This blog is pretty public. It’s that way for a reason. I made the decision, years ago, that I was going to use my writing as a form of therapy. Putting my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in to words is a healing medium for me. Like exercise tones up my body, writing tones up my spirit. It gives me release, it allows me to explore the very depths of who I am, who I want to be. I used to play the piano. Used to. As the years have passed by, my ability in that area has diminished from lack of practice. I miss it. I think one day I will pick it up again, but for now, writing is my form of expression.

I was talking to a dear friend this week, and she was telling me about this process she has been doing the last year or so. It’s been about releasing things, trapped feelings and emotions, and she looks and feels better than she has in decades. There is a joy in her that wasn’t there before. There is healing is letting go of certain parts of your own history. Owning it, then releasing it.

My oldest niece graduated from high school last night. I get emotional at graduations, but not for the reason that most people do. Certainly I am nostalgic about how much she’s grown up and the beauty of that, but when I look at her, I remember what being that age feels like. I remember how much you think you know, but how much you really don’t.

If you get to know me well enough, I’ll tell you my story. It doesn’t flow out of me easily sometimes, because there are parts of it that still haunt me. A lot. But as much as I write for me, I also write for people to read it. I put it out there in the great void of life and people tell me, “Your words touched me.” Sometimes people need to know that they’re not alone in how they feel, and that’s why I’m so transparent in what I say on this blog.

When I was my niece’s age, I was a newlywed. At 16, I was accepted to college on early admission and a decent ACT score. I knew it all, I had nothing but self-confidence. So I bypassed my Senior year of high school and went straight to William Carey College. In that same year, I fell in love. I fell quite hard. Jason soon became my beginning and end of life and the most important thing to me. More important than family. More important than my faith. More important than myself, my goals, and my education.

In January of 1999, I got pregnant. I was 16 years old. A kid. A very naive, stupid, careless kid.

The fallout from my decisions would take years and years to repair. I lost the baby in the first trimester. I had quit school, so I got my GED and a got a job.

The relationship with my parents was tense, to say the least. And after about 7 months of arguing and fighting and pushing until I got my way, I married Jason.

I married him because I loved him. But I also married him to prove a point. To my parents: I am an adult and you can’t tell me what to do anymore. To myself: you didn’t make a mistake by getting pregnant. This will make it right. Justified.

4 years into our marriage, I got pregnant with Reagan. Jason and I struggled terribly both financially and emotionally throughout our marriage and when Reagan was born, the enormity of what true love really is hit me like an explosion. I only thought I had fallen in love before. When I laid eyes on my daughter for the first time, I knew, in an instant, that this, this was real, true, unconditional love.

It was an awakening of sorts. Within a year of her birth, my marriage started crumbling from the very weak foundation upward. Shortly after Reagan’s first birthday, I made the most difficult request of my life and asked Jason for a divorce. We fought constantly. We had no direction, no common goals, and were not building the life, nor setting the example of family and marriage that I wanted for my daughter. When Reagan was 18 months old, her Dad and I split for good.

It has taken me years, almost a decade, to own this part of my past. I have accepted it, lived with it, but I am my own harshest critic. I have struggled to forgive myself for the pain I caused my parents, for breaking the heart of the boy who was my first love and my best friend, for breaking up Reagan’s family before she even really knew what family was. I have had to forgive myself for the things I did to myself, also. For effectively ruining some well laid plans. I could have had a successful career in Psychology by now. A doctorate. A practice. It’s taken me years to accept what I did to ME. And some days, when I get home from a particularly hard day at my job, the feelings of guilt and regret will try to come seeping in.

When I went back to college 5 years ago, it was for more than the degree. It was for closure. As much as it cost me both financially and emotionally, I went back to school because I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to go. In those years at Belhaven, I found a healing. I remembered my potential. I remembered my ability. What Shey helped me believe about my outer beauty, Belhaven helped me believe about my mind. I was still capable. I was not a failure. Dreams can still become reality. And when I walked across the stage to accept my diploma, with the highest possible honors, something healed in my heart.

When I watched my niece last night, I listened to the speeches given to that class about future possibilities. When I looked at those young faces, I wanted to tell them how many times some of them will fail before they succeed. I wanted to tell them that life may always come easy for them, but more than likely it won’t. That’s why you have to look for the healing places.

What are the healing places? Well, my healing places are many. Nature, for one. I could sit on my patio for hours. When I was younger, I had a favorite tree by the creek that I would go to and sit in for hours. Listening, meditating. My healing place is my church, a place that I confess and worship and receieve the bread and wine and restoration for my soul. My healing place is in the embrace of my husband and daughter, in their eyes that look at me with understanding, hope, encouragement. My healing place is a friend, a quiet dinner or a on-the-go lunch conversation. My healing place is laughter with my sister or mom or dad. My healing place is here, on this blog, where I try to clumsily explain who I am and try to express through sharing my story that God is a true Redeemer.

No, I am not mother of the year. I’m certainly not winning any good wife awards. I am about as low as I can be on the totem pole of my career.

But I have healed.

The first 18 years of life are certainly a foundation for who a person becomes, but the Valedictorian last night had it right when she said, “Life is only 10% what happens to you. The other 90% is how you respond to it.”

I’ve made some stupid decisions in my life. And tried to fix them with more, not-well-thought-out ideas. And if it were not for all my healing places, some of them would have broken me for good.

I’ve often wondered what I would tell my 16 year old self if I could go back and give her some advice that she’d listen to. But I can’t do that. And I know her well enough to know that she rarely listens to good advice now, so she sure wouldn’t have listened 18 years ago. So here’s what I’d say:

Allie, honey, you’re gonna royally screw up sometimes. You’re going to be impetuous, you’re going to struggle with things you’d never thought you would. You’re going to have to work so hard, harder than you ever imagined. You’re going to realize that you don’t know as much as you think you do. You’re going to experience some deep heartbreak and some indescribable joy. You’re going to realize that success in life means something very different from diplomas and accomplishments. You’re going to go through some deep, deep valleys. But you will not walk alone. Never alone. There will be healing places all along the way. Stop at each one. Savor them. Drink them up. Feel their restoration deeply. You are being changed, from glory to glory, every day. Even in the darkest moments. You will not understand everything now, but one day you will. One day, you will reach the ultimate Healing Place. The one of which all of the ones in earthly life have given you a glimpse. All the old things will have passed away. All things will be new. Restored. Healed. For good.