To my childhood self
My brother Dan (left) and me on the Nueces River near Uvalde, TX – 1977
If you were to write a letter to your childhood self, what would it say? Here’s mine…
Dear Little Dave:
You is smart, you is kind, and you is important. Okay, that’s from a movie that’s popular now, but it’s true. You’ll need to carry this with you for a lifetime.
So what’s up, little buddy? Still living that carefree life and wishing desperately to grow up so you can pay bills, talk to insurance companies on the phone, and work like a dog 1000 hours a week? Yes, there’s some awesome stuff about being grown up, but don’t wish your life away. Once you grow up, you can never go back again. Once you lose your innocence, you can never quite find it again.
When you’re in fourth grade your parents are going to move to Davison. You will love a lot of things about your new life there but buddy, there are some really tough years coming.
You’re gonna find yourself spending a lot of time alone. You’re going to grow increasingly afraid of people. You’re gonna struggle to find friends in your new school. And you’re gonna take more than your share of lumps. It’s gonna be rough. Stay sensitive and kind, but fight back once in a while. If you do, even if you lose, you’ll find yourself increasingly looking in the mirror and seeing someone worth fighting for.
Be nicer to your brother. He’s gonna be your best friend one day. Spit on him less.
Tons of girls will call you to talk to you about how much they are in love with some of your friends. Sometimes you’ll wish you could tell them how you feel — that you’re already crushing on them. Take a few risks. You’ll definitely get your heart broken, pal, but it’s just one more way to honor yourself.
Be nicer to your parents. Nobody’s perfect and they’re good people. Give them a break. Try to see things from their perspective. As a parent, trust me on this — you definitely wouldn’t want to have to raise a kid like you.
You know how you keep blowing off your school counselors who want you to do a college prep curriculum? Wise choice, my friend. Keep listening to your heart. You’re doing the right thing. But do yourself a favor and try to lose some of the attitude. You won’t exactly invent the rebellious teenage boy who won’t let anybody tell him what to do schtick. Try to learn while you are young that you can go your own way in life without snubbing your nose at everyone who tries to help you or give you any guidance.
Your first year at your new school in Davison, you’re going to hear a girl named Christy Weidman sing at a talent show. You will be mesmerized and star struck by this girl at that moment, and you will never forget how she sounded, or how she looked, or how you felt. You’re gonna become really good friends with her towards the end of high school and start dating (I know — Yucky! But it’ll all be cool then!) You’ll find her to be the kindest, sweetest, most down-to-earth and caring person you have ever known. Not long after you graduate, you’re gonna marry her. Dude, I know — total trip! She’s gonna blow away all of your finely crafted (and never really true) ideas about “evil popular people” and she’ll show you what it means to simply judge people on their own merits. Listen to her. Learn from her. Most of all, learn to see yourself through her eyes. Take it seriously when she tells you who she sees. You’ll hear her saying, “You is smart, you is kind, and you is important.” Oh, one more thing about her. She knows far better than you do what your potential is. Trust her.
The first year you move to Davison, you’re going to make a friend named Sandi. You’ll feel safe with her and will treasure her all of her life. Spend more time with her. That’s all you need to know about that.
Go to therapy early on. That rough time I told you about after you move to Davison? Yeah, that’s gonna mess you up pretty bad, little buddy. The sooner you get going on that the sooner you can find freedom.
Your senior year of high school, when you and Jody Collins cut study hall and hang out at Big Boy, your teacher is going to give you detention the next day. You’re gonna already know that’s coming, but you won’t be prepared for how much he’s going to seem to enjoy it. Take your lumps and let it go. Definitely consider not standing up in the middle of study hall and telling him to f**k off. You’re just gonna get suspended, and end up feeling like an idiot years later when you bump into him and you’re a pastor. Try to live in a way that will require you to write the fewest apology letters possible down the road.
Oh yeah, you’re gonna be a pastor. I’ll give you a minute to breathe into a paper bag…
It’s okay! Remember how much you struggled in your public speaking class? Remember how you took a C because you always cut your speeches short just so you could sit down? Well, you’re gonna speak to a couple hundred people every week. And once in a while you’ll speak to nearly 1000 people at a time.
It’s okay! I’ll give you another minute to breathe into a paper bag.
But get this. Turns out you’re gonna be good at it. In fact, you’ll even officiate a funeral one day where your former public speaking teacher (Ms. Brock) and your former American Lit. teacher (Mrs. Hobart-Parks) are going to be in attendance. That will totally freak you out and make you so nervous, but they will hug you afterwards and tell you you did a fantastic job and that they are so proud of you. You’ll feel like a grown-up. It will feel amazing.
I guess that’s just a way of saying, I promise that you’re gonna get that chance you want so badly to make your mark, and to help others know —
well — to help them know that they are smart, they are kind, and they are important.
I hope you listen to some of what I’m saying, but if I know you at all (and I think I do), something tells me you won’t listen to any of this. But just know this. Your struggles will not be in vain. You have a contribution to make. That message of love and grace and hope you will proclaim to others every week — that message is for you.