An Open Letter to 18 Year Old Genein Jefferson

 

Dear Genein,

 

You’re 18 and I am now 38. I don’t know if I should be writing you… my younger self. I’ve watched Back To The Future many times and I know what happens when you contact the ‘younger’ you. It never ends well. Nevertheless, I’ll take that risk if only just to share with those out there who are your age – that tender age of 18 – stuck in a dimension somewhere in between childhood and adulthood.

 

You just graduated from Eisenhower High School. Praise the LORD! It’s over. What an interesting time that was. I don’t think I would want to go back. It’s not because of those horrendous large gold earrings or the fading out of Cross Colors but you were just focused on the wrong things at the beginning. Or rather, you gave the wrong things too much room in your life. I guess that makes sense though because with age, hopefully, comes wisdom. So here goes….

 

2017: Heads Up

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was 2017. You started this year off, literally on Jan 2nd, thinking that someone you love dearly wasn’t going to make it, crumbling under the pressures of life. You then sat, for six hours in the ER, watching them detox from an attempted suicidal overdose while you read the Psalms and prayed. That was a low. A real low. But God was there. Happy New Year….

 

You say 2017 is the “rollercoaster I laughingly call my life”. With going from the ER to being on the cover of a worldwide magazine from dealing with stresses of a high risk pregnancy to sharing your idea worth spreading on the TEDx stage, you were certainly in for the ride of your life this year. You and your loved ones all made it through, largely because of these lessons I've listed below. Take heed and listen. Now, back to where you are....

 

 

 WHO AM I?

 

It’s funny how our school system is set up. It seems like high school, those years of being 14 to 18, are allocated to solidifying some major identity positions. Yet you’re still concerned about the pimples on your face and being asked to random dances that no one attends anyway. They give you four years to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life because you have to choose a major before you graduate and head off to college. Crazy.

 

You had a tough time finding out where you belonged. You didn’t really fit in with the popular crowd but for some reason they would let you tag along when you chose, hovering on the outside of their group like a fly on the wall. Maybe they didn’t mind cause Genae was your twin and she was in with them. Not sure. So you floated. From group to group and click to click. Band geeks, popular rowdy girls, sport jocks, misfits and then…

You found your tribe. A small band of five girls who were just like you. A group of track and field athletes who weren’t all that popular but true to themselves and non-dramatic. You all were goofy and they didn’t mind the way you talked. One of the girls even introduced you to Karaoke. Your mind was blown.

LESSON:

It seems in high school that the more friends you had, the better off you were. Well I’m here to debunk that myth. Once you found your tribe you saw that it’s not the quantity but the quality of friends that matters. I know I know. It sounds so cliché but it’s so true! Boy, were there many nights you cried yourself to sleep because you never had that best friend. All throughout grade school people would try get close to you because they wanted something else – to get to know your cute cousins, to get help on the geometry tests or whatever. Not for you.

 

Well just wait, because God is sending you someone who has felt your loneliness. He’s on the other side of the country right now…feeling it too. He’s going to be your best friend. And trust me, he’s worth the wait.

 

 

THE WAY WE TALK

Girl, you stuttered something awful throughout school. In front of boys, in class and even on the track. You learned kids can be cruel and the easiest thing for you to do is to pretend to laugh along with them, to save face. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get much better for about two decades or so. You’ll struggle in interviews (praying that the interviewer would just think you’re nervous), you’ll attempt to speak in front of a large group at UCLA  and then your vocal cords would freeze up. Not fun. Quite embarrassing. You would scream at God as to why He made you this way. What did you do to deserve this? So many opportunities missed. So many possible connections lost.

 

Well, I’m not going to romanticize this and tell you a ‘struggle to triumph’ story like the ones on Lifetime (television for women!). It just plain sucks! It sucks to have something profound to say and try to get it out and you can barely stumble through it. It sucks to think that people think you’re incompetent because you can’t speak your ideas fluently.

 

It sucks to be silenced.

 

 

LESSON:

Well I lied. I am going to share with you your ‘struggle to triumph’ story cause you might need the strength to continue on and to be bold (and it just might be shown on Lifetime!). Though it took you 15 years or so to realize this, your stutter, as unfair and debilitating as you first saw it, actually helped shaped the woman you have become. Your emotional intelligence is way above average because of your stutter. Since you didn’t talk much, you listened, you watched and you learned how to ‘feel’ people and situations with your heart. Your stutter, and you so being sensitive (do you still cry at commercials??) were traits you first saw as annoyances. But these traits ended up being benefits and gave you the tools to do what you do well, to do what God has called you to do; see about people and help where you can.

 

 

Once someone asked you, “Genein, if you could start your life over again without the stutter, would you?” The 18 year-old Genein would emphatically scream YES!!! But the 38 year-old Genein would hesitate to say yes. She knows she’ll lose a part of herself; her tenacity, her courage and a part of her story, if that stutter, no matter how difficult, never existed.

 

 

DO OR DO NOT: THERE IS NO TRY

 

This is the end of 2017, which makes it the class of ‘97’s twenty year reunion (hopefully). There was a post someone shared on our 97’ Facebook page (this online social webpage ;) that said, “If you could change one thing about high school, what would it be?” Do you know what the majority of answers were?

 

“I wish I would have left that boy/girl alone. I should have focused on school more.”

 

Wow! I think I’m going to write another blog just about that but I wanted to share it with you to remind you two things:

 

LESSON:

1) Your education is up to you. I know you are going through a ‘system’ of pre-set classes (much of it you won’t use in real life anyway) but let me tell you, the BEST education I have found is self-education. Read because you want to, not because a professor tells you to. Sure, get your diploma, get your slew of degrees but NEVER stop learning for yourself. It’s a matter of either having a mediocre, unfulfilled life or living your BEST life ever!

 

2) You never saw yourself as ‘pretty’ in high school. You thought pretty was being light skinned and having long hair – you know, Beyoncé type pretty. Well, you’ll find out that being beautiful, truly beautiful, has nothing to do with the length of your locks or the shade of your skin. You’ll find out that beautiful people light up a room because of their kind spirit and their love for people. You’ll find out that you’re beautiful because God made you. You’ll truly believe, in about ten years from now that, Genein, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

But I will say this. I’m glad you weren’t ‘Beyoncé pretty’ in high school. A few girls who were externally gorgeous got distracted by all that attention. A couple of them even got pregnant in high school. Though you had your few crushes and only one boyfriend in high school, the boys really never paid too much attention to you. That was a blessing in disguise because it gave you time to work on your character, your values and your internal beauty. And that type of beauty, my young friend, has no shade.

 

A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT: FINANCIAL WISDOM

First order of business is to work hard and not to be broke. Now you would think that the former part of that statement would help the latter part. If you work hard then you won’t be broke, right? Not necessarily true. Just because you are a hard worker (which you are - are you still working at K-Mart??) does NOT mean you won’t be living paycheck to paycheck when you get older.

 

And this is what I mean by self-education. No high school class taught me the truth about economical wisdom, inventive entrepreneurship, and how money truly works in this society. No one taught me about investing. No one taught me the difference between appreciating assets and depreciating objects. What a disservice to our high schoolers who wrongly think their almighty college degree will set them up for life.

 

Not so.

 

I won’t go into all of it now but I will tell you this. Give 10% of your gross income back to God (through tithing) and save 10% in a retirement account or index fund with very low fees. If you can do that for now until you learn more in your mid to late 20’s, you’ll be set. I’m not even going to warn you about debt because your debt crisis ends up helping hundreds of people get out of their debt crisis.

 

Sometimes you just gotta go through the fire in order to light the way for others. Sometimes…

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m going to end this letter with tid-bits of wisdom that I learned along the way. I hope it will help you stay focused and hopeful.

 

 

1) Don’t waste your time. It’s the most valuable asset you have. Keep TV watching to a minimum.

 

2) Always go above and beyond. Doing extra really does make a difference.

 

3) You’ll make mistakes. Some big ones too. Ask for forgiveness and keep moving forward.

 

4) Be kind to your parents. No one is perfect. Forgive your father. Thank God for your mother and her adventurous spirit she passed onto you. Make the Jefferson/Cantrell name count. The ones who carried those names before you worked hard and sacrificed much so you would have the opportunities that you have today. Make sure their efforts were not in vain. Make them proud.

 

5) Travel. Your mom traveled with you domestically but now you will take it up a notch and see other places on this continent. Then your husband (aka your BFF) and you will one day see the world.

6) Treat everyone with respect. Whether it’s the janitor of a school or the CEO of a multimillion dollar company (and you will meet plenty of both), greet them all with a bright smile and a kind heart. Every soul you come in contact with deserves at least this.

 

7) Know that God said you are worthy and sets your value. No one else. I don’t care what type of car you drive, how much money you make or what your job title is. Our American culture teaches us to put our value in these superficial things but to quote the Refugees, “One day you drivin’ in your coup. The next day you running from a lawsuit.”  It’s all flighty. Those things come and go. They do not set your value as a person. God does.

8) Get your eyebrows done. It really helps shape the face. :)

 

9) Surround yourself with positive productive people (who read) and don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. God has specifically assigned people to come into your life to assist you with your life’s purpose. Stay awake and be aware of who is influencing your life.

10) Love God and love people.

 

11) You will be in a strategic position to help people, mostly young people your current age of 14-18. Do not take this lightly. Fight for justice and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. It will be a rough road but don’t get weary while doing good. And certainly don’t quit.

 

They are waiting for you.

 

And lastly, Genein, know that you are called to do great things during your time here. 2017 was your most difficult year yet but it has showed you the power of resilience, relationship and faith. Remember when you were 14 and Grandma Della’s friend came by the house and prophesied over you – your very first prophesy? All she said was, “God is going to use you,” and then you never saw her again? Well, since then, you have been prophesied over many times, including by Shawn Bolz (who had no clue who you were). But they were just sharing with you who God says you are. Now it is time to believe it….to actually believe it. George Eliot said it best, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

 

It is time.

 

 

You’re not here just to do a job, pay bills and die. You are here to change the world in a positive way. Fight the good fight, keep smiling and I pray your faith fail thee not.

 

With  the love of Christ and excitement for what is to come,

I love you.

 

Genein Marie Jefferson-Letford,
38 years old, 9 Months Pregnant

 

 

PS. You’re still obsessed with Abraham Lincoln so here’s a quote you'll end up keeping with you for years.

 

“Without union, the constitution is only a piece of paper. I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming and I know His hand is in it. If He has a place – work for me – and I think He has, I believe I’m ready. And with God’s help, I shall not fail.”

~ A. Lincoln

...and here he is.... Shawn T. Letford the first. :)