Friday, September 14, 2012

A Letter to my Teenage Self

Dear 16-year old Shannan,

Girl, I know I'm supposed to tell you how lovely and beautiful and perfectly right you are, and I suppose all of those things are true, but here, twenty years later, my first thought about you is that you're kind of strange. You're an odd duck, okay? Just a little. Not so much that you have trouble blending. The truth is, I love you for it. Because your weird self taught my weird self that it's still alright. Different is the new popular. So don't sweat the fact that all your friends play sports and you still can't do a cartwheel. Wear that Periodic Table of the Elements t-shirt like the stunning frock that it is. Own your lankiness, never apologize and please, for the love, never, ever cry about it.

While you're there rocking your quirks, give your friends a hug. I know, you're not a big hugger (yet) but those girls with the perms and the Clearasil, the ones you've known since you were 5, they will ground you now and forever. They'll root you so deeply in a silly, fierce High School kind of love that you'll carry them with you for a long, long time, hopefully forever. You're lucky, girl, because they're so much like you. Their families lack cash in the same way yours does, and the wonder of that is you collectively don't have the option of caring much about what you wear or where you go. They'll drive you to early morning choir practice and Taco Bell in gigantic, ugly cars because you're obviously less motivated in the ways of a typical 16-year old. Be sure to give 'em some gas money. (Five bucks buys half a tank!) These friends will be mostly responsible for honing your odd sense of humor, and that is a gift, even if no one else in the room sees it that way. Be kind to them, always. Don't try so hard to be tough when those inevitable arguments pop up. Love them for every amazing thing they are because it's true, they're you and you're them. You have no idea yet how rare it is to luck into such a circle.

Wanna know who else is stinking funny? Your mom and dad. I know you don't necessarily love your mom's penchant for singing made-up songs in silly voices, but what you don't know yet is that you'll carry her "talent" into motherhood one day, pulling it out when you need a nudge through a grumpy or mundane slice of day. (Your little kids will love it. It's too soon to say how they'll feel about it in adolescence, though I think we both have a good idea.) She'll teach you so much about compassion and sacrifice. She'll still be calling you "honey" when you wear wrinkle cream and drive a mini van.

Yes, your dad is maddening. You get it from him. You know that, right? So keep laughing "with" him - he loves it. Notice that being raised in a sub-culture of quirkiness frees you up to be wholly you. There's a reason your friends want to hang out with him when he chaperones the trip to Tennessee. He's fun. Don't waste time in frustration over his perfectionism. You'll find a way through the middle of it, and you'll do it on your own terms. It will contribute to your current and later successes and you'll toss it to the curb when it suits your whims.

You have a good brain. I get it. But would it kill you to put in a little more effort? An illustration: The whale's name is Moby Dick. That's his name. You would know this if you read the book or even if you simply paid attention to the movie in Mrs. Blake's class. (You owe Erin a nachos supreme for handing you that choice bit of information one hour before the paper is due, but you'll pay her instead with the promise to include a line from Hotel California in your report. You'll get an A+. Erin will just shake her head.)

Okay. Deep breath. Remember how the boys don't really seem to notice you "like that"? One comes along who does. He's cute and broken and that combination proves disastrous for you. Before long, you feel stuck. Here's the thing: you're not stuck. Your the smart, stubborn girl who follows her gut, remember? Do that, please. Your instincts are almost always right. Listen to them right now. Don't wait so long. Don't waste one more day feeling bad about yourself or pretending that everything is fine when most people know he's mean to you. Stop believing that it's up to you to fix him or that he'd have nothing without you. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is walk away. Sometimes that's what it takes for someone to be fixed.

Oh, don't quit band. It's hard to explain, but you'll still dream twenty years later about marching around the field while Mr. Jenkins shouts through his megaphone. Choosing between church camp and band camp seems like a no-brainer, but try harder to make them both work. If Jenk just won't budge, then yeah, go to camp. You need to stay up half the night talking to Sarah, Jenn and Becky. They're a  new group of friends, but they're strange like you, and that experience will carry you right into your future. It'll determine where you go to college in a few short years, and you'll meet your future husband there. (He's super hot and never, ever mean.)

You're lovely, Girl. It's true. You'll be amazed at the life ahead of you, so full of surprises and yeah, some pain, but mostly redemption and beauty. You've already learned how to love life well, how to notice the details and elevate them. Thanks for that.

Now, go give your little sister a hug. Really confuse her and give her a kiss. She'll change the world with you, one day. I'd tell you to hug your big brother, but we both know he won't let you. Save that hurt for something different. It really is his loss. And one day, he'll soften.

Go eat some salsa, one of your earliest, truest loves. Read a fashion magazine. (You won't ever strut the cat walk, but you'll never stop loving the idea.) 

Keep fighting for the under-dog - you can't imagine where that instinct will find you later on. Read your Bible more, not because people say you should, but because you'll find grace there, and that grace changes everything.

Fierce love,
36-year old you

My friend Emily Freeman invited me to write this letter to my teenage self. Her newest book, for teenagers, is called Graceful and it released this week. It's the exact sort of book I would have devoured as a teenager, dotting the pages with secret tears. Emily, in all her wonder, can be found here. Graceful can be found at Amazon, B&N, CBD, or wherever books are sold.