Friday, September 2, 2011

Dear Cicily...

If you could have a conversation with your 13-year-old self, what message, advice, or encouragement would you want to share?” To help answer this question, I posed it on Facebook. Here were the responses:

“Keep going and don't worry- you're going to love it!”

“Well, pretty much all of "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss would be in that conversation. I would tell myself that things happen for a reason (most of the time) and to stay true myself, but not let people take advantage of my kind heart.”

“Go the extra mile even though you might not need to at the time.”

“You're normal, don't freak out!”

“Stop being so boy-crazy!”

“Everyone's not looking at you and judging you... just relax and enjoy life!”

I was soliciting responses to this question because I was recently asked to compose a birthday blessing for my friend Cicily Steinle who is turning 13 on September 23rd. Cicily and I have many things in common: we both love going to church, we both love reading books, and we both have cerebral palsy. While I was honored to write to Cicily, it also gave me pause to remember my teenage years. True, there were many moments of happiness: working at a local coffee shop with my friends, getting my driver's license, attending prom, and attempting to attack certain boy's cars and yards with plastic wrap and toilet paper. (I have to use the word attempting here because they sabotaged us that night with water balloons before we got a chance.)

Hanging out with my HS friends, waiting to pounce on the boys!

But, there were also moments of loneliness, times that were filled with pain and sadness, seasons of my life that I simply endured, waiting eagerly for them to pass so that I could someday become an adult. Watching my friends going out for sports would be one example. I am extremely happy that they had the opportunities and experiences they did through athletics, but it was painful growing up knowing that this was one social and physical experience that we would never share.

It was also in my teenage years that I began to develop a very unhealthy image of my body and suffered from poor self-esteem. I didn't like the fact that my feet don't match. I was tired all the time and envious of my peers who seemed to have limitless amounts of energy. I was actually asked once by another teenager if I felt awkward because I had braces on my teeth AND wore glasses. I'm 27 now, but I doubt I'll ever forget that moment. Even worse, I hate, hate, HATED when people who rarely socialized with me would approach and inquire, “Can I ask you a personal question....” Inevitably, they would want me to spill my guts about my disability, but often neglected to reciprocate by sharing information as deeply personal or offering friendship.

However, I did make a few friends in my teenage years, deep, genuine relationships that are still in tact today. And if my teenage years were sometimes filled with angst, they were also filled with glimmers of hope. Life would someday get better, I would not be a teenager forever.

I still remember seeing one of these glimmers of hope while reading Frank Peretti's book The Wounded Spirit when I was in High School. In his book Peretti candidly speaks of his experiences growing up with a condition called cystic hygroma. The condition caused his tongue to swell, oozing a black secretion from his mouth. His body was so busy coping, that his physical growth was delayed. School was an unpleasant experience most times, but I appreciated Peretti's retelling of his educational journey because I felt that I had found someone who understood my struggle. I felt this way until I got to the end of the book. I learned that Peretti didn't just understand my struggle, he had also come out successful on the other adult. He writes:

When I was a kid, I felt terrible about myself. My self-image was in the toilet because I couldn't throw or catch a football, I couldn't run very fast, and I was considered small and frail for my age. Today, I'm and adult; I'm an author and public speaker, I play in a talented acoustic band, I fly my own plane, I have a lovely wife, and a comfortable home tucked in the woods on the side of a mountain, and frankly, I don't cry too much about the fact that I can't throw or catch a football...God has a way of evening things out” (2000, p. 144). 

Meeting Frank Peretti at a book signing as a teenager.  His book The Visitation had just come out.

I hung on to Peretti's words throughout adolescence, daring to believe that Peretti was right. Now that I too have made it to adulthood, I believe he is! Things do get better. Phy. Ed class does end, permanently! Your range of interests expands as you discover activities that lie beyond the school setting. You and your peer group mature, enabling you all to appreciate each other with deeper clarity. Growing and maturing as a person is hard work. Work that doesn't finish when the pimples disappear from your face. Ultimately, if I could have a conversation with my 13-year old self, one thing I would say is this, the past may be filled with sorrow, but hold onto the hope that your future will be filled with joy!


Peretti, F. (2000). The wounded spirit. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing.

Cicily Steinle's name was used with permission.

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