Dear 18 Year Old

This was originally posted on Jess Hover's blog several years ago. This photo was taken when Jessica was 18 years old. It was photoshopped by the photographer. Just so you know. 

Dear 18 Year Old,

I was thinking about you today.
About how life was when I was 18.
And how you might be feeling now. 

There are a few things I've learned over the last 5 years that I wish I knew when I was your age. I thought I should share some with you.

I hope this helps. 

1. "Fish are friends. Not food."

Remember that line from Finding Nemo? When the sharks say that over and over, when they are trying not to eat fish? 

Well friend... that line from the movie has inspired my first thought... Please remember it.

"Boys are friends. Not food." 

As cute as they are. They cannot fill you. Sometimes in our loneliness we end up going to guys for things they were never meant to give us... Like our identities. Don't do it. It will only leave you more insecure than before. Invest in healthy friendships with guys. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how fun it is to genuinely love them, rather than always focusing on ways of getting them to love you. 

2. "Don't give your cookie away." 

This is advice my friend was given from an African American woman last week... "Don't give your cookie away!" Meaning- don't give your purity away! You will want to. I know. We do it for lots of reasons. But please trust me. It is not the best way to do relationships. I've been there. I'll write more on the subject another time but my main point is that being sexual with someone makes you feel closer to them than you really are... It fogs up your ability to think clearly... It changes your priorities... And makes it much harder to know whether or not the relationship is truly healthy. It's not God's design. And even from an atheist's standpoint- it's just not smart. 

Oh and for those of you who would argue by saying- "But what if you marry him & find out he is not good bed?" My answer is this- when you have prioritized friendship & romance until you get married, then when you are finally married you will be so comfortable with him that you will have NO problem talking through your sex. He will be your best friend! You'll be able to figure out together how to make sex great & you'll have the rest of your lives to practice as often as you want!

3. Enjoy being right where you're at. 

Time goes more quickly than we realize. We like to focus our attention on going somewhere else, doing something else, or being with someone else. But just be here now. Love the people you are with. Soak up the moment. Laugh as much as you can. Spend time with your family. Look for creative ways to make things more memorable. Write sweet notes to your friends & teachers. Decorate things. Do everything possible to find fun in the mundane. Its amazing how boredom can steal our joy. One of my favorite friends in high school was Angie. She would always think of outrageous things for us to do that would make life more exciting-- Like dressing up in crazy costumes & heading to the mall. There is so much about life to be delighted in. Find it! 

4. Wear sunscreen. 

If you want to be tan try the lotion that makes you gradually darker. You will age much faster if you tan a lot now. Especially if you frequent the tanning beds. 

5. Short cuts take longer. 

I know. You wouldn't think so. But I keep finding out that they do. You skip something now only to find out it takes way longer to go back & do  it later. So do your homework. Even if you have to host homework parties where all your friends come over & you get your stuff done together. Anything to make homework more fun. Go to your classes. Try to actually learn Spanish... or German... or any foreign language, instead of just trying to pass the'll use it later. Whatever the shortcut is... its probably not worth it, just be diligent now. 

6. Be gentle with yourself. 

This world can be hard on us-Reminding us of our flaws & harping on our imperfections. Continue to be kind in your thoughts toward yourself- there are enough people who will tell you that you can't do it. Go ahead & be your own biggest fan.

7. Say "thank you" when people give you compliments. 

8. Speak life.

Words are so powerful. Be careful with them. Don't gossip. Really, don't talk about people when they are not around unless you are specifically seeking help for how to fix a situation. You know when you are gossiping- It usually feels good, but it is at the cost of someone else's feelings. Oh & don't "Ask someone to pray for Brittany because she slept with Ryan." That is still gossiping about Brittany. Instead of speaking badly of people, try looking for positive things to say. Be an encourager. Lift people up. Friends will feel safer when they are around you if you don't speak badly of others, because they will know that you won't speak badly of them either. Be "that girl who never has anything bad to say about anyone". It doesn't mean that you don't sometimes think bad thoughts, it just means you practice self-control and don't say them. Once you start doing it, it will get easier. 

9. You are not fat.

That's all. And you don't need to weigh yourself to see if I'm right. In fact I haven't weighed myself in years & my mind is very thankful for that. 

10. Find older people to invest in you. 

It helps so much. They'll have good advice when you need it. And hugs when you need them too. Tell them what you are going through & allow them to speak into your life. Even if you don't like all the advice that they give, they probably know some things that you don't know.

11. Everyone takes bad pictures sometimes. 

Don't get frazzled if you see a picture of yourself that you don't love. It does NOT mean you are ugly... There is a lot that plays into a good picture. Lighting is one key element. If that's off then anyone will look bad. 

12. Church is awesome.

Find a sweet one. Get plugged in. Go on a retreat or something that forces you to have friends. We are not meant to do life alone. We need solid people around us- people who love God, and people who will genuinely love us. Obviously church people aren't perfect. They are normal people. But they are lovers of Jesus & even in their imperfections they are great. Like you. Because you'll blow it too. So if you are all having grace for each other, leaving room for mistakes, you'll experience the fantastic gift of Christ-centered friendships.  

13. Read books. 

Do it. They will teach you, increase your vocabulary, & even quiet your soul- which is much needed in this loud world. (I'm a fan of anything by Francis Chan.) 

14. Guys do not think like us. 

I promise he is not mulling over your last text & asking all of his friends what exactly you meant when you said "yeah lol see you there." Try not to over-complicate things. Guys usually mean what they say. 

15. Sometimes certain music, magazines & movies can influence you to feel bad about yourself.

Just saying. I'm not an advocate of being a hermit. But I highly recommend thinking about whatever it is you are feeding your mind. In the same way you think about what you feed your body. Or what gas you put in your car. If you feed something garbage, it won't run properly. So if you start to feel really insecure, or constantly focused on temporary things like finding boyfriends, getting skinny, and having more money... figure out where the messages are originating. Guard your heart. Even facebook & instagram can cause you to start comparing yourself & your life to others... which can lead you to feeling miserable. If that happens, don't be afraid to unplug for a day. Whatever it takes to keep yourself free from self-hatred.

16. Don't feel bad if you don't have all the answers about your life & your future yet. 

It's a lot of pressure to be an adult & suddenly be expected to have a plan. Just take the next step, keep moving & be faithful with whatever is right in front of you. The rest will come. 

17. Starbucks 101: 

A latte is espresso with steamed milk. A cappuccino is espresso with mostly foam from steamed milk. A caramel macchiato is a layered espresso drink- meaning they typically serve it without stirring it. So the bottom layer is vanilla, the next is steamed milk, then the espresso is poured over the foamy top, and finally caramel is drizzled over the foam. 
And I always drink my Starbucks through a straw because it helps prevent my teeth from getting stained. Be careful though – straws make it easier to burn your tongue. 

18. Last one – i learned at 18 that to fall in love with Jesus is to fall in love with life. 

Relationship with Him gives meaning to everything. Get to know Him. Pray. Open up the Bible. Go to church. Listen to a podcast (I love the ones from Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church). God tells us that if we seek Him we will find Him. 

"Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." Psalm 34:8

You are so precious.