To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 13th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

Dear, oh dear! Happy Birthday, my dear! That word — “dear” — is really much more than a formality with you. You are genuinely dear to me: beloved, precious, treasured, special… You are dearly loved, Olivia! You’re my one and only daughter, my delight, my darling. You’ve so endeared yourself to my heart (not to mention everyone else who knows you) that I simply can’t imagine life without you.

Who else drops whatever they’re doing to give me a hug and greeting upon any entrance to- or exit from the house?!? Who else sings such beautiful melodies on top of my ridiculously-random bass lines? Who else appreciates my Dad Jokes about hair styling and hair products and hair problems?!? Who else could ever take the place of you?!?

I’m so happy to be celebrating another year of your life, Olivia. It’s funny how often you’ve said, “But I don’t want to be a teenager!” And, of course, I get it: the heightened emotions, elevated hormones, increasingly-complicated social dynamics, day-to-day drama, and general state of adolescent angst you’ve observed in your older brother and others around you… It’s true that the teens can be a challenging season of life…

But they can also be really fun, exciting, and meaningful. My teenage years were the time in life when I memorized the lyrics and melodies for every song ever written and recorded by Larry Norman… when I participated in my first political protest to support a ballot measure to promote funding for Shelby City Schools by (ironically) walking out of school… when I ate my first Philly cheesesteak… The teens were the time when I first started reading the Bible for myself and absorbing its radical implications for my life… when I learned how to lead a horse into a gallop… when I dunked a basketball for the first (and only) time in my life… and, of course, when I first fell in love with your mother.

I hope you’ll take it from me, my dear Livy-Loo: the teenage years can be pretty tumultuous, but they can also be pretty terrific.

Ready or not, the time has come to welcome you into your teens, into early-adulthood, into an age of greater awareness, accountability, and autonomy. As surely as the summer slips into fall… As surely as the leaves on the Maples change from green to orange and drift down to earth… As surely as the calendar hits September 21st every year — our lives move from one phase into the next. And that’s a good thing. “This, too, shall pass” is a useful refrain for life: never dwelling too long on either successes or failures. Just keep in mind the fact that, like every other season of life, Teenagerdom (Teenagerhood? Teenagericity?) is a mixed bag, and I sincerely believe that your perspective on the Teenage Experience will go a long way toward determining the outcome of these years.

I was recently leading the Gospel of Luke, in the 11th chapter, where Jesus said, “Listen: your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place. So be careful, people, because your light may be malfunctioning. If your outlook is good, then your whole life will be bright, with no shadowy corners, as when a radiant lamp brightens your home” (Luke 11:34-36).

And while I see these verses having some level of applicability in regards to your outlook on life (i.e. a positive view of your teenage years will result in a positive experience through your teenage years) — even more than that, I see these verses applying to your worldview (i.e. how you approach the great, cosmic questions in life, like the origins of the universe and the tension between good and evil). Your teens provide an unparalleled opportunity to process and establish your own worldview.

I hope that our family has laid a solid foundation for the Christian worldview — but honestly, Olivia, it’s your choice if you want to continue in that or not. I’m going to love you and remain your father no matter what. Whatever storms may come, whatever crazy ideas you may come up with, whatever mistakes you may make, I’m here for you. Mom, and Elliot, and Cor, too. I hope you’ll recognize that God is here for you, as well. So, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and “put yourself out there” more and more, in this new phase of life. Make new friends. Try new things. I’m telling you, Olivia: You’ve got what it takes to succeed! You’ve got family and friends who’ve got your back, who all know you’re poised for greatness. I just pray that you’ll set your eyes — your perspective, your outlook, and your worldview — on God, and let Him lead you along the way.

Olivia, my dearest daughter, I love you more than words could ever say. Happy Birthday, my dear young lady, and here’s wishing you many happy returns of the occasion…

Lovingly Yours,

Dad

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