Dear Jennifer, age 12,
I know you feel lost and frightened, but I want you to know that you’re going to be okay.
So many things I wish you could understand as a twelve year old. But the painful process of discovering these things for yourself will allow you to own them and to internalize them. God will use your experiences to recreate you into the woman He desires you to be.
I wish fear and loneliness were not part of the equation. I wish you could understand that you are not alone, that you don’t have to cry out so desperately for attention and affection. I wish you wouldn’t drive others away with your jealousy and angry words. I know you want these girls to like you. You can’t see it now, but they are just as scared as you are. They want to be loved and accepted just as you do. Let them in. Love them. Find a safe place together. You need them. They need you.
And the girls who are mean – the queen bees – the ones who look at you with slanted eyes and sneers? Or the ones who roll their eyes and haughtily dismiss you? I’ve met them as adults. Guilt haunts them. Most of them turn out to be quite lovely women whose fear has transformed to grace. But some have not. And in twenty-six years, their snobbery will no longer destroy you. You will someday have the confidence to brush off their snubs. They will still look down on you, even as adults, but for heaven’s sake, try to forgive them. Their insecurities run deeper than your own.
I wish I could tell you that most of this doesn’t matter. Other people’s opinions don’t matter. Clothes don’t matter. Cliques don’t matter. The boys who ignore you don’t matter. But even if I could tell you those things, you wouldn’t believe me. Not yet. Wisdom emerges from the dark places of doubt and insecurity, anxiety and fear.
We’re all a mess – even the grown-ups. Especially the grown-ups. We are damaged and broken, and we don’t always know how to express our love. Your parents are no exception – and it will take years and years for you to understand and forgive their failures. You may not ever fully understand, even at age thirty-eight. But please know that they do love you, and they’re doing the best they can while carrying the burden of their own brokenness. They’re going to unintentionally hand off some of their baggage to you, and for now, you’ll be forced to carry it. You will later unpack it and decide whether or not to keep it. Hopefully you can leave some of it on the side of the road. That’s where it belongs.
The years ahead of you will not be easy. In a few months, your parents are going to drop a bombshell on you, and you will spend years trying to forgive them. They are going to tell you of their plans to uproot and replant your family three hundred miles away from your beloved home. In your anger and fear, you’re going to spend much of seventh grade anticipating this move and pushing away your friends, attempting to protect your heart. Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! These girls, these friends – they love you! Please let them love you. Be sad together, and enjoy each other while you can. Crank up the cassette player, dance, giggle, talk, pass notes between classes. Don’t run away. They will grow up to be wonderful, beautiful women – wives, mothers, entrepreneurs. And they will still love you, even though you pushed them away.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but this move – this awful, heart-wrenching, earth-shattering, devastating move to a place where the cliques and the clothes are even more pronounced and important – it’s going to work out. It will be fine. You will make friends – true friends – and they will love you, too. Eventually. The transition will be nightmarish. You will cry a lot. You will be angry. You will be fearful, and your fear will lead to many stupid mistakes. You will hurt others in the same way they have hurt you. You will regret your behavior more than you regret feathered bangs and leg warmers.
But you are going to be okay. I promise. In the end, you will see how this horrendous page in your story produces an abundance and richness you cannot imagine.
And this mysterious God you want to know – yet still haven’t found – He’s always working. He’s collecting the mess, the dust, the baggage, the tears – and He’s going to redeem it. He’s going to make it beautiful. He will transform self-doubt to confidence, jealousy to security, loneliness to community. He’s going to reveal Himself to you in big ways, and He will heal you. Continue watching for Him, dear one. Continue asking questions. Continue wanting to be near Him. He will come. In fact, He’s already there.
I’ve saved the best news for last. In twenty-six years, you will have a twelve year old daughter. And she is amazing. She is everything you wish you could be: kind, confident, talented, smart, compassionate, beautiful, faith-filled. Also, she likes math. You will wonder how such a daughter came from you.
But, like you, she is scared. She feels awkward, uncomfortable, lonely. She wonders where she fits in.
So I need you to do something extremely important. Please promise me you will remember what it feels like to be you. You will spend years trying to bury all the emotions and experiences and memories of your preteen years, but in twenty-six years, you will need to dig it up. All of it. You will need to remember so that you don’t repeat your parents’ mistakes. You will need to remember so that your daughter will trust you. You will need to remember so that you can understand her and love her in the ways she needs you to love her.
She may not believe you when you try to pass along your wisdom. But tell her anyway. Keep telling her, even when she ignores you or rolls her eyes. Tell her what matters. Tell her what doesn’t. And help her to understand the difference.
God is with you, dear one. He’s dropping a trail of breadcrumbs to lead you to Him – slowly, gently, adoringly wooing you to His presence. He’s still with me. And so are you.
Jennifer, age 38