Letters to me

My friend Anita Mathias wrote a letter included in this little book, and offered me a copy for review.

I met Anita at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg when I was in college. We reconnected through Facebook just a year or three ago. She blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires and has published two books.

Editor Dan Schmidt invited each of the various authors to write a letter to their younger self — at any age, about any situation. I am not familiar with the other work of any of the authors, and I only recognized one other name — Brian McLaren.

Three of the letter-writers particularly moved me with their outpouring of grace, love, acceptance, and warmth to the younger self.

Penny Nash, for one, tells her younger self that she was not, as she then thought, solely responsible for everything. She offers that self a different perspective, some reflections on her experience — like this one, about church: “Your previous experience guided your focus toward avoiding rejection or potential admonishment instead of teaching you to expect to receive love and support from a community” (30). Self-reliance isn’t the wise choice it seems to be; “I wish you had known the difference between fixing something and being healed” (31) and

I wish you’d had compassion for yourself instead of judgment and disapproval. Because at the heart of the matter, despite your courage and positive approach, you pulled away from God and others and kept to yourself because deep down you believed you were defective and unworthy. (32)

Another, Margot Starbuck, reassures her younger foster child self that she is “worth taking care of” and “need not depend upon any particular relationships in order to be accepted” (47). Because of the Father’s complete embrace, it’s okay to “simply be who you are, tears, frowns, and all,” since “nothing can change your inherent acceptability” (47).

And Tamara Lunardo, in a voice that reminds me of Dear Sugar, pours out compassion and love on her younger unmarried mom self:

There is plenty of room on a church pew for the broken; but shame, baby doll, it doesn’t fit, because no matter where you are now and where you’ll be later, you are the girl whose hairs have always been numbered, the girl clothed in the righteousness of Christ (103).

Lyla Willingham Lindquist’s life didn’t follow the plan, and that turned out to be fine, despite her son’s misgivings. As she puts it, “So many people think there’s a sure-fire, idiot-proof way to know the right thing. They get this idea that God’s whole plan for every person on earth can be derailed with one small misstep” (21). But life isn’t that linear, that tightly determined.

Kristin Ritzau, remembering what it was like to realize how nasty the movie world is, notes that “Thick skin is a coping mechanism, not a way of life” (62).

Therese Schwenkler gently explores the intertwining of love and need — such as how thinking one has to meet another’s need in order to be loved by that person can lead to a “begrudging sort of giving — the kind that has taken from your soul and squandered your sense of self” (79).

Several writers address spiritual growth of one kind or another. McLaren most pointedly. His letter is a lovely one full of encouragement to a younger self with doubts and questions, caught in the slippery slope, assuring him that even though the details of theology seem to be shifting, “God is real. God is faithful. God is good” (122).

Other letters talk about the most annoying rooster, wistful envy of a sled-dog trainer, jobs, relationships, and, of course, all sorts of things about writing and the writing life.

Anita’s letter is focused on that latter topic. Eleven pages of advice for the aspiring writer cover such things as the 10,000 hours to mastery idea, saturation reading, keeping a regular schedule for writing every day, making good use of teachers and other connections and recognizing unhelpful ones, listening to intuition, resisting the chase after more and more validation, and the importance of real friendship.

It’s interesting to see what varied approaches to the prompt the authors took — what they focused on, how they addressed it, the tone they took with their younger selves. You can find Letters to me in various places, including Amazon.

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