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Today I am letting Rachel sleep in. She has a big day coming; one that she has been looking forward to for a long time. Not only is this her high school graduation day but it’s also her 18th birthday. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Rachel’s entrance into the world was not an easy one, but I will spare you the details. Let’s just say it was a good thing she and I didn’t try to do the birthing-thing 100 years ago or it’s possible neither one of would be here now. Four days later, she and I went home to begin life together.

In many ways, Rachel is like me and some days I’m not so sure that was a good thing. When two people, whose ancestors were Celts and Vikings, come to a disagreement about something it’s probably safest for you to leave the room. For her second birthday, Rachel got a sweatshirt that said “Warning: I am two.” Yes, it was funny but you have no idea how true it was. I still have the sweatshirt…with the big scissor cuts across the front that she did to it because she didn’t want to wear it. Yeh, I made her wear it anyway, in public, with the holes in it.

Over the years, and especially as she moved through her teens, Rachel and I have moved up and down the battlefield of wills, retreating and advancing, and from time to time waving the white truce flag when we actually agreed on something. But now, as I reflect on the last 18 years, I can really see how Rachel has become who she is today. Sometimes I don’t think she yet sees it herself. That ancient blood in her veins that causes tempers to flare is also the same blood of courage, strength and determinaition. If she gets it into her head that she wants something, chances are pretty good she’s going to get it.

For example, during her years as a student of tae kwon do, she noticed one of the older students wearing a uniform coat with their name on it and “state champion” across the back. She comes up to me after class and says, “I want one of those.” And so off she went on a quest for her own state champ coat.  She worked hard, but after the first year she missed the title by one point. The second year she worked harder; we travelled everywhere from Orlando to Las Vegas for tournaments, and she ended up with a state title, but in weapons. That was fine and all, and she got a coat, but it still wasn’t specifically what she wanted. Her favorite part of tae kwon do was the traditional Korean forms, and THAT is what spurred her into a third year of lessons, traveling and tournaments. By this time she was also a first degree black belt, which was a considerably more difficult form to learn. But she did it, and when her instructor handed her that coat with her name, two state champ patches and the Wisconsin title on the back? That was one happy kid, and I was one proud mom because she didn’t give up until it was hers.

That determination is just a part of her DNA. I know there are times nowadays when she doubts herself. When she doesn’t believe she’s as strong and courageous as I know she is. When she doesn’t think that she will get to where she wants to go, but I know she will. I see that look in her eyes, even when she can’t see it herself.

In just a couple short months she will leave for college. It is especially sweet because I know how hard she worked for that in spite of recent roadblocks not of her own doing. She thought she’d never get through it, but she did it with flying colors and today we celebrate that courage and determination. Even though she will be less than an hour away, and in a city she loves and is very comfortable being in, I’m not so sure I’m ready to see an empty bedroom at the end of the hall upstairs. Even though she and I can text or call whenever we want, do I really want to see an empty chair at the table for dinner every night?

Well, I suppose I will just have to deal with it; join the ranks of millions of other moms standing in the doorway of empty bedrooms and putting the extra plate back in the cupboard because they forgot there’s one less. I’m torn, I guess, because while I miss those days of having a little girl, I have seen her become this incredibly beautiful and talented young woman. I am so excited to see what God has planned for her, where He is going to take her! And I know, on those hard days when I wish she was here that God will be my comforter. He knows my mamma’s heart.

But that is not quite yet – today she is here, and today we celebrate 18 beautiful years. Happy birthday Rachel, my sweet girl – I love you to the moon…and beyond.