With respect to the chaos theory and the fragile time-space continuum, if I had a chance to go back in time, I’d choose the birthday that marked the beginning of each of the four decades I’ve been alive, starting at age ten. I wouldn’t change anything, however, I would offer my younger self advice and encouragement. I would also share the lessons learned from very trying periods I’ve experienced in my forty-three years on earth.
After what I feel will be a difficult time convincing my younger self that I’m not some crazy uncle that shares a striking resemblance to him, I would sit myself down and share the following.
Take school seriously over the next few years and put forth more effort when practicing the piano. I know you don’t particularly like her, but your third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mitchell is by far the most passionate and caring teacher you will ever have. I know you think she hates you, but she believes in you and wants you to succeed.
Ignore Corey Mason’s teasing about your crush on Tiffany Castleberry. As horrible as it was last year, the day you and your classmates at Garden Villas Elementary watched the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in the school library is a day you will never forget. Right after the horrific explosion, when Tiffany buried her head in your chest and wept, you experienced a sense of strength and intimacy that you didn’t quite understand. That moment will provide the framework for your character and the foundation for the man you want to become. You will struggle with your role in the lives of the women you will encounter in the future, but Tiffany’s choice to expose her vulnerability to you will forever anchor your desire to a better man. The decision you will make about whether to give her the love letter you spent three days writing and editing is the right decision. You won’t regret it.
Your fallout with Korey will prove itself to be very insignificant. You will lose contact over the years and both of you will experience trials that will make you stronger. Korey is going to be a great man and one of your closest friends. One day his life is going to inspire you and provide you empirical evidence of God’s favor, grace, and enduring love.
In two years, you will experience a very traumatic event. No matter what you may tell yourself, it was not your fault!
I know that you are questioning the decisions you’ve made up until this point. You’re wondering if you should have left college to join the Navy and whether or not it was a smart idea to get married at 19 years old. I’ll be honest with you, your time in the military will definitely make an impact on your life in the years to come, but you weren’t ready for marriage. Actually, it will be at least another ten or twelve years before you will understand the point of marriage. I know you currently believe that getting married was the next logical step after dating. Unfortunately, that erroneous concept of marriage will cause you to make some very bad decisions that will result in very difficult consequences.
In about a year, you will have a son. Although you are not going to be a very good husband to his mother, you are going to be a phenomenal father. Don’t get frustrated and don’t allow the shortcomings and inadequacies of your father to question your ability to raise him. He is going to be an amazing man that will keep you constantly in awe of his talents, compassion, and capacity for love. He will be twice the man that you are right now when he reaches his twentieth birthday and he will contribute all of his success to you.
I know you think you’re missing out on fun and excitement, but you aren’t. You have a great life and that feeling you’re chasing isn’t real. Over the next ten years, you will have an opportunity to travel to almost every continent on the globe. Take a mental inventory of your adventures and revel in each moment that you find yourself on foreign land. The people and experiences you will encounter will shape your future political and social views.
There will be a man in the small Haitian village, Labadee that will impart profound words of wisdom to you. Don’t wait too long to embrace those words and start living by them.
You’ve come along way. Stop questioning yourself. Deal with your pain and depression. The nightmares you are having are not normal. Your attempts at hiding your agony are going to cause you to continue to question your value.
The affair that ended your marriage has caused more damage than I know you are willing to admit to right now. Your lapse in judgment and lack of integrity will make you question yourself for years to come. Your son and his mother will eventually forgive you, but you have caused a disruption in their lives that will never go away. In their own time, they will rebuild their trust in you. That trust will be pivotal to your healing process and it will motivate you to keep pursuing a better version of yourself.
I know this will be hard to hear, but in a few years, you will sink to the lowest point of your life. Your suicide attempt will be a major paradigm shift and life-changing event. Waking up after taking over fifty muscle relaxers and pain killers will give you a fresh perspective and place your life on a new trajectory. God will reveal to you that your life has a very unique and definitive purpose. Take some time to actively discover that purpose and embrace it. I promise you that you are well-suited for how God wants to use you. Even though you will run from your calling, God will be persistent.
As you begin to rebuild and reshape your perspective, you are going to hurt a woman very deeply and then marry a different woman who will halt your progress and allow you to embrace mediocrity. She’s going to try to pull you into the darkness of her mental illness. You are going to define your worth by your ability to endure her pain. When the time comes, let her go. Learn from the lessons she’s taught you, but fight the temptation to continue to be her problem solver. Her co-dependency will make you feel needed but it will also emotionally drain you. She will break you, but you won’t stay broken. Despite a very difficult but triumphant battle with alcohol and pornography, you will heal.
Keep Bobby close. When he shares with you that he’s HIV positive, he will try to convince you that he’s okay, but he isn’t. Answer his calls and remind him that he isn’t alone. Although his family and friends will applaud the heartfelt eulogy you will deliver at his funeral, you will live with immense guilt that he will never hear those words. Accept that his decision to prematurely end his life had nothing to do with you.
Leaving the military will be a great decision and although you will have second thoughts, soon you will receive the job of your dreams. Be careful with your money. The lifestyle you have been trying to portray is coming.
The argument you had with your son will not be as bad as it seems. He loves you and he won’t stray too far. He just needs time to find himself so that he can build up the courage to live his life fully and unapologetically. He’s going to shock you when he informs you that he has given his life to Christ and plans to study theology. Don’t question it. Continue to have long talks with him about life and the importance of pursuing his passions. Trust me, he’s listening.
Stop letting shame prevent you from seeking help. Your therapist is unorthodox, but she truly wants to help you deal with your PTSD from combat and your childhood trauma. I know you think you should be over it by now, but you are going to always need the healthy coping skills she is trying to teach you.
Your failed second marriage does not have the stigma you think it does. You are the only person beating yourself up over your past mistakes. Try your best to remain in a constant state of gratitude because God is about to open some doors for you that will be absolutely mind-blowing! An opportunity you thought you had squandered will soon return and the timing will be perfect.
She’s coming back. The woman you walked away from, whose love you didn’t think you deserve, still loves you. She is going to surprise you with her mercy and grace. Let her love you. She’s still hurt, but her heart is open to reconciliation.
Stop thinking that you are too old to pursue your dreams. People are finally starting to hear your voice and appreciate your perspective. You have been blessed with an amazing ability to express how your pain has impacted you and how you’ve overcome the obstacles you’ve faced over the past four decades.
Keep writing. I know it feels like no one is reading your words, but I promise you they are. Hone your craft. Your passion for words is a gift that you must use. Make a commitment to yourself that you will write daily, even if you never share.
Forgive your father. He desperately wants to make amends and have a relationship with you. Don’t let your anger and disappointment block his efforts to atone for his past mistakes. The forgiveness you seek from others will be hindered by your ability to forgive him. Even when it feels like he isn’t trying, understand that his road was rough and he’s doing his very best to repair your broken relationship.
Stop looking at your past with disdain and embrace the notion that everything that has happened to you had to happen exactly the way it did. You are exactly where God wants you to be. Remember the words your uncle told you while walking on the beach in California, “just because you may feel lonely, that doesn’t mean you’re alone.”
Live an intentional life. Start your day with praise and end it with gratitude. We will have to discover together what adventures your fiftieth birthday will bring, but if the first forty years of your life has taught you anything, believe with unyielding faith that the next sixty years will be absolutely epic!