I Was a Teenage Letter Writer

So I feel like we’ve come a long way together. I feel like I can really open up to you. I feel like it’s time you knew the kind of person I really am. Because that’s what happens on this blog. Vulnerability. Realness. Raw grit. We don’t hold back, and we can’t stop.

Sorry, I’ll move on.

This particular story starts when I was in the sixth grade and a youth pastor and his family moved in next door. They inevitably invited us to their church, and shortly after, we became members. At the tender, impressionable young age of 11, I was baptized into the United Methodist Church and confirmed later that year, embracing my newfound religion like I was the unpopular but pretty when I don’t wear my glasses female lead in a teen flick and Jesus was the jock who looks past it all.

I was the kind of Christian girl some might say was often “moved by the Spirit.” That’s just a nice way of saying I was deeply emotional. I wept at every altar call. You guys. Every. Altar Call. I rededicated my life to Christ at every opportunity to the point where (not the same) youth pastor pulled me aside after one particularly moving sermon and said, “Again?” (Just kidding — but I’m one hundred percent sure he was thinking that). I shed tears whenever I gave my testimony at Fellowship of Christian Students (which was often). And I was most definitely the girl in the front row at YoungLife meetings with her hands raised in the air, eyes closed, so overcome with emotion I could barely mouth the words to “Shout to the Lord”.

Verdict: Sappy. Boy, was I sappy.

Coupled with the fact I’ve always fancied myself a writer, and we are entering some dangerous ground, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m talking bad-poetry dangerous. I’m talking write-my-own-praise-songs dangerous. I’m talking lengthy-heartfelt-prayers-in-a-trembling-voice-during-Sunday-School dangerous.

I’m talking love-letter dangerous.

To recap, I: a). was (am) a Christian, b). was (am) a sentimental, weepy little thing, and c). was (am!) a lover of the written word. You guys, a storm was a-brewin’.

It was the summer before ninth grade and, like every summer in southern Alabama, it was ridiculously hot. Our church’s youth ministry did everything in their power to keep us busy and well-hydrated, which meant opening up the Family Life Center every day and organizing indoor tournaments (from basketball to kickball to ping-pong), pool parties at the houses of those lucky enough to have swimming pools, and the occasional lock-in weekend at our local laser tag arena. It. Was. Awesome.

And being the dedicated, emotionally invested Christian I was meant I was pretty much at every church-related function on the schedule.

And he, oh, he…

Sigh.

He was my Sunday school teacher’s son. (You can cue the Disney princess music now if you’d like.) He was also going to be in the ninth grade, though we went to different schools (probably why I didn’t stalk notice him sooner). AND he was also at church whenever the doors were open, usually creaming everyone else at pool. A fellow ninth grade Christian church-frequenter? MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN, if you ask me.

(However. I would like for the record to show he noticed me first, thank you very much.)

(He just didn’t know what he was getting himself into.)

We flirted the only way fourteen-year-old Christians know how: he teased me for sucking at pool, I showed off during kickball, he sat next to me in Sunday School, I wrote down his prayer requests like there was going to be a test. We were totally on our way to being Zack and Kelly, the Kirk Cameron-approved version.

And then one afternoon, my friend overheard him telling someone else he had a crush on me and she reported back to me quick-like. BOOM. Yeah, it happened. Open the floodgates, people, the floodgates of EMOTION.

How did I use this piece of intelligence, you might be wondering? Did I squeal? Probably. Did I wonder when he was going to ask me out? Inevitably. Did I finally have the courage to call him that night? My sources say yes. (Hey, thanks, Church Directory!) Did I automatically start envisioning our wedding day? I won’t rule that out.

What I didn’t do was Chill. The crap. Out.

What I eventually did, when he didn’t ask me out the next day or the next, or after a few weeks, then months, which may or may not have included my phoning him excessively a few times from the corner of my bedroom closet so my mom and little sister wouldn’t know I was like, so in LOVE with a boy, was write down my feelings on three sheets of college-ruled looseleaf.

And then give it to him.

I know, you guys, I KNOW. I’m groaning and cringing and shaking my head right along with you.

What made my love letter so different though was the way I appealed to God’s will in this whole messy affair. That’s right, friends, I absolutely called in the God Guns.

I wish I had the foresight to photocopy this letter for my (and your) amusement years and years later (with the added bonus of using it as a humiliation-inducing deterrent for my daughter warning her against the follies of boy-craziness), but if I had the foresight to do that, then I probably would have been wise enough not to write it in the first place, MUCH less give it to him.

While I have since blocked the painful specifics of that letter from my memory, I do remember inciting God’s perfect plan, His involvement in our developing friendship, and how He MUST have had a greater purpose for us. Surely I wouldn’t like this boy so, so, SO MUCH if it wasn’t for some God-divined reason, right?

Well, fourteen-year-old Self thought so. I even lamented this to my best friends who in turn wisely offered to pray for me, assuring me God sometimes puts a comma where we think He put a period. (Which only led me to believe we would one day get married and look back over our missed opportunity, laughing heartily at our pre-pubescent silliness. Pretty sure that’s how it happened in The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Logan Likes Maryanne!)

Needless to say, I didn’t marry that boy. We never even went on a date (and by “date” I really mean “get dropped off at the mall by our parents at the same time”). We actually never even spoke of that letter ever again. And I’m pretty sure I was the reason he stopped going to church. OMG, just kidding, you guys. He didn’t stop going to church. But he did sit as far away from me as possible for a while (and avoid basically all eye contact) after receiving THE LETTER. But I mean, can you blame him?

Needless to say, that was the first and last love letter I ever gave a boy. (Notice I said “gave” — I have, in fact, written several love letters since then, I’ve just had the sense to not give them away, or, more accurately, to give them to my husband, who, having read them, is legally contracted to stick around and still wants to sit beside me in Sunday School. Love you, honey!)

I’d call myself an incurable romantic but that sounds much too normal.

What I really was was a dope who honestly thought God’s will was bent on cosmically aligning the fates of a junior high romance. Don’t worry, Self these days is much more in control of her faculties and tear ducts.

These days, I know my depth of emotion and sentimentality are things about me God designed, whether intentional or by accident (just kidding). Had I given Him the room to fully cultivate those desires and traits in me, I would probably have a much (ahem, MUCH) shorter list of Embarrassing Moments. (But that would be boring, wouldn’t it? WOULDN’T IT?)

It is who God created me to be, and a small inkling of His own depth of emotion and tenderness for His creation. In fact, aren’t we all inklings of God’s character, our very best Selves just a scratch of God’s infinite goodness? We were all fashioned to be His reflection; we just sometimes let our lesser Selves get in the way and write three-page (front and back probably) love letters to fourteen-year-old boys. (None of that sounds like a good idea, honestly. What was I thinking?)

I know God delights in romance. He Himself wrote the greatest love story of all time when He, a star-crossed Lover separated desperately from His beloved, did the only thing He could do to restore that relationship: He bought our freedom, our passage and now-rightful belonging into Heaven’s kingdom, at the cost of His own Son’s demise. What a best seller, right?

If only I had trusted His pen over mine all those years ago.

(But in the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess if the government ever makes time-travel available to civilians and not just to scientists and Denzel Washington, I am SO jumping at the chance to slap that letter out of my fourteen-year-old hands.)
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