This has been a challenging one for me to write… not because it’s hard, but because there are just so many “feels”. On Thursday, my firstborn turned 13. I’ve got all the “can I really be that old?!” feels, along with surreal feelings of “where did all the time go?” – nothing that would surprise anyone really. But more than anything, is this. This sense of wonder over what God has done and who He is – how He shows up in the most unexpected places and fills us with awe.
So all I have in way of saying happy birthday to my 13 year old is a picture and a story. This – that I have been savoring in my heart, searching for words.
When I was just 14 years old, I came back to the states from Liberia, a silly, inexperienced, insecure girl moving from the jungles of Africa to the jungles of Los Angeles. Rich in experience and adventure, but all sorts of awkward.
So a few months ago, when my tiny, shy daughter informed that she wanted to try basketball, a game she had seen only some from the outside, but never tried in her 12 years, my heart quaked inside me. Not because I didn’t think she could, but because all those old feelings from my own childhood rose up in me. This girl is a quiet one, but firm when she knows in her heart what she should do. So we jumped in – I became the sports mom who understands nothing of referee calls or what plays are happening – but cheering with all my heart for this fearless girl who jumped in with all her heart to a place that I had spent my life avoiding.
Playing on a team of older girls, she dove in with all her heart. I quietly wondered if she would know how to play and what to do – she didn’t care. She just did her best and learned as she went. I sat on the sidelines and watched as her spirit rose up within her – she would scoot around the court, holding back a little, but still putting herself out there. Then one magical night, we all held our breath as she had the ball. In a heartbeat, she turned… instead of choosing the safety of passing to a more experienced team member, she took this shot A beautiful 3 pointer – her first basket in a real game, and God gave her this. Friends and family erupted in cheers, and I wept a little.
Because it’s not about basketball at all, really. It’s about having the courage to put yourself in a place where you can fail. Most of my life, I chose safety. I chose to blend in when my life was anything but “normal”. When the cheerleader in high school rolled her eyes and said, “that’s weird” on hearing about my life in Africa, I retreated and instead tried to be like everyone else. I stopped taking risks for many years.
But God doesn’t stop when we do. And He has relentlessly put me in places of risk to keep me from hiding. It has been a glorious journey to discovering that the best we can be is unabashedly who He made us to be! Regardless of who and what surrounds us, regardless of the fainting heart within us, let us fearlessly pursue this truth. In the moment I saw Charissa take that shot, I saw so many moments of my life flash before my eyes. Moments where I had stepped back in the face of God asking me to walk forward. Moments of opportunity I had missed because I had let fear erect a wall in my path. In that moment my daughter captured for me a picture of what it means to courageously walk into the “new”. I found myself overwhelmed by thankfulness. Thankful for all the times in my life God didn’t give up on me. Thankful that He didn’t let me hold back when all of me wanted to. And here I was, watching Him be faithful in her life like He has been all these years in mine! It took me longer to grasp it, but here in this moment, watching my daughter experience this moment, it all played before my eyes. The unending, daily, unfolding faithfulness of God.
So, my dear Charissa, welcome to your teenage years! I know there are a lot of things people say about teenagers, but this is what I have to say. Over the course of these 13 years, you have shown me the beauty of irrepressible curiosity. You have shown me the wonder of untarnished love for Jesus. You have shown me that you don’t have to be loudly vocal to be strong. You have made me laugh until my sides hurt, shake my head in awe at your insatiable questions, and sit in silence at the strength and boldness in your spirit. Thank you for teaching me once again the value of being fearless in the face of the new. I pray that as you step into this new adventure, you will boldly embrace all of who Jesus made you to be. I know that as you follow Him, you will find your way.
This is just the beginning.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12