Always. Choose love.

Always. Choose love.

Dear 16-year-old Dani,

Hap­py birth­day a day ear­ly! And let me just say right now that you com­plete­ly and total­ly ROCK that hair cut. Seri­ous­ly. Enjoy it. Don’t lis­ten to peo­ple who tell you that they’re afraid that it makes your face look fat. It doesn’t. You look amaz­ing. You won’t have hair that short again for a real­ly long time, and you won’t find a style you like as much as this one for even longer, so savor it (even though you’ll get con­vict­ed in a few months that you’re dis­rupt­ing God’s order by hav­ing short hair. I wish I could say don’t do that, but we both know that time trav­el doesn’t real­ly exist).

This pic­ture, twelve years lat­er, embod­ies for 28-year-old-you all of the sheer awe­some­ness that you pos­sessed at that time in your life. Sopho­more year of high school was your year, though you prob­a­bly don’t real­ize it. You have a group of friends with whom you hang out reg­u­lar­ly. You’re almost pop­u­lar — at least, the pop­u­lar kids no longer make fun of you. You are at your musi­cal height — I wish I had your vocal range, and man do I ever wish I was as fan­tas­tic of a pianist as you are. Your biggest regret is not-quite dat­ing that los­er who swore to you that his girl­friend wasn’t actu­al­ly his girl­friend and you believed him. You’re doing pret­ty great. You will look back on this year of your life with tremen­dous fond­ness and long­ing.

There’s so much I want to tell you. Like your cur­rent crush real­ly isn’t worth it. (Real­ly. I promise.) And home­school­ing is not going to be a good expe­ri­ence for you. Even lit­tle things, like don’t get your car­ti­lage pierced at Claire’s…twice. Seri­ous­ly. Don’t do it.

But if there’s one thing and one thing only that I could impart to you right now, it would be this:

choose love.

Always. Choose love.

Things are going to get real­ly rough for you, just like they do for every­one your age who is try­ing to Fig­ure It All Out and Make Sense of the World (yes, all teenagers do this — and you in par­tic­u­lar, you nev­er real­ly stop). You’re going to learn that things aren’t always the way you were taught they were. And that some­times things just real­ly, real­ly suck. You’ll be hurt bad­ly and often, some­times unin­ten­tion­al­ly. You’ll prob­a­bly hurt oth­ers, bad­ly and often and unin­ten­tion­al­ly.

But stop and eval­u­ate — and choose love.

You’ll meet athe­ists who aren’t evil anar­chists desir­ing noth­ing more than the flesh of a new-born baby, peo­ple who are actu­al­ly warm-heart­ed human­i­tar­i­ans who want noth­ing more than to leave the world (and every­one in it) bet­ter off. These peo­ple will respect you, even though you were taught that they wouldn’t and even though they don’t agree with you.

You’ll meet peo­ple who take advan­tage (in so many ways) of your inno­cence and kind­ness, and that will scar you so deeply that you’ll nev­er be the same.

You’ll meet Chris­tians who aren’t from the assem­blies who love Jesus every bit as much as you do.

You’ll meet peo­ple who are gay, les­bian, bisex­u­al, pan­sex­u­al, trans­gen­der, gen­derqueer — who aren’t obsessed with sex or the next con­quest, peo­ple who share many of your likes and dis­likes and per­son­al­i­ty traits. To your shock, some of these peo­ple will love Jesus as much as you do.

You’ll meet Chris­tians who say they love you and for­give you and want God’s best in your life, but they actu­al­ly cut you down and demean you and treat you as if you are less than human.

You’ll meet peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths and (includ­ing those afore­men­tioned peo­ple of no faith what­so­ev­er), and you will share a deep com­mon ground with them that rocks you to your core.

You’ll be so con­fused by all of these things. You’ll rethink your beliefs and ago­nize over the rethink­ing because you want so des­per­ate­ly to be right, to be accept­ed, to be loved.

Let it all go, dear girl. You don’t have to be right all the time. The world is not black and white. You can­not change peo­ple, to make them love or accept you, no mat­ter how des­per­ate­ly you want to.

KnowLoveKnowPower_12x12But each and every time, choose love.

Some­times choos­ing love will look like putting aside your pre­con­cep­tions and learn­ing afresh. I know how much you hate that, feel­ing out of your depth and new at some­thing. But it’s worth it.

Some­times choos­ing love will look like lay­ing down arms in the mid­dle of a fight in order to love the oth­er per­son the way they need to be loved at that moment, the way that they will feel your love the best (even if you think they should feel it already).

Some­times choos­ing love will look like remov­ing your­self com­plete­ly from tox­ic sit­u­a­tions and lov­ing your­self even when every­one around you is telling you that you don’t deserve love. I know you too well to think I have to tell you to love those peo­ple, because I know you will any­way. And I know that it’s a strug­gle to love your­self — it’s a strug­gle that nev­er real­ly goes away.

Some­times choos­ing love will look like chok­ing back words of anger, dis­sent, or even just innocu­ous­ly offer­ing a dif­fer­ent opin­ion from some­one because you real­ize that they are not yet ready to hear what you have to say (or you real­ize that your words aren’t near­ly as impor­tant as you want to think that they are).

Some­times choos­ing love will look like aban­don­ing the faith to oth­er peo­ple, when real­ly you’re test­ing the spir­its and per­haps find­ing them want­i­ng, but at the same time find­ing free­dom and authen­tic­i­ty and health for your­self.

And some­times you’ll mess up. Some­times you won’t mess up, but the sit­u­a­tion will suck any­way. Some­times there is no right answer, no res­o­lu­tion, no peace, and you have to come to terms with that some­how in a way that will allow you to keep liv­ing, to keep lov­ing any­way.

You are so young. I am so young. We have much to learn, you and I, twelve years apart and still grow­ing.

But in the face of all of the unknow­able, unsearch­able future, let’s you and I promise to always choose love — for our­selves, for oth­ers. We’ll find our way from there.

This is a repost of an old let­ter I wrote to myself orig­i­nal­ly on my 24th or 25th birth­day. I try to read it every year, and found this year that it need­ed updat­ing a bit.

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