I see them all together, swapping high fives and man-hugs. All tall and strong and handsome.
Not like they used to be.
They used to be short and clumsy and awkward. They used to run "like a box of coat hangers" says the story-telling father. Their voices used to crack (and some of them still do) and they would giggle like their little sisters.
When they were small, they needed my help. They would ask and I would oblige with concealed pride and joy. Pride to be needed. Joy to be needed by them.
They're not grown yet, but they're growing. Most of them are taller than I am. All of them are stronger. They are coordinated. Capable. Almost-men.
Now, I need their help. I ask, and they oblige with not-so-concealed pride and joy. Pride to be needed. Joy to be needed by one whom they used to need.
Who are these almost-men?
They are my best friends in all this world.
The young twin. The one with the kind heart and the helpful hands. His smile is shy and his manner sincere. He will give up anything for another. Gentle, encouraging, steady. He a constant when others are shaken. He is a quiet rock.
The small fireball. The shortest of the bunch, his height never gets him down. He is always ready with a joke, a smile, a laugh. His confident, easy presence sets his companions at ease. He is a bringer of smiles.
The older twin. He was born to be a leader. He knows what he knows and is never afraid to say it. His daring confidence is matched only by his loving care. A ready hug when you need it most, ready help when you need a hand. He is a gentle leader.
The lanky ballplayer. He has changed from the wild little one he used to be. He has become a considerate, courteous young man. Playing with the young ones, helping in the kitchen, working on the farm--he is always there. He is a willing heart.
The new guy. This is his first time with this group. He doesn't know the ropes yet, but he is willing to learn. He watches them--their kindness, their willingness, their encouragement, their gentleness. He learns, and one who will learn is one who will become great. He is a humble learner.
The deep-voiced one. He doesn't talk much, but when he does people like to listen. He doesn't smile much, but when he does it lights up the room. He gives of himself and doesn't complain. The others follow his lead, and I am glad. He is a selfless servant.
I watch them now, standing together. Three days of pure heaven are before them. They will ride four-wheelers and drive trucks. They will swim in too-cold water and throw rocks beyond count. They will eat...and eat...and eat. They will start campfires and whittle sticks with pocket knives freshly sharpened. They will explore caves and tramp through woods.
They will do boy things.
But that's not all.
They will help with dishes without being asked. They will mend bridges with angry siblings. They will give up their chairs for their mothers, and they will be glad to do it. They will teach their little sisters how to drive. They will say, "Yes, sir" to their fathers when they would rather not. They will give the last biscuit to someone else. They will choose the end of the line instead of the front. They will do more than their share of packing up so their parents can drink one more cup of coffee. They will eat the bread and drink the cup, and the Jesus taken in will be the Jesus lived out.
They will do man things.
And I will stand by. I will watch. I will do it all with them. I will see Christ in them, and I will say of them what was said of Him, that they "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52)
The Quiet Rock and the Bringer of Smiles leap onto the four-wheeler and drive away. The others shake their heads, claiming their turns in order. The Gentle Leader jumps onto the seesaw opposite a little sister. The Humble Learner gazes around, in awe of the creation spread before him. The Willing Heart strikes up a conversation with a new young friend. The Selfless Servant catches me watching them, smiles, and throws a rock over the barbed wire fence.
And I love them.