Dear 17 year old Jessica,
I have been reading your journal for the past week. You have quite a lot to say. Some of it is actually quite wise for your age and serves as a timely, and well needed, reminder for your adult-self. Your reflections on scripture, and desire to do God's will both inspire and convict me. Some of it is amusing. Your tirades and soapboxes make me laugh. You waste so much energy. The back and forth dialogue with yourself over life choices concerning your future make me want to sit you down and give you herbal tea to drink. Your inner turmoil over your character pulls at my heartstrings. Reliving your world through your eyes, I thought of several pieces of advice I would give you, which, if taken, would have made your life easier. Here are eleven pieces of advice I wish I had listened to when I was seventeen:
1. Keep blogging. You are much happier when you have a way to think through and process the things that happen to you from day to day.
2. Appreciate your family, especially your siblings. You have some awesome friends (I will talk about them in a minute.) But ten years from now, you will all get married, move away, and your focus will be on other things. Your family will always be there. You have no idea how much influence you have with your siblings, or how much your words affect them. Do not take this lightly. Use your power to encourage them. Whether they show it or not, they hold you in high regard and they will believe what you tell them.
3. Appreciate your friends and be there for them through their unique struggles. You have some of the best friends anyone could ask for, and they are all human beings who experience trials and difficulties, just like you. These trials are difficult to deal with...uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes you don't know how to be there for your friends. Sometimes you are tired of being there for them and wish someone else would step in. But they need you to stay constant. They do not have many friends like you. Also, you have some pretty awesome friends who are smart, loyal, and committed to growing in their faith. Take some time to recognize this, and encourage them. See what you can learn from them. You do not want to let these friends fall out of your life. These are the kind of friends who will become like family.
4. Take a creative writing class. You want to be a better writer, you need to be challenged, and you need structure. You have the time now, and you can get dual credit for it! Take advantage of these opportunities while you have them. Once you graduate, your time will not be your own. And while we're on the topic of dual credit....
5. Take more dual credit classes! College is expensive and the one you are currently obsessed with is not going to help you much with financial aid. Take as many dual credit classes as you can and transfer to that college with a couple years under your belt. It will save you debt in the long run, and open up more opportunities for you when you do leave home.
6. Sometimes you need to be direct and say what you mean. You don't like hurting people's feelings, or disappointing people. However, sometimes you have a tendency to avoid saying what needs to be said. As a result you create false impressions which will cause trouble for you later on, resulting in more hurt feelings and disappointments than if you had been direct from the start. Even if they get their feelings hurt initially, in the long run, people will appreciate you for having the integrity to say what you mean.
7. Try to think outside the box. Face the ideas that scare you. You do not have to adopt them, but don't be afraid to examine them to see if they have any merit. Truth does not mind being questioned. Realize that there is often more than one right way to do things, and look for answers which are not obvious. Apply to more than one college. Visit more colleges. Read more non-fiction books that do not fall into the "dating", "courtship" or "waiting for Prince Charming" categories.
8. Grant others grace. Your leaders, your friends, your parents....they are all human and they will all fail and disappoint you. No one, no matter how perfect by human standards, is immune to failure. Accept it when it happens, and offer encouragement. Allow others to make mistakes and learn from them. There are plenty of people who are all too willing to cast judgement, say "I told you so", and write others off when they mess up. Be one of the few who stays faithful.
9. Grant yourself grace. The fact that you recognize the areas of your life which need improvement is a very big thing at your age, and it is important to growth at any stage of life. But do not beat yourself up every time you fail. Constantly berating yourself will not make you a better Christian, student, or friend. Recognize your mistakes. Accept them. Ask for forgiveness if necessary. Move on and do better the next day. Love yourself so that you can love others.
10. Don't be afraid to let go. You are about to leave home, friends, and family to begin your own life in college. Completely new territory, completely new people, and only you to make decisions on your day-to-day lives. When that happens, don't cloister yourself in your dorm room. Make friends early! Get out and talk to people. Go to the cafeteria with your roommate, go to the mall with that girl across the hall. Your friends and family back home expect that you will gain new experiences and add new people to your life. It's okay to make new friends. The people who are meant to be in your life will always be there.
11. Remember, God IS in control. He sees you where you are and loves you where you are. In your darkest moments, when you feel most distant, he is still there. He does have a plan for you. Don't try to figure it out, you'll drive yourself crazy, and you will miss opportunities. Instead, respond daily in obedience to the opportunities he lays before you
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
27 year old Jessica
P.S. Dear Reader, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself? Leave a comment and let me know what advice you would give to yourself and at what age!