Dear Me. . . a letter to my teen-aged self

Emily Freeman is one of my favorite writers out here in blogland. And she’s just released her 2nd book, this one aimed at teen-aged girls. It’s called “Graceful.” So as part of that celebration, she has invited others to write a letter to their teen-aged selves. Here’s her button – and you can get any one of 17 versions of this over at her site. 
We’re all linking up on Friday at Emily’s blog, Chatting at the Sky.
graceful for young women

Hello sweet girl,

Somewhere between this fresh-faced 11-year old, on the cusp of the dreaded junior high school experience, the one with the barrettes in her hair and the sweet smile on her face . . .

. . . and this curly-haired (how on earth did that happen??), Peter-Pan-collared, 16-year-0ld high school student who is wearing just a little too much lipstick, I think maybe we lost a few things. 

And here, I am, on the other end of this long life of ours, trying to help us find them again. 

So to you, my just-barely-pre-adolescent-self, the one in the barrettes, I want to say this: your family moved that year, the year right before Junior High school, you moved to a brand new community, a brand new school. You left behind the only school you’d ever known, the one on Strathern Street in North Hollywood. The one where you had two outstanding teachers who were men. And the one in 5th grade? Mr. Naismith? Yeah, that one. He told you and your mother, when you were both standing there together at the school open house, he said that you were a writer. A really imaginative, gifted writer. 

And you didn’t believe him. 

You felt shyly proud, but you really couldn’t quite grab hold of it.  So hear me, please: believe him. And write like crazy, will you? Because if you don’t, that piece of you will be lost for a long, long time – the imaginative piece. And that, my dear, was one of the best parts of you before that move, before adolescence hit like a hurricane and made you disdainful of all things fanciful.

And you up there, the one with the artificially curly hair? The one in the collar? I see that face that can’t quite look into the camera, and I know how much you hate so many parts of yourself. Really, truly hate them. And that is because you’ve seen how your mother frets over you. And all her worries, her fears, her misguided thoughts, her anxiety-based worldview – that’s all becoming part of you. And it’s going to take you years and years to try and separate yourself from all those pieces of self-hatred. 

What you don’t know is this: all that angst you soaked in through your skin, the stuff your mom fairly breathed into you? It was really, truly about her and not about you. It was her own deep-seated insecurities that made her hover and wring her hands and give you home permanents that never worked right, and tell you not to walk like a duck, and drag you from doctor to doctor trying to find a remedy for your congenitally difficult skin, and then when you were sixteen and absolutely perfect (yes, you were — look at the pictures!) she took you to a ‘diet doctor’ and put you on pills, for heaven’s sake. 

She never meant it to happen, but it did. You were screwed up for the rest of your life in some ways, sweetie. Metabolism messed with, your relationship to food permanently corrupted, and really life-twisting anxieties taking stubborn root inside. 
This is a portrait you had taken right after you started at UCLA at the very tender age of 17 because your actual senior picture from high school was dreadful, even after two sittings. Did you see yourself well when you were this age? 
Not very often, I don’t think.

So I guess my number one bit of advice to you at sweet-sixteen is this one: move out from under your mother’s fears and just be yourself, your own weird and wonderful self. Proudly!

You are a smart girl, kiddo. You know that with part of yourself. You’re in the gifted classes and the other kids think you’re a bit of a nerd. And you are. 
Doing something silly for a church event, because that’s where you always, always were as a 16-year-old – at church, doing all kinds of things. And occasionally, some of them were silly.

But believe me, that smart stuff is really going to work out great for you. Yes, it is. In fact, I’d like to encourage you to relax into it. It’s a gift of God, one you don’t fully appreciate and that your mom is a little afraid of (“The boys won’t like you if you’re smarter than they are.”) But it will serve you well. 

There is this, though: being smart is not all there is. In fact, it’s not even the best of all there is. And there is a very big piece of you that knows this truth, too. In fact, that’s why you decided to join all those choirs in high school, even though you had to audition and that scared the bejeebers out of you. 

Because in those marvelous choral classes, you got to be one of the singers, not one of the brainiacs. And that was a very good thing for you to experience. So good that you’re going to do it for a whole lotta years and every one of those years will be rewarding and rich and will touch the part of yourself that is creative and artistic. So, sing loudly when asked. Say yes to the duets and eventually the solos. Because it’s really good to do something that requires you to face into your fears. Something that helps you learn just a little bit more about trust. 

Because, dear girl, that’s going to be the center of your journey for a long, long time: learning to trust. Learning to trust yourself and your instincts, learning to trust your husband and your children, and most of all, learning to trust that God is for you, not against you. No.Matter.What. 

You’re going through the motions so well, dear one. And you’re learning so much in that head of yours . . . so much. You’re a leader in your church youth group, you fervently read your Bible and pray for a long list of people. You help at home and never break the rules. You are a very, very good girl. 

But you’re beginning to experience some pretty deep questions about life and about faith, about relationships and about family. And if I could tell you anything, I would tell you this: lean into all those questions. Keep on asking them, without fear that you’ll fall of the edge of the earth and into some sort of cosmic lake of fire. Because this is the truth: God is so much bigger. SO.MUCH.BIGGER than you can think or imagine. 

God is way bigger than your doubts, your fears, your inhibitions, your insecurities. And this? THIS is what I truly want to say to you — 

                                   God believes in YOU. 

Yes, you heard me right. God made you, crafted you with love, calls you by name. God will walk with you through all that is to come – all the great stuff and all the terrible stuff, all the beautiful and all the ugly, all the terrifying and all the satisfying. So . . .
          write it all down,
               come out from under your mother’s fear-soaked shadow, 
                     don’t be scared of all the Big Thoughts you’re having,
                             and, most of all,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart….” for God will “direct your paths.” 

And you are going to be SO surprised where God’s path takes you. 

Love to you from . . .

YOU, all growed up at age 67

P.S. Some of those pathways God will take you down? They’re going to be grand fun! 

FRIENDS: If you’d like to know more about Emily Freeman’s book, click on this line right here to read all about it.

I’m also joining this with Emily Wierenga, Ann Voskamp, and the SDG at Jen’s place, if it’s not too late:

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  1. Coming to you via Imperfect Prose…
    I loved getting to know you a little better – and oh! How beautiful you are in those photos! I loved the Peter Pan collar thing. It has made me wonder what I would say to my teenage self…

  2. This made me kind of sad… the struggles of youth are struggles indeed, aren’t they! I’m glad it sounds like you’ve done pretty well for yourself in the meantime!

  3. Oh Diana,
    I could identify with a lot of what you touched upon here…the insecurities, the questions….what I loved so much about this was the drenching grace with which you treated your sixteen year old self. Don’t you think that is the one gift we all could have used back then? I’m so glad that you were that sixteen year old girl, though. Because all of that informs all of now and I love you now.

  4. Beautiful!

  5. Thanks for coming by, Tanya, and for saying such kind things. This was a really interesting thing to do – and tomorrow, if I were to do it again, I might do it very differently. There are actually lots of things to say to our teenaged selves!

  6. Sorry it made you sad, Kati – and yes, the struggles of youth are real. But as Holly noted, those struggles contribute a whole lot to who we become in our later life. God is faithful and so much of what I struggled with has been redeemed in a variety of ways in my adult life. For that, I am deeply grateful.

  7. What a lovely thing to say, Holly! And yes – grace is what we all need, time and time again. And my mother was grace-ful in many, many ways. As I said in the letter, she never meant to contribute as much as she did to my own staggering insecurities. She truly did not. And when her own insecurities were in the background, she was just a remarkable mom – truly. That accounts for a lot of what you may see in me today. I just wanted to encourage my younger self not too take it all in so deeply. I think in some ways, mom and I were a ‘perfect storm’ of personalities.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica!

  9. Oh my Diana, this is such a tender letter from you to you. My heart is fluttering faster at the familiar in your words. I know so much of this. Beautiful. Simply. Beautiful.

  10. And I had to come back to say how very lovely you are, and you were in those PHOTOGRAPHS. So, so lovely.

  11. Thanks so much, Elizabeth – for coming by and for commenting. And thanks for the kind words about the pictures, too. I look back and them and am just sad that I couldn’t see myself at all. True for many, if not most, teenagers, I have a hunch. Which is one reason Emily’s book is such a gift.

  12. So much beauty resides in you and in your words. Thanks for sharing its expression with us.

  13. First of all…you are gorgeous! Stunning! Ravishing! I know beauty isn’t everything, but wow!

    I’m so glad you wrote this. You’ve captured well just how much we can wrap ourselves up in the worries of our mothers. It takes awhile to understand it’s okay to wrap up in something else and still let our mothers love us and to love them in return. And being a mother? Well, that is one of the hardest things ever.

  14. I’ve thought as I’ve read your Africa posts how beautiful you were and meeting you, I know how beautiful you ARE. What a tragedy your mother caused without knowing it. (Oh, Lord, help me breathe life into my girls!)

    You are a gift in so many ways, Diana. You are filling a role of encouragement and truth-telling for so many all over this world wide web.

  15. I am touched and humbled by your words here, Susan. Thank you.

  16. When you’re a little, little girl with a mom who loves you – you think she is omnipotent and omniscient and how could she be wrong?? That’s one of the toughest parts of being a parent, I think, and one that too many of us don’t even think about – letting our kids know as soon as possible that we are NOT god, that we make mistakes, that we don’t know everything . . . not even the very hearts of our children. My mom is a magnificent person. Truly. And she did a whole lot of things right. This part, though – communicating anxiety from cell to cell – that didn’t work so well.

  17. Mothering is just laced with pitfalls, isn’t it? I fought hard against all those insecurities in me when I tried to mother my girls and I screwed up, over and over again. Every generation makes its own share of mistakes – we ain’t none of us perfect! Thanks for your kind words here and elsewhere, Ann. How I wish you were coming to Laity this year! (I mean, the Writer’s Retreat specifically, of course.)

  18. Oh, I love this, may be my favorite of all of the letters I’ve read so far. And your beautiful in every single age of life. This makes the tears come just to the surface for me, as you know, I can relate to the unhealthy mother part and the years of circling around issues, as we’ve talked about before. I truly pray that I can be a glimmer of the gift that your are to the world Diana, you give me hope.

  19. Thank you, Shelly, for these kind words. My mother’s unhealth was a very minor part of who she was – in so many ways, she was fabulous – and still is. This reflection is meant to notice that even really good and very present moms have to deal with their own crap, their own brokenness and that brokenness can have unseen impact on their kids. That’s true for ALL of us, isn’t it? Your own story of redemption from lots of unhealth is powerful and is already ministering to many, many people. God will continue to work that redemption in and through you – count on it.

  20. Oh, I admire you (and envy, just a teeny bit) you you talk with that younger-you.

    This is beautiful, Diana.

  21. Thanks, Sheila. Might I gently encourage you to try and do the same? Learning to offer grace to those younger parts of ourselves is really important work to do. Painful at times, but good.

  22. Oh Diana – I love this. I do. It is so sad to think what we do in the name of love. I know your Mom must have acted out of love as well as her own fear.
    I have found, too, that trust is a life-long journey. It is a fearful thing to let go of what we mistakenly believe is control.
    I stood just in front of you at Laity Lodge that last morning. You have a lovely voice. I am going to miss being there this year.

  23. And I am truly going to miss seeing you. I was hoping we might have more time to connect this time around. Thanks for your kind words, Linda. And I’m so excited for you about this book you’re working on!!

  24. You were beautiful – really, truly. Strong and beautiful.
    And I relate to so much of what you say to yourself… in fact, I might print your letter out and read it again when I’m doubting myself.

  25. Hey, if it helps you remember who you truly are – go for it. I imagine I’ll read it now and again myself.