Dear 18-Year -Old Kendra,
This week, I attended our 20 year high school reunion, and as cheesy as I think these kinds of letters are, there are some things I really wish you knew. The reunion brought up a lot of memories – some good, but some really hard. There are thoughts and feelings I hadn’t realized were still lurking around down in the depths, and churning them up last night made me wish I could tell you some things which would have made these last 20 years easier:
You are stronger than you think. You will spend far too many years claiming the labels other people have given you, and some you’ve given yourself. You see yourself as small, weak, insignificant, but just as every single person is created beautiful, resilient, and unique, so are you. You have what it takes to find your way through, and you don’t even realize it yet.
Some things which seem wildly important to you at 18 actually are not. But it won’t be disappointing – rather, it will be a gradual awakening to new passions, adventures, and tools you will discover to get you further on your journey. Hold things loosely, because they might not be as important as you think. But when you discover something worth standing up for, do it with everything in you.
Your world is very small right now. The people in your world and their opinions of you seem like everything, but they won’t always. The hoops you have tried to jump through to feel accepted and validated can be left behind, and you can go out into the world to discover there are so many wonderful, amazing people and experiences which will change how you see yourself and the things around you. You don’t have to go far to find them – you just have to be open.
You will see how much we all need room for grace, forgiveness, and growth. Just as you need a lot of time, experiences, wisdom, and depth, so do all those around you. You have some scars and old hurts you need to accept, because everybody has them. You’ve given some, and you need to take some, because that’s life. There are misunderstandings, immaturity, and a lot of private pain which lead people to do things we don’t understand. Let it go.
Many of your dreams will come true, but life won’t turn out the way you imagine – it will be better. You will look back and realize you did not get the exact life you thought you wanted, but it will be so much harder, richer, and more worthwhile.
There will be many times when it will appear as though you’re approaching a dead end, and you won’t be able to see a through – keep going. Trust that with God, there is always a way. Life and it’s challenges keep coming, and you will keep growing as long as you choose to rise to the occasion and not give up.
You have no clue what hard things are coming your way, but 20 years from now, you won’t want to change any of it. It will be the hard times which will also bring beauty and hard-earned joy. Accept all of it. You can’t have one without the other, and you will see how it’s all worth it.
You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you get to choose how well this will go. You choose your attitude and response – nobody does that for you. Don’t complain or blame somebody else for your problems. Figure out what you’re going to do about them.
Be okay with messing up and making mistakes. You expect perfection from yourself, but it’s not possible, and it makes you too hard on the people around you, as well. Go gently.
I can tell you all of this, but in the end, I know you need to go out there and learn it for yourself. And that’s okay – it would be less painful to learn it by simply being told, but sometimes it’s necessary to learn from experience. So learn. Be open to it. You are in for a fantastic 20 years.
An older and hopefully wiser version of yourself.