The very first time I considered writing a letter to my younger self, I immediately thought of Baz Luhrmann’s spoken song based on the essay “Wear Sunscreen” written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune. It says:
“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, nevermind. You will never understand the power and the beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in twenty years you will look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are NOT as fat as you imagine.”
“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults, and if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.”
“Be careful whose advice you buy and be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia; dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
And the iconic tagline…
“But trust me on the sunscreen.”
I first heard the song at the age of eighteen, just after graduating from high school; though too little/ too late to take any of its words to heart. Not that I’d really listened to their meaning at the time–some lessons are best learned the hard way. Thus, it was with the words of this song humming through the cobwebs of my twice-eighteen mind that I composed this letter to my young, meandering self.
Dear Younger Me,
I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t catch myself randomly watching some sort of flashback play through my head, thinking “oh, if only I’d done that differently.”
If only my mother and I had gotten along. If only I’d agreed to go to Prom, just once, to see what it was like. If only I hadn’t given up on my dreams because I didn’t think I’d ever measure up in the real world.
It’s easy to look back on 20 years of if-onlys and succumb to your regrets, letting them swallow you whole.
If I’d accepted the feminine part of myself at the same time I embraced the tomboy side, maybe I’d be writing this today in something other than a graphic t-shirt and yoga pants, my hair up in a messy knot, and not a stitch of makeup on my face. I regret missing out on the whole dress-up/trade-clothes-with-your-best-friend trend in my younger years. I don’t dress like this nowadays because it’s a perfectly acceptable look for a tired Mom, but because it’s the only way I know how to face the world every morning: Comfortable. Secure. Hidden.
I regret eight years of anorexia and bulimia. When you join that imaginary club, no one tells you the medical and psychological scars you walk away with far outlast the disease itself. But they do. They will taunt you and haunt you and follow you around everywhere you go for the rest of your life, if you let them. Stopping the binge/purge cycle is hard, not gonna lie; however, living with the warped mindset that drives that cycle is 10x harder.
And yet, if I could only pick one thing to change about my past, I’d tackle the thing I regret most. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the strained relationship between my mother and me, or not having gone shopping for a Prom dress. My deepest regret isn’t an underdeveloped fashion sense I failed to cultivate or the ups-and-downs at the mercy of the scale that forever affected my health and wellness, though it’s safe to say half my high school struggles may have been avoided if I’d never journeyed down that particular road.
No, my greatest regret is having given up on my dreams because of those things. Someone told me a chubby tomboy would never make it… and I believed them.
I don’t want to dwell on the coulda shoulda woulda moments of my past, though. Instead, what I want to—need to—tell you in this letter is… I forgive you.
I’ve spent a lifetime fighting the pain of life—the hurts and the sorrows and the rough parts that just keep coming and coming. Now, I realize that allowing ourselves to actually FEEL pain, to move with it, to work through it, is way healthier for the soul. Moreover, if we surrender that pain to Jesus, the result is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
You can’t get to the other side of pain without surrender. I know now that it’s okay to feel broken, out of control, desperate and alone. Just don’t run from those things. Don’t fight them off! God is weaving a beautiful tapestry of your life with threads of both the good and the bad. Molding you, making you, delicately forming you into the person you are meant to be.
We have an understanding, compassionate God who loves us, even when we fail to love ourselves. He is the one who takes our if-onlys, the mistakes we’ve made, and all our regrets and pulls them out of the disposal, wipes them off, paints over the ugly parts and recycles them for exactly what they are worth: Gold.
I told you before that I forgive you, but I also want you to know that I accept you. I accept me.
I accept every tear I ever shed, every school dance I skipped, and every bulky sweatshirt I hid behind (and the ones I still hide behind today.)
In spite of the consequences, I accept every meal ever skipped, every bitter choice ever made, every fear I had that dreams were okay for others, but would never be feasible for me.
I see you.
Deep down, I see you in a way I never saw you before, and there is no more bitterness, no more pain over your choices, no more hatred of my younger self. Instead there is joy and adventure, healing, comfort and understanding because while I might be weighed down by my regrets come nightfall… I can always surrender them anew each morning.
I know it’s cliché when people tell you we are all glowsticks; that we have to break in order to shine. I often wanted to throat punch the people that said “take your lemons and make lemonade” or “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Spoken like someone that’s never flushed their dreams down the toilet right along with their dinner, hoping to see something different the next time they face a mirror.
Since I’ve been that person, I feel justified in saying—they were all right.
Younger self, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if not for the broken girl you were twenty years ago.
I kind of like that you are a part of me. And I really like that God’s taken all of the if-onlys, the mistakes and regrets that make up every bit of me and twisted them up into a whole new kind of awesome.
Easy for me to say now that I’m on the flip side, I know. I also recognize that if I knew then what I know now, I probably would’ve still taken the rougher road to believing in myself and pursuing my dreams. I just want you to carry with you a little bit of hope for the future.
If you take nothing else from this letter, take that little snippet of hope and this one piece of advice: Fight—fight hard—for yourself and for others that may be hiding behind a mask. Take a chance on the Prom dress, hug your mother, never let anyone steal your dreams, and…
Stephanne Michele, her husband, and two beautiful daughters make their home in Central Ohio. She enjoys carting her girls to gymnastics, soccer, and ballet, packing lunches and making dinner; she does NOT enjoy laundry. When the kids are where they need to be, her family’s fed, and the house is clean–or let’s be honest–even when they’re not, you’ll find Stephanne buried in a book or working behind the scenes of a book, chasing her dreams. Connect with Stephanne on her website, Facebook, or Instagram.
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