I’ll be 57 years old this week. As the years pass, I find that I’m more introspective on my birthday — so deeply grateful for another year and all of the experiences and blessings of this life.
I recently found a photo of myself taken about forty years ago. As I studied the pensive young girl in the picture, I longed to reassure and encourage her about the decades ahead.
If I could write myself a letter and send it back in time forty years, here’s what I’d say:
Dear, dear young Eliza,
First of all, your thighs are just perfect. I know that today you think your hips are too wide, but someday you will balance babies on those hips and be grateful for their strength.
You don’t yet trust your intuition, but that little voice inside wants to steer you toward goodness and save you from so many calamities. Try to listen.
Set up automatic savings withdrawals from your paychecks as soon as you can. You are going to need a lot of money.
Your Mama is wise, steadfast, faithful, and compassionate, and she loves you more than anyone. Learn everything you can from her, and call her first when you need solid advice. Hug your mom tight and tell her you love her, every chance you get.
Practice writing every day, and learn everything you can about the craft of writing. That urging you’ve felt since you were a young girl turns out to be important and prescient.
Always have the main sewer line inspected before making an offer on a house. This one tip will save you $7500 and a lot of unpleasantness. Also, before you buy that first fixer-upper home you might want to check and see if the master bedroom is heated.
Spend more time with your brother Jorma. Hug him every chance you get. Watch his skateboard tricks, listen to his music, and tell him you love him. He will be gone so, so soon.
You’ll be given a lot of work responsibility at a young age, and you’ll feel like an insider for the first time. Don’t abuse that bit of middle-manager power by making others feel like they’re on the outside. Profits matter, but people matter more. Be kind.
You have many gifts, but matchmaking is not among them. Do not set up your friends. If you do, there will be a felony record to prove your bad instincts.
Relish every moment you spend sharing a meal with people you love.
Listen carefully when your Dad gets in his teaching mode. Ask him more questions about his art. Save his letters. Be compassionate, and try to see beyond his addiction. Love him as well as you possibly can, and then it won’t be quite so hard when he’s gone.
Never get involved with a man who cheats or lies.
Your sister Catherine is in kindergarten right now, but in time she will become your closest friend and confidante. You’ll share incredible joy and sadness together, and help each other through things only you two can understand. Encourage her, support her, and try to be a good big sister.
Don’t “take a break” after two years of college. You will lose your momentum and get sucked into credit card debt and car payments, and you’ll never be as unencumbered again.
Write and call your grandparents more. Go to family reunions. Spend time with your aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and extended family, every chance you get.
Avoid suntanning beds at all costs. In the 1990s, tanning salons will be all the rage, with ads promoting their “safe UVA rays.” Later you will learn that artificial tanning is a leading cause of skin cancer.
Please slow down. Otherwise, you’ll lose your driver’s license when you’re 22 because of too many speeding tickets.
And don’t buy that Audi 5000. It’s a beautiful car, but it’s a lemon.
You can’t imagine the amazing girlfriends you’re going to have. You’ll share so much life together — weddings, births, illness, funerals, affairs, divorces, vacations, camping trips, picnics, parties, meals, and decades of laughter. Embrace these wonderful women, support their dreams, celebrate their successes, and find ways to let them know you appreciate them.
Recognize your frenemies sooner. A couple of people will seem like friends, but they will secretly cheer when you fail. You’ll sense it, even as you invest your heart and energy trying to win them over. You must let the mean girls go.
Try not to be so hard on your stepdad. Right now he’s the target of much of your teenage emotion, but you’ll eventually grow to love him and call him Pop. He’ll turn out to be a wonderful father and grandpa to your kids. Pop will love you, support you, and help you in so many ways.
Meditate, pray, and practice positive thinking. Spare yourself the unnecessary suffering produced by negative thoughts and worrying.
Your children will surprise you and fill your heart to overflowing. Enjoy the precious time you have with them, because the parenting years pass with breathtaking speed.
I know you are disillusioned with the church right now. Just remember that religious denominations and churches are fallible human institutions. Don’t confuse them with God, who loves you and will wait patiently as you find your way back.
You will take a couple of major relationship swan dives, and experience loss and heartache. Don’t get jaded or cynical. Let your heart be open, and don’t let fear keep you from loving again.
Finally, try to be present. Enjoy the small, sparkling moments. Take it all in…
…because I promise you, your life is going to be amazing.
P.S. How about you? If you could share some thoughts with your teenage self, what would you say?