No official birthday party. No sleepover with all your buddies on sleeping bags in the living room. No special breakfast. No huge surprise gift wrapped with colorful paper and a fancy bow. Maybe a check in the mail from a grandparent. Maybe a transfer of funds from mom and dad for a big girl trip to the mountains with college friends. Welcome to almost complete full-on adulthood, daughter. Today, you’re nineteen.

Today begins your last year of being a teenager. Maybe the last year I can keep on pretending you’re still a little girl. Maybe the last year you’ll ask me to have lunch with you, or want to ride home with me from church, or tell me you want to go skiing with me. Ah, you’re growing up fast! Fast!!!

I don’t see you as much as I used to and, honestly, it’s a little weird for me. Letting go, pushing you out, telling you to follow your dreams and, at the same time, trying to pay close attention and still parent you and still watch out for you and protect you, if even from a distance, is proving to be a difficult task for me.

But, I’m learning.

BabyBlueI’m learning by God’s grace that you do not belong to me. God created you in his holy image and you belong to him. That’s a tough lesson, one I’ve stubbornly refused to accept. But it’s true. You don’t belong to me. God made you and he created you to be a certain kind of person. And my attempts over the past nineteen years to shape you into the person I want you to be have not always been in harmony with God’s plans. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I admit, sweetie, that I don’t understand all of this. But you are who God made you to be. And, for some reason — I’m assuming he just really loves me and wanted to bless me — he gave you to us as a gift. We’ve got you only for a little while. We’re charged with loving you and teaching you and protecting you and keeping you safe. We’re ordained as your parents to train you and nurture you in the ways of our Lord. But I cannot, nor should I ever try, to make you into someone you’re not. You’re going to be who God made you to be, to his glory and praise. And the times I’ve tried to make you something else — please forgive me.

Senior7I’m learning more how to just enjoy you. What a blessing you are to me, Valerie. How I smile when I think about you. How I burst with joy when I watch you interacting with little kids or messing around with your friends. How my soul soars when I hear you pray. How my heart swells with pride when others comment to me about how beautiful and talented and sweet you are. How much happiness you bring to your mother and me!

I am so very proud of you, daughter. I’m honored to be your dad. I will always move heaven and earth to protect you. I will always do whatever is necessary to provide for you. And I will always relish every moment I get to spend in conversation with you. But I’ll try not to force it. As you grow and become everything our God has created you to be, I’ll try to let the game come to me more now.

I love you. Happy Birthday, Val.