The Hardest Decision

One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life is choosing whether to try harder or walk away.

Have you ever realized there is only one choice that we make in every moment of Life? The choice to try harder or walk away. From loving ourselves, loving another person, pursuing a passion, succeeding at work, or simply being present, we choose to continue thinking, doing, eating, saying, and being what we are or else we break up with it. There is only one way to do everything, and that is completely or not at all.

The choice to stay or leave determines whether we free ourselves or we suffer. The fact is, though, that we often wonder how we make the “right” decision?

This post is written in reference to Try Harder or Walk Away: The Decision written by Rebecca Lammersen. I chose to paraphrase and add my inputs, but I highly recommend reading Rebecca’s entire article as well. Rebecca makes the point that we have to learn how to discern between the doubt of the mind and the surety of the spirit in order to access what the “right” decision truly is.

The issue is that to discern between these differences means quieting the volume of the mind. “The mind is loud and the spirit is quiet,” muses Rebecca. I could not agree with her more. Too often it becomes too easy to listen to the loud voice in our minds shouting. You know, the voice screaming, “You aren’t good enough! There is no good in you! You don’t deserve to be happy!” It takes time, patience, and practice to hear that quiet voice in the background, and discipline to listen to her. Once we listen, there are a range of negative emotions that could occur: sadness, longing, unease. But there are also the positives: pride, love, happiness. So listening to the quiet voice not only takes understanding, but also courage. Lots and lots of courage.

This courage is conceived through faith. We can only have courage to listen to the quiet voice because our faith whispers that peace exists, even if peace is not visible yet.

Peace carries freedom as a gift. Once we entrust in our choice and endure the feelings and conditions that come with the strength of our spirit, then we receive freedom.

Like Rebecca, right now I am struggling too. I’m not sure if it is my mind or my spirit that I hear behind the door. And the reality of turning the knob to see who is behind the door is frightening. Aside from the fear there also lies uncertainty, the Unknown.

“Life is one struggle after the next, a battery of choices every day.”

I could not have said this better myself. Do I stay or do I leave? It buckles down to the knowledge that no matter what we choose, we are the ones in charge of making the choice. We are the ones in charge of producing our own happiness… or our own suffering.

And in the same way, we can also choose to walk away from our decision when we wish. We can back track, we can annul, we can recount our steps. Sometimes we find walls when we turn around, walls that were not there when we first walked down this path. At these moments we must figure out how to either climb the wall, choose a path to its side, or return to the route we just came. Every decision has a number of more decisions behind it. Taking charge of these choices is the key to facing struggles.

Struggle is the wrinkle of Life. It’s inescapable. However, we can also choose to honor struggle for all that it is worth. And it is so worth it! Peace is the acceptance of struggle. As we said before, peace results in freedom.

The problem with struggle, though, is finding the balance in not creating more once peace has been created. So then, how do we not make more struggle?  We listen. This is the key to the door. Listening. We must listen to that quiet voice and tune out the loud one.

This is when we finally realize the door is the object making the noise. There is no fear behind the door, rather the door itself is the frightening part. Yet once it is opened and placed out of the way, the quietness can step forward to embrace us.

When I consider these voices, I think of my faith.

The loud noise, the one shouting hurtful, demeaning, selfish monstrosities at us can only be, in my mind, “bad” things: Sin. Satan. The World. In no way would the harmful thoughts in your mind be from God. Thus, they have no substance. They are meant to deter you from your ultimate goals of true happiness, self acceptance, and all other Good Things that are encompassed in the idea of “freedom.”

It is my belief that God works for the good of all those who believe in Him. Therefore that quiet voice, the one that has embraced you once you learn to listen to it, THAT voice is God. It is His work in you and the sign you need to know what direction to lead your life.

There are two Bible passages that I have been considering lately and I feel they are strong reminders that provide evidence to this belief:

Romans 8:32 – Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?

Matthew 6:33 – But above all, pursue His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

With these passages in mind, how then can I continue to believe that the storming voice in my mind is the voice of the God who promises me every happiness and blessing in this Life and the next? No. No, I cannot even begin to believe such lies. And so, I with this knowledge, I can move forward into accepting that what the loud voice is saying is absolute ridiculousness and preparing myself to listen to the quiet.

Sometimes the loud voice can harm us though. Sometimes we listen to it for so long, clinging to its hard surface that we receive splinters, cuts, and bruises.

Thankfully, I am the type of person who has the ability to nurture the wounds with which the loud voice harms me. I can take the gifts that time and patience give me and heal my broken heart or crushed self-esteem or injured image. And each time I heal, I become a little bit stronger and healthier as well.

How do I know that I become stronger each time? Because I have opened that door multiple times and been embraced by the quiet voice. I challenge myself to continuously find the key to unlock and open that wailing door. Experience and practice. Those are my liberators. I choose to learn from my experiences of struggle and focus on listening to the quiet voice more than the loud. With my determination, I shorten my search time and find a longer stretch of peace and freedom.

It just so happens that I’m struggling now though. I’m not free. I’m still deciding. I know I can choose to make an easy decision or I can make the choice that will challenge me. The choice that will help me grow.

My problem is I’m not quite sure which choice is which… I haven’t found my key yet. The loud voice blocks me at the moment, a voice shouting lies of “You’ll never be good enough.” and “You try too hard.”

But as I continue to hunt for the key, I know this: the choice to follow the voice of my spirit takes a lot of effort, determination, and tenacity. Sometimes it is too simple to take the easy way out, to become a coward and huddle in front of the door rather than look for a way to push through.

Honoring our spirit takes time, patience, trust, and faith.

So I continue to pray for the World and it’s sinful screams to stop battering me while I search for the key to my friend and companion, the quietness.

If there’s anything I can be sure of, it’s that I won’t stop looking for the right choice, I won’t stop listening for the correct voice.

I’ll be free soon.

Driving Off a Bridge and Other Fears

The end never happens how you expect. Sometimes the end happens when you expect, or where you expect, but it’s never quite on the dot of how to expect it. Sometimes this is okay. Endings can be good things in Life. The saying goes, “Every ending is a new beginning.” However, sometimes endings are not okay. Sometimes they are a storm of uncertainty, confusion, and sadness that leave you swerving in their wake and flinging yourself into a river of unknown.

One of my top three fears is driving off a bridge into a river. Another is not being good enough. Endings are good at making you feel like you’re not good enough. That you’ll never be good enough. That you just can’t reach that certain something

The clock reads 3:43am. It’s late… or early, however you want to think of it. I haven’t been able to sleep since I went to bed. I’ve been crying from the bruises. And now, when the tears are finally dried up, I still cannot drift into any sort of slumber. Even a restless snooze would be good at this point.

I ran off a bridge yesterday. I went full-throttle, end-over-end, head first into the brewing water below. The free fall took my breath away. The impact buckled me into a fetal position. The frigid water mingled with the tears of my depression. Yet the worst part was having no understanding of how such a terrible accident could take place at all. The knowledge that the roads were completely dry. The knowledge that there was nothing I could have done differently — whether change my speed or take a different route or bring out the snow tires — to change the impending doom.

Sometimes endings kill you. I didn’t die when I went off the bridge, but the feeling of drowning has yet to subside and neither have the icy prickles to my heart making me numb. I remain in the car, watching the water rise, half-hoping the end is quick and painless while also searching for a way to escape.

Giving up on the things you once treasured can be far harder than simply letting go. Letting go of the person you are, the person you want to be, and the person you thought you were being directed towards. The You of your wants and dreams.

Somewhere between the road, the bridge, and the river below I lost the will to care for which of these two I want to fight.

And I feel lost in my loss.

I’ve mentioned Wilbur a few times over the past couple months. I’ve considered before why I didn’t discuss him more on Peonies ‘n Mint. I mean, I had full posts on my relationship with Army and even posts dedicated to the Golfer. But why not Wilbur? The answer is simple: there was no need to discuss what was, in all aspects, a very content relationship. I wrote of Army at first because I wasn’t aware of how I could feel after X. Then I began to write of Army in an attempt to hide my discomfort and agitation in a relationship that wasn’t completely fulfilling. Ultimately, my Army posts were a comparison of life before and with him. They may have had some substance for those who were processing a broken heart, but to someone who was truly happy they were only fragments of what a relationship could be.

Wilbur is different. I would find myself spending time with him and just marveling that I was able to do so. To write of him would have been bragging. Boasting of my happiness. There was no reason to boast or brag, there was only the want to remain content and comfortable in a relationship of warmth. Caring and understanding and appreciation were our lone bunk mates, I didn’t need the Internet’s help in being happy with this man. I just was.

Wilbur and I took things at a slow pace at the beginning. We explored one another’s minds by questions ideologies, beliefs, histories, etc. Anything we could get our hands on, we made it our mission to discover in one another. We discovered neither of us are perfect by any means, but  we were okay in our faults together. We confided in one another, we talked about anything and everything, and before we took our relationship to the level of “exclusive” we were best friends.

This was something I promised myself before jumping into the dating scene again: I would be friends first and a couple second. It is too difficult to attempt to build a romantic relationship when there is not a foundation of friendship. With Wilbur, this never became an issue.

One of the happiest moments in my Life resonates in my mind. It is the moment I knew I wanted to keep Wilbur in my life. Past being a date. Past being a friend. We play Ultimate Frisbee with a group of friends every Monday during the warm months of Michigan. One particular Monday, over a month into dating one another, I returned home after Ultimate to find my right knee twice the size it should be. I played harder than usual that day, in shoes that were far past their expiration date.

So instead of showering and keeping to the usual Monday tradition of heading to a friend’s house for a movie night, I settled down to Netflix and kept myself in bed. Wilbur texted me and asked if there was anything he could do to help but of course I said no — I’m always afraid of appearing weak in front of people. (Remember those faults I mentioned…)

However, a half hour later I heard a knock on the front door. I stumbled my way to see who it was and guess who? Wilbur stood in the doorway with a half bottle of Ibuprofen and an ice pack. Knowing M and I had just moved into the new house, he thought we wouldn’t have the needed supplies to take care of a swollen knee. He was right. And as soon as I accepted his offer, gave him a quick hug, and thanked him profusely, he left. Gone. He didn’t expect me to cater to him or thank him like most guys I’ve dated would have hinted. No, he was a complete gentleman and simply wanted to make this random girl he liked feel a bit better. It worked.

I don’t think the smile from that October evening has left my face. Until the Bridge, that is. The water wiped the smile away pretty quickly.

In the following months Wilbur exceeded all my expectations in the person I prayed to date. He was kind, he was generous, he apologized, and he forgave.  One of the most meaningful traits: we prayed together. Perhaps only for meals, but we discussed our faiths with one another at depth. We discussed a lot at depth. He questioned his future and he wondered at mine beside me. We didn’t know where either of us were heading, but for now, we were happy where we were. We questioned why some things had happened in our pasts the way they had. We became one another’s confidants.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. I was happy. He said he was happy. He acted as if he were happy. And then all of a sudden…

Yesterday.

The Bridge.

He was no longer happy.

He said I’m not the One. He doesn’t feel that connection with me. “We don’t have chemistry,” was how he put it. He is worried that my feelings surpass his and that his might never catch up. He’s not sure why; I’ve cared about him more than anyone he’s dated ever has and he feels completely happy with me but yet… He doesn’t want to go forward and find out his feelings don’t grow, can’t grow. He doesn’t want to hurt me in the future, so he’ll just do it now. Less investment.

I could have handled those excuses. In my head, all that he was saying was, “You’re good, but you’re just not good enough. There’s something about you that’s just not there.” Are those not the same words Army used on me? I think I would have handled the situation better if Wilbur had ended there. Got up, no goodbye, no hug, just left with me wondering what more I could have done and never having closure to what I thought was the best relationship I’d experienced. I handled it fine with Army, I could have done it again.

Instead, Wilbur continued. He told me he doesn’t feel as if he deserves happiness in his life. He confided that there might never be someone for him, that that’s his fear.

This. Broke. My. Heart. This, these words. How am I supposed to continue on grieving a relationship where the real reason we ended was because the best man I’ve ever met believes he is unlovable? The chemistry thing just blew up — he’s doesn’t feel I’m not the One, he feels there is no One.

Let me be the first to say, if there were ever a person who deserves happiness, it is Wilbur.

Ben Higgins, this man makes you truly look unlovable.

I am a big girl. I know how to express my feelings, I know what I want, and I go for what I want. I’m a strong, independent woman. I pride myself in my strength because in the past it has always been me, in the end, to have to push myself into being okay and happy.

This marks the Free-fall. I felt strong during the Free-fall. I voiced my disapproval of his decision. I told him I didn’t agree. I showed him that this situation was not one of my choosing.

Unfortunately, I tend to think of what to say after I’ve had some time to think. I shared these disagreements with Wilbur but I had no real reasons as to why I disagreed. I’m not sure it would have mattered to him anyways — its like he has a mind block — but it does matter to me.

Wilbur believes we have no “connection” or “chemistry”. That’s what he said first. I think I laughed. I hope I didn’t, but I might have because that  is absolute bogus. In the context of relationships, chemistry is a complex emotion that two people get when they share a special connection. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) It is the impulse making someone think, “I need to see this other person again.” — that feeling of “we click.” Wilbur and I have this. We like being together, we like doing activities with one another. Or at least he led me to believe he felt that way; he told me so only Friday that he did. This is because we have similar interests, but it is also simply because. Plus, beyond just having a connection with one another, we also are attracted to one another. I still get butterflies when I catch him looking at me and he appreciates my appearance any chance he’s given. Pardon my lack of etiquette, but Wilbur saying we have no chemistry is total BS.

I do agree my feelings for him are farther along than his. I am aware of this. I am also aware of the fact it has been only five months. Five good months, but everyone progresses in relationships differently. This is why I hadn’t told him the exact extent of my feelings; this is why I hadn’t told him that I love him. Why put pressure on a happy and healthy relationship? I was more than willing to bide the time, see if the tides might come together in some sensible way. I have no doubt that given the time, our feelings for one another would only strengthen and grow. I am in no rush for this occurrence, but I still have no doubt that it would have happened.

He is worried we were moving too fast. If he had communicated this fear with me, if I had known, now that I know…. there are so many solutions. There are so many ways to make us work.

I’m pleading to the water below. To the moving River before I’m washed away in it.

I don’t know if Wilbur is afraid of being in a successful relationship because it limits options, scared of a potential future of dating someone long term only for it not to work out, or if he honestly has a block disabling him from believing he deserves happiness in his life. It might be a bit of all three. And this, this is the Impact.

Relationships are something Wilbur and I were never afraid to discuss with one another. I know his past and having this knowledge makes the Impact so devastating. How could someone so wonderful think so poorly of himself? What was done in the past that it has been brought into our relationship, darkening the light that we have and casting shadows on what we could be? Those close to him say his ex “screwed him up.” This is heartbreaking. Not only because it literally has caused Wilbur to break my heart but also because it is unfair.

It is unfair to me. It is unfair to our relationship. Most of all, it is unfair to Wilbur.

And so here I am, after the Impact, waiting in my own personal River of despair. The sinking is happening much longer than I would prefer. I want the hurt to halt. I want to not think about it, him, us anymore. I want to be there in what I can only imagine is a very confusing and conflicting time for Wilbur. And yet, I need to take care of myself too. I’m the one in the car. I’m the one who can’t decide what is worth fighting for more in her perspective views.

The one thing I keep questioning as the water around me rises is Wilbur saying we aren’t meant to be together, that he can’t be happy. This could be true, most definitely. Every relationship is either going to succeed or fail for a number of worthy reasons. However, only Friday we had a moment alone together that crushes all of the air out of him saying this…

Friday we attended a concert of a friend. We went with House and enjoyed a few hours with good company and good music. Afterwards, Wilbur asked if I would like to spend more time together which I replied, “Of course.” Our plan was to go back to my place and relax to a movie. M and her boyfriend inquired if we might want to watch a movie with them as that was their plan as well. Wilbur said sure at the concert, but once we were on the short distance between the concert and home, he confided to me he’d rather just spend time with me. As we hadn’t seen each other alone in a few days, I completely agreed. So we took to watching a movie alone and catching up on our week’s events and lives in general.

During this time, I turned to Wilbur and asked if he was happy: happy with us, happy with where we were. He responded with no hesitation that he was. No thinking, no debating, no battling behind his eyes as to whether he should say Yes, No, or begin a discussion that we had ample opportunity to have.

I asked this question after two weeks of him appearing rather distant from me. Week 1 I was ill with the flu and I wouldn’t have wanted to see Wilbur anyways in fear of giving him the bug and also not wanting him to see Sick Ashley. (It’s definitely not a pretty sight.) I questioned his distance, though, at the end of Week 1. Another opportune time to discuss with me what seems so abrupt from yesterday. Instead, he said it was an argument with his brother and difficulty at work that had him on edge. And on top of these two issues, he visited the doctor and was scheduled for surgery in February. Worried over the recovery time, the inability to be active during that recovery time, and the finances towards the surgery only added to his stress level. He explained this as we entered Week 2 and I made it my mission to take a step back in an attempt to not add to his stress.

On Saturday he seemed to have a bad day. I picked him up for dinner with some friends and he told me right away that he was a bit stressed and that if he was quiet throughout the night it had nothing to do with me. He made sure to quiet any discontent I might have even when he was suffering inside. This is the kind of person he is. Asking if he was sure he wanted to still go, he replied definitely and we had a fun evening together.

Throughout the evening Wilbur inquired if I might want to see a movie if we returned home in time. He had looked up times for 5th Wave, a movie he knew I wanted to see as I am in the process of reading the book. Unfortunately we realized en route that we would not make the movie time and instead discussed watching something on TV. It was only 9:30pm when we returned back to his house so there was time to do so. However, when we came to the driveway he turned to me and asked if I was okay just dropping him off. He wanted to just head to bed early after feeling so awful all day. He asked if it was okay, if I was upset at him. I replied I wasn’t upset at him at all but that it still sucked. I didn’t like that he had to go through these feelings. I didn’t like not knowing how to help.

We kissed our last kiss goodbye. If I had known then…

He sent me a text message about an hour later reading, “I’m really sorry about tonight. I think the world of you and appreciate you very much.”

I kept reading through that text message yesterday, trying to decipher the hidden message between it’s two short sentences that led to the Bridge and Impact. The message was the first few drops of water the River pushed into my car.

The tears of confusion are what keep its level rising higher and higher.

Why did he go out of his way these past few weeks to make sure I knew he wasn’t being distant from ill feelings towards me but rather in life in general? Why want to be alone on Friday when he was given the opportunity to be with friends? Why stare me in the eyes and tell me he was happy with us? Why send that infuriating text message Saturday night if he didn’t expect to be with me anymore?

Everything Wilbur has said over the past three days is contradictions. Yes, no. Me, not me. Happy, unhappy. Life, feelings. “To be or not to be,” that really is the question, Hamlet. And soon enough I’ll be Ophelia, drowned in my own maddening thoughts.

As I daze off into my own slippery mind, I am thankful of the people who are in my life. M is an amazing friend who does not push me to talk when she knows it is not my way. My parents wiped away my tears and allowed me to recant the same things written in this post over and over again, expecting my mind to run itself tired and hopefully sleep soundly. House friends have reached out in understanding and concern, not fully comprehending why things are processing the way they are either.

One friend brought me back to God’s word and connected yesterday’s church sermon with this difficulty in Life. The sermon centered around using God as our GPS in life. He will always set us on the direction meant for us. Sometimes we head off towards dead ends using our own man-made compasses, but when we falter in our steps and realize where we went wrong, God directs us again.

I have felt from the very first date with Wilbur that God led me to him. He is the exact person I prayed to meet. He has faults. He has baggage. He isn’t perfect and there are a handful of things that drive me crazy when I think about them too long about him. But… I don’t care. I’ve never cared. I’ve only ever wanted to encompass him in love and caring and respect knowing that is what I need as well. He means the world to me, and since I have the same problems in my own right, how could I ever downgrade the person he is for the flaws he carries? All in all, we were working through our issues, together, one step at a time.

Or at least that was my intent.

I saw a quote last night that I would like to share:

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus and keep aiming.

This has made me think: did I stumble over this quote for a reason? Is it directed at me? I’ve been sick for months, I’ve had personal problems with friends, I’ve felt difficulties for awhile, and now Wilbur.. I only have to wait for the arrow to finally be released, right? But no… My stresses are nothing I cannot handle. So I think this quote found its way to me for another reason.

I’m thinking this is for Wilbur.  His stresses seem to be escalating at an alarming pace. The only constant he has are his relationships. His family is the steel core, his friends the feathers, and the razor-sharp tip? I’m presumed to think it is me. Me. It’s me, Wilbur! The target is Happiness and all of us are helping you fight through the strain of the pull-back and when Life finally lets go, it’ll be the effort you put into focusing your aim at the target that will provide you with either success or failure.

The fact remains, though, that even if your aim is on-target, without a part of the arrow you’ll never fly true. If you lose the feathers, your aim will go off course. If you lose the core, you’ll never get anywhere. And if you lose the tip, even if you hit the target, you won’t stick. The arrow will fall right off, doomed to lay on the ground until you have the nerve to enter the shooting range, retrieve it, and attempt reattach a tip to the strong core.

Why in the world would someone not take a chance on the strong arrow already before them? An arrow provided by God in the expectation that it’ll be shot. I feel as if the opportunity is being tossed aside, and one day in the future the shooter will realize exactly how easy pulling back that arrow, firing, and making a perfect bulls-eye could have been. One day in the future might be one day too late.

I can be dramatic here, right, blogosphere? I can tell all my woes and wishes to the Internet and the only impression someone can make on me is a small Like or Comment. I’m not too worried about believing my interpretation of this quote is exactly how I just portrayed it.

And the fact remains, Wilbur will never see this post. He’ll probably never even seen this quote. He’ll never wonder at its meaning and ask me to explain my thoughts. He’ll never know, and I’ll never have an answer on whether or not he thinks archery might be a good hobby for him to partake. I don’t know if he cares to think about how I feel or what might God be trying to tell him. But, in time, God will get through to him and I hope that there is still an opportunity for him to find peace and happiness in his life.

Even if it is not with me — though I definitely feel like it should be at this moment in Life — I hope he opens himself to what he ultimately deserves: pure and utter contentment.

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.

Staging Lies

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The stages of grief: a method to gauge and measure grief. It is the belief of observation and theory that when a person is grieving (specifically the loss of a person in their life) then he or she is expected to move through this series of clearly defined stages and eventually come to a completion of acceptance. It is the belief of professionals that there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve. The right way is to process grief in an orderly pattern, the wrong way is to never actually heal.

If I were a professional psychologist, I would definitely say I am failing at grief. Being a writer, however, I feel fully comfortable saying I am winning at grief. That is because I have come up with my own stages of grief, and let me tell you, I like mine a whole lot more than the majority of psychological science’s stages of grief lies.

The stages of grief were not meant to tell you what to feel, how you should feel, or when exactly to feel it. The stages are simply five common experiences and not five requirements; they are meant to normalize and validate the emotions someone might go through in the chaos that is loss.

I believe I’ve discovered some stages that seem a bit more normal for society as a whole. And these, my friends, don’t come in any designated pattern. No, these jump around, bump into each, overlap, and span for days/weeks/months at a time. It’s a wonderful loss of inhibition and longing. So here are my eight stages of grief (put in chronological order for myself):

  • Sleepvation: The highly anticipated stage of starving myself and never sleeping, Sleepvation is the best diet to date. With that pit in my stomach, who in their right mind could even think about holding down any food? Oh right, I’m not in my right mind because the one hour of sleep my body finally obtained after dire exhaustion is enough to recharge my thoughts on grief for another day of pity.
  • Ben & Jerry: I’ve come to know and cherish this stage from popular rom-coms and chick flicks. This is when I faint from not eating and realize my only solace during heartbreak is found in the cardboard confines of Phish Food. Don’t worry, Ashley, at least I’m finally eating something!
  • Bar Hopping: Usually induced by my best friends, the third stage of grief is one where things can go one of two ways: bad or worse. Dancing and drinking to forget my sorrow is one thing, as is accepting those free drinks from the cute guy at the bar. However, jumping on his boat to adventures unknown, or else falling into the fetal position and ruining my reputation as “cool” are both options I really shouldn’t accept.
  • Raging Exercise: Ah, the “It’s time to make him jealous by becoming the epitome of hotness!” stage. It is probably a good idea to relieve some stress, especially after the last two stages I went through. However, becoming a gym hermit is a whole other issue. Remember, there’s a lot of people still left in my life and isolating myself is not healthy!
  • Hopeless Bliss: I’m better off without him. It never would have worked out anyways. Better now than later. Freedom! I’ve reached the point where I realize it’s his loss and not mine. There’s nothing I need to do to change, and I’m comfortable enough to at least begin looking at moving on. And that’ll only piss him off more, right?
  • Couple Despising: Right now, I’m not sure if I hate love, him, or the couple holding hands on the sidewalk. I think I’ll go with all three. This is also the stage where I contemplate deleting my Pinterest with all it’s cutesy Pins but then… nah…
  • Movie Marathon(s): My legs are tired, I have a hangover, and all I really want to do is just sit and watch all eight movies of Harry Potter. Why shouldn’t I? Harry has always been there for me. And so have Legolas, Katniss, the Avengers, and Hugh Jackman. I have a ton of friends.
  • Concession and Compromise: I understand that I no longer am in a relationship. I understand that I am single and free to do as I wish. I make promises to myself, I set goals for the future, all while understanding that at any moment someone new or an unforeseen circumstance may change the entire direction of my life. Again.

The truth is, you can’t force order on pain. Grief is the natural response of losing someone you love and having your life torn apart. It is when reality shifts and you’re hurled into an unknown place in life. Grief cares nothing about order or stages or how you should be feeling at a certain point.

To do grief “well” means you listen solely to your own reality. It means acknowledging the love you once felt, the pain of its loss, and the promise of a brighter future. There is no time frame on allowing the truth of these things to exist; each grief is unique just like every love is unique.

I have bounced back and forth between some of my own “stages”. Though the pain may hurt sometimes, there are also many highs. Grief is like a roller coaster and no one will ever experience it the same way twice.  The concept of grief pushes people to want to believe there is a right method, or order, to grieve. But remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve; just do right by yourself. There are only a few steadfast truths to losing someone in your life, and they are these:

  • Grief has no finish line or lifespan. You might move on a day, week, month, or decade later. Every loss is unique to the individual experiencing it.
  • Pain and grief never fully extinguish. You grieve because you once loved, and upon seeing a face, hearing a song, or having a flashback to that love might bring back the hurt. Love might change, but it never ends. And this is not something to fear.
  • The “stages of grief” will happen. You will feel anger, guilt, depression, confusion, joy, and a range of other things. You will get tired of grieving and you will turn away from it only to turn back. Grief can be absolutely crazy-making, but this does not mean you are crazy.
  • There is no way to do grief wrong. Make your own stages, feel the pain and the peace, and ultimately remember that grief never has closure. Even acceptance is not final; you will rethink yourself with rapid aggression just to falter and sink back into questions. And so is the way of grief, love, and life.

I am by far more than five stages, and so are you.