I'll be honest, I try to not speak of it much here. I was born in the South, homeschooled, and raised in an ultra conservative home under a definition of sheltered that most people aren't familiar with. The oldest child of 4, we were to be "set apart" - never coming into contact with the sinful world. I lived in a bubble, with restrictions like no television, no movies, no public schooled friends, and no books unless dad read them first. All letters I wrote and received had to be read by a parent before they entered or exited the home, and every church sermon was picked apart at the Sunday dinner table, truth re-stated and lies cast out, until my heart was bloody. I didn't have friends at church; youth group wasn't allowed, and I dressed funny, so the other girls in Sunday school class didn't talk to me. I never went on a date or kissed a boy before I was 18, and I went through my teenage years with no make-up, no nail polish, and no girls nights allowed. My teenage years were instead full of politics, speech and debate, and discussing the perversion that is American society.
To this day, I haven't seen The Little Mermaid, and if you joke about an actor, TV show, or musician between 1987 and 2003, I will look at you with same expression I give astrophysicists when joking about microquasars. This morning in bed, my husband asked me if I knew what Seinfeld was and I replied happily, "Yes, it's a cartoon!"
Somewhere between age 16 and 18, I began questioning things. I was introverted, and miserable. There were too many secrets I couldn't share, too many things I couldn't do, and too many books I couldn't read. And I was desperate to have fun, and to stop thinking. Weeks after turning 18, I walked out of my home. I went to the only safe place I knew, and stayed there. 6 months later I moved for the 10th time in my life to Phoenix, Arizona to go to college. Since then, I have moved 22 times, not including the last 7 months of living in a car while I travel the US.
My life has never been the same. I lost my family, my friends, and I have spent every day of the last 6 years learning who I am, who God is, and how the world functions.
Much of it was a clean break, and much of it was a slow, brutal tearing apart.
I sat down last night with a heavy heart to write a letter to my 18 year old self. So many women have asked me to share my story. One day, it will be a book, but for today, it is in the form of a letter I wish someone had written me 6 years ago.
- God is not who you think He is. He is bound by nothing and no one. Don't be afraid to question what you know of Him. Don't be afraid to question the rules as laid out for you. God is big enough to handle it, and crossing the lines of religion, denomination, subcultures & belief systems will not break your God, or revoke your salvation.
- God will fight in your defense. Even when you are suffocating and drowning in confusion, when the ground underneath you seems unsteady and faulty, He will always know your heart and will never condemn you for your lack of understanding. He is the God of wisdom and of truth. If you seek it from Him, He may re-write what you know, and that is okay.
- It will be harder than you think. This isn't teenage rebellion, and it isn't the miscommunication of the generation gap. You will not wake up one day and have parents again, and your decision to walk out on your own means God will reassign new family members to you. Permanently. It will be painful, especially on holidays and birthdays, but in the end, you will find out that biological family is given to us to represent spiritual family - and you are simply learning it the hard way.
- Your heart is not evil, nor is it deceitful. Do not be afraid of yourself; God created you and set those desires in your heart for good. Submit yourself to Him, and you have nothing to fear. Dig deep into what makes you happiest, what triggers emotional responses, and what you are drawn to. It isn't you being worldly or sinful, and you will not be punished by God for them. Live life fully, and don't be afraid to breathe. Your mistakes are already paid for, and fear does nothing to stop death - only to stop life.
- It will get better. Those girls you envy, that are confident and beautiful? Those girls that have friends to laugh with and cry with? Those girls who have good men in their lives and a future they look forward to? Those girls who aren't plagued by confusion, depression, and loneliness? Those girls who can have fun? In six years that will be you. And those years will go by fast. Take it one day at a time, and don't try to become someone else. Become what you love, and a miracle will happen: You will become that girl.
- Read, a lot. You have years and years of truth and love to re-write into your heart. You were born broken, just like the rest, but in your own unique way, too. It takes reading about others' childhoods, brokenness, and fears to see what Jesus can do to a woman's soul. Acknowledge that you're just trying to figure things out - and read everything that gets put in front of you that has to do with healing. It will slowly permeate your mind and heart, and truth will soothe the ache.
- The numbness will go away, at the cost of your innocence. You'll slowly learn how to be human, and you'll slowly begin to feel normal. I know that in a desperate attempt to be 'just like everyone else' you'll get drunk at the frat house, you'll kiss boys whose names you don't know, and you'll watch pornography. I know you'll sleep with a guy you don't even like in a self-loathing attempt to destroy the Holier Than Thou reputation you've grown up with your entire life. It will wreck you, instead of heal you - but it will bring you to a new understanding of Grace that God needed you to experience. It will be part of your story.
- Read the four gospels. Every single day. Take a break from theology, and let go of what is right and what is wrong. At the end of the day, your salvation rests on Jesus alone, and he cares only for your heart, not for how much you know. Pay attention to what he talked about most: Compassion, healing, taking care of the widows and orphans, dealing out grace and mercy, overlooking tradition for the sake of love, and making people new. Our first command is to love one another, and you will not be able to do that with judgement and bitterness in the way.
- Be the little girl that you are. God knows you're scared of growing up, and he knows that right now, you despise men. He sees you as pure and innocent, and when you can't explain yourself, he already knows your heart. God desperately wants to be your Father, not your life coach, your teacher, your business consultant, or your boss. He just wants to be your Father, and sitting in His lap sobbing, "I don't know, I don't know" is okay - just as a little girl falls, gets hurt, and buries her face in her fathers lap to cry and beg him to fix it. God will always defend your innocence; Jesus loves the little children.
- Choose to always believe that God is good. You'll always believe that God loves you, but you'll stop believing that He is good. Like dark-chocolate-and-a-big-hug kind of good. Your life is in shambles, and He knows it. You'll be a mess for awhile, but He has a plan. You'll hate it, you'll get sick of it, it won't make sense, and you'll cry yourself to sleep a lot - but He will always be good, and you must always believe it. The moment you stop believing it, your heart will break all over again, and you'll start sabotaging yourself. Dig your heels in and believe that God is good.
- Being a girl is okay. All the things you weren't allowed to do in high school, go do them! No matter how silly, how impractical, and how pink they are. Buy the colored eyeliner, get a brazilian wax, color your hair, paint your nails black, spend too much money on shampoo, go see outrageous chick flicks, buy that sequined little black dress, buy the scandalous lingerie and enjoy laughing at trash reality TV. Not everything has to be practical, and you don't have to think in black and white. Find yourself somewhere in there, and learn to enjoy being a woman.
- Your parents' definition of sin may not be God's definition of sin. Sin is missing the mark, choosing to live a life apart from God's way, and letting self-centeredness grip your heart. Just as one culture believes a woman without a headcovering is sin while another believes that voting Democrat is a sin, neither of these hold any weight over anyone's salvation. Don't give sin power where it doesn't deserve to have any. Choose instead to see people how Jesus saw them: all in universal need of His love to fill their empty hearts.