July 5, 2019 (30th Anniversary of being Cancer-free)
Dear 16 yr. old Ashly,
There is so much in life that you are pushing through and you don’t have to. It’s OK to be who you are, to accept the fact that you really do have a disability and that it is not at all tied to your worth. It is OK to need to rest or care for a body that has been through so much. Don’t spend so much effort trying to portray to the world into you are normal because in a few years you will lose the leg you are standing on, literally, and they will see the truth anyway. Insurance won’t cover your needs so I urge you to be conscious of creating a life that is satisfied whether mobile or immobile.
You will find love but it will not look like what you think. Stop spending time worrying about whether someone will love you with your disability, attitude, and faults. Someone will always love you. Romance may be part of a relationship but don’t spend precious time chasing sparks and fleeting feelings. Appreciate them, keeping your mind anchored in the reality that love is companionship.
All relationships, even non-romantic ones are tumultuous at times. When there are attachment pains, disagreements, or arguments you might feel you can never fully trust that person again. This is not true. People will hurt you and you will hurt people. You will lash out, so will others. But given time and space wounds will almost always heal and it allows us to see God manifesting grace.
Some people will not like you no matter what you do. Move on when this happens. A lot of times reactions or lashing out are simply impulses stemming from pain and trauma in the past. Most people do not want to hurt others, and before this is all over you will hurt others too!
It is also normal to say no to friendships that don’t flow correctly or become toxic. Loyalty is a great quality but if it is to your detriment or if safety is a factor (physical, emotional, spiritual) please walk away early. Don’t stick it out hoping that things will get better because the longer you stay the lower it will take you, stunting your attitude and self esteem. You are intelligent, intuitive, and I can assure you from this end of my letter that instincts are usually right. So invest in the people that lift you up and avoid the trap of thinking you have others figured out. You will find that friend that will listen to anything, judge nothing, respond honestly, and you won’t ever have to explain yourself. Hearts are a mystery, a gem that God has placed in each person that only he can appraise.
I want you to know, Ashly, that oversharing can be very detrimental and in the wrong hands can be quite damaging. It’s wise to be private and keep things in confidence.
The relationship you have with your siblings is probably going to be the most important thing in your life long-term, next to your spouse. (Though studies will argue siblings usually outlast partners.) They will be there for you, they will love you when you are wrong, they will lift you up, yell at you, and defend you like a fighting bear! Stick close and pour into them at every opportunity with gifts and love and kindness. They deserve it for putting up with you. So does your mom, listen to her, experience proves she is right.
There is this tool you will learn about from Discovering MErcy’s resource “Window of Tolerance”. Learning to recognize when you begin feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or in fear will stop you from viewing the world as your enemy. It is critical to “choose you” when your window is full and pull back or stop whatever you are doing to address your needs. If you ignore your nervous system and allow adrenaline to flow and fear to rule the day you will suffer. Physically your body will react, emotionally you will overreact, verbally you will lash out, and relational damage will occur. Yes, we are taught that self-sacrifice is love, to always put others above ourselves. But listen to me now: taking care of yourself is putting others before you. So take time for skincare, long baths, have a support system, stay sober minded, and join the gym. These are things you will not regret.
Your identity is not going to be found in your role, your job, your status, your husband, your kids (or lack thereof), your looks, your disability. Your identity is who you were created to be. Cast those ideologies aside Ashly and realize you are worth something because God chose to create you. If you attach to false identities the whole structure will come crashing down around you sooner or later. Build your heart on solid ground.
For you, traveling and experiencing things is the richest way to be educated. To experience something as wonderful as a new culture, country, historical location, etc., will immerse you in a way that can’t be found in books. But do keep reading! It takes vulnerability and bravery to explore and learn new things but without the curious wonder to understand the world around us we will become very unsatisfied. And for goodness sake, get in a scooter! You will always have stares and ridiculous things said and done to you for your disability whether you ride in a scooter or not. So hop in one and get out and enjoy your life!
Gratefulness is a natural state for you. Take time every day to consciously appreciate just one part of your environment. It is such a grounding, mindful experience to practice a grateful heart. Your home environment should be one that welcomes you, encourages you, and makes you feel like you belong. Create and then guard that with all your might! Recognizing what we are blessed with will lift your spirits in the darkest of days.
Just as gratefulness is a tool that will build you up, shame is a wicked tool of destruction. It eats away at your soul in a deliberate, sickeningly savoring, detesting manner you don’t often recognize until you are debilitated. Don’t live in shame for the things you have done, said, or will do. Make things right when you can and move on. Parking in the past will render your future idle.
Young Ashly, you don’t understand this now but there are men out there that prefer amputee women just because they are missing limbs, or think you are desperately eager for attention. There are a lot of people that will see you and think they need to “fix you” as if there is something wrong with you while others will attempt to prey on you for a multitude of things. You’ll get a lot of insistence that if you had more faith your leg would grow back and there are a lot of people that will only make contact with you to find out “what happened to you”. In a lot of places people will not view you as a person but as a repulsive object or less than human. Everywhere you go people will stare at you incessantly. Brace yourself when you go into public for these interactions and hold your heart close; quietly observe and choose to engage wisely on your terms. You don’t need to prove people’s opinions of you wrong about you, let it be. And don’t be surprised when the friendly face you think wants to chat is actually manipulating a way to satisfy their own curiosity or soothe their fears by tearing you down.
I’ve learned the hard way and want to impart that there is no need to explain yourself or apologize for to saying “no” to someone even if you don’t have a reason. If someone asks you a question you do not have to answer and it is important to be brave enough to state that and protect your heart. When someone asks you to do something that you don’t want to do or feel it will stretch your body or mind…say no without feeling or accepting any guilt.
There are so many things you can do and I hope your wonder and zest for life will continue to grow your heart! You read, play the piano, cycle, swim, crochet, write, speak, constantly self-improve, have a niece and nephew, a fun husband, a good sense of fashion, and a tiny little cottage you call home in the future. I hope you finish college now but if you don’t that will be in the future as well.
I’ve a ton more practical advice about drinking water, wearing sunblock, and always keeping some little project to work on, but I think I’ll let time share those things with you. Hopefully aligning with the themes of this letter, Ashly, will set you up to grow and build a foundation propelling you forward with ease. God has blessed you with life after cancer and limb loss so I urge you to take the shortcut of wisdom provided here and make the most of each moment.
Your future self,