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Next week, my 14-year old daughter is packing up for a five-day trip into the mountains with a gaggle of other 12 to 18-year old girls and a handful of very brave leaders. Sponsored by the LDS church, Girls Camp aims to not only keep the girls alive in the wilderness but to keep them beating and breathing spiritually as well. Prior to camp, I was contacted by one of the brave leaders asking me to please write a personal letter to my daughter, one that she could read at a specified time and place and, because this letter should include my personal testimony, or witness, it should help her come closer to God.
What I ended up writing was probably not what they had in mind but it’s what I had in mine.
My Dearest Doodle—
I hope you’re enjoying Girls Camp with all the dirt and bugs and heat and campfire smoke, along with the laughter and smiles (that was corny—don’t judge me), the opportunities for self-evaluation and reflection, and the chances to make yourself stronger. I hope you’re taking advantage of the time you have to meet some of the great girls and leaders you are there with, get to know yourself and come closer to God. If I know you, I’m sure you are.
Speaking of knowing each other, after 14 years, I think I know you pretty well. And Doodle, you know me pretty well too. I’m not going to write you some hokey letter that says all the same stuff you’ve learned in Primary lessons and then recited verbatim. While those things are important to sort through and understand, I want to tell you something more as you’re getting older and things aren’t always that simple or straightforward.
1) Besides the potential side-effect of turning into a drugged-out loser, staying the heck away from any mood or mind altering substances will save you from regret, loss of control, dependence, and shame. At your young age, staying away from drugs and alcohol keeps you in control of your thoughts, your actions, and your choices. It also saves you from loserdom. Check it.
2) There will come a time when boys will want to kiss you and you will want to kiss them back. This is great; I actually highly recommend it. J However, you are so young, sweet Doodle. You need to decide now where your boundaries are so you know beforehand when and where you will draw your lines. This is another one of those situations where you want to remain in control. At your age, relationships with boys are hard enough emotionally without all the complications and hurt and insecurities of a physical one. If he can’t respect your boundaries and love you for the strong, intelligent girl you are, send him my way. I will cut him.
3) Take responsibility for your own happiness. Remember that talk we had where I gave the hypothetical situation about me running off to follow my dreams of becoming an interpretive dancer? (For the record, and by way of reminder, I’m not actually considering this.) However, the moral of that story is that people around you might make choices that you don’t like, or that might make you feel frustrated, sad, angry, or betrayed. People might hurt you. First rule: when someone hurts you, it’s never about you. It’s about them—their insecurities, jealousies, sadness, pain, etc. You can’t go through life taking everything personally or blaming everyone. Be secure in yourself, in your strength and beauty. Know that the path you’re on is yours alone and that anyone’s issues are their problem. Yes, be compassionate (this is one of your greatest strengths); listen to people and help them but remember they aren’t allowed to drag you down. Or else. (See #2)
4) Work out your own belief. This is perhaps the hardest of all the things I’ve listed. Deciding what you believe and crafting your personal witness is something that takes a lifetime and there is no such thing as arriving. Your relationship with God will change as you grow and encounter new challenges and blessings. You will have questions and you should not be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answers. Trust yourself to search and find the truths that resonate for you. As you earnestly seek, you will come to know what is true. Additionally, keep in mind that others are also working out their own beliefs. Respect others in their journeys.
I love you Doodle, with all my heart. Be safe, be brave, and be happy.
Amber Smith Watson graduated this past spring from Brigham Young University’s Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing, with an emphasis in fiction. Her creative work has appeared in Touchstones Literary Journal, Cutbank, and The Normal School, and she is currently in the submission process for a number of the pieces which appeared in her master’s thesis: Boiling Over. Amber is now adjunct faculty at both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, teaching composition and creative writing courses. A Columbus, Ohio native, Amber currently lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with her husband and her two children.