Letter to my Teenage Self

I missed the link up at www.chattingatthesky.com last week, but I still wanted to share the letter that I wrote to my teenage self.  You can read over 250 letters from other people here.  The letters are meant to remind us of the struggles we faced as teenagers and the questions we were asking.  If you know a teenager now, they might be interested in Emily P. Freeman’s new book, Graceful, that inspired the link up and these letters.

Dear Teenage Self,

You feel alone right now, like nobody really sees you, knows you or understands you.  I still don’t know if that’s true or not but I know it feels that way regardless.  When your mom tells you that you will find people who understand you and make real friends in college, it’s true, you will.  And the longer you live, the better and deeper the relationships you form will be.  So, hold on, even though you feel alone now, you won’t forever.

You desperately want to know that God has a plan for your life and you’re freaking out wondering why he isn’t telling you what it is.  You want to know if you’re wasting your life, if you’re missing what he’s called you to.  No, you’re not.  God just doesn’t usually give us a clear vision of the future.  In 15 years you’ll look back amazed at where he’s brought you.  In fact, you’ll realize that if you knew where you were going to end up, you never would have been able to create a plan to get there.  Your path is guided by seemingly random connections and relationships and being at the right place at the right time.  You can’t plan that stuff, but God can, and does.  And don’t worry, you won’t miss it.  You won’t make one tiny mistake now that will completely destroy God’s plan for your life.  He is bigger than your choices.  Relax.

You are pretty.  It frustrates me that you don’t see it because you’re comparing yourself to others.  And your perception is off.  It really is.  Your value isn’t determined by your beauty, but you’re more beautiful than you can see.  Even if I were able to convince you to get past your insecurities I know you still wouldn’t listen to my advice because you value modesty, but I’m going to tell you anyway: wear a bikini.  You have a good body for it and you can.

You heard someone say that your high school years are the best years of your life. You hope this is not true.  Don’t worry; these are not the best years of your life.  You will look back on them with gratefulness, fondness and appreciation but you won’t long for them like some of your friends do.  Your life gets better with time.   You will walk through some deep sadness and you will experience some intense joy; you will live life feeling like you’re truly alive.  So, yes, you are right about that one.  These are not the best years of your life, but they are good years, so enjoy them as much as you can.

You genuinely love Jesus and you genuinely love people.  You’ll spend your life unpacking what it means to love with depth and fullness, but you’ve started on this God journey early and that will be good for you and those you come in contact with throughout your life.  You don’t have to relate to people’s sin to love and minister to them; your empathy and compassion and desire to respect people will go a long ways to build bridges with people who seem to be different from you.  And, along those lines, you will discover that there is more sin in your life than you are aware of, it just doesn’t look like the sins they’re talking about in youth group right now.  But when you begin to realize the depths of your own depravity, you’ll also get to experience the depths of God’s grace.  This will be painful but so, so good.

You will marry a man who is more competent throwing around theological phrases than anyone you know now. He is smart and will challenge the way you think.  He’ll like some of the same dorky movies and theological themes as your dad which, surprisingly your dad won’t like.  Don’t worry about this, it will be fine.  He will love you because of your brain, your willingness to question, your independence, your love for people.  In short, he will love you for being exactly who you are.  He will support you as you pursue your dreams and will help you to redefine Christian marriage.  The way he loves you will help you to experience the love God has for you.  But, oh my gosh, dating will be stressful.  You will doubt and question everything about him and the relationship.  You will cry and experience such pain, but the joy will more than make up for it.  You will learn that good relationships take work.  You will work.  It will be worth it.

I think that’s all.  I’m afraid I’ve told you too much.  I know the questions and uncertainty are such an important part of the process (that’s such and old person thing to say!).  But I want to let you know that, at 31, you will look back on your life so far and say, it’s good—a deep, very satisfying, very real good.  So know this, I’m proud of you.  I believe you can do it.  Keep moving.  Listen to any advice your mom gives you; she is a wise and amazing woman.  Things are good now, but there are even better things to come.  Live life as fully as you can, facing and conquering fears.  Struggle.  Rejoice.  And keep on looking at Jesus, you’re going to make it.

Truly,

Me, at 31.

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My Mom, Linda LeYanna, is a Woman of Valor!

My mom was chosen as a Woman of Valor by Rachel Held Evans.  You can read that post here: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/valor-linda

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

-Proverbs 31:25

This is a speech my mom, Linda LeYanna, wrote for her college speech class last month.  Since you’re here because of her, I hope you enjoy it!

DANCING IN THE RAIN

by Linda LeYanna

My name is Linda LeYanna and I have chosen to share one of my favorite pictures with you today.There are 3 older women sitting on a park bench, under umbrellas and a five year old dancing, catching raindrops in her mouth.

I was one of those 3 women and my oldest granddaughter was the dancer. Why was I not out dancing with her? Was I afraid I would melt? Afraid of being different? Or just too tired?

This was taken at the outdoor rehearsal of my daughter’s wedding which took place the next day in Parchment’s Kindleberger Park. I didn’t have this picture in my hand until September of that year. It was one of my favorite photos from the wedding and has always held deeper meaning for me.

You see my husband David and I were marrying off our last child, we had a 5 year plan, I had quit my job and we were moving to a great spot in Grand Rapids. I would have time to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after we moved while sitting on our new deck and watching the fall leaves turn color.

HOWEVER, God had other plans for the next five years that would move me off the bench, out from under my self- protective umbrella, moving me out into the rain, dancing!

I had been diagnosed 2 years before with a melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and the first thing that popped into my mind when I was given the diagnosis was: Even though He slay me yet will I praise him. Ok, where did that come from? I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn it as a child in Vacation Bible school, so I went home and looked it up. It is from Job 13:15. I knew that was from God and my new informal classes in Trust had began.

I chose to have all of my annual physicals and dental checkups at my familiar doctor’s in Kalamazoo before winter hit, and even though we had moved, it was easier and would give me a year to look for new ones in GR.

So, when I had my mammogram in October, I was told that I probably had breast cancer. I WAS OFFICIALLY OFF THE BENCH. I was no longer on the sidelines I was on my feet.

This was definitely not in our five year plan. Over the course of the next 4 months I had several surgeries and thought all was good. As a final precaution I was sent to an oncologist. I could handle the surgeries, I didn’t think I could handle the chemotherapy, but my doctor seemed to think I wouldn’t need it. I did my homework, or at least had my son do it. He works at Bronson Hospital and I asked him to find out the best oncologist. He did, and I was referred to Dr. Liepman. You can probably guess that chemo was the next step away from the bench and the first holes began appearing in my self- protective umbrella. I knew that God was telling me to look up, that He was my protection, but I still held on to the handle of my disintegrating umbrella.

My husband David was diagnosed with kidney failure shortly thereafter. His first dialysis treatment took place 2 days before our 30th Anniversary. David’s deteriorating health was coupled with my second round of breast cancer, diagnosed at the four year mark of my remission and that of our 5 year plan. This new breast cancer included another surgery and a course of radiation to begin on January 28, 2008. David went into the hospital the day before my scheduled radion was to begin, which would prove to be his final stay. At this point MY UMBRELLA HAD COMPLETELY crumbled. I was open to the rain and the buffeting winds. But again God knew that he was enough and His provision would be all that I needed. I was willing to turn my head and my heart up. I had come to the end of me and into the strength that was HIS. I became aware of all the ways in which he was taking care of David and I. I was no longer afraid of the storm and I knew I could trust him completely, because he had been completely faithful so far.

David spent 37 days of his 42 day hospital stay in ICU and quietly passed from this life into the arms of the God we both loved and trusted. I had moved off the bench, lost the umbrella, and had turned my attention completely UPWARDS.

That first year as a widow, I began to open up to the opportunities around me. I made a pact with myself that if anyone asked me to join them in social activities, I would go. I was not ready for Zumba but a slow waltz was in order. Learning to move around on the dancefloor of life once again.

What was the final part of the picture? Taste the raindrops. I am continuously learning to “taste the Lord and know that he is good” as Psalm 24:8 says.

I asked God to give me a church with a list of 10 criteria that I had come up with, He did.

I wanted to retire, he miraculously allowed that to happen.

He provided the money for me to return to school and finish my degree by way of the VA. Learning new things is a miraculous rejuvenator!

So, this picture represents my past, my present and my future: off the bench, without my self- protecting umbrella, younger in spirit than I was in the picture, dancing in the rain (and the sunshine), and tasting that God is good.

As I look out at you I can’t help but wonder. Where are you? Are you on the bench? Is your umbrella in tatters? Are you dancing in the rain?

God knows and will be with you as you take the next step, holding you as you dance.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I live in a men’s dorm on the campus of a Christian University.  The rest of this story won’t make sense if you don’t know that.

Last night I woke up at 11:45 to guys running down the hall banging on doors shouting something I couldn’t understand.  Then I saw a bunch of guys running away from our dorm.  This was shortly followed by loud intermittent cheering and chanting that I couldn’t quite understand that lasted until about 12:30. I was tired and the noise was keeping me up.

Those are the facts as I knew them.

This is the story my subconscious created to help me make sense of what was going on:

A group of guys from another dorm came to prank our dorm.  They ran through our halls yelling, banging on doors and making noise.  I worried about what else they had done but since the dorm is my husband’s responsibility, not mine, and he had somehow slept through the initial ruckus, there wasn’t a lot I could do.  But I was annoyed, I’m not a big fan of pranks to begin with and I’m not a fan of being woken up in the middle of the night.

After harassing our guys, they went back to their dorms where their RAs (student leaders) were giving inspirational speeches about how awesome they were and celebrating their fun, late-night prank.  The longer they went the more frustrated I got.  With every new chant or cheer I lost more respect for the dorm leadership that was encouraging this madness.

I was ridiculously upset.  Besides being tired, I felt concerned and out of control.  My husband didn’t seem to care that much; when the noise finally woke him up and he just closed the window and went back to sleep.  Then I got frustrated with him for not being as worried or annoyed as I was.  Then I got mad at the pranksters for causing a disagreement and frustration between my husband and I. Stupid college guys.

So, that’s the story I told myself.  It was the most logical way to explain the noise and the running and the chants. 

I got a text from my husband the next morning  that explained what actually happened.

“It was a candle light ceremony.  That will happen 10ish times a year.”

With that one text I was largely pacified.  That text told a completely different story about what happened.

So here’s the real story:

In keeping with tradition that has been part of the school for decades, word was spread that a couple had gotten engaged but not who the couple was.  The guys were rounded up by others guys running and yelling throughout the dorms and they all met at the clock tower to find out who had gotten engaged, to hear the story of the proposal and to toss the soon-to-be-groom in the pond.  The girls met in the dorm of the soon-to-be-bride to learn her identity and hear her share her story.  It’s called a Candlelight Ceremony because all the girls sit in a circle and pass a lit candle with the engagement ring on it around the circle so everyone can admire the ring.  When the candle gets to the soon-to-be-bride she identifies herself by blowing out the candle, everyone shrieks and cheers and she tells her story.   Then, if she’s a good fiancé she’ll be waiting by the pond with a towel to dry off her man after he gets out of the duck infested waters.

So all of the noise and the excitement was because someone got engaged and the campus gathered to hear and celebrate.  The chanting and cheers were students supporting their soon-to-be-groom, not celebrating  a lame prank.  They were building community, for sure, but not at the expense of harassing another dorm.

How had I gotten it so wrong?

I took the facts and filled in the details using my past experiences.  At the last dorm we lived in, on the campus of another university, when there was yelling followed by guys running from the dorm 100% of the time it was guys from another dorm pranking ours (or our guys preempting a prank they knew was coming).  But my past experiences weren’t sufficient to understand this situation and, as a result, I assigned guilt, judged motives and got really upset.

We all fill in the details all the time without realizing it.  A lot of times we do a pretty good job and get a relatively accurate picture of what happened and the motives of the people involved.  Sometimes we fail miserably.  We misunderstand what happened; we assign motives that are wrong.

We respond, not to the facts, but to the stories we create based on the facts and it can be difficult to distinguish the two.

My husband is late for dinner.  The story I tell?  He doesn’t respect me or my time.  He doesn’t care that I made a real meal tonight.   That might be the case or…he’s talking to a suicidal student…or he set his “time to go home” alarm for AM instead of PM and he doesn’t realize what time it is…or…the possibilities are endless.

My boss is gives me directions with some bite in his voice.  The story I tell?  He’s disappointed in me and thinks I’m doing a bad job.  That might be the case or…he just found out his budget has been cut and he’s trying to figure out the new department budget and I interrupted his thinking…or…you get the point.

So how do we avoid getting caught up in stories that aren’t true?

We need to begin to recognize when we are telling them.  When you find yourself getting upset ask, “What are the facts?” and “What meaning am I attaching to these facts?” This could be hard, especially if your story makes you really emotional.  But try.   Anything that involves motive, emotions or attitudes of other people is very like part of the story you’re making up.

If you can, ask the other people involved what they think is happening.  As them if the facts that you can list are true.  Ask them what those facts mean.

You might be surprised.  You might be less upset.  You might even be a little happy for the newly engaged couple