Dear Tiffany:

Do you recognize me? I am you, older and (hopefully) wiser. If you don’t see yourself in me, that is okay. Thirty years ago, I could not have predicted that today, I feel alive and confident. I have a voice to use for good, for advocacy — not only for me, but for those I love.

I know you feel scared and alone. Helpless, in a world that is changing around you so fast, you can’t keep up. I know that Dad doesn’t see you for who you are, and that the leaders at church are so wrapped up in holding to their interpretation of the Gospel, they can’t see the damage they are doing. You’re being taught to hold yourself to impossible standards, in ways that will, even now, be hard to untangle. You are seen as inferior in many ways, culpable to the whims of men and their unaccountability. 

I see the fear that you are unwanted and useless. Your stepmother has done irreparable damage with her cruel words, and Dad was so focused on maintaining the image of the perfect family, that he missed how cut you were, and how you were on the edge of running away just to get a semblance of peace. You miss your mother, but don’t have the space to share just how deeply you were affected by her death.

It’s hard to believe me when I tell you that these feelings will not last forever. But eventually, the lack of confidence and natural instinct to hide will give way, first to protection of your kids, and then the realization that you deserve more respect than you’re receiving. You will feel emboldened by motherhood, and burdened by the inability to make your first marriage last. 

Life has a way of teaching lessons you won’t see coming — lessons that will force you to stop and take stock of what is truly important. You will learn that you are far from helpless, and you will gain the ability to stand up for what is right and good and just in the world. Your voice will be heard, passed on in the lessons you teach your children and the way you protect them from ever feeling as unwanted as you did. You will land in a church that practices the Gospel as Jesus intended, and feel safe for the first time in a very long time. You will meet a person who does not tear you down out of insecurity, but instead encourages you to nurture your talents and abilities, and is proud of you. You will build a home — it is small, but it is safe.

Take heart, little one. It doesn’t seem like it right now, but life will work its way to good. And through those lessons, you will grow stronger and more confident in sharing your heart. You’re far from perfect, but you’re no longer afraid to be who God created you to be. Remember — you are loved. You are wanted. You are much more capable than anyone gives you credit for being. And you are making a difference in the world, small as it may be. One day, you will see this. Until then, hold on through the storms that are coming. They will lay the path for the gratitude in which you are now walking.

-Tiffany Hays, 2024

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