Add Another Candle

I am now 27-years-old. Another candle is being added to my cake and I could not be happier. So many people dread the aging process and are “forever 29,” but I relish what each new year brings to my life. Every year I am taking another step in the direction God is leading me to go.

It has become a tradition with my blog to post on my birthday about my life and what has changed over the course of one year. I began this tradition in 2014 when I turned 23 in “The Life of a Twenty-Something” and talked about myself growing up. Then in 2015 I discussed finding my faith again in “The Year I Grew Up” and how life had changed so drastically in one year. Then in 2016 I wrote letters to my younger selves giving advice on how I would do things differently. This year, however, I want to focus on my future…

As a 26-year-old, life was rapid. On my birthday last year I was newly engaged, already stressing about wedding preparation, and focusing on bettering myself to become a good wife. Since last October, I have not only gotten married to my best friend, but also completely switched career paths from the active event industry to the routine and stable nonprofit world. And if those two transitions weren’t big enough, G and I also bought our first house. So, yeah, this past year has consisted of a lot of up-current swimming.

It is no longer a surprise when transitions occur. Life changes, and I am quickly adaptable. However, with another year drawing me closer to the big 3-0, I want to set some goals for myself to continue striving forward. Sooner or later my life is going to be consumed with motherhood (God willing) and my goals are going to take the back seat. Before life becomes even more hectic, there are a few things I would like to achieve though:

Begin my own business
This is something I have been wanting to do for awhile now. I won’t go into details – yet – but I would like to open and run my own creative business in the near future. Not only for an additional income, which is always welcomed, but also to give me a goal-oriented hobby that comes with accountability. I have my base-work figured out, so we will see how things unfold over the coming months.

Strengthen my physical self
Working out and weight lifting have been a part of my life for several years, but the habits fell to the wayside over the past year. The lack of activity is becoming more and more clear as I suffer body aches and lowered self esteem nowadays. It is my goal to begin incorporating yoga, weight lifting, and HIIT back into my life on a regular weekly basis. With life finally slowing down now that we are moved into the new house and my daily schedule is becoming more routine, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Go minimalist
I have been slowly edging towards a minimal closet since my Spring 2018 cleaning spree. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clothing I either have seldom worn or are no longer in-line with my styling. I would like to slim my closet down to 50 pieces only. That means only 50 articles of clothing including shirts, pants, layers, and dresses. I continue to get rid of specific items as I peruse through my closet, but with only 50 items to choose from in the future I imagine life will become that much easier because the greatest amount of my time each morning is spent trying on different outfits just to choose the same ones I wear every week.

Explore two new places
G and I have plans to explore the Northeast Coast for our 1-year anniversary, but I would also like to schedule a mini-vacation to one additional location sometime within the next year. Perhaps Brown County or Wisconsin Dells. Somewhere not requiring more than a weekend, but also somewhere I have never been before.

Nourish my mind
I once would have labeled myself as a bookworm, but it has been some time since I’ve actively read book after book for the simple pleasure of doing so. I recently began a book club with some girlfriends which has encouraged me to read at least one book a month, but I would like to push myself harder. My SMART goal for nourishing my mind is to focus on reading 20 pages every day. Be that 10 pages in the morning and 10 at night, or 20 altogether, twenty is not a huge number and should have me flipping through covers like a pro in no time.

Life is hectic, and it seems to be gathering steam as each day passes. So I am setting these five goals for my future with the hopes to achieve at least one before next October 13th. When I look back over my 26th year, I am aware of how quickly things can change. I learn this more and more each year. And I know one year is a short amount of time to cross each of these goals off my list. As I transition into being 27 I know I might not accomplish all these goals over the course of the next year, but I do want to at least begin taking the steps forward in setting the foundations for each goal.

Now I need to get ready for a fun and entertaining day with my husband to celebrate me. I have never been one to make a big deal about my birthday, but I am thankful to have a man who treasures me enough to cause a fuss over the ordeal. Not only are we traveling to my favorite restaurant this evening (sushi, get in my tummy…), but we are also spending some quality time doing “Autumn activities” like visiting a cider mill, picking some apples, and getting spooked at a haunted house. He definitely knows the way to my heart!

Thank you to all my friends and family members who have wished me a HBD so far, and to everyone who will throughout the day. It is a wonderful thing to be loved.

To another year, friends,

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!

A Letter to the Girl with a Broken Heart

Two years ago, I lost my first love. To read my thoughts and feelings over the time that has passed, I am both humbled and shocked. Humbled that I was granted the blessing of maturing (a bit) through this time and given wisdom over the past two years. Shocked because I can still remember the emotions felt during what was one of the hardest decisions so far. There is so much I wish I could have known back then…


Hello dear,

Some time has passed for me, but for you it is still fresh. The hurt, the sorrow, the overwhelming grief. This boy who has been your best friend for nine years has left you stranded on the sidelines and there’s not much more for anyone to say except they’re sorry.

I guess I should say it too: I am sorry.

I am sorry because I know you’re hurting right now. I’m sorry that this sadness is paralyzing you, that the sadness is making you feel like you’re unable to go through the very basic motions of life. Eating and sleeping have become something of a distant memory and your cheeks hurt to even consider what a smile means. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to finish classes, you can’t stand being around anyone. I am so sorry you feel this way.

I remember what it felt like to lie in bed and cry myself into a state between wake and sleep. I couldn’t feel my heart anymore. That’s what you’re going through, right? You’re wondering if it is possible to live life without a pulse.

Please know that finding a way back to the surface takes time, and you are doing so well. You are ridiculously stronger than you ever realized.

I am so proud of you. 

In a few weeks you’re going to put on a brave face and rise above the surface. The tears will dry out and those around you will switch from “we’re sorry” to “you deserve so much more.”

Sometimes you’re going to nod approvingly like you get what they’re saying, other times you’re going to run from the truth and go back to the battered, beaten shadow you are today. It is during these hard times that I want you to know that love is beautiful.

Love is also scary, though. It is something to fear and be afraid of. Don’t go giving it away too freely.

Too soon you’ll realize that being alone is sometimes preferable over the deafening cry your heart will make when it finally sparks back to life. You’ll put on a brave face, attempt to pull yourself together, and stagger out the door into the disheartening World of Dating.

Unfortunately, hard times are ahead. You’re going to meet a league of boys who will not value what you have to offer. Be resilient in your search for the truth. Stay passionate of your morals, unrelenting in your beliefs, and constant in your prayer. And I promise you that you will move on to someone who values your love, your body, your mind, and especially your soul. You’ll soon be grateful that you found out early on instead of too late that this hurt was not worth a lifetime of sorrow.

I now look back on you and this situation with a sigh of relief. How blessed we are that you walked away from such a draining and toxic relationship! You are not being punished. Get that out of you head… this is a blessing in disguise that something better is out there waiting for us.

It has been two years and that sadness is now gone. So is the pain. Doubt resurfaces here and there, but overall life is good. We’re content. We’re satisfied with the outcome of the past two years. We are happy.

You will soon learn how to trust again. And then to love again. I can’t promise you won’t be hurt in the future (actually I know you will be at least a few more times), but I can promise you that it’ll be worth it.

You are about to grow so much during this upcoming summer.

You will get through this, and you are going to be amazing.

XO

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.

Giving Due Credit to Love and Present

It seems to me that people make a big deal about firsts: first kiss, first date, first love. Don’t get me wrong, a First is great, but it also generally leads to another first: heartbreak. I was relatively naive with my first love; I had no real understanding that all love stories tend to end, and many of them do not end in “death do us part.”

So my first heartbreak caught me completely off guard. I was innocent and pure and, as stated, naive so my heart was (figuratively) ripped out at the hand of someone I had genuinely trusted. Insecurities took hold of my life, but in the grand scheme of all that is good, something better came along. That is why I consider my first love simply that, my First Love, but definitely not my greatest or my last

This post is dedicated to second loves — or theoretically thirds, or fourths, or however many loves it takes to find that one true Last Love. Why should we spend so much time gushing over our first loves, and pining into our elder years at the times lost with them? Seriously! Second loves should be getting the credit on our romantic timelines! Second loves matter more than the first by a long shot, so give due credit where credit is due.

Your second love is the one who came along and picked up the pieces of your broken heart. He or she waited patiently on the sidelines as your innocent self went through the stages of loss and became wise to the perils of love. When those insecurities after your break up left you wondering if you were too imperfect and impossible to ever be whole again, your second love came and pushed those thoughts away. He or she led you to see and to believe how extremely worthy you are to be loved.

Your second love will not be the same as your first. And it’s okay. Every person you meet will have a different effect on you. The notion that we should have similar feelings of affection for every person we become romantic with is false. Romance is not a journey with a set destination and stopping points along the way.

Maybe your first love began as a friendship-turned dating, a lead up to the first kiss, the first time saying “I love you” to one another, certain big anniversary celebrations or date nights, vacations together, all accumulating to the next stage or perhaps moving in together or becoming engaged. If you believe your second love is going to follow the same exact path, you are wrong.

First off, there should be no end game. Do not fear that you are never going to experience love again so you rush through the second time. Sometimes such fears cause us to love two people the same exact way, or project our disappointments from our first love onto our second. Why do we accept that we can only give one kind of love?

Love is not a thing that can be better or worse, and this is why you should never love anyone the way you loved someone else. Love is supposed to grow over the course of a lifetime, it is supposed to breathe and change. Love will never be perfect, but this does not mean you should ever just sink to a faded photocopy of the real thing.

Think of it like this: your first love was a car. You and your ex built this car with parts from both sides, your’s and their’s. You both created something, revved it to life, and drove it for a number of miles. However, over time, a flat tire happened, the windshield cracked, and potholes in your relationship caused the alignment to get out of whack. The car broke and became too obsolete to be useful anymore.

Now you’re beginning a relationship anew. Why would you take parts from the old broken-down car to build a new one? Start fresh! Use the knowledge you gained from your first mechanical endeavor to fashion something new and strong and sturdy.

A second love gives you reason to continue to believe in love. A second love shows you that even when you had love and heartbreak that you can also love after heartbreak. How incredibly important for all those mending hearts!

As humans, we feel stronger when we know that we can weather worse. We cope with comparison. And sure, the ultimate goal of being in a relationship is to feel love and to fall in love. Love is not about winning and losing though, nor is it about being better or worse. The revelation that you fell in and out of love once and survived, and then you found the ability to fall in love again… that is what love is: an ability. And that’s a pretty powerful ability to control.

If you see something that remind you of your first love and you feel something – sadness, anger, longing – remember that you are experiencing pangs of nostalgia. Your first love was good. All of our first loves are good. Until they are not anymore — so let it stay good in the past.

Don’t let that past own you though. If you try to love your second love in the same way, your past will manage your present. Don’t let this happen; love someone in a way you never loved your ex. Your past had it’s moment, allow the present to shine now.