This is what I read to Austin on the afternoon of his confirmation:
Austin Gray Merck
My firstborn. Your arrival made me a mother, which has been the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of my life. Fourteen years later, it’s hard to recall what life was like without you in it.
Austin, your presence in our family brings so much laughter. I remember Mr. Sohst, your 1st grade teacher, telling me that one of the reasons he liked having you in class was that you got his (very dry) humor. And now, you’re the one coming up with the quick-witted responses that make our whole family laugh.
Austin, you are deeply compassionate brother. I am consistently impressed by how you look out for Haley and Aidan. You never asked to be a big brother . . . it is just the accident of your birth order. But we could not have asked for a better big brother to Haley and Aidan. You lead by example. You work out conflicts with them. In the past few years, many people have commented at how well you and Haley and Aidan get along. You guys have your moments of tension, of course, but I love that the three of you are friends and enjoy one another’s company. I love that you enjoy being part of our family.
Austin, when you had your surgeries 2.5 years ago, we saw a side of you that we hadn’t really seen before, or maybe just not under such pressure. We never would have thought to ask for your bike accident to happen, and yet, it was such a powerful experience that I wouldn’t trade it if I could. What I saw in you that month was a solid, steady faith . . . a belief that “all shall be well.” The pain that you endured over those weeks was tremendous. You handled it with grace and had the nurses wishing you could stay longer by the time you were discharged.
Austin, I love your style. When you were 4, your favorite color was pink. Perhaps your Dad let you know, but I didn’t have the heart to break it to you that pink was a girl color. You have always walked to the beat of a different drum, though. I have loved watching your sense of style develop. We have tried hard to give you space to be yourself, whether you were growing your hair out way longer than we were comfortable or wearing personally designed shoes with 17,000 colors.
Austin, I love you and I love so many things about you, but if I had to pick my very favorite, it’s your sense of empathy. I worked very hard, especially in the first few years with you, to teach you to be empathic. I honestly didn’t know if it would work. This parenting thing was as new to me as you were to being a kid. I was so touched when your first pre-school teacher told us that the thing that struck her most about you was how empathic you were with other students. You are keenly aware of other people’s feelings and you reach out to them to help them feel better. This quality will serve you well in your friendships, your jobs, and all your relationships over the coming years.
Austin, one of the best things about being the parent of a teenager is that you can articulate all the values, the reasons for the way that you have parented over the years. I am so enjoying this part of being your Mom: talking to you about why. Why do we want certain things for you. Why do we not want certain things for you. What’s the point of the decisions we make. I’d never been the mother of a teenager before you and you’d never been a teenager. I look forward to continuing to figure it out together.
I am so proud of you today. What we celebrate today is your confirmation of the promises we made for you at your baptism in August of 1997. That day, when you were 5 months old, we made choices for you, but today, you choose for yourself which Way you will go.
Many years ago, when you were about 5 or 6, you told me that you never wanted to learn to drive a car. Thinking this was an odd thing for a Kindergartner to be considering, I inquired a bit more. You told me that if you drove a car, you didn’t think you’d know which ways to go. We have spent 14 years doing our best to show you which way to go. We hope to have a few more years of walking this journey with you. But today, you do know the way to go. You are choosing a journey of faith and we celebrate with you as you make that choice.