What brought you to that feet fish tank in which you are now ankle deep in, smiling for a picture, was yet another move. Moving always hurt. I remember. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you haven’t actually felt real hurt, yet. I mean, sure, you’ve seen mom hit dad and dad hit mom, you watched them drink too much, you were violated and taken advantage of at such a young age, and you are already able to process through the gut-wrenching emptiness left by the word goodbye like no other.
But by the grace of God you have yet to meet the pain that is to come.
You and I both know that our innocence was long gone by the time this picture was taken, for the world had already started to corrupt us and we knew more about life than we should have. What we didn’t know (what you gratefully don’t know) is how brutal life can actually get. Looking back, our ignorance regarding the amount of damage that life can inflict on a person’s heart had to have been a God-ordained, protective measure.
No, you, in your dorky glasses, don’t fully understand despair yet, but due to the military lifestyle you have managed to understand the power of something else entirely: an amazing skill called resiliency.
You’re going to need that soon.
You’ve learned how to be content anywhere. You know the value of friendship and of one’s time, because you dread seconds turning into minutes. Then hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Because just like that, before you can slowly, gracefully uproot yourself, three years will be gone, meaning shortly, you will have to be, too.
(insert the emptiness left by goodbye here)
But listen, Donaven, your ability to bounce back will keep you moving forward through this incredible journey you’re about to embark on. You’re going to be challenged in ways that will push you to fight with every bone in your body. You’re going to come face-to-face with demons that no young adult should ever have to.
Fortunately, you’re also going to experience the unconditional, loving grace of God more times than I can count. Unfortunately, you’ll take it for granted until you realize that it’s what’s kept your heart beating despite all of the times that you’ve tried to get it to stop. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace will become your anthem.
You’re going to learn (yes, the hard way) that choosing Christ over sin is always the better option. The road ahead is tough, Donaven. I’m not going to sugar coat it. But I can promise you this: if you push through the pain and fight like hell to remember, 1) where you’ve come from, 2) where you’re going, and 3) to whom you belong, you’re going to be alright. You’re going to be more than alright, actually. You’re going to experience a joy that I crave for you to have.
The legitimacy of your joy is going to be called into question when choosing Him over the world looks unappealing: Does the Bible really say that? Won’t God just forgive you, anyway? Doesn’t God just want you to be happy? And there will be plenty of instances in which you’re just going to give up your joy, a product of your faith, for some temporary pleasure in this world, because you want to be happy. Fine. In your happiness you’ll experience the damaging effects of sin, but like I said, you and I eventually learn from our mistakes.
Aside from all of the times that you’re going to pursue this world instead of Christ, know that I am so proud of you and I am honored to call your story mine. Donaven, we serve an incredible God.
Countless times, He is going to give you the strength to persevere when you have no desire to live and your story is going to become one that echoes the hopeful promises of Jesus Christ.
I wish that I could’ve had my almost-21-year-old self write this letter to me when I was you. But I guess if that had been the case, my story may have turned out a whole lot different. I think I’d lack my ability to empathize and take on the burdens of others. If I knew it had been coming, I would’ve made it my life’s mission to avoid every ounce of pain, but then I would have never learned about endurance. My despair in times of hopelessness is what attracted me to Jesus Christ, who promises a life of hope and purpose.
Your life of having to battle one demon after another is what will make you into who I am: brave, dependent on the Lord of galaxies, and faithstrong.
Donaven, over the next 7 years you’re going to: feel your family slowly deteriorate into the epitome of instability as new secrets and insecurities surface every year; feel the sting of violent character attacks from someone who claims to love you (and yes, the two contradicting voices will teach you how to love manipulatively); experiment with a thing here and there that you know God despises; deeply love a group of people who share common ground; battle severe depression, anxiety, and a self-hate that is demonically strong; discover your love for singing and throwing lyrics, chords, and melodies together into something worth listening to.
You’re going to: have solid, God-fearing mentors pour into your life and love you harder than you are used to being loved (no, you won’t understand it or believe that it’s legit, but trust me, their affection for and devotion to you is beyond real); slit your wrists to let the world know that you’re not okay; lose your best friend because you will forget who you truly need to place your everything in; feebly love a girl who could’ve been the one, but, surviving solely on her grace, your relationship will implode and you’ll carelessly smear its remains into unidentifiable ashes.
You’ll carry that regret with you for quite a while until you learn to forgive and to be gracious with yourself, things that will be products of mental health treatment and embracing your identity in Christ.
In the midst of loneliness, abandonment, and abuse, you’re going to spend weeks at a time crying on the bathroom floor, wondering why a perfect God would create someone so incredibly shitty. That lie, that you’re a shitty mistake, will follow you into 2016. It’s one that you cannot entertain.
As you’ll see, it’ll prove itself to be powerful enough to destroy you, but there is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.
“… for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” –Psalm 139:14a, ESV
Your dad will walk into the bathroom, pick you up off the floor, and ask you, What did you do this time? and you won’t even have the energy to respond with, I took more pills than I could count.
Your childhood friend, a loyal, feline soul who kept you sane through 12 years of instability, will pass away the night after your first attempt to end your life. You’ll be in the hospital, robbed of a goodbye. From your current place in time, 2009, she won’t make it 4 more years.
But you will.
Donaven, you’re going to: survive and keep moving forward; learn that you’re at your best when you’re serving others; finally free yourself from the military lifestyle; gain your best friend back; start college and have no idea what you’re doing; meet the guy who God will use to literally save your life and pour into it as a gentle, honest, and loyal brother in Christ (a semester before you start college you’ll be praying for him); fall back into old ways of coping and develop new, even unhealthier, ones; try to take your life again, but this time you’ll end up in your first treatment center where you’ll be diagnosed with bipolar II, severe anxiety, and a borderline personality.
You’re going to: again, through the faithfulness of God, survive and keep moving forward; have the revelation that sometimes God gives you exactly what you want just so you can see that you don’t need it; hear God’s voice call you into social work; lose a brother in Christ because you’re still weary of giving the Lord your everything (even though He’s made it so clear that not a single human being can fill His place as the everything-holder without falling apart); turn your back on God to pursue the world; return to Him (no, this won’t be the last time you do this); begin to drown the symptoms of your bipolar/depression with booze and boys; eventually end up in your second treatment center due to alcohol abuse and manic depression.
You’re going to: take a year off from school to pursue open doors that will immediately slam shut, extremely hard in your face; attempt to be be productive during your forced gap year, but instead, you’ll end up in your third treatment center where you’ll finally accept that, 1) you’re worthy of being helped, and 2) reaching out is not a sign of weakness, but one of courage.
Once you’ve successfully completed that rehab program, you’re not going to want to do anything except for worship God in His faithfulness. You’ll be made aware of how your strategic God worked in you over the past 7 years. Months later, in response, you’ll sit down to write this letter to remind yourself of where you’ve come from, where you’re going, and to whom you belong.
During that time in your life it is imperative that you remember this: you are not a burden to those who love you. Tattoo it on your heart. Don’t you forget it. You are not too much to love.
2009 Donaven, one day you’ll catch up to me, wearing 7 years of battle wounds. Today, I am joyful in life and struggling well. I continue to battle bipolar/depression and although I’ve found victory in some of my struggles, I’ve found myself wresting with new ones, as well. As we grow, Satan is forced to rework his game plan to destroy us, but, see, as we daily surrender our lives to Christ, reminding ourselves that we are weak and in need of Him, we are given a strength that Satan can’t combat.
Life is a myriad of daily battles, some more difficult to fight than others, but victory is found when I choose Christ over sin. I’ve completely surrendered my desires and struggles to God, in full faith that His plan for my life is better than anything I could ever imagine. I promise you, the best is yet to come. Our Lord still has much, much more that He wants to do in and through you and I.
It should encourage you to know that I have finally found the stability that I know you have desperately longed for.
That stability? The truth is, you’re only going to find it in our God; if you want it you need to chase after Him with all that you are. Don’t look back. There’s nothing there for you except for a reminder of God’s promise that what’s ahead is greater than whatever lies behind.
Our God is the same God today, yesterday, and 7 years ago. The God with me now is the same God who is at your side as you try to relax with your feet in a fish tank, put on a brave face, and do your best to not fall apart at the thought of adjusting to your new life there in Okinawa.
Kid, with Christ by our side we’re going to move mountains and be instrumental in transforming lives to further His Kingdom. But for now, keep moving forward. You’re doing great. Keep fighting the good fight and don’t you dare give up. Brace yourself by leaning into His love and promises. Make the hard decisions. Choose life over death, Christ over sin. It’s so worth it!
DONAVEN. Meaning: strong warrior
Your every response to God working in your life over the next 7 years will ironically (but appropriately) reflect the meaning of the name, Donaven, and thus, make it feel prouder to be ours.
P.S. Looking forward to another 7 years with God as my captain, to whom all my allegiance rightfully belongs.