Today is your 8th Birthday!!! 8 years! And so much has happened since you came into our lives! When I go through your photos and our memories, when I sit down to write my thoughts for you, there is SO much I want to say. I’ll be 32 years old next month, and I will tell you that this year is the first of your birthdays that I have had the courage to pull out all of your baby books, birth photos, cards from past events, and memory albums. I have two large organizing bins full of memories from your first years, multiple drawers stuffed with your best artwork and sweetest treasures you gathered and gave to me from days at home with me to preschool to 1st Grade and with Sunday school lessons in between. I have been hoarding moments. Storing them. Tucking away photos. I’ve posted tons of photos and stories and updates of you to social networks for sharing with family and friends but mostly for storing away for myself. And during this all, I’ve wanted to go through it all. I’ve wanted to complete scrapbooks. I’ve wanted to organize, sort, and rediscover what all I have archived. I’ve wanted to watch your baby videos too.
But until this year, I couldn’t do it. This is the first year I’ve had the courage. Silly. Sure. But true. It’s taken me 8 years to be able to review your baby, toddler, and first moments because those moments, I thought, were the best moments of my entire life and I would never get them back or recreate them again. I guess I believed that if I did not face them, they were not over. If I hoarded back all of my best, all of my sweetest memories of you, I wouldn’t have to acknowledge that you are growing up so fast. I could apologize for this because it sounds sort of damaged! Ha. But as much as it was, I don’t feel I have failed either of us. It took me a while. Longer than some. But I’m able to look through your photos today and smile. See, life can be both incredibly sad and incredibly sweet all at once. And sometimes the sweet is so good it makes us sad. Or it does for me anyway. I was afraid if I looked at your memories, I would be swept away with sadness. And today. I was still afraid. But I looked through everything and guess what I found… Joy. I found Joy.
You and daddy have always laughed at how emotional and sentimental I get. At the movies, even animated shorts, that I cannot watch without over-feeling it all and spilling over in tears. I avoid things that push me into that feeling. I don’t like to feel sad. I don’t like to feel overtaken. I don’t let things overtake me because I’ve lived overtaken at times in my life and it wasn’t good. But, I’ll tell you, I’m learning something great the older I get. The older you get. The longer we live. I’m learning to grow. I can keep my heart without having to seal it away or avoid it or turn from anything that calls it to the surface. I’m learning that facing my fears, experiencing the moment, and remembering the past are things I can do simultaneously without being swept away or fearing what comes next. Ultimately, I’m learning that I can handle heavy things.
I can even handle heavy Joy. And that’s what I feel when I look through your memory books. Heavy. Deep. Proud. Authentic. Peaceful. Humble. J-O-Y.
See, for every year you have been alive, I have been growing up too. And I am still learning and growing up every day as we speak. We are growing up together in many ways. And even though I’ll always be a little further ahead in some areas, you’ve been able already to show and teach me from things that you know too. I love that about truth. Truth knows no age. You can be 8 years old and speak truth like adults have never known. And you can be nearly 32 years old, wise in many ways, and still learning every day. As long as we keep open, we can learn from anybody no matter their age, their life, or how we relate to them. And I hope that we can both always learn from and teach one another things just by how we live and by who we are, and by how we interact with one another. Mothers and daughters go through so much together and sometimes you and I won’t want to learn or teach a thing to one another. That is okay. That is normal. What is important, though, is that we always work to overcome our feelings by reaching out for what is true. No matter how we feel, truth prevails. Always shake the emotion and remember the truth. Truth keeps us grounded when emotions flood. Emotions are important. And when you feel them, good or bad, you’ll have some seriously personal convictions and justifications and reasons for your feelings. Sometimes, feelings are made in truth. But oftentimes the way we feel and what is true is entirely different or at least not supportive of one another. So, how do we overcome in our relationship as mom and daughter and what makes great relationships work in general? Well, I’m still learning the answer to this too. But I’ll tell you what I think.
Great relationships are ones where feelings rush at times and threaten everything but both parties fight for truth instead. Truth isn’t always good. Sometimes, truth ain’t even great. But truth in relationships is what takes them from good to great, from thin to thick, from shallow to deep, from temporary to long-lasting. Truth is what makes two people grow up together and become greater individuals that bring out greater parts of one another. And when you are faced with feelings that rob you of truth, I think getting back to the truth is always possible. How do we get to the truth? Turn away from feelings and give each other: Love. Grace. Patience. Humility. Forgiveness. Appreciation. Empathy. Courage. Effort. Respect. No matter how we feel, if we both put forth our best, we will overcome our worst. And I believe that’s true for all relationships.
I started this post today with the intent to share five things with you. Just five. Seems I always have more I want to say to you. But for now, I’ll leave you with these thoughts…
As our relationship evolves, I just want to be sure that you know that I look up to you as much as I hope to always give you reasons to look up to me. And to help you know that I look up to you, I have to treat you in ways that cause you to see and feel my admiration. And I have to behave admirably as well. We both are going to royally mess it up sometimes, but we know the truth. God gave us to one another and we are here for each other. And no matter how we feel, we can face heavy things and we can even hold heavy Joy.
With heavy joy in mind, here are 8 Words for your 8th Birthday, wishes I have made for you based on what life has taught me so far!
- Agency: The ability to act for yourself. It is really hard to help give you this, help you find this, help you learn this, because you are not in charge right now. But I wish to give you an appreciation and respect for your self and your life. You need to have the capacity to act and you need to have the capacity to affect your life and to make your own choices. Avoid any relationship that requires you to forfeit your agency. I used to wonder why God created people if he knew the whole time Adam and Eve would do what they did and the world would fall and people would become sinners and awful things would happen. I didn’t understand how a Heavenly Father would be loving and good and yet allow such awful things to happen to his children. Then, at many different times and through relationships with many different people and even in many different seasons of my interests, I had the opportunity to learn from the ‘other’ version of love and life and relationship. The version without agency. No life, no love, and no connection is truly good if you look back and realize that you didn’t truly act and choose it for yourself or that you did but in doing so that relationship kept you from having agency in other areas of your life. God could have taken away the agency. He could have taken away free will. He could have made us all in his image with no will and personal choice. How good and loving though is a God that only creates thoughtless, powerless, uninvolved, incapable beings to love and worship him and to live in constant service to his plan? Love without agency is empty. Devotion without agency is captive. Service without agency is slavery. Loyalty without agency is lost. Without the capacity to choose, we are simply drones robotically living out of habit. Humans aren’t robots. Humans need agency. If you take away a human’s agency, you take away their hope. If the hopeless human can learn to survive hopelessly living, it will cost them their mind, their life, and their purpose. God is love and love is not obligatory worship. Healthy relationships cannot steal your agency because to remove your choice is to remove your humanness. So why didn’t God give us agency but program us to always choose good and right? Because again. Programming someone to choose what benefits us is brain washed obedience. How loving are we if we set a person with agency but make so that the choices given to the person are still only good choices according to our plans? Exactly. We can’t. True love, healthy opportunities, and purposeful relationships require agency. And if you look at the choices you are given, and none of them serve you, be careful. False agency is not agency. without the authentic capacity to make decisions for yourself, you will lose yourself to a robotic life you were never asked to live.
- Authenticity: be yourself. If you don’t know who you are at any point, take some time and figure it out. You will and should find that who you are can evolve, change, and move back and forth at times. Ultimately, though, your best guide for authenticity is to let others be authentic too. Notice your differences. Be comfortable with bringing different things to the table. Do not assume what you lack as a negative. Do not take what they bring as a subtraction from your gifts. Be yourself. Bring yourself. Grow when you can where you can and when you should. And otherwise stand up for the difference you are. If you lose your authenticity you’ll lose sight of your purpose and you’ll lose enthusiasm. If you feel lost and uninterested, these are often signs that you need to be more authentic. If you can’t be more authentic in the situation, look around and find a new one.
- Kindness: you don’t have to be fake, but you can always be kind.
- Respect: Respect is admiration shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas. I truly believe everyone has good ideas but everyone has a different definition of “good”. Respect everyone for having their own good ideas, and maintain self-respect by refusing to purposefully and knowingly disrespect anyone. Respectable people should not expect you to respect them while they disrespect you, but it happens. You cannot define respectable people by how well they respect you alone because sometimes, like a college professor for instance in a course you have to take to graduate, sometimes the person’s authority requires your respect even though they are disrespectful to you and have done nothing and will do nothing to earn your respect toward them–nothing but be hired to wield authority in your class and nothing but earn the position over you in that classroom. You cannot get through life by avoiding every person who disrespects you or by choosing to treat every disrespecting person as poorly as he or she has treated you. It will not work to your benefit. So, learn to give respect whether it is earned or not. However, keep in mind that the more someone disrespects you, and the less they make any effort to change, the more that person becomes less and less deserving of your time. Put your full effort into that course, give your best in all required of you, and get out with your grade. Don’t flunk and have to go take the same professor again because you realize there’s no way around it. Get in, be respectful, get things accomplished, and move forward. Your time is too precious to waste it. And you are too precious to spend time respecting those who do not show you the same. Do it as long as you must. Try your best to be heard. Give opportunity for resolve. Then ultimately go where you are shown basic human respect with no other merit necessary other than you are a human being. Everyone deserves your basic respect and to disrespect others is to lose sight of your self-respect. But not everyone deserves your time. To give your time is to give yourself, and to respectfully give yourself to someone or something that disrespects you is sometimes required–but it is not how your story ends. Giving anymore time than necessary would be a loss of self-respect. Self-respect is where it all starts. You cannot respect anyone else if you don’t first have respect for yourself. Respect yourself. Do not demand others respect you but seek to move beyond anyone who regularly shows they do not deserve anymore of your time.
- Laugh: the moment you look around and can’t find anything funny, get up and go take a walk outside. I mean it. Get some fresh air. Laughter and a sense of humor, smiling, giggling, you need these things. Your spirit needs a walk outside when you catch yourself feeling like nothing is funny.
- Isolate: sometimes, you need to be alone. I am an introvert so I need to be alone all of the time. It recharges me. But you seem more extroverted and seek out others to be energized. Nothing is wrong with either of our personalities! You and your daddy remind me to get out and keep seeking out others. You remind me to find energy in a crowd even when I’m overwhelmed or in a bad mood. You remind me that it feels good sometimes to go out and get involved and talk with different people. You push me and challenge me to be more social and to get out of my comfort zones! I need that. Thank you! But I’ll ask you to remember to do the same. Don’t forget that a group of people and a constant activity list is your comfort zone. And there’s a lot to be said for stepping away and turning off the TV and sorting out what is on your mind and in your heart. Challenge yourself to find enjoyment without constant interaction and stimulation. It is good to slow down and listen to your own beat once in a while.
- Believe: to believe is to feel sure of the truth of. So much of growing up causes you to lose assurance of the truth in what you once never questioned. This does not mean that truth is lost. If you fear there’s nothing left to believe in, truth is still there, but you need to keep looking. Remember, faith is belief of that which we cannot see. If belief is feeling sure of the truth of something. And faith is belief of that which is unseen. Then, having faith means feeling sure that something is true even though we cannot see it. Just because you cannot explain or illustrate something you feel does not mean it is untrue. Test it. Question it. But never lose sight of something you believe just because others criticize your lack of proof.
- Accountability: be accountable. Acknowledge your responsibilities and keep them. Acknowledge your mistakes, and work not to repeat them. Acknowledge those around you and help them to be accountable too. Accounting our actions and willingly accepting responsibilities means we are never so right that we cannot be wrong, we are never so good that we cannot improve, we are never so knowledgeable that we cannot learn, we are never so above that we cannot reach down, and we are never so down that we cannot get up. Accountability is the key to make progress moving forward; without it, movement occurs but either in the wrong direction or at a total standstill.
Heavy Joy is worth it. I wish you the deepest of a life well-lived. You’re just getting started in these past 8 years, and I’m already so proud of you and who you are becoming!
Happy Birthday, love! Thank you for making life a blessing just by being in it! I hope one day you look back on it to say your mom provided the same blessing to you!
P.S. Pictures make a blog post better! 🙂