To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 12th Birthday


Dear Olivia,

You’ve probably noticed me organizing our family photographic archives recently. I mean, how could you not notice me, camped out at our family’s desktop computer, blocking you from access to the latest YouTube episode of Good Mythical Morning?!? The archiving project has been a big job — bigger than I expected it to be — but it’s been so worthwhile. Especially knowing that your birthday was coming up. It’s been fascinating to look at the pictures of you through the years: glamming in your crazy outfits… goofing off with funny faces… turning your head just so… Such a cutie! It’s been amazing to watch you grow from a newborn baby to a twelve-year-old girl, right before my eyes.

OliviaBirthE02  PolandOlivia02  Olivia the Lion  First Day of School - Olivia is Ready

Vondel50 - Olivia's Approval  Girl with Butterfly  Olivia Smiles  Paris - Olivia at Place de la Concorde

Olivia on the Swing  First Day of School 2013 (69)  Untitled  Untitled

Speaking of which: You’re a twelve-year-old now! Happy Birthday!!!


Not that you should pay all that much attention to the numbers. Numbers can produce unnecessary anxiety, like on Sunday nights when you’re thinking about needing to get up for school the next morning and worried that you’re not feeling sleepy enough at the right time. I think it’s great how you’ve learned to just put a washcloth over the alarm clock on those types of nights. Ages can be similar, especially as you get older. “Oh no, I’m turning forty now! I should be far more accomplished by this phase in my life!” Or, “Oh no, I’m turning eighteen now! I’m legally an adult, but I don’t feel like an adult at all!” Or, “Oh no, I’m turning twelve now! I can’t order off the kids’ menu any more!”

Just throw a washcloth over it, if the age thing stresses you out.

You just need to know that you’re doing well, Olivia. In fact, you are crushing the “growing up” thing: staying true to who God made you to be, while also staying mindful of others… listening to the wisdom of those who have gone ahead of you, while also keeping yourself flexible and open to new experiences… maintaining a strong sense of responsibility while also recognizing your limitations… Just don’t go too hard on yourself, Olivia. Don’t worry about things. Remember our adaptation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and take your cue from the birds, lilies, and chipmunks. As long as you can keep that in mind, Livy-Girl, I think you’re going to do just fine.


I’m so proud of the person you are and the person you’re becoming. You are smart. You are kind. You are beautiful. You are fun. You are trustworthy. You are loveable. You are my daughter!

Always the archivist, I also recently looked back on some of the other birthday letters I’ve written for you through the years. And in particular, I was struck by the letter I wrote for you on the occasion of your sixth birthday. This was half a lifetime ago for you, but some of the thoughts from that letter still feel relevant:

I love you so much, Olivia. I marvel at the ways you reflect the beauty of God, your Creator. Your smile has a spectacular radiance. Your jumps and skips and twirls show your grace and exuberance. Your keen attention to colors and patterns and textures of clothing demonstrates a special care for beauty. And I’ve noticed you several times, recently, noticing yourself — beautiful and unashamed. Just this past Sunday, I saw you catch your reflection through the sheer curtains in the full-length mirrors at the front of the H88, just after our church’s worship gathering. You went up to the wall, parted the curtains so you could see yourself more clearly, and you practiced your smile. You raised and lowered your eyebrows. You adjusted your hair and the position of your neck, and you practiced your smile some more… And then you bounced off to frolic again in the big pillow pile with Amke and Aude and Cor…

The years have tempered some of the ways you appreciate, accentuate, and express your beauty. Still, I’m regularly amazed by the glory that you carry with you and cast about, wherever you go. You’ve still got those gorgeous blue eyes and honey-colored hair. You make beautiful fairy gardens with the neighbor girls. You craft the best wedding cards and birthday cards I’ve ever seen (exponentially greater than any store-bought card for a fraction of the cost!). You. Are. Beautiful. You reflect God’s glory in a way that amazes me.


But it’s not just external beauty! You have — and have long had — a genuinely beautiful heart. Back on the occasion of your sixth birthday, I wrote:

You know one of the other things I really appreciate about you, Olivia? It’s your kindness and consideration for others. I’m so proud to see the way that you take care of your little brother, for instance. You offer practical assistance… But I’ve also noticed that you offer key emotional support to Cor as well: making him laugh when he’s tempted to cry, being a friend to him, and sticking up for him when he’s getting pushed around (albeit inadvertently) by other kids at school or church. It’s amazing to me that you do these things naturally — that me or Mom never really had to teach you. You just do it because you’re that kind of person. A kind kind of person.

That’s still you, Olivia. Now, Cor has gotten better at taking care of himself since 2010, but I love the way you look out for Maddy and Brooklyn, Lila and Ally, Morgan and Reese and Claire… Now that you’ve finally reached the legal age for babysitting, the world had better pay attention! You’ve got a lot to offer the world, Olivia.

Mother's Day 2016 (22)

“You then, my daughter, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Stay strong through the upcoming storms of adolescence. Keep anchored in God, and keep thinking of others, and you’ll be fine. I love you so, so much — and I wish you the very happiest of birthdays.

Yours forever,


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