This Is Not How I Thought Life Would Go: A Letter to My 20 Year Old Self

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Dear Sarah, the 20 year old, the one who thinks she is going to marry her boyfriend and move to Mexico for missions work, yea, you were wrong. Very wrong. 

You’re 33 now, and you thought you would be further along. More accomplished. More successful. 

You thought there would be more in your bank account. You thought more people would call you boss, or at least supervisor. 

You thought you would have a title, respect, something to show for the hours you put into the degrees, the years you have in experience. 

You thought for sure you would’ve traveled the world, that your passport would be brimming with the ink of new places and stories. You thought you would live far away, move every so often, start over. 

You thought you’d find love in serendipitous ways, that there would be romance and wild stories to tell. You hoped you’d never have to wonder how he felt about you. 

You thought you would live overseas, at least for a while, that your eyes would be wide with color and language and culture, the beautiful people of the world filling up and stretching out your soul.

I hate to disappoint you, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. 

You did get that Masters degree, found a good man who loves you like crazy, who laughs at your jokes and still thinks you’re beautiful. There are kids, two of them, and they are lovely. As charming and good-looking as you’d hoped.

But you kept changing your mind on your career. Even now, you don’t know what to do next. If you’d stuck with your original career path you picked when you were 14, you’d be a therapist by now, someone with letters behind your name, someone whose opinion was considered ‘expert’. 

But you have a job and a life that are small, and it’s hard not to feel like a failure on the bad days, or on the regular days, give in to that nagging suspicion that you settled, that the adventure you live inside a fenced-in yard is not really the one you wanted.

I know you thought you’d never settle for suburbia, for predictability. You thought you’d never prioritize a paycheck or healthcare coverage. You swore you’d have other things to say besides how the kids are doing. 

Sometimes I feel sad. I miss the life you dreamed up. I wonder if somehow I am missing out on the me you thought I’d be.

I think maybe I should’ve taken the chance to head to India after college. I should’ve at least moved back to Oregon, or maybe California. I wonder if I’ve lost the passion and made peace with living small.

But what is success anyway? Am I failing at life cause it looks nothing like I planned? 

Or maybe, I am right in the middle of the story I always wanted to write.

20 year old Sarah, you didn’t know that the dream of family meant sacrifice. It meant giving up some of the things you want to give the ones you love what they need. It meant deferring dreams but still learning to nurture them in your heart for the right time, rather than burying them in anger or desperation. Love and growing up meant throwing your weight behind the dream of your spouse so he can see his passion come to life.

You thought there would be more adrenaline, but instead there is more caffeine, and mostly from sleep deprivation. 

You didn’t know that when you were 20. I can’t fault you for that.

But let me assure you: it’s still me over here, still a woman in pursuit of adventure. I’m not who you thought you’d be, but I’m still a woman who longs to love and be desired by her man. It’s still me, someone who is learning to love herself in the many shapes she takes. And who, despite the flabby body and saggy eyes, is actually growing to love the girl in the mirror instead of loathe her. 

I don’t have all the souvenirs like you hoped I would, the proof of mattering. But you figured out that results aren’t the point, that the story isn’t over even after you’re dead. You’re learning, ever so painfully, that to live a life that will extend beyond yours means sowing your little seeds into the ground, invisible, even though you may never see their harvest.

Even though it’s breaking your heart, you’re learning we’re called to smallness, to plodding on day after day, even when it looks like everything you’re doing isn’t working, when it all feels pointless. You’re learning to find God in the quiet and the mundane, in the delays and disappointments, in the places you thought he’d never go.

This life is nothing like you planned or hoped. Maybe you’d feel disappointed if you saw this 33 year old you now.

But you are being faithful. You are learning to love, to love God, yourself, this life.

That is all that is required of you. And you know that now.

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