Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

I don’t like blogging about myself that much. I am okay with blogging about military history, my travels, and reviewing books I have read. I have also written posts about my meditations and thoughts about Bible books that I have read, especially books that people have a hard time processing like Exodus, Leviticus, and Joshua.

Although I believe in “authenticity”, at the same time, I don’t like to air my dirty laundry on the Internet. Remember, once on the internet, there is not taking anything back. It can even be used against you. However, I want this post to be shared with any teenager you know who is going through tough times.

That said, I thought long and hard about this post. Why am I writing a letter to my teenage self? For one, the suicide rate in the United States is going UP. The second highest group are college students. Even if you are not suicidal, dealing with depression, especially chronic bouts, can be just as bad. And the second reason, I was that depressed, not quite suicidal, teenager.

Now that I have 20 years of life experiences, this is what I’d say:

Things will get better

Things WILL get better. Not immediately, not one week later, but eventually. In 1997, I could not imagine the world getting better. My short past was filled with lots of goodbye and disconnection. I was not close to anyone in high school. And all those shows and movies about high school being an “idyllic” time… that’s bull crap. High school is very different from real life, and high school will end.

In Sept 1997, I left for Southern California to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago. That was a huge change for me. I met some of the best friends I could ever ask for: men and women who encouraged me, supported me, and pushed me. I grew mentally, socially, spiritually, emotionally, and academically. Teachers, pastors, InterVarsity Christian fellowship staff workers, fellow students…

University of Chicago crest

Is college the “end all” and replacing high school as the most idyllic life? The best days of your life? Of course not. College is tough too. I struggled with Calculus 151 and 152 which I didn’t need to take as a non-science major. I struggled with staying touch with friends back home. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then there was law school and then graduate school – all of them with its own troubles. I loved school and meeting new people. Some of my other best friends are from Regent University School of Law.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay

You have to give yourself permission to be NOT OKAY. That was what Sheila Walsh’s book says: It is Okay Not to be Okay. That was probably the best book I read in 2019. God does not want you to hide your pain. Rather, Jesus wants to hear from you; he wants you to admit you are hurting. Putting on a brave front makes it worse.

It is okay to admit things are not in your control. In 2014, I attended a retreat where I learned about surrender: surrendering the coping mechanisms that help me through life – allowing Jesus to heal my wounds, forgive the wrongs I’ve committed, redeeming the broken wishes and dreams, and freeing me from my worries. The first step was just acknowledging I was not okay and was doing whatever I could to dull the pain.

Last year, I took a sabbatical, my first rest from service after a long time. I learned it is okay to rest, to take care of myself spiritually because I needed that time off to gain perspective.

Introspection is Your Strength

I’m an introvert by nature. If I had lived in the Middle Ages, they would have said I have too much melancholia and cholera. Living in an extrovert world, I can appear aloof and withdrawn.

But that’s not true. Susan Cain’s book – Quiet: The Power of Introversion gave me the permission to be an introvert and be proud of it. That it is fine to stay home and read a good book, to go to a party and not feel obligated to talk to everyone at the party but stay with a small circle, and just do your own thing when you need to.

But at the same time, this does not mean a lack of assertion. There are other ways to come to the forefront and take charge when no one else is. There are ways to lead as an introvert.

Explore the World Outside… On Your Terms

You have to get out of your head and explore the world as extensively possible. And you do it on your terms:

Countries I have visited

By 2018, I will have visited all those countries.

Heidelberg, Germany
DOME Facility, Bagabag, Philippines

Never Stop Learning…

  • about life in general
  • about topics which you are passionate
  • about God and Jesus Christ as your savior and friend and lord
  • about your hobbies and interests
  • about your friends

Be Interesting by Being Interested

Dale Carnegie was right: you become interesting and loving by being interested and loving others first.

Love God, His word, and His people

Above all, love God, continue to let the Bible give you hope and guidance, and love the church. Sounds simple, but in the past 20 years, whether I am doing well or mired in the same sins I have dealt with since I was 16, I have never found a better refuge, a better source of comfort, than Jesus Christ and the church.

The two times I have gone for counseling, my counselors were Christians. They used the Bible and prayer to keep me centered. They encouraged me to keep turning to Jesus and not give up. They reminded me that there is sin in my life but God’s grace is all sufficient. They remind me that Jesus Christ came into this world to die for my sin and restore me to real life.

In the past twenty years, despite battling depression and legalism, by God’s grace, I have never abused drugs or alcohol and I don’t plan to start. Sure, I joked about it during my dad’s ordination – that I’m a Pastor’s Kid now and therefore can sinning. As if I needed that; I’m a born sinner. 🙂

There IS Always Hope

One thing I have learned about depression is that it colors the past and blocks the future. When I was in the middle of a bout, I realized that even the good things in the past seemed forgotten. The awesome times in France? A haze. The best meals? Don’t remember. All my friends? What do they look like?

However, count your blessings. Look through old photos. Eat your comfort foods – deluxe spicy chicken sandwich from Chick Fil A, Pad See Uw, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and Oreo shakes.

Work out. Learn boxing and kickboxing. Fence. Go to the gun range.

Sometimes hope comes by feeding the body first and then the soul and spirit. And then when that is done, remember the good things again.

Hope is fragile but if you have it, go back to point one: Things will get better.

Semper Fi!

Last, semper fi! Be faithful, because God is faithful.

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