A long time ago - so long ago that I can't even remember when it was - I remember hearing Ian Grant (from Parents Inc) talk about the importance of creating "marker points" for our children as they grow.
He remarked that our culture doesn't do this particularly well, we have no Bar Mitzvahs or coming of age ceremonies to mark the point where a child becomes an adult. This leaves teenagers drifting, acting like overgrown children, when in so many other cultures they are seen as young men and women from the age of 13.
Somewhere, maybe from this or maybe from somewhere else, I got the seed of an idea to borrow the concept of a 13th birthday Bar Mitzvah and make it our own.
I wanted to set down a marker point, a memorial to crossing over from childhood to young adulthood.
I wanted to set the tone for my son's teenage years, surround him with the significant adults in his life and speak words of encouragement and hope into him as he steps into the next stage of his life's journey.
I started mentioning it at the start of the year to my hubby, and he was on board.
Our 12-year-old had announced last year that he wanted no more theme parties, he just wanted a hang out party. Fine, I said, that's all good. But 13 is a significant age, and we as your parents are going to have a special celebration to commemorate it. It won't be your birthday party, it will be extra.
Yeah cool, whatever. He was happy enough to go along with whatever crazy scheme his mum cooked up as long as he got his hang out party. (And we all know how that turned out, but lets not go there).
Of course we're not Jewish, so the only thing this celebration had in common with a Bar Mitzvah is that it was to mark turning 13. And that there are adults involved. And that it involved God and faith.
The rest was purely our own invention, designed to let our son know that as he enters this new stage of life he has a bunch of adults supporting him and believing in him.
Whatever I'd imagined for the night - it was better.
Whatever hopes I'd had for a significant meaningful moment - it was more.
Here's what we did.We invited the significant adults in his life (his youth leaders, his grandparents, our long-time babysitter) and two older boys from his youth group.
We asked each person to come prepared with something to say about/to our son. Something meaningful, something encouraging, something they felt to share with him like a special verse or promise. We also asked them to write it down and give it to him, so that in the future when he needs encouragement, our son can go back and read those words. (I collected them for him in a clearfile folder).
We began with a BBQ - and a roast lamb. The husband had taken it all very much to heart and was inspired by the Father in "the prodigal son" who "killed the fatted calf". A rolled lamb roast was his nod to that. (bless)
After much eating and laughing, we gathered in a circle under the festoon lights and the hubby began.
As I said, he had been inspired by the story of the prodigal son, and wanted our son to have tangible reminders of who he is and that he belongs and is secure.
He had gone out and bought a new jacket ("robe"), new shoes, a belt and a ring.
Piece by piece he presented our son with each item, clothing him in "the robe of righteousness" (you are good enough); the belt of truth (hold onto the truth); the shoes of peace (let peace govern your heart) and a greenstone ring, to symbolise belonging and sonship.
It was incredibly moving, especially when he knelt down and placed the shoes on our son's feet. I got a massive lump in my throat. And you could see that suddenly our son was sitting up straighter, a gleam in his eye. He was no longer just humouring mum and dad and letting us do our thing, this was SIGNIFICANT.
It had meaning to him. It was a marker point for him.
Each person spoke to him, telling him what they love about him, the qualities they see in him, encouragement for the future and words to treasure, promises and prayers.
The occasion took on a feeling of momentousness. It felt... holy.
When we gathered around him and prayed for him, the air was thick with God's presence. It was tangible, beautiful, powerful. And our son felt it at the depths of his being in a way he never had before.
This was a crossing over, a marker point had been set up.
He was no longer just a little kid in our eyes, He was now becoming a young man.
What it means: that our son can look back on that night and remember the faces of all those adults who believe in him, who are rooting for him, who he can turn to when he struggles and stumbles (as he will).
What it doesn't mean: that our son is any more likely to avoid the pitfalls and temptations of youth (as we experienced just a week later).
BUT he knows who to turn to. And he knows we believe in him. And he knows we are cheering him on.
This was the best thing we ever did.