Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dear Me - a letter to my 16-year-old self

Oh sweet 16-year-old Becca,

I keep sitting down to try and write you a note, only to promptly discover 2 things: 1-Your life as a 27 year old? Is a little nuts, and slightly over-the-top busy (I prefer to call it “full”). And 2 – I still have some growing to do.

See, my first inclination leans towards giving you advice, to help you avoid pain and hurt feelings in high school and college and beyond. Things like, you should probably go ahead and quit soccer and realize you will never be aggressive or athletic enough to actually enjoy it. Or please, for the love of all things good and holy, don’t both getting a perm. Because your hair? Is naturally curly. Or that perhaps Christian bumper stickers aren’t quite as cool as you think.

But I’m realizing, even as I write those words, that I haven’t quite fully grasped a hold of grace when it comes to my (your) self. I have learned, these past eleven years, quite a bit about grace. In fact, grace defines me, us, the work our family does, all the things I care about. And yet, I still find it inexplicably difficult to lavish such grace upon myself. I look back at you (me) and want to remind you to hold your chin up, work on your posture, suck in your stomach . . . things that will help you appear to be more confident and less, I don’t know, invisible. But really, what I want, no what I need, for you to know is simply this: you are so worthy. That grace I was talking about? You deserve it just as much as the pretty blonde cheerleader passing notes to the football player sitting in front of you in literature class. Or rather, neither of you deserve it, but Christ loves you both and covers you in grace just the same.

Besides, if I’m completely honest, I don’t really want to spare you the pain of being rejected and hurt. Which sounds harsh, particularly to your fragile self-esteem, trust me – I know. But in the darkest moments, those times when you feel alone and afraid and things are just flat-hard. It is that very darkness that draws you into the light. This new Jesus you’ve just met? He’s pretty awesome, true, but you’re looking for Him in all the wrong places. Yes, He is light. But you should stop looking for Him at church and in quiet times and checklists and community service. He’s much easier to see in the dark places. Unexpected places. Like small stable mangers, and sitting around campfires with kiddos who have hard questions and harder stories. Or in tiny rooms with teenage moms. Or sitting beside your son’s hospital bed.

I realize it all sounds quite cryptic, and I’m sorry if I’m being a little vague. Trust me, that’s only because I’m pretty sure you would freak-the-heck-out if I told you where you will live in ten years. What you’ll be doing. The places you will have walked. Let’s just say this: Remember when you and Adam went to that drive-in-movie theater in downtown Atlanta? And you thought you should probably keep your doors locked and avoid eye contact and most likely not even use the bathroom because Ewww? Well one day, you will live within walking distance of that theater. By choice. And also, you will have chickens. But try not to worry too much about that.

It sounds crazy, I know. But don’t worry. Christ is gentle with your fragile little rule-following heart. And He allows you to walk the journey with simple obedience, one baby step at a time. But trust me, sweet girl; what lies ahead is so worth anything you might have to give up or leave behind. Because you WILL walk through dark places, you will suffer. Things might be scary, and unknown, and HARD. But Christ has never claimed that following Him would be safe or comfortable. You might be confused, because lots of Christians (especially in your new home in the Bible belt) might claim otherwise. But trust me, following Christ is an adventure. So it’s a good thing you marry an adventure-loving-kinda-guy. One whose excitement for life perfectly complements your cautious empathy.

I don’t want to give away too much here, but I will tell you this: you know him already. And the seeds of compassion in you and the seeds of adventurousness in him, they will be watered and cultivated and grown as you walk through hardship together, and as you choose to say yes to Christ each step of the way.

Your faith, sweet girl, will be refined by fire. I know that sounds scary, and I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t. Because one day you will sit beside your infant son as his heart is literally rent, sewn, repaired, and left open. And as you watch his teeny-tiny heart beating through a plastic window in his chest, you will know how it feels to have your own heart ripped out. And you will discover this: you are still alive. Even in the face of your deepest fear. Because even though your family will literally walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will learn the Truth in that valley that Christ is with you. Always. And that He can be trusted. That He is good. That surrender brings healing. And that pain and joy are inextricably entwined.
If I could give you only one piece of advice it would be this: stop spending so much time trying to avoid pain. Go through it. I know that can be scary because it means making yourself vulnerable. Opening your heart to people, even if they might reject you. And some of them probably will. Stop trying to avoid being made fun of, stop trying so hard to fit in. Stand up for what’s right. Self-protection never works anyways.

Because here’s the thing about the dark: your eyes adjust. You might start off seeing only indistinct shapes and formless shadows, but soon outlines emerge, and even some color. And you quickly realize that you’re not alone in the dark. Others huddle in the darkness, trapped in their own fear that they, too, are alone. Those who have walked through hard, dark places are uniquely equipped to minister, close to the heart of a God who cares profoundly for those dark places, and for those lonely folks huddled there.

Tonight, tears are rolling down my face as I write this. Because there is a nearly-sixteen-year-old boy who you will care desperately about. And tonight he sits alone in a dark jail cell, fifteen years of hurt and pain and bad choices culminating in this night. And you will be glad, sweet girl, that you care. And that you know intimately this Jesus who cares so deeply for the orphan.
At some point (ok it was after you gave birth to your daughter, who is obviously the most beautiful baby ever created), you take up photography. Obsessed with capturing details, her tiny nose, her little eyeslashes. Crazed to capture every second, not to let anything slip by un-documented. And as you discover photography, you start noticing light. The way it dances on the red and orange fluttering leaves. The way in late afternoon it filters through the clouds of dust in your back hallway (unfortunate side-note: you do not get any better at cleaning). How golden and drippy and buttery it gets right before sunset. But here’s the thing: the light was always there, you just didn’t notice it.

And let me tell you this sweet girl: As one who has both walked through profound darkness, both of circumstances and of spirit, you are uniquely gifted to notice the light in the darkness. I know you’re probably going to just shrug off what I am telling you (note to self: stop doing that), but it is true. And if you were one of my kiddos, I would keep telling you this over and over and over and over again until you told me to shut up or you believed me. Oh, who are we kidding. I woudn’t stop just because you told me to shut up. Because you have to know and believe that God is using each encounter, each step of this journey, to mold and shape you into someone who loves teenagers who are locked in prison cells, and small children who show up for summer camp with roaches in their suitcase. And one year old babies with fifteen year old mommies. And little girls with golden hair who request butterfly birthday parties when they turn four. And precocious one year old boys with big blue eyes and a very special heart. You were made for this sweetheart. So stop doubting yourself and start trusting. In yourself. In a God who loves you dearly and has great plans for your life. Because if your sixteen year old self can wrap your mind around that, then I’m pretty sure you (we, me, whatever I’m confusing myself at this point), can change the world. Or at least Atlanta.

I love you. And no I’m not just saying that, I (finally) really mean it.
27 year old Becca
 
*I'm linking up here because I really believe in Emily's new book, Graceful. Check it out.

9 comments:

  1. I just finished blowing my nose and wiping away tears after crying on my husbands chest after facing my own sin and brokeness of past choices that are just now really hitting me.....ridiculous. But its a sweet spot of understanding my humanness and Gods sovereignty and redeeming love. Then I roll over, turn on my kindle and read this. The only words that seem adequate are "thank you"......you put words to my soul.

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  2. Love this. I just did this same thing last night..it was a little therapeutic revisiting past hurts knowing how things have turned out. I loved 16 year old Becca, btw! :)

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  3. This: He’s much easier to see in the dark places.

    Oh, girl.

    Also, I have NEVAH felt older. You're 27????????

    signed,
    Granny

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  4. This was so beautiful. I relate to so much of what you said to your 16 year old self. I'm 27 now too and I find myself looking back to the teenage years ALL the time because like you, I have grown so much deeper in Christ and have finally accepted and actually like myself as Christ made me. Wow has it taken a while to get to this place. "If only I knew then what I know now".

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  5. What a beautifl letter! I did this too and like cried myself writing it. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. {{{HUG}}} Beautiful as always my friend!

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