“Wow,” I can’t believe he’s 18,” she said. Her text message a reply to one I’d sent earlier in the day telling her about a surprise party for Chase. Angela’s boys know him from youth group. They’d been out of town when we were getting invitations out and I wanted to make sure they knew about it.
All the middle and high school kids at church had been invited. One of the perks of being involved as a leader is that you can influence the schedule a little. When I’d thrown the idea of a party out to my colleagues everyone was enthusiastic about it.
“Heck yah,” our director said. “The kids will love it.”
I was nervous about the idea for a couple reasons. First, I worried nobody would come. Chase isn’t exactly the hippest kid in the group. Secondly, I didn’t know how he would react—inviting a big group of kids into “his world’ without advance approval is a risky proposition. Chase loves his friends at church but he also loves his space. He’s very cautious about social situations. He seems to know what he can and can’t handle. Still, something kept nudging me to move forward and with so much support for the idea I decided to go for it.
While Angela and I texted back and forth about the details I couldn’t help but respond to her disbelief about this milestone birthday. She’s not the only one taken aback by it. Most folks are. Chase is so obviously a kid at heart the privileges he’ll now be entitled to are things he could care less about.
“He’s Peter Pan,” I told her. “He’ll never really grow-up—and that’s more of a good thing than a bad.”
Angela the mother of four boys knew exactly what I was talking about. Her reply,
“To live would be an awfully big adventure.”
She nailed it. This famous line from the movie version of Peter Pan epitomizes Chase. In “his world” every day is an adventure.
As I was savoring the thought he came home from a walk with Buddy. Smile on his face he held out his clenched fist toward me and said, “Guess what I found for you?” I had a good idea but didn’t want to squelch his enthusiasm. He was acting like it was a first. You could hear the drum-roll in the pause before the treasure was revealed.
He opened his hand to offer a shiny penny.
“We found it on our walk.”
“Thank you Chase,” I said wrapping my arms around him. “You will always be my little boy won’t you?”
He blushed and said, “Yes, but I’m going to be your tall little boy!”
Then off he went down to his playroom where he’d spend the rest of the afternoon reading, drawing, and creating stories. Ones that he’ll act out in order to fully develop his characters. His playroom will be littered with sketches, pencil shavings, and 3-D designs before the day is over.
This is the world I nervously let his friends into. Huddled in every corner they waited quietly while Chase came in the house, organized his stuff, and then went downstairs where they surprised him with their whoops and hollers. Completely taken aback he stared at them speechless while I explained,
“Chase this is a party for you—for your birthday.”
It finally started to compute. Unsure what to do he said, “Is that the Cars?” and walked over to the stereo to turn up the volume. The whole room cracked up and started high-fiving him. Then they all became Peter’s Lost Boys. Swords fights erupted, ping-pong battles ensued, and Nerf darts were everywhere. When a treasure hunt was organized they hit the streets in a mad dash to find their leader for the night a prize. It was as if Tinker Bell had sprinkled Pixie dust on them.
In the few hours they were together you could see the gift Chase has to offer anyone willing to look past his social deficits—his imagination—his ability to hold the world at bay when he needs to and escape into Neverland. It’s a place where you can travel at the speed of light and be free from the worries and cares of this world. Your creative spirit can be nurtured without any judgment or shame.
All the kids left smiling and a few days later when Chase saw them again they were still talking about the party. Watching them you could see that Chase was somehow more connected to the group. On an intuitive level I think they’d all discovered that this kid who strikes them as odd has a lot to offer. His childlike faith and refusal to let anyone mold him into something he is not offers a great freedom. To be who you truly are without apology is the only way you can ever learn to fly.
Chase—happy, happy 18th birthday! Thank you for being the most happy go lucky “kid” I know and helping me find my wings on days I desperately need them. I love you!