A few weeks ago, we threw a dinner for Michaela as a celebration about entering into a new life stage (starting middle school.) We invited women who are invested in her (family members, teachers, Sunday school teachers, family friends) so that we could come together as a group of women who have gone before her and who really know her and affirm characteristics that we see in her as well as tell her some of the “When I was a teen/middle schooler, I wish I had known…” stories. It was a very special evening and this is my letter to Michaela:
I may not remember much (or any) of what I was taught back then…but I remember every detail of how I felt. I remember feeling uncomfortable in my own skin…like I always needed to be “on”…performing…portraying who I was supposed to be…although I didn’t actually know who that character was. I remember learning that disagreements meant big nasty fights…and that anything you’ve ever done could be called into question during a fight. I remember being afraid that I would be late to class or get lost and then get yelled at in front of everyone. I remember really wanting to “fit in” but never feeling like I got there. I remember all the other girls getting boobs and periods and me feeling virtually un-female. I remember a letter home to my parents from a teacher who recognized the work I was putting in that he wanted to recognize. I remember lots and lots of anxiety…before tests…before interactions…before going to school…before going home. I remember trying to impress people with how grown up I was by cussing and trying to make every conversation point back to sex somehow…even though I didn’t really know what that was. I remember deeply hurting someone without meaning to and realizing that injuring someone through neglect still hurts just as much as hurting someone through intent. I remember my first real compliment from another girl…not because she wanted something in return…but because she saw something in me that was special and different. I remember that terrible super-short haircut and the humiliation when a boy in the hallway asked me if I was a boy or a girl. I remember having a bit more freedom and a bit more responsibility and desperately wanting to do things right. I remember tight-rolling my jeans and wearing multiple pairs of slouchy socks…and shoulder pads…Lord, why the shoulder pads??? I remember putting on makeup and big earrings at the bus stop because my dad didn’t allow me to wear that stuff…instead of complying, I snuck it…and it made me feel grown up and independent…but looking back, it looked really horrible. I remember riding the bus home, and doing my homework with Bandit in my lap…man, I loved that dog!
I’m bringing up all these memories because, on top of increased work load and amidst lots of changes, there were so many new and strange feelings for me in middle school. You too are going to go through a ton of new feelings…some like mine and some completely different…and whatever you are feeling, it’s ok to feel it. There are going to be times when all the feelings are like a big storm that just hits you suddenly and soaks you to the bone and there are going to be times when the sun is out and everything seems fine and normal. It takes a lot of energy to feel all the feels so you’re probably going to get grumpy and snarky at times and I guarantee there will be times that you think your mama is so out of touch that I couldn’t possibly remember what it is like to be a teenager (since I was a teenager back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.) But I get it. And I am on your side…always…no matter what. There is nothing that you can do that will make me stop loving you…nothing that will pit me against you…you are my heart, outside of my chest, walking around in the world…and I could never be against my own heart.
You’re going to interact with other kids…and sometimes it will be pleasant and fun and light…and other times it will be like absolute torture. People are going to say really mean things…hurtful words and ideas that are shocking to you…and people are going to do really bad stuff…stuff you can’t even imagine right now…and at some point, you are going to be one of those people. Apologize sincerely and make a course correction so as to not repeat the same mistake again. Understand, that just as you don’t want to be defined by your darkest moment, nobody else wants that either…so show grace…forgive…release it. (Carrying around a bunch of drama and hurt and anger is exhausting and it’s exhausting to be around…it hard to be a good friend when your hands are full of anger and resentment…and most people want to be friends with people who are easy to be friends with.) Be kind to everyone…not because of their behavior…not because they are kind to you…but because God made them just like he made you and he deeply loves them. (This is my biggest regret from middle school through grad school…I wish I had shown more kindness to people…don’t wait until your 30s to learn this.)
Know that the same feelings can look different in different people. For example, when someone is embarrassed, they may get quiet or they could get angry. They could laugh it off or they could cry. It is unlikely that they understand why they are responding this way…so kindness is always the answer. This holds true for kids and grown ups…so give a little grace and kindness to everyone…nobody started their day thinking “Man, I can’t wait to make this a terrible day for myself and I’m taking down everyone else with me.” In the end, we all want to feel accepted and loved and appreciated…we just all implement different techniques for getting there.
Baby girl, you are such a bright light in this world. Your sweetness and compassion are beautiful gifts from God…protect them and nurture them…most people don’t have those qualities for long…they get replaced with cynicism and self-preservation as that compassion gets taken advantage of…decide now not to let that happen…practice it every chance you get.
You are going to be bombarded with self-doubt so I want to tell you a few things that I see in you that you should never doubt.
You are deeply loved…by us and by God. I love you so much that it aches.
You are smart. Grades don’t always reflect this because they don’t measure intelligence, they measure performance. All you can do is the best that you can do.
You are enough. You are valuable just as you are. There is nothing that needs to change and this isn’t earned. God made you precisely you. So, don’t ever allow anyone to mistreat you or make you think that you need to change to be their friend.
You are creative. Our amazing God is the Creator and you reflect him when you are creative too. Explore this life and try things. Continue to love learning, creating, exploring, and contributing!
You are beautiful! Different people think different features make someone pretty and the only consistency about that is that, over time and from person to person, what qualifies as pretty changes. But you are beautiful! (Sometimes, I sneak up to your room while you are sleeping and watch you…my breath catches in my throat because you are so stunningly beautiful.) There will be people who try to tear you down in life and the first area that they will hit you in is your appearance. Don’t listen to this…it’s the least insightful and the least invested way to insult someone. It’s lazy and malicious. People who aren’t invested in you don’t get a vote in your life and people looking to tear you down don’t get a place in your life. Don’t listen to their lies. You are beautiful.
I’m excited for you as you begin this next chapter. I love you sweet Michaela and I want you to remember that I always have your back! Now, get out there and grab life by the tail because it’s yours for the taking!