[[Edit 5/28/15:I literally just realized I wasn’t 16 in 1996 … I was 13. So dear 1996/1999 me, You know how you’re terrible at math? SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE. Love, A Little Slow on the Uptake You.]]
Dear 1996 me,
But I don’t know that you care about all that stuff right now. I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember how you think about the world … but all I can remember is your own little world, lived inside the sanctuary of home and church and extracurricular activities. I remember you loved the Lord as much as you were able to, and you know, your lose you way for a little bit down the road, but it gets even better. What I remember most about you are your dreams. You were just bursting with dreams! So for your birthday, let me lift the curtain a bit and give you a glimpse into how some of it goes down.
It will be a year or two before you really start driving, but DO NOT WORRY. You more than make up for it now, and you’ll even come to love the country-ish because they’re some of the best drives. I KNOW. It’s crazy, and you will laugh and marvel and chase sunsets.
You’ll live in four different college dorms, two houses, two apartments and even do a short stint back with your parents. I promise you survive that, and so do they (I think). All in all, you’ll end up with something like 16 roommates, so brace yourself. You do get to live alone at least a couple times, though (I’m currently on round two), just like you wanted. Being responsible for All the Chores is a pain sometimes, but you get to eat rice over the sink while jamming to “No Scrubs” and no one will be around to make fun of you, so it all evens out. (You will eventually learn what “No Scrubs” is. And also irony.)
I know you were looking forward to a huge group of friends to galavant around the city with, or a close-knit sisterhood in college. That doesn’t really happen the way you envision, but you end up with friends you never could have dreamed up on your own, from places you weren’t even expecting. Some of them stick around for a long while; others for a season. Both are good!
I also can’t remember exactly what you think about being hard of hearing (are you still saying “hearing impaired”? Switch to “hard of hearing” now. Just trust me on this). You might still be trying to not think about it at all, because you’re tired of being the odd one out. No one else you know wears hearing aids, so you’d rather wear your hair down and try to blend in. You’re going to be all over the map, honestly. You’ll try being Deaf, you’ll try throwing yourself into being hard of hearing, you’ll try sweeping it under the rug. Eventually you’ll land in a place that’s hard to explain. It’s like you’ll realize you don’t think about it very much anymore, but that’s not entirely true, because every day you’re making decisions and taking actions with your hearing loss in mind. But it’s a reflex, not a burden, and you … you’re just living the life you’ve been given, knowing God designs all things for his purposes and for your joy.
I’m almost afraid to tell you this, because I think it would crush your tender heart the most … I know you thought you’d be married with kids by now, but I’m afraid that’s a dream that just flat-out hasn’t materialized. I don’t even have any boyfriends to tell you about! Plenty of crushes, but no boyfriends. But the good news is that there are even better dreams to be had! I pray now that God would make all my dreams begin and end with him, and as I do, the sting of not being married has grown duller. God is good, and he’ll show you that marriage is not the end, He is. Isn’t that great? We don’t have to worry about getting a lesser version of life even if we never fall in love; we’ve already been loved to the most! It’s super liberating, I promise.
So basically, your life turns out almost not at all like what you thought it would … but then, it was never your story to write in the first place. That’s good news because it’s freeing! Someone else, not you, carries the burden of being in charge. Hooray! The Author of your faith is the Author of your life, and his stories are way better than anything you could have come up with on your own. You have a Father who loves you so, SO much, a compassionate Savior who died to bring you to him (because frankly, my dear, God is so holy and your sin is so great that you need a Mediator to bridge the gap), a victorious King who promises that not even death is the end of life, and a righteous Judge who will one day make everything sad untrue.
The story he’s writing for you, by the way, you think it’s all about and for you. In a sense, it is for you and for your joy, but as you’ll come to learn, that has way more to do with God putting his glory on display, not yours. Your life is about more than your life! And in another sense, you’re the antagonist in this dramedy. You’re the Javert (turns out that Les Miz, not The Sound of Music, is your favorite musical), the Mr. Pulitzer (scratch that, Newsies is still your fave), the bad guy. The real hero of the story you’re in is Jesus; he’s the one who rescues you, who makes all things new. A lot is going to happen, not just in your world, but the world, in the next 16 years — even in the next five [[I mean two]] — that make it feel like that’s not true, but I promise it is.
You are loved — by God, by your family, by your friends. I know you have a hard time believing that right now, but once you let yourself be loved … oh, gosh. Game. Changer. Love really is the greatest of these, and I don’t necessarily mean romantic love. I mean all of it. Godly, familial, friendly. It buoys. It drives. It comforts. Sometimes I wish time travel was a thing so I could go back and learn this one truth earlier — I wonder if some things will be easier for us if you just run headlong into being loved now. But I also trust that God is sovereign and that learning it later in life than I wish I had is something he’s using for good, so hold on to that when the tough times come. (Isn’t our God amazing, that he can take things we think are bad or sad or unfortunate and make them not just shiny again, but useful?!)
This, your 16th year, it’s one of the last years I remember of true childhood. After you turn 17, you’ll start working and driving, and adulthood will start trickling in. That’s not a bad thing at all, and there’s lots to look forward to. If it were possible to reach back through the years and whisper some encouragement to your heart, though, it would be this: Don’t be in such a rush to grow up that you miss out on where you are now. Savor the moments, and be brave, little one (don’t be mad at me for calling you “little one.” I call my grown-up self that all the time).
Happy Birthday! You. Are. Loved.