Dear Jessica, on your 17th birthday:
First of all, happy birthday! Ten years from now you will still love celebrating birthdays just as much. However, in about four years you'll learn that it's just as much fun to celebrate the people you love. You're good at giving gifts and making people feel special and you will eventually learn to embrace that about yourself.
This last decade has gone by slowly, but quickly at the same time. So much has changed and so much has stayed the same.
Your love and respect for your parents and sisters has only increased. As time goes on, you will grow so close to your sisters. They will become your very best friends and you three will cherish every moment you get to spend together. They will become your confidantes and the girls you laugh the hardest with. You will learn that you need them and that they need you. Life will be difficult sometimes, but they will always be on your side no matter what. After college you will learn how much your sisters looked up to you when you all were younger and your heart will break that you didn't appreciate them more. But ten years later you will all live in the same city and will be closer than ever. You'll never take them for granted and you'll look up to them so much, even though you're the oldest sister.
I know right now you think that your parents don't have a clue and they don't "get you" but I promise they do. Yes, you're the oldest, so technically they've never done this whole raising a teenager before thing, but they have so much wisdom and someday you will learn to lean into their wisdom rather than try to push away from it and "be your own person". When you grow up, you will be your own person in so many ways, but you'll also learn that your parents are guiding you and teaching you in a way that should be appreciated. In a few years you will no longer live under their roof, and a few years after that you will wish that you had their daily guidance that you have right now. When you go off to college next year you will miss them something terrible, and you will learn to really cherish the time that you get to spend with both your mom and dad.
Right now you think you've got life figured out. You think that you know what your career will look like, who you will marry, and where you will live. But you don't. It'll take a few years, but it'll all change. Over the next three years you will change a lot. You will become a much more compassionate person and you will choose to do something with your life that matters. Right now God is preparing you to be a hard worker, even when it feels like there are easier routes to take. This will serve you well as you begin your career in a few years.
Over the course of the next five years, you will fall in love with the city where you'll attend college. You'll also fall in love with a man in that city. The kind of husband that you dream of deep in your heart of heart is that is the kind of man you will someday marry. I promise, it's not too far off. God knows your deepest desires the man he has for you is a man who is kind, funny, smart, compassionate, handsome, and a friend to everyone. He will make you laugh, hold you while you cry, and be the very best friend you've ever had. He will lead you well, and a decade from now you will be building a life together that you never thought possible. He will work hard to provide for you and he will support the dreams you have for your life. As you look back on your life, you will wish you had not put yourself through so much heartache in the years leading up to meeting this wonderful man, but you won't dwell on that too much because you're so thankful that God led you to each other.
You know how you think about adopting a baby someday? You know how you look at families who have adopted and ask yourself if you would like to be one of those families someday? Hold on to that desire with dear life because in 10 years, you will be two and a half years into a long adoption process to bring home a baby boy from Ethiopia. Your heart will long to be a mommy and hold your little guy. The process will be hard and heart-wrenching and probably incredible on the other side, but we're not there yet. You will have to draw closer to the Lord and lean on your husband more than ever before, but you are strong and you'll look back and see how God has been preparing you for this journey for many years.
I know that right now you don't feel included in the circles of friends you have. It's been hard for you to make and maintain girlfriends for the past several years. Just hold on, because the Lord will provide abundantly very soon! When you go off to college you will experience having a true group of girls who are your greatest friends. You'll walk through another season that feels lonely after college, but God will provide a community of friends that feel like family and you will be astounded at how loved you are.
Sweet teenager, don't worry so much. You are young and you know so little. Seek wisdom from those who have gone before you. You've already begun doing that with your friend, Chastity, and you should appreciate the friendship that God has given you with her so much. Someday she'll stand by your side you when you make a covenant before the Lord to love and serve your husband for the rest of your days. She will mentor you and walk through some very great highs and very low lows with you. Appreciate her and love her well.
Don't be so hard on yourself. I know that when you lay your head on your pillow at night you wish to be skinnier, smarter, taller, funnier, more popular, nicer, and all around just better. Stop that! Be kinder to yourself, and be kinder to others for that matter. And on the note of wishing to be skinnier, have mercy embrace your 17-year-old body because it does not last forever! You are so beautiful, so start believing people when they tell you that. You will always struggle with loving yourself, and you'll start to get the hang of it in your 20s. You'll always wish you'd loved yourself more when you were younger so that you could embrace everything in a healthier way as you get older. Seriously, just be kind and cut everyone a break, including yourself.
These years leading up to your 27th birthday will be wonderful and terrible and amazing. You will learn that you must truly surrender your life to the Lord. You will learn and grow and change and learn some more many times over. There will be things you still long for, but you will be so thankful for the life God has given you. Happy birthday, young self, and don't forget not to worry too much!
With love and anticipation of the next decade,
Your 27-year-old self