Dear Eighteen-Year-Old Me,
I want you to know this—you are brave and you are strong. It is okay to question and to not know. You work damn hard and you try your best. Keep trying. Keep exploring. Never stop being brave. I want you to be old and wrinkled and to look back with laughter at your attempts in this world; both the successes and the failures. You will learn so much more in the years to come. You will be shut down and have doors open that you never knew existed. You will gain weight and lose it; your skin will NEVER stop changing. Embrace it. This is the body God created for you to walk in. Treat it gently, with care and with love. You only get the one for this life.
Be bold. Never stop standing up for yourself, even and especially when you feel your feet slipping. Hold onto Jesus and NEVER let go. Dear eighteen-year-old Ashley, your life is so different then what you imagined it to be, but it is so, so beautiful.
When you moved from Michigan to Kentucky, you had high hopes of becoming a horse racing jockey. You thought that you could major in Business and start your very own horse racing farm. Little did you know, you hated business and your careers over time would change drastically. You would meet your husband just a year later at a coffee shop, and become his wife at the age of twenty. Life for you will look nothing like you planned for it to. Remember when you thought you heard God’s voice tell you, “You will have a handicapped child,” all because you shamefully wondered what life would look like without your handicapped brother? That fear tricked you into believing that you wouldn’t have any biological children of your own. You thought that you weren’t strong enough, brave or loving enough and you doubted every ounce of motherhood from your own eyes. That’s not what happens. Instead, God blesses you with two children; a boy and a girl, a mere fifteen months apart from each other. You never would have dreamt it, and how could you have? They are so wonderful, so beautiful, so happy and so pure. And you know what else? Even on the days you doubt this, (which will be many), you are an amazing mom. They love every ounce of your imperfections, your flaws, your goofiness and the many ways that you love them.
You actually planned your pregnancy with your son, three years into marriage. But you absolutely did not plan to have your daughter. Never in your wildest dreams would you have chosen to have two babies, so close in age to each other. If I could have given you some insight though, it would be this: Please don’t panic. Don’t cry. Why are you doubting yourself? God clearly thinks you are doing a fine job raising your son so he must think you can do a great job raising a second! You will spend so much of your pregnancy with her in a dark and doubtful place. I wish I could help you see how perfectly planned out she really was. Your daughter, she will complete your family. She is the spitfire and the spunk that you never knew you needed. She and your son, the perfect pair, the missing puzzle pieces to your quite broken heart. Please trust me, and trust your Creator. He created them with YOU in mind.
Dear eighteen-year-old me, your body will endure a lot over the course of nine years. There is no way you would believe that twenty-eight-year old you will weigh less on a scale. You will get pregnant and lose an ungodly amount of weight due to your Postpartum Thyroiditis. You’ll get pregnant, again, and go through the same exact heart-wrenching disorder. Your body will stretch and grow and give birth only to stretch and grow and do it all again. You will be thinner than you ever imagined, but you will look completely different. You will bear the marks of your second pregnancy on your tummy; your skin will have stretched and shrunk so drastically that when you bend, it won’t be recognizable. Please breathe. Please give yourself a hug and tell yourself over and over, “There is grace in this body.”
Remember that I said you are brave and you are strong. That I want you to look back at not only the successes but also the failures, and embrace all of them together as part of your beautiful story.
Grace: she will be your best friend. You will mess up in your marriage, in your careers, in your friendships and in motherhood. At eighteen, you think leaving home and seeking your dreams means that your wildest dreams will come true. Well, they do; they just don’t look anything like you think they will. As you get older, you will begin to recognize the things that are truly important. I wish I could save you some time and help you see that some of the friendships you put so much effort into won’t actually pan out or last. I wish I could save you some of the heartache that you endured as a result of the many poor decisions in men that you pursued. But at the same time, didn’t I just say that grace would be your word?
This is your story; the one that looks far from what you envisioned. A Michigan girl, longing for independence and self-clarity who learns a lot as she grows. All of the good and all of the bad encompasses so much of who you will become.
The days turn into months and the months into years. You will have a super handsome and Godly husband. One who adores you for all that you are and even for what you are not. You will become a teacher to inner-city youth, who struggle with mental health issues. You will be a city girl (who still longs for horses), raising her two children in a beautiful one-hundred year old home. You will find that your passions lie in photographing life and writing about those journeys; you will discover that you have absolutely no idea what the pages to the future hold. You will endure heartache, loss, love and years. Your story will keep enfolding, it will never cease to turn. All I ask is that through it all, you never lose courage. Please don’t lose hope and forever cling to the ones who love you the most.