Fourteen years ago today God blessed our family with a round butterball of a baby girl. Valerie Nicole. She was bigger than she was supposed to be. Way big. Off the charts big. Almost too big. Doctors and other mothers there at South Austin Medical Center came from other wings and other floors to see this nine-and-a-half-pound baby. She absolutely dwarfed all the other infants in the hospital nursery. She looked really out of place. For a couple of days, Valerie was the center of attention there,  a minor celebrity. Carrie-Anne found herself, too, being discussed among strangers in the hallways as the little bitty lady who gave birth to this huge baby. It was funny. I had to drive back to Marble Falls to get some size 3-6 months clothes for Valerie to wear home from the hospital. The newborn-0-3-months were way too small.

Valerie was big.

I look at Valerie today and the word “big” still describes her.

Oh, no, not physically. Not at all. She weighs 90-pounds soaking wet. She’s a twig. In fact, that’s what I call her sometimes. Our Little Middle child. She’s tiny. Thin as a rail. You can’t believe how skinny and little she is.

It’s her personality that is so big. Funny. Loud. Outgoing. Talented. Still the center of attention. Laughing at everything. Leading the way. I drop her off at North Ridge Middle School in the mornings and at least a half dozen girls come running to her every time. She’s confident. She’s beautiful. She’s hilarious. Silly. Everybody likes being around her. I love being around her.

Her voice is big. Big and rich. Soprano. And Valerie lives to sing. Ancient hymns and classic German and Latin Renaissance pieces with her choir. Contemporary hymns and devotional songs with our church family and our small group and her youth group. The Guess Who and Taylor Swift, Aerosmith and Justin Bieber in the car and in her room. She loves to sing. And I love listening to her.

Her heart is big. Generous. Sacrificial. Selfless. She really does put the needs of others first. Usually. She adores little kids. She can color with them, cook for them, play games with them, teach them, and never grow tired. Her heart was created, I think, to work with little kids. Sensitive. Man, she’s really sensitive, too. Ultra-sensitive to the needs of others. She can tell when somebody else is hurting. And it makes her sad. And it compels her to try to do something about it. She cries at chick-flicks and every time somebody dies on Little House on the Prairie (which is every episode). But the true bigness of her heart shows when she cries because somebody else near her is hurting. I see our God’s compassion reflected in my Val Pal. And I love it.

She’s at a funny age right now. Old enough to put on the makeup every morning and be very concerned about what she’s wearing. Old enough to roll her eyes at me when I say something corny. Old enough to show responsibility in serious matters. But still young enough to wear rainbow-striped toe-socks up to her knees, crawl around on the floor pretending to be some made-up animal, and watch Scooby Doo cartoons ’til noon on Saturday.Still young enough, too, to be thrilled when I eat lunch with her at school. Still happy to see me coming.

Oh, Valerie. You are something else, girl. God has blessed you tremendously with a big personality, a big heart, a big beautiful voice, and tons of huge potential. The possibilities for you are absolutely endless. I’m so proud of you. And I can’t wait to see how this thing turns out.

Happy Birthday. I love you.