I celebrated my 18th birthday this week, senior year has just begun, and time is moving quickly. All the “last firsts” of senior year have left me reflecting on this journey. The last five years have been full of change and life-long lessons. The list below offers just a few reflections on what God has taught me. Many of these things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self, but some things have to be learned through experience. I vividly remember being excited and scared at the thought of being a teenager, starting high school, and entering a new chapter. It wasn’t very long ago when I was there; five years fly by. Maybe you’re there now. This is an open letter to you. This is the advice I wish I would have heard, listened to, and cherished when I was thirteen and felt anxious, lonely, and confused. God is continuing to teach me and guide me as I start a new adventure and I can’t wait to see where He leads me next. So here it is, 18 things I have learned by 18.
1.) Chase after God
I’ve faced a lot of tough times, smiles, tears, and memories over the past few years. No matter what has happened, God has been constant. I’ve learned that you can’t grow complacent, God calls us deeper still. When you follow His leading, you will find yourself in places you never would have imagined. Life isn’t easy, and so far it’s not getting any easier, but I know that God has been faithful and I trust He will continue to be.
It may sound silly, but one of the most important things I’ve learned is to smile. A smile starts on the inside, it shows confidence. Learn to be confident in who you are. Brush the hair out of your face, look up, and smile. It’s so simple, but a genuine confident smile that results from the love of Christ I feel within always transforms my attitude.
3.) Follow God, not other people
You can’t build your faith on your parents, your friends, or people you look up to. People are broken, temporary, and will never be able to fill the role of God in your life. I’m really thankful for all the people God used to point me to him, but it has been a journey of choosing Christ on my own and entering into a personal relationship with Him. Faith requires a firm foundation, and the only source of this foundation is found in Christ.
4.) Find your passions and embrace them
If you love something, don’t be embarrassed and don’t try to hide it. For so long I was so afraid to share my writing. It made me vulnerable, it made me different, and I was afraid that people wouldn’t like it or would laugh at me. But when I decided to dive into the love of writing God has given me and share it with others it was like running into freedom. God gives us passions for a reason.
5.) Try new things
Some of my favorite hobbies and memories started because I tried something new. When I was little, my mom made always made me try a few bites of anything on my plate, even if I didn’t think I would like it. Some of the things I threw a fit over then are now my favorite foods. I learned a lot about life too from trying those bites. You can’t find the things that stir your heart or make you laugh if you don’t try.
6.) Learn your manners
A sincere “Yes sir,” “No ma’am,” “please,” and “thank you” will take you a long way.
7.) Take pictures. And don’t.
Looking back, I’m really glad I have some of my favorite memories captured in a picture. It’s a luxury to be able to hold time in a photo in a way no other generation has been able to before. But too many times I have been consumed living through my phone. Learn the art of closing your eyes, breathing in the smells, treasuring the sounds, and being content to hold a moment in your heart.
8.) Go to church
I know, I know. I’m a preacher’s daughter, I have to say that, right? But in reality, just like any other 18 year old I’ve faced doubts, trouble, and tears. The church has been my rock. I’ve made cherished friends who always keep me focused on God, had people lay their hands on me to pray, encourage me, and live out examples of what it means to follow Christ. My church really is my family. On the toughest weeks I know I’m going to walk in the doors of church with all my brokenness and be loved by all my parents, little sisters and brothers, and big sisters and brothers in Christ.
9.) Don’t wait on the perfect guy
Let me clarify. The younger teenage years are a perfect time to make friends that you will hold on through the roller coaster ahead, grow close to your family, and focus on becoming who Christ has made you to be. The years between 13 and 18 will shape you like no other. Don’t look at it as waiting, view it as a season of living and loving and growing. In God’s perfect timing, He will bring you a man who loves Him and loves you. That man will be flawed, just as you are, and will never complete you, but He will love you with a love that flows from His love of God. Don’t ever settle for a love that’s less than that. As Song of Solomon says, “Don’t awaken love until the time is right” (8:4)
10.) Stop trying to be perfect
I tried for so long to be the good Christian girl who had it all together. God taught me the gift of grace. Don’t get me wrong, I have continued seeking God and honoring Him, but I have had to let go of my own pride and efforts to experience a deeper walk with Him. These days I’m embracing bad hair days and mistakes and living authentically in grace.
11.) Enjoy simplicity
I like having a busy schedule and lots to do. I’m continuing to learn that my worth and purpose is not based on my calendar. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and enjoy the little things.
12.) Find true friends and hold on tight
True friends are going to love you, encourage you, stand by your side, and point you to Jesus, and remind you what’s really important even when it hurts. I’ve been blessed to have a few close friends like this who have stuck by my side, even when life gets messy.
13.) Stay healthy
When I was about 13 I started running and it’s one of the best things I have ever done. It has kept my body healthy and given me goals to works towards, confidence, and opportunities to meet new friends and teammates.
14.) Run from drama
High school brings a whole lot of drama. Run the other way as fast as you can. It’s just not worth it. Build others up and refuse to gossip. I have never seen anything good come from drama. The world has enough words tearing it down, we are called to share words of life.
15.) Point out the good in others and really mean it
At youth camp when I was about 15, each person in our group wrote their name on blank piece of paper, then passed it around to the rest of the group so that we all had a chance to write encouraging words on each other’s paper. I still have that piece of paper and ever since then I have opened my eyes to the power of our words. Find the good in the people you love, the deep goodness, and tell them.
I love to read and through high school I developed a love for classic books, nonfiction books, and books I once considered “boring.” Reading lets us live the dreams, love, passion, and wisdom that authors have poured into their art. Most importantly, read your Bible. God has used His word to guide me, show me who He is, and helped me discover who I am. My Bible connects me to God, every morning it offers me an ice cold sip of life-giving water from His fountain of grace.
17.) Find God’s definition of beauty
God has created you. Let that simple truth sink in. He took you into the palms of His hands and crafted you, one detail at a time. You are His and you are so beautiful. Believe that. He defines beauty in a different light. A gentle, quiet spirit that loves God deeply is truly and eternally beautiful.
18.) Have fun
I’ve always tended to take myself too seriously. I have discovered in life that loosening up and celebrating the sunsets, beauty, and people we love that God has blessed us with is important. Go dance, be silly, and never lose the child-like gift of fun. Enjoy it all while worshipping God with your life. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)