I see you there, sweet sixteen, on the swings in the park during lunch hour, finally old enough to be allowed off the school grounds when there are no classes. You hide away here with a few other misfits and you really enjoy their company. This is the year of floating between social groups and I know how hard this flitting can feel some days, not sure whether to join your friends with the natural grace and trendy styles, or cross the playground to the girl edging into her goth period and the boy whose hair is getting longer by the day.
Today you’ll choose the latter and enjoy it. You’re figuring out who you are this year, who you want to be. Take your time. Relax into it. You have all the time in the world to make up your mind.
You enjoy the company of adults more than your peers and you worry this is weird. You hang around outside your young German teacher’s office to chat with her, your favourite evenings are the ones your English teacher invites the class back for glasses of Pimms in her garden. One of your closest friends is the woman with two young boys who helps you teach Sunday School. And you’d happily spend hours on end talking life and theology with your artist youth leader.
This is just fine. Let them encourage you, stretch you, challenge you. Let them allow you the space to figure out who you are.
It’s the year of figuring out boys too. Your year started with fireworks, when a boy kissed you for the very first time, just short hours after the bells chimed for the new millennium. You’re still smarting from the breakup two short but blissful weeks later and that’s ok, he was an eejit to let you go. (Guess what – you’re attending his wedding tomorrow and you couldn’t be more thrilled for him).
And that boy over there on the benches, watching you swing? Later on today you’ll draw together every ounce of courage you know and be the one to ask him to the year eleven dance. I’m so proud of you. We’ve got a lot still to learn about being brave, but you’re off to a good start. And you choose well – not the coolest, not the sportiest, but a kind man. Keep choosing the kind ones and you’ll be alright.
Girl can be complete bitches. There. I said it. You think you’ve gotten over that one birthday party than only two people showed up to (and one was your little sister) but I need to warn you about the one coming in two years, the one which feels so grown up, the one you plan for so long – and the one they hardly crack a smile at, leave as soon as they can. Four months later you’ll be forgotten off the next invite list. It will hurt like hell and you’ll vow you’ll never throw another birthday party for yourself, will leave as soon as the last exam is over.
But forgive them. They’re still figuring it out too. In eleven years time you’ll come back for a wedding and they’ll all be there. You’ll spend hours picking your outfit and you’ll cry over your hair. Your husband, the kind man you chose, will hold you tight for a long time before you’re ready to face them. They’ll squeal with delight and hug you when they see you and you’ll actually enjoy catching up.
And at the end of the night one of them will look you in the eyes and tell you “you’re different” and when you try to shrug it off as the result of not eating a tube of barbecue pringles as an afternoon snack each day, she’ll interrupt you and say, NO, I mean you’re different, you just glow. Something changed.
Something will change. You don’t feel it now, swinging here in the park, listening out for the distant school bell. You’re still wondering how this will all turn out. Still testing this confused but strong faith. Still learning how to be true to who you are while embracing everyone around you.
One day you’ll emerge from those baggy shapeless jumpers you’re wearing, and discover a spirit that is strong, a heart that is full and a faith that is certain.
Yours with so much love,
This post is part of a synchroblog hosted by Emily Freeman, to celebrate her new book for young women, called Graceful. If you want to write your own letter to your teenage self on your blog this week, you can link to it over there and read the other posts too. What would you say to your teenage self?