To Friends, Family & Facebook,
I don’t always think things through. Ideas are often enough information for me to get started. Honestly, the more I think about something the bigger and bigger the possibilities get. So was the case when I was trying to figure out what to do to make my daughter’s birthday special. I presented her with adventure after adventure after adventure until she finally confirmed, “Mom, it’s not your birthday.” Wait? What? Stop right there.
Thirteen years ago today, I became a mother. She was lovely then and she’s lovely now. She has my love for others and her daddy’s love of the simple and quiet life. So, how does the extroverted-dreamer honor her daughter on an important birthday? First, find the pause button. (Where is that? I remember seeing it back in 2014.) Then, you pray.
Lauren loves to write. She writes stories, songs and weekly letters to friends and pen pals. It hit me. This child doesn’t want a surprise party, she wants a private surprise party! The kind she can join when she wants, 1 letter at a time. I tarried in thought and the idea grew to gather 100 letters. Still I remained. So, the task became to get a letter from all 50 states. Information overload!!! I immediately jumped on e-mail and facebook to get help!
And it worked.
In less than a month, we had letters from all over the world and 49 states. (Damn you Louisiana! I bet it comes before she ever misses it.) We stopped counting letters when we hit 200. I never thought of the process and how much daily joy it would bring to have my two youngest coloring states in on the map and adding tally marks to the goal line. I didn’t consider the increase in anticipation for the birth-day to finally arrive.
So, today is the day! After our normal family birthday routine had finished with a bang, Lauren’s heart was full of gratitude. I knew she had sensed our ever-growing excitement for her birthday. When she opened her last present and discovered that she would be joining me on an EF trip to Europe next year, this child couldn’t fathom more. Her cup was already running over.
And yet we were all still whispering when she walked out of the room! “Hey, I need you to move her to the backyard or hang her sign in her room and don’t let her out.” The plot continued to thicken.
Jason had the brilliant idea of filling our mailbox with the letters and letting Lauren check the mail, something she never does. I called a spontaneous Starbucks run, not so unusual, and loaded the kids in the car. “Hey, why don’t you check the mail, maybe you’ll have a birthday card in there.” Appreciating the stroke of genius her mother had just had, she gleefully got out of the car. Confusion, shock, and an overwhelming joy met her at the mailbox. It was beautiful. Four armful trips later, I explained what had happened.
We really can’t thank you enough for lavishing your love on us. I never dreamed that we would receive a fraction of what has come our way. It was beyond my vision to see the ensuing aftermath. Here are some examples:
*The first card she opened contained stickers from the Nepal hike to Mt. Everest because there is no height that love won’t take you.
*The second card she opened sang to her and had $13 in it because we count many things here on Earth, but love keeps no record of wrong.
*The third letter had an inappropriate card with a lottery ticket in it because it’s always worth the chance of loving another, even when they are wrong. (& hilarious)
*The fourth was a letter from a beloved teacher because we never forget those who have lovingly led us down the right path.
And then I realized, we’re going to be opening cards for a week!
We’ve managed to make it through only a handful more today, but the words of wisdom and encouragement that have come to our teenager have left us awestruck. I never expected invitations to continue the exchange of letters, but we estimate at least 20 new pen pals from the boxes of letters, a true gift.
So thank you, friends, family, and Facebook. You have shown Lauren that the world is full of generous loving people, an incredible foundation as she begins to swim into the current of events happening in the world around her. I could have never dreamed this up or done it on my own. My, and Lauren’s, sincere gratitude is yours.
**Tearful Memory Lane Warning!!**
I will end with an open letter to one of the sweetest, most thoughtful, and generous people I know.
I cried and cried in the middle of the night this week. They weren’t tears of regret, but rather tears because I won’t remember it all. These grains of sand in your hourglass continue to fall through my fingers and they will never come back. So, here are some things you should remember as you walk into your teenage years:
Remember that time the Olympic Gold Medalist told you that God had big plans for your life, bigger than you could imagine. Believe that. Remember that.
Remember that time that you won the blue ribbon at the State Fair? Don’t forget the 2nd place ribbon two years before that made you pay better attention to the regulations. The ribbon that made the details matter because the details do matter. Don’t forget.
Remember the squeaking of the violin before you made Vivaldi come alive in our living room? The disciplines in life often live unseen for a season until the Spring sun calls them out of the darkness and the world sees the bloom and smells the fragrance of your hard work. Nobody achieves greatness without effort, nobody. Remember that time you beat the boys to the top of the climbing wall? Which time? Exactly. Your best is all that is required of you. Some days that best is getting from the bed to the couch, but your best brings honor to this world. Don’t let anyone shut down your honor because of your gender, religion or cause. Climb hard. Fall. Get back up. Remember that time the present was a pony? When people tell you that you’ll never “top that”, refuse to let them lower the bar for you. Your standard has nothing to do with the glamor of the results. It has to do with loving well. Sometimes that involves a spotlight, but usually, it doesn’t.
Remember that tenderness is what this life tries to take from you. Fight hardness. Embrace goodness. Remember that love can surprise you. When it does, take the time to really soak in. You’ve just had an encounter with God. Remember that joy is contagious. Enjoy the world around you and the creatures in it. They are gifts and should be treated as such.
Remember that you’ve been given everyday people to love. They can be challenging because you see all the bad with the good, but they see your bad and good too.
Remember when people express their gratitude to accept it. We all need each other, but you stepped in and it mattered. Good job. Remember that you are a leader. There are already people following in your footsteps. So step boldly with confidence.
Remember that taking the time to explore and make memories is never a waste of time and resources. A family that adventures together stays together. Unless they get eaten by bears. (*Hiking in groups is a known deterrent to bear attacks in the back country.) Remember that while you didn’t get to pick your family, we are what you’ve been given. While we may be crazy, the truth is, we’re just crazy about you. We are, however, living proof that people need a lot of grace. Give it away. Give it to yourself. Remember that nothing is more important than these people here. Long after I am gone, they will remain. You will help each other remember all the inside jokes and the stories we should have written down in a remembering book. Don’t just treat them like family, commit to treating them like chosen friends. It will serve you well and honor a deep desire within my heart. Remember that those who have lived a lot of years well, know so much more than you. They may not operate the settings on your cell phone, but they have managed to make it through life with enough love left in their hearts to cook you a meal, tell you a story, and above all set the example of where faithfulness can land no matter what life throws at you. Listen. Respect them.
Above all, there is something that I truly hope you never forget. Lauren, you are lovely. I will never get over God allowing me to be your mom. It is a grace, like all graces, that I did not earn. I am so excited about these together teen years with you. May our journey always be full of hope, simple daily life, quiet spaces and maybe just a sprinkling of adventure because after all, I am your mom.
I love you so. Happy 13th Birthday.