Dear Younger Jenny,
Today I turn 18, and recently I’ve taken to using birthdays as a time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and look at what I want to change. While doing this, I realized that there’s a lot I wish I could go back and tell you, and even though I know that’s impossible (and you probably wouldn’t listen if it was) I want to say it.
First off, you’re going to here the phrase “Be Yourself” all over the place. Practically every book for girls your age will have that message, and you’ll think it’s stupid, because who else would you be but yourself? But Jenny, being yourself doesn’t mean inhabiting your own body and no one else’s, for you it’s going to mean that you shouldn’t be basing your likes and dislikes off of what other people like and dislike. You are going to like Math and Science and History and just Learning in general, and the people around you won’t always feel the same way, but as long as you aren’t hurting them, and you still value their opinion, don’t pretend to not like those things. Conversely, you will like things that practically everyone around you loves as well, and you may feel like that makes you less unique and special, but that’s not the case. It’s okay to like things that everyone else likes, just like it’s okay to like things that nobody else likes. You’re still you.
But along with that idea, “Be Yourself” doesn’t give you the right to hurt other people. Don’t carry the idea with you that if you being yourself hurts someone it’s the other person’s problem. No, it’s your problem. You can be yourself and still be nice. Who you are doesn’t change by acting nicer towards people than you really want to.
Secondly, you are going to go through a lot. You will have people saying things about you that aren’t true, and people wishing things upon you that should never be wished on anyone. Sometimes, you will feel like the whole world is against you. The best thing you can do is not to “stand strong” like you read about in those deep Pinterest quotes, it’s to forgive the people who hurt you so badly. Believe me, it’ll be hard, forgiveness takes it’s own kind of strength, but if you can learn to forgive those people who tormented you, your life will be happier. Bitterness and anger have a way of polluting one’s spirit, but forgiveness gives you freedom and joy in a way that you can’t imagine.
Thirdly, you don’t need to get embarrassed so much. Now, a little embarrassment now and again is good for keeping you from being incredibly annoying, but you don’t need to take that to extremes. Sure, your mom is getting a lot of groceries, and you find it embarrassing, but no one else really cares. And sure, people might look at you a little odd if you start goofing off with your friends at the mall, but in reality, they’re probably just thinking that you look like you’re having fun. When you spend all your time getting embarrassed about things, you miss out on a lot of adventures.
Fourth, you’ll get the idea that the most important thing for a girl is to be strong. Strong female characters will be rampant in the books you read and the movies you watch, but please, don’t try to be like them. Instead, try to be kind. Those girls tend to be strong only in a way that tears others down, but by being kind, you can be strong in a way that builds others up. Kindness is it’s own sort of strength. It can be hard to talk to the new girl at church instead of laughing with your friends, and it can be hard to give up the last piece of cake to your sibling, but when you do it, it’s so worth it.
Finally, and most importantly, serve God, and turn to Him with any problem you have. Your problems may feel insignificant, but He’s still there for you, and He’s willing to help you out if you’ll just ask for help. But don’t just ask Him for things, thank Him for things as well, and make it your life mission to do whatever it is that He asks.
Jenny, you have a lot of life to live, and a lot of lessons to learn. Your life with have it’s ups and downs, but through it all, keep your eyes on the Lord, be kind, forgive, and be you.
Jenny Smucker, Age 18