This is me at 19. I’m wearing my Winn Dixie smock, because I’m surely about to head out to work another 6 hours at the Photo Lab on Lady’s Island (S.C.). I took this photo to use as the basis of a self-portrait for my Painting 101 class at University of South Carolina-Beaufort. I didn’t finish the portrait, on purpose. I got a B, only because I purposefully didn’t finish it. Much to the chagrin of my professor, who was going to give me a D but I insisted it was an A. Strong-willed. That’s something that defines me. Also, opinionated.
I would love to sit down with this girl and tell her a few things. I think she’d tell me a thing or too as well. Like, don’t be afraid to jump. Don’t be afraid to just say what you’re thinking. I’m a bit scared of this girl. She was fearless – but fearful at the same time.
This was before College of Charleston. Before my grandmother died. Before living in France. Before working at the Air Force Base. Before learning about the graciousness of God’s love for me. Before learning that writing is something I was not only passionate about, but something that I could make a living doing. This is the “before”. I am, at the state I am now, the “after”? Is that how it goes, or are we always at a state of before? I like to think that’s how life works. We have a before and there’s truly no after – at least not here on Earth. I think it goes back to that self-portrait that I left unfinished. I wasn’t finished with determining who I was then, and I’m not now. Always in transition. Always room for more paint, more touch-ups, more refining and highlighting. More room for the details that determine a life well-lived and a life well-defined, a life well-loved.
Here’s a few things I’d like to tell this girl, but I know she wouldn’t listen. I got hired in my first “real” job based on the way I answered “How do you react to your mistakes?” with “I learn from them.” So here’s what I’ve learned.
Write thank you notes. Tell your parents you love them. Hug your sisters and brothers and don’t be the first to let go. Look your gremlins in the eye and tell them to take a hike. Listen to your gut and then keep listening to it. Take a walk after dinner. Read a good book all night long just to see what happens. Long soaking baths are the most important part of a stressful day. Crying doesn’t make you a weak person. Yelling doesn’t make you right. Defending yourself doesn’t always involve telling the other person they’re wrong. Winning doesn’t always feel better than losing. Take time to make art. Love happens but never makes sense. God is a rock and He will never leave you, or leave you without someone in your life to love you.