This morning I looked through an old album of photos of when you were little and thought about how fast time has passed. All mothers do this. When our children leave home, we get all sentimental and miss those years when our kids still needed us to tie their shoes and put on Bandaids on bruised knees.
We miss the times together on the bed or on the sofa reading The Rainbow Fish, the Wizard of Oz or other classics. I think back on the first time you sat by yourself, walked by yourself, rode a bicycle by yourself, went to school by yourself, swam by yourself, spoke in front of a crowd by yourself, played the piano, sang solo, spelled your name, took the school bus by yourself, had your first sleepover, went on a school social, had your first test, got your first tooth and when you lost our first tooth. I remember the first time you kissed a boy (you were four) and the first time a friend betrayed you. I remember your first doll, your first pair of shoes, your first pair of underwear, your first bicycle, your first backpack, your first pink dress with sequins and the first book you read by yourself.
Now, you are going to live life by yourself. All by yourself.
I hope you do remember to cover public toilet seats with paper before you sit on them. You must make sure you get enough sleep every night. Take some time to read some of those books I have told you to read. Did you get dental floss? You must floss. And how about sunscreen? A little flax seed in your cereal every morning will do you so much good.
I am pretty sure you will take good care of yourself. You may skip the flossing, but I know you will never forget about the hand washing.
The thing I am more concerned about is how you are going to spend the rest of your life. Will you spend it trying to look good, and trying to make others think that you are in charge of your own life and your circumstances, that you are invincible? Or will you spend your life enjoying who you are, living for that which really matters, and taste that life is good?
When one is as young as you are (or as old as I am) one often thinks that happiness is when we finally “make it.” We spend our lives looking for a happiness that actually already is inside us. What we spend our lives chasing after we will never find if we keep running after it.
It is hard to describe this thing that is within you (and me). Some call it our spirit. That is how I think about it. You can feel it sometimes if you take the time to be really, really quiet. You may feel it when you listen to some music that does something more than just entertain you. You may feel it as you take a deep breath and admire scenery more beautiful than words. You may feel it when you are so connected to people that all you want is to spend more time with them. You may feel it when you get to do an activity that makes you forget about time and place. You may feel it when you pray.
We can see it when people are kind to another person. Especially if it is being kind to a person that is neither good-looking, rich nor popular.
We are taught to believe that we are here in this world to succeed, and the world has defined for us what that success is. We see it on the billboards, on social media (where the goal seems to be to look as close to perfect as possible, and one’s worth is determined by the amount of likes), on TV and in glossy magazines. But you are not your bank account (or mine for that matter. Sorry we never had enough money to buy all these brand-name clothes, shoes and purses). You are not your successes and failures. You are Elise. You are here to be loved and to love. You are free, even though that is hard to believe at times.
So how to you feed your spirit? Not with flax seeds. Not with a mask of makeup and perfectly shaped eye brows. No, you do it by start walking by the light you have been given. Take the first step.
I am sorry to say so, but it seems that whether you choose to follow Jesus (he is the one I cheer for, as you know) or any other great leader, you will have to start by helping others. You don’t have to follow me to Burma, and to Partners, unless that is what you want to do. But do look for the ones who have less, the ones who are lonely, the ones who are sick or the ones who, for whatever reason, feel that life did not give them a fair chance. Give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, visit the lonely. You will be surprised at how much happiness it will bring your spirit.
Laugh. Laughing an underestimated activity that people stop doing when they grow older and think they need to be responsible. But we need to laugh. Most of all we need to learn to laugh at ourselves.
Rest, and enjoy the small moments of simple pleasures, such as the smell of the ocean, the crumbled-up drawing given by a small child, a smile from a stranger or the taste of the summer’s first strawberry.
So, here I am, hoping that I have not made you fall asleep already. I said all this, when all I really needed to say was this: You are loved. You have all it takes inside you. Don’t follow others if you don’t think it is right. Make your own choices. Don’t try to be perfect. Laugh, love and rest.
And just one last piece of advice: Don’t mix light and dark colors when you do your laundry.
I love you more than words can express,