Dear Me, Love Erin

written on 18 June 2021 by Erin Iwata


Dear future me.

Remember when we were five? Sometimes it is hard to remember her, even though I see her every day in the clairvoyant eyes of my children- children we dreamed about. What I do remember stands clear as if it happened yesterday and is still every inch a part of us: she spoke to God, she experienced the Divine, she delighted in the surreal. When I have time to be still today, those mystical, magical qualities of life are still very much a part of me...the most real memories we have, the surest parts of us. She had such delight and confidence...sometimes annoyingly self-righteous.

I lost the idea that we have the answers, but I hope you still have the wonder, future me.

Remember when you were 15? She experienced God in so many new ways. This started in South Africa, but over the next 10 years she would experience Christianity far outside her limited view...from the Chinese underground Church, rural Morocco, Quakers, Orthodox, and more traditions than she could name. This was foundational to seeing the Church as much larger than her Western upbringing. Sometimes this was alone (those are the times I remember most) and sometimes this was with a group. She believed that she was an alien in this world (1 Peter 2:11) and had such evangelical fervor. Sometimes it is hard to tell if she plunged into the world out of conviction, or out of a desire to please the youth pastor or God. I wish I could tell her that she is not responsible for the saving of anyone’s soul. I wish I could make her see that this world is worth redeeming, but it’s not found in how many people come to youth group (many of them won’t really connect with the church anyway) or how you keep yourself chaste. I would pull her close and tell her: “how you love in every moment to moment interaction matters. And you are worthy. It’s easy to wrap up your worth into who values you, who gives you attention, or who responds to you. You are worthy if no one speaks to you today.”

I know this now. I hope you still know this, future me. It was a hard-won lesson.

Remember when we were 25? Her world was shaken by births and deaths and she was only getting started. Remember she was about to lose the value of her house in a massive crash. She was so strong, and it fills me with pain to say that though she could not imagine life getting darker than this rough beginning into marriage and family, but it did.

We didn’t always stay that strong, did we? But that time was actually a gift! A huge gift to show us what matters and what never did. She had illusions of “adult” life stripped away early and now we never have to waste our time buying into it. Houses, money, jobs, none of this defines us. We are worthy without any of these. This sets us up to be able to live lightly- which means we have the flexibility to go places we always dreamed of going to. This keeps our wonder and humility alive! I am not ashamed of this gift, and I hope you aren’t either future me.

Remember our mid-30s? Man, they were rough! She still struggled with putting her value in what she could do for others but began to realize her own identity outside the needs of others matters. The struggle to find herself was bumpy, involving a lot of grasping at lesser versions of validation. Her world contracted until she thought it would break only to expand far beyond her comprehension. In that brokenness, she found a profound grace- miracles and the presence of creativity and wonder that issue from her and her alone.

We learned that we were capable of terrible things, but also that none of that excluded us from love. We began to understand that self-care was not greedy, but critical...although we are still working on that, aren’t we future self?

Remember last month? She was more broken and clueless than ever. Sometimes she wondered if she was doing any good at all. We finally accomplished a lifelong dream: she moved overseas, she used her international degree. But her value was still caught up in what she was doing. She spent 4 whole years basically feeling like a child again: either utterly delighting in the wonder all around, or feeling pretty incompetent. All illusions of being an expert in anything- even an expert on her own (now teenage) offspring, were completely dissolved.

She needed to hear this: ‘You have value. You matter, you are precious, even if you do nothing good. Even if you cannot get up today, you are worthy.’ I hope that you, future me, have this written on your heart.

I hope you know that wherever you are, you have inherent value. If you haven’t moved an inch, you are loved and lovable. If you are in the same home you grew up in or 10,000 miles away in a cave, you matter. If you find yourself surrounded by people or completely alone, you are worthy.

I hope you find yourself daily overwhelmed by wonder. I hope you do things- things that bring beauty and love to the world. If you don't, I hope you are overwhelmed by joy and the truth that this is a wonderful, complex, mysterious world we live in, worth redeeming. Just like you.

I’m sorry I have not always loved you well. I don’t know why I hold you to a different standard than everyone else. Maybe I confused “calling” with “excellence.” Maybe your ability to read the emotions of everyone else in the room made you feel like you were somehow responsible for the emotions of everyone in the room. Remember your middle name means “OVERCOMER.” I hope you stop comparing yourself to others. I hope you enjoy friendships with your children. I hope that no matter what happens to the Church, you find your global tribe and it is open to everyone.

When he was about five, your son posted a sign that said “Everything Matters Zone.” I hope you have learned to embrace that.

I do love you.

Erin Nicole