To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 9th Birthday

Riveredge Park (11)C

Dear Olivia,

First Day of School 2013 (69)

Happy Birthday! We’ve come a very long way since that surprisingly-sudden delivery in the back-bedroom of our flat in Amsterdam, haven’t we? 4,730,400 minutes… 3,912 miles… Brothers, bicycles, schoolteachers, stuffed animals, coloring books, sleepovers, blankets, braces… I get a bit woozy to think of everything that’s happened since September 21, 2004…

But then my thoughts come to rest again on you, my Olive-branch — my sweet, solid signal of fresh life emerging from floods of chaos and confusion — and I breathe deeply and smile.

You bring me such joy, Olivia. I love your running leaps into my arms at the end of a routine day of meetings. I love the way you respond to my silly “Livy-Lllooooo?!?”s with your “Daddy-Daaaaaad?!?”s. I love our nightly game of “Who crumpled up the covers?” — watching you giggle at my mock-astonishment, wiggle as the covers parachute down over you, and coo as I tuck you in and kiss you good-night. I love your kindness and consideration of others (even to the point of eagerly volunteering to help your brothers clean their room!). I love you for all the special things that make you uniquely you. Beholding you really does help me to imagine the way that Noah must have felt on that Ararat afternoon, his weary soul warmed by the sight of a white bird bearing a green branch. And to think that I get his sign of life and hope every day! Wow! What a blessing.

Swimming Lessons (5)

As I think and pray about the year ahead of you — your 10th year of life — I’m specifically asking God to give you a continued spirit of freedom balanced with a healthy reverence for the Lord.

Memorial Field Snow Fun (3)

As much as I love having you as my personal Olive-branch, I recognize that you ultimately need the freedom to become your own person. Your thoughts and sensitivity to others — your parents, your teachers, your peers — is valuable and commendable. But I also urge you to remain free from the burden of others’ expectations. Particularly as you enter adolescence, the temptation might be strong to bend to the standards of others who (either consciously or subconsciously) suggest you’re “not ________ enough.” Your nine-year-old self seems to know better than this — still I really encourage you to continue in this spirit of self-confidence and freedom. This is straight from Genesis 8: the immediate follow-up to the story of Noah’s olive branch. God said, “Leave the boat… Release all the animals… Be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” Or, to put it another way, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). I recognize God’s Spirit at work within you, Olivia, so carry on in the joy and freedom that is yours in Christ.

Jay & Co. in Kent 024M

Together with your freedom, I also encourage you to cultivate a reverence for the Lord. Noah did that, too, actually. Right after the flood and the olive branch and the release to freedom. He made a point to build an altar as his first act upon dry land. In the same way, Olivia, I pray that your own heart for God will grow and glow in the year (and years) to come. The Proverbs say that charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting — but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. So keep your heart bowed before God, Olivia — even as you run and jump and sing and play throughout the day — and you’ll be just where God wants you to be.

I love you, Olivia. I’m extremely proud to have you as my daughter.

Forever yours,


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