Dear my 22 year old self,
Before I begin, this is not the post you think it is. Not completely. So, I'll ask you to be patient. Also recognize, this includes my opinions. It is my blog after all. I do welcome conversation, but I hope that conversation will be from a place vulnerability and openness. Not just "Listen to MY thoughts because I'm right and you're wrong."
I started writing this on May 4, 2022 and it is just now making it's way to you in July. So, what was one thing has evolved into a few others. Have I given you enough disclaimers?! Patience, remember.
Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. This is a topic which is immediately relevant in today's climate of politics. In my opinion, this is a topic that shouldn't be in politics AT ALL. I'm smart enough to realize it has to be... but let's not get stuck there yet. Too many people have opinions about choices and who gets to make them. Frankly, too many MEN have opinions and GET to make choices. Too many people think their opinion is the ONLY right one. Too many people think they should have the last say. Then, too many WOMEN end up in life or death situations because of all these opinions. WOMEN. Women are the ones affected by all these opinions. If you want to argue that men are too, eh I disagree. Men are not having to fight against women to NOT have their bodies regulated. Men are not having to make life or death defying decisions about their bodies BECAUSE of decisions made by women. We can talk about men and women being or not being equals another time. That is relevant to this conversation, but not the point I want to emphasis today. Before I go any further, I also want to make sure you understand that while I have my own opinion of this topic and have a line of disagreement, I can respect another's different opinion. BUT as a single, young adult woman with some life experiences you may not know about, I hope you'll read this with an open mind and compassion towards my vulnerability.
Every time the topic of Pro-Choice or Pro-Life comes up or someone asks where I stand on this, I'm reminded of a scary situation I witnessed as a college sophomore. I witnessed a woman I was classmates with be mistreated by a fellow male classmate. I won't go into detail because it's not important but I will say although this was the only time I saw this woman be mistreated with my own eyes, I know this was not an isolated situation. The language the man was using told me he had used this exact behavior before, possibly even with regularity and this was only a sliver of all he was capable of inflicting. Thankfully, another witness intervened. To be honest, I didn't know how to intervene. I just stood there and watched with my mouth on the floor. I stood there and felt relief as if it were happening to me and not someone else when the other bystander broke the barrier and did something. This was before the "Me too" movement and women being open about very real and horrible things happening to them. It scares me to think back to witnessing this terrible interaction that I KNOW affected this woman's life directly and I as a woman didn't know how to help her. Now, I do. Now I've watched plenty of women, women I know and love share their stories and even ask for help. It is okay to do that now. Or at least it's "more okay." When I was a college sophomore it wasn't okay. You'd be treated differently. People would talk about you. I don't even think the rumors were from a place of malice, it was more that no one had a positive example of how to HELP. So they did what they knew and gossiped. Then there would be embarrassment and isolation where there needed to be hope and compassion. Let me be even more clear. The women in these scenarios should have been shown hope and compassion. Not the abusive men. This entire scenario happened so often it's a wonder any of us made it out alive. It's a wonder because we know this is all still happening today.
"The Bible says this, that and the other about men and women." Your words say what you WANT the Bible to say about how YOU interpret it. The Bible was never meant to be a weapon in this way. It was always meant to be a tool. I've worked in children's ministry for 13 years (WHAT) and I have NEVER used scripture to argue a point. I have absolutely used scripture to support an idea or to give an example. But to argue? No. For me, that's a hard line. My thought on these practices right now is to make it more important to share the word than to preach it. This is a big reason I do not want to go to seminary or be a pastor. (Lots of people ask me about this.) Let me explain. Sharing gives the premise that I'll be giving information and maybe voicing my own opinion. Sharing also means there is there opportunity for give and take. Sharing, in my favorite sense, means asking a lot of questions. Preaching, to me, is telling someone information AND how to interpret it. Preaching is a lecture to be heard and reflected within. Sharing, you can give information, then allow room for the recipient to decide for themselves and welcome conversation. There are pro's and con's to either of these but for where the world is right now, I think we need to be more accepting of sharing than shoving ideas down people's throats. You know who is the world's worst at shoving ideas down people's throats? Christians. Not even politicians, but Christians. Read the first two lines of this paragraph again. (Worth noting, I wrote this entire paragraph before Friday, June 24.)
Now to the main point of emphasis for today. I want to remind us of something I don't think people say often enough. You CAN change your mind. You can change your opinion. You can grow, learn and decide for yourself what to support and believe in. It could be this topic or anything. Women really need people to change their minds. Again, not just this topic but anything. Women really need men to do some homework. Do some thinking. Do some work. Change their minds. We need them to let go of this hold they have on us. Truly, I believe many people are shouting their opinions because it's all they know how to do. They haven't been taught to sit and listen. They haven't been taught that it is right and good to think for themselves, not just say what's been passed down to them. This takes vulnerability and practice. I'm going to share another unpopular opinion. I don't believe in the whole "unfriending" based on what people post to social media. Whew, the number of you who SAID you went on an unfriending binge after the Supreme Court ruling of Roe vs. Wade. It was A LOT of you. If that's truly what you believe you need to do, of course I support your choice. (Oh look, choices.) Personally, I don't believe it's healthy to only take in opinions and information I agree with. This doesn't help me to understand my own points of view any better. It definitely doesn't help me to look across an aisle. Now, I won't say I've never unfriended someone on social media, of course I have. The point I'm trying to make is I don't make that choice very often and never solely because I disagree with them.
I'm going to be vulnerable with you. I've changed my mind. My life experiences have taught me lessons I don't think my own family would be able to prepare me for. What my family DID prepare me to be able to do is to think for myself (for better or for worse). They did teach me to find my worth and value in the places that matter. I feel confident in who I am as a woman and human being because they taught me, empowered me and ultimately trusted me to be able to know what is best for myself. The woman I was 10 years ago has grown and evolved into someone else today. The woman I'll be 10 years from now could be someone totally different. Who knows!
Gosh, to talk to my 22 year old self today. What would I tell her? A lot of things...
First. I'm proud of you. You are a person of integrity. You are valuable and worthy even though you think you know everything. You don't but it's okay you'll figure it out. Oh the things you'll figure out and live through all on your own. You won't like a lot of it and it will be painful, but you'll work through it anyway. You'll move onto the next thing and wonder, "How did I get through that? And all by myself?" Then, you'll remember you know how. The love your parents and family instilled through a mighty, mighty God. God got you through it.
Next, pay attention. Pay attention to people. How they treat you. How they affect your decisions. How they respond when you make mistakes. Those friends who have shown up, been dependable and can look you in the eye and say, "This isn't a good idea." Probably listen to them. Even if you don't listen, move closer to them. Be around them. It'll help. Those people who treat you badly or make you question the things you stand for only for the sake of their own point of view are probably jealous that you don't do the same in return. They are probably jealous of your confidence, even if that confidence is only their point of view and not your reality. Insecurity pushes us and often times in the wrong direction. It's okay to be cautiously vulnerable with these people, you always learn something about yourself. Being cautiously vulnerable opens gaps for them to learn too. It's also okay to let these people go. Don't spend too much time fighting because they are most likely not willing. God gets into the rest of the gaps.
Another thing. You're going to have some pretty cool jobs. None better than the summers between 2009-2012, but they are going to be cool. There will be people who make you feel less than for your vocation, but their opinion of you is not your business. Move on. It's not going to be the journey you thought you were choosing, but God clearly has a path in mind for the work you're meant to do. It's okay to be nervous in following it. You'll figure it out with some help.
While we're at it, ask for some help! You're stubborn to a fault and want everything to be done your way, but those times you finally break down and ask for help? They make way for God's grace in ways that do not only make YOU better, but others too. Let God work through you for others by asking for help. This will be hard for you and there will be times you regret asking, but do it anyway.
Eat the pasta. It makes you feel happy. It also makes you feel full.
Wear the obnoxious shoes and colors. They make you happy and also start conversations when you don't know how.
Tell that lady in the grocery store you like her outfit. She'll beam and you'll feel happy too.
Go for the run. Always. It might take you a few years to enjoy it, but you will. Just do it. The weekend of your thirty second birthday, you'll run in your first Peachtree Road Race!
Those friends you thought you'd be friends with forever and then life happened? It's okay. Maybe we'll all come back around. Or not. Pay attention.
The Atlanta Braves AND the Georgia Bulldogs are going to win championships in the same season. No, really. They are. You're laughing, I know it. But it's going to happen and it's going to be even more fun and amazing than your laughter can imagine. I'm serious, stop laughing. You and dad will have the trip of a lifetime to see the red and black confetti fall. Enjoy it when it happens! You'll all be insufferable. Sorry, not sorry to the rest of 'em.
There's going to be a pandemic. You have no idea what that means. It's going to be nutty. Bananas. People will act crazy. Some of it warranted, most of it not. Two words. Toilet. Paper. No, not to roll Toomer's. Sorry, that will come again later... but not while the Dawgs are insufferable.
Speaking of Toomer's Corner, this girl named Sunisa Lee is going to come to Auburn. She'll be a reason to roll the trees and a new era in the world of gymnastics. It'll be so fun!
Enjoy the vacations with your family. They won't be forever, but the memories will be.
Read all the books.
Say yes to things like volunteering your time. Say yes to the new friendships. Say yes to things that make you uncomfortable for a minute, but better in the long run. But also, learn how to kindly say no. This is hard, but it will make your life better. And in the words of Zola Grey Shepherd, "Because technically, "No." is a complete sentence."
Seek out friendships with people who are different from you. Different opinions. Different world experiences. Different beliefs. Different everything. This is how the world gets fixed. It won't just suddenly "be fixed." But your little world can be seen just as much as you see the world too.
You're going to live with your parents again. I know, that seems alarming but it'll be okay. Mom will cook all the things. Dad will check on your car regularly. You'll have dinners at the dinner table you missed out on in the teenage years because of the gymnastics schedule. You'll watch the Braves win it all together. You'll be so grateful they keep a place for you just in case. You'll be grateful that even though all your stuff is everywhere, you can't find anything, the hour commute is almost more than you can handle, the house you grew up in is always home. Even though they keep the AC too high for your taste, you are always welcome there. It won't last forever. You'll find ways to get out of the house. They'll include running and dogs. You'll pray and search and pray and search. Finally something will open up and it will make sense why you had to pray and search for so long. (If you've been following along... I'm moving! Very close to work! So excited!)
You're going to learn all about rejection. In relationships. In work. Everywhere. You'll learn. How it feels. How to handle it. Sometimes with grace. Other times like a complete toddler with a shock to the system and everything you thought you knew. You'll go through a period of hating your job so much that you apply for everything under the sun and get rejected by them all. That's going to be painful, but you're tough, you'll see light at the end of the tunnel and you'll know exactly who sent the rejections. God was protecting you and preparing you for something else. Somewhere in there, you're going to post this to the internet...
That's the turning point. For the better.
Don't be so damn hard on yourself. Where did you learn this?! You put forth max effort and it's great. But your max effort will hurt you if you don't pay attention. You don't get sick often but when you do its because you're being too hard on yourself. Remember, those expectations you have of yourself are not the same as those everyone else is living by. It will frustrate the living day lights out of you. Keep the high standards but don't forget it's all a marathon, not a sprint. Your pace is too fast (in more ways than one) for everyone else to keep up with. That doesn't mean you go slower, just means you need to pay attention and be patient. With yourself.
At 30, you're going to feel some confusion that what you've been taught you mean to the world is very little. You're going to wonder, "Is the world any better than it was 30 years ago?" You're also going to panic that you're not ready, prepared or smart enough to handle most of the things on your plate. You're going to feel absolutely overwhelmed by hopelessness. You're going to think, "Nothing is meant for me." Don't worry because by 32, you'll have changed your mind. Even though the things you thought you knew have changed, evolved and shifted, you'll know without a shadow of a doubt that God has it all prepared for you. You'll feel confident that no matter what "it" is, it IS meant for you. That hopelessness will be replaced with nervous confidence. Yes, those two things can go together, you'll see. Some days you'll feel more nervous than confident. That's okay. Feel it all.
Feel your feelings, but be careful dwelling in them. Good and bad. Taking the time to feel is productive. Dwelling in feelings is not healthy for you or for how you interact with others. Learn the difference. For you, dwelling should probably not go past 3 days. General rules of thumb are good to have on hand, so there's the cheat code.
Remember what I said about knowing everything. 10 years of life experiences and adulthood will teach you that you know absolutely nothing. Don't panic though. Neither does anyone else. Even if they want to act like they do. It's a show. It's the insecurity. Your insecurity will put on a show too, so be patient with yourself and with others. And know, 10 years from now this letter to yourself will look completely different. I hope!
22 year old self, I could keep going but I can feel you rolling your eyes so I'll stop there. Go in confidence and pride and even nerves that you know who you are and what you stand for. I'll write to you again in 10 years!