To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 17th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

What a gift it is to be your father! I know that you’re supposed to be the one receiving the gift for an occasion such as this — but it really does feel like a privilege for our family to have received you on this date in history, now seventeen years ago. I’m glad for these annual observances of that joyous occasion. And I hope you are, too. We welcome all of the happiness that this birthday can bring.

I love the way that your birthday falls in this season of transition: right around the autumnal equinox, when the whole northern hemisphere is switching from summer to fall. I love the colors and scents in nature around late-September. And I love that you love these things, too. You see the shading in the leaves of the sugar maples. You appreciate the delicate designs in the wings of a monarch butterfly. Even after experiencing it a dozen times, you thrill to catch the flash of a goldfinch in a meadow. And I hope that you’ll be able to continue cultivating this spirit of awe and inspiration for many years to come.

I pray that you’ll continue to experience Creation as a reliable pathway to worship and communion with the Creator, as I have. It all points back to Him! He is the Author and Perfecter. He is the ever-present help in times of trouble. God is the truest and best reference point for appreciation of the world’s natural beauty. “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It seems to me that we can appreciate the transitory more, when we have our eyes on the eternal.

Speaking of transition, it feels like you’ve grown up a lot in the last year! Getting your driver’s license and suddenly feeling way more independent… Taking jobs at Handel’s Ice Cream and the Great Harvest Bread Company… Fortifying healthy relationships with other young women… Preparing for college… I’m so proud of you. I think you’re a triumphant example of a godly young woman rising to meet the challenges of your generation and forge a faith-filled path into the future. I sincerely hope and pray that you will keep up the good work and carry this momentum even further.

You remind me of a beautiful butterly — een mooi vlindertje — and not just because you’re so pretty. More because you are a pollinator and a peace-bringer. You have a unique mix of personality traits, life experiences, and heart-held passions which uniquely qualify you for this butterfly business. I love the way you develop deep convictions about current events — like taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — but you also maintain close friendships with people who hold drastically different convictions. You demonstrate self-confidence and clarity of thought to an extent that’s rare for women your age; still, you have a gift for empathy and staying sensitive to others, even when they’re going through really hard things. You love Jesus, but you challenge many of the conventions that have settled into “White Evangelical” culture.

These are only a small sampling of the ways you bring life from one part of the “meadow” to another. “Blessed are the peace-makers,” Olivia, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Olivia, I love you so much. I’m excited to watch you finish your senior year of high school and start your freshman year of college. It’s fun to watch you rock my old Montreal Canadiens T-shirt and to share the Olympic National Park sweatshirt with you. It’s an honor to have a front-row seat to your next act; you seem to be absolutely poised for greatness. Mom and I are here for you, as you need help and support. But we also bless you and release you to become the person God has made you to be. Let’s just keep walking by faith, with plenty of hope and love along the way.

Forever Yours,

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