Valerie is sixteen. And it’s different. At fourteen, they’re still little kids. At fifteen, it feels like “Oh, no, she’s moving into a different phase.” Now at sixteen, it’s “Wait a second! This is for real!” Sixteen is a full blown teenager with serious adult thoughts and tendencies. It’s responsibility and freedom, it’s abstract thinking and smart humor, it’s heavy conversations about increasingly weighty topics. And it’s boys. Good gravy, it seems like it’s most of what they talk about at sixteen. Which leads to, “Oh, no, I’m gonna lose this girl!”
I don’t want to think about it.
Sixteen years ago today, our Valerie Nicole was a nine-and-a-half pound chunk of a new born baby. She had a big, bald, round, bowling ball head and these huge eyes that people came from all over the hospital to see. She looked like a kindergartener among all the five and six pound lightweights in that nursery. Today, she’s a beautiful rail-thin twig of a young lady. Bony Maroni. And, did I mention, beautiful? And happy; she really seems happy.
Valerie enjoys her life. She loves it. Valerie loves Amarillo and Amarillo loves Valerie. She fought us tooth and nail when we moved here a year-and-a-half ago, but now she wouldn’t move back to DFW for love or money. She actually owns and wears a pair of cowboy boots. She spent this past fall working weekends and part time at the Borgers’ pumpkin farm. She listens to some cross-over country music. And she thinks she might like to work this summer at Palo Duro Canyon. Valerie has a pack of extraordinary friends both at school and at Central with whom she shares lots of meals and lots of laughs. She loves this place. It’s been so good for her. She’s thriving. And it does my heart good.
Our middle daughter and I share a lot of little things together. We both sing a lot in the truck. We sing and sing and sing. She sounds like an angel and I sound like somebody who shouldn’t be singing as loudly as I am. And we laugh. We get each other’s jokes. With just a glance across a table or a single word muttered under the radar or a subtle sound nobody else would catch, we communicate something we both think is absolutely hilarious. And we don’t think anybody else gets it. It’s special.
Of course, like most every dad who’s ever had a daughter, I’m trying to hold onto that kind of stuff for as long as I can. Praise God, for some reason Valerie still likes being with me. Maybe it’s sympathy. I’m leaving here in a few minutes to pick her and the ValPals up for a birthday lunch. She doesn’t mind hanging out with me. She pretends to actually enjoy it. And I cherish it. It’s precious to me. More and more precious with every passing birthday.
About four months ago, for the very first time ever, Valerie shooed me away in a social setting. It had never happened before. I was dropping her off at the high school on a Friday morning and actually walking in with her so I could buy our tickets to that night’s football game. As we walked across the parking lot together, her friend Chloe appeared on a nearby sidewalk. Valerie greeted her and began walking toward her. I yelled out, “Hey, Chloe!” and began walking that way, too. And Valerie said, “Dad, go away. Go away.”
I was crushed. I mumbled something like, “Okay, sorry” and kept walking toward the school office. But it was awful. Did she just tell me to go away? Yeah, she did. Oh, man, that hurt. It was a killer.
It hadn’t happened before. And it hasn’t happened since. But it gave me a weird little glimpse into the future. Some day that little middle is going to take off without me. And I’ve got to be allright with that.
But, not yet.
Our God has blessed Valerie with a wonderful sense of humor, an outgoing and infectious personality, and a heart for other people that reflects the love and mercy of our Savior. She really seems to put the needs of others ahead of her own. She’s especially sensitive to those people others might consider outcasts or misfits. She defends the weak. She gets into arguments with school teachers and classmates over religious and social issues. She challenges me. She makes me think. Valerie is smart enough and dedicated to our Christ enough to know what’s wrong with this world and what needs to happen. And she’s just rebellious enough to try to do something about it. I admire our Valerie. She’s going to do something really important in God’s Kingdom. I see it. He’s getting her ready for it. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it might change the world. I can’t wait.
Valerie will always prefer grilled cheese sandwiches to a steak dinner. She’ll always watch Little House on the Prairie and Sponge Bob. And she’ll always doodle and draw on things she’s not supposed to doodle and draw on. But, she’s growing up. Oh, man, she’s growing up. And she’s becoming as wonderfully beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
I love you, Valerie. Happy Birthday.