Dear Younger Self

Dear Younger Self,

There are a few things I wanted to let you know as you make your way closer to this place called "middle-aged." You might be tempted to stop reading this letter when you stumble across some things that hurt, but make sure to stick with me until the end.

First truth you need to plant deep is to give yourself grace. You have learned about it in church. You have offered it time and time again to others. But, most of all, you need to offer it to yourself. When you choose sin instead of God's will, as you parent your kids, when you look at yourself in your marriage of twenty-some years and don't recognize yourself, give yourself grace. Everyone, including you, is offered undeserved favor from God. You need to offer it to yourself because you aren't perfect. Romans 3:23 NLT says "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard." I know you want to be everything to everyone, but you need to let that go. Giving yourself grace means you forgive yourself for your mistakes and move forward without guilt or shame. Trust me when I say this is the only way you can be what you want to be for others.

You also need to know that the whole "wolf in sheep's clothing" is real. There will be people who you love and respect who will hurt you deeply, in the name of Christ. I'm so sorry for the way they act, for how they abused you. It wasn't okay. It wasn't godly. In some cases it seems evil, but keep holding onto God. Don't allow them back in your life. Don't feel guilty for shutting that door (remember my first point). Turn your face to Jesus and allow Him to define you. Seek out the real sheep. You will not them not just by their love, but by how they speak and live out the Word of God. God is building your testimony as an overcomer. These wolves are small in number compared to the real followers of Christ. And God will have you minister to others who have been hurt, using it for His good.

I feel like I should warn you there will also be a lot of physical pain. This isn't something you can wrap your mind around until it happens. And it will happen again and again. So, learn how to take care of yourself. Self-care isn't selfish. It's necessary in order to care for others. I know how much you love chocolate and ice cream, but remember that eating a quart in one night will not take away the pain, but Tylenol and exercise might. Eating healthy will help in some cases. Physical therapy will make you stronger. Pray for doctors with wisdom and God will bring them. When the pain seems to have no end, listen to God's Word. Allow it to wash over you, knowing Jesus understands suffering and endured more pain than you will ever have to.

Moving on, grief is a whole different pain. You will, before the age of 45, lose someone you love very very deeply. We survive that time by writing and with the love and prayers of others. But more deep loss is just around the corner.

Here are the truths I have learned about grief in the past four years:

1) It does feel like you're drowning, all the time, for a long time.

2) People can't understand completely unless they have experienced it.

3) Food, alcohol, and even other people can't fill the void left behind.

4) Grief Share is full of people who understand. It will make the difference in your life.

5) God understands.

The last one is easy to forget. It's easier to pull away from God in your grief. Don't. James 4:8 NIV says "Come near to God and he will come near to you." You need to seek Him in your grief to find Him, but when you do, He will be everywhere. In the text of a friend. In the ocean breeze. In the warmth of your husband's hug. In the beauty of a rainbow on the darkest day of your life. And He will collect up all your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Not one is wasted. Big girls do cry. With each tear comes a sense of release and healing.

Finally, my beautiful self, you are never alone. God is always with you. Even when you think you are walking away from Him. Even when you are mad at Him. He is walking with you, protecting you, loving you, praying for you. Oh, dear self, hang onto Jesus. He loves you like no other. I promise He's there for you right now, ready to take your hand and walk you through this hardship.

Middle-age might not be pretty, but there's nothing to fear when you have Christ by your side. And remember, glory is on the other side along with all who love you and have gone before you. What a glorious day it will be!

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