Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dear Me. . . a letter to my teen-aged self

Emily Freeman is one of my favorite writers out here in blogland. And she's just released her 2nd book, this one aimed at teen-aged girls. It's called "Graceful." So as part of that celebration, she has invited others to write a letter to their teen-aged selves. Here's her button - and you can get any one of 17 versions of this over at her site. 
We're all linking up on Friday at Emily's blog, Chatting at the Sky.
graceful for young women

Hello sweet girl,

Somewhere between this fresh-faced 11-year old, on the cusp of the dreaded junior high school experience, the one with the barrettes in her hair and the sweet smile on her face . . .

. . . and this curly-haired (how on earth did that happen??), Peter-Pan-collared, 16-year-0ld high school student who is wearing just a little too much lipstick, I think maybe we lost a few things. 

And here, I am, on the other end of this long life of ours, trying to help us find them again. 

So to you, my just-barely-pre-adolescent-self, the one in the barrettes, I want to say this: your family moved that year, the year right before Junior High school, you moved to a brand new community, a brand new school. You left behind the only school you'd ever known, the one on Strathern Street in North Hollywood. The one where you had two outstanding teachers who were men. And the one in 5th grade? Mr. Naismith? Yeah, that one. He told you and your mother, when you were both standing there together at the school open house, he said that you were a writer. A really imaginative, gifted writer. 

And you didn't believe him. 

You felt shyly proud, but you really couldn't quite grab hold of it.  So hear me, please: believe him. And write like crazy, will you? Because if you don't, that piece of you will be lost for a long, long time - the imaginative piece. And that, my dear, was one of the best parts of you before that move, before adolescence hit like a hurricane and made you disdainful of all things fanciful.

And you up there, the one with the artificially curly hair? The one in the collar? I see that face that can't quite look into the camera, and I know how much you hate so many parts of yourself. Really, truly hate them. And that is because you've seen how your mother frets over you. And all her worries, her fears, her misguided thoughts, her anxiety-based worldview - that's all becoming part of you. And it's going to take you years and years to try and separate yourself from all those pieces of self-hatred. 

What you don't know is this: all that angst you soaked in through your skin, the stuff your mom fairly breathed into you? It was really, truly about her and not about you. It was her own deep-seated insecurities that made her hover and wring her hands and give you home permanents that never worked right, and tell you not to walk like a duck, and drag you from doctor to doctor trying to find a remedy for your congenitally difficult skin, and then when you were sixteen and absolutely perfect (yes, you were -- look at the pictures!) she took you to a 'diet doctor' and put you on pills, for heaven's sake. 

She never meant it to happen, but it did. You were screwed up for the rest of your life in some ways, sweetie. Metabolism messed with, your relationship to food permanently corrupted, and really life-twisting anxieties taking stubborn root inside. 
This is a portrait you had taken right after you started at UCLA at the very tender age of 17 because your actual senior picture from high school was dreadful, even after two sittings. Did you see yourself well when you were this age? 
Not very often, I don't think.

So I guess my number one bit of advice to you at sweet-sixteen is this one: move out from under your mother's fears and just be yourself, your own weird and wonderful self. Proudly!

You are a smart girl, kiddo. You know that with part of yourself. You're in the gifted classes and the other kids think you're a bit of a nerd. And you are. 
Doing something silly for a church event, because that's where you always, always were as a 16-year-old - at church, doing all kinds of things. And occasionally, some of them were silly.

But believe me, that smart stuff is really going to work out great for you. Yes, it is. In fact, I'd like to encourage you to relax into it. It's a gift of God, one you don't fully appreciate and that your mom is a little afraid of ("The boys won't like you if you're smarter than they are.") But it will serve you well. 

There is this, though: being smart is not all there is. In fact, it's not even the best of all there is. And there is a very big piece of you that knows this truth, too. In fact, that's why you decided to join all those choirs in high school, even though you had to audition and that scared the bejeebers out of you. 

Because in those marvelous choral classes, you got to be one of the singers, not one of the brainiacs. And that was a very good thing for you to experience. So good that you're going to do it for a whole lotta years and every one of those years will be rewarding and rich and will touch the part of yourself that is creative and artistic. So, sing loudly when asked. Say yes to the duets and eventually the solos. Because it's really good to do something that requires you to face into your fears. Something that helps you learn just a little bit more about trust. 

Because, dear girl, that's going to be the center of your journey for a long, long time: learning to trust. Learning to trust yourself and your instincts, learning to trust your husband and your children, and most of all, learning to trust that God is for you, not against you. No.Matter.What. 

You're going through the motions so well, dear one. And you're learning so much in that head of yours . . . so much. You're a leader in your church youth group, you fervently read your Bible and pray for a long list of people. You help at home and never break the rules. You are a very, very good girl. 

But you're beginning to experience some pretty deep questions about life and about faith, about relationships and about family. And if I could tell you anything, I would tell you this: lean into all those questions. Keep on asking them, without fear that you'll fall of the edge of the earth and into some sort of cosmic lake of fire. Because this is the truth: God is so much bigger. SO.MUCH.BIGGER than you can think or imagine. 

God is way bigger than your doubts, your fears, your inhibitions, your insecurities. And this? THIS is what I truly want to say to you -- 

                                   God believes in YOU. 

Yes, you heard me right. God made you, crafted you with love, calls you by name. God will walk with you through all that is to come - all the great stuff and all the terrible stuff, all the beautiful and all the ugly, all the terrifying and all the satisfying. So . . .
          write it all down,
               come out from under your mother's fear-soaked shadow, 
                     don't be scared of all the Big Thoughts you're having,
                             and, most of all,
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart...." for God will "direct your paths." 

And you are going to be SO surprised where God's path takes you. 

Love to you from . . .

YOU, all growed up at age 67

P.S. Some of those pathways God will take you down? They're going to be grand fun! 

FRIENDS: If you'd like to know more about Emily Freeman's book, click on this line right here to read all about it.

I'm also joining this with Emily Wierenga, Ann Voskamp, and the SDG at Jen's place, if it's not too late: