Happy Birthday, Baby Girl

5 years ago, I wrote a retrospective on the previous 12 years with Anna Beth. Then, I blinked, and she turned 17. Happy birthday, sweet, baby girl. Sweet Jesus.

I used to write a lot about Anna Beth. She is my first child, so by virtue of inexperience, the newness of even the most mundane happenings would inspire me to sit down and peck out story after story. I wrote about how she “cooed” and rolled over… how she slept with her arms above her head… how she snorted like a pig once after I made her laugh at just a few months old.

I even wrote about her poop when she was a baby.

I wrote about her handprints and the amazing noodle art she created in Sunday school. I wrote about her first this, her first that and even her second, third and fourth this and that.

She was this brand new part of me that I helped create, and she was “the cutest little angel on God’s big earth” (That was actually the title of a blog post I wrote about Anna looking for Easter Eggs when she was about 3 years old).

But I didn’t just write about her. I talked about her incessantly. I can only imagine my friends’ dread as I approached with another Anna-ism. They would smile while no doubt thinking to themselves, “What’d she do this time, memorize the Magna Carta?”

She was the smartest, most beautiful, talented and remarkable child to grace the earth.

A few years later, Anna helped welcome her siblings into the family. I’ll never forget the sweet tears that formed in her eyes the day her Mama and I told her she was going to be a big sister. She would finally have a real, live baby doll to show off to friends and family and strangers at the mall. She was equally excited when she found out about her baby sister and then another baby brother… and Anna became the family’s biggest cheerleader as we prayed about adopting baby #5.

That’s just the way she is. It’s the way she’s always been… happily and selflessly allowing herself to be replaced for the good of the family.*

I stopped writing about every inhale and exhale and funny word that came out of her mouth several years ago. There just wasn’t enough time, what with all the other kids and the miracles they were uncovering at every turn. Sometimes I would share a story here and there, but focus most often turned to her siblings. They were smaller and cuter and learning to do life for the first time. She was a big girl now.

Today is Anna’s twelfth birthday. Ugh.

12 years ago, I held this breath from heaven in my arms and I knew immediately that I was changed. I was a daddy, and she was my world – wrapped in a soft, pink and blue hospital blanket. At some point along the way, I seemed to forget the awe I felt knowing that God had blessed me beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for. At some point, this little miracle became a little girl and the little girl became more of an obligation than a glimpse of God’s radical love and favor.

Today, she and her siblings are more often reminders of things that must be dealt with as opposed to divine creations that their mother and I have been gifted for a short time.

Such a short time.

Divine grace allows me to forgive myself for not acknowledging the gift of my kids every moment of every day, but my heart still breaks on Anna’s twelfth birthday because she does not… she cannot… fully understand the love and pride that her Daddy feels each time she enters a room or flashes that crooked smile.

She’s growing into a beautiful, graceful, faithful and determined young woman, and I pray that I can once again approach each day with the awe, wonder and gratitude of a Daddy experiencing the magic of firsts, seconds, thirds and fourths… as she becomes a teenager.

Sweet Jesus, help me…

*This comment does not reflect her attitude or actions when jockeying for the front seat of the car or for the first position in line for ice cream…