To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 14th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

The story of your birth is by far the craziest and coolest in our family. Jeetje! I remember riding my bicycle home from an early-morning meeting, heart leaping into my throat as I pedaled over the Amstel River, knowing that I was on my way to meet my daughter. I remember hearing the midwife tell us we weren’t going to be able to make it to the hospital in time. I remember frenzied preparations to turn the back bedroom of our little apartment into a delivery room. And then, hieperdepiep! I remember you: a perfect little girl resting in our arms, an olive branch of new life and peace after an awful lot of chaos and calamity.

Fourteen years have passed since that fateful day in Amsterdam. A lot of the circumstances in our lives have changed. We’re living on a different continent. You don’t fit very well into our arms anymore. And we all have to work through our fair share of chaos and calamity, together, as we continue to go through life. Still, I find you so beautiful — so “practically perfect in every way” — and I experience you as such a bringer of peace and joy.

Your birthday reminds me that we have an awful lot to celebrate.

I’m very proud of the way you’re growing up, Olivia. Your recent transition to high school has been a big one, and it comes with all kinds of social challenges and academic challenges — but I’m confident that you’ve got what it takes to rise and meet these challenges (this year and in the years to come). I’ve sometimes joked with others that you’re the most “grown-up” person in our family — always ready for responsibility, considerate of others, and naturally-wired to prioritize compliance and communication — still, I want to make sure you feel free to keep adapting as you grow. We’re all still “works in progress,” and that’s a good thing. I just want you to know that I think you’re generally on the right track. 😉

One thing I’ve noticed this year is that you’re doing a great job of putting yourself “out there,” while simultaneously staying true to yourself (not an easy feat for most adolescents!). I see this in the way you’ve deliberately chosen to make new friends — and maintain a multitude of relationships — at the high school and the Riverwood youth group and other environments, too. I know it can be challenging when you’re not naturally the “social butterfly” that Elliot is or the “cute kid” that Cor is, but you are seriously amazing in your own way, and I expect others — both girls and (gulp!) boys — will be drawn to that as you continue to push past your comfort zone and keep yourself “out there.” Proverbs 3:3-4 says, “Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.”

Keep asking good questions, as if others are “the most interesting person(s) in the world.” Keep assuming the best about others, even when they seem to be acting out of insecurity. Keep loving others as a faithful friend (you’re so good at this!), even as you bring others into your ever-widening web of relationships. And even though it won’t always be a smooth ride (people are notoriously messy), it will be a rewarding experience.

Don’t be afraid to assert yourself in other areas of life, in addition to the social dynamics. As a middle child and classic “rule-follower” (it takes one to know one!), your natural inclination might often be to make yourself small and invisible. You will hesitate to put yourself forward for a job, even when you are eminently-qualified for it. You won’t pursue interaction with your teacher, even though they would love to help bring along a bright young student like you. You might be inclined to let others take the lead, even though you’re the person with the best character and qualifications to get a group where they need to go. Don’t be afraid to remind yourself: You’ve got this, Olivia. Get it, girl! “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

I love you so much more than words could ever convey, Olivia. I think back on the neighborhood production of Peter Pan that you helped to write, direct, and enact this summer. It showed a lot of different aspects of your brilliance. You are strong. You are smart. You are kind. You are creative. You are a beautiful young woman who has a lot to offer the world — and I’m unspeakably honored to sit in the front row, cheering you on as you continue to go through life. I’m very proud to be your Dad, Olivia, and I’m delighted to wish you a very Happy Birthday!

Ik hou van je, lieverd.

Dad

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