I was inspired to write this letter after attending Hope Spoken and hearing Stephanie Holden sharing a similar letter. So much happened in my 16th year of life and I wanted to write this letter as a way to document it all and even now to process some of the things the Lord has had me walk through in my 24 years of life.
Dear 16 year old Rachel,
It is crazy to even think of where to begin. Sixteen, what a year. You finally have the freedom of being able to drive and along with that comes the task of driving your little sister everywhere and running countless errands for mom. (I know it seems annoying now, but enjoy it, it won't be long before you are hours away from both of them...spoiler alert, you go out of state for college). It probably seems like nothing can touch you this year...you have been elected for Student Council, Pep Rally Cheer Captain, received the lead in the school musical and are dating who you think is the love of your life. You will get to go on your first over seas mission trip this year in Peru and will also begin leading worship for the Youth Group at church. Sophomore year is a good one.
Junior year will be one that changes your life forever. You will begin school just like you always do, but this year rather than getting everything you try out for...you won't get one single thing. School play, student council, literary championship, cheer captain, or homecoming court...it all passes you by. I know this will seem devastating to you at the time, but trust me, this is just the Lord prepping you for what is ahead.
You see, one week before you will turn 17 your dad confesses something really big to your mom.
He has been having an affair.
Your world is going to be turned upside down. Over the following days, what seems like chaos turns into tragedy as more and more sin begins to emerge about a life your dad was living behind the scenes. 5 days before you turn 17 your dad will walk into a pawn shop, purchase a gun, and take his life just a few hours later. Never will your life be the normal that it was when you were 16. I wish I could prepare you for the screams you will hear from your sister when your grieving mother tells her the news, or the sounds of your mother dry heaving night after night because she simply cannot stomach food...the pain is intense, and real, and deep in a way that words simply cannot articulate.
The days, weeks, and months ahead are not an easy road. But let me tell you this...you survive. You will see the body of Christ surround your family and you will feel loved and cared for in a way you have not yet known. I know the pain will feel so strong sometimes you are not sure of how to carry on, not sure how to stay strong for your mom, or little brother and sister, but you survive. You will battle anger and doubt towards the Lord, but will ultimately find yourself most secure resting in His promises that He is near to the broken-hearted, is the lifter of your head, and will make beauty from the ashes. He walks with you, and you make it.
As you begin your senior year your mom will enter back into the dating world which is going to be very hard for you. There will be many angry fights, and you will even tell your mom for the first time ever that you hate her. It is not a proud moment for you. Try to see things from her shoes, she is hurting in a deeper way than you, so cover her and her decisions in prayer and be her biggest cheerleader. She will fall in love and get married again before you go to college. It will change the dynamic of your family forever, but will bring so many good things that you won't be able to see at first. Your brother will deeply benefit from having a father, and your mom will feel more confident than she has in years...strive to see the good, I know it will be hard but strive for that.
You will decide to go to college at Mississippi State University and will embark on a new life 6 hours away from home not knowing one single person. You will pledge Phi Mu like your mom and quickly begin get involved in everything you possibly can. If I could advise you in one area about freshman year...seek out the true friends, not the cool friends. You will fall into a lot of things you say now you will never do, so seek out those friends that love you enough to call you out and restore you back to a way of living that is pleasing to the Lord.
You will float in and out of relationships with boys in your 4 years of college, always seeking, never satisfied to be alone. You will chase after a void that cannot be filled by Mr. Perfect and lose your own identity in the chase. You will go through a season of feeling you will never get married and will be doomed to be alone all your days...trust me, the best is yet to come. The secret is in letting go of the chase of the relationship you want more than anything. When you finally are able to do this the Lord brings the most amazing guy into your life.
You will meet him when you least expect it, in a little campus worship service, and his hazel eyes will take your breath away, so be on the lookout for those beauties. He will begin to pursue you with such intention, and you both fall in love and know you are meant for one another.
You will become Mrs. Benjamin Caleb Cox just weeks after graduating from college. Your wedding is not going to be the fairy tale you always dreamed of but man is your marriage. You will want to pinch yourselves for months after you get married every time you crawl into bed with your forever love. (side note, he has the voice of a sexy country singer and can play any instrument you place in front of him) Marriage is also harder than you will ever expect, and will show you things about yourself you never knew...but the sweetest part, he won't go anywhere. Ben will love you in the mess, and always is the voice of reason in the midst of your crazy emotions.
Life at 24 (almost 25) doesn't look like what you thought it would, but it is sweet. It has been filled with deep unimaginable pain, and the most incredible joys. Keep your eyes on Jesus and it is all going to work out. You have some amazing thing to look forward to, some super hard, and some sweeter than you can even dream of right now. But your life is going to be a beautiful, gorgeous mess by the grace of God.
A few closing thoughts...
- Do not dye your hair brown your senior year, your mom is going to hate it and it will be colored right before your senior pictures. She is going to make you color it at least 4 times to get it back to the blondeish color it is at 16...just dont.
- Take the time to learn everything you can from your Grammy. Call her more, spend as much time soaking up her wisdom and cooking skills as you can. Your time with her is actually much shorter than you think, so try to learn to make Grammy Pickles, and chicken salad, and everything else that only she can make seem really special and delicious.
- Enjoying staying up late while you can, because now you are only 24 but go to bed at 9 and get up before 4. So yeah, you won't be a night owl forever.
- Also, one more spoiler alert...you think you hate animals right now but you are going to be the most obsessive crazy dog lady one day. I know, it was a total shock to me too but it is true.
Your 24 year old self