Later this afternoon, exactly 18 years ago my wife gave birth to our second daughter. We had no idea whether our baby would be a girl or a boy…we wanted to be surprised. My memories of that day include my first sight of her and that head full of thick, black hair and watching as the nurse wrapped her so tightly in that little hospital blanket.  She was always contented and a literal ball of joy for us all.

As we celebrate 18 years today, I thought I’d take few minutes to record my letter to my Kristen:

We named you “Kristen Noelle” even though we had another name in mind before you were born. When we saw you, you just looked like a “Kristen Noelle”.  “Kristen” means “follower of Christ” and “Noelle” is a reference to the birth of Christ or Christmas. That’s how we’ve prayed for you: to be a follower of Christ and we think of you as our gift.

And so for eighteen years of my life, you’ve been our gift; not just 18 gifts, but here are at least 18 that I think of today:

The Gift of Unexpected Blessing

We were pretty surprised to find out you were on your way.  From the very first moment your momma told me you were on your way, I felt this extreme sense of responsibility and unimagined blessing.  The memory of singing to you in your momma’s belly and seeing you for the first time 18 years ago still rings vividly in my mind.

The Gift of Unbridled Joy

I was so happy to find out that God had created you. And even now today, the very thought of you brings me joy…a smile to my face just like it does every time you bend down (or tippy toe) to give me a kiss before you leave or when you get home!

The Gift of Unspeakable Happiness

Your photogenic smile is more than a “put on” for the camera.  Our finest memories of your early childhood is the unspeakable happiness of your games (even if it sometimes was only you involved!) and the happiness that you’ve brought to our family.

The Gift of Unrestrained (and loud!) Singing

“Three banquets a day…!”  Enough said!

The Gift of a Unique Sense of Humor

See above!  A unique sense of humor I guess is just something that you have to experience first hand to really know what I mean.

The Gift of Unconditional Love

You’re love is a true unconditional love.  You’ve given me the opportunity not only to experience it as a receiver…but to give it as a giver.

The Gift of Understanding

I’m not really sure how you do it, but you always seem willing to understand.  You don’t hold grudges (at least as long as I’m prone to) and even in the midst of a disagreement you’re willing to understand.

The Gift of Unusual Forgiveness

That ability or willingness to be understanding (not just of me, but toward everyone) has yielded a very beautiful and very unusual readiness or eagerness to give forgiveness.  In times when I’ve sinned against you, you’ve been so quick to forgive and move on as if nothing ever happened.  That’s a gift!

The Gift of Utter Originality

You are a 100%, certified original!

The Gift of Unsuccessful Attempts to make me “cool”

Sorry, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your efforts.  But I’ll probably always part my hair on the left side, wear Walmart jeans and flannel shirts, and pull my pants up too high!

The Gift of Unbelievable Ability

I’ll mention your talent in a minute, but I am admiring your ability to “make things happen”.  Whether you’re working with ROH, on the Youth Leadership Team, cleaning the house, or making dinner, I am really amazed at your ability to just get things done.

The Gift of Unending Cuddles

You probably don’t realize the gift that it’s been to me to enjoy spending time just holding on to you.  As a baby, you would lay in my arms and sleep and even today, you’re quick to jump on the sofa next to me and just sit with me for a while.

The Gift of Unbending Loyalty

You, Kristen Noelle, are a loyal friend.  Sometimes this has actually frustrated me.  You’ve been loyal to others even when I might’ve encouraged you to just ignore them.

The Gift of Unavoidable Trust in God 

Parenting is a gift from God in order to help us to trust Him with everything.  I committed you to the Lord from the very beginning.  I told Him, “Lord, she is Yours, please do with her as You please.”  When you were very young and had those febrile seizures, I drove behind that ambulance with the flashing lights wondering if that was it.  Today, I remember that I am entrusting the Lord with you as much today as that day over a decade ago.

The Gift of Undying Determination

You are not very easy to “un-convince”.  That’s been the case for as long as I can remember.  That tendency has probably been the cause of a fair share of our disagreements, yet as I consider you today, it is really a gift.  Your determination is not an arrogant display but is uncharacteristic of most young people your age.  When you set your heart on something, you set it to the fullest extent possible…and you  know what?  That will be perhaps your greatest attribute in your service to our Lord in the future.  Don’t ever lose that!

The Gift of Unrealized Talent

When I hear you sing I almost always stop to just listen.  Your voice is beautiful.  Your knack for art, cooking, organization, administration, etc. is really quite amazing.  Almost everything that you set your heart to doing, you do and you do well.  Even though you are not necessarily quick to admit it, you are a very, very talented young lady.

The Gift of Unreserved Thankfulness

Your life has been, is, and will be the cause of my love for the Lord and continued thankfulness to Him.  You are a gift from Him that allows me to obey His command to “give thanks continually”…in that way, you are a fulfillment of God’s will for my life.

The Gift of Unmerited Grace

By God’s amazing grace (and your momma’s faithful diligence) you’ve become a follower of Christ.

You will forever be a gift…my gift…for me to treasure for the rest of my life.  You are loved Kristen Noelle!  Happy Birthday sweets!