Archive for February, 2011

“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!!!!)

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