Each early summer, I write a letter to the firstborn daughter of one of my greatest friends. I consider it a privilege, and since I haven't written much exclusively here of late, wanted to share - with her mother's generous permission - this year's message. I took her name out, and replaced it as well as I could, but if the placeholders for the proper nouns sound awkward, this is why.
Or, alternatively, it could just be me.
My Dear, Sweet Girl,
You must hear this so often from your mom and dad, but you are growing up so, so quickly, before our very eyes. I was able to see you this spring, which, though the circumstances were desperately far from ideal, was nonetheless a gift to me, and I was amazed at how tall you are, how beautiful your smile is, and how you are now beginning to become a young woman, rather than the little girl I remembered you to be.
I am writing this from our cabin nestled in the woods of northwestern Maine, where my husband is a Camp Director, and where we spend the summer months. It is a beautiful place, and I hope that somehow, at some point, you will be able to see it in person. If I ever doubt that there is an indescribably large and loving God, I simply have to think of this place, and I lose all doubt that it is true. The world is often ugly and dark and disappointing, but nature is a priceless gift, and it is displayed in generous and flamboyant ways. Wherever you find yourself as a young adult, I hope that you make time and find ways to wander in the outdoors. I promise that it will nourish your soul.
Two things are happening here at this moment. First, it is raining outside – so much more than a drizzle. Coming down against my screen door is cats-and-dogs rain; the kind that thunders on the porch and amasses in puddles the size of swimming pools. It is the type of rain that you dream about when you hike in the desert; the kind that you instinctively want to run from, and yet also the kind you recklessly want to run out into with arms open wide.
Second, our faucet is leaking. It is drip-drip-dripping into a two-liter soda bottle that I have strategically placed beneath it. It has been leaking all morning (signs of a bigger problem, I’d guess), and I have been catching water in vessels of all shape and size in an effort to preserve it for things like flushing the toilet, washing dishes and making tea. However, as I write this letter, the soda bottle has reached its fullness, and water is spilling out over its mouth and flowing down its side in a clean, single stream. It is literally filled to overflowing. It cannot hold even one drop more.
Life is like this sometimes. There are periods in living when it seems like there are challenges pouring down by the bucketful. When pain and obstacles refuse to stop coming, and they are overwhelming the space you have reserved for them, with no respect for your capacity or the strength of your walls. It can feel like there is too much, almost, of everything, and just as I would feel if I were in this storm outside, you simply want a place to get out of the rain.
I often wish this weren’t true. Life tends to feel simple when the skies are clear – love the people you are with, work hard at whatever you are given, and enjoy the small things [for they are the easiest to overlook] – but sooner or later, the heavens cloud over, and something moody and grave rolls over the mountain, blacking out those clear skies. It is a difficult truth: you cannot run from trouble. If not faced, it will always be waiting nearby, like that extra five pounds or spinach in your teeth. Ironically, this is a fact we can all prove by looking at the lives around us, of people who have tried to escape it. Avoiding obstacles, avoiding pain – this is always an illusion, because it is fact: you will have trouble in this world. It cannot be wished away. It cannot be hidden from. It will not disappear if you close your eyes. Please, sweet girl, do not run from it. Trouble is a patient adversary; it will wait for you, and will find when you when you’ve forgotten to be ready.
There is no easy answer to the affliction you are bound to experience in your life. I wish there were. When you face your pain, I guarantee that the grief will be sharp and deep and seem without end. A challenge may require far more from you than you imagine having to give. But please know that in the course of history, you stand in the company of a courageous assembly who have gone before you and have also overcome, and that, like a lighthouse on a rocky shore, you were built to withstand such a storm. And also, like that lighthouse, know that your resilience will depend wholly on how tightly your footing is fastened to that stone.
I hope that you find something to believe in. This is my most precious wish for you. In my opinion, belief is like the mast of a ship in high swells or a compass in the deep forest. In my life, I have been able to do more, with more freedom, enabled by a notion of belonging and purpose, than I could ever have imagined otherwise. Granted, I haven’t climbed any Himalayan mountain or overcome a life-threatening injury, but I have adventured in my own ways, and been challenged and afraid and still felt incredible joy. Human beings are capable of wonderful and fearfully astonishing things, Sweet Girl, but we are bound by skin and blood and bone and inevitably, we will swell and bruise and break. Our bottle will overflow. Our vessel will snap.
There are things that are inevitably beyond our control, and outside of our reach. We are touched by violence and hatred, by disease and by injustice. We are unfortunately, as a human race, also quite often the cause. So while I believe firmly that there is a divine locket in each of us – a space designed to hold a sacred truth – I don’t feel that we have the truth in ourselves. I know myself too well, and have searched there too long to think that I contain the answers I seek. I think we have to go out to find the truth. But – and this is the most important detail – the truth wants to be found.
Seek something in which to believe. This world is complicated. It is in one hand lush and awe inspiring, and in the other desolate and heartbreaking. It will disappoint and hurt you. Find what will ground you, and give you hope. Search for what will fit precisely in that locket, for what will never leave you. Find the stone on which to lay your lighthouse.
And if and when you are curious to know where I have laid mine, I hope I will be here for you to ask. This letter is written in a year of trial and deep sorrow for your family – a year when the rain came and was relentless. I know that both they and I would cast our wishes to spare you from anguish like they have endured (and as their love is greater for you, I imagine their wishes also to be). But each of us knows that like gravity, trouble is bound to come. You will never climb a mountain unless you risk a scratch, unless you dance with disaster, just a little, and life is no different. So what I aspire for you to learn through this year’s letter is that though your control in life is limited and your reach will fall short of changing your circumstance, what your soul believes in will determine your ability to overcome.
Seek your hope, Sweet Girl. Seek the truth.
Find your shelter from the rain.