A Letter to My Daughter on Her 12th Birthday

Dear Rainey,

I looked for it everywhere this morning, that letter from the pastor who dedicated you in Montana so many years ago. You were only eight weeks old then, and cranky, causing me to sweat right through my Sunday Best. But you quieted down just in time for your dad and me to walk onto that platform and promise to do everything in our power to raise you in a righteous way. Afterward, in the hallway behind that huge sanctuary, the pastor handed us an envelope and told us to give it to you when you turned twelve.

That’s today, baby girl. Happy birthday!

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 12th Birthday

I thought I knew where I put it. I thought it was with the keepsakes I’ve saved since you were born: the outfit you wore home from the hospital, the silky tuft of your baby fine hair, the broken music box I was forced to buy when you were an unstable toddler hobbling around the Hallmark store. (By the way, you owe me fifty bucks.) But after dumping out the box of mementos on the floor of our storage room, I’m at a loss for where that envelope could be.

So instead of his letter, you’re stuck with mine. Sorry, sweetheart.

If I had to guess, though, my hunch is that in his letter, the pastor encouraged you to follow God, to continue on the path your dad and I have tried (and often failed) to set before you these past dozen years. And you might be wondering what that means, what that will look like for the next twelve years of your life.

I wish I could tell you it will be easy, that it’ll always be the fun and popular thing to do. But I’m not going to lie; it won’t be. Because walking with God often requires a crawl. It means denying yourself the things that make you big and other people small. Humility is hard, sweetheart, and you’ll spend a lot of time on your knees. But it’s the only way to follow in His footsteps.

So be brave. Be willing to risk your reputation. Like the other night at youth group, when you shared your ongoing battle with anxiety and asked your peers to pray for you and your panic attacks. You placed yourself on the altar of What Others Might Think, and that took guts. But by dying to your pride and bearing witness to the wounds and worries we all carry inside, you invited those kids to believe in the One who can heal us.

Also, pay attention, like you’re walking on our favorite nature trail. In the woods the other day you pointed out a baby bird’s nest hidden in an old pine tree, a spring flower budding beneath a blanket of winter leaves, and a golden rainbow trout swimming in the swollen stream. On my own, I would’ve missed them all. But with you, I stopped and noticed. Do that with people, sweetheart. Pay attention to the outcasts, the underdogs, the friends on the fringes. Because when you do, you encounter God and inspire others to see the beauty in all of His creation.

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 12th Birthday

Next, love out loud. This should be easy for you since you’ve never had a problem with volume. But no matter how noisy and crazy this world gets, don’t let it silence your devotion to being kind and patient and good.

So talk to your neighbors; bake them some cookies. Carry someone’s groceries instead of a grudge. In a disagreement, be the first to apologize, the last to spread rumors or share secrets. Refuse to add fuel to the wildfire of gossip.

Nurture a garden, a hamster, a child, not an insult or injury, and remember that grace is what really helps us grow.

Be a Barnabas to somebody; cheer wildly for a friend, even especially when she is successful. Lavish her with your loyalty and encouragement because it’s always life-giving to give life to others. (If you can’t, figure out why and fix it.)

Most of all, sweetheart, keep your nose in the Word. Know what it says because it is your life and your precious life is still unfolding. So much of your faith is yet to be tested and understood. But if you want to be like Jesus, if you want to follow Him, then the Bible is your roadmap, and every last word of it is true.

I love you, sweetheart. Happy birthday. And thanks for the best dozen years of my life.



  1. Leslie fisher torgerson says:

    Hey cuz that is a very nice letter to your daughter. I was in tears and it was well said. Miss you and live you.
    You and your family need to come out to Montana to visit

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