Dear Sixteen-Year Old Self:
I wish this were reaching you fifteen years ago. I'm not sure if it did, however, that it would make a huge difference. I'd like to think if my forty-five year old self were to write me a letter now, I would listen with ears and heart wide open. Truth is, I think it would scare the bejeebers out of me. Girl, you don't want to know the future, as much as you think you do. Sometimes, it's too much to know beyond today. Remember when, at the beginning of Geometry class, you flipped through your textbook to the end and felt panicked that you would never be able to do those complicated equations? Well, you did. But it took you all year to work through that book, building skill set upon skill set, to reach that level of ability and confidence. Life's not much different than that, so don't go freaking yourself out trying to peek at the end of the book. You'll get there, trust me, by the grace of God, one baby step of faith and perseverance at a time.
So, if I could reach back in time, there are a few things I would love to impart to you from your older and wiser self.
(1) Try to chill out. I know you're ambitious, passionate and driven. I know you're scared stiff of failure, of not being enough, but I'm telling you, you'll enjoy life so much more the sooner you learn to let go. Control is an illusion.
(2) On that happy note, I want you to know that dreams are good. Wonderful. God-given. But since you were a little girl, you've lived in a world of dreams and imagination. That was splendid for childhood, but as an adult, it will rob you of the ability to accept and enjoy who you are and what you have now. Life is not to be lived for the future. Today is the real gift, so live it fully.
(3) Not to be confusing, but also, hold onto your capacity to dream. There is coming a day when it seems your ability to dream has been shot down. When you struggle to pick yourself up off the ground and rise from the ashes of tragedy and failure. You will be tempted to despair, wondering if you are lost, or if your heart will ever fully be recovered. But don't be afraid, Amber. God is with you, as he always has been, and you will find your way to healing.
(4) Everything you've heard or will hear on this matter is absolutely true: Your value in life is not in what you do, but who you are, whose you are and how you love. You tend to get so locked in and focused on the particulars and performance. You envision such great things for your life and I know how deeply you ache for them to become reality. The thing is, your definition of great is not necessarily the great that you will be. God's idea of great is always, always greater than yours, even if it seems, on the outside, to be small and insignificant.
(5) There are no "secrets" to this life, but the closest thing I've discovered is this ancient treasured wisdom: Learn to be thankful in everything. I know, I know. You've heard this, too, from a young age, but I can't tell you how it will transform you and your life when it finally begins to seep down through the soil to your roots. Gratitude nourishes you, changes the way you see, and this will set you free to live a life that is truly full.
(6) Don't be afraid of people who are different from you - in religion, in culture, in politics, in worldview. These people enrich your life and stretch you to see how LARGE and limitless God is. Don't be boxed in. Know what you believe and don't compromise, but nurture an open, un-judging, humble heart. You won't regret it. It makes life messier, yes, but richer and deeper.
(7) You've always been a late bloomer. Just keep that in mind as you wait for someone to share this journey of life with. I wish I could impart the gift of patience to you (as if I have learned it so well fifteen years later), but it really must be learned. So please, do me a favor. Enjoy the journey. Learn who you are. Don't be so eager to give your heart away. And Amber, the man you end up with is wonderful, but he won't fit any list you've written. He's one of those special "different" kinds of people from my 6th point. And you'll love him for that.
(8) This goes back to the whole not knowing the future point, but, my sweet, innocent self... tragedy will come in life. Please, as hard as it is, don't fear this. Yes, it hurts like hell, like nothing you can imagine. But I promise, you will live and you will become a deeper, more real version of you. What I wish you to know is simply this: Love the ones you have. Love them well. Hug them often. Talk to them, listen to them, spend time with them, enjoy their company, even when they drive you crazy. Because there might come a day when you don't have them around, and you will understand the importance of Today in a way you never did before.
(9) Fifteen years later, clearly, you will still be an intense person. Geez. So, moving onto lighter things... Study hard, but choose, also, some things that you love - things you've always loved, perhaps, and new things - and pursue them just for the sake of creating. You are a creative, artistic person, even though for years you will not believe that. It's who you are. Embrace this, nurture this, and never underestimate the potential for beauty that this can produce in and through your life. Never stray too far from what first captured your heart as a child.
(10) Finally, for the love, stop making excuses for why you don't need to stretch. Your high school aerobics instructor, track and cross-country coaches, and everyone else who's told you the importance of stretching was NOT bluffing. If you want to minimize injury and have a healthier body, you can't afford to skimp on this any more. Don't believe me? Google (oh wait, you don't know what that is yet... ok... look it up in the library) "Ruptured Achilles Tendon" and then tell me if you want to avoid that particular malady. That's what I thought.
And Amber? Learn to love yourself, ok? It's kind of one of the more important, basic things in life.
Linking up with other letter-writers at Chatting at the Sky today, in honor of Emily's release of her new book, Graceful...