“Twenty-one and strong as I can be–I know what freedom means to me.”

In one week I will turn twenty-two. I don’t really know how to feel about that.

Sometimes I wish I could write a letter to myself last year at this time. I wish I could tell newly twenty-one year old Ashlin what to expect in the year ahead. If I could buy her a latte, I would have a lot of words to wrap up for her. I would load her up with suitcases of advice for the journey of being twenty-one.

First of all– I would tell her that it will be a mistake to buy a million lotions on Black Friday. No one needs that much lotion and you don’t have enough friends to share it with. Just put the bag full of them back. Seriously, step away from the warm vanilla sugar; there’s not going to be a shortage any time soon.

Then I would tell her to be prepared to use her weep towel for the first six months of being twenty-one. Babygirl, you are going to cry all the time. Invest in some big sunglasses and a good under-eye concealer, because you are going to fill buckets with your waterworks. Then I would mention that she can throw it away after that, because the crying is over–the fat lady sings and the pity parties finally end.

I would tell her that she’s going to lose some people and things this year. There’s going to be a lot of loss, a lot of questions, a lot of darkness. I would hug her for a minute and tell her to hold tight to the still small voice. I would tell her to take more road trips, get lost in the trees and to really enjoy when the shades of orange bleed into the horizon. I would tell her that these are the things that will keep her sane in the middle of absolute uncertainty and unimaginable loss.

Then, I would tell her that she’s going to laugh more in the year of being twenty-one than all the others combined. There will be incomparable joy that will leak from unexpected places and will heal some of that pain. It’s still going to hurt, but that laughter is a medicine that Walgreens doesn’t have in stock.

I would tell her not to be afraid of anger. It’s not going to destroy you. It matters what you do with it, but it’s not wrong to have it. Be angry. Slam your fists when you’re alone and let out a yell that rattles your bones. Let it out. You’ve got reasons to be angry and God doesn’t fault you for it, in fact, sometimes He gets angry with you.

I would tell her that staying out until 3 AM on summer nights and weekends is brilliant and worth it—because staying up late with friends and laughing until your stomach hurts, sitting in diners, crying about heartache, talking about Jesus… those are things worth staying up for.

I would grab her by the face with my palms and say, You’re gonna run away sometimes and it’s perfectly alright. Do not let it gut you. You don’t have to be perfect! She really needs to hear this one, because she spent the prior twenty-years trying to be superhuman and do everything right. It’s time she learn that she’s beautifully and hilariously flawed.

Oh, then I would probably smack her and tell her to stop looking at people in the car next to her when at a stoplight. Because you know what happens when you do, and screaming “EW!” and driving off is not very Jesus-like. Even if they are creepy, that’s still not nice. Then, I would just throw out there that she needs to stop tempting her gas light. It does eventually run out–and when it does, it’s in the middle of five o’clock rush-hour traffic on the busiest road around. JUST GO GET GAS!

I would tell her that even though it’s going to be a hard year (a really hard one), that she’s going to write some of the best things she’s ever written. I would probably start to cry at this point; when I tell her that her inbox will be flooded with people who tell her that her words are changing their lives. I would tell her that it’s proof that God doesn’t waste the pain.

I would tell her that she’s going to taste fear in a way she never imagined. But I would promise her that it gets better. You won’t wake up in a cold sweat every single morning—nightmares will come and go, but you’ll push through and you’ll find a way to feel okay again. I’d comfort her by saying that there are explanations and reasons for why it’s happening—I’d tell her she’s not crazy, she hasn’t failed God, and it isn’t at all what she thinks it is.

Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t tell her any of this—because maybe I can somehow see how I needed to learn this. I needed to navigate the unknown territory without a map; because it would make me grow and it would push me to do bigger and better than I ever thought I could. Maybe I wouldn’t tell her because I wouldn’t want her to have done anything differently or changed any of those decisions. Maybe I can be grateful that twenty-one was beautiful in its own way, that it marched to its own beat.

Twenty-one was all about questions, wandering, and words. But it was also about joy and freedom. It was about making impulsive and irrational choices–only to learn, those don’t always turn out to be mistakes.

Twenty-one was messy and chaotic, but it was a jam. It was a mixed melody and I learned to dance.

Welcome, twenty-two! Here’s to a year of turning up the volume and changing the beat. I’m ready to dance to whatever tune you’re destined to play.

 

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