Ellia’s birthday! I can’t believe my kid’s four. I remember when she was two weeks old trying desperately to slow down the days, already feeling it was going too fast. I loved Ellia when she was a newborn when all she did was sleep. I remember trying to wake her because I missed her during her naps. I remember racing Brett to the nursery to get her up. Because I so deeply loved each stage, I was always surprised when I loved the next stage even more. How can I continue to love this person more deeply with each hour I spend with her?

And yet, with each stage, I see more of her unique voice in this world. I’ve prayed since day one that Brett and I would protect that voice and run from any attempt to control that voice. We don’t own our kid, and usually I’m okay with it. But then, there are those times when the voice is belligerent or loud or times when the voice discloses my bad parenting skills or doesn’t perform for my friends. Then, I wish I could jump in and control.

But, when I look at who Ellia has become, this beautiful, small person who can’t even contain all the life that is in her, I’m grateful for her distinctive voice. I’m glad for the sunshine and the storms that pour out of her little body. The words of gratitude and unsolicited opinions that come from her mouth. I’m thankful for her convictions (do NOT get her started on the importance of biking with a helmet!) and her perspectives (“Mommy, it looks like you’re wearing a curtain!”) and her heartfelt compassion. Oh, Ellia feels deeply. She loves passionately. And when she hurts, she hurts fiercely.

This birthday is a gift. Ellia asked me several times this year if she’d live to be a mommy. All I could tell her is that I hope so. Her third year of life has been hard. She’s experienced more trauma and emotions than many people do in a lifetime. Yet God has protected her unique voice. She’s still present to each day.

And the gift of this birthday isn’t just that Ellia is here to enjoy it, it’s also a gift that our family has learned to be present with Ellia, both in the pain and the peace. We are learning to be taught by each day instead of living in the futile fight to control each day. We are learning to embrace God instead of chasing a guarantee of comfort.

Hope has been redefined for us. Hope is not in a specific outcome; hope is resting in the reality of an unchanging Father. Real hope is simply connecting to the deep desire of our heart—the part of us that is hungry for the love and belonging that God extends.

The circumstances of our lives will always be instable. Ellia has already figured that out. I don’t pretend to know how involved God is in what happens in this world. I don’t pretend to know what “sovereignty” means. But there is a part of my theology that I want to make sure Ellia hears over and over in the fourth year of her life: the only way we find rest in the midst of a screwed up, chaotic, instable world is if we become acquainted with the arms of God. In that embrace, things don’t always make more sense, problems don’t always get solved, sickness doesn’t always get healed. But there is something about knowing God as Father—the kind with permanently open arms who lets you bury your head in his chest and cry your face off without any explanation—that brings comfort.

As I’m writing, It’s 4 am and Ellia just came into the living room. She said she can’t sleep because she’s scared. She told me that she feels better and safer when I lay next to her. Ellia didn’t want me to kill the pretend monsters—she wanted me to scratch her back. We need God’s transcendence. But we also need God’s immanence. We need a God who speaks order into chaos, but we need a Father who is close enough to touch us. I want Ellia to know that peace and rest don’t come through changes in circumstances but through letting God sit with us, even hold us. And pointing Ellia to this truth is the best gift I can give her.