Dear Me: A Letter to My Teenage Self

Author Emily Freeman has written a wonderful book for teenage girls: Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life. To celebrate the launch of this book, she’s extended an invitation to write a letter to one’s teenage self. Here’s mine.
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Dear Me,

You are 15. Your limbs look like chicken legs and for this you are often teased. Your teeth are still gappy and you don’t know what to do with those ever-thickening, unruly tresses of yours. Just hang on. Everything has a way of sort of coming together eventually.

Because you will never know as much as you do right now, I doubt you’ll listen to this advice from Future You. But just in case, here’s some stuff I want you to know:

Thank God that the internet and cell phones have not been invented yet. I mean it. Get on your knees and thank the good Lord and all His heavenly hosts. Your silly and impulsive antics, unrestrained emotionalism, utter foolishness, and love of crazy photos {like the one of you stuffed into a locker} would have come back to haunt you. Dads will one day put bullet holes in their kids’ laptops for such senselessness. {A laptop is a computer that’s small enough to hold on your lap. I know, crazy!} You came of age and got a clue after the advent of social media and for this you should be eternally grateful.

Going out for the track team in the 7th grade is one of the smartest things you could have done. Keep at it. Right now running provides safe community, fun competition, a sense of identity, a voracious appetite, and ridiculous nylon shorts. But in a few short years it’ll provide the love of your life. You’ll meet him on your college cross-country team. Don’t worry, you’ll know who he is.

The gifts of running won’t stop there. When you’re a mom, running will provide some much-needed sanity. And also low blood-pressure. Seriously though, invest in good running shoes now. Do not run in Keds, navy blue or otherwise, ever again. Your future knees will thank me. Don’t be too discouraged that you’re not really very good good at running. You’re determined and in the end, that matters more than sheer talent. You’ll be 40 years old and still running. No, you will not be a grandma by that point. Forty isn’t as old as it sounds.

 

When I think of the one word that best describes how you feel most of the time, it is this: afraid. Track and adolescent antics aside, the stuff that really matters is on the inside and girl, there is a lot going on in there. Bless your heart. I sense that most teenagers feel afraid but they’re too busy trying to cover it up with attention-getting foolishness or withdrawal or striving.

You’re afraid of so much — afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing anyone, afraid of what they’ll think, afraid of going unnoticed, afraid of being too noticed, afraid of the strong and powerful ideas and feelings that pulse within but have yet to find a way out, afraid of pain, afraid of your sin, afraid of God or even worse, afraid that He’s not there at all.

Learn to share your heart with those who are closest. They’re safe, I promise. You don’t need to carry this fear around day in and day out. Open up to your parents even though the thought of it kills you. Maybe even ask them to find you a counselor, not because you’re crazy but because your well runs deep. You live in the depths rather than in the shallow end. For this reason, you could use a bit of gentle guidance as you navigate those overwhelming waters.

Not everyone needs this sort of thing but God made you this way and it’s okay. It is so okay. Believe it or not, it’s actually a gift, even though it’s a tough one to carry and to steward. But one day you’ll be able to speak into the human experience in a way that will encourage others and make them feel a little less alone.

Write in your diary as much as you can. It may seem like a waste of time but for you, writing down your insides has a way of calming you on the outside.

Let’s talk about God for a second, shall we? I’ll keep it brief. I know how much your teenage self hates sermons. He is there and He is okay with all of your questions. He is not offended or angry that you secretly struggle to believe He exists. He wove your DNA so of course He knows you came into this world a bit skeptical.

Embrace your questions the way God embraces you.

You don’t have a clue yet about his boundless love and amazing grace; you haven’t really received them yet. You’re too busy striving and this breaks my heart. The Christian life is not about duty; it’s about delight. The delight that your Abba Father takes in you. Yes, you — the one who feels so insignificant and so unworthy and so unimpressive. Rest in his love. I have so much more to tell you about this but you’re already rolling your eyes so I’ll stop.

A few more random pieces of advice:

In many ways, you will never feel like your outside matches your inside. You will always appear more conventional than you really are. For Heaven’s sake, take some risks while you’re young and can still get away with it. It’s okay to indulge that artsy, bohemian spirit of yours. Let people think what they will. In the words of Madonna {who you listen to under the radar when your parents aren’t paying attention}, Express Yourself.

Quit hoping to be impressive. You’re not going to law school after all so when you get to college, ditch the Econ major and maybe the Political Science one while you’re at it. Keep the History major though. This will be your livelihood and you’ll love it. Maybe add in Journalism and French. Or Art. You’ve got creative gifts that don’t feel legit to you; therefore you ignore them. This is a crying shame. Your gifts should always be your guide. Don’t pursue something because it’s big and important; pursue what makes you come alive.

Boys. Be glad they don’t notice you yet. They are a complete waste of time at this stage in their development and yours. Enjoy your friends. Go to the prom with a group of girls and dance ‘til you can dance no more. Boys will eventually come into your life and it just gets complicated after that. You’re simply a late bloomer and this is a blessing in disguise. Trust me.

You should not have wasted all that precious time straightening and hot-rolling your hair. Your crazy curls would have fared much better than straight hair in the North Carolina humidity. Your “do” ended up a mess. {As did your prom date.}

Accept how you look and be patient. You’ll get braces next year and you’ll love your smile a lot more after that. That curly hair of yours will get wilder every year until the end of college. Your friends are paying $100 for spiral perms yet you rage against the curls you got for free. Oh my word, stop it. It is 1989, the pinnacle of huge hair. Your hair is in its glory day, so rock that curly mane of yours! One day you’ll have babies and pregnancy hormones will be the death of your bouffant tresses. Love your big hair while it lasts.

Celebrate scarcity. It is making you quite resourceful. I know the budget is tight and you resent that every girl in the world {except you} has Guess jeans and expensive loafers. You’re forced to raid the closets of everyone in the whole house but you somehow leave for school each day looking relatively put together, albeit running late. But guess what? One day you’ll be the girl your friends call to help them maximize their wardrobe and redecorate their houses using what they already have. Limitations aren’t always a bad thing.

Okay, so you’re not actually a teenager in this picture but it’s Future You’s favorite family photo. Look how you’re toting a matching purse and Emily is clutching a Bible the size of her head. Your well-accessorized self had nothing on her righteousness.

Love your family. They are a treasure. Your younger siblings are mere children right now and you sometimes long to be an only child in order to have more attention. But one day you’ll all grow up to be amazing friends. You’ll vacation together and love them {and their families} like crazy so how about loving them a little bit more right now?

I’m almost done but just hear me out on a few more things:

Solitude is your friend. You’re not actually an extrovert; you just get all of your worth and value from people and that’s why you “need” to be around them. You don’t. But you won’t figure this out until you’re in your 30s. Spend more time buried in books, journals, and sketch-pads. Take a walk by yourself. These are the ways your contemplative soul recharges.

Busy-ness and stress are killing you. Slow down and rest — please. Rest is more important than attending every single youth activity and skipping a social event won’t kill you. Learn to say no. Naps are your friend. Staying up crazy late to study is so not worth it. Every so often you have a breakdown and I suspicion it’s simply exhaustion. Sleep equals sanity. Please believe me on this.

Your mom has given you some profound advice but you already know everything so you’re not listening. Besides, it sounds too simple to be profound:

You be you.

Camp out in this advice. Talk to her about it. You’ll spend the next twenty years trying to be everyone but you. Identity will always be a struggle but it doesn’t have to be. There are clues all around; you just need to take some time to notice the becoming.

But first, go take a nap. You stayed up too late finishing homework while watching The Love Boat. Again.

Love,

40-year-old You {And quit rolling your eyes…it’s not as old as it sounds.}

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I’ve found that remembrance is often the gateway to grace. When I remember the insecurity, the fear, the awkwardness, the emotional volatility — I’m so much better at picking my battles. I’m better at absorbing the unwelcome behavior and seeing what’s driving the issues my child is struggling with. Remembering has a way of supplying wisdom and tendering my own frustrated spirit.

What would you tell your teenage self? And for those of you with teenagers in your house, what do you want them to know? What life lessons do you hope to pass on to them?

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Comments

  1. says

    Dear Adult You,
    I don’t even know where to begin with the flood of ways in which I would like to express my response to this post. In a word . . .

    I’mlaughingandcryingandlongingandthankingandcryingsomemoreandeternallygratefulthatIamyourmom.

    LYF

  2. says

    i blogged a letter to me a few years ago…thinking (with my 39th birthday around the corner *gulp*) that it’s time for another one.

    this was great. don’t you wish teenage you would have been able to read this and heed your advice.

    really, 39 “isn’t as old as it sounds?”

  3. says

    Love this! You and I would have gotten along well in our teenage years. We could have sported the big curly hair when everyone else had the short straight stuff and started the rage of big hair even sooner. 😉

  4. Emily says

    This has always been one of my favorites. I may have to try this exercise soon. And you know the price I’ve paid for my ‘righteousness’, and I probably only had my Bible because the teacher would give me candy. So enjoy those accessories…and pass them on to me when you’re done :) Love you!

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