Hi, 15-year-old self, it’s Me, your 35-year-old self. If you can’t do the math in your head (which isn’t surprising, since we’re not the most mathy in the bunch), that means I’m 20 years older than you—more than twice as old.
I don’t feel that much older. Most days I feel like I’m tripping over being a grownup by accident, learning as I go by the grace of God. When I stop and think about how you think compared to how I think, then sure, I realize I’ve actually learned a lot. But mostly? It feels like I was you, then I blinked, and now I’m me.
What’s even stranger for me is that my daughter will be you in a blink. She’s seven right now, but I blinked last Tuesday, right after she was born, and now here she is, tall and gangly and wearing glasses, on the cusp of needing braces.
I’m not bothering you from your Nancy-Drew-reading, supposed-to-be-reading-The-Odyssey evening just to tell you that time flies by and you better enjoy it. Because the truth is, over the next 20 years, time will sometimes crawl by, and you will want to hurry up already and get to the next stage of life.
You’re already doing that, in some ways. In middle school, you couldn’t wait for high school. Right now, you think life will be great once you’re an upperclassman. In a few years, you’ll want anything just to be in college. Add a few more years, and you’ll think you’ll have arrived if you just get that degree and find a husband.
And in all your impatience to rush through life, I know you’re annoyed at your parents for saying the same thing I’m already telling my daughter: enjoy being a kid. There’s no reason in the world to rush life. Because that book you’re holding? That will become a rare jewel among the liturgical days of laundry, bill-paying, and baby nursing.
And also? You’re pretty and valuable and worthy, even though most days right now you feel awfully plain. You don’t struggle with self-worth, but I know you feel lost in the crowd and just sort-of blah.
You’re a good girl, but you’re not exactly spectacular in the youth group. Your grades are worthy for the fridge, but yes, there are plenty of other kids in school with higher marks. And it’s really, completely okay that your Friday nights involve hanging out with one other girl watching Can’t Buy Me Love again. Own that Friday night. Order pizza and make it count.
Keep hanging out with your younger brother, even though he’s only 10 and you don’t have a lot in common. You don’t get much time with him under the same roof, and you’ll miss that later. Those days are a gift.
That girl with a locker just a few doors down? It wouldn’t kill you to just say hi. You might make a new friend.
The nudge you feel to stop ballet, since you’re doing it six days a week and you’d like a taste of what it’s like to be a normal teenager? Totally a God thing. Jump ship. You’re just too short to be a professional ballerina, as much as you’d like to try that life. (Hint: You’re going to jump ship next year.)
You’re going to have your first serious boyfriend pretty soon, and you’ll date him for awhile. By God’s grace, you won’t get into any trouble, but you’ll break up when you’re a senior, and things will be really weird in your heart for awhile. You need to go through that hurt because you will become wiser, and you will learn that those internal nudges to do things, even when they don’t make sense in your heart but make sense in your head, are from God.
(By the way? That boyfriend will end up becoming a dear friend of yours, and he will marry another dear friend—you haven’t met her yet—and you will still stay friends two decades later. Life works out pretty well sometimes.)
You’re going overseas for the first time this year—Latvia; a newly independent country since the Iron Curtain fell about 18 months ago in your time, and then Russia. That trip will change your life, and you’ll do many more similar voyages over the coming years. Listen to the sounds of the guttural language and the lounge singer crooning “Tars in Heaven” in his best Eric Clapton, take in the sights of the fur-bobbed brows, fully taste that waffle-chicken-parsley concoction. The diesel-cigarette smell wafting from the snow-lined streets? Breathe it in. It will waft over you in the years to come, and you’ll joltingly return to that strange Soviet hotel hosting your introduction to baklava.
Life will have its ups and downs. You will want to fit in, in your own paradoxical expression of being unique just like everybody else. You will want to like the right music, wear the right clothes, get involved in the right afterschool clubs, take the right college classes—not the ones the popular kids care about, because you don’t want to be popular. You want to be a good girl, a girl who makes her parents and her youth pastor proud.
But something pretty great will happen. You’ll do all this for quite awhile—the people-pleasing—but then one day, when you’re 29, you’ll hit rock bottom. You, your husband, and your little girl will go to a Greek island, and you’ll sit on the porch of your little hovel of a hotel room, and you’ll realize that the opinions of other people are sucking the very life out of you. You’ll see that all your life, you’ve equated their opinion with God’s.
It’s so bad it’ll wreak havoc on your body with depression, and you’ll need to take care of that. You’ll go to Thailand, you and your little family, for two months to sort things out. And it will break you and heal you. Your breaking will release from your body the weighty burden of needing to please everybody, and in the healing, you’ll find a newfound desire to be yourself and be how you were created. No matter what.
And it will be glorious and redemptive. You will start writing. Remember when you were in eighth grade, and you decided you wanted to be a writer? It will happen because you’ll allow the breaking. It will hurt, and you will be superglued back together—you won’t be perfect, in other words—but you’ll look a lot closer to how you were originally intended to look.
So keep reading those books, keep thinking you’re a promising writer, and give yourself eighteen times more grace than you currently do. You are not your grades, your ability to turn a pirouette, your ability to memorize Philippians, nor your likability. You are you.
Go back to Nancy Drew. (Want a clue? It’s in the clock tower.)
Emily Freeman is one of my dear friends who also happens to be one of my favorite writers. Her new book, Graceful, just released, and it’s sitting right next to me. And? It’s stellar. It’s written for teenage girls, and my teenage self NEEDED her words. Needed them. I already look forward to passing it on to my own sweet girl.
Emily is inviting all of us—any that want to participate—to write a letter to our teenage selves. It can be sweet and simple, or you can turn digital pages in your online diary. If you feel so led, publish it on your blog this Friday, September 14 and link to it at Chatting at The Sky. It should make for some fabulous weekend reading.