A Letter to my Fourteen Year Old Self

Dear Janine, 

I know you’re only fourteen, but you’ve been through a lot already. And it’s hard. And that’s okay.

Buckle up, because the next few years are going to be a crash course in this so-called life. You’re going to feel like your whole world is falling apart. It sort of is.

Your mom decided to leave, your sister is off to college, your first love broke up with you, your best friend abandoned you, and your dad is too depressed with the fact that your mom wants to divorce him after twenty years of marriage to even know how to begin handling your very real, young, tender-hearted emotions. He’ll show you that her scent hasn’t left the cool, dark place underneath the pillow on her side of the bed if you lift up the corner just so. He’ll even offer you some of the sleeping pills he is taking at night in case you have trouble sleeping, too. (Don’t worry, you won’t need them.)

You’re going to feel like you have to be tough. All. The. Time. Strong enough to navigate level 5 rapids on your own. In the dark. (Fourteen years later you’re still mildly afraid of the dark — and that’s okay.)

You’re going to be put in a really difficult position where you feel like you’re not allowed to cry or fall apart in front of your family because they’re all doing that and things are starting to get pretty messy. You’ll feel like you have to stay neutral; not take sides — like you’re not allowed to be mad at your mom even though you are. (You won’t be in a few years.)

You’ll feel like you’re not allowed to talk about happy things anymore either because no one really seems happy… because they’re all trying to figure out life now, too.

But, don’t forget the things that make you happy!

You’ll need them. And you’ll realize that making things and playing the piano and writing and singing are very, very important to you. They make you feel happy. And they remind you of who you are. They ground you.

You’re also going to feel like the parent. And at times, you sort of will be. And that’s okay… for now. It gets better, and this part doesn’t last forever. But, you’ll never really get to experience a “regular” teenage phase of life. You’re getting thrust into deep waters and you’ll have to learn how to tread water as soon as you penetrate the surface.

Hang in there!

It’s going to feel tough to breathe sometimes as your head barely bobs above water. You’ll begin to feel the water rise cool against your temples and just touch the corners of your eyes as you lean your head back and look to the sky to take a breath. Just focus on breathing for now because your arms and legs are going to get extremely tired from the constant movement. You’ll feel hungry and angry and exhausted and you’ll want to cry. Do it! It’s okay to cry! (Although, you will encounter people who continue to make you feel like you’re not allowed to cry later on. Just do it anyway.)

You’re only going to cry at school for a few years though because your mom, dad, and sister aren’t there, so it’s okay. You don’t have to cry in front of them so it feels safe — it’s your place. However, most of your teachers won’t understand when you spontaneously burst into tears because you just can’t hold them in anymore. Those are the teachers that will label you as being lazy and worthless; a lost cause. And all because  you didn’t make time to do your homework when you got home because you were too busy filling your head with distractions so you wouldn’t cry.

You’re not lazy, worthless, or a lost cause. Don’t believe them.

But, there will be teachers who do understand when you begin to fall apart in the middle of a midterm. Cling to those teachers that get it — the ones that ask you why you’re crying and let you excuse yourself so you can gather your thoughts and splash some cold water on your face. One of them will even offer to let you come over to her house for dinner just in case you need someone to talk to. These teachers will inspire you to pursue becoming a teacher yourself someday. (Don’t be mad at me… but you don’t end up becoming a teacher. You realize part way into your college career of becoming one that deep down you are an artist and that’s who God created you to be — teaching was just an excuse to find a “real job”.)

Eventually, you’ll start to see that there are other people in your life that “get it” too. They’ll get YOU.

There will be plenty of other people that don’t get it, and don’t be afraid to let go of them. The letting go part will be pretty hard because you will be afraid of being alone for awhile. But it’s okay, you’ll never actually be alone — God has never left your side. He’s been there the whole time holding your head above water making sure you’re able to breathe deep. And there will also be people who enter your life that really do “get it”. Those are the ones that you should invest your time and energy in. They are “your people” —  they are truly a gift.

You even marry one of those people that get it! (And he’s really cute!) He’s your best friend, and he teaches you that it’s okay to cry in front of the people you love. He also teaches you about tears of joy — and the ones that happen when you laugh really, really hard. It’s okay to let go and be real and feel all the things you feel inside. He will be your biggest supporter and believe in you so strongly that you actually begin to believe in yourself.

You believe you are not lazy, worthless, or a lost cause!

I don’t want to tell you too much more about how things are going right now, because I don’t think you’ll actually believe some of the adventures that lie ahead. I just wanted you to know that you are okay now. You turn out okay. Better than okay, really. You’re strong, empathetic, sensitive, and wildly creative. And, you actually get to be happy and really, really feel it. You don’t have to hide anymore.

You don’t have to tread water or will your arms and legs to keep moving for fear of sinking. You’re standing on solid ground now. And sometimes you even get to sit on a nice, sandy beach next to your best friend and enjoy the sunshine.

You get to rest — you get to enjoy life.

You are loved.






This post was inspired by this and this

9 Responses to "A Letter to my Fourteen Year Old Self"

  1. amy sperry says:

    wow Janine who knew that you encountered so much in such a short time and for it you have become a strong independent beautiful woman. You are an inspiration to me and many others who still feel like they are climbing a never ending mountain.

    • janine says:

      Amy! Thank you so much for your sweet words. It’s true, I did encounter a lot, but it’s brought me to where I am today, and for that I am proud. I look back on that young girl and wish I could give her some of the strength I have now, but I realize it’s the journey she traveled that made her strong. Much love.

  2. Carol says:

    I know that 14 year old girl very well. The red haired beautiful girl of mine that was mine for a wonderful while and the 14 year old girl that was me and is still inside me.

    I hear your voice, I remember my popsicle stick flowers, setting up for the homeless at church, you guys taking care of Sammy, Michael and Melinda’s wedding. A mothers day note you sent me. You have always been part of me and I take parts of you with me along this journey of life.

    Thank you for being such a big part of my life. Thank you for sharing my kids at Lincoln Heights and mostly thank you for loving me.


    • janine says:

      Oh, you DO know that 14 year old so well, Carol. I love you and appreciate who you were to me then and the parts of you that I carry along with me now, as well. Thank you for being a part of my story! xox

  3. JimJim says:

    Thank you for sharing this with me. I don’ know if I feel better or worse after having read it. Maybe I should write a “Letter to my 71-year-old self.” Please keep in touch.

    • janine says:

      Jimjim! Maybe you should write a letter to your 71 year old self! It’s interesting what happens when we reflect on who we are today and what brought us here… and where we want to go someday. I’m glad you took the time to read a bit about my journey, it was a tough road, and I’m sure you (and many others) may have felt a bit helpless watching things crumble for my family during that time. Fortunately, we have all learned and grown from our experiences and are different people now than we were then. And mostly for the better 😉 xox

  4. Deb (Tuttle) Nelson says:

    OK, coming a little late to the comment party, but . . . wow. Janine, I met you the summer after your 8th grade year, just before the crumble began. I laughed with you when there was plenty to laugh about and cried with you later, honored to be one of those you could be real in front of. You made ME laugh! Alot! What I am so happy about is that, through, it all, your sense of humor and your fun side did not get completely changed or crushed in the avalanche.

    The person who emerged from that is as funny as ever and strong, too. Although I know it was hard to believe me back then, your faith really did carry you and God showed up in the challenges you faced and walked with you every step.

    You are strong. Only strong people can shut out the noise of the “shoulds” and listen to the voice of your truest self as you navigate toward your dreams. “Real jobs” and “back-up plans” start out as safety nets but can become cages (to paraphrase our friend Jim Weber) that hold us captive and leave our dreams just out of reach.

    You are well loved and you know how to love well! That is one of the most important gifts of all! You are a treasure and it is quite gratifying to see you now, learning what I knew all along!

    Keep dreaming! Keep laughing! Keep listening!

    Deb (AKA Pastor Spam)

    • janine says:

      Pastor Spammy!

      Oh thank you for taking a moment to chime in. It’s refreshing to connect and keep up with those folks who have seen and walked through the before and after with me. Thank you for your support and guidance when things were fun and when they got hairy. Love you!!!

  5. Oh, your beautiful heart! I just somehow stumbled onto this. This just proved that you’re just as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside. 🙂

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