A Visit With My Younger Self

Last Week, Kellie posted a fun flashback featuring Belle childhood photos. I happened to be visiting my mother in Louisiana when I received that request, so my mom and I looked through some old family snapshots that had captured the highlights of my childhood.

My return to “the good ol’ days” got me thinking.

If I could go back in time to chat with the fledgling Julie in these photos, what would I say?

jp5The first photograph shows me at one year of age, mesmerized by a flock of fluffy baby chicks. Ironically, the day I found this photo at my mom’s house, I had spent the morning back at home in Mississippi, feeling as excited as a school-girl because our incubator at Valley House Farm had finally worked. We had welcomed a brand new batch of hatchlings to our barn, and all of us crowded around to ooh and ahh, snuggling the chicks’ soft feathers and tuning our ears to their high-pitched chirps.

Now, looking back at the the dark-haired toddler in the barn all those years ago, I say to her: “Never lose your sense of wonder and always remain connected to the greater world. Life in all its forms is a miracle, a mystery, and worthy of our attention. Slow down, take notice, and surround yourself always with the smallest of souls. They deliver peace and remind us that we are all fragile beings.”

Njp6ext, I see myself at 16 months, proudly displaying my new Easter dress for the camera. Arms outstretched, smile big, flashy red tights and a sailor cap that yells “I’ve got pizazz!”  And then another image, this one from New Year’s Day, with a snappy red faux fur coat and a joyful laugh that seems ready to conquer the universe.

jp7Here’s what I say to that confident little fashion guru: “Never lose your own sense of style. There will come a day when you will no longer care about your own appearance. You will not spend money on yourself, even if that means you wear your husband’s shirts and jeans from the thrift store. You will eat the crusts from your children’s sandwiches and call it a meal. You will ignore the gray roots that frame your temples and the crow’s feet that jetty out from reddened eyes. Remember how good you felt in this brand new dress, striking a pose without a care in the world about what anyone else thought of you. It felt good to look good. Remember that, when you are 40 and feeling frumpy. Splurge on yourself for a change, and enjoy the way it feels to shine.”

jp1Now look at this one. Here’s a girl who is fearless. I’m four and doing my “dangerous tricks” with no hands. I would spend my afternoons balanced on the precipice of these monkey bars as if I had summited Mt. Everest. Better yet, a boiling volcano with lava leaping over the edges, a sinking ship surrounded by swarms of hungry sharks, an iceberg breaking apart beneath me.

“Listen, little daredevil, yeah you…the one with the astronaut on your tee-shirt, who believes whole-heartedly you will someday walk on the moon. As you grow old, I hope you continue to fear nothing. Go out into this great big world and explore every inch of it. Climb those mountains, swim those seas, hike those jungles, and never stop living the grand adventure. Life is short. Go live it!”

jp4Now we see a girl without a worry in the world. This little Julie is living it up on the beautiful white-sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast…still one of my favorite places to vacation. Look at that smile. I’m not thinking about how my thighs look in that swimsuit or whether the sun will make me age too quickly.

To this bathing beauty I say, “Never lose your free spirit. Run carelessly in the warm summer sands and never feel ashamed of your body. Celebrate the fact that you CAN run, swim, walk, talk, and move around this glorious land with ease. Never look in a mirror and think a negative thought about a body that still does its job for you. Count your blessings. Live in gratitude. And what the heck…go ahead and forget all that modesty that will keep you from wearing a bikini when you have the figure for it. Also, don’t take that perfect figure for granted. Exercise and stay in shape because one day you’ll wake up and wish you had.”

jp3And finally, we see a girl who believes in herself. Not a single ounce of self-doubt or insecurity to be found. She’s a smiling, trophy-gripping, wide-eyed ballerina. There’s really no sense in telling her she hasn’t just danced lead in The Nutcracker. She’s on top of the world. The ultimate prima-donna. Look at her shine!

To her, I say: “Never lose your ability to feel good about your efforts. If you want to dance, dance. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to write, write. If you want to farm, farm. If you want to teach, teach. If you want to parent, parent. But whatever you do, give it your all; and never let anyone stop you from doing what you dare. If you dream it, do it. And celebrate the effort whether it leads to success or failure. The joy, remember, is in the trying.”

I encourage you to look through your own childhood photos. Write a letter to the younger YOU. What do you want to say to her, knowing now what you didn’t know then? And what aspects of yourself do you recognize in those early photos that you would like to rediscover today?







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Julie Cantrell

New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author at Harper Collins Christian
Julie Cantrell is a tree-hugging organic-farm girl and mother of two who happened into a mid-life adventure as a novelist. She's having fun parenting, writing, teaching, speaking, and living the dream.

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  1. says

    Julie . . . LOVE these photos! You were a cutey-patootey! The jungle bar image is my favorite, or maybe the ballerina trophy. No, the beach . . . well, they’re all adorable. I bet you and your mom had a good time going through the photographs remembering.

    When I look at old family photos, the idea that permeates my thinking is how I never realized that my daddy and mom would one day no longer be here. I’d give just about anything to sit on my dad’s lap again and feel his farm-calloused hand on my shoulder. And I’d love to sit on the edge of the bathtub and watch my mother rat her hair up into a big do and spray it with Aqua-Net hairspray. (I still buy a can once in a while and spray it….just to bring “her” back).

    This life is fleeting . . . and then eternity. We should all follow your admonition and live our days well.

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Hi Kellie – You’re right…we never know how long someone will be with us. I did enjoy my one-on-one time with my mom last week. A rare treat. And I love how you by AquaNet so you can revisit your mother. It’s amazing how simple smells can transport us through time. I’ve claimed all along that we already know how to time travel…we just don’t realize it. Hugs,

  2. says

    Love this, Julie! As I was looking at your photos, I kept thinking that there is another side to the story, the photographer’s. Someone (your mom?) took you to the beach, the playground, and to dance class, marveled at your joy and accomplishments, and wanted to remember these special moments forever. So…when I see these pictures, I see a beautiful child who was brave, confident, happy. And very deeply loved.

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Hi Amy – OH HOW RIGHT YOU ARE, my sweet friend. I actually was thinking the same thing as I was writing this post. I have no doubt I have survived this life because of the immense love and support my mother has given me. I am very blessed to have been born her daughter. As I know you are too to have such amazing parents in your life. Thanks for pointing that out. I hope my mom reads your comment and realizes I’m not the only one who knows this to be true. Hugs, j

  3. Lisa Wingate says

    Julie, what a beautiful post! As always the loveliness of the words captured me, but the truth underlying them will stay with me.

    I’ve often thought, if we could catch little girls just before adulthood makes them self conscious and critical of themselves… and somehow capture that free, confident spirit of girlhood, wouldn’t life be a whole different thing?

    Last time I was in Florida, I saw three older ladies frolicking in the surf, acting like girls, and to tell you the truth, I just stood there thinking, sometimes we get “there” for a minute or two, after all.

  4. Darlene Finch says

    Awwww, my sweet Julie! You do know you were the most beautiful little girl ever!! I loved looking at these pictures and loved your thoughts about each one. I still remember going to your house one day when you were about 2. Uncle Don was saying hi to your dog (can’t remember which one??) and you looked up and him and said, “he can’t talk, Uncle Don” Hahaha! Precious and funny!! And now you are still beautiful, creative, talented, brilliant and a joy to have in my life. I’m so blessed to have you as my niece!

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Ha — Aunt Darlene, my favorite Aunt! Thanks for that memory and thanks for always filling our lives with love and light. and LAUGHS! the best part of all. Hugs, j

  5. says

    Having just returned from the beach, I was so heart sickened at the young girls (we’re talking 14 or 15, here) who thought they had nothing to offer but what they flaunted beneath their bikinis. We actually overheard one surfer saying to his friend, “I love coming out here and seeing these underage chicks in bikinis.” Misty, my best friend, was so appalled that she wrote it down to share one day. Somehow I want to teach my own little girl to have enough confidence in who she is that she can indeed be like that picture of you on the sugar-sand beach, just soaking up the sun and the surf without a care in the world. This is my prayer; it is also something I have had to learn, as I was once just like those 14 or 15 year old girls, but thankfully had parents who wouldn’t allow me to walk around in a bikini! 😉

    • Lisa Wingate says

      Bless you and that sweet little girl, Jolina. That is such a worthy goal. We need to show young girls that they are more than just how they look and whether they can get guys to look. If only we could preserve the confidence they have before they’re old enough to notice that they’re being noticed!

    • says

      So true, Jolina. How much more sweet lil Miss A will have to offer with such a good mommy to teach her that the world will not end if surfer dudes can’t rate her cleavage!

      Very thought provoking post, Julie! I love the part about eating your kids’ leftover sandwich crusts! Oh so true!!!

  6. Marsha Holm says

    Oh, Julie, I remembered every picture! How we loved you! And that love has never wavered. Wonderful journey back in time. Memories, memories!

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Mrs. Marsha – you’re like family to me, and I have indeed always felt loved by you. Thanks for the lifelong friendship and kindness you have offered our family. Hugs, j

  7. says

    If this damaged right wing wasn’t making typing painful, I would write you a book in reply filled with all the reasons I love this post. For now, I’ll just have to ask Father to convey the sincerity. My fav Julie post eva’~

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Sweet Shellie — I can’t imagine ANYTHING slowing you down … not even a cast, but I’m so sorry you are dealing with a broken arm/wing. Maybe the pain meds are making my post seem brilliant and your favorite eva 😉 love you, j

  8. Anonymous says

    I loved looking at old pictures with you. Being your mother is the greatest joy in my life, I am so proud that this beautiful, happy little girl has grown up to be a wonderful young woman who makes such a difference in the world.

  9. Rachel Hauck says

    Ah, I love this Julie. You are so cute!! And I love all the reminders to your big self from your little self. So true for us all!

    Great post!


    • Julie Cantrell says

      Thanks, Rachel. It’s good to go back and remember who we are at our core…and sometimes it takes that little girl inside of us to remind us. Hugs to you, j

  10. Melanie Backus says

    My dear Julie, what a joy you must have been as a precious little girl and what a joy your are now. I love your reflecting and your words of wisdom. As children, the world is so big and we look at it with such wonder, innocence, and amazement. As adults, the world is still big but our wonder, innocence, and amazement have lessened as life has taken us by the hand and not let go. Each day we live and learn and each day we are one day closer to home. Love you, girl!

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