Finding Yourself | My Middle School Journey

It seems like just yesterday I was entering fifth grade. Here in a week now, I'll already be done. A freshman in high school. That's actually hitting me now. Plus I ended up passing my driver's test, and I did get my permit, so you all need to stay off the sidewalks now. ;)

I have been ready to be done with middle school for quite some time, but there are things I will miss, and most of all, I'll never forget all that God has taught me over the four years. The faith He's developed in me has been priceless, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Plus, as you get older, there's more responsibilities. Duh. But I kind of like it when my mom and dad pay for everything. Those days will be over before I know it, too. . . .

But why keep what you learn to yourself, right? I endured four years of middle school, and each one brought with it different challenges and triumphs. The biggest, most important thing I learned in middle school is to find yourself. And I can't wait to pursue the things I am passionate about at the high school. I learned so much, though, each year. I started my blog in August 2014, which was the beginning of my sixth grade year. I actually did have some blogs before this one while I was in fifth grade, but I promise you all didn't miss anything worth reading. ;)

I believe I completely surrendered my life to God in summer 2013, and the fall of 2013 was the start of fifth grade. I'll go through everything I learned in each grade; it was amazing to see how God worked on different areas of me each year, and now just looking back and seeing how He's provided. . . . I can't wait to do this again in high school. So, to anyone entering middle school or currently going through or for anyone who just needs the reminders . . . I present to you the most important things I've learned about life and God during my middle school years. Consider it your middle school survival guide, although I've learned that you can apply these lessons to anything in your life, middle school or not.

ashlee-fifth-grade.jpg

5th Grade

This year was the start of learning my most important lessons. I was still pretty worldly, but I know my mind was set on living for God, though I still battled the typical teenage girl feelings hard: wanting to fit in, not understanding why nice girls aren't popular, etc. I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be liked for who I was, I wanted attention, and I got mad watching other people get it. It was a worldly desire, but what fifth grader doesn't battle that? This year was mostly a foundation of learning what success really is and how to get it. So let's have at it: my lessons from fifth grade.

Hard work will get you far.

Ever since I was little, I never felt the need to argue with authorities; I just did what I was told; I feared ever getting in trouble, even for the littlest of things. So for me, doing my work and doing it well was never a CHOICE. I don't know why people think it is. It's not. But I learned that pretty quickly. When you put your best effort into homework, into presentations, teachers take note of that.

How I learned this: One time I compiled this big presentation over a topic I was interested in for a class, and after I presented it, my teacher I presented it to sent me a super nice email telling me how she could tell I put the effort into it and those types of things. It was really assuring to hear.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
— Colossians 3:23-24 NIV

Find your niche.

I don't ever think you're too young to find that something you love to do and to find what you do it for. Of course, for some this takes longer than others, and that's fine. I praise God that He gave me mine at a young age. I used to write consistently in a diary when I was eight or nine years old, and I have this bio page I wrote for myself in the back of it because even then I liked to pretend I was writing books, so that was like my "about the author" page. But I wrote about how I loved to write and I wanted my stories to guide people into a saving relationship with Jesus. I wrote in fifth grade, not anything I wanted to pursue, but it ended up leading me to write what was my first novel. So find your niche as soon as possible. Don't spend your days screwing around thinking it'll just come some other day. Work for your dreams NOW.

You'll meet some amazing people.

I met quite a few awesome teachers during my middle school years, and I definitely had some from fifth grade. If it weren't for them, I truly don't think I would've been where I was upon entering sixth grade. They were key people in teaching me about success and making sure I had my mind on the RIGHT success. I still email those teachers, and I don't think I'll ever forget the impact they had on my life.

Being liked for your character is the most important thing.

There were many things I wanted to be liked for in fifth grade. Looks, athleticism, smarts, talent, etc. But, thanks to the teachers as I mentioned above, I learned that stuff really doesn't matter nearly as much as being thought of well for the type of person you are and the choices you make. Your character is what people will remember most. Being liked for that, for doing the right thing, is truly what's most important.

Success is found through your character.

With that being said, my teachers taught me this most of all: success will come through that. Your character. When you work hard, when you treat people with respect, when you follow rules, when you love people like Jesus loves them . . . that's where you'll find TRUE success. I remember at the end of my fifth grade year, for one of my classes I had to write a paper over a topic we'd just finished learning about. It was like our test. I was stressed about it because for some reason or another I failed my previous one, so I really needed to boost my grade. All I prayed for was a decent grade, one that would just get me by.

So when my teacher gave it back to me, graded, I was astonished by what it said. Basically she told me that it was really good, and she told me, once again, how because of your character, you will have success. As an insecure eleven-year-old still wondering why I couldn't fit in and be popular like some of the other kids in my grade, it did wonders for my soul to read that. The most special thing wasn't even how I raised my grade but rather how she could think of me that way and encourage me that way. It was truly a lesson I wouldn't--and still won't--forget. And it set me up perfectly for sixth grade, which I'll get to.

ashlee-with-dog.jpg

Getting a dog is a great idea.

Last but not least, getting a dog is a great idea!!! We got Willy April 2014, and he has been one of the biggest blessings!! Except I think Mom just wanted to kill him a little bit ago because he was trying to get in the garbage, and he refused to drink his water (he's a diva and thinks he needs new water to drink every time because it's dirty or something, who knows for sure???).

ashlee-sixth-grade.jpg

6th Grade

As I mentioned earlier, the things I learned in fifth grade were a great foundation because I needed them. I had a lot of friends leave or move away during this grade, and I also really began devoting more and more of my time to God, and my feelings of insecurity at school seemed to double as I battled what it was I really wanted to do. I got frustrated with why certain people could be popular, and other nicer, also talented people weren't. Since I had a blog in sixth grade, you can actually read some posts I wrote about these feelings and what I'd learned. I'll link them below. Here is what I learned. . . .

Not everyone will turn out how you expected.

I remember wanting a girl I could talk deep with my faith about, and I remember thinking I found a girl like that, until a few months later, we started distancing after me feeling like it was one-sided, and then I heard about choices she was making, and I was like, ohh-kay. Not what I expected. And that's life. People will hurt you. You may not understand why, but trust God when He says He has your back because eventually you will see why some of your friendships may have not worked out like that.

Popularity is shallow and temporary.

Oh my gosh. When I think of sixth grade, I remember how badly this bugged me. Why were snotty people popular and nice people completely dissed? It irritated me to no end. I could not understand for the life of me why I couldn't be popular. I remember during the orientation for sixth grade, some of the popular girls got some sort of recognition somehow, and it hurt me bad because I didn't see why that was fair. And I remember actually crying to my mom one night about why I wasn't like that when I did some of the same sports and everything. I contemplated doing more and just for the life of me could not understand.

But I had to learn just how shallow and temporary that popularity really is. I wrote about it extensively in my posts at that time, so make sure you check those out linked below. But basically, God was able to get word to me that NO, that is not the shallow, temporary attention I want. One time I wrote down in the middle of some class, "God told me, 'Greater things await you.'" Because it's true. Greater things do await you. Wait for the real deal, the real success, not the worldly attention that fades away as quickly as it comes. Aim for something greater.

People will leave.

I had a lot of friends move away, and that bummed me out. It left me feeling lonely, and that's kind of where most of the loneliness that followed in the coming years started. But again, that's life, people will leave. Don't let that stop you from pursuing your goals and passions, though, just to fit in with somebody else.

ashlee-sixth-grade.jpg

Know your purpose.

Know your goals. The only thing that got me through sixth grade was God and the purposes He had for me, to live for Him. Keep your mind on Him and living your life for Him, fulfilling your goals and your purpose. That's what matters.

Learn your worth and own your gifts.

I had to dig deep and find my worth in God that year because I had my feelings hurt a lot, usually around not being appreciated for my gifts. See, even back then writing was my #1 priority, but I also played basketball. And back then I wanted to be really good at basketball. Other popular people played it, and I remember constantly feeling pressure to perform, to be as good, to prove people wrong. Whoa. Prove who wrong? For what reason? I don't have anything to prove to anyone. I don't have to be good at basketball just because that's the popular thing to do. Own YOUR gifts. If writing is your gift, why are you ashamed of that? God gave it to you for a reason, so own it and stop trying to prove yourself where it doesn't matter.

Nobody has a gift like you do. Your gifts are special. Don't throw them away because you're too busy trying to be popular.

Write about what you're passionate about.

In sixth grade, I started writing on my blog about controversial, deeper thoughts I had. Thoughts such as the competitive sporty world and the fight for popularity. I'm glad I did. Those thoughts need to be said. Someone has to tell your story. And the best person to do it is you.

You'll be under credited.

Again, this is part of life. Not everyone is going to see how special your gifts are, how special YOU are. But God does. And that is why we do things. So just keep pressing, and as I learned in later years, you'll be rewarded.

ashlee-sixth-grade.jpg

There's more to life than being successful in the world.

I know when you're young and all your peers have all this attention, it's so easy to fall into the trap and want it too. But I promise that there's greater things--much greater things--than just being successful in the eyes of the world. When you're successful in God, that is truly when doors will be opened for you. God's plans far exceed your worldly ones. Trust Him. Live for Him.

ashlee-sparkle.jpg

Know that greater things await you.

That night when I was super discouraged and unable to know my worth, God directed me back to that comment my teacher wrote to me. I ended up writing her and telling her how I felt, and she once again wrote back with just the encouragement I needed. And basically she said that greater things are coming. When you work hard for God and keep your eyes on Him, there is seriously no end as to the good He has planned for you. And if you don't get it in this life, you'll get it in the next.

ashlee-grandma.jpg

Sometimes life seems scary.

Know that God is bigger than all of it. He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Rejection is part of life.

Last but not least, rejection. That happened with my sports that year, and it hurt. It was one of the deepest things that hurt me, but I learned some very important things through it, and I wrote a whole post on it.

Check out all of my blog posts from me in sixth grade about what I'd learned:

2014 Basketball

An Honest Post: Me at School

Writers Observe

Rejected

ashlee-brother.jpg

7th Grade

Oh, dear seventh grade. I kind of hated you. No, just kidding. But this was definitely the hardest year of the four. I finally got over the popularity thing, but once I dedicated everything to living for God, that brought with it opportunities to be bold for Him, which is going to have consequences. Jesus warned us of them. They were worth it, though, and what I learned was worth it. But let's just say I was glad when this grade was done for sure.

God will meet your needs.

I had a lot of things that worried me going into seventh grade, and then when I did school basketball, that stressed me out because it was more intense than I'd imagined, but one thing was clear: God did meet my needs, every time.

Your interests will change and that's okay.

In sixth grade, I couldn't have imagined not playing basketball after seventh grade. But one year of school ball and I was done. It was incredibly time consuming, stressed me out more than it relieved stress, and I was just like, no. I still do not regret that decision.

Stick up for what you believe in.

Goodness, I had so many opportunities to stick up for my faith in seventh grade, and I thank God that I took them. I also wrote about these in a post from when I was in seventh grade. But this is so important. If you just say you believe something and never defend it, what even are you doing believing that then? Stick up for the beliefs you have.

Glory is short.

I remember I actually did pretty well in basketball that year, and my name came up a lot on the statistics and such. But really, that is so short, the glory that comes like that. It means nothing in the long run because I guarantee that now nobody remembers that. That just proves the popularity that comes with those things is worthless.

You will receive the grace you need to endure what you need.

Of all the years, I definitely endured the most in seventh grade. It was exhausting, but I lived. I was still able to rejoice. God promised to give you the grace you need for what you are going through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don't be afraid to let go of some people. 

As you grow up, your interests will change. What you're passionate about will change. And unfortunately, this may mean you might have to let some people go as you go down the different paths of life. Sometimes it just may be time. It hurts, but if there's a good reason to where you can't connect anymore, then maybe it is time for you to let some people go. 

Life is too short to be with the wrong people. 

With that being said, you may just be with the wrong people. The Bible is clear that we need to be careful about who we're super close to so that we're not tempted into sin, so know that this may end up being the case, too.

There are seasons in life and some are drearier than others.

7th grade was a hard year. Know that not every year will be the greatest, but you keep pressing, you keep after your goals, because eventually the new season will come. The season to reap.

Be able to defend your beliefs.

If you say you believe something, make sure you know how to defend it. Nobody is going to do that for you, as I learned in seventh grade when we started studying topics I didn't agree with. It's fine to learn about other things like that, but know what you believe and be able to defend it.

Be grateful for what you have.

I've always been a pretty content person in life, but sometimes just watching how kids take things for granted just drove me insane. Appreciate your life and where you're at. It'll do wonders for your soul.

Check out all of my blog posts from me in seventh grade about what I'd learned:

A Prayer About 7th Grade

Show It

Revisiting My Honest Post Over School

How to Overcome Feeling Alone

Living Your Faith: I Will Not Chill Out

Persevering

ashlee-eighth-grade.jpg

8th Grade

Eighth grade had me stressed upon entering it because of the previous events in seventh grade. If you read my seventh grade posts linked up above you'd understand why. I was worried about feeling lonely, and I haven't had the chance to write any posts about eighth grade yet except for my beginning of the year prayer.

Looking back, however, has been awesome. Each year truly was preparation for the next, and God's faithfulness has been extremely evident. I learned A LOT in eighth grade, so brace yourselves. . . .

Don't be afraid to try something new.

I decided to take an advanced class this year, and while I think it was a little much for me, it was still good to try, and I think it'll really give me a head start for high school next year.

God will provide for you.

I was so worried about my feelings of loneliness this year. And at times, I felt the loneliness deeply. But this year God organized some awesome connections with some awesome people into my life, and I'll never, ever forget them or the people I've gotten to know. He has provided me with some people that truly do care about every aspect of me: not just me on the surface level, but also my faith; and not only my faith, but also me and my dreams on a personal level. I needed that, and it was amazing to watch Him provide.

Grades aren't everything.

My grades stressed me out a lot this year. Preferably my math grade haha. I've never been an easy learner when it came to that class . . . but honestly. Look at the big perspective of life. Do the best you can in your classes, and just trust God with the rest. Because one day your grades won't matter either.

God can do anything.

He is faithful. That was so evident this year. The way He organized some of the connections and relationships in my life . . . I'll always have those, and I'm just so thankful because I never would've thought He would've provided the way He did. But of course He did. He's amazing like that.

ashlee-eighth-grade.jpg

Give yourself grace.

I have a personality type that can be really prone to beating myself up. Like, I can forgive other people pretty easily, but I can hardly ever forgive myself. But that's not good. Eighth grade brought with lots of, well, hormonal changes probably. I probably cried about something at least once per week, don't even ask me what, probably something stupid that I'd already learned but then was acting like I hadn't. That kind of started in seventh grade, although I actually had legit reasons to be upset then, but this year, oh my gosh. Emotions were on a rollercoaster the entire year. And part of that led to me getting so frustrated with myself. Plus, some of my thoughts were not that good as well, and I would always beat myself up for thinking the way I did. I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't blame your choices on circumstances, including hormones, but there's a fine line because honestly, hormones can affect a lot of legit things, including your thinking, which can make it extremely difficult to think the way you know you should. So just confess your sins and be done with it. Learn to forgive yourself.

ashlee-grandma.jpg

Teenagers need authenticity from adults.

I can't express this enough. The closest relationships I've formed with adults are ones where they're real with me. They don't act like they're better than me. They don't act like they don't have the time for me. They get real with me, about life, about faith, about my dreams and desires, etc. Teenagers need this. It's crucial for their walk with God and their overall psychological well being.

ashlee-grandma.jpg

Teenagers need someone to care about them.

And I think this is even more crucial, and I'm passionate about this. I can't thank the teachers and adults in my life enough who have went out of their way to pursue me and check in with me, even if I didn't appear to need it. They didn't only check in with me when life was hard, they always kept in touch with me and made sure things were going okay. Teenagers need someone that will listen to them, that will ask them how they're really doing, that will get to know them beyond the surface level, that will ask about their dreams and desires and help them achieve them and become the person God wants us to be. You can't just expect teenagers to come to you--if you really want to care for a teen and encourage them, especially in their walk with God, to the best of your ability--YOU must be the one to reach out to them. Adults have to do their part with this. Teens need to know that you care about them and that they're not just some project to you that you want to fix. And I have had teachers that will truly reach out to me because of that--they care. And I will never forget them.

blogging.jpg

Make the time to renew your mind.

As I mentioned earlier, emotions can be messy in middle school. Make sure you take the time to renew it, with the Word, with devotions, with going outside, with doing something you love. It's crucial.

People notice how you act.

When you act with respect and are courteous of other people, don't think people don't notice that. In sixth grade, I used to get angry because I would do the right thing, and nobody cared, but in eighth grade I just did it because I wanted to for God regardless, but then I actually got some opportunities to hear about people noticing it and how much they appreciate it. People notice bad behavior, but they also notice and appreciate good behavior.

You'll never regret doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing is always worth it. It will benefit you, and it will have a lasting impact on the people around you, whether you notice it right away or not.

ashlee-eighth-grade.jpg

Your choices affect everything whether you like it or not.

This was something I learned a few weeks ago after just witnessing some of the behavior of my peers. I'll let my Instagram caption I wrote then say it:

The choices you make, whether you like it or not, are what define you and reveal what you live for. Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can talk good, but it’s something else entirely to make good choices. And at the end of the day, that’s what people will remember. So if you don’t like the way someone thinks of you or you don’t like the way your life is going, maybe you should think about those choices you make. You don’t have to live defined by your past, but that doesn’t mean you should waste your future. ~something I’ve learned through my middle school years
— @sparklesbyashlee Instagram

Caring about people and their stories is immensely important.

I am passionate about caring for people. I wrote a blog post draft all about this a month ago, but it still needs work, so I won't publish it yet. But really. And I've noticed a trend: a lot of people will SAY they care about you but just make no effort to truly get to know you as a person, to care about your entire story and who you really are. That should change. We shouldn't just care about people when they have problems. We shouldn't just care about people on the surface level. If you say you care about someone, then show that you do and get to know them and their story. Because you just never know who may need it.

There is no such thing as too dark of a situation for God to handle.

We had to learn about the Holocaust this year, and for one of our projects, we had to pick a book over the Holocaust and read it, then do a bunch of work over it. When my teacher told me some of titles of books she had about this topic when she first introduced the project, I heard she had one by Corrie ten Boom, and having heard about her on a Christian article I read once, I knew I wanted to read her book. I read The Hiding Place, and it exceeded my expectations. She has such an amazing story of God's power and love in a situation so horrible like that. It blew me away and really gave me a fresh perspective on my life. She is a witness for Jesus if I ever saw one, and truly she is one of my role models.

Care about people's sufferings.

This is something I've always felt passionately about, especially since my generation doesn't know how to care about anyone but themselves, but learning about the Holocaust took this to a whole new level. Yeah, we think our lives are bad. . . . Not at all. Get your mind off of your own petty problems enough to see the heavy, intense sufferings people around you are going through.

Being empathetic is a great quality to learn.

I am an extremely sensitive person. I've been that way since I was little. I'd bawl about stories I read or watched and wouldn't forget them for weeks, as if the sadness of them would traumatize me and make me want to help somehow, even if they were just fictional. I could and can cry over people I don't even know but feel heartbroken for. And for awhile I always thought something was wrong with me, as if I cared about people too much or obsessed over things like that. And then I would get mad at my sensitivity and think it is the worst quality ever.

Learning to manage your sensitivity, obviously, is a must. But to me, I don't think there's anything wrong with being sensitive. In a world full of apathetic people or people that can't get their eyes off of themselves, I actually think being sensitive to the needs of others is a gift. How can you care about people too much? How can you forgive too much? How can you love too much? You absolutely can't. God is the perfect picture of perfect caring, perfect forgiving, perfect loving. It is truly my goal to be somebody who cares, loves, forgives. In a world full of people that only love conditionally, I want to be someone who loves unconditionally. There's a quote I just adore that says that in a world full of people who couldn't care less, be someone who couldn't care more. That is something I try to live out daily.

And another says that you should love others so radically that they wonder why. Forgive the person that isn't sorry, that did it on purpose. Love the person that has given you every reason not to. Care about someone who's throwing their life away and doesn't even know it. Love the unlovable. Forgive the unforgivable. Those are some of the best qualities you could ever possess.

ashlee-eighth-grade.jpg

There's nothing wrong with being sensitive.

With that being said, I don't think there's anything wrong with being sensitive, so long as you just manage it well and don't destroy your own emotional well being through it. Which may take time to learn. But that doesn't mean being sensitive is bad. Other people may not understand it. They may make fun of you for caring so much about somebody or something, but God needs people that are passionate about His people, especially His lost people and His hurting people. I think being sensitive to the needs of others is a wonderful thing to have.

Don't stress the future.

I love to dream and plan my future, which can be fun to do, but just remember that nothing is set in stone, things can change, but no matter what, God won't. And because of that, you have no reason to fear the future.

Let yourself dream.

Set goals. Dig deep. Find your purpose. Find your passions. Pray about it all. And watch God work.

Evil won't win.

Sometimes I would get so discouraged watching how people could be so disrespectful and rude. Just remember: evil doesn't win. As Christians, our victory is already sure. Keep doing the right thing because you will reap it.

Tell your story.

This is probably the longest blog post in the history of blog posts. But I just did a presentation today at school about the importance of telling your story. Someone needs it. You need to do it. This is my story. We all have one. And we all have the responsibility to share it.

Through the rain comes the rainbow.

And now, looking back on all the nights crying, all the nights praying, all the little seemingly insignificant at the time victories, I can just think, wow. Here I am, all by the grace of God. He had a purpose through all of the pain. He heard all of my prayers and answered each one in the best way possible in His timing. And those little victories all add up, and I just smile at His faithfulness.

This is my story. My story of surviving middle school and learning to find myself, that is. And I hope it's not over yet. But if it was all over today, I'd be content with that because of the faith God has given me. I want to share that with anyone and everyone. And now I want to know . . . what's your story?

Thank you all for reading mine.... xx