Dear Teen Me,
Last time I wrote to you, I think you were 13 or 14 and we talked about your grades and school and even the logistics of time travel and the possibility that these letters are all a grand scheme thought up by our mother and the school guidance counselor. This letter should be enough to assure you that it is, in fact, from “future you.”
You’re almost 17 now, your eight VHS tapes containing hours of Footage from the Atlanta Olympics games are starting to make weird rattling sounds from over-use, and to your Republican family’s dismay, Bill Clinton has just been elected to another term in the White House.
I don’t want to talk about school or grades today. I don’t want to talk about the people you’re afraid of disappointing, I want to talk about you and most importantly what you believe. Religion and politics may seem to be just another part of the grown up world to you. It may seem easier and less scary to hold on to the beliefs you’ve carried since forever, to hold on to what you’ve been told to believe.
I’m here to tell you that the doubt you’re feeling, that voice creeping up inside saying that you might be different than your mother, represents something very important that you’ll have to face soon. You’re at a point in your life where our mother’s beliefs are not going to shield you. Religion and Christianity in your life thus far have maintained strength simply from the fear of not believing.
There will come a day, in the not-too-distant future when you’ll be free of that fear. When you’ll look back and realize that religion shouldn’t exist to scare children into believing. You’ll make a commitment to allow your children to see the many realms of belief and to choose without fear or guilt.
Guilt is already eating at you, I know how hard of a fight that will be for you. I also remember the nightmares, the ones where your family vanishes in the so-called rapture and you’re left alone because you had doubts. You won’t be left alone and you won’t be afraid forever.
In time, you’ll learn that everyone your age will face the same issue and will have to decide if they want to adopt their parent’s beliefs or choose to venture out on their own. You have a very good friend right now who is rebelling against her family’s strict Jewish upbringing and you’ll be surprised to know this friend will later decide to strengthen her beliefs and knowledge about her Jewish heritage and even spend a few semesters studying in Israel. I know, it came as a shock to me, too, but life will surprise you and people will change and these opportunities will bring freedom, but at the same time, as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said so wisely, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Be prepared to stand behind your choices because in the adult world, it isn’t enough to believe in something because you’ve never been taught anything else. It’s your responsibility to learn and understand and to teach our children about accepting differences and becoming the kind of people who seek out facts and knowledge before making a decision.
Jesus and an Evangelical Youth Pastor are not the only people who can teach kindness and love. And no matter how amazing their afterlife sounds, it isn’t worth any amount of hate and indifference you’ll have to project in your real-life. You are already kind and you know how to love, let that absolve you of any guilt you carry and just continue to grow those qualities that already exist in you.
Don’t be afraid to discuss these things with your friends who I happen to know are a very diverse and accepting bunch. Maybe you can all take this journey together because no matter what happens, everyone eventually has to make the choice to break away from their childhood beliefs or own them and I can assure you now that there is no right or wrong answer, only what’s right for you in your heart. What you’re willing to live with.
So the decision is yours and I wish I could say that it will come without guilt, doubt, or fear, but it won’t. I can say you’ll get through it and come out on the other side with a strength you don’t have now.
Be brave, be honest with yourself, and most importantly, let love—not fear—guide your choices.
Your 32 year old self
Julie Cross is a former YMCA Gymnastics Program Director turned full time Young Adult author. Her debut novel, Tempest (St. Martin’s Press) and the sequel, Vortex are both available for purchase wherever books are sold. The Tempest series has sold in 21 territories, Tempest is an International Bestseller, and was optioned for film long before the first book released. The Tempest series follows nineteen year old, Jackson Meyer as he races through time…literally to save the life of his girlfriend, Holly and learn the truth about his past.
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