Chronic Illness · Grad School · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

24 Intangibles I Want to Give to Myself for My 24th Birthday

23 was a huge year for me. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve seen me grow and change more than I ever thought possible. If my life continues on the track it seems to be going, 24 will be another jam-packed, grace-filled year. I wouldn’t have it any other way. What do I want in my 24th year, when to be honest, I have all the material objects that I could ask for or possibly need? These are 24 things that I need to take responsibility for. To work alongside God to prune my surroundings and soul to leave the open space. To face my mountains.

Ms. Emily Ferstandig Arnold, these are 24 hopes that I will do all I can to fulfill for you:

  1.  An increased sense of self-compassion – to come closer to matching what you give to others, whether they’re my dearest loved ones or strangers.
  2. A removal of the irrational fear you hold deep in your heart of never finding someone to love again, at least not one who will love you back. You’re 24. You’re loving, lovely, and loveable – end of story.
  3. A deeper understanding of what makes you angry and a deeper acceptance of yourself when you’re angry, despite your long-standing shame around anger. Anger can lead you in new and positive directions, so long as you don’t let it hijack the driver’s seat.
  4. A greater belief in others’ compliments.
  5. A reduced sense of fear of letting others down, especially after they verbalize praise for you (and you then want to run away before you can possibly lose that admiration).
  6. A stable and positive body image, both in the traditional sense and in the unusual sense of having chronic health conditions that are somewhat beyond your control – and having this good self-image not just on your best days, but also on your worst.
  7. A greater willingness to go to the dark and twisty parts of your soul, to examine them, to respect them, to care for them, to pray for God to redeem them, to not run away from yourself, but also to move back into the light when you’re done – to not pack your bag and move there.
  8. A deeper understanding of what it means to be a good listener in terms of when to speak versus when to be silent.
  9. An advocacy and planning for more quiet time for yourself during which to put your phone on airplane mode, read books, dig into the Bible, turn your biggest dreams into plans, pray, explore your surroundings, and admire and engage in, rather than slightly fear, stillness.
  10. A reduced anxiety about being misunderstood – the kind of anxiety that causes you to shut your authentic self away and feel alone in a full room – and an increased willingness to let others in.
  11. A decreased sense of personal attack or rejection when someone doesn’t become – or remain a part of – your closest circle in life.
  12. An increased willingness to sit in the questions and not rush to cheap and easy answers – to live in the gray areas rather than in the black and white ends of the spectrum.
  13. A deeper curiosity and sense of awe about what you learn in your grad school classes – an interest that quiets your fears of not knowing enough for your classmates to respect you and see you as a peer and reminds you that you have a unique story of how you got here, as well as a great capacity to learn and catch up.
  14. An opening up to do valued activities that you spent much time on in the past that you miss, but are afraid to touch now due to the fear of not being as good as you were before.
  15. A greater respect for your body’s limitations, but in equal measure, a greater sense of optimism about its capabilities.
  16. A quicker move to apologize when you have done someone harm with what you’ve done or failed to do.
  17. A depth of wisdom that cannot come from books and without lived experiences of adventures (the kind that come for better and for worse).
  18. A deeper sense of when to create and strengthen boundaries for your own preservation, even (and perhaps especially) with those you love the most.
  19. A confluence of events that leads you to the next person you will love – but an ever-present gratitude for the plentiful platonic love that fills your life that does not fade either in the face of singleness or a relationship.
  20. A consistent sleep schedule and a greater willingness to eat gluten-free and dairy-free.
  21. A quicker and deeper forgiveness process for people who you love the most, the kind of people you love too much to either cling onto or fling away.
  22. A letting go of the mistakes that you have made and a grabbing onto the lessons that you have learned – without judgment and with gratitude.
  23. A long-awaited and worked-for steadiness, rather than a semi-frequent rollercoaster, in your soul.
  24. A year unlike any other in your life.

Happy birthday to you, Emmie, you 24-year-old precious daughter of God. You are beloved and have been for almost a quarter of a century – and, as you’re learning, there are few things more beautiful than waking up to another day.

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