Today is my 24th birthday, but before you feel the obligation to wish me a happy day of birth, let me stop you. There is no need. I’ve walked into today with no feelings of excitement or anticipation. Instead, I look at it as just another day in the routine of life.
Now, I’m not saying this with any sort of disdain or ill-feelings towards my birthday. I am glad that I was born, after all. As every year passes, the special ambiance once felt as a child regarding my birthday dwindles. The presents become more scarce, their usefulness more logical, and becoming another year older just means you’ve gained more experience than what you had last year.
This experience is the only reason I have a spark of enthusiasm as my age ticks another number higher. This past year was one for the books. I had so many new experiences and unexpected twists and turns as a 23-year-old that I look back over the last year and marvel at the person molded before me in the mirror.
On October 13, 2014, I was on my way to growing up but I had not quite reached the point of Adulthood. Don’t get me wrong; I still have wavering thoughts, make questionable choices, and worry every day about my future. However, somewhere over the past year I crossed the line of Young Adult to Real Adult. There are several reasons I say this and I’d like to compare the Then 23-year-old Girl to the Now 24-year-old Woman through some examples of what I’ve learned over the last year…
When it comes to love and relationships, I am not dependent on another person for happiness.
Last year when I turned 23, I was just beginning my relationship with Army. (Literally just beginning, we had only made things official a week prior.) However, I approached the relationship very hesitantly for two key reasons: I didn’t believe I could love someone as much as I loved X and I honestly didn’t want to put as much effort into making my SO’s family happy as I did with X. In retrospect, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a new relationship when I met Army.
Now my infatuation with X was gone by this time, but the emotions of how he and his family made me feel were not. These were both very warring emotions for someone who was still attempting to find her individualism. Though I dated during the time between X and Army, I did not have any lasting relationships in which to change the only way I knew to act as a girlfriend. This included being dependent on the guy and a pushover and coward to his family. As someone who was discovering herself, entering into a relationship where my mind was screaming, “NO! WE AREN’T GOING BACK TO BEING THAT KIND OF GIRL!” was terrifying.
Cue Army and his family. As our relationship progressed, my entire view of relationships and family interactions changed. With Army, I could remain independent. He urged me to keep up with my other friendships, he encouraged my hobbies and interests, and he made a point to intertwine both our lives together while keeping them apart. I never became the dependent, clinging, subservient girlfriend when I was with Army. As for his family, they accepted me from Day One. They were actually a large reason as to why I fell so hard for Army; I was part of his family. So as my feelings grew for Army and his entire family, the thoughts that I could never love someone again diminished. I opened my heart, and though it was ultimately crushed in the end, I became a stronger woman with the knowledge that I could love, lose, and find love again. I was not dependent on another person for happiness; I simply found myself happier with someone to share life.
A year later and I look at love and relationships in a new light. I might not have the intimate love I’ve known in the past with X or Army at this time in my life, but I’m happy. I am happy with myself, and in turn happy with my relationships of all those around me. Right now I am focusing on strengthening the friendships and relationships in my current life situation, and also continuing to build myself into the sort of person necessary for a functional, loving, long-lasting intimate relationship.
When it comes to my ideologies, I’ve jumped off the well-groomed trail of my entire childhood and begun to trek into the murkier parts of the world.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up attending a private school where religion was discussed every day. My home church was adjoined to this school, so my weekly Bible classes usually were focused more succinctly upon during Sunday’s sermon. It came to the point where I knew my Bible stories so well and the teachings of my Lutheran faith so clear that I took advantage of the grace by which I was saved. God’s Word, church, and my faith played a small part of much of my college life. I maintained my strong morals, mostly out of fear instilled in me by I only attended service when forced to do so by my parents. I only prayed when life became too stressful.
Then X and I broke up and I found myself clinging to the only One who I had been taught was always there for me — God. I prayed for strength, I prayed for success, I prayed for healing of the pain. Then I met Army and life was good again… except the fact that he was a self-claimed agnostic. I wrestled with this fact throughout the entire relationship; yes, I loved him, but could there potentially be a future with someone who openly mocked my faith?
By the end of the relationship, I had made up my mind. My recovery time over our break up took less time than with X because I knew, truthfully, there had never been a future for Army and me. I never wanted to take advantage of my faith again. I wanted to retain and be proud of my morals. I chose eternal grace over earthly love.
Upon our break up, I also made the choice to refocus on my faith. I didn’t want to revert back to clinging to God as my only source of support and I didn’t want to pray only for my own needs and wants. I wanted to be a better person and a better believer.
So I broke out of my comfort zone and went to my first Bible study group meeting at the beginning of August. The group, called House, has become my closest network of support, friendship, and spiritual encouragement. A group of 20-somethings all struggling to gain footing in a world focusing more internally than externally, House not only allows me to explore God’s Word in new and enticing ways, but it has given me examples of peers who are going through life at the same speed I am. I no longer am focused on being single, but I am content knowing I have friends to spend time with and experience life. I no longer feel ashamed of my faith or scared to be mocked over my morals because I have the support of similar faiths surrounding me. It truly is uplifting!
Joining House and attending church with this group has led me away from my Lutheran religion. Though I happily wake up every Sunday to go to service, it is not to my parents’/home congregation. Rather it is with a Church of God congregation. The first service I attended was incredible — it was contemporary, relative to my every day life, and different than my typical church experiences. I was in love. Now after a month of sitting among my Housemates, I still find myself soaking in the day’s sermon. My mind doesn’t wander, I don’t feel my body trying to sleep; instead, I am focused on God’s Word, the grace shown to me every day, and the strengthening of my faith through Word and fellowship.
It’s strange to be studying and worshiping in a new environment, but the one which I have known for over 20 years was no longer fulfilling my heart and soul. I’ve grown into a person who is not content with being told how her faith should look, but rather someone who wants to delve deeper into what religion is and establish what she wants her faith to say about her.
When it comes to life, I’m focusing on living a day at a time and enjoying every moment given to me.
As I look over the past year, I am able to comfortably say that I am a very emotional being. I loved with all my heart and I cried when it was broken. I laughed with every fiber of my body and I felt anger when a friend betrayed me. I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor, began a new career, and moved into the apartment living style of life. Every day brings about a random string of emotions and feelings, and I’m perfectly happy with my life. I am continuously learning from my past while looking towards my future, but my ultimate focus is living in the present and enjoying every moment that has graciously been given to me.
So here I am, a more mature, optimistic woman who has grown a ton in the span of only one year. I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed in 365 days, but you know what? I’m going to be just as amazed by how different I am next year when I turn 25. Onto bigger, better, and brighter things!
And the cool thing is, I’ve been able to share the past year with all of you. I’ve kept my promise to myself to keep Peonies ‘n Mint striving, and since 23-year-old Ashley, the site has boomed. I love growing my blogosphere relationships just as much as my in-real-life ones. You are all fantastic and it has been wonderful not only getting to know you but also abiding by your advice and gaining strength when you share similar experiences. Thank you, lovelies. Cheers to another year!