Vices vs. Verses: A Testimony

There has been a lot of discussion in my church lately on the importance of personal testimony and how individual stories can impact the world. Giving testimony on one’s faith is empowering and gives honor and glory to God because we are relaying the story of how He saved us. Peonies ‘n Mint, though loosely based around random discussion on what Life brings to the table, has grown to include more and more discussions on faith and belief as well. I do not usually dive into topics that may cause conflict, as I’m sure anything centering around religion may, but when it comes to my faith, I’m going to choose not to be afraid and go there…

I was blessed to have parents who felt the importance to have me grow up in the Church. I was baptized two weeks after my birth into the Lutheran faith and attended church regularly every week following. I began school in a Lutheran day-preschool at the early age of four. From there on I was given Bible lessons every day up through senior year in high school. I had to memorize Bible verses on a daily basis, I attended chapel services at least three days a week, and I was taught the stories of the Bible as an academic course. To say I knew the Bible like the back of my hand is an understatement…

Having religion as such a central part of one’s education should be a wonderful thing. However, I’ve come to believe that growing up in such a fashion leads to two very different types of people: the one who centers all thinking on his or her faith OR the one who takes advantage of that education and rebels. I am ashamed to say that for a long time I fell into the latter category.

Upon entering my higher education years, I left daily catechism to begin studying in a public university. In a better world, I would have matured throughout my college years into a steadfast and faithful woman of God. I should have taken the time to read the Bible on my own, revisiting familiar passages in the Word. I should have pushed myself to dive into devotions and actively allowed prayer into my life. I should have searched and joined Bible Study groups on campus to share in fellowship with my fellow believers. Instead, I allowed my past knowledge to be enough and left my faith on the back burner.

It isn’t surprising, then, that when I was faced with my first real trial in Life that I turned my back on God. I experienced the first true pain in the twisting shadows of heartbreak. I should have clung to God and His encouraging words such as 2 Corinthians 12v9: But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Rather, I blamed God and played the victim saying He had turned His back on me.

To make matters worse, I not only closed myself to God, but I opened myself to many vices of the world. I was no longer Ashley, but some foreign wraith of the girl who once prided herself on reciting Bible verses in front of her church congregation. I began to drink heavily. I was well known at many local bars, finding myself on first-name basis with barkeeps all over the county. It was rare for me not to close down a bar on any given Friday or Saturday. I found any and all worth in the compliments I received from men I met at those bars. I tried every unhealthy diet in the book because I was solely focused on looking and acting the part of a good bar-fly. I began to associate with people of the same ambition. I swore, I lied, and I didn’t give a damn about my reputation.

Acting in this manner led me to be an extremely lonely individual. Feeling lousy, depressed, and of no self-worth, I jumped at the first opportunity granted me at a real relationship. Enter Army. I blamed all my hardships on life on that starting factor: my breakup with X. So, naturally, I believed beginning a new romance would provide me with the self-worth necessary to make me happy.

The one positive thing to come from this stage in my life is that I became an extrovert. When you don’t care what people think, you’re much more prone to talking to strangers and being more social. With an increased bravado, I agreed to a blind date where I met Army for the first time. In retrospect, there wasn’t much to our initial attraction past looks. I suppose he intrigued me because we seemed to have common lifestyles: we both liked to drink, we both liked to workout, and we were both lonely.

Those similarities worked for a while, until they didn’t.

God brought me to my senses in a very clear and pungent way. (Literally.) One day in early summer, Army and I attended a festival at a local winery. It was typical that our time together centered around alcohol, and the day started off well enough. We pitched lawn chairs in the winery’s vineyards facing their outdoor stage where several bands were set to play throughout the day and we headed to grab growlers of our favorite beverages. In a streak of pure brilliance on my part, I had stayed up late the night before, ran a 5k race that morning, and opted out of eating any food whatsoever prior to the festivities. So the 64 ounces of sangria was all I had in my system. Things only continued to go downhill from there and a series of very unfortunate events (points of which I am still too ashamed to divulge in public) transpired. Ultimately, the afternoon concluded with Army screaming obscenities at me while I bawled in front of over 500 people. It was, and remains to be, the single most embarrassing moment of my life.

Though Army apologized profusely the days following this horrendous event, things never felt the same after that festival. We became distant from one another. Looking back, its clear that was the beginning to our end.

It was also, blessedly, the start to my new life though.

It’s funny how deep and impacting embarrassment can strike you. I had dealt with other situations with Army, such as getting kicked out of establishments due to his temper and witnessing him want get into fights for as simple of a reason as someone not moving forward in line at a grocery check out… But nothing struck me quite like that festival. I realized that I was associated to such anger, and that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t want to be the type of person who belittled strangers, who allowed others’ impertinence, who was arrogant and only cared about her own well-being. I no longer didn’t care…

With the feeling of utter shame, I began to reflect on my actions, and lack of action. I looked in the mirror and, though I no longer saw a crying, sniveling little girl, I still didn’t like my reflection. In the mirror I saw a girl who prided herself on her vices. She was vain. She was mean. She lied and swore and looked down on people because she somehow thought she was better than them. And something — buried deep, deep inside me — broke.

I knew I had to change.

Change, however, does not come all at once. Change is a process. I used to think my life change began when Army and I broke up, but now I can see it actually began at that wine festival. That was the moment I truly saw the kind of person I was becoming, and I was disgusted. I slowly began to drink less. While still with Army, I began to opt out of the bar scene, and instead chose to go to the gym or stay home. When he’d suggest going out, I’d order water to his beer. Once we broke up, I decided I wanted to take a hiatus from the dating scene. I no longer wanted to find my worth in a man’s perception. I wanted to find worth in myself. I worked out consistently, I created tighter friend circles, and I started to research new hobbies and activities available in my community. And somewhere along those lines that deeply buried broken girl pieced herself into a completely new woman.

Yet, even after I had grown past my vices, something was still missing from my life. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep pretending I didn’t know what that something was either: a strong connection to God. My faith had truly not been touched since high school. And even though I was molding myself into a new person, there was no lasting mortar to make sure I wouldn’t come crashing down again in the future.

I’m not a strong prayer. I feel ashamed to say that because I’ve had better instruction on how to talk to God than most people do throughout their lives. But, I’m just not. I forget constantly to thank God for His guidance, for His blessings, for His continued work in my life. Nonetheless, God still heard me that summer day when I was online browsing for something new to enter my life. At the time, I didn’t even know exactly what I needed, but He sure did!

I found House while looking for a Bible study group at First Church. Out of the blue, a Facebook friend had posted that she would be starting a Bible Study at the church come September. The topic she posted about sounded interesting, and since I was wanting to try new things, I investigated a bit further. I’m not sure if I actually even made it to the page with the Bible Study topics… all I remember is clicking a button pertaining to a “20 Somethings Group”. I jotted down the meeting location and time and made a mental note to try to join the group the following week.

It took me three weeks to find the House group. House is a Bible study group for 20 and 30-year-olds which meets at a local beach during the summer months. My first two attempts, the group had been holding fellowship in the actual lake, swimming and playing games and whatnot. So I spent the first two weeks walking up to random groups on the beach, asking if they were the House group, and receiving confused looks.

By the third week, I had pretty much given up, thinking the group either wasn’t considerate of newcomers or the group simply had no interest and didn’t truly meet! So there I was, on that fateful August evening, sitting at my parents’ house, staring into the void when my mom asks, “Why aren’t you going to that Bible study? I thought you were going to give it one last shot?” Since I honestly had nothing else to do, I shrugged and drove over to the beach. Luckily, my fears weren’t validated: House had regrouped on the beach and I was finally able to find them! And, the rest is history…

With every passing week at House, my faith grew a little bit more. Not only was I participating in studying the Bible, but I was able to have deep and impacting discussions on the Word’s content with peers of my own age. After saying goodbye to my bar lifestyle, I also ended up saying goodbye to quite a lot of “friends” who didn’t understand why I no longer wanted to be fun. So, House also provided me with a new friendship pool. Not only were the members of House fellow believers, but they soon would be my closest friends and confidants.

I dealt with a lot of loss since joining House. And whereas I might have once crumbled over that pain, the people I met in the organization were exactly the sort of people I needed. Each and every one of them has strength and compassion unparalleled to anyone else I’ve ever met. I honestly cannot express how blessed I am to have them; they are simply great, godly people.

And while being surrounded by such great, godly people, its hard not to also become godly. I feel excited to join House for church every Sunday, I eagerly await Wednesdays to participate in our weekly Bible Study, I even organized my own women’s Bible study group — something of which I NEVER thought I’d see myself do!

It’s amazing to think that little over a year ago I didn’t even want God in my life. I didn’t want to care about what He wanted from me. I didn’t want to change from my sinful nature. I didn’t want Him to see what I was becoming…

Yet God always has a way of knowing exactly what we need when we need it. It’s easy to forget and want to rush things to our own timeline, but that never truly works out in the ways we want, does it? No, God is the only one omniscient of our futures and what is best for us.

So, though I continue to struggle against my sinful nature on a daily basis, I gladly welcome God into my heart nowadays. Vices will always surface in a sin-filled world, but the Word’s verses hold me strong in His ways. Philippians 4v13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This I know is true.


 

God works in mysterious ways to bring us to His saving kingdom. As I said at the beginning of this post, testimonies are used to not only empower us to share His Word, but also to glorify God. If you are willing to share, I would love to hear your own testimony! 

2015 in Reflection

I wrote a reflection on my year in 2014 (2014 in Reflection) and, looking back, to see when and where I was in my life at each month in the past is a very powerful experience. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things can change and directions in Life can alter. This time last year I was preparing to begin a new career, was steadily becoming more infatuated with a new relationship, and the worst loss I had to cope with was that of a broken heart. 2015 brought about a whole new level of craziness that only reinstates Peonies ‘n Mint’s tagline: I am truly blessed to have loved, lost and gained so much.

While looking back at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, I have to laugh. I made a list of 15 Goals for 2015 and actually succeeded in quite a few of them throughout this year. How I was successful with each strike off the list may not have been completely planned, but it was a success nonetheless! My only “failures” were not running a timed race every month, not going Paleo for an entire month, not learning mixology, and not seeing Miranda in concert. Thankfully, these are options I can make goals for in 2016 if I choose; 2015 was not my only shot!

Overall 2015 was very eventful::

January: I began work at Heartland in a new career path of real estate. This path took me to enrolling in real estate classes and ultimately passing the state examination to receive my real estate agent license by mid-summer.

February: Referring to my goals list in 2015, I chose to continue working and volunteering with Susan G. Komen after leaving Shadowland and no longer being in the event planning business. I was asked to be head decorator at a gala called Pink Tie Ball held on Valentine’s Day where over $18,000 was earned for research and treatment of breast cancer. I also helped decorate for the Little Black Dress event at Shadowland in October 2015 and will be on the event committee for Pink Tie Ball 2016.

May: I lost four friends in 2015, and May marked the passing of the first. My best friend who has been my Harry Potter-premier partner and country concert comrade since kindergarten lost her mother unexpectedly. Jamie, whose home was like a second dwelling for me growing up, went to heaven following complications with a minor surgery. Jamie was a highly intelligent woman and one who gave me a lot of advice during my drama with X. I looked up to her fondly. And though the loss was painful enough, my heart hurt most for Granger, who is my best friend and daughter of Jamie. Every person handles grief differently, but it seemed as if Granger simply did not want to handle the grief at all. My heart still hurts for my friend as she and her family continue to struggle with the loss.

June: The second friend lost was Army. And though I might scoff at calling him a friend today, back in June that is exactly what I considered him. I never thought him and I had a future together; we were far too opposite in personality and beliefs. However, Army was someone I cared for and his family was some of the best people I have had the pleasure of meeting. The sudden and unexpected break up left me in tears for a few days, and then mad at anything male for a few months.

In retrospect, it was quite the blessing to lose Army. Not only did I come to the realization that my heart could continue to mend after another heartbreak, but I learned I could love people differently with every relationship I came in contact. I also broke out of a very gloomy and God-forsaken viewpoint after this break, something of which I can never fully thank Army for granting me the opportunity.

July: I ventured on a spontaneous road trip with Teeth in July and it ultimately ended our friendship. Though we are back on speaking terms, Teeth now lives in North Carolina and our conversations are very limited and usually spoken within group texts with the other two girls from the 2014 cruise, Saki and Toto.

August: June and July led me to the most pivotal change in 2015: my participation in House. While being disgusted with men and dealing with the after effects of a broken friendship, my life was a bit gloomy. I was questioning a lot of things and I felt as if the only way for me to break out of the darkness was to force myself into some light. And so one Tuesday evening I chose to branch out and join a Bible study group full of individuals I had never met and at a church I had never attended.

I have not looked back since.

House has become a firm foundation in many aspects of my life. Not only has it reignited my heart to be open to God, but it has provided me with some of the strongest friendships I’ve had to date.

September: Speaking of House, September is the month I attended a bonfire of a fellow “Houser”, roasted stale marshmallows, and met Wilbur. Wilbur has quickly become one of my best friends. My feelings for him grow stronger every single moment I spend with him and, at least right now, this is all I’m going to share about our relationship. I’ll keep you all updated in the future…

October: I moved in with M at the very beginning of October. We painted and pounded and were pleasantly surprised when the vintage apartment went from being “a place” to “our home.” Living on my own is not the same as going away to college and living in a dorm. It’s been an eye-opening experience, but one I am loving every minute! 2016 will be a great summer what with living only a minute from Lake Michigan and the beach, and living right downtown has been perfect with remaining active in the community and keeping up with friends.

November: The last loss of 2015 and one that continues to haunt me in my dreams sometimes: Saki’s cousin and a friend of mine, Brandi, lost her life tragically to Lake Michigan after being washed off a pier. Brandi was a strong supporter of the Right for Life, which her and I worked together with during college. Her loss hit a spot deep inside me; she was only 24 years old at her passing. It’s incredible how much losing someone can hurt, but death of a young friend is even more painful. I’m still working out why God decided to take her when He did, but I believe it was for the best reasons. I am proud to have called Brandi a friend, and I am happy to know I will see her sometime in the future.

December: December has been wonderfully uneventful thus far. There has been quite a bit of holiday joy: work holiday parties, Christmas light viewings with Wilbur, enjoying the Star Wars VII premier, gift shopping with friends, small game nights to enjoy Christmas movies and treats. I hosted a Christmas party for House on the 11th which was a hit. I made all the food myself and coordinated a White Elephant Gift Exchange — all of which I am happy to report was a success. I am enjoying the lead up to Christmas with those closest in my life, and I wouldn’t want things to be any different than they are right now.

As for Firsts in 2015, I had several:

  • First career shift
  • First full year with no school or homework
  • First time dating someone with no religious affiliation
  • First experience with the pain of death in my life
  • First venture away from my home church
  • First time joining a group I had no connection with (House)
  • First consideration of switching my church membership
  • First Ultimate team weekly activity
  • First trivia team weekly activity
  • First spin class
  • First time going to a movie alone
  • First friendship sparked via the blogosphere (Hillary)
  • First spontaneous road trip

Life is good and I am happy.

Next up for the end of 2015: Christmas Day celebrations, New Years Party, MSU taking on Alabama, and receiving a little Christmas bonus from work.

What I’m looking forward to in 2016: family vacation to Disney, new goals and aspirations, three weddings of some very close friends, lazy summer beach days, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and everything else the New Year brings to me life!

To the Guy I Thought I’d Grow Old With

A few days ago my friend Meghan reblogged this article written by Anna Bashkova and reading through it gave my heart a pang. I’m not the type of person who likes to openly hurt myself; I am no masochist. So it is not very often I try to think about my past. Sure, I’ve learned from my choices and the people who have come and gone throughout my life, but to actively consider these things every day? Not a chance. However, when those rare occasions happen — and they are bound to through social media postings, run-ins, and flashes of memory — it is sometimes hard to connect my current self with the former.

I have been in love twice. For some of you reading this post, this is old news. I’ve spoken about these loves in bits of Peonies ‘n Mint (okay, so maybe more than “bits”), and as you might know, I loved these two with my whole being. I even accepted a ring at one point. Thinking about how strongly I felt about these two people brings back a lot of mixed emotions. At the time of our romances, they were each my world. I loved them and a future together was all I could imagine. Looking back, though, I remember feeling that a future was set but I cannot always remember why I felt that way. Too often hurt feelings and sad memories block this aspect, the why did I see a future, and I’m left clinging to the reflections, dazed and confused. Then I read Anna’s post, and most specifically the Elizabeth Gilbert quote she used as an introduction, and it was as if a light was shone on these moments…

If you haven’t skipped to Anna’s post yet, let me share with you the quote that shook the dust from my mind:

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master.

After reading this quote and considering my relationships, I am certain of one thing: X was my soul mate. At least, in the concept that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about here. We may have been young, we may have been naive, we might not have had a full grasp on what a future meant, but in the complete meaning of this quote, there is no doubt. During the nine years of our friendship, X was the one person who tore down every single wall I had ever built. I was adamant I didn’t want to date, but in all honesty I was scared of commitment. X pushed enough to knock down that wall and I had an incredibly meaningful relationship for four and a half years. I consistently doubted myself: my intelligence, my worth, my appearance. X chiseled away at those bricks by continuously telling me how much I meant to him, how beautiful I was, and making attempts to show how much he cared. When I was wrong, he’d point out my flaws. When I was right, he’s stand behind me. When I needed support, he took my hand. X shook me up, tore apart my ego, showed me my obstacles and addictions for the majority of our relationship… and then finally, he broke my heart.

There was no way X and I could have lived forever together. Even though he had torn down so many of my walls, if we had been allowed to stay together, there would never had been someone to rebuild me. It was not until our break up that I emerged this “desperate and out of control” creature. I transformed my life, and in turn myself. X truly introduced me to my spiritual master: me.

It was not until X and I went our separate ways that I was forced into control of my own life. He was someone I had relied on for so long, and then suddenly I was alone. No longer did I have someone to tell me my worth; I had to prove it to myself. No longer did I have someone to pick me up when I was down or congratulate me when I succeeded; I began to do so on my own. With every new experience, I questioned my intentions, weighed the outcomes, and ultimately grew. I slowly began to piece together the woman I am today, and this was due largely to X, the man with whom I had once thought I’d grow old.

There’s no way to say who I would have become had X and I continued longer than we did. Given enough time, too many of my walls may have been torn down, and I could have been an entirely broken individual. As grace would have it, the timing was perfect and here I am: strong, independent, and blessed with a bit of wisdom.

The breaking of my heart was exactly what I needed in my life. Love is a silly thing. It can start slowly or it can act as a whirlwind. My two loves were polar opposites of one another, but both were essential for my growth as an individual. Now my past is simply full of strangers with memories, but at least the majority of the memories I have are happy ones. Anna says, “When someone touches your heart, they will infinitely be there.” How brutally honest this statement is. Where there was once so much anger and resentment, there is now a peace. When I finally realized that the love I once thought I had wasn’t the kind to result in the fusing of our lives into one, but rather the kind to give me new life and necessary life lessons, that’s when I received the calmness I desired.

As I move forward, vaguely looking back on my love and loss from time to time, it is comforting to know that though there is pain  and sadness in my memory, there is also the reassurance that the guy I thought I would grow old with was not meant for me. Instead, he helped prepare me to become a better person for when the right guy steps into my life. Isn’t it funny how life takes unexpected, yet happily blissful paths?

So this is for you, the guy who I thought I would grow old with: thank you. Thank you for being my soul mate, and allowing the opportunity to pass in order for me to prepare for my true future.

The Year I Grew Up: A Talk of Faith & Faults

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!

5 Reasons Life is Better Without Your Ex

The county fair was last week and, as is the usual tendency at the fair, my friends and I ate unhealthily while we walked aimlessly around and ran into old classmates and colleagues. One of the groups we happened to run into contained a kid from my high school who was also once one of my campers. (He’s now a sophomore in college! Oh, how quickly he grew up!) As we did our quick five-minute catch-up, he asked me how Army was doing. I was a bit surprised he hadn’t heard of our break up being that it was over three months ago, but I gave my well-rehearsed, polite response, “Actually we aren’t together anymore, so I’m not entirely sure.” To which he gave me the mixed look of sadness and sympathy accustomed to those transitioning through a break up. Then he proceeded to pat me on the back and tell me that I will find someone new and I will get over the heartbreak.

His words, meant to make me feel better about being single, really got me thinking. I have done a lot of reflecting over the past week on my own life and the state I am in at this exact moment. It was not until that exact moment that something struck me: I am over it. I’m over the heartbreak and the sadness and the pain. I’m over him.

A day after the fair, I went on a first date. My date with The Golfer (perhaps I’ll expand on this subject in the future…) just solidified this revelation. Here I was enjoying a great evening with a new person and I could honesty say to myself, “I want to see where this goes.” That means I was considering the future, and not looking back to the past. I’ve moved on and I was/am ready to move forward.

I remember seeing myself in the mirror back in May and being unhappy with what I saw: the girl looking back was sad, angry, and confused. Now, though, looking back it seems surreal that I was so hurt by a person I hardly think about these days. I cannot believe how much stronger and independent I have become since the time with Army. I thought we had a great relationship but I realize now that just because I wanted it to be great didn’t actually mean that was the case. We were good for awhile, but we weren’t meant for the long haul. And I’m happy with this knowledge.

Seeing my life now, I am content. However, I know how difficult it can be to see the bright side of things following a break up. So this post is a big reflection for myself, but is targeted at those who are going through the rough patches right now. Take solace! Life goes on and there are still plenty of reasons to be happy without the person you split from. So for all of you out there who might need the relief, I have constructed this little list of reasons why life is better without having your ex in it:

1.  You become stronger.
I learned this mostly with X’s and my end. Without someone to lean on, you find that you have to pull yourself together and start functioning on your own. This may seem cliche, but it’s true! When I broke up with X, I was broken. It took me months to become strong enough to even consider life without him. However, I finally gained the strength to open my heart again, and that is when I met Army. And though that relationship didn’t work out either, I did not break again, I just cracked a bit. The healing time was quicker, the mindset was clearer, and my future is brighter as I now know I can handle the worst and still find happiness in myself.

2.  You focus on your own self-improvement. 
One thing I’ve noticed not only in my own relationships but also while watching my friends’ is that when you are “with” someone for an extended amount of time, you place your own self-improvement on the back burner. You’re no longer going out and trying new things. No new hobbies, no new skills. Now that you’re single, you have the chance to learn new things and try new experiences. So get out and do them!

3.  You have freedom.
Once you’re no longer in a relationship, you are free. You no longer have someone to answer to or check in on where you’ve been or what you’ve been doing. You can hang out with anyone you like (either gender), watch the movies you enjoy most, and eat the food you enjoy without being concerned about anyone else’s feeling but your own.

4.  You can meet new people.
Sometimes when you’re in a serious relationship, social skills suffer. If you meet someone new, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to actually get to know him or her. I mean, you don’t want this new person to get the wrong impression or for our SO to think something is going on when it isn’t. So it is easier to just say hello, swap niceties, and then forget this new person altogether. Thankfully now you can smile and meet and learn about new people as much as you want without worrying about anyone’s feeling or the time they may take out of your relationship!

5.  You learn to be alone.
I believe this is one of the most crucial lessons a person can learn in his or her life. It was not until I was single that I went to a movie by myself — and the result was so inspiring that I went again the very next day! I no longer had to wait for movies to come to DVD because my SO had no interest in the same things I did. And, more importantly, I no longer cared what others in the theater thought if I sat by myself. I had control over my own life and I reveled in that knowledge. Learning to be alone is the most empowering lesson you can learn, and it makes life a lot less scary.


Now, I want to make something clear: this list is what I have learned during my time being single after relationships that were not meant to work out. I am a BIG believer that all five of these reasons why my life is better without my exes will and should be present in the relationship that will last in my future. In a happy and lasting relationship…

  • … you are never weak. Your partner does not cause you to crack or chip. Troubles will occur but you work together to hold one another up and strengthen each other. You are able to strive to function on your own because you already can, but you have a great support system behind you to help.
  • … you continue to learn every day. No matter how long you and your partner have been together, you’re never bored. You either learn a new hobby together or alone. You’re comfortable enough to have similar interests and to have individual wants and desires… and you’re both okay with simply being happy with the other’s hobbies even if you personally do not have the skill set or passion.
  • … you never feel trapped. This covers both #3 and #4. If you cannot do things on your own every now and again, then the relationship is unhealthy. Trust is a huge part of this; you trust your partner and they trust you. There are never any questions into your faithfulness to one another if a new person enters our life. There is also compromising, which is a huge component to any functional relationship. You give and you take on everything, and you’re willing to do so because you know it’ll make your partner happy.
  • … you never actually are alone. Even if you’re physically alone and doing something by yourself, you have the knowledge that you’re returning home to someone who cares for and loves you. This, in the same way as learning to actually be alone, makes life an easier and less scary place.

Writing this post has been exciting for me. I now look in the mirror and see a girl with potential. She has lost a bit, but that loss has not dimmed her demeanor — it has only forced it to glow brighter. I am proud of where my head is, where my life is heading, and how strong I continue to become. And though the future is still clear obscurity, I’m more than willing to take the plunge knowing full-well I am not only a better person but that I am now unbreakable.