Dear Teenage Self Me,
In one week, you will turn 16.
I just love that you are so full of life, and innocent enough to believe that this magical birthday will suddenly allow life to explode with possibilities.
I know, I know, you are rolling your eyes wondering why it’s necessary to glean a few words of advice from your older,wiser self, but I know you. I know what you are going through, and while I wouldn’t go back and change much because these significant times made you the woman you are today, there are moments I want you to embrace, to really feel, to learn from and share.
So pour some coffee, since we both know you just started drinking it, and for once, try to listen before responding.
A lot of hype and expectation occurred with this magic birthday because it meant being free on the road. Next week, dad makes you take the drivers test on a stick shift car, and while you were furious with that decision, he always did know best. We didn’t know about texting and driving then, but when you have a few teens of your own, you will decide to buy one for your own children because they need something better to do with their hands.
Your 16th marked a glorious day. Your family threw a surprise birthday party for you. You felt loved and surrounded by family and friends you could trust, but most importantly, it marked the day you could date! Yes, your dad coined 16 as the year when you could first go to Homecoming, (which you didn’t because no one asked), the Junior Prom, (which you did, but it was a disaster), and have your first real car date (oh, the pressure with three older brothers scaring that poor boy to death. You just have no idea how much fun they had grilling him; it’s still talked about today.)
I know you won’t believe me, but ask dad to change that dating age to 18 or 20. Yes, I realize you will be an adult then with your own decisions, but he was really on to something by allowing himself to be the bad guy. You will waste much too much time worrying about what those silly boys think of you, and their words will affect you more than you care to admit.
Guard your heart. Guard your heart. Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.
This is the year you will make a life altering decision.
At the peak of your swimming career, you’ve set state and national records. I know that life has revolved around the possibility of the Olympic try outs, but you know deep down you don’t want to swim through college. You’re losing that drive and discipline. When your coach finally gives the ultimatum between swimming or the fine arts, not both, you will choose that school musical, and live with no regrets because worship will become an integral part of who you are.
But here’s the painful part of that same decision; over the next few years, you will gain nearly 40 pounds. (Yes, I know you want pictures, but they are all over at Mom’s and I didn’t plan ahead. That’s a problem you will continue to have for the new few decades.)
Without all that physical exercise, compounded by your struggle with food, you’ll carry that weight for years. Even though you are surrounded by people who speak truth into your life, it will be the source of deep hurt. It will consume you at times and each day your mind will swirl around food, how much you’ve eaten, and pondering ways to get rid of the food you’ve consumed.
I know this is making you uncomfortable. It’s just not something people talk about, but it needs to be addressed in teenage girl circles.
What are you thinking?
Last year, when the girls on your swim team introduced you to their “solution” to help with the constant stress on physical performance, why didn’t you RUN AWAY?? Throwing up leads to a cycle of addiction to food that you don’t want to deal with through high school. Let your parents help.
I know the pressure to be thin and it’s painful. I still feel the ache decades later, but short term fixes are never the answer.
You are beautiful and worthy exactly as you are, and nothing anyone can say or do will change that truth.
Do you hear me? Your body type does not dictate your worth, no matter what society tells us.
You are amazing!
In a few years, you will have a dear guy friend mention, “If you would just lose weight, you’d be so beautiful.” I’m sure he thought he was encouraging us in some “guy way,” as if we could flip a magic switch and just have it happen. Maybe it was his motivational speech to let me know that I just wasn’t trying hard enough.
Those words will haunt you for decades.
In college, you will be every guys best friend. They all want to hang out with you because you’re fun, and make them cookies. They’ll use you as a sounding board because you listen well, and will even complement you with words like, “Jen, you are exactly the kind of girl we all want to marry.”
You will hear it for what it is, “Jen, you are great, but we just wouldn’t want to date you until you lose weight.” (But if it makes you feel any better, you’ll run into all those guys again at your reunion, in your size 6 jeans, and try not to gloat because you know it’s not the most humble attitude to have, but it does help old wounds…just a bit.)
You’ll soon understand that the Lord carved those years specifically for a reason. Your heart for youth ministry blossomed, and you experienced oversea cultures, embracing the third world with abandon. These unique opportunities may not have come about if you were constantly thinking about dating relationships.
(FYI: With these heart changes, you switch your major from Mass Communications (Radio and TV) to full time ministry. You might want to choose a slightly less expensive university. Debt for private school when going into ministry is not advisable.)
With your own kids, those teen boys will see your mama bear roar when they dare elude snarky comments about chubby girls, and they will get an hour long lecture about the worth of those girls, and how they need to cherish them and encourage them. You will help them understand they better NOT mess with mama when it comes to women and their weight.
Embracing these emotions are painful, but they are your springboard to cultivating a heart for the underdog. You’ve already begun that, but you will be a master champion for those who don’t quite fit in. You have a sense of justice. A true sense of standing up for what’s right and wrong, but get your eyes off yourself right now and look around for those who are hurting. Embrace them now.
High school is a scary place when many don’t have any kind of safety net. Be that net for others, and let them know it’s ok to be themselves; to be who God made them to be. Continue to encourage them it’s ok not to drink, and be a bit more vocal at how much fun one can have completely sober. Assure them that others like yourself are waiting to have sex until they’re married, even when adults are whispering to you that you have unreasonable expectations. In health class next year, we will take a stand against your teacher and just know, you will be stronger for it.
Can I tell you a little secret right now - you did it!
You waited for your amazing Prince Charming and you gave him that gift on your wedding night. It was hard. really hard, but those who say it’s impossible, don’t listen to them.
Whew – I never knew how much I had to say to you, and I am feel like I am just starting to unpack it.
I want to hug you tightly, my sweet 16 year old self because life is so easy for you right now, but the Lord is laying the foundation for some tough years ahead.
I think that needs to be another letter.
The letter where I tell you to watch your parents actions closely these next few years. Today, you don’t have a care in the world about money. Your dad owns a country club for goodness sakes, but it’s all going away. Every last penny, and it won’t ever come back. Watch mom and dad. See how they interact and cling to the Lord, and then cling to each other when most couples run. They model this life changing disaster with grace, goodness and character.
You will learn biblical life lessons about dealing with your enemies, and your justice oriented nature will rear its ugly head. You won’t understand any of this. You will question how the Lord can let something like this happen to people who serve Him faithfully. You will learn that not every wrong can be righted, and that ones reputation is in the hands of the Lord. But more importantly, you will learn that He has it all under control, even in the most painful of circumstances.
This will be the single biggest factor that impacts your life, so embrace it with eyes, wide open and learn from it.
Share your experience.
Yes, you definitely need another letter from me because I didn’t even get to ask you about the fashion statement we were known for. How did we think that pearls go with everything, and that we had permission to wear them every day with sweat pants and sweat shirts?
I’ll save the rest for later. This is a lot to digest, but today, I’m sending you a gift, and it’s better than pearls.
My sweet friend, Emily, has written an amazing book just for you and your teenage girl friends. You need to read it! NOW!
It’s called Graceful and Emily shares:
For the good test taker and the strict list maker. For the rule follower, the fear wallower, the messy, and the misunderstood. For the self-critic, the silent judge, and the girl who feels invisible.
For the girl who is tired of trying and the one afraid to fail.
You don’t have to be perfect, but do you trust the One who is? The God who came to save you also came to live with you, in you, today.
I have the privilege of calling the author of Graceful, Emily Freeman from Chatting at the Sky, a dear friend. We attend the same church, and her husband has been the youth pastor for our three high school aged sons (and soon will have our daughter in there too.) You know how important that ministry is in our lives and you can just imagine how much Emily loves teen girls.
We are in this together, and I am cheering you on to live Life on purpose for Him.
Let go of the tried hard life,
Your much older self
I’ve written this letter to myself to celebrate my sweet friend’s new book .
I would love to hear what is ONE thing you would tell your teenage self?