Dear 18.5 year old NP,
It's me again, your older and (hopefully a little) wiser self. People have asked me why I chose this particular age in my life, 18 and 1/2, and the oddness of the age makes it a worthy question. Right now, at 18.5, you are in the most liminal space of your life, your gap year. You took a year off from school between high school and college, and you're just waiting. Sure, you have just finished the best experience of your life thus far-- an internship with the Senate Majority Leader inside the Capitol. And yes, you felt very grown up living on your own in DC, figuring out life and friendships and how to catch the Metro; you gave countless unqualified tours of the Capitol to unwitting families and school groups, laughed at Bono's platform shoes when he walked into your office, and grew a fondness for the state of Tennessee you never quite expected. You thought you were an adult at this point, and yet you had so much of life to experience. You were waiting to find out your future. So here I am, giving you a bit of a glimpse of it, and also what I wish you would have known then too.
At this point in your life, you've just started realizing that your faith is yours, and not your parents. When you lived in DC, you found and went to church for the first time without your family. You learned that church can happen in a movie theater or a train station, and it freed up something in your spirit. You will also find, in that freedom, a big of confusion and a desire to cling to structure that feels safe and comfortable. It's good to live in that tension between freedom and structure in your faith-- but you're a pendulum swinger, and you'll struggle with this. You will fear silly things like fraternity parties and isolate yourself in a way that shows you are held captive to untruths. In wanting to pursue what you believe to be true, you will sometimes choose morality over faith. Learn this truth sooner rather than later: It's easy to mistake a morally restrained heart for a spiritually changed heart. (Tim Keller)
On Black and White and Grey
You have always been comfortable in the black and white. Absolutes have felt safe and secure for 18.5 years. College will jolt you into a place where the colors become a lot more muddled, and you are completely unprepared for this. You will really struggle with the concept of grace, in a way that seems foreign to a child physically and spiritually raised in the church. As you learn more about God's grace, however, you will also increasingly learn of your desperate need for it. You will keep striving for a point where you're "okay", justified by your actions and your morality, where you can prove yourself worthy of God's goodness and blessing, and you'll send yourself into a tailspin. Learn to live in the tension. Learn to wrestle and debate and rest in the Truth that God is God, and you are not. It's something you'll never master, but the sooner you begin down that journey the more peace you'll find.
Girl, I am not even sure where to start here. When you look in the mirror right now, a size 6 with pretty clear skin and little need for makeup, you see something wholly different. You see flaws and imperfections and undesirable attributes. You and I both can remember where it started: in the 6th grade locker room, where it seemed the "cool" thing to do to point out your flaws in hopes that others would correct you and give you praise. Except the praise didn't come (in hindsight-- who actually looks for praise from 6th grade girls?!), and we started believing all those awful things to be truth. I wish I could tell you things change drastically. I can see from here the waywardness of those warped thoughts, and yet they still plague me (you) today. I still wrestle with the mirror and the scale and outward perception. What I wish so badly for you is that you'd find a freedom that only comes from Christ in this area -- that you won't let it take you captive and occupy all your thoughts -- that you won't let yourself be a prisoner to perceived opinions of others (and sometimes worse, the opinion of yourself).
There are storms ahead, you can be sure. Hold tightly to Jesus. He loves you more than you know, and in Him is the Way, the Truth, and real Life. More to come.