in an orphanage.
And then you came into our hearts and our home. Our years have been a roller coaster of ups and downs, of twists and turns. We know. We’ve struggled right along with you.
Remember when you were so torn up that no one would hire you—for years? Remember our prayers? Remember what demon voices have said about you, trying to steal your hope? No one can steal what God gives. No one.
Remember the times you pressed your temples tight, lamenting “There’s something wrong with my brain!” as if squeezing your head might fix, might heal? We cried with you. But we all got back up from the falls, dried one another’s tears, and kept walking in faith. That’s what we do when hope starts to slip and reality looks bleak. We help each other up and just take the next step. And God always leads. Always has. Always will. And whatever comes will be good—just right for us. Because He loves us so. We love you so. Dad and I and Anna and Nick and you—we’re forever family—come what may. Remember this truth, this day.
We can all say now, can’t we, that our struggles have grown us for good, have made us stronger. Yes. We are in a better place today. A thankful place. We’re thankful God has kept His promise to never leave us or forsake us, to never forget us. Remember what your name means? Zachary comes from the Hebrew for Zechariah which means, “God has remembered.” He has. He always will. All of us.
Dad and I are thankful for where you are in life right now—of what you have accomplished—especially given your obstacles which most don’t know. We know. God knows.
And I want you to know something very important about accomplishments—who you ARE is always much more important than what you DO. Someone challenged me once, right before we came to adopt you. He wanted to know if I would still be happy if our kid became a garbage collector one day. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes, if he’s a godly garbage collector.” The person doubted me. Some people equate value with accomplishment and prestige. Not God. God looks at the heart—always the heart. Remember this truth, this day. No matter what you do, do it all for the glory of God and He will be pleased. And so will your Dad and I.
More than anything you’ve accomplished, Zach, Dad and I are thankful for who you ARE—the person you have become. We all have our faults. We’ve all made gross mistakes. We’re not going to sugar-coat. But you have a sweetness about you that’s always been from the beginning. You feel for people. And your heart is to help. You help around here and rarely complain though work on a farm is considerable. You help in the community as a volunteer fireman, keeping people safe. You help everyone you know with need, anytime you can. For six summers now, you’ve said your highlight was our nature camp for inner-city kids. I watched your joy as you led kids on horses and drove them on hayrides.
Yes. You have a true servant’s heart. God works through you everywhere and we’re thankful you’ve got your head on straight about the most important job on earth—being a servant—even if you’re not acknowledged much by man—even if you’re never paid big bucks—even if others get the attention and praise you don’t. You’ve got yours coming. All servants do.
As we celebrate your golden day, I pray for you more golden tomorrows, glowing with God. He is with us. In this truth, we rest—and we walk on. I look forward to seeing what God will do with you, through you, for you—as we all walk on together, with Him.
Happy Golden Birthday, Zach! Now let’s go do one of your favorite things—EAT!
With much love and gratitude for the son you are,
Photo of Zach in black: Joanna Anderson Photograpy https://www.facebook.com/JoannaAndersonPhotography