To 20 from 30

November 8th will be my 30th birthday. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around that number, but I’m so excited for what my 30’s may hold. Hitting this milestone has me looking ahead more than looking back on the past, but I have found myself reflecting on where I was the start of this decade versus where I am now. I had so much fun writing my letter to Lyla on her first birthday and to my pregnant self. I wanted to speak to the 20-year-old version of myself, now that I have a decade more experience under my belt. I don’t tend to hold back, but I got really real in this one. Maybe there will be something here than resonates with you, no matter your age!

Dear Ashton,

Happy birthday! Your 20’s have officially started. SPOILERS AHEAD: This will be the year you have your first, actual, serious boyfriend (Hey, Stephen!), the year you get your first job, the year you learn what a toxic relationship is and begin the slow process of walking away from it, and the year you work at Disney World, which will turn out to play a major role in your life. I’m torn, because I don’t want you to do anything different. I want you to take all the steps that led you to the life you have here at 30. But there’s also so much I’d love to tell you, if you’ll let me.

On boys: Listen to me, pretty girl. If a boy who is worth your time likes you, it won’t be confusing. It will be easy and natural and fun and exciting. He won’t fall head over heels for you, then get bored the second you like him back. He won’t make your head spin with mixed signals, like sitting beside you in every group setting but spending the whole time making fun of you, or writing you letters in private, but acting too cool for you in public, or holding your hand ice skating one weekend and introducing you to his new girlfriend the next. He won’t swear up and down that the two of you are “just friends” but freak out when his girlfriend shows up at the restaurant where you’re eating, or motion for you to be quiet when she calls while you’re hanging out. (Begging the question, if we’re just friends, WHY DOES IT MAT-TER?!) You’re going to waste so much of your precious time trying to figure out which series of flaming hoops will get you those guys and constantly picking yourself apart wondering why you’re never the one anyone wants. I want you to repeat this to yourself and live by it until the right one comes along: I don’t want to CONVINCE someone to love me. You did not have to convince Jesus Christ Himself to love you. You sure don’t have to convince some boy. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but if you could see the way your baby’s face lights up when the man you end up marrying gets home from work, not another tear would be shed over the boys who didn’t want you.

On body image: I know you don’t realize this because you’ve been so busy criticizing yourself, but you are a ten. There are a million girls in a million gyms trying to get the body you have without lifting a finger, and all you can see is what it doesn’t have enough of. Your skin is radiant (For the love of God, cherish it!), your stomach is flat (!!!!!), and your eyes are your secret weapon. There is nothing wrong with your size or your shape. As the version of you whose entire body responded to pregnancy like a balloon that had juuuuuuuust a little of the air let out, I am begging you to wear crop tops and bikinis as much as you can. And take pictures. Stop worrying that you’re not measuring up, what size you are, and what people think. No one questions someone who’s confident, they just question themselves. You are altogether beautiful, my love. One helpful hint? You have eyebrows. Do something with them.

On anxiety: Speaking of worrying, let’s just go ahead and cut back on that. When I look back at the photos from this year of your life, I see the fun memories and the smiles. I see you surrounded by incredible young women and true friendships. I see cute boys with their arm around you. And I know that you operate under the assumption that those girls are all better friends with each other than they are with you. And that none of those boys like you, they’re just being nice (Hint: boys aren’t nice). You would never say it out loud, but the voice in your head isn’t a big fan of yours. All your life you’ve made your decisions primarily out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing your parents or a teacher or a bible study leader or any adult for that matter, fear of “doing it wrong.” You’re in Cru with a ton of kids from Nashville and Louisville who are getting together to write songs and you’ve never even told anyone that you sing. Or that you’ve been writing songs in your notebooks since you could write. You think anything outside the very acceptable “get a scholarship-go to college-pick a sensible major-get a good job” model is for kids who are braver than you and whose parents are richer than yours. If there’s anything I could change for you, it would be that. Stop thinking so dang hard about everything. Do the thing you want to do. You are allowed to fail. You’re allowed to try something and not be incredible on the first try. There is no Achievement Police. I could write a whole book on this topic, but I’ll leave you with something I know you’re going to think sounds lame: Just breathe. Trust me. It’s never as complicated as you’re making it.

I think that’s all for now. This is a great year, full of learning about yourself, working through some baggage you’re carrying, spontaneous adventures, and opening yourself up to love and heartbreak. You’re so beautiful, and life is so good right now. Let it be that simple. Your future is a dream come true, I promise.

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