Stephanie was born too early in Kokomo, Indiana 25 years ago and pre-mature infant lung disease made things touch and go for a time. We couldn't have fathomed at the time how safe her future was – tied to a red-headed toddler just a couple of hours away in Fort Wayne. This little guy would be integral to her life and ours. It wouldn't happen anywhere near Indiana, but Stephie's future was bright…
The first time I met Tristan after my girls had so gushingly and enthusiastically named him 'like' the best drummer they had ever heard (he was on the worship team at Vinelife Church in Boulder Valley), I believe he was wearing all black including a leather coat. He had bleached-blond spiked-up rock-star hair with a lip piercing and those really big plug-style-earrings. But he was not frightening at all. Not in the least. Rather there was sort of this gentle uprightness about him. He seemed true and comfortable in his skin – even if not totally so with our overwhelmingly large and loud family? He just seemed like this great young guy with a good head on his shoulders who was living his life responsibly and honestly before God. Pretty rare, actually.
A short time later my husband was in a Bible study with Tristan and heard him share his heart and insight into the Word. Dave came home and said to me, "I wish one of our girls would go for him." There was an immediate recognition of the character and spirit of the man.
When Stephanie needed tutoring for her college music theory class, she naturally turned to Tristan, the musical genius (he plays everything- well!). I noticed that she did look and smell fabulous when she went to those tutoring sessions and seemed pretty giddy about the hard schoolwork ahead. I was dull to realize that she wasn't just excited about the education she was getting and was instead totally falling for Tris. We all were, really, the whole family-becoming huge fans of Tristan Kelley.
Tristan was this amazing gift to our family from God. He showed up when we'd been pretty well depleted by the battle of ministry and church life and were just kind of shrinking back in some things. Tristan was a worshiper and worship had always been a big part of our family. His worshipful heart was a big draw to us all. He became a big-brother-figure to Rocky at a crucial time in Rocky's life and all of the kids were drawn into a deeper devotion to God just by hanging out with Tristan. Overall, for our whole family, Tristan was a restorer of worship in our home and life. He brought his guitar into the living room and sang and poured out and led us in praise. He brought a renewal in the gentlest of ways and we all just grew to love him, felt safe with him, trusted him.
When Tristan was in a car accident on I-25 in a spring snow and ice storm and Stephanie called me at work – I finally got it. I could finally see: this girl is in love, this girl is a goner. I heard the quiver of fear in her voice. He was OK, but she was shaken by the realization that it could've been worse and I could finally see that for Stephanie, losing Tristan would be unbearable above all.
The deal was sealed and Stephanie married this boy, this incredible young man, slightly less than a year after he came into our lives. I would generally say any 19-year-old is too young to marry (which was what Steph was), but we never doubted she was safe and deeply loved. We never doubted that Tristan was the man for the job.
You never know who your kids will marry and you hope they will choose well. Steph did. We have never, ever had any regrets about Steph's choice. She was born for him. He was born for her.
As lengthy as this is, in some ways, Tristan, of all our kids, is hardest for me to write about because I have such deep admiration for him as a person and my words seem deficient. But I want to wish him a happy birthday by telling him in my own feeble words, who I know him to be.
- Happy Birthday, Tristan. You are the man who completes our Stephanie and loves her and makes up for whatever ways her parents messed her up in childhood. Yet, somehow you allow us our dignity and grace us with respect whether or not we deserve it. You hold the preciousness of our family history and future safe and give honor. I pray this comes back to you many times your whole life through.
- Happy Birthday to you, Tristan – the father of 3 of our 4 grandchildren. You are a daddy. You are the kind of daddy that every child deserves, but few ever know. You are "in" all the way to those precious and beautiful babies: Gavin, Guinivere, and Gemma. They reach for you. They draw in close. Your discipline and love, mingled like the justice and mercy of God, is preparing them to know God and who He truly is – a God to whom they will always turn, they'll run to Him and stay close. Thank-you for your example to my grandbabies. I could not wish for more. And know that your hard work and sacrifcies for this family of yours do not go unnoticed…
- And Happy Birthday, Tris – one of the smartest people in the universe. Is there anything you cannot do? Is there a question we can ask you won't know how to answer? You're the baby of your family, but you're the first-born of ours. You're everybody's big brother. You're the son we can always call on. If all dad's computer questions were in billable hours, we'd be bankrupt, but you'd be able to retire from Dare2Share and live on easy street. Though I have seen you rolling on the stage floor playing this mad guitar riff in eye make-up at a club I was definitely not hip enough to be in, -in our family – you are the one on whom we can depend. Without exception, you are trusted above all.
And – you are 'like' the best drummer in the world.
I hope you can tell we really love and admire you. I hope you can comprehend how much…mom (Jeanie)
NOTE TO CHERI & LARRY: You raised a wonderful son. We thank-you and are grateful to God for all you poured in to him, all the opportunities you gave him to become who he is. It was great to see you both this week and Cheri, I really am sorry your baby boy lives so far away. I think I have the perfect solution: move west! Both your kids are out west now – c'mon, whaddya say!??? Ha! Blessings!
Pictures: Tristan in Misourri this summer; Tris with the fam on Easter (Steph was 8 months pregnant); Tristan with Baby Gemma on her day or arrival in May.