Happy Birthday! My “little girl” is now officially, legally, an adult. And to be honest, that feels a little bizarre… sad… scary… surreal… but mostly — really and truly — amazing. You! Are! Amazing! I look back on the journey you’ve traveled through life — from your birth in the back bedroom of our little apartment in Amsterdam to your new beginning as a beautiful and brave young woman in her first year of college at Kent State University — and I am genuinely astonished to think about how much you’ve grown.
I consider it one of the great privileges of my life that I’ve been a witness and chronicler of your life (especially considering the fact that my adventures in blogging started just a few months after you were born). My vantage point is shifting, as you become more and more independent. Still, I feel like I’ve had a pretty special perspective over the last eighteen years. In fact, the writing of this letter prompted me to look back on some old blog entries — and I was especially delighted by one poetically-rendered scene of us walking the streets of Amsterdam together, when you were four years old:
A fine Saturday morning. Holding hands, I walk — she skips.On the Way to the Butcher Shop with the Lively and Lovely Livi-Loo, December 2008
I say, “Olivia, I love you.”
She smiles, unashamed: “Yes, you do.”
Even though everything has changed since those days, honestly nothing has changed. I’m still amazed by you. I am still so proud and delighted to be your Dad. Olivia, I love you. Yes, I do.
One of the things that seems particularly amazing to me on this occasion of your eighteenth birthday is the way you look like an adult now. Even comparing pictures from a couple of years ago, it’s clear that you’ve grown up. You’ve come into your own, on so many levels. And I love the way you confidently conduct yourself, as a grown woman, with your own sense of style and sophistication. You’re so cool that you even help other college students to look cool, finding the best threads to be thrifted.
And you rock the fancy dress-up clothes, too. You look great in formal ball gowns… and in a tuxedo… and in graduation regalia… You’re beautiful. And I just know that your four-year-old self would be so proud. Have I mentioned that I’m proud, too? You’re amazing, Olivia. A-ma-zing.
Your beauty extends well beyond your external appearance, too. You’re gentle and kind. Fun-loving and free-spirited. Enthusiastic and empathetic. You’re a loyal friend, but you’re not exclusive. I really appreciate the way that you’re sensitive to others, even after meeting them for the first time. I think about getting to watch you in action at the Portage County CARTEENS program back in July. You dove directly into conversation with the goth girl at our table, chatting her up about anime and other art forms. And then you put yourself out there with the jocks and nerds and authority figures, too, cracking jokes about the impairment goggles and the length of the “dot” in a dotted line. You were a wonder to behold. I knew then and there that you were going to do well as a freshman at Kent State University. And beyond.
You’ve got a brilliant sense of humor, Olivia. Somehow, it seems to get better and better as you get older. I seriously adore your text messaging “voice” and your posts on BeReal. You find so many different ways to bring a smile to my face. And to others, as well. I hope and pray that you can keep on the sunny side of life as the disappointments and discouragements of this world mount up over time (as is inevitable for any of us who live long enough on this planet). Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Humor is a part of taking heart. An invaluable tool in your emotional “utility belt.” But so is sorrow… and anger… and fear. I think you already know this. You are actually one of the most emotionally-healthy people I know, Olivia. You have what it takes to survive and thrive, to keep your heart happy and healthy, even as you will continue to be tested in this in the years to come. There’s really just one thing I’m wishing for you on this, your eighteenth birthday…
I wish that you would take it easy on yourself. You’re such a capable, competent, highly-responsible young woman. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything for everybody! Galatians 6:2-4 demonstrates an interesting paradox. It says that we should “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” But it also says that you should “pay careful attention to your own work” and that “we are each responsible for our own conduct.” I know you want to be a good friend, a good student, a good employee, a good daughter… But you also need to be good to yourself. You need to know your limits and express your limits — even when it might be disappointing to others.
There’s an old saying that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” And I can certainly see ways that these tendencies sprouting up within you happen to fall under the canopy of my own tendencies. I often have to remind myself that “Jesus is the Savior of the world; not me.” And I just want to remind you that the same sentiment is true for you. Jesus is the Savior of the world; not you, Olivia. As wonderful as you are, Jesus is that much more wonderful. You can trust him with the things that you cannot accomplish.
Maybe you need to think about relieving pressure on yourself and being prepared to let others down like a kind of adventuring. Putting yourself out there by not putting yourself out there, at times. You know what I mean? Could that become a great adventure for you? Because you are an epic adventurer. Honestly, your adventurous spirit is one of my favorite things about you. A lot of eighteen-year-olds are pretty anxious about trying new things. But not you. You will eat that food… walk up to that stranger… dance that dance… and hike that hike. Maybe you just have to learn the adventurous angle to saying that “I’m out” when the situation demands it.
Leaning into such an adventure has its dangers, of course. But so does driving a car… or roller skating… or hiking among the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon… or pulling into the parking lot of the Chat-n’-Chew in Warren, Ohio… You didn’t stop yourself from having an adventure because you were worried about the potential for altitude sickness or food poisoning. You went for it. And even when you had accidents with the car or with roller skates, you came out wiser and more prepared for the future.
I want you to keep learning and growing, my daughter. I want you to keep putting yourself out there. Even when it means putting yourself out there by not putting yourself out there. You have so much to offer the world, Olivia. But don’t forget that accepting your limitations and trusting the outcome to God is another way to give something to the world. And to have an adventure of faith in the process.
Happy Birthday, Olivia. I love you. I’m honored to be your adventure partner whenever I can, and I trust you to discover many other great adventures besides. I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring…