Goodbye, Jordan Year

I turn twenty-four in a few days. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for so long, mostly because of the Switchfoot song, but also because twenty-three has been so hard. Twenty-four is coming just as I’m reaching my end and need a change. I’ve fought a lot of battles this year, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I’m not naive enough to think that twenty-four will magically make all the battles disappear, but I’m hoping that the world can feel a little lighter.

Despite all the hard things, the things I’ve written a million eight hundreds about and that have filled the pages of my journal, there has been so much good, too. And instead of sending twenty-three out by reflecting on what made it hard, I want to look at the good stuff.

Here are some of the parts of twenty-three that made getting to twenty-four worth it:

Snape: A few days into January I adopted a little black kitten from the Human Society. He’s been both a nightmare and a dream, but he’s kept me sane in a lot of ways. I won’t be that person that goes on and on about their cat, but just know that I could be.

HEART CAMP: One of the most pivotal points of 2018 took place at the very beginning, in a hotel in Florida, with forty strangers. I wasn’t sure why I’d signed up for HEART CAMP, but I knew I needed to be there. That weekend I got to ask myself what I really wanted to do, what I really cared about, what set my soul on fire. I left with more perspective on how I wanted to spend my days, and rested in the fact that the Lord was making those things clear. HEART CAMP changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

Meeting Dr. Jay: I enrolled in a Jane Austen class in the spring semester, and that class, and its professor, changed my life. It was in her class, watching her teach, that I said, “Wow, she’s so damn lucky. She has the best job in the world.” And then I realized, finally, that that’s what I wanted to do with my life, and she helped me get on track to get there She asked me, “What do you love?” and told me to do exactly that. Dr. Jay quickly began mentoring me and fiercely sharing her wisdom with me as I go throughout grad school. She calls me out and encourages me and has been so gracious through all the ups and downs of this year. I had no idea that the Jane Austen class, or Jay, would impact me nearly as much as they have. Jay will be a big part of what gets me to a PhD program and what makes me a successful scholar. I’ll work closely with her over the next eight months as we get my thesis written, and then more as I apply to programs, and for that I am thankful.

Amsterdam: Over Spring Break I spent ten days in Europe with Shelley, and it’s ten days that I’ll never forget. We stayed with the most wonderful home with the best people. We did a marathon of travel between Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris, and London. We drank a lot of beer and walked a lot of miles, and it is absolutely one of those trips I’ll have to convince my kids that it actually happened.

GEAR UP Alabama: I technically started working for GUA before I turned twenty-three, but it didn’t feel like home until I’d been there for a few months. In my year at GUA I have learned so so much about the world and education. I’ve become part of a family and been taken care of by my bosses in ways that shock me. I’ve seen the power of education in ways that I never imagined and my perspective and opinion of the education system has changed forever. GUA introduced me to Dr. Briggs and Dr. Perry, two strong and inspiring women who, like Dr. Jay, have changed and will continue to impact my career path. I’m lucky to be a part of the GUA team.

Hotel Bella Donna: In August, I moved in with one of my best friends, and it’s been a dream. Potty training a puppy (that’s not mine) is a nightmare, but living with Kaitlin has been such a gift. Jess moved in with us after a couple months in the apartment, and things have only gotten better. Our bathroom is tiny, our kitchen sucks, and the floors are squeaky, but the community is real and it is good. I absolutely loved living alone, but this is better for me. Being known and seen and loved is so much better. Having roommates to support me, especially in a season like I’ve been in, has been a bigger blessing than I can describe. We sing Mamma Mia! And drink a lot of wine and we know each other. I love our little apartment, which Kaitlin and I have named the Dragonfly Inn, something that was a lot more fitting before Jess moved in because Jess has never seen Gilmore Girls, but that’s okay.

Eight Hundred Words: Phew. Once upon a time, Liz and I started sending each other eight hundred words a week, and three years later that has turned into an instagram account and a community and we are floored. Working with Liz is a dream. Building this community is a joy. Writing eight hundred words a week still isn’t necessarily easy, but it is good.

ICC: I love my church in a way I knew I always should, but didn’t know I actually could, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Books and words: I’ve definitely read more in the last year than I ever have and that’s pretty dang cool and wonderful. I also wrote the short story that will hopefully become my first novel, which is also cool and wonderful.

I’m proud of who I am at twenty-three. This year has thrown a lot of hard, heavy things my way. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve cried a lot too, honestly. I fought to get to twenty-four, just as I’m sure I’ll fight for twenty-five.

Ashton Ray