To my 19-year-old self: I want to let you know, I’ve become a failure
A PREFACE: I’m in Uganda with World Vision for the next week doing what might be called “social awareness tourism” (I’ll be writing about what I’m doing for the next week, which might get so boring you’ll be begging me to talk about dead people again. Actually, it won’t be boring. I’m here to tell the stories of the locals who are fighting against child sacrifice. The last time I was in Africa was when I was a 19-year-old missionary trekking medical supplies to indigenous villages and handing out Bibles to people groups that had never been introduced to Christianity. Being back on this continent has brought back memories of my 19-year-old self, and I feel the need to explain to him why I’ve failed him. This is a vulnerable piece, so be nice to me.
To my 19-year-old self,
Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not the person you wanted to become. I’m the person you fought so hard to avoid. I know that you’re a stoic idealist (even though I don’t think we realized it at that age), and I know that you like truth (that part hasn’t changed), so I’m gonna get the hardest part out of the way, and this is going to upset you, but here it goes: You aren’t a missionary, or a humanitarian worker, or a pastor.
You work at the funeral home. It’s a tough job that’s taken a lot out of you. You’ve stayed because you’re able to hear the pain of those you work for and lift them up without diminishing their grief. You think about quitting your job at least once a week, but the hard and difficult stories you see have unleashed a part of you that feels at home in the dark spaces.
Here’s the other part that’s going to be tough to swallow: you don’t go to church any longer. I want you to know there’s a good reason you don’t go. And you should also know that I’ll go back if I’m ready, although it likely won’t be to a church you’d approve. I’m more comfortable with silence now. I’m okay with not having answers to all the questions. I found that God’s children are all over the place. And as much as I want to explain all that, as the great poet once said, “It’s the climb. Yeah ea, yeah ea!”
There are some other small things you probably wouldn’t like: you curse, you let your shoe fetish get the better of you, your hairline is receding and – this probably won’t come as a surprise because you ALWAYS questioned this part of your upbringing – you are an ally to the LGBTQ community. Oh, and those six-pack abs never came in, and you’re still not entirely comfortable in your skin.
BUT, that girl you have a crush on? You married her. And that book you were working on? That 150,000-word book? That one sucked. The one you did get published isn’t a best seller, but it won an award. You have an absolutely beautiful son and you’re a damn good father.
I’m writing all this because I am here in Africa again, and I thought I’d let you know so you can be just a little proud of what I’ve become. I’m not here as a missionary, I’m here as a writer. I’m not telling my truth, or the story I think I should be telling them. I’m here to witness them, not witness to them. I’m here to listen and tell their story
I’m sorry we didn’t turn out the way we anticipated. Keep going, forgive yourself, believe that God loves you (there’s going to be a decade where you won’t), and smile more, because your story hasn’t followed the path you’d hoped, I think you’ll find it’s ended up someplace even better.