A Letter to My Former Selves

Dear Former Selves,

Today, I turn 25. And although I have made several jokes about keeping my birthday hush-hush, have complained about my back hurting, and even threatened that a quarter-life crisis was about to ensue, I am actually very happy with my age and the woman I am becoming. Thinking back, though, over the past ten years I cannot honestly say this feeling is something I anticipated.

You’re 15 today. You’re 15 and you’re a freshman in high school. You have no idea what you’re doing with your life: you’re playing sports that you don’t care about, you’re allowing that girl who had once been your friend to hurt your feelings on a daily basis, you’re excelling in school with no effort. You’re simply placing one foot in front of the other waiting for the freedom a driver’s license promises and what the next four years of school might bring.

I’m here to tell you that your high school years are not the best times of your life. The sports don’t establish your future reputation, that bully will have no precedence in your life once you graduate, and the friendships you have during those short four years aren’t of any substance. Actually, you only associate with two or three people from high school on a somewhat-regular basis in the future… Your friends during your high school year do not become lifetime friends.

So, in short, high school does not matter.

And when I say high school doesn’t matter, I also mean that the opinions of those in high school do not matter. That guy with the pretty blue eyes who you’re crushing over will never ask you out. In reality, no one will ever ask you out. You’re not flirty. You’re not easy. And you’re not the “ideal look.” I know that may not make you popular now, but that’s a good thing.  Popularity is overrated, and those who were popular in high school tend to fade once those years are over. You’re saving your shine for a much more important time in your life… so don’t fuss.

The only thing that matters is your grades. Keep them up. If you have to compete with Hasse, do so. Compete and win. You’re a smart cookie and that’s what is going to get you to where you need to be after high school is over. So, for now, make memories: go to school dances, goof off in homeroom, try every single sport and club available. Make memories and have fun doing so! You’ll only be in high school once, and even though they are not the best years of your life, you can’t go back and make them up. So make the most of them!

You are worthy of happiness and excitement.

You’re 19 today. You’re 19 and you’re still a freshman, but in college now. You’re presently experiencing a high with the new-found freedom of living on your own, an hour away from home and everyone you once knew. You’ve been granted a Presidential Scholarship, you’re one of the elite Honors students on campus, and you’re quickly making lots of new Facebook friends. You also are in love with the best boy you’ve ever met. But let me forewarn you, you’re about to go through a rocky semester: your roommate and you are not going to be BFFs, your grades are going to slip, and you’re going to go weeks on end without seeing your family and boyfriend.

College is not all its cracked up to be. There are basically two routes: party hard and crash harder or work hard and work harder. I am proud of you that you take the latter route. Your freshman year, in a lack of words, is going to be hell. I remember how many nights you’re going to spend crying. Tears due to loneliness and homesickness and failure.

Stop fretting! Yeah, it’s tough being treated like an outcast by the group of girls you had set out to make your best friends. Yeah, it’s tough actually having to put in the effort to get good grades. But guess what? Life is tough, and you learned that lesson a lot quicker than most of your peers. You’re going to make it through this “year from hell”.

In actuality, I only have a few regrets from this college year. One is that I ever let one person, especially a roommate who I hardly knew, dictate my entire freshman year. A second is that I didn’t push myself harder in classes to truly show what I was capable of to my professors and peers. A third is that, instead of going out and attempting to meet different friends, I allowed my failure at befriending a certain group of girls to throw me into such a depressed individual. Perhaps this doesn’t make sense now, but when the chances arrive, I wish you would simply NOT. Not let your roommate dictate the year, not take the easiest routes in your studies, and not put all your effort into meaningless relationships. I’d also add that you should just start off at WMU and not transfer next year, but we both know that can’t happen now so…

You are worthy of true friendship and high self confidence.

You’re 22 today. Somehow, someway, you’re in your final year of college. You didn’t think this year would ever come! You’re working two part-time jobs, paying a lot of tuition to work at an unpaid internship, and attempting to finish your schooling within four years. Thankfully, the stress is manageable because you’re newly engaged and ecstatic about spending the rest of life with this wonderful guy in your life… oh how soon things will change.

I wish I could send you some words of advice to help ease the impending heartbreak you’re about to endure. Not only will you be losing the carefully planned future you’ve drawn up in your mind, but you’ll also be losing one of your only friends. You’re going to want to quit. You’re going to want to give up. But I’m here to show you that you can’t… that you won’t.

I don’t have any advice on how to make the loss of X any easier. And in all honesty, I don’t want it to be easier. I know that might sound cruel, and in a few months you’re going to be cursing me, but hear me out: X leaving you is the best thing to ever happen to you. I know, I know, I sound crazy. Yet, I will stand here until my dying day saying the same thing. Without that awful heartbreak you would never have realized what a broken person you were inside. You were so dependent on X that you were only a shell of the person you should have been. You were shy and you were reticent. You bottled up your emotions until you were a sobbing, shivering wreck of a girl. You closed yourself to new relations and friends, you focused solely on a future X and you designed and never opened yourself to other possibilities in life.

You were weak.

When X leaves you, you are going to feel like the light has been snuffed out of your soul. It’s going to hurt more than words can express, and I am so sorry. But you are a phoenix, my dear! Out of the ashes, a new life is going to appear and you are going to be startling. Just you wait, your strength and fire are something to challenge every fiber of the world around you in the future.

You are worthy of someone worthy of you.

You’re 24 today. You look in the mirror and am surprised at the girl in front of you. The tear stains of the past have been washed away, the heartache of lost friendship and love has been mended into a lasting smile, and the weariness of the future doesn’t cause you to slouch anymore.

The biggest change, though, cannot be seen on the outside. No, the biggest change is inside your heart. Two months ago you made a courageous step, and I am so, so proud of you! Two months ago you visited a new church — a church where people your own age congregate and worship together. That visit turned into weekly attendance and now you are hosting a Bible Study group at your home. For someone who only months ago questioned if God truly cared about her because of all the supposed pain He had put her through… this. Is. Huge.

Looking back, all those trials you went through only support how much God cares about you. Every single bump in the road made you a stronger, smarter, and savvier woman, something not to be taken lightly in today’s world. His Hands are on every moment and there is peace in that recognition. You’re going to need that knowledge for the year ahead…

I once thought the year following X’s departure was the hardest year we’d ever have to experience. I actually wish that were true, my dear. No, this next year is going to be much tougher. Loss of a romance is the sort of heartbreak that is fixable after time and healing. Loss of a loved one — true loss — is not able to be mended. The pain of death may decrease with time, but that hurt is never truly gone. You’re about to experience this firsthand on several occasions over the next year. And you are going to scream from the pain your heart feels on more than one occasion.

Luckily, you have reopened your heart to the best medicine Life has to offer: God. And, for some reason still unknown to me, He has granted you with people — your parents, M, Wilbur, Panda, House — to give you the strength you need to move forward even in your pain. Do not take these people for granted, Ash. They are the greatest blessings in your Life. Focus on keeping momentum and pushing past all thoughts of what you could have said or done. The past is the past and can’t be changed; those you lose over the next year knew how important they were to you and that’s a joy in itself. Use their losses to spur your heart into action and continue their legacies. Do the best you can, they would be proud of you for that.

You are worthy of God’s grace and peace in Life.

I’m 25 today. I have a lot still to learn, but I also have much experience under my belt. As I enter the next quarter century of my life, there is a lot I plan to do: pursue a rewarding career, set my roots and grow a family, increase my community impact, read more and complain less, be more active, and be more thankful. As I have become prone to saying here on Peonies ‘n Mint: I really have lost some and gained more.

Thank you, friends, for joining me in my Life travels so far… cheers to the next year and, God willing, many more!

The Life of a Twenty-Something

It seems the older I get the more I hear people complain about their birthdays and ages a lot. When someone wishes them a Happy Birthday the response is usually a grimace with a murmured thanks. In reality, though, we should all be thankful and blessed that another year has rolled around for us. Age means you’ve experienced yet another year of good and bad, and lived through them all. What a wonderful accomplishment!

I turn 23 today, and I thought it would be interesting to briefly take a look back over my 23 years and see how my life has evolved to the state it is today.

(I’ll do this in five year increments.)

Newborn Ashley (1991): I was born in Small Country Michigan and lived in a black-shuttered white house with my mom, dad, and miniature schnauzer, Grace. My room was decorated in Baby Disney, my hair was so light I appeared bald, and I only fell asleep after a few car trips around the neighborhood.

5YO Ashley (1996): My parents had decided I was such a perfect child that they stopped with me. I began learning at a local Lutheran elementary school and was known for my creativity. I still lived in the same house, but it was now gray and had burgundy shutters. I had a young boxer named Abby who was my best friend, and a few human friends around my neighborhood with whom I played. I had few responsibilities or worries.

10YO Ashley (2001): Just a month after 9/11, the world was still on high alert to the dangers within it. As a studious student, I became one to do much research and learned more on my own than in class. Harry Potter was my favorite book. Grace had passed away and we had gotten another little nugget named Jazz, as well as a calico named Noah; Abby and Jazz were our best dogs ever. My closest friends remained my neighbor and some girls in my class, but I was more of an introvert and liked to read. I wanted to be an architect when I grew up.

15YO Ashley (2006): I had just begun high school. Ten of the same peers who I had gone to kindergarten with were part of my freshman class. Our class was the largest in ten years for the school with 40 students. I focused on my studies as well as playing sports, which included soccer, basketball, and volleyball. I threw myself into a new circle of friends, specifically four girls who didn’t seem to belong to any one clique. I didn’t find myself interested in dating, but that may be because half the guys in my class I had known for the majority of my life. I was waiting for another year so I could finally have my license.

20YO Ashley (2011): It is crazy to think how much had changed in these short five years! I had graduated high school second in my class, already finished my freshman year of college, transferred universities, and been dating my high school sweetheart for a year and a half. I had lost touch with pretty much my entire high school class, give a person here or there, and my friendship circle was pretty small. I was floating through life without much aim. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so I was taking general education courses.

22YO Ashley (2013): I was banking on only two more semesters of schooling until graduation, but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. My goal was to become a grant writer for a nonprofit somewhere in the world (it was more focused than my sophomore year!) I had just begun working at my winery, was commuting to school from my parents’ house, and still driving my Jeep from high school. My friends had expanded a bit further from just my boyfriend (who was actually my fiance by this time), but I still didn’t have anyone very close. I was reaching out and becoming more involved at school though, especially with three organizations on campus in which I took roles of leadership. I was tired of schooling, and was focusing my efforts more on wedding planning than anything else. I had hardly any worries, other than my piling up school debt and what seemed at the time small relationship problems.

23YO Ashley (2014): I am working two jobs which I absolutely adore, one full time and the other once a week. I ended up graduating on time after a semester of working two jobs, an internship, and 24 credits. Somehow I survived that workload on top of a broken engagement. I have a lot of friends now, all of whom I love and cherish. My two dearest friends I did not even know a year ago. I now talk to numerous people from high school, most of whom I never associated with while actually in class. I am beginning a new relationship with someone completely new in my life, and I feel happier than I have ever been. I bought my first big purchase, a brand new car. I’m still at my parents but for the most part we get along fine. I’m not sure how life could be any better right now.

Time sure seems to go by so fast right now Every night I think about how quickly the day flew and it amazes me. I might have worries one day, but they also fly by. I always know there are people looking out for me and people who truly care, so my worries fade pretty quick. All I can do for now is smile and appreciate every experience I get to have throughout every year of my life.

On a whole separate note: thank you for all the birthday wishes, friends and family, I appreciate you all so much!!