Fireworks and Feelings: A Note on Celebrating

birthday party sponsored by Kmart

I used to believe that I wasn’t worth celebrating.

As time creeps closer to my birthday, I inevitably feel Slumpy. I’m coining this term as the 8th dwarf in my emotional repertoire. He is the illegitimate love child of Grumpy and Sleepy who is perpetually anxious and likes to sit in the corner leaking tears over his abandonment issues. As the calendar flips closer to December, you can be sure he’ll rock up to the doorstep, dump his baggage in the room and overstay his visit.

Birthdays are synonymous with celebration and nobody ever dreams of giving Slumpy an invitation to the party. But sometimes, despite the best of our abilities, he gate crashes the event. He frets over planning a party because mixing friendship groups from all different walks of life is too stressful. He sows seeds of doubts that make you wonder if anyone will show up and whether they’ll enjoy themselves. Most of all, he makes you question if you’re even worthy of a celebration. 

To his credit, I don’t think Slumpy intends to be such a killjoy. Perhaps he’s even trying to protect us. “Expectation Management,” he’ll probably moan in his defense. When I look back over the years, birthdays always felt like such a disappointment. I wrote last week that a lot of weight tends to get placed on this day. We pile on the expectations for a better year. We wait for it to change us. We set deadlines and declare that this will be the year all our fantasies come true. We hope for the people we love to rally around us.

Most often, my day would end up feeling lackluster. Events would be planned and people wouldn’t make the effort to show up. If they did, the day revolved around them. Irreparable mistakes would happen- the type that hits you when you wake up the next morning and make you feel like although you’re a year older, you’re definitely not wiser. The day would end and something would feel off.  A culmination of disappointing birthdays later,and you can’t blame Slumpy for believing that you aren’t worth showing up for and don’t deserve to be celebrated.

A year ago, he showed up again in the weeks before my 21st birthday. I was studying in England at the time and given free reign to jump from country to country. This sounds like a perfect combination for a birthday,except for the fact that my flatmates and I were slammed with last minute assignments and no one felt up to planning a party. Like a long-awaited heir to the throne,society places 21 on a pedestal and heralds it as the year of adulthood. I had hoped to usher in the year with a bang and alongside the people I loved. Yet, being isolated from my community back home and a frantic rush to finish essays meant nothing special was going to happen this year either.

This sentiment was echoed back to me later that week when my friend’s workmate from Melbourne decided to visit our flat before his travels. Incidentally, it was his birthday the day we met and we were plus ones to a party hosted by the Surf Society. Amongst the cheers and loud music in the background, and drawn together by the fact we didn’t know anyone else, I asked him how his birthday was going.

“It’s…not exactly what I thought it’d be,” he said hesitantly. “I keep waiting to feel different. Like, I know I should be happy to be here and I’m waiting for it to hit me. But it doesn’t feel like a big deal.” The crestfallen expression on his face said it all. Silence hung in the air between us and all I could say was, “I know.”

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably spent most of your life waiting on the big things. I used to be all over the idea of grand gestures, like surprise parties or fireworks that light up the sky or intense feelings that slam into you to let you know this person’s ‘the one.’ I’m so expectant of the big things that anything smaller makes me question whether it’s right and I wonder why it always feels like there’s something missing. 

 The problem with always looking up at the sky and waiting for the fireworks is that you miss out on what’s right in front of you. While your head is craned up towards the sky, you miss out on the people that are trying to celebrate you in their own way. You miss out on the magic of a slow burn that promises to keep flickering in the long run. Fireworks and grand gestures are an impressive spectacle, but once they fizz out you’re left with nothing but a dark sky. At the end of the day, I know I’d rather something meaningful that lasts for years to come, than something that only looks glamorous in the moment. The intimate memories created between close friends and the small, but intentional, actions are what imprints itself on your heart in the long run. That’s the golden stuff of life.

For my 21st, there was no huge party, no bar tab and no speeches that dragged on forever. Instead, my flat pulled together to rally around me at the last minute. The guys made an emergency trip to Tesco to buy a decadent cake topped with Maltesers. We laughed over the fact that cigarette lighters had to be held up instead of candles, and a single balloon found at the bottom of a show bag was inflated to celebrate me making it through the first year of my 20’s. Afterwards,we made our way into the city where I learnt how to (unsuccessfully) balance on my first mechanic bull and we danced the night away as fake snow rained down on our heads. It was the night my flatmate met his now girlfriend, and the night I got to see how time is a flimsy measure for the amount of impact we can make on others. It was a rushed, last minute affair, but it was enough. It wasn’t the big party I always imagined. But it ended up being more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

As much as Slumpy and the rest of the dwarfs want to assert themselves and protect us, we can’t hand over the reigns to them. The story of Snow White is notable for the damsel in distress that has to rely on men and her feelings to save her from the Evil Queen. But sometimes we forget that we are the heroes of our own life and we get to choose what gets the most weight. Truth or Feelings. Fact or fiction.  

Someone once told me that I’ll be celebrated when I no longer feel that desire anymore. I don’t think that’s true. I think you should absolutely desire to be celebrated. You deserve the reminder that it’s not an accident you’re here today. You’re allowed to feel sentimental and all up in your feelings like a Drake song. There are years where it’ll feel eventful and everyone is gathered round for the glitz, glam and sparkle. And there’ll be years where you’ll have to be your own sparkle. The smaller, quieter, years allow you to be your own cheerleader and learn to celebrate yourself. You’re going to have to figure out how to love on and bust out the confetti for yourself before you can ever invite anyone else to do it for you.

Learn to celebrate the small sparks on the ground instead of worshiping the fireworks. Celebrate the grueling but golden process it took for you to get here. Celebrate the fact that despite all the hardships that came your way, you made it through. One day soon, someone’s going to love every bit of the mud that transformed you into who you are today.

All this to say that if a single shred of you has ever wondered whether you are worthy of being celebrated, hear me when I say you are, you are, you are.

Irrespective of who does or doesn’t show up for you, you’re worth celebrating.  Every inch of you is worth breaking out the confetti and silly string for.

Your birthday will undeniably be someone’s favourite day because it’s the day you showed up to the world ready to leave a mark on people’s hearts.

So if no one else has ever made you feel special, know that you are, you are, you are. 


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Thank You, Next: A Letter to My 21st Year

I turned 22 yesterday.

When it comes to birthdays, people will say many things amongst the chimes of well wishes and ‘have a great day.’ Do you feel any different? Do you feel older? Wiser? Did the Universe flood your brain with the answers to your burning questions as soon as the clock struck midnight?

I woke up and I felt the same as I did yesterday and the day before that. Nothing had changed.

If you’re anything like me, you often treat birthdays like a deadline for the all the milestones you were hoping to accomplish. A few years ago, I remember texting a friend in the lead up to my Birthday and telling her that I felt so upset because I hadn’t done anything noteworthy or awesome yet. “This isn’t where I thought I’d be,” I texted her while in the midst of any ugly cry. 

I’m willing to bet that you’ve probably felt this sentiment too. That this isn’t where you thought you’d be at 17, 21, 28 or 30. But that’s what happens when we place a ton of weight on a day that only asks to be celebrated for the glorious fact that you’re alive. When the clock ticks over and things haven’t unfolded the way we wanted them to, we end up feeling crushed by the weight of unmet expectations.

At 22, I woke up and felt like nothing had changed.

Yet everything has.

A whole year has passed since 21. The world has almost made a complete orbit around the sun. And it makes me wonder how many beautiful moments have happened that I’ve discounted because it didn’t happen the way I wanted.

So in honour of the year that’s gone by and the events that have unfolded, I wrote 21 a letter.


Hey you,

21 begins with you huddled under a green quilt in your flat in England wondering how the next year will unfold. Little weeds of discontentment will start to grow rampant in your heart, but you’ll shrug it off as pre-travel jitters and continue to chase after the wrong things.

The next month will be filled with you jumping from country to country, blurred memories, first dates, meeting friends who make you laugh till your stomach hurts, and moments where you wonder if loneliness will always be a companion. Turns out, everything you’ve clenched your eyes shut and wished for at 16 and 18 will be fulfilled by 21.You’ll have run the marathon, be in Law School, lived out a cute-meet and got to travel around with no parental supervision. After the past year of unmet expectations, you finally learn that some things take time to unfold. 

Things crumble as soon as your plane touches down in Melbourne. You spend the first month back home wrestling with the familiar darkness that tries to claw you back down by questioning where exactly you fit in this world. You struggle through all five stages of Grief even though it’s unclear exactly what you’re grieving, and your favourite writer will write to tell you, “You’re in the valley. Welcome to it.” The valley is something we all go through. For so long, you’ve worshipped this idea of jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop and having one victory after another. But no matter what it looks like online, nobody has that. The valley is the rocky, cavernous space in-between each mountain that we have to navigate through before reaching the top again. You might know it as the low point in your life when depression came back or when things felt stagnant, no matter how much you tried to move. It’s that place where you feel like giving up every two steps and you’re unsure if you’re ever going to see sunlight again. Believe it or not, the valley is golden. It’s the sacred space that stretches and refines you so you are ready for the next big thing in your life. When you do find your way to the top again, you’ll be able to take in the breathtaking view and say, ‘It wouldn’t have felt as spectacular if it’d come easy.’

Your valley was necessary for God to break and rebuild your foundation. It shattered the cardboard scaffolding of flimsy lies and false beliefs that you used to stand on. It forced you to decide whether you wanted to continue basing decisions off the lies you tell yourself or on truth. Anything that you seek to build,whether it’s a relationship, a career or a community, will require a foundation that won’t break at the first signs of a storm. Soon you can say with absolute certainty that you’re building your life on solid rock.

The community comes first. You pick up right where you left off with the people who know how to speak life over your wounds, and you begin the hard work to go even deeper with them. You’ll meet people who let you dive into their passenger seat and listen to you patiently while you stumble over the words to ask for help. The same ones will pick up the phone, let you snooze on their couch and will ask if there’s anything they can do to help you with your walk with God. They’ll wander into your life unexpectedly and it’ll feel like they’ve been there all along.

 Find the friends who aren’t afraid to talk about all of the deep and hard things with a side of pancakes and maple syrup. You’ve always had people in your life who know how to stay for the sparkle. It takes a longer, deeper process to find the ones who aren’t afraid to set up a tent with you in the mud and help you unravel your feelings. But take heart- at 17 you never thought you’d find anyone who’d stay during the tough times. Now, your tribe is full of people who are fluent in the art of showing up. Better yet, you’ll have learnt to be the one who shows up for others. 

When the calendar flips over to June, you’ll have coffee with a boy an hour before your exam. He’ll sit next to you while you’re sipping on lattes and speak breathlessly about his new business venture and how taking a risk changed his whole life. As the words rush out of his mouth, you’ll finally realise what true passion looks like. His words and support will push you to start forging your own path and investing in a craft that fulfills you.

You’ll land a job in an office that will make you feel more and more in your spirit that this is not the way you’re going to help other people. While some serve the world best by distance between themselves and others, your sweet spot has always been to sit with people in the thick of their everyday messes and tell them they’re ok. Words have always been the life raft that’s kept you from drowning and stories will keep you paddling even when the waves beat you down. Now it’s become the secret stuff that gets you out of bed – to speak words that will help people through their storm.

Let me say that the words you tell yourself and the words you speak over someone matter. Gosh it matters so much more than you know. The things you tell someone will either empower them to embrace who they are OR it’ll be another strike on the list of why they’re not enough. Be conscious when you tell someone that ‘no one cares.’ Be extra cautious about the lies you’re repeating to yourself about not being good enough.

Every storm you’ve ever weathered, every dark pit you’ve fallen into, the way you feel things so deeply, and how you used to scribble stories in the margins of notebooks, will come together to form the pieces of a bigger picture. Everything will click into place and it’ll make sense what you’re here on this world to do. For anyone that’s currently wandering aimlessly in a fog and confused about the direction their life is going, trust me when I say that the fog is a good thing. It’s the first step to making a breakthrough. The fog forces you to ask if you really like the direction you’re headed or if you’re just following someone else’s journey. Perhaps this is the opportunity you’ve always needed to chart a new course for yourself.

Fear will fight hard to pull you back whenever you’re about to be a victor. He’ll wrap his bony fingers around your wrist and whisper things like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘No one will care.’ He manifests himself in the forms of other people’s opinions, failure and risk of rejection.Sooner or later you have to decide who gets to call the shots in your life. You or Fear? I’ve done the research and spoken to the people who are 5 and 10 steps ahead of me. They all say the same thing: fear doesn’t go away. It’s going to be up to you, brave one, to push through. Fear shrinks every time you step forward so just commit to one step. And then another. And then another. Soon you’ll realise that fear’s got nothing on you.

Take heart though, because our hardest battles really do become the launching pad we need. Every ballad you’ve ever written about overcoming fear becomes the fight song that opens new doors. Every heartbreak, anxious thought and tear you’ve ever shed will form the lines of a map that will help someone else come out of their storm.

On a warm Spring day, you’ll spontaneously accept an invitation to skip Uni and drive to the middle of nowhere. You’ll watch as a group of singers reduce an auditorium full of restless teenagers to tears after telling their story, and it’ll hit you that your experiences are important. The stories that make up your life are sacred and golden, and you need to stop discounting them as too trivial, messy or boring.  Afterwards, you’ll sit on the grey carpet with one of the guys who shared his comeback story. He’ll look you in the eye tell you that he can see joy written all over you. “In fact, Joy will be one of the key pillars of your life,” he says.

You’ll cling so hard to that because there was once such a dark period in your life that you thought you’d never feel happiness again. Now, if there’s anything you want to dedicate your life to fighting for, it’s to help other people feel joy as well.

21, you were a fight song and a love story all wrapped up in one.  Society places you on a pedestal because it’s the year of ‘real adulthood,’ but I say this was the year you could proudly say ‘I’m in my element.’

Love always, 

Ash


Wednesday’s Just Got A Recharge!

When the fresh start to the week has worn off, but the weekend still feels ages away, you end up with humpday. This dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed. Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

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