“Dear 18 year-old Tori…”

Watching Madi Rose experience her senior year of high school can’t help but bring back memories of my own. Times have changed, circumstances are different, and Madi is not the mirror image of me in any way– but sometimes I catch a fleeting expression or watch an emotion flicker across her face and suddenly I have a visceral sense-memory/flashback of exactly what it felt like to be 18… Which frankly, is a bit akin to the same feeling I get when I eat too much Trader Joe’s Belgian Chocolate Pudding– very sweet, but it can also leave me slightly queasy.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my senior year, but as I recall it wasn’t all homecoming corsages and parties on the lake. I was teetering on the brink of adulthood and while part of me was chomping at the bit to get on with it, lurking behind all of that enthusiastic youth and hubris there was also a substantial part of me that wondered if I would be any good at it.

The answer to that, of course, turned out to be yes and no.

If we only knew then what we know now, right?!

So in the spirit of looking back (and jumping on a current internet bandwagon) here’s a little note I’ve written to my long ago, 18 year-old self from my current, um, WAY older self. I’m going to limit myself to telling that Tori just three things, because you know what? I might want to revisit this subject on a regular basis, so this may just be the starter letter! And in the comments, I’m going to invite you to do the same thing– tell me three things that the person you are today would love to be able to tell the teenager you were then.

OK.  I’ll start:

Dear 18 year-old Tori,

Oh, honey. Bless your heart.

This is a really confusing time for you. You’re trying so hard to act like you are thoughtfully weighing all of your options, blah blah blah, but I know that inside what you really want to do is go running back to middle school and have a do-over.  It just all feels like TOO MUCH AT ONCE, doesn’t it? Well, hang in there, kid– I can tell you for a fact that it does get better!


It also gets worse. And then it gets better again. Annnnd then bad again, then better, then…. Rinse and repeat, FOR THE REST OF YOUR WHOLE DANG LIFE. Because things never just stay the same, not ever. You don’t ever really get the chance to settle into some period or season of life and say, “Ah, finally, we’re here!” because time can and will march right on and before you know it, that “here” has become something totally different– sometimes turning on a dime, sometimes moving at the speed of a mollusk, but always changing. Which brings me to the first thing I want to tell you:

#1. Surprisingly, you’re actually going to turn out to be pretty good at adapting to whatever life throws at you. Nurture that quality– you’re going to need it, and it will serve you well. The next few decades will basically be a little bit like living in the middle of a Waring blender set on ‘Puree’– lots of colorful things whirling around you, constantly changing scenery, with the added bonus of some dangerously sharp blades hidden in the mix. Unfortunately at times, you will definitely get chopped to bits. But then, just when you’re about to give up, things will change again.

So you’ll recover, and fully and gratefully enjoy the good things in your life (and trust me, there are going to be more of them than you can even begin to imagine now), and then you’ll gather your strength so you’ll be ready for the next thing, whatever that may be. And yeah, it’s as exhausting as it sounds. But it’s exhilarating, too.

#2. OK, you’re gonna need to hold on to your big girl panties for this one, but guess what:

You don’t marry Ed!

I KNOW, I KNOW— despite being one of the main things you are So. Very. Sure. Of.  right now, you and your first big love are not destined to eventually get back together, he is not your soul mate, and in fact he never does get married at all! That whole tantalizingly independent streak you were so drawn to? Turns out it might be more like a “complete inability to truly commit to another person” streak– or at least that’s what you’ll tell the broken teenage heart inside (that never really goes away) to soften the sting of that first big rejection. Actually, years and years later you will briefly reconnect with Ed and many of your other friends from high school on this mysterious thing called The Internet–more on that later– and you’ll be gratified to realize that time has a way of making the bad memories get a little fuzzy around the edges and the good memories take on a sweet, nostalgic glow. That is also known as ‘denial,’ and sometimes it can really work for ya.

Anyway, the take-away from that chapter of your life is this: Hearts mend. Good to know.

#3. A whole lot of those things that you are So. Very. Sure. Of. right now will turn out NOT to be what you thought they were. Or, those things may be exactly what you thought they were, but you will eventually decide that you don’t really feel quite so sure about them after all– in fact, you will do a 180 degree turnaround with some of them.

It’s OK not to be sure. It’s OK not to KNOW. It’s OK to be open to changing your views, your mind, your church, your politics or your hair color. (Just kidding– you end up staying blonde forever.) In fact, it’s not only OK, it’s kind of vital.

By the way, I’m not talking about throwing out all absolutes here, I’m just saying that keeping your mind open and your heart pliable leaves room to grow and makes for a much more interesting, well-rounded grown-up. There is often a difference between things that you are So. Very. Sure. Of. and things that are true.

Don’t worry, the things that are true for you now become even more so as you get older: your faith, your connection to your family, your sense of humor, your sense of wonder– those parts of you are true and authentic and stay with you through everything that is to come. But lighten up a little on the Being So Sure stuff, OK? 18 years old is too young to start carving opinions into stone. Rigidity is not the same as strength of character, and being open is not synonymous with moral weakness, so don’t be afraid to question and doubt and re-think things. The less SURE you are of “the way things are supposed to be,” the less disappointed you will be later when life inevitably reveals so many of those things to ultimately “not be what you thought they were.” And let’s be honest here, baby girl– we both know that deep down, a lot of times you are trying so hard to Be. Very. Sure. just to cover up the fact that inside, you spend a lot of time being Scared. To. Death. I wish I could tell you the scared part totally goes away when you’re finally my age. (But it doesn’t.)

Anyway, let God be your compass, not tradition and other people’s ideas. You can trust Him to steer you right.

Well, that’s about all for now, 18 year-old Tori. I think of you often and with great fondness, and you’ll be relieved to know that when I remember this particular year of your life, for the most part, the proud-of-you moments outweigh the cringe-worthy ones. You’ve got a looooooong way to go, but you’re off to a pretty good start.

Dream big.


54 year-old Tori

P.S. Just so you know: you DO finally get boobs, and that wonky tooth gets fixed. However, your hair pretty much stays kind of stringy and you never do really have a waist.

P.S.S. (But wait ’til you see your daughters!!!!)

33 Responses

  1. babygirl

    That was awesomely put!
    Thank you– I can totally relate to this <3

  2. Cheryl

    This was really really good! “Big girl panties” — can soooo relate! ?

  3. rachelbaker

    Well, I was eighteen 14 years ago and these are probably the top three I can come out with at the moment (there is another that comes a close 4th though). I imagine in another 14 yrs the list might be quite different.

    1) There WILL be a day when you feel well. Its going to be a while yet, and your experience of University is not going to be what you hope because of it, but hey, you’re used to that by now and its not necessarily a bad thing . You’re going to be protected from a lot of rubbish, and many of the so-called ‘life-defining moments’ that you’ll miss out on will only turn into hazy, haunting regrets for your peers. You’re also going to learn a huge amount about yourself and about God through being ill, especially things about your own worth that you should probably have figured out by now. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel though, and you will be healthy and live a normal, active life. (You’re going to have to accept that you’re never going to be the most energetic person around – but then again, you never were).

    2) Like people, love people, admire people, learn from people and trust people. Do not however, idolise or worship people, only God is worthy of that, and only He will never let you down. People are going to hurt you, heroes will fall, but you need to forgive, think about the good things and carry on loving and trusting, even when its scary.

    3) Trust your instincts. You know more than most people think you do, and more than even you think you do. Those who think you are naïve don’t actually know you very well. Your quiet stubborn streak will serve you well.

  4. sarah

    My Big 3:
    1: Choose carfully the hills you will die on….they are not all worth it.
    2: Never burn your bridges behind you….often you will have to recross them in life.
    3: Be trustworthy….not glamourous but way worth it!

  5. LindaB

    To the eighteen year old me:
    1. Don’t be so dang shy! Speak up! If you’ve got something to say, weird or twisted as it may sound, just say it. Don’t wait until you’re 60 to speak your mind. People will still like you——–the ones who really matter, that is. And stop trying to be like your friends that you think are perfect——they are not. Be yourself.

    2. Take more time to really talk to your dad……he won’t be around as long as you think he will. Ask him about his life before he was your dad. Tell him how much you love and admire him. Help him in his garden more and spend less time watching Annette and Frankie movies…and daydreaming! They won’t matter to you later on. But your heart will ache to talk to your Dad just one more time.

    3. Don’t worry, Girl——-the nights wearing big prickly hair rollers will soon be a thing of the past! Yeah Baby! No more tortureous sleepless nights wearing those awful things—–some one is going to invent a curling iron and hot rollers!!! Bless them forever! But stay up on that hair teasing thing ’cause someday when you’re old and have thinning hair, it will come in handy. And take a good look at your waist—–you’re not going to see it ever again in a few short years. Take a picture.

    (And OMG, Tori…….love that picture of you in the cheerleading outfit! Char is your smitten image…..only with darker hair!!)

  6. kidpyramid

    Dear 18-year-old Kathleen,

    You have the rest of your life to have sex with the one wonderful man God has intended for you. So take a cold shower and be patient.

    There are things you cannot imagine living through, or wanting to. But you will and you’ll be stronger and even happier for them.

    You are created in God’s image and worth the life of His son. Stop putting others above yourself because you don’t think you measure up. You are a beautiful woman and you will come to love your red hair and freckles and lack of height.

  7. auburn60

    To my 18 y.o. self I would say:

    1. Some day you’ll know, REALLY KNOW, that you are OK. You were never really the problem.

    2. Slow down and really savor the people who love you. They will not always be there. Most of them don’t share DNA with you so you won’t be assured of having a lot of time with them. You move away. Go to the trouble of keeping in touch. Tell them how they affected your life. Stop and breathe in those moments where you are surrounded by love so strong you could swim in it, breathe it all the way to your brain and don’t exhale. You’ll pull those moments out of your memory banks A LOT in the future. Don’t worry about looking ‘uncool’ You have a lot of ‘uncool’ days ahead of you. Get used to it.

    3. ‘Funny’ is good. Hurtful is not. You know. Nuff said.

    4. Calm down. You DO find something you’re good at.

    Sorry…I tried for 3 but it had to be 4.

  8. Vicki

    To my 18 yr old self:

    1 You are ok, a little weird, but ok. When you get older, being wierd is – normal.
    2 You may be lonely now, it seems, but later on you’ll find friends on the internet where it doesnt matter youre handicapped.
    3 Oh, and Vicki? As much as you loved Kevin, and it hurt when he died of cancer? And then the other bad relationships? TRUST ME! Those aren’t love. Wait til you meet Duane….not only does he love you and take care of you… he leads you to an even greater love… The love of God!

  9. gracelynn

    That was awesome Tori. To my 18 year old self (approximately 18 years ago now):

    1) The pain that you have experienced in the past will eventually heal and the scar that is left will only serve to remind you how to help others who are going through this same battle and of how merciful God truly is. God will send you others who have been down this same road and you will find that you are not alone – others have been there and made it too and can help you heal from the hurt. Don’t be afraid to reach out and share with others – you might be surprised to find they’ve been down that same path.

    2) Quit trying to live in the future – live for today. No one is promised the next breath and worrying about what is to come is only going to cause more problems than its worth. Take it one day at a time and trust God when the times get tough – and they will. They’ll be issues with finances, health, loss of loved ones and more. And when it feels like the entire world has collapsed on top of you, look up and find the One who will lift you out of the mire and put you back on solid ground. Oh and keep praying for your dad – one day your prayers are going to be answered and he’ll walk back into church again. Just hang on!

    3) No matter how lonely you may feel, you are never alone. You will find friends who will become more than friends to you as you walk through the various puzzles life throws at you. God will send you brothers and sisters through Him who will show you a love that only comes from a bond through Jesus’ blood. Those people you used to think were friends when you were younger will come and go. When times get really tough, look around and see who is there – then thank God for the ones that He sends to help you through the battle. And no matter what happens, never hesitate to tell your family and friends ‘I love you’ – you may never have the chance to say it again this side of heaven.

  10. babygirl

    To my 18 year old inner child,

    There are things you wouldn’t have wanted to know were ahead of you; you thought after your Dad passed away when you were 11, that things could only improve. This was indeed the case, but not without lots of sorrow and loss in between. However, Time heals and when you turn 26, you will meet The Love of your life — your soulmate. It will make everything that came before of no more importance. You are tough and you come out of this not only alive, but abundantly alive.
    Laugh often, love much!

  11. Tweets that mention » “Dear 18 year-old Tori…” | babybloomr -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carole Turner, JennaFarelyn and Tori Taff, Tori Taff. Tori Taff said: Come on, jump on the internet meme bandwagon– I wanna hear yours! http://tinyurl.com/473887j […]

  12. jonny

    “(…you end up staying blonde forever.) In fact, it ’ s not only OK, it ’ s kind of vital.”

    I can see that.

  13. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh my, I have both smiled and shed tears, reading all of the beautiful words of long-ago 18-year olds. It’s hard to know where to begin…I must travel a long way back in time.

    My dear 18-year-old Barbara,

    Life would be so much easier for you if you would stop trying so hard to please everyone….and if you didn’t believe it was your responsibility to try and make everything right that was wrong in the lives of people you loved. I remember, several years later, that poster you taped on the inside door of a kitchen cabinet: “If it pleases you to please God, then you can do as you please.” If only you had learned that much earlier in life.

    And weren’t you silly, worrying that the Lord would return before you had a chance to be married and have children? But that was because of an elderly aunt who kept telling you this could happen any day. I just hated to go and visit her but my mother would tell me I had to go because she was so lonely. I used to feel I should wear a raincoat because she soaked my shoulders with her tears. It’s a tough way to learn how not to be fanatical.

    Then, Barbara, remember everything you can about your grandparents, your parents, your neighbors and friends because they will have influenced you in so many ways and given you so many memories that will forever guide you along the path of life. I’m thankful you wrote letters to many of them and to a couple of teachers later on….telling them how important they were in your growing up.

    You have been blessed….even though there have been tough times as well as lovely times….because you were born into a Christian home. At 18, you sometimes thought your dad was a bit too strict….but it was impossible to argue with a man who lived as he talked, seven days a week. And, besides, it is amazing now to look back and realize that, at 18, you really didn’t know half what you thought you knew.

  14. tori

    babygirl: Thanks. We all still do have that 18 yr old inside, don’t we?

    cheryl: Yeah, we all need them from time to time…

    rachelbaker: I love this. I hate that your ill health overshadowed so much of those early years, but thank God you are now ‘healthy, normal and active!’ (I never was/still am not a very high energy person, either. Well, my mouth maybe, but not the rest of me!)

    sarah: Oh, honey. That first one ESPECIALLY should be on my list every day!

    LindaB: I know most people who only know you from here would laugh out loud at the thought of you as “shy”– but I totally understand what you are talking about. Sometimes it takes years for the crazy extrovert living inside us to break through… Thank God for writing– it gives that inside person a chance to shine!

    kidpyramid: OK, your first one made me laugh out loud. (And I have longed for red hair all my life!)

    auburn60: You can take as many as you want! I love this list– I can see your fabulous self shining through every lesson learned.

    Vicki– “When you get older, being weird is normal”– ISN’T THAT THE DANG TRUTH?! And I agree– thank God for the internet.

    gracelynn: This was beautifully expressed– and so full of hope. Bless you!

    babygirl: “Time heals…”–THANKFULLY, yes indeed!

    small j: Admit it– for me to be anything other than blonde would just be so fundamentally WRONG that it could have worldwide ramifications. Not to overstate the case or anything.

    Momma Lloyd: Learning not to be such a people-pleaser is a lesson MY 18 yr old self sure could have used as well! (And Russ said to tell you he had a lady in his church just like your aunt when he was little– scared him to death!)


  15. bettyrwoodward

    Where can I start? Tori thanks for doing this its really made me think.
    Rachel we always knew you were special and the way you coped with your illness was amazing and God used that really hard time in ways we couldn’t imagine.
    As for me at 18, that was a long time ago and I wasn’t a rebel or anything like that then (that came later). So what would I say to myself.
    Dear Betty,
    1. Yes nursing is the way God wants you too go and it does work out well.
    2. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a boyfriend. God has the right special person for so don’t worry about it. God knows better than you do! Just trust him as you do now and let Him lead in all areas of your life.
    3. You do end up with the two wonderful children, David and Rachel, that you want.

  16. LindaB

    Betty, we’d all have been able to breathe easier and enjoyed living more if we didn’t have that worry that we’d never find someone who loved us enough to marry us, wouldn’t we?

    This was a neat question, Tori! I’ve learned so much more about the folks who answered this “what would you tell your 18 year old self” question. I hope more of you readers will join in!

  17. MostlySunny

    To my 18 years old self:

    1. Your parents really do love you; they just don’t know how to say it or show it; some of their models in life weren’t so great at it, either. But you know, this is one of those things that is going to make you strong. It’s also going to make you a pretty darn good mother because your 2 boys (YES, 2 darling boys) will never have a day in their life when they won’t know – by words, hugs, or kisses – that they aren’t loved, loved, loved just because God gave them to you!

    2. That blonde football player you’re so head-over-heels over — leave him in the dust, girl. Don’t waste any more time on him! He’s not a “lifer” with you. And that “what-I-want-in-a-husband” list you now have (after dumping said blonde football player) — toss it! God has the PERFECT man for you…you just wait (and the wait will seem like forever, but it really will be WORTH IT). God’s list is sooooo much better. Stuff you don’t even think you even like in a man right now…you’ll be so thankful!

    3. You’ll be out on your own in just a few months – there’s no other way and you have no other choice (and no money). This, too, will make you strong. And God will bring people along the way to help you out just when you think you’re going under (He has a way of doing that). And when you get older, you’ll be the one looking out for those younger ones who have that “look” on their face wondering how they will survive. You’ll understand perfectly and know exactly what to do.

    4. Oh, and that 1964 red convertible Mustang you bought for $500.000…KEEP IT!!! It will be worth a gold mine one day… (DANG!)

    Your life will be so good…from your 57-year-old (since yesterday) self…

  18. rockin robyn

    Wow Tori! You should listen to Brad Paisley’s song “Letter to Me”… Your letter to you is awesome and I know you are passing that strength down to both of your daugthers…

    To 18 year old Robyn:

    1.) Don’t feel so “un-cool” that you are so reserved and shy – turns out years later your mature faith will teach you that God gave you that as a gift and it keeps you out of alot of trouble and worries.

    2.) You have to learn in your own time but that radio d.j. that you are now so smitten over… even after being in and out of your life for many years later — you will wake up and except the fact that he is no good for you. Be patient though because 30 years later you are still wondering why no other guy can compare to how much you thought you loved him. So far, what I can see is he is the one that filled your heart with the love for music and later in life you will combine that love with your faith.

    3.) I have good news: don’t worry about being so stubborned and not wanting to get into any other employment but in the professional business world, without having any college education…. the job you finally get will be your education, your work experience and your teacher of the business world for the next thirty years with many promotions.

    …You’re not without flaws my dear but you know what kiddo, you got a good heart and you will make me proud to be me when your this age of Robyn 48!

  19. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh my goodness, I just love everybody. Just want to bring y’all home with me and make chicken ‘n dumplins and sit around and talk. I liked you at 18…..but I like you even more all these years later. God really knows how to ripen the fruit.

  20. bettyrwoodward

    We love you too Momma Lloyd and would just love to meet you. The chicken ‘n dumplins sound good as well.

  21. LindaB

    I was just thinkin’ the same thing, Barb!!! What a sweet group! Including that pretty young cheerleader!

  22. jonny

    Well, I’m afraid what my recently turned 29 y/o self would tell my 18 y/o self is still being worked out, and a little to personal to post on a public forum like this at the moment. But, here are three things my 18 y/o would probably say to my just turned 29 y/o self…

    1) See, there was life after twenty-five !

    2) Thanks for not giving up.

    3) I knew you could do it !

    Thanks everyone for being braver than me and posting/sharing what you have = )

  23. jonny

    @kidpyramid: I’ve often had a weakness/fondness for red-heads; freckles or not, short or tall = / For what it’s worth, of course.

    @Vicki: Duane rocks !

    @Momma Lloyd: bring it on !! = )

  24. Gramma Jac

    Dear 18-Year-Old Jackie,

    1. Stay close to Jesus!! When you do, decisions are easier (and wiser) and you stay more centered,…so seek His guidance!

    2. You already have some pretty strong, thought-out opinions on some pretty important topics. Your family says things like “You’ll see things differently when you’re older” or “You’ll change your mind.” Guess what,…you never DO change your mind!! So STOP worrying quite so much about their opinion of your beliefs,…just love your family and keep your priorities!

    3. Thirty + years from now, you’re still busy all the time, very involved with family/work/volunteering, still not sleeping much–take a little more time for yourself, watch your weight and your health! Make more time for relaxing FUN!

    P.S. Don’t worry about not driving yet,…you WILL drive and you’ll end up being chauffeur to EVERYONE!!

    And to everyone, this was a GREAT exercise wasn’t it?! I think we all turned out pretty good! jonny, I’m not sure I WANT to think what 18-year old Jackie would say to me now,….she was a mouthy little thing!! :-)

  25. jonny

    Oh, and I may be in Cincinnati in next month, or April. Maybe a little gathering of moms could be in order before that. I’ll share the dates when I have them, if there is interest.

  26. jonny

    Actually, the convention scedule for me in Cincinnati would be the 6th through the 9th of May, 2011. I may stay at a friend’s who lives close by the convemtion spot a day or so before that.


  27. jonny

    Sorry, those were last year’s dates ! 12th through the 15th of May this year.

  28. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Jonny, I would absolutely love to come and meet you. I’d even give you a big ‘ole hug that I usually reserve for Russ Taff….but, dear one, when the Holy Spirit wrote “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” He was thinking of me.

  29. jonny

    lol ! You and me both, sister ! = )

  30. sdavis

    Dear 18 year old Susie,
    1. You will not always be afraid.
    2. God proves himself good. Always.
    3. And your life will beautiful. Regardless of the pain.
    Much love and peace.
    Your older, wiser Susie

    PS. You’ll meet a girl named Tori who is married to Russ Taff! I am not joking!

  31. LindaB

    “PS. You’ll meet a girl named Tori who is married to Russ Taff! I am not joking!”

    LOL I’m gonna tell my 18 year old the same thing, okay Susie? She’s gonna FREAK! And as it turns out, his wife is every bit as gifted as he is! And incredibly nice!

  32. heather e

    oh i LOVED this. i did this once when i blogged back in the day– i should do it again. i was 18 not that long ago but MAN it feels eons ago. i would still do SO MUCH OVER again.

  33. tori

    bettyrwoodward: I loved this– wouldn’t life had been easier if our 18 year old selves would have truly understood that it really DOES all work out for the best?!

    LindaB: I know, I feel like I am getting a tiny window into what made all of us what we are today, for better and for worse… It’s fascinating.

    MostlySunny: Oh, this was SO poignant, and so full of wisdom! ($500? Really? Dang.)

    rockin robyn: I don’t think we ever love a guy as completely, head over heels, all-the-way-down-to-our-toenails as we do when we were 18… THANK GOD! I don’t ever want to lose myself to another person like I did then, but the intensity of that first big love never really leaves us, does it?

    Barb, Betty, Linda: Don’t you just LOVE these?!

    small j: Speaking on behalf of the ‘Bloomr Nation– we’re all real glad you didn’t give up and we all believe you can do it, too! (Whatever “it” you want!) And also? I have no idea if it is even remotely possible, but I don’t ever want to rule out a bloggy get-together when you are here in May!!

    Gramma Jac: I bet my mouthy little 18 year old self and your mouthy little 18 year old self would have gotten along great!

    sdavis: Yes… My 18 year old self thought life could only be beautiful if there WASN’T any pain– she was wrong.
    (*this is Mrs. Taff reaching back through time to give your 18 year old self a big ol’ high five*)

    heather e: WELCOME, girl! And yeah, you should do it again– do it here!

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