Dear Alex,

Today you are twenty-one. Twenty-one! How did that happen! Where did the time go? Seems like you should still be in middle school. But here you are–an adult, all grown up.

On this special day, one filled with memories and so much love, I have a few words of wisdom I want to share with you. Just indulge me this once!

Hold tightly to that independent spirit of yours. From that day I first met you in that small room at the Eastern Child Welfare Society’s office in Seoul, I recognized your fierce independence. You were only eight months old, but you were self-reliant. You had clarity of purpose. You knew what you wanted. You knew how to make it happen. And a few months later, when you spoke you first sentence, it was: “Me do it.” Your independence, my dear Alex, is thing of beauty! Hold on to that spirit.

Be adventurous. Travel, explore, take risks. Go new places. Meet new people. Eat exotic food. This one is a stretch for you. You are such a homebody. You like sleeping in your own bed. You have only a short list of foods you like. But Alex, life will be richer if you see more of the world and have some fun (or scary) adventures along the way. College will be over for you soon–and life will force some of these adventures on you. Embrace them with laughter and joy! And take some time to read the whole menu and be brave enough to order a new dish!

Know, always know, that your are loved. There was love in your life for those first eight months in Korea–we don’t know all of your story, but we know the people at Eastern cared deeply about your well-being, and your foster mother delighted in playing with you and singing to you. There has always been love present around you. And you know well how much I love you. Never forget that you have been loved! My hope and prayer has always been for you to always know love–the love of good friends, the love of family, the love of self!

I celebrate YOU on this your day of birth–and yes, there will be gifts for you today. But you are the gift. You have brought joy to my life–in such unexpected ways. You have taught me things I didn’t want to know about databases and networks. You have beaten me without mercy at every strategy game we have ever played. You have watched with me my favorite “sweet” movies with only minimal complaints, and you have taken me to see movies that sent me straight to therapy (The Hunger Games, really! You knew that I didn’t need to see that movie). You have laughed at my jokes, and better yet, you have laughed at your own. You have listened to my questions about life and my rants about all the craziness. You have kept me honest. You have called my bluff. You have pushed me to do better, to be better. You have inspired me to live more fully and more openly–to not care so much about what other people think about me, but to be my best self. You are my gift–today and every day!