Our youngest daughter, little Carley Bear, turned 15 today. Yes, fifteen. Whoa. I took her to the DPS this morning to get her driver’s permit. We waited in line together, submitted all the paperwork and forms, signed the documents, took the picture, got her properly permitted, and then I let her drive the little Ford Ranger for about an hour all over southwest Amarillo.

Carley is a freshman at Amarillo High. She’s stunningly beautiful, brilliantly smart, hilariously funny, and singularly amazing in dozens of ways. I can’t imagine there’s anything she can’t do. If she wants something, she goes for it all the way. Hurdles and pole vaulting, running and jumping, lifting weights and doing chin ups. Painting and drawing, singing and acting, hiking and climbing. And she’s got hanging out down to a science: Carley and all her little buddies  watching crime dramas on TV and talking about boys.

Did I mention she’s our youngest?

I love hanging out with Carley. She’s very observant; she gets it. We notice a lot of the same things in people around us and in the culture at large. We think a lot of the same things are funny. She’s getting better and better at Ping Pong, racking up 17 points in a game against me earlier this week. That’s fun.

She’s in that really tough in-between stage. She’s in-between childhood and adulthood; caught in the middle of wanting to color in a coloring book and get a job to save money to buy a car; living in the land between a naïve optimism and joy and a knowing and experienced caution. Like everybody her age, she sometimes has these little cracks in her self-esteem and confidence. I hear it every now and then. And I want so badly for her to understand that everybody goes through this stuff, especially at this age. Carley’s not just learning about driving, she’s learning about life. And she’s learning that it’s never a super smooth ride for very long. One minute you’re soaring after a major accomplishment or in the middle of a great relationship. An hour later you feel like your heart falls into your socks because of a significant setback or a stupid boy. It just happens.

Carley, you need to know how much your mom and I love you. You need to know that we are cheering for you with every step as you become this wonderfully incredible young woman our God created you to be. We are so very, very proud of you. And we will never stop supporting you and defending you and encouraging you through all of your achievements and successes.

You are something else, girl. I love spending time with you. I love listening to your heart. I rejoice in every victory of yours, and my heart breaks in half every time you’re sad. And we’ve got just 15 more days until you and I see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers together on the floor at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Happy Birthday, Bear.

I love you.