When you were two days old, you almost died in our arms. What I learned about myself in that moment is just one of the many lessons your life has taught me. My little girl will turn 19 years old this week. While you will spend your birthday overwhelmed with what you are learning in college, I will spend it overwhelmed with what I have and am still learning from you.
The first time I looked into your eyes, I was struck by how familiar you looked. My second thought was how vulnerable you were. And then it was no longer about me becoming a mom. It was about you becoming a daughter. It wasn’t about my life being changed because I had a baby, it was about the world being changed because you were suddenly a part of it. Suddenly I knew what my mother always meant when she said I would understand when I had kids of my own: everything we do, we do so that our children can make a difference.
2. I am not nor have I ever been “in control.”
When you were two days old and you lay on that hospital bed not breathing, all I could think was, “Please, God, don’t take her. I haven’t had a chance to get to know her yet.” For so long, “my” life had consisted of “my” plans, “my” accomplishments, basically, stuff all within “my” control. In that moment, I realized I had no control at all. I could do nothing to make you breathe except pray. And pray I did, fervently. On that horrible night, God showed me His strength through your — and my — helplessness.
You became “Lightening Bug” when you were three months old, smiling as everyone made a big deal out of your first Christmas. That was the moment Grandaddy gave you the nickname that has stuck for 19 years, because in his words, when you smile your whole face lights up. Smiling should never happen with just your lips. The best smile is a reflection of the joy inside, a joy that we should allow to burst forth, light up our faces, and freely share with others.
4. A good sense of humor can change the world, or at least get you out of trouble!
You were making jokes — real, actually funny jokes! — even before you could talk. You could make us laugh before I realized you even knew what humor was or how to use it. A sense of humor is a gift; it makes difficult situations easier, it diffuses tensions, and it invites others into your world. Your laughter — around the dinner table, in a text, at yourself, at me! — has brightened more moments that you know.
5. A nap can fix just about anything.
Sometimes those toddler tantrums were about expressing your own strong will and sometimes they were just about being a grumpus. More than once, the difference between that child who fell asleep screaming and the child who woke laughing made me wonder if someone had switched babies while my back was turned. One of my recent favorite “Michaela quotes” came after you woke from a short nap in the car: “Got my happy pants back on. I love it when you can change clothes in your sleep!”
6. A strong willed child is a challenge and a blessing.
One afternoon when you were 18 months old, I called my father complaining about your stubbornness. He didn’t commiserate with me, but rather charged me to take responsibility for molding that strong will into a strong young woman, a woman determined enough to chase a dream but smart enough to seek counsel, humble enough to choose what is right over what is popular. Frankly, I thought he was being just a bit flippant with my real-time frustration, but looking at you now, I see what he saw: my temporary challenge would be a blessing in so many ways.
7. It is worth going through the scary parts of life to get to the thrilling parts.
Forget the kiddie rides, you were hooked on Bush Gardens thrill rides before you were two! That little top-knot in your hair gave you just enough height to ride the rides that “tickled your tummy.” I knew then you would never settle for ordinary, and you regularly challenge me to reach for the extraordinary.
You insisted on learning Russian when you were seven. We never made it happen, but you kept that desire for years, and finally I asked the question: “Why?” We read the story of Gladys Aylward when you were in 2nd grade, and you thought God may want you to be a missionary. At that moment I was both panicked and awed. Panicked because I could see that this was very real to you, and awed at the realization that God could put such a strong calling on such a young heart. How many times have I searched my own heart because of something God placed on yours?
9. I should probably have cooked more when you were younger.
You were not quite three when we moved to a different country, and your biggest concern was the fact we wouldn’t be able to buy frozen pancakes, your favorite breakfast. When I told you not worry because I could make pancakes, you were stunned! I pulled your stool up to the kitchen counter and you watched wide-eyed as I cooked up a batch of pancakes. Then in utter confusion, you asked, “But Mommy, how are you going to get them in the plastic??” Yep, I probably should have cooked more…
10. Kids really do say the darndest things; don’t take it personally.
I vividly remember the day I said goodbye to the 90s-style high-waisted jeans and slipped on a pair slightly more in fashion. Your little seven year old self be-bopped into my room and exclaimed, “Wow, Mommy, those look great! You look like you are in your twenties! Now we just need to do something about your face.” Nope, I’m not taking it personally…really.
I have had the privilege of being Mama to one certain young woman who teaches me something everyday! It’s your birthday, but I get the gift. Happy birthday, my girl!
*Featured photo is the beautiful work of Catsh Photography.
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