My 17-year-old niece is away at a YoungLife camp right now. She has been gone for almost a week, and has two more weeks until her parents pick her up. She’s there on a work crew, making things great for all the other kids who come to enjoy a week at camp. YoungLife has a website where you can view videos from the week at camp, and I’ve been watching a few of them to see what Hannah’s been up to.
I look at these videos, and see kids who are full of such beauty. Yes, I know they are all crazy teenagers and are there to have fun – and hopefully some time with God and their Bibles, etc. – but watching the videos helps me remember my life at seventeen. I look at the girls in the video, and I see radiance and joy and promise. I’m 95% sure they don’t see that in themselves, because I know at seventeen I sure didn’t. I didn’t see my future laid out before me. I only focused on next and what my life was going to be like when I got out of whatever current stage I was in. I wanted to be on my own, away from Mom and Dad, finding my true love, and starting my life. I didn’t know I had already “started my life” and was fast-forwarding to my future. I didn’t know I would be married four years later, my parents would be divorced, my brother would be dying, and my parents would be fighting cancer and lupus.
I didn’t know the gift I was being given Every. Single. Day.
So I wrote my Hannah a short letter. Honestly, I was writing it to myself at age seventeen, wishing I could speak some truth into that self-focused, unconfident girl. Here’s what I wrote to Hannah/me:
I’ve been watching the video blogs from YoungLife, and realizing what an amazing gift you are living right now, this very moment. Yes, your Aunt Poozie is hokey. And, yes, I can get emotional and cheesy. But I just want to take a moment to tell you these things:
DON’T WAIT. Don’t hold back in life. Jump in with both feet, do things that scare you, and get out of your comfort zone. Reach out to someone you normally wouldn’t talk to. Laugh loudly. Cry. Trust. Pray. Don’t waste a single moment. You will never have another moment like this!
I love you and I’m so proud of you --
And because nobody needs their Aunt Poozie to be a downer in their lives, here’s what I didn’t write but SO wanted to:
The years stretch out ahead of you, and you think there’s a lifetime of them still waiting for you. Oh, sweet girl, you have no idea how everything you’ve ever known will be forever changed in just one more short year. Your focus is on next and what else and once I. You haven’t stopped to look at now and today. Stop! You’re missing it! Today of all days, STOP. Know how quickly life goes from next to I wish I could go back…
It was eight years ago yesterday, right about this time, when your mom called me. Grandmama was in the hospital. We had no idea it would be the beginning of her end. She was dying and the years we thought stretched out ahead of us were gone. We had put faith and trust in those years: I thought a little more time would change us, and she and I would one day find common ground again.
Yes. We did find common ground. It was in the ICU of Northside Hospital in Atlanta. Not exactly the next I had in mind. And the one after that? The next next was saying goodbye to my father, your Steeley.
Anything I say to you, my Hannah, is going to fly out of your memory before the vaporous words have left my mouth. You think the same things I thought: awful things happen to other people, not me. If someone had told me at seventeen that the coming years would be so painful, I wouldn’t have believed them anyway. The brightness of my future outshined any imagined darkness coming my way. That is, until next finally came.
Don’t wait ‘til next, Hannah. Live what you can now. Don’t be afraid! It’s so much better than any next you can imagine.
I. Love. YOU!