To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 16th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

Happy Birthday! You are such a lovely person. You were born at such a lovely time of the year, too (I’ve long maintained that September 15th through October 15th is the best month of the year!). Still, the Fall gets me to thinking about the passage of time. The ripening of the pumpkins and apples… the Maple and Oak tree leaves changing colors… The last gasps of summer and the first whispers of winter… And two birthdays in our household — especially yours, my only daughter, always observing the advance of another year on or near the Autumnal Equinox.

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It’s seriously crazy to realize how quickly we’ve gone from Ballerina Parties in Amsterdam to Antique / Retro-Clothing Shopping Parties in North Canton. I know it’s a classic cliché, a figurative and fatherly exaggeration to say that it all happened in an “instant” — but it really feels that way. Watching one’s children grow up is amazing, with every child at every age in every situation. Still, I’ve got to say that it hits different with daughters. I’m amazed to behold the woman you’ve become (and are still becoming). You’re something special, Olivia. I’m really proud to be your Dad.

I thought it might be fun to include some archived images from that memorable Ballerina Birthday in September of 2011. Partly for the sake of nostalgia, but also to underscore a point that’s come to my mind as I’ve been thinking and praying about this milestone in your life.

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One of the things that I really appreciate about you is your way with people. The pictures from Amsterdam underscore the fact that you’re not just the typical white girl from suburban Ohio. You grew up with girls from Indonesia, Ghana, Turkey, Morocco, Somalia, the Netherlands, and the United States (among other places). And even though it’s been eight years since our move to Ohio, you’re still a “Third Culture Kid.” A “Hidden Immigrant.” You may look like a “plain old” descendent of Europeans in the American Midwest (which you also are, to a certain extent!). But it seems to me that in your heart, you’re most at home in diverse environments among diverse people.

The world needs people like you right now.

It’s been a weird year for Planet Earth. The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought sickness, death, and isolation to billions. Recent incidents of institutional injustice and police violence against People of Color have brought further disruption and demonstrations against the United States’ history of Racism. It’s also the year of a U.S. Presidential Election, which is always an adventure — but perhaps even more than usual this time around. People are struggling with feelings of anger, alienation, and antagonism towards each other and towards the systems around them.

So it’s especially meaningful for me to pause and remember that you, my daughter, give me reason to hope.

You’re young, intelligent, creative, kind, and godly. And seriously, these are all excellent and praiseworthy things. Yet something that’s exceptionally amazing about you is that your life experiences keep you cognizant of others. You’re sensitive to differences in ethnicity, language, religion, gender, and power dynamics. And your instinct is to explore those differences, not to avoid them. Our world needs that! Jesus once said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). I pray that you — and the rest of your generation — will continue in this “family business,” even with all the obstacles that are being thrown into your path.

Olivia, you are like an olive branch in the beak of a dove after an overwhelming flood of chaos and confusion. You provide hope that life will find a way forward, by God’s grace. It’s hard that COVID has complicated all of our plans for this year. It stinks that the pandemic has compromised a lot of your opportunities for social engagement. Still, you must find a way forward. You must keep the faith and forge friendships with all sorts of people. I’m praying that you might build bridges — through art, or activism, or whatever — to connect people and point us all to the ultimate Hope of Restoration in Jesus. I’m praying to God, with you, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

You’ve got everything you need, Olivia. I’ve been watching you for sixteen years, and I’m confident that you’re actually more equipped for life than many who are years (or even decades) older than you! At the same time, I’m convinced that you’re only just getting started. Friends will come. Jobs will come. Romantic relationships will come. I’m not even a little bit worried for you in any of these regards (though I reserve the right to feel worried in the future). I really and truly believe that you just need confidence and courage. Step boldly into the path God has laid out for you, Olivia! You’re amazing! Unstoppable! You’re my daughter, and I couldn’t be more proud!

Happy Birthday, my Livy Luck Dragon. I love you!


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