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May 5, 2017

hello again, dear heart,

I’m gonna start this letter telling you how much you’ve surprised me. I am so blown away at the letters I’ve received this week and the connections that have been made, soul-to-soul, as a result of this site, and the scale of it. I’ve heard from more people and been joined here in this space by more people than I ever dreamt. Truly.

The truth, though, is this: When I sit down to write you a letter, that’s what I’m doing. I’m here with fingers flying over keys, mind and heart focused on you. I picture us here in this room together. I have a hot cup of tea and so do you (lavender chamomile), we look one another in the eyes and then we look away briefly because humans are strange birds and something about eye contact makes us feel naked. But then I start to tell you my story and see  you’re not looking away, that there’s nothing about it that embarrasses you or scares you. You just keep looking at me with warm jacuzzi-tub eyes and open hands cupped around your hot tea.

I want you to know you are the reason I’m here. I would write this letter if it was just you and me, if I knew you were showing up alone today to read it. Then I’d do what I’ve done and will continue to do – I’d beg you to write back. Not just because I’d enjoy it, but because it will most likely be even better for you. We can heal and rebuild places inside ourselves by just speaking words out into the world, just by telling the truth. There’s a freedom and a deep belonging that comes when someone is willing to sit, look us and our beloved mess in the eyes, and not look away.

One of the letters I received this week was from such a light and bright soul, I could feel her coming through the digital words on the digital page. Imagine how potent and special she must be IN PERSON! Geez Louise, could I even handle it? She asked me a question no one’s ever asked me before, a question I love, a question I recently heard my favorite writer, Anne Lamott, answer the night I met her. “ I’d love to know what you would write to your 23 year old self. What would you tell her to hope for and stop worrying about. Anything you feel would have been helpful. :) “

First of all I think I need about thirty more years to do it any kind of justice. But I don’t have thirty more years, so these thirty six are gonna have to do. So I share my response with you here, because I think it was honest and imperfect and raw, and I think I needed it. And if I needed it, grace has taught me you might need it, too.

If I could sit down with my 23 year old self (and what a beautiful question this is!!)  I would tell her so much.. oh boy, that sweetheart. She had no idea what was coming down the pipe for her.. 

I would tell her I’m so sorry, but her brokenness is never going to go away and her propensity to hide it will only make her feel more alone. Because of that, I’d tell her to find one or two really trusted friends, particularly one of them who is older and wiser than she is, and tell them all of her shit. all of it. even the dark and twisty things she thinks no one else could possibly understand. I’d tell her not to expect a perfect response, but that the real gift of these friendships will be in her act of unloading secrets she was never meant to carry alone. 

I would tell her, to borrow advice from my favorite 63 year old woman whom I recently saw, every other woman feels a lot of the same disappointment with their body that she feels with hers, and it’s not going to get any better from here, especially after giving birth twice! I’d tell her the sooner she accepts her body as the vessel meant to carry her through the world, the sooner she learns to take hot magnesium salt baths and slather herself in healing essential oils and drink good wine and eat dark chocolate and make herself hot cups of tea, the sooner she will begin to settle into her existence and focus on more important things than her thighs. 

I’d tell her to stop bitching at her new husband all the time and learn the practice of gentleness and grace. I’d remind her the sooner she learns to accept grace for all the ways she is fractured and broken, the sooner she can love him for who he is, brokenness and all. I’d remind her she didn’t marry Jesus and that her husband will become her rock, best friend, confidant and lover.. if she can just stick it out for the long haul.

I would tell her God loves her, no questions asked, end of story. That even though she can’t understand it, she is irrevocably loved by the force of Divine Love that hung the stars. That there’s nothing she can do to make God love her any more or any less. That God will father her perfectly when her dad dies, that God will mother her gently when her mom goes away for a little while. That he/she will hold her close when it looks like her baby is about to die, when she does CPR to keep him alive, when she has a panic attack after his brain surgery. I would tell her that the acceptance of this love of God has nothing to do with her and God will do all the heavy lifting for her, like any good father/mother would for a helpless child. 

I would tell her she’s strong.. stronger than she even knows, and that she will have to learn that the unfortunate way all humans have to learn it – by standing toe to toe with suffering, with death, with abuse and addiction and fear and coming out of the fight with some scars. But I’d tell her she can do it because she was made for this, this story only she can live. I’d tell her her pain will become the birthplace of a rich and beautiful life.

More than anything, I would tell her to passionately pursue grace as if her life depended on it. I’d tell her the grace she most desires is offered to her is fresh every single day, and never runs out. That her ability to extend that deep, permeating grace to herself and then to others will make her life, her pain, and her gifts all feel worthwhile. I’d tell her grace will surprise her and come in unexpected forms .. but one of the greatest will be the learning to extend gentleness, patience, kindness, love, and hospitality to herself as if she was an innocent little girl. Because somewhere deep inside of her, that fresh darling soul is still spinning around the living room in a pretty blue dress, free as a bird.


ash parsons

ASH! Precious Ash,
This was so beautiful. So blessed to have read this! I’m 25, so I felt like it was spoken directly to me.
Something that has been on my mind lately is how I’m so young and how there’s so much life ahead of me. I know that there is so much ahead of me that I could never anticipate. The good and the bad. And as of late, I’ve been trying to focus on how to prepare for that. It sounds so silly and too head-y. But I know someday I’ll look back at myself at this age, knowing that happened between that time and this. I always try to think of what I would say to myself, and then try to be that right now. I feel like I could look back at 15 year old me and feel the same things. It’s kind of weird being in your twenties because you have some life to look back on, but there’s way more to come.
Anyway, all that to say THANK YOU sweet one. You feel so kindred to me.
Until next time,

Jenna Jenna Jenna,
you sweet and lovely spirit. And oh my good gracious, I’m so like you in the aspect of trying to think ahead, trying to anticipate the good and the bad in hopes I can somehow prepare myself for it. It doesn’t sound silly, it sounds human. But the reality is that it is a little silly. At least in my experience, it doesn’t serve me well. It fills me with worry and fear of what could go wrong or with anticipation and obsession over what could possibly go right.. but either way, it causes me to vacate the life I life now, here, today. Unfortunately, the life I life in this moment, the one where I write you back and think about your dear 25 year old self, it’s the only life I’ve got. The only guarantee is now. you’re here now. I’m here now. somehow we are supposed to find our purpose and joy in this moment and no other. So I think the joy might be in giving up the pursuit of “what if..” or “maybe when..” and learning “right here, right now, how is grace speaking to me and what is she saying?”

of course, all that is great in theory, but I still spend much of my time worrying about what will happen next month, next year, or ten years from now. Thank God there’s grace even in that, dear heart.


dear Ash, I loved your letter and the strong, beautiful words it contained. they really spoke to me. if I met my 23-year old self today, ah that would be so very interesting. for me, not for her, I guess because maybe she’d find me boring and obnoxious with all that advice, it would probably wake her from her dreams and pull her out of escapism. she would offer me gin & tonic and I’d say, ‘ok but just one’ and you know, I’d really mean it. ‘you don’t want to hear this’, I’d say, ‘but here it comes: you should treasure what you have, where you are. don’t overthink and and be more patient and ah, the boys – they should have more to offer than a cool haircut, a love for indie music or a rebellious attitude. don’t fall in love with everybody. don’t drop out of school. talk to your brother and don’t hide from your home, shutting out the ones who are closest to you. embrace your natural hair because why would you look like everybody else? and it also saves a lot of time. dark eyeshadow will never, ever suit you even though you think it makes you look mysterious and grown-up. learn to grow in other ways, but then again so you will and so you have. do you remember when D. said that men age like wine and women age like apples? I’m telling you now that this isn’t true. yes, you will get those slight wrinkles around your eyes and your left knee will ache when the weather changes, you won’t be able to stay up until 4am every night anymore but then that’s ok because you will get to appreciate and enjoy those fresh and lovely early mornings you always spend sleeping in like a comatose. apply suncsreen because uv rays are not a joke! and most of all, calm down dearest because it’s all going to be ok.

this was lovely and good and raw and so meaty. I love that you shared it with me here. I love that you didn’t hold anything back and I love that you remember just how you were at that age. It is so funny, isn’t it, to think about how our 23 year old selves probably wouldn’t listen to us at this age. what riot and how true. And how interesting that the things people tell us (the comment about how men / women age) really do stick with us as we grow past them. I loved this. can’t say it enough. you’re special, dear one. so special.
love and grace to you.

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