Teenage years are confusing years. They are hard years. Expectations are high, and purpose in life questions are frustrating. Some teens have it worse than others. I was one of those teens. This letter is to any teen who has not unraveled the mystery of life. I hope it will encourage you.
Dear (insert your name here),
There were a few moments in my life that were transcendent. These were my primary shaping influences. These memories had the most impact and caused the most transformation.
Some of them were positive, and even satisfying to think about today. Others were horrendously negative and still bitter to the taste. Still yet, I would not dismiss any of them. The good and bad ones, working together, shaped who I am (Romans 8:28). God can turn bad for good (Genesis 50:20).
I want to share six of those memories with you. This list is the “uncut version” of what happened to me. In the end, I want to share six things I learned from my dysfunctional early life. I hope to encourage you. I want you to know there is a way to flip a bad story into a good one.
You may want to read:
- About Rick, Also In Audio
- Note to Teen: You Are a Victim, and You Can Change
- Letter to a Counselor, Counseling a Rebellious Teen
Memory: Purpose in Life
When I was 12-years old, I walked to an “under construction” lake near our home. The lake was incomplete. It was mostly all bank with a small amount of water collected at its deepest point.
As I sat on the side of that dirt bowl, I looked into the sky and asked, “God, why am I here?” The question was not so much about why was I sitting in an empty lake, but why was I on earth (Psalm 8:4).
That day is my earliest and most profound memory about my life and God. The “purpose of life” question was what consumed me then, and it is what I regularly think about today. I intuitively knew God did not create me to wander through life perpetually.
I was the only person who seemed to care about my purpose in life. My detractors already determined that before God laid the foundation of the earth, I was going to be a rebel (Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 1:3-11). And they did not help me become a better person.
Memory: Born to Be Wild
When my school administration decided not to let me be in their Honor Society because I was too mischievous, I gave up on school. I was an angry A/B student who was without a mentor or moral compass.
My grades were good enough to get in their club, but my behavior was not. They rejected me, so I rejected them. I decided as a seventh grader to stop trying, which meant doing the minimum would be the path forward. During my senior year of high school, I skipped more days than I attended.
I believe they graduated me because it was more about good riddance than high expectations. Our Vice-principal affirmed this notion the day he reminded me of my worthlessness.
He had good reason to say those things. My oldest brother was in prison. My second oldest brother was about to go to prison, and I was only a few months away from going to jail. I eventually spent five days in jail for B & E. I was fifteen.
Still yet, I knew the Lord had a plan for my life, even though I did not know Him and had no desire to follow Him. My probation officer further affirmed the idea of “purpose.” His perceptive words gave me a sliver of hope upon which to hang my future.
During one of our meetings, which was a prerequisite to keeping me from more jail time, he said, “You’re different from the other kids your age. You seem to want to make something out of your life.”
He was right. Though I was a young man with an out-of-control attitude and lifestyle, I knew there was a spot for me in God’s world. I was an angry, foolish person, who had no good friends to encourage or motivate me in the right direction.
Memory: White Trash
The primary people I hung with were black people. I would not go so far to say I understand what it is like to be black, but I do understand what it is like to be white trash.
We were on food stamps and could not afford the nice things the good white people enjoyed. My parents did not go to college and barely held down their ever-changing jobs. My dad’s drinking regularly interrupted his vocational opportunities.
My schoolmates lived in the city, and their parents were white-collar college graduates. We were dirt poor rednecks who befriended the black folk.
I began my five-finger discount career (stealing) when I was 10-years old. I went into the pharmaceutical business when I was 12-years old: smoking weed and dropping acid. It was after I was busted at fifteen when things began to change.
With no parents or teachers to encourage me, it was survival of the fittest. Still yet, there was a driving passion quietly masked under the surface of my life: I knew there was a plan for me.
After being released from jail, I systematically quit cursing, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, and dropping acid. I even began trimming my shoulder-length hair.
My view on school did not change. It was still the bare minimum while investing most of my time working a job. I began working when I was 12-years old as a bus boy for a local diner.
During the summers I gathered hay for a few farmers. After I had turned sixteen, a fast food restaurant owner hired me. My restlessness and unquenchable desire to know my purpose in life motivated me to try different jobs.
My two biggest problems were being an angry teenager, who did not know God. Within two years I was a shift manager at a fast food restaurant, but it was not satisfying. I quit that job and made a radical career change by becoming an apprentice electrician.
Wiring new homes was a two-year stint that I loved, except it was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It was a hard job that did not translate into a long-term career. It was time for another change.
Memory: Nasty Christians
A local machine shop was hiring, so at 21-years old, I made a move. Maybe this was going to be the thing I was supposed to do with my life. There was a plan for me, and no matter how many people lined up to tell me how hopeless I was or how many times I proved them right by the stupid things I did, I was determined to find that purpose.
What I did not realize and could not see was how I was approaching my problems the wrong way. I had put all my eggs in the career basket, not realizing there was another option.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33
It was the “God piece” I could not see. Let me restate: I did not consider God because He was unimpressive and powerless. I went to church from zero to twelve. I had already tried God.
- My parents were not reliable role models.
- The Christian kids gave us weed. At church!
I figured if the so-called Christian children had great weed, religion was not going to help me figure out what I wanted to be as an adult. I did not need to go to church to get great weed. That was an unnecessary step in weed acquisition.
My view of God and religion was jaded. The Christian people I knew were hypocrites. Some of them were downright nasty. Religion came across as an awkward social gathering for people who were not obliged to live according to the tenets of their system.
The only “Christian” people who impressed me were the Mormons. They seemed serious and holy. The problem was I did not want to ride a bicycle while wearing church clothes. I definitely did not want to be mocked. I was already hated.
My primary concern was that being cool and Mormon could not coexist in the same person. It was more important to be cool. No matter how messed up your life is, you must be cool.
Memory: Real Transformation
It was during my time in the machine shop when the Lord showed mercy as He broke through my thick skull. Through a series of circumstances, He used some of my workmates to tell me about Jesus.
Within a couple of months, the Lord regenerated me. It was not momentous or spectacular in any way. It was just another redneck country boy–who had no clue if the spoons went on the left or the right (Jonah 4:11)–adopted by God.
In time, I shared with my friends what happened. I followed another urge to read my Bible–the one given to me in Sunday school nearly twenty years earlier. The transformation process was slow and imperceptible, but there was no question how God’s Word was coming alive.
After the first reading through the Bible, I began to see things I never saw before. I saw me. The Bible was like a mirror that revealed every dirty detail of my life in high-definition.
I was a 25-year old angry, punk kid who was getting his 13-year prayer request answered: I was learning why I was on earth. This season of life was like a low hovering fog lifting to reveal God’s plans. I began to see what I could not see as I submitted my will to the will of God (Matthew 26:39).
Six Things You Need to Know
Dear (insert your name here),
I share this story with you. It does not come close to giving you all the heartaches and disappointments of my life, but you get the idea. It does give you enough information to know my life was disappointing. (You can read more of my bio here.)
The Lord dropped me into a dysfunctional family at birth. It was not possible for me to extricate myself from the prison of personal or familial failure. There was only one road to freedom (John 8:36).
I do not know what you are going through or what has happened to you. I will assume it has been hard and disappointing, at least in some ways. If it has been, I appeal to you to consider these next six points carefully. I appeal to you to take them to heart.
1 – You Are Normal – There is a good chance you got a raw deal by not getting the parents, the situations, or life you wanted. If so, you are not unique. You are normal. You are part of a cursed world–a curse you did not cause or the world you did not create.
2 – You Are Not a Victim – You will have to choose what card you want to play: the victim card or the responsible card. I could make a strong case for the nonsense in my life by blaming others. I could even be convincing while not having to spin the truth in any way. Anybody can do this. We all have been hurt, cursed, and victimized.
3 – You Are Responsible – Was I going to spend my days being bitter and unforgiving toward those who hurt me or was I going to stop playing the victim card and change? At some point, you have to grow up and take responsibility for the life you choose to live.
4 – You Choose – The first and most important question for you to answer is the Bible question. Is the Bible true or false? What will you say? If you say false, continue to try to figure out life according to your wisdom and circumstances. If you believe the Bible is true, it is time to heed its advice.
5 – Your Hope – By the time I was 25-years old, it was clear to me I could not be trusted when it came to wisdom. I was immature, angry, bitter, hurt, and unforgiving–plus a few other “disruption type sins” that kept me in trouble. I decided to try God’s way–not according to some Christians I knew but according to God’s Word. I threw in the towel. I pleaded with Him to regenerate me (though I did not know that word at that time).
6 – Your Opportunity – What will it be for you? Is it time for you to be mature? There is no question you are a victim. There is no doubt you are responsible. We’re all sinner/victims. The real issue is the choice you must make.
Perhaps you are a Christian, but you are not mirroring the life of Christ. If so, today is the day for you to soften your heart (Hebrews 4:7). The twelve-year-old boy who was looking to the skies, while asking the big God question, found his answer thirteen years later and responded the right way (John 14:6). How about it? What will you do?
Thanks for listening!
Also published on Medium.