To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 15th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

You are so beloved that it’s honestly kind of hard to start in on a letter to show you that, to help you feel that. I guess many of the most meaningful kinds of love are like that.

It’s crazy to think that you’re still on the front end of so many experiences, so many loves, on this: your 15th Birthday. But I’m genuinely excited for you in that. Fathers often think and talk in terms of anxiety or protectionism or awkwardness. And while I reserve the right to feel more insecure in the future, I honestly look forward to the lifetime of love you have in front of you. Future friendships… finding a college and/or career that you love… getting swept off your feet, falling in love and getting married… bearing children… So! Much! Love! yet to come for you!

Still, I hope you will remember that it started at home, with your family. From the day you were born until now. You are deeply loved, Olivia. By me, your father. But also by your mother and brothers and extended family. By many other friends from school and church and the neighborhood. And, of course, by our Heavenly Father. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4). This love just gushes out of me as I think about you, Olivia.

I love you. I’m so glad you’re a part of my life. All of us, everyone who knows you: we’re so happy that you were born a decade-and-a-half ago. It’s a delight that we get to celebrate your birthday every September 21st.

One of my favorite memories from the past year is the two weeks we spent together on our way out to Colorado and in our first days at the YMCA of the Rockies, before Mom and the Boys caught up with us. I loved those moments when we chose to embrace our “Spirit of Adventure” — like in Iowa, when we veered off the highway at the last minute to visit the SPAM Museum. Or how about Wyoming?!? We decided to drive 45 minutes out of our way to get diner food at Lockman’s Lunchbox and take a look at Guernsey’s sandstone vestiges of the Oregon Trail, with those Australian Shepherds bounding to serve as our tour guides! Those were good times, weren’t they?!?

But in addition to the adventurous stuff, I also enjoyed the average stuff with you: picking playlists in the car… eating breakfast with plastic spoons and plastic bowls in our lodge room… catching up on what happened at work at the end of the day… eating dinner with all kinds of different people along the way… You’re a lovely person, Olivia.

Those two weeks showcased a lot of things about you that I really admire.

For one thing, you’re highly responsible. This summer, you held down a 20 hour-per-week job as the youngest member on the staff of the YMCA of the Rockies! I knew about your highly-developed sense of responsibility before this summer, of course. As a matter of fact, I’ve often wondered if you may be one of the most responsible people I know (definitely more responsible than most college students I know!)! You’re faithful with your school work (whether we ask about it or not). You’ve proven yourself trustworthy when it comes to household chores or babysitting the neighbor kids. You’re a very respectable, responsible young woman — and I’m proud of you for that.

For another thing, you’re remarkably patient and kind. This summer, I observed the ways that you managed to pass the hours on some looooooong stretches of road, like out in South Dakota. You patiently cycled between music, books, and napping. You dealt with the delays and difficulties admirably. And even though we all have our moments of weakness from time to time, it just seems to me that you’re exceptional in the ways you demonstrate patience and kindness. You’ve been a steady and consistent friend to Maddy, and Brooklyn, and Phoebe, and Lauren, and Grace, and Grace, and Grace (so much grace for so many Graces!). Elliot and Cor often put you to the test, and yet so often you find a way to put up with your brothers’ antics with grace and dignity. This sense of patience and kindness will serve you well in many different ways, as you go through life. I hope you’ll continue to cultivate these character qualities.

In addition to your responsibility, patience, and kindness, I have to say that you’re also a really fun person. Our “Spirit of Adventure” moments on the way out West were a brilliant example of your spunk and spontaneity. You’ve got a lovely sense of humor and a quick laugh. You’re willing to try new things. You notice beauty in the world around you, and you’re not afraid to stop and soak it in. You demonstrate a delightful duality in your ability to act like a kid and to act like an adult. Road trips are just better, when you’re along for the ride. Life is just better, when you’re along for the ride.

You’ve got so much going for you, Olivia. And I really think your responsibility, patience, kindness, spontaneity, spunk — and many other admirable qualities — will serve you well for many years to come.

But I just want to pause and make sure you remember that your value does not come from anything you do. Your value comes from who you are.

God has been showing me this again and again and again this year. The most fundamental thing about me is that I am loved. And in the same way, Olivia, the most fundamental thing about you is that you are are loved. And you are loved simply because you are a daughter — a daughter of me, and a daughter of God. Ephesians 1:5 says, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

A chapter later, in Ephesians 2:8-10, it says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” This means that all the wonderful things that you’ve done, or that you are doing, or that you will do are not the ways you stay in God’s good graces. They’re just an outflow of who you are, as a child of God.

I hope you can catch and hold onto that distinction. American adolescence works hard against that. But I’m going to do my best to keep reminding you of how loved you really are, Olivia. Happy Birthday, my dear daughter. I love you. I love you. I love you.


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