I was recently editing my book “Ella’s Rain,” due out early next year. At the end of the book are 365 letters Grandma wrote to Ella before she died. Grandma instructs her best friend, Maddie, who becomes Ella’s guardian upon her death, to give Ella a new note every day.
When I wrote the notes, I thought about my sons and what I’d want them to know if I wasn’t able to grow old with them. I also thought about my sister, Wendy, and her husband, Brad, and all of my friends who have passed away and the children they left behind. What would they want their children to know?
What I discovered while writing the notes is that many of them were born out of actual conversations I’ve had with my sons over the years. When I completed them, I felt not only good about the guidance Grandma had provided Ella, but also a sense of pride in the legacy I’m leaving behind.
Here are some of those notes.
Believe in yourself: Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself. That little monster called Doubt taps you on the shoulder and makes you question if you really have what it takes. Shoo that beast away. You must believe in yourself, even if no one else believes in you. Too many dreams are lost because a person gave up too soon.
Love yourself: Sometimes, it’s hard to love yourself. But I really think that before you can truly love someone else you first have to love yourself. Loving yourself means accepting your imperfections and shortcomings. It means striving to be a better person daily, a person you can be proud of. God has given you the gift of life and many talents to go along with it. Love yourself enough to take care of that life and use your talents the way God intended.
Words have power: Know and understand this power. Words can harm and hurt. Use them to encourage, and uplift, and love. Saying a kind word is such a simple thing, and yet it can change a life. And remember, too, words live on long after they’re spoken. Words said in anger can hurt for a lifetime.
Live life to the fullest: I once knew a man who had so many dreams he recorded them in a tiny black notebook. Whenever I’d see him, he’d show me his notebook so I could read the new dreams he’d added. One day, I asked him how many of the dreams he had fulfilled. The answer? None. He spent his lifetime collecting dreams, but never living them.
Of course, he had all sorts of excuses. Not enough money. Not enough time. Too young. Too old. It got so that I stopped asking him about his dreams whenever I saw him. And he stopped showing me his tiny black notebook. He died recently and along with him all those dreams.
Don’t be like this man, Ella. Don’t be a collector of dreams. Live your dreams.
Embrace change: People hate change. They get comfortable inside their little cocoons and are afraid to bust out and explore the world. Don’t be afraid of change, Ella. Don’t be one of those people who stay inside their cocoon because they fear the unknown.
Don’t be afraid to play in the mud: Remember the time I hosed you and Emily off in the backyard? The two of you had played in a mud puddle and were covered from head to toe. You had the best time that day.
Somewhere along the way, you stopped jumping in mud puddles. Maybe you didn’t want to get your clothes dirty. Or maybe you thought a big girl shouldn’t do such a little-girl thing. Whatever the reason, you stopped. Just like that. And it made me sad.
Then one day, I dared you to jump in a mud puddle under the cherry tree.
“Grandma,” you said, “I’m too old for jumping in puddles.”
So I jumped in first, and you followed. We had so much fun getting muddy that day. I think I was still washing mud out of my hair a week later.
Sometimes, Ella, you just have to let go and jump in the mud puddle.
Forgive yourself. Forgive others.: Don’t ever underestimate the power of forgiveness. I’ve seen it free people. I’ve seen it lift burdens that had weighed them down and kept them from moving on. Forgiving isn’t always easy, especially when we’ve been hurt by someone we loved and trusted. But when you forgive, healing can begin.
Be brave: After I’m gone, Ella, I need you to be brave. Very brave. I need you to pick yourself up and go on with your life. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means moving forward despite being scared. It’s means not allowing your fear to hold you back.
Be tolerant of others: There is so much intolerance in the world, Ella. Be tolerant of those who think and feel differently. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It means you’re allowing them to think and feel the way they do without them feeling less of a person because of it.