Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dear (almost) 17-Year-Old Me

Dear (almost) 17-year-old me,

Happy birthday month! I can't believe it has been 10 years since I was you. You've just started your senior year, are deciding where to go to college, taking your first college courses, working, competing with Joey, playing soccer, involved in youth group...I'm tired just thinking back on everything I was doing when I was you. Enjoy it! Please, enjoy it.

What you don't know is that in 10 years your life will be so different from anything you imagined it would be. In 10 years, you will be me, looking back on who you are now and reflecting on life (and writing this letter to yourself...this is getting complicated...). Senior year is the last year of high school, some consider it the last year before you're an adult, but for's going to be the last year before your body begins to betray you. Oh, you'll still be relatively healthy (whatever that means) and play sports in college (surprise!), but as I am looking back 10 years, 17 is kind of where it all began...what begins, you might ask...I'm not sure I can even put it into words, but know that these next 10 years will not be anything you would have ever imagined...

Don't get me wrong, some of those years will be the best of your life. You'll stress over your college decision, but it's okay, you'll make the right choice. Some of the friends you will make in college will be some of the best friends you will ever have. And yes, 10 years later, you'll still be in touch =)

You don't know it yet, but you'll end up playing 2 sports in college, neither of which you are even considering right now. You're going to end up deciding last minute to try out as a walk-on for the soccer team (you'll make it) and your senior year you're going to join...ready for it?? The SWIM team. Crazy, right? I thought so, too. But here's what I want you to know...enjoy it! It will be tough. You'll wonder why you chose to return for 3-a-day preseason training and 6 am swim practices. But choose to enjoy even the tough training sessions and hard practices. You don't know it now, but in a few years, you won't be able to do either anymore...and you'll miss it...some days A LOT. So please, (almost) 17-year-old me, enjoy those years of college sports and treasure the fact that you will forever be a college athlete...because when you're me, the health you had in college is going to feel like ancient history, not just a few years ago.

In about 4 years, when you're about to graduate, you're going to wonder how you can possibly be ready for the real world when you don't even know what you want to do with your life. Guess what? Give it another few years and you'll be me still trying to figure out what adulting looks like =P And you'll still technically be a student...yep, undergrad and gad school wasn't enough. You're going to go for a PhD! Professional student status for the win! Don't tell me you didn't see this coming...

Working for your PhD is going to be one of the toughest things you'll ever do, and not just because it's a PhD...Your health will have begun to steadily decline during grad school, and you'll start collecting a whole list of acronyms...and I'm not talking about BS or MS (although some doctors will be full of BS...).

Despite your growing health issues, you're still going to keep going with life! Guess that stubborn streak that kept you playing through injuries on the soccer field also helps you fight back against your own body when it won't cooperate. You're going to move 6 hours from home to work on that PhD I mentioned. I know, crazy, isn't it. Never saw that coming, did you?? (I know you didn't, I'm you after all =P) It's going to be scary to move to Ohio and know no one. You're going to both look forward to moving day and dread it. You will be equally excited about teaching undergraduate exercise science courses and terrified because you still can't believe you're old enough to be teaching college students.

The next few years will be some of the best and most difficult. You're going to meet your best friend and end up marrying him a couple years later. (Yep, 10 years down the road, you'll be MARRIED! For almost 2 years, too!) You'll find a church to call home and find a network of friends who will become your second family. You'll run your second marathon and convince your soon-to-be husband that running is fun (okay, maybe not quite, but he will run a couple of races with you =P)! You'll realize that you traded hot, sticky summers for windy, freezing winters but won't be able to decide which is worse.

Your relationship with God will change, too. It will grow when you experience loneliness when you first move to Ohio as you realize how important Christian fellowship is. You'll find a church that will challenge you to not only grow in your own faith but to serve and be a part of that growth in others. You'll be a part of the high school ministry and grow in your own faith as you lead a Bible study for junior and senior girls. You'll continue to make your faith your own as you learn more about who you are as a child of God, regardless of what is going on in your life....

And believe me when I tell you that life will challenge and stretch you. I told you that these years in Ohio would be some of the best and most difficult...and they will. Your health will fail you. You'll lose the ability to eat and wonder what life will look like when you wake up from surgery with a tube in your stomach and intestines. You'll lose the ability to run and even walk for a time. Doctors won't always have answers, and you will have to fight for diagnoses you never wanted. You'll have to let go of things you love like serving at church, teaching at school, running, and working. You'll look back on who you are right now (at 17) and miss the life you had.

But just like you never gave up in sports, you won't give up now. At times you'll feel like your health is just fading and there is no light at the end up the tunnel. You'll have doctors that won't understand and will be downright awful. But you'll also, eventually, build up a network of doctors that will do everything they can to help you. You'll learn that you don't have to let your feeding tube (who you will affectionately name Herman) limit what you do.

Your life will change. I can't lie and say it won't. But that doesn't mean it has to be over. Why am I writing this letter? To be honest, I'm not sure. I don't really have any words of wisdom to offer (especially since I've already lived everything I'm telling you about) and I certainly don't have all the answers. I just saw a new neurologist a few weeks ago and get twice a month injections just to be able to function. I still have Herman, am not able to work, and spend more time with my doctors than my friends. But believe me when I say that life is still good.

If there was one thing I wish I could share with you as 17-year-old me it would be that you are in control of NOTHING...except whether you are going to hold onto JOY. God's got you. It won't feel like it at times. You won't understand and will feel like He let you down. You'll want to find something else or at least just try to go it alone. I wish you would listen to me now because then maybe I could have saved myself some time, but I guess that ship has sailed. Anyway, if I COULD tell you one thing, it would be to choose JOY. When you're waking up from surgery with a feeding tube or going into neurological testing or facing repeat bouts of will be scary, you won't know what to do or say, you'll feel helpless, but one thing you can do is trust God.

It is so much better to live in joy rather than fear. Trust me, by the time you get to be me, you will have tried both. Any chance we could skip the fear part?? Everything will be crazy, your body will betray you, but you will be held in the hands of a loving God who has promised healing, if not in this life, then in heaven. When you choose joy, you and Nick (your best friend and will-be husband) will be able to smile through tears, enjoy the quiet moments in bed when you can't stand without passing out, and laugh until you can't breathe ( careful =P). Joy means you know that God has a purpose for your life even when you can't see it. Joy means that you can handle anything that life throws at you because you're doing life with God.

You're probably feeling overwhelmed right about now. I know if I was you (and I was), I don't think I would have wanted to know what was coming. Thankfully, you're already me so I'm not really giving you any spoiler alerts on your life. So I guess I'll end with this. I hope you're proud of the person I am today. It's not where I thought I would be (or where you think you'll be), but if I could go back, I'd do it all again. Everything. Even the hard parts. Because I wouldn't be me today without them. So choose joy and walk through the tough times knowing that you'll make it out okay (I AM you after all =P). You aren't going to believe what's coming in the next 10 years...but that's okay. God knows...and it's gonna be an adventure.

From 10 years in the future,
(almost) 27-year-old me =)

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