happy 19th birthday millie...

i wrote this letter to millie on her 19th birthday. i have written her a letter on each birthday since she was born. i keep them in a scrapbook that she will receive when she graduates from college. except for her 17th and 18th birthdays. i couldn't write those letters. i tried starting them but never finished them. never found a rhythm for what i needed to say. which as you know is strange for me to have nothing to say.

see all my letters from age 0-16 have been about the work of God in her life. about how much i love teaching her about Him. about how much i love that she loves Him. about the kindness and mercy and love that He has for her. about the woman i see Him crafting her to be... and i still believed those things were true on her 17th and 18th birthdays.

but she doesn't believe they are true.

right about the time of her 17th birthday she told me that she didn't want to be a Christian. that she was tired of me pushing my religion on her. she didn't know what she was or what she believed but it wasn't Christianity.

that hasn't changed. it has been a long two years. she doesn't like going to church with us. doesn't want me to talk about God in front of her in any way shape or form. i fail at that all the time. it is hard for me not to mention Him. His name is on every breath i take.

it hurts her when i talk about Him. and it hurts me that she won't talk about Him. we just keep hurting each other. over and over and over.

and so the letters are more difficult to write. i just put it off and put it off. until she was 19. i kept hoping i could write a letter that said that this journey was over. that He had opened her eyes. her ears. her heart... to Him. but that hasn't happened.

so on her birthday sunday morning i wrote this letter...

HAPPY 19th birthday

we start this 19th year of your birth at a strange place. we haven't seen each other for over 48 hours. and i suspect that is a choice on both of our parts. right now it hurts each of us to be too near to the other one. which i guess is pretty fitting on this 19th anniversary of your birth. 

there was another day 19 years ago when it was painful for us to be in the same room (well, you were in the WOMB. ha.) giving birth hurts. i'll spare you the details... i am sure it hurt you as much as it hurt me. you did cry. so did i.

so much and yet so little has changed in 19 years.

but i will tell you that the pain of that day was easier than the pain of last few years. because that day i knew exactly what to do. my body told me. it was pretty obvious that you needed out and even though it hurt to get you out where you needed to be there wasn't really another choice to be made. and by getting you OUT it really meant getting you INTO my arms. being able to hold you and to see your face. and to find out who you were. to be able to look into your HUGE eyes and to tell you over and over again how much i already loved you. and how i couldn't wait to love you for the rest of your life. and tell you how i was going to be a PERFECT parent. 

so the last few years have hurt worse because not only are you GETTING OUT you are leaving my arms. you have already left them. 

the last few years of finding out who you are meant finding out all the ways you weren't like me. and all the ways you didn't like who i am.

in the last few years i have fully realized the IMPERFECTNESS of my parenting.

but mostly because over the last two years there have been a lot of choices to make. and my body has betrayed me by wanting to keep you NEAR and to smother you with my love and care. and some days i feel like i have made EVERY one of the choices about mothering you wrong...

  • i have said "NO" when i wasn't trusting enough to say YES.
  • i have said "YES" when i wasn't strong enough to say NO.
  • i have failed to see the WONDERFUL things you are because you weren't the things i WANTED you to be.
  • i have TALKED when i should have LISTENED. i have tried to TEACH when i should have LEARNED from you.
  • i have tried to BUY your love when i felt like i couldn't EARN it. or didn't deserve it.
  • i have used words that TORE YOU DOWN instead of BUILDING UP. words that HURT you instead of HELPED you.
  • i have COMPARED and CONTRASTED you in my mind and in words. compared you to people that you are not. and failed to see the BEAUTY that was standing right in front of me. the CREATIVE GIFTED girl that was CREATED and GIFTED perfectly to be my daughter. 

i wish i could count the nights (and in some ways i am glad i can't) that i stood under the hot blast of the shower water and just said over and over through tears "i am sorry. i am sorry.i am sorry." to no one in particular. but somehow to you. 

i am sorry for not seeing you clearly because i wanted some fictional version of you. because i thought that would be easier. 

because that has made it harder for you to be born into this world. to become who you need to be.

i know that our relationship isn't in a good place. i am sorry for the messes that i have made. and the times i have placed burdens on you that were too much for you to bear. the ways i have made it hard for you to talk to me. the ways i haven't accepted you fully and gratefully...

"This is the work that every person born of a woman, fathered of a man, must do to become an adult: embrace the reality of the first person who held us. Isn’t this always a child’s hardest and continual work?
This parenting gig’s an experiment in radical grace and the work of every parent is to fully give to the child.
And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents. This is how it turns, the torch passing from one to the next.
Remember that we made meals and beds and mistakes and memories – look hard for the good ones.  {ann voskamp}

a mother's job is FULLY GIVING... and GIVING... and GIVING. i am sorry for the times i have not FULLY given you what you needed. because i was too selfish. too self centered. too self conscious. 

please try to remember the good meals, memories. and the good mistakes. and to forgive all the bad ones. 

I will never stop loving and letting you go. A mother and child live the first great love story and there is no love story without loss, and this is always gain. {ann voskamp}

i will never stop loving you. and i will never stop letting you go... please forgive me when i do both things so imperfectly...