18. If you could have a conversation with yourself in high school, what would you say?
I would have much much much to say, but it cannot all be said here. The following, then, is an abbreviated version….
Dear 18-year-old Dana,
Life must seem so big right now. You have a lot of friends, a lot of activities, and a never-ending stream of laughter in your wake. I bet it feels pretty awesome most days. Enjoy those days, my darling. You have had enough pain for a lifetime already. That’s the secret, though, isn’t it? The laughter you share is to keep from crying because all you tell people is that your parents got a divorce a few years ago, and then you moved. You don’t have to tell them everything. I know they wouldn’t have the space to understand you right now. But someday they will. You’ll see.
I want you to know most of all that it is okay to cry, and it is okay to let people see you hurt. Not everyone will hurt you the way you’ve already been hurt. I promise you that. Now, that’s not to say that this is the worst it will ever be. You have some tough things ahead, but you have already been to hell and back. Let those experiences shape you for the better, because they can do that for you. But you have to let them be redeemed. (I’ll get back to redemption in a moment.)
Let’s assume that my writing this will not change the path your life will take. I would like to give you a few guideposts, if you will, to navigate these waters.
– Life has been such that your insides are already old. It’s okay. This does not make you bad. It makes you wise. But remember to not rest in your own wisdom. You have much to learn yet. Be teachable. Life will not go the way you hope it does. That’s okay, too. Let it happen as it will.
– Friends are an interesting part of life. I know that quantity is what counts to you right now, and that the number of people in your life is the basis of your self-worth. That will fade with time. One day, quality will be what matters, and you won’t be thinking much about self-esteem at all because you won’t have time for it. God will take care of all of that, and He’ll lead you to some amazing people, sweetheart. Enjoy them for the gifts that they are. They will be so beautiful.
– That boy over there who you call one of your closest friends? In four years, you will fall in love with him and then he will break your heart. Actually, he will more than break your heart; he will shatter it to smithereens and you will be left to pick up the pieces. You won’t get to say goodbye or have a fight. He is just going to walk away one day and never come back because he is a coward. This might sound crazy, but fall in love with him anyway. Laugh at his jokes, hold his hand, and go on those dates. Let him break your heart. It will shape you in ways I cannot quite express here. But it will ultimately be used for God’s glory. Let it happen. It has to, or else your story and your redemption will not be as rich to you in the days to come.
– In less than 3 years, your father will fall in love with a tiny woman who will rock your world. You’ll hate each other at first, but then something crazy will happen to everyone in your family in one wild and uncertain spring and you won’t be able to live without her. It’s okay. Stepmothers and stepdaughters have a special bond, and yours will be especially precious one day. She’s an amazing woman, I promise. Hug her even when you don’t feel like it. And hug your dad, too. He’s worked so hard to take care of you and Steve, and he could use a helpmate in all of this. She’s the one.
– In that aforementioned spring, you will very nearly lose the two most important people to you in the world. Up to this point, they have been your heroes. But they are not gods, Dana. Death will come too close for comfort. Your family will be changed forever. You yourself will experience physical pain, too, and will be bound to a wheelchair for a season. Don’t lose heart. Remember to pray, and to trust in those days. God will not leave you. In fact, He’ll use that spring to make you grateful.
– In just five years from now, not too long after the heartbreak from losing a love, you will go on a journey that will crush you so thoroughly you will not be able to stand. At least not on your own. You will be broken as you need to be broken. I know you’re strong, but you’re also brittle. Your bitterness will be washed away in an ocean, and you will never be the same. You will see the best and the worst day of your life. Do not be afraid. Just live it out. Go ahead and wake up too early to see those sunrises. Go ahead and let those friends in your heart, even if it scares you. Go ahead and get those tattoos. Just live it out. It will be the greatest tale you will ever tell. Just remember – this has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with God. This is His story. HIS story of YOUR redemption for HIS glory.
– The next twelve years of your life are going to be a wild ride. Just go with it. Recognize that you are learning lessons of grace and gratefulness and love. Be gracious and be kind. Don’t mess with flippancy, charm, or other careless words. You will get a lot of things wrong in the coming days. Be gracious with yourself. Be even more gracious with others because they will get some things wrong, too. It’s okay. Be gracious with your mother, and your brother and your stepmother and your father and your friends. Like iron sharpens iron – I know you don’t understand the verse reference yet, but you will. Don’t forget it once you learn it. And be grateful. Be grateful for all of it. This matters more than you could fathom right now. Great big heaps of gratefulness will mark your life and seep into your bones and carve the smiles in your face. I am so excited.
My darling, you are deeply loved. You don’t know this yet. I know for a fact that you would not believe you are loved even if you were told all day every day. Your heart is too hurt. People have been too hard. But you ARE deeply loved. I am excited for you, for the day when you know God’s love. I am excited for the day when you love people again because you have been shown such love that you cannot contain it all inside. You cannot keep up your masks forever, Dana. I know they make you so very tired. And one day, all will be redeemed. You’ll see.
Much love from your 30-year-old older and wiser (but not that wise yet) self.