Today, daughter, you turn 12. When you emerged from the womb a dozen years ago, I stood in awe and stammered, “Wow. Whoa. Holy smokes.”

I’ve been in awe ever since.

I was in awe carrying your car seat into that huge house in Moweaqua, not having a clue how to handle a newborn. I was in awe in the middle of the night (for months) as we fed and changed and soothed you. I was in awe when I realized how open you were — ever ready with a goofy grin or a pointed toddler rebuke. You had the books of the Bible memorized at two. You produced epic Christmas card portraits and creatively spun stories for anyone who would listen. You’ve been singing since you could talk, and the song you sing with your life is a melody that everyone benefits from hearing.

Last night we were playing a game at dinner, and you asked if I could describe you in one word. A lot of adjectives zoomed through my mind, punctuated with memories that illustrated their truth.

  • Smart (goodness, you are smart)
  • Beautiful (I mean…have you seen your parents?)
  • Leader
  • Funny

Your mother chose delightful, which is apt. I chose “unstoppable,” because when I look at you, I see a force that is being shaped and honed and ordered but will soon be unleashed, and I’m not sure the world is ready for it.

I’m not sure you’re ready for it.

The thing is, little darlin’, your biggest struggle in life will be figuring out how to be unstoppable you while lots of others (and sometimes even yourself) try and stop you. So here are some helpful tips:

When people say you’re bossy, that just means you’re a leader. Work on your kindness, but don’t dial back the passion. The world needs your passion.

When you’re tempted to play the comparison game (so-and-so is more athletic, so-and-so is prettier, so-and-so is better at whatever) remember that it’s a good thing the world has them the way they are, but it’s also a good thing the world has you the way you are. The combination of gifts you display is vast. Other people having a different combination doesn’t make them better than you (and you having your combination of gifts doesn’t make you better than anyone else, either).

When boys think they’re good enough for you, run this test to see if they really are:

  1. Do they love Jesus?
  2. How much time do they spend talking about/playing video games?
  3. Are they as good of a dude as I am?

If the answers are yes, not a ton, and yes, go for it. If they can’t answer all three questions correctly, don’t. I’ve worked really hard to set a standard. Don’t settle.

The reason you love Harry Potter is because of the magic and mystery. Never stop being curious.

You will always want things your way, but that’s not how the world works. Deal with it. You can’t control everything. Life’s not perfect.

You are only 12, and we’ve been very truthful with you about how life works, but so far you’ve still been shielded from much. As you find out that the world isn’t as safe, isn’t as kind, isn’t as innocent as you presently think, remember that when you were 12 you saw things differently. That’s more like the way the world is supposed to be. You live in a broken world, but God is putting it back together.

The best use of your life is helping gather up the broken pieces so he can do his thing.

You were not raised by perfect parents. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I stupidly didn’t strap you in to your stroller for an evening walk when you were just a few months old, causing you to tumble out when we hit a huge crack in the sidewalk. I’ve been careless with my words from time to time and hurt you.

But I’ll tell you one thing we’ve gotten right all along, since that first “Wow. Whoa. Holy smokes.”

We’ve loved the stuffing out of you, and that’s not changing.

So when a boy breaks your heart or you don’t get into your first choice or the job interview flops or you don’t win or our voice cracks or a friend stabs you in the back (all of which will probably happen one day, but hopefully not the same day), remember this:

When you were 12 you lived in a cul de sac with your mom and dad and brother. It was sunny and 75. We had fifty cent corn dogs for dinner from Sonic because you wanted to, and I brought donuts for your class to school. Your brother bought you a Beauty and the Beast poster and a bag of Hot Cheetos, and we went to church where a bazillion people told you Happy Birthday, because you are loved.

Oh, how you are loved.

Happy Birthday, Nora.

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