Today you are seventeen. Even as I type that, I can’t wrap my mind around it.
I spent all day yesterday thinking about where I was and what I was doing seventeen years ago. In the early morning hours of August 2, 2003, I woke up with stomach pains that I felt certain were the result of eating too much chicken spaghetti the night before. I laid in bed from 2:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. with stomach pains that occurred about every thirty minutes and it never even dawned on me that I might be in labor and not in the throes of food poisoning.
When Daddy finally woke up about 6:30, he asked, “Do you think you’re in labor?” Which was a valid question considering I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant. Sure enough, you had decided it was time to see the world and showed up at 2:14 a.m. on August 3. I didn’t realize you might be early because that wasn’t in the plan, which was just the beginning of things I didn’t know seventeen years ago.
Here are the few things I did know:
-You were going to be a girl.
-We were naming you Caroline Tatum Shankle.
-Your nursery was decorated in pale pinks and greens that I meticulously picked out.
-I figured it might be a while before I got a good night’s sleep after you were born.
Here’s what I didn’t know:
-That you would change my life forever for the better.
-I wouldn’t sleep through the night again for about five or thirteen years.
-The way you’d make me laugh so hard that I couldn’t breathe.
-That you’d have a little dimple that shows up under your eye when you smile.
-Seventeen years would go by so mind-numbingly fast.
You arrived in our lives two weeks ahead of schedule and we have never been the same. I don’t know what we did before you came along, but I know it wasn’t filled with as much joy and laughter. You made us a family.
This past year…what can I say about this year? Speaking of things I didn’t know…who could have known that the second half of your junior year in high school would be cut short by a pandemic? There is no page in a baby book entitled “Baby’s First Pandemic”.
One of the things I prayed for over the last twelve months was that you would see and know the goodness of God. I want that to be the guiding light of your whole life and, honestly, I just want to see life work out for you. So it was hard to watch you struggle with soccer injuries, disappointments, and feeling left out a lot of the time.
But every time I questioned why, God constantly reminded me that His goodness doesn’t always look like my version of good. That never felt more true than when the Coronavirus hit and life totally shut down, ending your junior year and soccer season on a weird, incomplete note.
Here’s what I watched you learn over the last several months. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you in life. You don’t get to pick which challenges you have to face or what circumstances you may live through, but you get to choose how you’re going to deal with those things. You get to choose your attitude and your outlook and I’ve seen you rise to the occasion in circumstances that are truly unprecedented.
You’ve fought for joy and laughter. (One of my personal highlights of 2020 was the day you got your wisdom teeth out and were the most hilarious post-op patient ever) You’ve continued to push yourself even when it would have been easy to give up. You’ve learned to advocate for yourself and speak your mind even when it’s not the popular thing to do. I’m so proud of who you are and it’s made me see the goodness of God with a whole new perspective. Warriors don’t learn to be strong if they are never tested.
Here’s something else I didn’t know seventeen years ago:
I didn’t know that you would actually be the one showing me what it means to stay strong in the face of adversity.
On Saturday – as if your seventeenth birthday being imminent wasn’t enough on my heart – you spent the day working on your applications to college. Texas A&M is at the top of your list which makes me feel like I’ve nailed this whole parenting thing.
After you finished checking over that particular application one last time, you told me you were ready to hit submit. I asked if you wanted to pray before you did and so we held hands and you prayed. I’ll keep your words private but hearing that prayer confirmed for me that you have grown into a woman who is chasing after everything God has called her to be. You trust in the goodness of God even if it looks different from what you planned.
And as you face your senior year of high school with so many unknowns and uncertainties, I look at you and know without a doubt that you’ll make the best of it no matter what comes your way. You’ve been forged in fires that neither of us necessarily wanted, but here’s something else I didn’t know seventeen years ago:
It’s often those tough, scary, and unwanted things that are making you into exactly who God has called you to be.
Since life turned sideways this spring, I’ve found comfort in the words of the song “The Blessing”. I bet I’ve listened to it a million times and I sing it as a prayer over your life, so it feels fitting to end this year’s birthday letter with those words.
“The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you”
Don’t ever forget that He is for you.
And so are Daddy and me.
We will be cheering you on every step of the way and cherishing every single second of your last year at home. Here’s the last thing we didn’t know seventeen years ago:
You are every dream we had come true.