Happy 24th Birthday, Emma Joy.Though I’ve written these missives every year for a very long time, this one feels different. It’s weightier. More significant. More poignant.

This is, of course, because tomorrow you and I will get in a rented SUV and begin our 3000+ mile journey that takes you to your new and amazing life. I am excited for you. I am beyond-proud of you. I am in awe of your strength and courage. And I am struggling to find the words to express how much I will miss you.

It’s a strange thing: wanting your child to make her own decisions, forge her own path, have the capacity and desire to move across the country for a new job, new friends, a new life. But it’s a knife’s edge. Just on the other side is the part of me that desperately wants to keep you close, safe, protected. I can’t have both. And in truth, I don’t want both – no matter how hard it is to let you go. I want you to be you, to go out and live the huge and loud and colorful and wild and brave and amazing life that is yours…that has always been yours.

I’ve watched as you’ve struggled with the binding restrictions of culture, religion, expectations, academics, family, gender, voice, and power. But unlike so many, you have broken those chains – defied them, every one – and stepped into yourself, your heart, your knowing, your story, your strength. In truth, you’ve been doing this for years now. Tomorrow marks but one more – one more link to loosen and let go of. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. You are.

No surprise: I’m in tears. And I’m reminded of the ones I shed when you were born; finally in my arms after years of waiting, nearly all hope extinguished. Tears of joy. The rush of love. The power of your presence. Today’s tears are different, to be sure – leaving my arms after years of being close, now every hope realized. But still the joy, the rush of love, the power of your presence…whether near or far.

There will be more tears, I’m sure. As we cross through state after state – getting closer to Kentucky and the future that calls you forward. As we haul boxes up three flights of stairs. As I embed images in my mind of your neighborhood, your home, your friends, your workplace, your world. As we buy groceries and staples and open Amazon boxes. As I hold you one last time (for now) before getting on a plane. As I fly back. As I walk into the future that calls me forward.

I’m not sad. (Well, maybe a little…) I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m amazed. I’m overwhelmed by the gift you’ve been to me. And no matter what or where, always, endlessly, forever in my heart…you are my heart.

I love you, sweet girl. Happy Birthday.