Yesterday, when out running errands, I idled at an intersection and watched a homeless man holding a sign that said, “It’s my birthday!” As is always the case, I drove by feeling sad, frustrated, privileged, confused, angry, and profoundly grateful.

Why do I tell this story today? In this post? On your 21st birthday?

Because as I turned the corner and he faded from sight, I started thinking about the accumulation of experiences, realities, opportunities, losses, heartbreaks, celebrations, minutes, and seconds that make up a life; how any singular combination of these things can make all the difference; how we never know what our life will look like in the days and years to come.

There is more unknown than known, to be sure; but there are a few things I do know with absolute certainty:

You, my dear, sweet daughter, have a life both now and ahead full of possibility and hope, ecstasy and sorrow, mountaintops and valleys, wins and losses, all this and then some. And it is all this and then some that I see when I look at you: in college with determined focus; away from home via intentional and thoughtful choice; making friends who see and value your beauty, grace, strength, compassion, and endless empathy; embodying and exhibiting a hope that enables me to trust completely in your future, mine, and ours, collectively.

Why? How?

Because you will continue to exhibit what is inherent and embedded within you: perseverance, grit, determination, the capacity to grieve, an emerging and articulate opinion, a voice and perspective that is firm and solid, a heart that ever-longs for healing – your own, every person you love, and this world’s.

I say “continue” because none of these characteristics are new to me. They have been present in you from the start, from that first cry demanding your deserved nourishment, protection, and love; through your toddler and adolescent years in which you straddled the precarious balance of your own cries with others’ demands; through high school and beyond in which you cried out for understanding, for clarity, to matter; today as you continue to cry out on your own behalf – wanting more, wanting all of who you are destined to be, wanting, period.

Those cries are your super-power, Abby.

So many women my age never learned to want; never allowed themselves to do so. We were taught that desire was foolish, dangerous, and better tamped down; that our cries were a sign of weakness and most-certainly not to be taken seriously. You, sweet girl, are just the opposite. That desire – made visible in your pursuits, your longing for order and certainty, your infinite generosity with and for others, your endless, beating and oft’ breaking heart – is what will carry you into a life marked by the richness and fullness and ache and beauty that has marked my own – because of you.

You have marked me. 21 years ago today, I was changed the moment you entered the world. Every day since has brought me more of the same – because of you. And your cries have changed my own.

So keep crying out, sweet girl. Do not stop. Desire. Demand. Dream. Do. This is your destiny, to be sure. For you, for the homeless man on the corner, for all who are yet to be impacted by your heart. It’s inevitable. And you are invincible (whether you believe me, or not).

Happy 21st birthday, Abby. I love you beyond words, beyond what I can ever express or offer, beyond what I could have ever imagined.