As I exit my teen years, I’m remembering who I was when I began them and I can hardly recognize her. I don’t know if that’s good or not, I haven’t decided. 13 year old me was simple. She loved Jesus. There was no reason not to, there were no complications, it was just a fact of my personhood: my only ambition in life was Christ. She loved her family. She loved her friends. She loved to read and to swim and daydream. When I look at who I am now compared to that, it feels like not much has changed, but the reality is this: I’ve spent the last three years fighting to get back to 13 year old Maggie. To find her in myself again, to rediscover myself, to learn who I am now after all these drastic changes. At 14 I was so lonely there was a physical ache in me at all times. At 15 I realized my family was all I had in this world. At 16 I was no longer sure I loved Jesus, or if he cared about me. I read only to escape, I swam only to keep from sinking, I daydreamed only to survive reality. By 17 all facets of my former life and personality had been stripped away, and the final warning bell rang. A desperate cry from my inner soul to piece myself back together, because if I didn’t, soon there would be nothing left.
It’s been a long road home. I’ve still got some ground to cover, but I would say I’m closer now than I’ve ever been, and I’m making good time. I’m happy with who I’ve become, but I wish I hadn’t learned so much by trial and error (mostly error). I wish I could tell 13 year old me that it’ll be okay. That we’ll make it. And I also wish I could save her some of her pain by teaching her these 20 lessons “the easy way.”
One) Treasure your family.
All your friends will let you down. Every last one of them. And your family will let you down hardest, because you love them the most, but here’s a tip: your friends will let you down and leave. Your family will let you down and be the first to pick you up again. They are all you have in this world, at least for now. So treasure them. Guard your time with them jealously. Love them well, and let them love you in return. Be open and honest and trusting. Be compassionate and merciful and quick to forgive. What you are taking for granted at 13 is the only thing that matters by 20.
Two) Some friends are for a season, and that’s okay.
Let go of people when they need to go. Let go of people when you need to go. You love so deeply, Maggie, and you care so much. It will hurt to move on, but sometimes you need to, and it’s okay. It’s good. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to always make it work, or to singlehandedly support relationships. When it’s done, it’s done, and it’ll be okay. Keep the people who challenge you, who make you better, who value you. Invest in a few people, and invest deeply. Stay open to everyone though – in your desire to do good by a few, be careful not to do harm by yourself by cutting everyone else out of your life.
Three) Fiction cannot replace reality.
Mag you’re a reader. Read for the love of the words, the smell of the spine, for the anticipation of what lies between the pages. Read to fall in love over and over again. To experience worlds and meet new people and see the past come to life. Read for all those reasons and more, but don’t read to replace reality. For all the richness there is to be found in literature, you will always awaken to reality at the end. Your reality will only improve if you live it, so hiding out in fantastical worlds isn’t much of an option. There will be a time when you are reading a book a day, desperate to avoid the truth, to escape the mundane and monotonous life that awaits you. Just know this.. In the same way that we have to know sadness to experience joy, we have to face fact to appreciate fiction. And here’s the truth: no book, no character, no fictional world that you love will ever replace the beauty of true friendship. Of travelling the world and touching, tasting, seeing all those things for yourself. Of feeling love, fear, grief firsthand as opposed to through another’s eyes. Love books, but do not idolize them. Love reading, but do not miss your own life out of fear to live it.
Four) Listen to what they have to say. You’re probably wrong.
There is a strength in staking your moral ground and declaring “This is where I stand. This is what I know, and this is what I believe.” A surprise is in store for you. Turns out our entire childhood of letting Emma pick the restaurant has led to one opinionated little lady. So here is what I have learned: You have opinions on just about everything, but you know almost nothing. Just as there is a strength in planting your flag on the moon, there is even greater strength in admitting “I don’t know much about that. Let me research and think and get back to you.” But the greatest strength of all is to sit still and listen to what someone else has to say. Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t use their speaking time to plan what you will say next. Listen, observe, consider. There is only one foundation in this life, and his name is Jesus. He is the moral ground you claim. Here’s the tricky part: as you grow, so will he. Understand that as you place your perspective through his, your perspective on him will change radically, and continue to change.. Which is why it’s a good idea to listen instead of declare opinions left and right that you may not even hold to a year later. You’re 13, girl. You’ve got a LOT to learn yet.
Five) The Church is the Body of Christ.
There is a church that will hurt you. They will wound you and then say that actually, there’s no way you could be hurt, because you hurt them first. It won’t make sense when it happens, honestly it still doesn’t make sense. But the Church is the Body of Christ, and whether or not you like it at times, it is how God has chosen to work on earth, and you need to learn to respect that choice, regardless of your personal experience.
Six) Being feminine is fun!
K look, when this finally hits you it’s just gonna be awkward, alright? Brace yourself. Your four best friends are all boys and it’s just weird that a year into that particular shabang is when you chose to add “girly” to your list of adjectives. But so much fun is in store! Skirts and dresses galore. Polka dotted tights and high heels and red lips and about 19 different kinds of mascara. Here’s what’s up: do not be ashamed to embrace a love of beauty. You can like pink (*spoiler alert* you’re gonna paint your room pink.) and polka dots (*continued spoiler alert* the new room has a whole wall of polka dots) and sparkly things, it’s fine. It doesn’t make you shallow, it doesn’t mean you’re too girly for the guys to want to hang out with you. (If they’re really that concerned with what you look like, just ditch ‘em.) Rock it, own it. It’s fun to be a girl for the sake of being a girl. Just don’t compromise outer beauty for inner depth, and you’ll be set.
Seven) Work hard, but don’t let work define you.
Listen up, you’re in for one crap-job after another, darling. Work hard. It builds character. (I’m still telling myself this and I’m still not buying it haha.) Seriously though, here’s what ya need to know: a) MONEY SUCKS, don’t let it make choices for you. b) If you find good coworkers, and you actually enjoy your job, you will get paid absolute crap. It’s just a rule in the universe, you can’t have all three. c) Repeat after me: this is not the rest of your life. You’re putting yourself through this now for the hope of a better future. (keyword *hope*) d) AVOID RETAIL AT ALL COSTS. (jokes on you – first, fourth, sixth, and seventh jobs will all be retail and will consume your soul and any sense of compassion for humanity.)
Eight) Education is an admirable thing, but it’s worth noting that nothing worth knowing can be taught.
Or at least Oscar Wilde said something along those lines. Education is important and wonderful and it is a privilege (it should be considered a basic human right, but don’t get me started on that rant); however, high school is not the end all, be all of the social progress of humanity, thank God. Every exam and essay and etcetera that I stressed over? Can’t remember any of it. I don’t even remember what marks I finished with, I just know that I graduated. What I wish I had figured out sooner than grade twelve is this: prioritize the people. Listen to your teachers because they have something to teach you, not because they will mark your paper later. Respect the authority because it reflects on your character, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Love your friends because those are the people God put in your life to love, and you only get a few years, so love them well. Learn what you can, don’t sweat what you forget. No one else out here knows anything either. Hoorah for the internet.
Nine) Just go.
Seriously, you think it’s hard, but it’s not. Once you just go, it’s the easiest thing in the world. And then, while you’re there, BE there. I mean with every fibre of your being, be entirely and completely dedicated to being present in every last moment. When the homesickness hits, hit back. You’ll be home soon enough, and when you’re home, you’ll be sick with the travel bug. This is just how we are, girlie, don’t worry.
Ten) Dance at every given opportunity.
Yo, you suck at dancing, but it is so freaking fun. And you’re white, so you have the ultimate excuse. Just let the inhibitions take a backseat for a while and dance it out girl. I don’t know this for certain, but I’m like 98% sure that absolutely no one actually cares. When Uptown Funk plays, just groove. When Shake It Off comes on, follow the instructions and literally shake it off, baby.
Eleven) Do us both a favour… don’t date in high school.
Just trust me on this one, you aren’t ready.
Twelve) Everything you hate about yourself is rooted in pride.
Ugh, of all these lessons, this is probably the one I wish I could tell you the most. Cynicism? Pride. Comparison? Pride. Condescension? Pride. The list goes on. I don’t know if you’re just exceptionally slow or if you have an extreme case of denial, but it takes you a long time to put this all together, and that’s only the first half of the battle. But I will say that once you’ve identified the culprit, it’s much easier to fire off shots at him. CS Lewis said that “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself , it’s thinking of yourself, less.” Save yourself the fall, Maggie Lou, and start thinking of yourself like, absolutely never.
You’re probably laughing at this, because your little 13 year old sweetheart prays all. the. time. Give it two or three years. Maggie, if I really could go back and alert you to your alarming sense of pride, it would solve this problem, because here’s why you stop praying: you somehow get it into your head that you can do this by yourself. That you’re enough, and that you don’t need God, thankyouverymuch. I know how tempting those lies are and how they will feed your ego and push Christ out of your life, but if can fight them off, fight them with all you’ve got. Pray, Maggie. You can’t do this alone, no one can. Pray, pray, and then pray some more.
Fourteen) You’re stronger than you think.
There’s so much life worth living. So much learning to do, even more people out there to love. Don’t underestimate yourself, take a deep breath and face tomorrow, and rely on the Lord for everything. Fear mediocrity. When in doubt, read Scripture. Always remember: God is faithful. You can do anything.
Fifteen) Don’t keep it in.
Do not (I repeat, DO NOT) bottle in all your emotions. I don’t really know why you do this, because it doesn’t do anyone any favours. Let me spell that out for you: NOBODY LIKES THIS. IT’S TOXIC TO EVERY RELATIONSHIP. STAHP. Like, Maggie, if something is wrong, JUST SAY IT. It does not make you a bad person if you have hurt feelings. It will not be the end of all relationships known to man if you admit that there’s a problem. Trust me, once you nail this, the truth will set you free. Before you nail this, you’re gonna have at least one blow up a year. And by “blow up” I mean like, colossal, apocalyptic, explosions of emotion all at once. Buckle up baby, just get it said.
Sixteen) It is possible to give too much.
One of the best parts about you is how much effort you put into your friendships. At least I think so (; You want so badly to ensure the people around you feel loved that sometimes you forget to love yourself. Just be careful Mag. Make sure you’re filling up before pouring out.
Seventeen) Empathy with limits, compassion unlimited.
At 13, you have a million friends and you’re the listening ear to every last one of them, and though you don’t know how to concede it yet, it completely immobilizes you. Empathy is beautiful because it’s the act of understanding someone else’s suffering, but it takes a toll on you. In the effort to understand, it often means you take on a lot of suffering as well. Compassion is to walk alongside others in their suffering, and instead of taking it on yourself, you share the load. So here’s the trick, love unconditionally and practice unlimited compassion. Be careful with empathy. It’s an important aspect of humanity, definitely, but you’re 13, and you don’t need to figure all of that out right now.
Eighteen) Make friends with people who have nothing in common with you.
At 20, two of your best friends have absolutely no surface reason to be best friends with you, and they are the greatest blessings in your life. Sometimes you need to spice things up a little. Risk it from time to time, and don’t judge books by their covers. (You, of all people, know better.) Just because you don’t think you could be friends with someone doesn’t mean you won’t add to each other’s lives. For instance, upon meeting one of those two friends, you thought, “yep, no, that’ll never happen, but he seems like an amazing human.” The other friend’s first impression was “oh my gosh, she is so intimidating and put together, I could never be her friend.” These two people mean so incredibly much to you. Thinking of what we could have missed out on if we hadn’t tried again with those friends breaks my heart. It took us SIX years to learn this skill. I wish you would learn it at 13, we probably had so many amazing potential friends walk right through our life without even knowing it!
Nineteen) Don’t give in to cynicism.
You are gentle and sweet in spirit, but not for long. Soon you’ll be wounded. You’ll be scared, and you’ll lash out in fear rather than the goodness in you. Here is what I want you to know when you choose cynicism as your defence mechanism to survive the age: Cynicism is ugly. It’s bitter. It will wear you down. It’s cool to the touch, but will burn you if you hold on for too long. My dear girl, fight for your gentleness. Wage war to protect your innocence. Build walls around your sweetness. Protect your goodness. Do not give in to cynicism, because the honest to God truth is this: Cynicism is cheap. It lures you in, it greets you like an old friend. It protects you from others, to some extent, sure, but it will also make certain that you remain isolated. Isolation is the enemy, and cynicism is his best friend.
Twenty) Take care of yourself.
Hang in there darling girl. You’ll be okay someday Maggie, you’ll make it. We’ll make it.
Thanks for reading.. much love & many blessings,
PS, here’s me on my 20th, in my happy place. (: