Dear 20 year old Elizabeth,
Last night you and your friend Melissa lay on the grass in front of your dorm and star gazed as the minutes passed and you kissed your teen years goodbye. You and Melissa discussed all the things that you would never stop doing no matter how old you got. You were never going to stop climbing trees. You were never going to stop tumbling around and doing hand stands up against the walls. You were never going to be too old for braids or a side ponytail. You were never going to be more comfortable in heels than you are in jeans. You were never going to be a boring, stuffy, old grown up. Oh, little girl, you have no idea how much you haven’t changed! In some ways you still are that crazy 20 year old who wears jeans way too much and still rocks a side ponytail. But here’s the thing: Later that night I watched you verbalize only a fraction of the fear you had of growing older; of leaving the last vestiges of your childhood behind. I listened as you silently wondered at the questions you could only ask in your head, because you were so afraid of not being taken seriously. I agonized with you as you stifled your tears while on the phone with your family; tears which you could not fully explain, and yet tears that came from a deeply hurt part of your soul. You were so afraid that the dreams of you imagination would pale in comparison to your reality. You were afraid that you would never outrun your teen years. Well, let me tell you a few things about your life.
First of all, you can’t outrun your teen years. You sure made a noble attempt in college and for a few years beyond, but there will come a time in your mid-twenties when it will show up on your doorstep and lay around like a bad houseguest until you deal with it. And you know what? You DO deal with it. You lay it all out, you talk it out with trusted friends, you realize there is nothing you can do to change the past and you let it go. It will take a while, it will be painful and it will come in spurts, but you will get there. Best of all, in the process you will have one of the very best conversations with Teresa of your entire life and it will lead to a new level of sisterhood. Second, you are incredibly brave. In a year and a half you will tear your ACL and will require surgery. You have said surgery 700 miles from home. Without your parents there. The sweet family of a friend of yours will take care of you and allow you to recover in their home.
When you are 23 you will go through a bit of a wild streak. You will date somewhat inappropriate boys, you will get your belly button pierced, you will stay out all night long, you will discover a love of bellinis. Fortunately, because this is you, your “wild streak” will be pretty tame. And because of your wild streak you will learn much more about who you are as a Christian and how to love Jesus better. Your “older friend” Stephanie will introduce you to MAC makeup and your life will never be the same. She will also introduce you to actual fashion. You will learn so much, and yet you will continue to wear jeans and t-shirts and put your hair in a ponytail most of the time. She will teach you how to throw the perfect Christmas Eve party and she will introduce you to the Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks. She will be patient with you as you grow into adulthood. She will ask thoughtful questions that help you to see yourself more clearly. She will love you even when you are a nut case. You will look back on your life and you will know that without her you might have turned out very differently. You will grow up and grow in a different direction, but you will always know that she is near and she is only a phone call away. And that will make you happy.
You will fulfill 12 year old Elizabeth’s (back when she was just Karis) dream of writing a book. It will be everything you ever imagined your first book would be and you will be so proud of it. You are still trying to work out how to get it published…
You will travel! Like, a lot! You’ll go to London and Paris and get stuck on New Year’s Eve in the Chunnel and you will celebrate the entrance of 1997 underneath the English Channel instead of in Trafalgar Square like you planned, but you’ll be with these friends, one of whom has a video camera and you will create your own crazy memories. You will go on an 11 day road trip with Monica (who was with you on the Paris trip and with whom you’ll also go to the Bahamas with for graduation) to the west coast. You will see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Yosemite and Sequoia National Forests. You will plan to camp every night. In reality you will camp like, 5 nights. You will go to England and Scotland with Wes and Julie. You’ll go on a college visit road trip on the East coast with Ashley. You’ll learn that Teresa is a fun travel buddy and together you will go to Washington DC, Italy, Boston, New York City and for Christmas when you are 32 you will go on a Caribbean cruise with the whole family. You will fly to South Africa for the wedding of your boyfriend’s brother. Oh yeah, you’re going to date a guy from South Africa. Let’s talk about that.
Let me back up a bit. When you are 24 you will have your heart broken. Matthew* will be a smooth talker who says all the right things. He also says many of the wrong things, but you will choose to ignore them. He will stroke your ego, lead you on and carelessly play with your heart. He will emotionally crush you. You will want to kick him. Instead you will go out with his least favorite person. Twice. It is not your finest moment either. But it will cause you to be more cautious in the future. The future will come five years later in the form of Sam*. Sam will be perfect for you; or at least that’s the way it will seem. It will take a year and a half of long distance dating with occasional visits and hundreds of emails and phone calls for you to realize that Sam can’t freaking commit. Or figure out what he wants. Or tell you what he wants. You will have your heart broken for the second time on a bench in the Cape Town airport as Sam tells you that while he knows what the “right thing” to do is (propose and get married already), he’s too scared to do it. You will attempt to walk away with your head held high, but you will cry throughout the 12 hour flight to London and then through the 9 hour flight back to Houston. You will realize that he’s never going to be ready to marry you, so you will break up with him… because YOU aren’t too scared to do that. This time you will resolve to toughen up your armor. As such, when Sam emails you or calls you or writes you letters you will remind yourself that you deserve better. And you will not fall back down the rabbit hole because you will realize that you dodged a bullet.
You will start working with the youth ministry and find your niche. There you will meet people who will become some of your closest friends. You will meet Julie whose children will one day call you Aunt KK. You will rediscover your love of retreats and summer camp. You will learn to disciple others and in the process how to grow in your own relationship with the Lord. You will live the youth group you always read about; you’ll just live it as an adult (sort of…). You will find that’s only the beginning of a life built around teenagers. When you are 26 you will decide that you’d rather spend the summer in Massachusetts and you will find Lakeside Christian Camp in Western Mass where you will spend 2 amazing summers. You will discover that teaching History is where your heart will find career happiness. It will frustrate you at times and it will bring you to your knees on multiple occasions, but you won’t be able to imagine anything better. You will work your tail off to take groups of kids to Washington, DC for 3 summers. Each summer you will tear up a little as you sit back in your seat on the airplane and listen to the sounds of first time flyers and know that you are giving them something they might not have ever had otherwise. You will go to Spain to work at a summer camp for 2 weeks with members of the youth ministry. You will go full-force into lock ins and sleepovers that will wreck you the next morning. You will TP houses and write with chalk on driveways. You will skip out on grown up New Year’s Eve parties to celebrate with the kids. They will keep you young at heart.
When you are 35 everything will change. Your beloved dad will succumb to kidney failure and pneumonia and will join the Lord in Heaven. You will be crushed and yet you will be overwhelmed with how blessed you were to be his daughter. Conversely, three weeks later Teresa will marry a widower with 4 kids and you will enter one of your most fun roles to date- Aunt KK. Kaylee, Carter, Lydia and Abraham will be the nieces and nephews you have always dreamed of and the loves of your heart. A year and 10 days after the death of your dad, you will be present at the birth of his namesake, John Clark Hoffman. It will be the greatest thing you will ever be a part of. On your 38th birthday Edison will be born and 16 months later Bellagrace will join the family. They will be the seven most amazing children on the planet and you will visit them and Skype with them as much as you can. You will strive to fulfill the promise you made to your dad to take care of your mom and you will grow closer to her than you ever thought possible. You will go on trips with her, you will experience role reversal when she breaks her hip and you have to be a grown up, and you will find joy in watching her be a grandmother.
So you see, little girl, your life is good. At 20 years old, you can’t even wrap your head around how much you have to be thankful for. Sure, there are going to be tough times and there are going to be times when the doubts creep back in and threaten to take a strangle-hold on your life. But you are strong and confident and when you are not, you have amazing friends who remind you that you are loved. You have a mom and a sister whom you grow closer to every year. You have a pile of nieces and nephews who KNOW you love them. You have a job that is secure. You have a church who is like a giant extended family. And you have a Savior who has always taken care of you. You have the whispers of hopes for the future. You are blessed. Remember that, kid.
Sort of grown-up, but not willing to call Thirty10 by its real name Elizabeth