17 Things I’d Say to My 17-Year-Old Self

How many times have you said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would [blank]…”? I have to admit I’ve thought about this sort of thing a lot.  No, a lot. If I could go back in time to the ’80s and talk to 16- or 17-year-old Melody, what would I really tell her? Not just “eat your vegetables” or “finish college earlier,” but what would I actually share with her that could change the future for her?


This is (Seriously) Melody – ’80s style – junior year of high school

So, I’m writing this letter to my 17-year-old self, and as I begin I’m not even sure of all the things I’ll say. I might not even finish in a single letter, really.  And maybe it’s silly, since I obviously can’t invent a time machine and go back and actually talk to her, but I’m doing it anyway. Because I have things to say to her I really wish she had known back then. So here we go.

Dear 17-Year-Old Melody,

Hey, girl. It’s been almost 30 years since we’ve connected in person. It’s me – the 46-year-old version of you. Mel, we’ve got to talk.  Pay attention to the things I’m going to share with you, and I will change your life. Seriously. Don’t be offended when some of these sting a little (and they will); I promise you won’t be sorry if you listen.

Here are 17 things that will change your life for the better over the next 30 years (perhaps even longer). Buckle up, and let’s get started.

  1. Know what you know and what you don’t. First (and sorry if this hurts a little), you don’t know everything. There are going to me many times when you think you know everything, but you do not. Recognize that now, and save yourself big-time pain later. Approach everything as if you have something to learn.  Live with curiosity.  In all things. Never assume you know more than others. About anything.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

  2. Trust God with your life, and get to know Him better right now. This is the most important thing you can do. I can’t stress that enough. Talk to God. Use Bible studies to learn more about scripture. Read favorite verses in multiple translations. Look for the intent behind the words. And stop listening to others when they say, “The Bible says…” before filling in something you or someone else is doing wrong. They mean well, but they’re often wrong, so go look it up for yourself. (Case in point, the Bible does not say “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That was William Congreve in The Mourning Bride. And that’s just one example.) Your life will be so much more fulfilling the moment you learn to trust Him and listen to His voice in all that you do.
  3. For the love of goodness, stop thinking about “the one”. Just stop. That guy you’re seeing is not “the one”. In fact, no boy you’ve met thus far is “the one”.  And further, stop worrying about it, because your validation does not come from the man by your side. “The one” is really the least important thing you can think about right now. Seriously. Meet some people, go on some dates, but save the spot on your left hand and the one deep in your heart for someone who comes much, much later. (Rule of thumb: If you wonder if he’s the right one or not, he’s not.)
  4. Wear sunscreen with the highest SPF factor you can buy. That’s probably about SPF 15 right now, but within 10 years you’ll be able to buy SPF50 or higher regularly. Use that. Tanning is terrible for your skin, and you will love the way you’ll look in a few years when others start to have skin like an old handbag. Premature wrinkles are no fun. Also, in a few years, you’ll discover something called a “spray tan”, and one session you’ll get a better tan than an entire summer baking in a tanning bed. Safely.
  5. Exercise a lot, but keep it simple. Walk, run, bike, canoe, kayak, surf, skate. Have fun, and keep moving. Just say no to fads like “step aerobics” that will be hard on your joints and will make you wear silly-looking, hip-baring ’80s-style leotards and sweatbands in neon colors. Especially just say no to the silly leotards.
  6. Dream big. So, this is super important and I know that no one is telling you right now: You can do and be anything. Seriously. Whatever your dreams are right now, go bigger. Don’t assume anything is out of reach. The world is bigger than you know right now. And don’t assume that your dreams will be easily realized. Everything Dad tells you about the need for hard work and a strong work ethic is 100% true. Avoid shortcuts. Take the tough road. Don’t give up!
  7. Be relentless in your pursuits of knowledge and adventure. Learn everything you can about everything that interests you. Your favorite class in college will surprise you (hint: it’s a science!). Ride a motorcycle. Study photography. Fly in a hot air balloon. Learn to paraglide. Regret nothing. Don’t be reckless, but embrace adventure in all things. You are going to have a great time.
  8. Ohwiththesmokingalready! I know you’re already playing with cigarettes – yes you are! Don’t lie. (I’m you, remember?) Stop monkeying with the stupid cigarettes. You’re going to want to smoke all the time when you’re 18 or so, and it’s stupid and stinky and you look ridiculous. Never start that disgusting habit, and save yourself countless dollars over the years… and more. Just don’t.
  9. Travel. As much as possible. Pay for it by saving every penny you would have smoked or used for something frivolous (like that white leather jacket with the fringe you’re going to think is so cool in a couple of years… It’s stupid. Seriously. Just don’t.) You’re going to study abroad in England later, but don’t stop there. See Europe and the Caribbean and Iceland and more. See every continent. Meet the people. Try the local cuisine. Avoid the guided tour. And stay as long as you can.
  10. Run from debt. (Your parents are right about this!).  Buy your first car with cash and save the money you’d make in payments to buy a better car and better and better and better and so on. Never have a car payment. Never carry a credit card balance. Never take out a student loan. There are better ways. You just have to sacrifice. You CAN do it!
  11. Forgive. Forgive your mother. Forgive your dad. Forgive your friends and enemies and acquaintances and everyone else who has ever or will ever wrong you. It’s terrifically important. But also know that forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let any person remain in your life. It’s okay if your boundaries mean someone can’t be around anymore; what’s not okay is holding onto anger or resentment toward them.
  12. Spend lots of time with Mom and Dad. Write down their stories. Laugh with them as much as possible. Let Dad teach you to play banjo and guitar and bass and everything else you can think of, and let Mom tell you as many stories as she will tell.  Drink in every word and every moment. No matter how many years you have with them, it will never feel like enough.
  13. Your actions teach others how to treat you. Learn this now. Be kind and generous and assume positive intentions from others always, but understand that not everyone is inherently good. When someone treats you poorly (especially in relationships), pay attention. That little niggling feeling you get may be uncomfortable, but it’s there for a reason. It’s a warning, so heed it as such, and never, ever feel guilty for not allowing someone to treat you poorly.
  14. Eat the very best food you can all the time. Avoid fast food. Cook more often. Research recipes and take lessons on how to cook cool things. Have a sense of adventure about food. Explore the depths of your culinary palate. Become a snob about it and refuse to eat things that are just trash for your body. And stop with the sodas right now. They’re poison. You love ice water, so stick with that.
  15. And speaking of food – avoid diets. Seriously. And there are going to be some doozies that come your way, and friends and family alike are going to tell you how great they are. Grapefruit diets and cabbage soup diets and calorie counting and low-fat and low-carb and high-protein and high-fiber and nothing-bigger-than-your-fist diets. Ridiculous, all of them. Learn what the American Diabetes Association recommends, and eat that. It will never steer you wrong. Do that and stay active, and you won’t have to worry about “dieting” ever again.
  16. Volunteer. When you feel at your lowest, the best strategy you can employ is to take the focus off self. Go find an individual, a group, or a population of people, and do something small to make their lives better. When it’s not about you, you’ll feel better. And it will be some of the most rewarding time of your entire life.
  17. Speak the truth in love. Never be afraid to say “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know, but I will find out” or “I love you.” Also don’t be afraid to say no. It’s okay to stand up for yourself, and it’s okay to care for yourself first. (Actually, it’s imperative that you care for yourself first. If you aren’t a whole person alone, you won’t have anything left to share with others.)

That’s it for now, girl.  I might have more to add later, but start with these few, and you won’t be sorry. Promise!  Now don’t be afraid, go have a great time, and I’ll see you in a few decades.



Because I am a Princess, That’s Why.

Tough week here, I’m afraid. I needed a bit of a reminder to be strong. And I got it when I flipped through my journaling Bible (my #LegacyBible) and landed on a page I did a while back for Joshua 1:9.  Which is a scripture I dig, incidentally…


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous… Joshua 1:9 (ESV) 

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

Fear is one of my greatest struggles. It’s both a motivator and a de-motivator for me. It has sometimes driven me to rush to poor decisions, and at other times it has paralyzed me and prevented me from taking timely or badly needed steps.

Fear is also a lie. It’s the enemy’s way of convincing me I’m not savvy enough or smart enough or brave enough or tall or short or thin or beautiful or rich or educated or experienced or whatever enough.  And all of those things are lies.

How do I know those are lies? They’re lies because He told me so. Because I am a princess, that’s why. I am a daughter of the One True King, whom He promised a crown of beauty instead of ashes. (See Isaiah 61.) And because I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, that’s why. As long as I stand with Him, I am enough, and He has promised to give me exactly what I need and exactly when I need it. (See Psalm 139:14 and Philippians 4:19.)  And because worry is waste, that’s why. I may sometimes fear and fret over things, but I do so knowing fully that each moment of worry is pointless. (See Luke 12:22-25.)

He has it all, and He only calls me to believe and to be brave. (Joshua 1:9, yo!)  We. Need. Not. Fear. 

He calls me to be strong and courageous. He calls me not to fear. And He promises to be with me (and you) wherever we go.  How amazing is that?

Bible Journaling How-to:
This #LegacyBible page was completed (and easy-peasy) with high-viscosity acrylic paints, die-cuts, washi tape, and stickers from from Illustrated Faith. I used dots of several colors of the Illustrated Faith paint on the edge of a paint card and smeared it all over the page, being careful not to let it be so thick I couldn’t read the words anymore. When it dried, I embellished with stickers, a die-cut used as a tab at the top held in place with “Amen” washi tape, and a few other random stickers from the Illustrated Faith line.

*Please share this post with anyone you think would enjoy it via the links below anytime.

Illustrating Bible

Three Simple Survival Tips for a Rough Mother’s Day

I’ve spent many Mother’s Day shopping trips standing front of a wall of cards perplexed.  Brow furrowed, I’ve stood there overwhelmed by a selection of “you’re the greatest mother ever” and “you’re my very best friend in the world, Mom” cards, not knowing what I could pick that would convey my sentiments well.

See, Mother’s Day was sometimes difficult when I was younger because my relationship with Mom was… well, challenging.  Mom had bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, which made her moods and behavior often unpredictable. In fact, she wasn’t even diagnosed until I was an adult, so for many years I had no idea what caused the emotional issues. Sometimes we were close, and sometimes it felt like she was a different person entirely.


Me with Mom when I was around 11.

I loved her tremendously, and I’m forever grateful that she was my Mother, but there were times as a child and a young woman when I struggled to even have conversations with her. And choosing a Mother’s Day card that celebrated her as a “best-Mom-ever” mom or a “you’re-my-best-friend” Mom felt… well, insincere at best.


Other years, I’ve stood there in front of the wall o’ cards feeling sorry for myself. I’ve shopped for the obligatory card for my Mom or mother-in-law or friend with a new baby (or all of the above) and have felt the sense of emptiness and sorrow inside, knowing there would likely never be a Mom’s Day card addressed to me. (I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I would be unable to have children of my own, which led to some tough Mother’s Day celebrations, especially when many of my friends were having babies for the first time.)

Frankly, there were years I really wallowed in some oh-poor-Melody self-pity. But I am certainly not alone in feeling some anxiety around the Mother’s Day holiday. So many of us struggle – from difficult relationships, wounds from past family hurts, the loss of a mother/sister/grandmother or child, to the forlorn sadness around being unable to become a Mom – the holiday meant to be a happy celebration of motherhood can have a few barbs that poke and sting at our hearts there.

After all these years, I’ve learned a little about getting through the holiday without tears, without hiding in my bedroom, and without eating an entire chocolate cake in sorrow (usually – don’t judge!). I’ve learned that the keys to getting through a tough Mother’s Day for me are these three simple things on which to focus (instead of focusing on the tough parts):

  1. Focus on gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and for me that means even when I’m blue. My mother was complicated and imperfect, it’s true. (Aren’t we all?) But she was my Mom, and no one will ever love me exactly the way she did. There was tremendous redemption in my relationship with her as I got older, and when she passed last year after a long bout with Alzheimer’s and heart disease, I was blessed to have the knowledge that she was in love with being a mother to me. She was indeed my biggest fan. I am forever grateful for my Mother and all that she brought to my life because even the toughest of times served to make me stronger and show me that her love for me was unconditional, as was mine for her.
  2. Focus on getting moving. When I’m sad, my body does not naturally crave sunshine. Or exercise. Or anything other than the couch (or my bed), maybe a little Netflix, and a steady diet of breakfast cereal three meals a day followed by copious amounts of chocolate and Coca-Cola on ice. (F’real.) And while it sounds like those things will make me feel better, they just serve as a vehicle to propel me even further downward into a sadness spiral. What actually works, on the other hand, is to get moving. A walk, a bike ride, or even a little time at the gym can get me out of the sadness spiral really quickly.  Try it.  Seriously.  Get up, get busy, and maybe even go outside. (I know, I know, it’s hard and it’s the last thing you want to do. Try it. Even just for three minutes. Just get up and move, and see what happens.)
  3. Focus on something other than self. The single greatest detriment to a good Mother’s Day for me is to focus on all the things that make it a tough day for me.  And there are many of them. But licking my wounds on Mother’s Day won’t make it better for me, and it won’t make it better for anyone else either. What might actually make me (and others) feel better is to do something nice for someone else. Maybe go and visit a girlfriend who is herself likely to have a rough Mother’s Day. Look for opportunities to do something quick and unexpected to lift someone else. Why not a simple, random act of kindness? Pay for a stranger’s coffee in the drive-thru, or overtip the waitress who brought you your breakfast, and just see how it feels.  For me, it’s truly amazing to experience how much healing power is held in a simple act of kindness to someone else.


This Mother’s Day, I will be going through the day without my Mom, which is (of course) both heartbreaking and completely surreal. I’ll also be going through the day without the child my husband and I are raising (he’s visiting with other family). That’s another tough situation for so many women, in fact – serving in a Mom role to a child or children but not actually being the Mom. (In my case, I’m technically “step-grandmother-slash-legal-guardian”, but in reality my daily routine is about doing all the Mom things without ever actually getting to be one.  And believe me when I say no one has invented “Step-Grandmother-Slash-Legal-Guardian Day”.), but…  But. BUT.  B U T !

But I simply refuse to let it be a bad day. I refuse to wallow and spend the day being sad because Mom isn’t there or because the little guy is gone or because I can’t have biological kids of my own or because of anything else. Focusing on what’s missing doesn’t help. It just. Doesn’t. Help. Instead, I will get up and get out of the house. I’ll enjoy the sunshine (and if it rains, I’ll enjoy that too). I’ll think about Mom happily and I’ll smile and be grateful for her. I’ll think about the little guy and be thankful that I get to take care of him. (He’s awesome, and I’m blessed by him every day.)

I’m making the best of this day, and I invite you to join me. And if you find yourself behind me in line at the coffee shop, you might just find me paying for your coffee.


Mom and me in happier days, long after our relationship had seen tremendous healing. I am so grateful I got to really see the beauty in her true heart and got to laugh with her regularly. She was awesome, hilarious, and precious, my Mom, and I was blessed to be her daughter.