Dear past self,

For the past couple years, I’ve been zipping around from one obligation to the next without much time to process it all. Despite most of my wife’s and my bank account handling a rental price that could justly be labeled blasphemous, I didn’t actually see much of our apartment during my time in graduate school.

I had imagined I would encounter some level of difficulty when I registered for full-time coursework in a master’s level program. However, I never imagined the combination of graduate school, work, marriage, and — dare I say it — my own personal needs would summon life’s version of hurricane season for almost three years.

A few tornadoes and a handful of hailstorms and hurricanes later, I’m still alive. And I’m not just a survivor.

I’m better.

I was forced to face some of the parts of myself I found most difficult to love in those metaphorical storms. When I sought shelter from the storms and found no roof to cover my head, dear friends and family offered me a safe haven with them.

I couldn’t have survived without my people.

I’ve written about some of my struggles and the accompanying feelings of shame and fear and loneliness. I’ve written and spoken about my brokenness and how it has affected my relationships across the board. Now I can finally write words I never thought I would.

I’m dedicating this letter to the version of me in 1999 who lost a friend because I “wasn’t popular enough” and to the version of me in 2003 when my childhood best friend told me we had “grown apart.”

I’m also dedicating this letter to my innocent childhood self who discovered pornography by accident and fell into a seemingly depthless ocean of shame as I entered adolescence.

I’m writing to the version of me in 2004 and 2005 when I felt I could never truly belong to a group due to my own struggles with shame.

And to the version of me in 2009 who struggled to be vulnerable without dabbling in the dark arts of emotional dependency.

And to the bruised and beaten warrior in 2010 who scrounged for morsels of hope in the deepest, most dangerous trenches of my life as I fought clinical depression.

I dedicate this letter to the version of myself in 2011, 2012, and 2014 when I ran the hamster wheel of college graduate without work experience, when I was unemployed, depressed, scared, and alone.

Finally, I’m writing to the bravest version of myself in 2015 when I decided that something had to change as I spontaneously applied to graduate school. I took a risk and said yes to an opportunity I’d fantasized about for several years.

I changed the course of my passion and motivation to focus on mental health at the master’s level as I grieved and shook with terror over thoughts of possible detachment from my biggest dreams. I promised myself I would never forget my dream but that I had to do something to fight for a better life.

To my past self, thank you for clinging to hope and trusting a spiritual call to action, even though it took every ounce of courage left in the reserve.

Thank you, because now I’m better. I feel more connected to God than ever before. I feel loved, valued, and cherished by people all across the country. I unarguably have the most supportive and resilient wife on the earth.

And I finally have places where I feel fully loved, seen, and known.

I used to roll my eyes whenever I’d read a story of an overcomer or a survivor of the storms, because it wasn’t my story of overcoming. I was still hurting, and it killed me inside to see someone else doing well when I wasn’t.

I envied where they were.

I recently heard this simple yet warmly inspiring saying:

Where you are is not who you are.

It’s so true, and it’s something I wish I’d known back then.

The current situation you are going through isn’t guaranteed to last forever. A calm after the storm is possible. Even if your reserve of hope and faith is low (or seemingly empty), point your eyes in a new direction and run wholeheartedly toward something new.

You might be terrified, but that’s actually a good thing. Courage is doing what is right and good in the face of fear, and fear is evidence one is on the path for change and potential growth.

I want to encourage you wherever you are right now to keep on fighting. If you are following Messiah, you are on the side of the war that wins in the end. Through metaphorical bombs, explosions, and hidden landmines, the journey won’t be easy.

You don’t have to be bound by addiction or shame or idolatry. You aren’t defined by your same-sex attraction. Your worthiness doesn’t depend on others’ perception of your identity, either. It doesn’t even depend on your perception of self.

You are inherently worthy simply because you were designed by the perfect Creator who sees you, loves you, and knows you.

I can’t tell you how long the battles will last, but I urge you to pause and look around. Who’s there for you?

If you don’t see anyone you can run to, be that person for someone else. Then wait a little longer and fight a little harder if you have to.

Stop, breathe, pray, and wait. Help is on the way.

From the lighthouse in the distance,

The 2017 version of me

If you could write a letter to your past self, what would you say? What storms have you weathered in recent years — storms that made you better?

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