Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Letter To My 18 Year Old Self - And My Story.

Some of you know pieces of "my story," others none at all. One day, I'll have more of it written out - and it is a gift to me that this blog is the slow uncovering of my never-ending wrestling match with it. Thank you for listening, and for loving me through it. It has meant the world to me.

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.

- It isn't your job to find a man to love you. One day, after you've made way too many mistakes and gotten your heart broken, you'll decide to revert to what you believed when you were a little girl: You'll get married, and it will be amazing. I don't mean this in a naive, Cinderella sort of way - I mean that the man you're going to marry is already born, and when he meets you, you won't have to fight to get his love or attention. God made it that way, and it's okay to believe it stubbornly like a little girl. And it is true what they say: When you know, you will know.

- It's your life. I know you don't believe me, but really, it is. You were created to live a life no one else can live. If you live a life dictated by someone else, then you were not necessary. And God does not create unnecessary things. There will be things only you feel, things only you experience, and at the end of the day, you need to be the one who loves what she is doing with her life. People will be unhappy with you, and family and friends will disagree with you. God has a story for everyone's life, and you will not live that story if you're letting others write it.


61 comments:

KerryRose said...

I don't know how you do it. But you are pretty damn amazing.

Kayla Johnson said...

Lauren, this is beautiful, seriously. Thank you so much for sharing bits of your story. This blessed my socks off. So thankful for your honesty and vulnerability and for the example you and Max have set. Gives me hope! May the Lord continue to bless you guys immensely!

Sarah@EmergingMummy said...

Brave and beautiful post, Lauren. Many prayers and thanks for your voice.

Hannah Elisabeth said...

thank you for taking the time to share your life with so many...being transparent and open with your pain can't be easy, but it's really incredible that you share it with us. i love that you've taken your struggle and looked for ways to bless people by it. you have a beautiful heart!!!

Max Andrew Dubinsky said...

I am so proud of you. You're brave and amazing and all of it. I love your heart and the truth it speaks.

anji said...

this just spoke to my soul. thank you.

Kim said...

Thanks for telling your story. With so many people looking to you as a mentor and role model, I think it's important to be honest about where you came from. I appreciate that very much and I dig you even more now. God bless.

Alexandra Valdez said...

I don't even know how to begin to thank you for this. Your story is so similar to mine, it's almost frightening. And yet, I am so deeply encouraged by the ending. It gives me hope to see that someone with a past as screwed up as mine can end up thriving. Thank you.

Emily said...

"Your mistakes are already paid for, and fear does nothing to stop death - only to stop life." Gah! Love this so much, Lauren!

I'd be really interested in hearing what books on healing have helped you! Could you post some of those in the future? Or come over to my home for foooooooood!

Michelle (michabella) said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing this. I feel like it was something God called me to read today. Even though I am not 18, many things struck my heart. YOU are beautiful and I love looking back on how God's plan worked out in our lives. <3

Nataly said...

I agree with Kerry Rose...I don't know how you do it, but every single blog you write is ah.maze.ing. Raw honesty, Truth that fills the deepest corners of our hearts and souls..just beautiful writing. It's beautiful how God uses you in this way. Your blog has been a blessing to my life, since I discovered it a week ago. Keep it up, keep doing what you do because it's what God's called you to do and its bearing fruits! Have a great day! :D

evefogleman said...

Wow, this is so touching and beautiful Lauren. I had such a shockingly similar upbringing to you, and it's amazing to see how you have grown from it. Like you, I have a hard time sharing much of my youth, but pieces reveal themselves sometimes. It's amazing what God has revealed to me outside of the sterile environment I once lived in. This makes me realize why I connect with your writing so much, so thank you for your wonderful honesty.

I could go on for paragraphs about how much I love this. I wish we could compare notes about where life has taken us after being "set apart" by conservative homeschooling ect. ;)

If you don't mind, I will be mailing your letter to your 18 year old self to my 18 year old self with a note attached telling her this is from her far away sister in Christ.

Candice Jenee' said...

I can't even begin to express how much this touched me. You have a wonderful story, Lauren. Thank you for being brave enough to live it and share it.

I was especially touched by the section about things being harder than your 18 year old self thought. I experienced that as well. However, for me, it instead of reassigning me a new family, GOD blessed me with the ability to be re-acquainted with my family and freedom from the terror of my step-dad.

If we are open to His way, GOD really does place us into families and friendships that encourage us and help us grow.

Thank you for such an honest post.

Blessings!

Bekka said...

Thank you for sharing. *hugs* for you and your 18-year-old self.

Anonymous said...

I think we have opposite but same kind of stories in upside down childhoods. Weird we were too young to recognize it in each other. Blessings towards you and your new family. Isn't it nice to begin your own family with someone that has the same beliefs? Liberating and I thank God for it every day. Much love <3

Heather Hertel (Thomas)

Breezy said...

LOVE this. Thank you for the inspiration and for reminding me that my walk with Jesus is nothing short of a beautiful love story.

monster cakes said...

I think we could all use a letter to our 18 year old self, and I think I have to remind myself that GOD IS GOOD every night when I go to bed. Lovely letter, and thanks for sharing!

Laura Noelle said...

Lauren, this is absolutely beautiful. Your story and writing is amazing, and though I'm sure many women have told you that you have inspired them, I will say it again--your journey gives me hope.

I had a broken childhood filled with suffocating sheltering and abuse, and have entered adulthood as a confused, shattered soul who doesn't know how to cope except to fall flat on my face before God begging for the courage to keep on trying. Some days I don't think I can. Some days I fail. But each day my story pushes me forward. I know I have a purpose. I know my pain will help other broken girls. And I know that while I don't trust men and I have never believed they can be different--I know that God is letting me experience a love that wants to change me.

You are an amazing woman of God and your bravery to tell your story is the true essence of hope.

aPearantly sew said...

Oh Lauren, I love you so very much. This post was beautiful.

Julie said...

Thank you for writing this letter. 18 year old me needs it.

Diana said...

this is so beautiful. Thank you for writing a letter to all of us, not just yourself.

jaysuzanne said...

Are you sure you didn't write this to 18-year-old me?

Not only did I identify with this post because our personal histories are similar, but because I, too, have come to find some of those gracious realizations 6 years later. This was encouraging, inspiring, and an incredible reminder for us to know who God truly is and who we truly are, despite what we've grown up with.

We aren't alone and we haven't been defeated; we are bound to an unfathomable love.

Thank God.

Couldn't have said any of it better myself.

bethanytwrites said...

This is beautiful. You're vulnerability is inspiring and encouraging.

Tammy said...

Through my tears and shaking hands, I can only write...WOW! Simply, wow. Thank you!

Ari said...

This was so awesome. Thank you for sharing.

Sal said...

An amazing post. I know it wasn't easy to pour yourself out to the world wide web, but I thank you wholeheartedly for doing so.

Alyssa said...

Thank you for sharing. I felt some definite kindred-spiritness while reading. Our stories share many similarities. I have never shared my past on my blog but your words have encouraged me to think about ways to write that will be open without causing too much pain (some of which still exists even after a decade of healing).

Thank you for your beautiful words. My 18 year old self needed to hear those more than I can express here.

Ali Farmer said...

"There will be things only you feel, things only you experience, and at the end of the day, you need to be the one who loves what she is doing with her life. People will be unhappy with you, and family and friends will disagree with you. God has a story for everyone's life, and you will not live that story if you're letting others write it."

Wow! That statement spoke to my soul. I loved learning more about your story. God has done a great thing. :)

Small Voice said...

I love how strong you are. Wonderful to see that. You always seem to say something I need to hear. Thank you for being here on this planet and sharing your beautiful soul with us. :)

Anonymous said...

I share a similar upbringing to what you experienced, but as a boy. Coming into the world from a sterile upbringing is extremely tough - this is a very enlightening post and i'm happy to have the opportunity to learn from your experience.

thank you

Rachel Renée said...

I got to witness some of your story, but I never knew what you were going through. You always looked so in control, popular, and pretty. I was only 13 at the time, friends with your sister, your dad taught one of my classes a few times. Yes, it is hard growing up like that, but there are so many ways to be hurt. I am so happy for your healing! Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself not to run too far in the other direction. I have to remember grace for all things, leaving behind the bad, but not forgetting the few things that were good. You are so right that Jesus and his love is our focus!! You bless me. With love, Rachel

Marie said...

i'm a few months shy of 18, but... my heart needed these truths at this moment.
thank you and bless you.

Emilie said...

Lauren,

I love it! Thanks so much for your honesty and for sharing your heart. Your blog has been so wonderful and powerful to me as I follow it. I especially like the gifts you give us readers in sharing parts of your life story.

Love,
Em

Kari Carda said...

I don't know you, yet I love you. As your sister in Christ, I want you to know that the light of Him shines through you -- even through the web. You are honest and full of love. Thank you for sharing your story. I continue to be touched by your genuine heart. God bless, friend.

laurwilk said...

This was wonderful. The evolution that we all go through, regardless of our backgrounds, is remarkable.

I've been a bit of a distant admirer of you for quite some time. We shared a few emails a while back but I proceeded to drop out of the blogging world shortly after. I'm so happy for you and all of the wonderful things in your life! Keep on keepin' on! You are blessed.

Christina said...

So lovely. Your heart for Christ is illuminated through your words. Thank you.You bless me always.

Ruthie Dean said...

I found your blog through Andrea Lucado and had to share that our families sound very similar. My parents didn't even come to my recent wedding. It was heartbreaking, but God is mending me back together--one stitch at a time. I recently wrote a post about Strength and Brokenness to put in writing that I would not allow brokenness to destroy me. I want to walk the road to healing and grow strong in the places that hurt the most. You have shown courage in writing and may you continue to press on in your journey towards healing. freedom. joy.

kelly summers said...

as always, i am completely blown away by your honesty and the way that you communicate the truth God speaks into your life. thank you for sharing. i love your heart so much.

Natalí said...

Wow. Seems you always know just what to say. I feel so similar to this except that I'm only 21...and I struggle with feeling like I'm not living...due to my parents. But, this is so encouraging to read. I'm def. inspired to start living and not caring! I don't want to live and have regretted.


Thanks Lauren.

Emily Schubert said...

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. Right now, I'm studying abroad in Oxford (philosophy & theology), and I'm finally taking the time to address the questions/uncertainties that I've had about God. I normally attend a small Christian school in the US, but whenever I realize I have an unsettling question about God, or the Bible, or faith in general, I let myself be swept away in the business of school assignments and extra-curriculars to avoid really getting to the bottom of it, because it makes me uncomfortable. I'm scared that if I question God, I'll have some kind of awful realization.

It's a little unsettling, realizing that even though I've grown up in the church and attend a Christian college, I still have false assumptions about God, and don't really understand Him. (Not that I ever totally will, at least this side of eternity.) But it's nice to see that you let yourself question Him, and life didn't fall apart. He didn't let you down. He's faithful and will guide me along and reveal more of his truth.

julie, sweetie. said...

i want to read more on your story! ah! so interesting. so powerful. so full of strength. you are an example to us all! :)

diana said...

Gorgeous. True. Necessary. Thank you.

That last one? That's the truest one of all, in some ways, because it's true for ALL OF US, even the ones who didn't grow up with psychologically inappropriate parenting and invasive control issues. Because even without that, most of us (well, at least many - too many!) try to live the life someone else wrote for us instead of listening to God - and to ourselves...after all, God made us, so it's really, REALLY important to know ourselves, to discover what makes our hearts sing, how we're wired.

Thank you.

Julie said...

Beautiful. Powerful. Inspiring. My 29-year-old self is sitting here with tears streaming, telling God "I don't know, I don't know..." and daring to believe it's okay not to know.

Frances said...

Absolutely loved this. We all get to a fork in the road where we have to decide if we are going to follow the God someone told us about or if we are going to follow the God who we know and trust in our heart. It is a painful process when you have to leave so many friends and family behind to pursue to real love and truth of God but those growing pains are so worth it. I don't even know you but love your honesty and open heart.

Gary Puckett said...

Hi Lauren! As always, beautiful, life and faith affirming. Thanks for sharing yourself with the world!

All the best,
Mr. P

Kinsey French said...

Lauren I don't even know what to say. This had helped me more than you will ever know! Thank you. <3

Amanda said...

I cannot say enough how I absolutely *love* this, Lauren! My story probably has very little (if any) in common with yours, but your letter speaks wonders to me, still. I might print it to keep it close to mind and heart :) Thank you!

Sarah said...

"you won't have to fight to get his love or attention."

Thank you for that line. I didn't know that I secretly believed that as a single woman until I read it. Thanks for breaking that chain.

@kristen_rea said...

I totally relate! When you said that if someone makes a joke about someone or something between the years of 1987 and 2003 . . . you don't really get it, I was like "someone else is like me!"

As I read "A Letter to My 18 Year Old Self" I burst in to tears. I have been struggling in my relationship with God. He has felt so far away during this time of struggle. I have been angry with him and didn't know how to even connect with him again. Reading "Be the little girl that you are . . . He just wants to be you Father, and sitting in his lap sobbing "I don't know, I don't know . . . " was when the tears began to roll down my cheeks and the walls fell down. These were the words I needed to say to God. I had never on an emotional level gotten that God is our Father because I have my dad. This picture of a crying little girl in her Father's lap-- I finally got it.

Kate said...

this is beautiful!! I was just praying this morning and the Lord led me to confront my teenage self and cast out lies I had allowed myself to believe for so long. I thought how much I wish I could have just sat down with myself at 18 and shown myself who I would become in the next 4 years. It really is unimaginable. I hope that this post encourages other young girls the same way it has me!

Thank you so much for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. My growing-up life wasn't so extreme, and by God's grace my whole family is being brought out of it. This really spoke truth and hope to my heart. I am learning what freedom and grace are, and re-learning the Gospel, and working through the hurt I have. Thanks:)

suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} said...

dang, lady. i love love love to hear stories of people who are able to walk through ache and legalism without walking away from faith. such a gracious testimony to God's mercy.

Mallory! said...

Lauren-
I'm a high school teacher and I often share your words with my students. God's wisdom is shining through you. A few people above asked this same question: what books did you read for healing?

laurennicolelove.com said...

@Mallory - I am so flattered and encouraged to hear that. I just put up a list of books I read and recommend to pretty much everyone. :)

http://laurennicolelove.blogspot.com/2011/10/resources-for-recovering-legalist-or.html

alanez said...

Hey ya! This is an AMAZING post! Tanx for your honesty...

Gregory Donner said...

Lauren,

Thanks so much for just being willing to be vulnerable and sharing from your heart what God has brought you through! Am praying for daily strength and courage for you as you continue to speak the truth in love.

Greg

kristensarahbruce said...

wow. i am in tears at your honesty. i read this as a letter to me. THANK YOU.

Gretchen said...

With God's help I am finally easing my way out of my own sheltered bubble at age 22. It's not often that someone "gets it", and it helped me so much to read about how you went through similar circumstances and thrived afterward. Thank you for being willing to share your story.

Christine S. said...

I love your blog. I love your story. My soul gets pulled into stories that are filled with Jesus, grace, and adventure. And love. Yours has it all and I have enjoyed starting your blog with the most recent posts. I got to this one, and one of your points stuck out to me. In your letter to yourself you say, "Your heart is not evil, nor is it deceitful."

I am not one to pick things like this apart. Really. But I enjoy theology and am constantly searching for truth in scripture and in that truth reflected by godly men and women who write about scripture. I love everything you say after that bold part. But I want to encourage you to dig into that statement. Is that what scripture tells us? Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" This, obviously, cannot stand alone as my argument, but if you read around this passage it talks about how man is cursed if he trusts in himself, in his heart apart from God. The heart will betray us because we are inherently sinful. You can see this also in Genesis 8:21, "And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma [of sacrifice], the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done." God says yes, man's heart is evil, BUT I am not going to punish mankind anymore for this because a sacrifice will be made. So though this may be what you meant to say all along, I encourage you to think about the sentence you wrote. Think about clarifying. We ARE sinful. We ARE evil at heart because of what our first parents, Adam and Eve, did in the garden. But God sent a great Savior to forgive us and sanctify us and create in us something new (that will remain inherently evil because we will not stop sinning until we are with Jesus) that will become slowly more like his until the day we have new bodies on a new earth with Jesus.

Again, I know you're not running a tight-theology ship. But I know that many women read your blog and look up to you. They look for truth in your words and I am sure many read your words as truth without question. You have been given the gift of a voice and a space to point to Jesus and to his Word. And I love to see the Word delivered accurately!

Thank you again for the encouragement your blog has been. If you have questions or follow up, I'd love to hear back. I know this is an old post and you are busy. Have a great day!

Christina said...

hello lovely,

A friend of mine posted this to facebook today and as I read, it was a gust of life into the parched and exhausted soul of mine. Our stories are so similar it is chilling. I am just now starting the journey to healing that you have embarked on, and am aching to come to the place that you have also come. Thank you for writing something so raw you and opening yourself up to the connection of other hearts who needed to hear the words you wrote. You are a kindred. You are beloved. And God has not wasted the struggles and heartbreak you have gone through on your life journey. If for nothing else, you have touched me so deeply and impacted me with the words I needed to hear...

Blessings!

Tiffany said...

You wrote my story. I came from the same thing - and I needed to hear it to know that the journey I am on is not in vain and I am not alone. And that the healing that is still in progress will come.

Funny thing, I am also living out of my car. I am in month three.

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