looking back at sixteen || vol. 2

What would I want to say to myself last year at this time – when I was just turning sixteen?

You might be wondering how I consider myself qualified to answer this question, considering I just turned seventeen. I don’t see sixteen as nostalgic and laced with memories and it certainly doesn’t include letter jackets from a boyfriend or with a sparkle in my eye just yet.

But this is what I want to say to myself this time last year.

I know God doesn’t allow us to travel back in time for an intricate purpose. But if I could come back to her, I would want to affirm her and whisper some of these truths and predictions in her ear.

Dear sixteen-year-old self, 

Sixteen comes with a lot of expectations. Maybe too many of them, really. It’s called sweet sixteen.

I know I haven’t been separated from you long – I’m still waving goodbye to you, really.

I know you’re already more grown up than most. True adulthood will come when it comes. For now, even in your mini-adulthood, I don’t want you to lose the invincible feeling that you get when you listen to rap music or the giddy laugh you make after seeing a handsome man with a cup of coffee and nerdy glasses. I don’t want you to lose your sense of humor, and the importance of laughing even when no one else thinks it’s funny. I don’t want you to lose the goofiness that remains. Don’t let maturity steal your ability to laugh. 

I know you’ll have to grow older, and then old. This isn’t a tutorial on how to freeze time. But, if you must have an old soul – it seems as if you had no choice in the matter, I’m afraid – I hope you can jump into moments such as these for the rest of my life. Moments when you can feel like you’re a little girl again. Moments when you’re fearless and not afraid to dance. When you’re expectant and silly.

This year may have held some heart ache, confusion, and a sickness that kept you in bed the first month of summer – but it also held deep laughs, lipsync battles, guacamole, dinners with those who mean most, and growing courage. It’s all worth more than you know, my dear.

Remember all you that you can. All you hated and loved, all you walked through and all you danced to. Right now, you might look back at everything you didn’t get to experience, or did, and feel defeated. Do not live like that.

You’re going to receive a little more freedom this year. You’re starting to sail scarier waters. Stop focusing on too many of the details. You did the best you could, babe. You wouldn’t be who you are today without each day spent well or poorly. God doesn’t waste anything.

Stop beating yourself up. No negotiations allowed. Don’t ever be sorry for who you are. Don’t apologize for being a dork of for how introverted you are or what you’re interested in or where you go to school.

You’ll be sad that sometimes you sit alone. Then you’ll learn what it’s like when you have someone to sit with. When the season changes again, you’ll be confident enough to – dare I say it – to enjoy sitting alone. You’ll sit taller.

Girl, you’ll sit through some awkward conversations. You’ll push through it. Time will help a tiny fraction, but mainly your life will be oddly made better just because you’ve seen what you look like wrapped in bravery.

You’ll listen to an Adam Levine song and wish that someone was singing the lyrics directly over you. Keep allowing yourself to get caught up in beautiful melodies.

You’ll text your girlfriend and say, “How do you get over a vulnerability hangover?” You’ll feel like crap for awhile. Just keep going. Trust me.

You’ll struggle and wonder what’s best and you’ll dream about graduation, and for the first time it won’t feel so far away.

You’ll see what God does when you finally let go and trust that He takes cares of you. Of course, it will be hard to accept His hand and His lavish care and ceaseless love because you can’t comprehend why He loves even the details of you that you’re terrified the world will see. It’s a process.

You’ll get overwhelmed and burnt out. People will exhaust you, people will uplift you.

On the bad days, you’ll wonder why in the heck people call this year sweet sixteen.

Love people, but don’t wait to love them until you know they like you. Love everybody, you’re not forever obligated to the ones that continually belittle you.

Say what you need to say. (Actually, you did a pretty good job at this. Congrats.)

Instagram is not real. If they don’t document you, it does not mean their world didn’t glow a little brighter when you walked into it. Maybe they know that you have brought sunshine, and maybe you’ll never get the credit for the way their world has been touched. It doesn’t really mater. What matters is that you’re a friend with loyalty and integrity – discussed or not discussed, critiqued or praised, mentioned or not mentioned. Things are almost never as they seem.

Props to you for all those dance parties and for always taking the time to hug your dog and for writing handwritten letters even when if you know they won’t reply quickly or at all and some other simple efforts that are never highlighted; the daily things that hopefully are leading into a life that leaves a big, fatty legacy behind that is more concerned in heart than in appearance and not looking to fit in all the lines created by society.

I can’t take away your heartaches and your tears.

But that also means that I can’t replace the lessons you’re going to learn, that are going to be woven into you whether you remember them all by name or not.

From Kansas to North Carolina, to Colorado to Tennessee, to one job to another – you grew. 

You’ll get better.

I guess that’s it.

Buckle up.

You’re on your way to sweeter, better things. 




looking back at sixteen || vol. 1

One of the most popular questions and engaging ones in most interviews is,

“What do you wish you could tell your sixteen year old self?” 

The answers are usually singed on the edges with regret, but usually with a bit of nostalgia that leaves a person looking at the wall and imagining their life at sweet sixteen.

I invited four dear women to answer that very question for us today. I am honored that they took the time to join us, and I am grateful for the wisdom in each of their hearts. I’ll let them say everything I’m wanting to right now.

This is what my editor at The Rising and friend Rachel Dawson would say to her 16 year old self:

Sometimes 16 looks like a broken heart from boys or a broken heart from girls who were once best friends. Sweet girl, your heart will heal. Sometimes 16 looks like a move across the country and totally unfamiliar territory. Brave girl, you will blaze new trails. Sometimes 16 looks like finding a passion you didn’t know you had, in words and images laid out on pages of newspapers every student would hold. Talented girl, you will take that fire and light up your whole career with it. Sometimes 16 looks like emotional lyrics written on chalkboard-painted walls, like journal pages full of tangled prayers, like sappy Facebook statuses. Precious girl, you will find light at the end of that dark tunnel and it will be glorious.
Hold tight to hope, young one. Hold fast to Jesus. Keep your eyes and your heart open. Your God is good and He is mighty. He will bind up every bit of you that feels broken and He will make a way through what feels like a desert, and it will bring you into new life that is beautiful and rich and beyond your wildest dreams. Where you are now is only the beginning. The story gets really, really good. The blessings come in abundance, in the form of open doors and kindred spirits and boundless amazing grace. You’ll look back on sixteen someday and see, it was good because of what it taught you and where it brought you. Just keep believing, beautiful girl.

Another friend, whom will remain anonymous, shared this with us:

Shortly after I turned 16 I began dating a young man who was a year older. I think we were soul mates, we got along extremely well. Since we only had three years together, which were wonderful, I would tell myself to enjoy every moment and not to sweat the small stuff and create small arguments over nothing. (He was killed in a farming accident, three years later.)

That fall I ran cross country for the first time. It was the first time girls were allowed to compete. We ran 2 miles, just like the guys, and normally we ran with the JV boys, as there were not many girl runners. I wish I would have known more about the sport, the significance of the “team”, but this was all very new to me. I wish I would have trained harder and pushed myself more. I was used to doing both of these things in instrumental music, as I was a very good french horn player, because I knew how to practice and practiced several hours per week.

I would tell myself to enjoy my two younger sisters more and to spend more time with them. We actually got along pretty well growing up.

Appreciate your high school and college friends and experiences, because that time goes way to fast. Don’t be in a hurry to become an adult. “Adulting” is over-rated. It is stressful and hard work, but it is also extremely rewarding, too.

Don’t be afraid to try new things that are outside your comfort zone. You will meet great people and will have something in common with them forever.

My friend Kerry Rozman put it this way:

I wish I could have told my 16 year old self to slow down and enjoy each and every minute. I would have spent more time with my grandparents and great grandparents to learn more about them and the stories about when they were growing up. There are so many valuable life lessons taught by our more seasoned family members.

There are so many things that I missed out on by being self consumed with my teenage life. Knowing how much I love people and love to serve others, I would have done more for my community both young and old. I would have studied harder and taken a wider variety of classes to be more well rounded.

Most importantly, I would have told myself that going to church was what I wanted to do, not what I was just told to do. I would have given my life to Christ and shared the message with all that I came in contact with.

Would I have done things differently? Yes. Would I be the same person I am today if I did do things differently? Probably not. Do I like who I am today and what I stand for? Yes. God has a plan for all of us and it is HIS plan from the time I was born to where I am today and so I am glad that I went through all the experiences I did to make me who I am today.

How are you doing? I hope you’ve already found some healing in these enriching words, and that you’re taking some time to chew on them.

Last, but not least, this is what my sweet friend Becca has to say:

Dear sixteen-year-old baby girl:
Number one, stop being so mean to yourself. You are a compilation of lovely, innocent, complicatedly wonderful things and you need to know that with at least your mind, if not your heart as well.
You don’t know it yet, but you will soon treasure the things about yourself that you don’t seem to like right now.
You will soon be so glad you didn’t rush into your life like so many teenagers try to.
Soon enough, you’ll be in your mid-twenties, in his passenger seat, going to visit his family again. And his mom will be texting you pictures cause she wishes you were there already. And he will love you so much you can hardly believe it. And you will be so glad you didn’t throw yourself at romance and independence and young-adult-hood.
I know it feels far and never soon enough and the years seem like an eternity. But they will flash past you too quickly. Treasure where you are and know your worth, or at least try to.
Don’t think there is something wrong with you or undesirable about you if a boy doesn’t notice you or a friend forsakes you. I know it feels like the end of the world, and at this point of life it kind of is. But hold on to the hope that “there are far, FAR better things ahead than any we leave behind”, as that wonderful Clive Staples Lewis said.
Also, chill on the eyeliner/hair straightening until you have watched a lot of YouTube tutorials.
For now, keep developing your own sense of style (don’t be afraid of Walmart clothes), and reading books, and doing super nerdy things that popular kids might make fun of you for. Dress up as something stupid for Halloween. Be loyal to friends over boys EVERY TIME. teach yourself to do something you’re interested in because you won’t have as much time in college or adulthood.
And excuse my language but SCREW THE MEDIA FOR TELLING YOU YOU’RE FAT. you aren’t. Eat some salad and some fruit and some Little Debbie’s and some chili cheese fries and some grilled chicken and love your life.
Be you, even though it sometimes sucks and you feel like the loseriest loser there ever was. Just be who you know yourself to be and love that and love people.
You’ll be all right.
I especially loved everything you shared, ladies, because you all shared from several different life-stages, and with breathtaking honesty. I love you. You are beautiful. Thank-you so much for sharing your heart with us. Stay tuned for Volume 2.
What would you want to say to your sixteen year old self? Were you inspired to follow some of these ladies’ advice?