Our theme for the month of June is “older and wiser.” Writers were asked to write a response to one of their previous pieces. Today, Ansley responds to her January 2021 post, “Our Actual Lives.”

Those on the further journey… have transcended but also included all that went before. – Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

This time capsule of posts is a more beautiful gift than I had hoped when I first started writing in March of 2019. In my final year at Calvin, I wrote my honors thesis on the ethics of personal narrative and therein unpacked how recording our stories is made more challenging by the relentless human propensity for growth and change. When we write, and especially when we share what we write, we make permanent a way of thinking that we are almost sure to leave behind. It takes courage to keep writing when you know that a year, or five years, or ten years on you may not feel the same way. In our desire to present a coherent image of ourselves, we may be tempted to delete these earlier versions, but the wisdom I’ve found tells me that integration, not denial, is the way forward. 

Now more than five years on from that first post, I am pleased to find that there is no shame for me in the journey recorded here, because it is just that, a journey. No post claims the final stand on anything, but instead offers another piece, another breadcrumb as I work to figure it out. The greatest fun now is to see threads and themes pop up over time, like a game of hot and cold where I get closer to the heart of the thing every month. My favorite posts are the ones where I finally pin down a difficult learning and find sufficient language to bring it to the world. 

One theme repeats often, and if I had to pick the most important learning from my twenties (now nearly at their end) it would be this: we must live our actual lives. I wrote about this first in January of 2021, when I was clawing back from extended illness and learning to live a new life in a changed body. Significant illness in my early twenties taught me powerfully that our lives are not wholly our own and that the best living comes when we joyfully embrace the race marked out for us.

The theme continues through further posts where I write about making the most of closed doors, and the anxiety of leaving a city I loved for new work in a new place, and the unexpected and painful story of prolonged singleness. In every seven hundred word puzzle piece I’m assembling a picture of wisdom that is shouted by every elder: Richard Rohr, Dallas Willard, C.S. Lewis, my brilliant father, Rob Bell, the Apostle Paul, the whole book of Jeremiah, the life of Esther, the lives of my mother and grandparents. Every single one of them says in some way: “live the life God has made for you.” Stop fussing about the alternatives or worrying about wrong turns. 

My dad just preached an incredible message on this very idea and it is wildly compelling for those of us on the early journey. You can only live your own life, and while that may sound like resignation, it is actually the first step in the joyful and expectant journey of uncovering a good plan baked into the foundations of a benevolent universe by a God who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself. In a world where the possibilities seem truly endless, I have found peace in embracing the limits of my little life. All I can do, all I am asked to do, is to live this one well. 

This theme feels like a good jacket to wear as I age, and as the doors of possibility start to slowly swing closed. Our path becomes more settled, more fixed as we age, which can either bring profound grief, regret, and unease, or deep joy and peace as we lean ever deeper into a story only we can tell and a life only we will get to live. This way of approaching life works even (and maybe especially) in the areas of pain or regret. I am living in the exhausting balance of hope and grief while I start the work of accepting that I may never find a husband or experience the joy of children. Even as I prepare my heart for a life of singleness, I am holding the joyful expectation that God knows my heart and loves to write joy into our stories in unexpected ways. My job in the story is to live my actual life, single or married, as well and as joyfully as I can, knowing that the best gifts are surprises and are often not what we planned.  

I have another year of writing before I will age out of this beautiful space. In that year you can expect that I will keep integrating all of the earlier versions of Ansley, because I wouldn’t be me without her. Won’t it be fun to see what the coming days, months, and years will bring? Isn’t it exciting to wonder what God has planned? Isn’t it good to wake up and wonder if this will turn into the new best day of your life? 

Let us now be perfectly clear. Your life is not something from which you can stand aside and consider what it would have been like had you had a different one. There is no “you” apart from your actual life. You are not separate from your life, and in that life you must find the goodness of God. Otherwise, you will not believe that he has done well by you, and you will not truly be at peace with him. You must find the goodness of God and the fellowship of Jesus in who you are. – Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy


  1. Rita Yound

    I’ve just read the purpose of my scrapbooks presented in words I feel and a few I think, but none I can put so well on a sheet of paper. Thanks, Ansley. I’m proud of you; pleased with you; blessed by you.

    • Ansley Kelly

      Oh I love that connection! It’s important to feel connected to our stories and to work to understand them. It can be healing and gratifying and stabilizing. I’m glad you’ve spent time telling yours and sharing it!

  2. Tavia

    I love all the versions of Ansley! I’m glad we get to include them all!

    Quotable sentence:
    You can only live your own life, and while that may sounds like resignation, it is actually the first step in the joyful and expectant journey of uncovering a good plan baked into the foundations of a benevolent universe by a God who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself.
    By Ansley Kelly
    Writer and doer of good with her actual life

    • Ansley

      Thanks mom ❤️

    • Sandi lemar

      I saw that mom and her response is on target. Preparing for the single life was the part that I disagree with. Ansley you maybe physically single but the love of self and others and God will always be rewarded the way that is best for you! You are not single you are more —- thinking of the correct word.

      You are living unique! And love by many.

      I know I don’t write as well as you but you inspire me to do better in this area. Keep smiling.

  3. LuAnn Strobel

    As always, Ansley, your writing tackles deep questions and reflects profound thoughts! Thank you for your commitment to it. It truly blesses us all.❤️

    • James Lanz

      The more I know you, the more I appreciate your friendship!

    • Ansley

      Thank you for those kind words ❤️

      • Ansley

        Same Jim! Same!

  4. Andrea Myers

    So well done! Love your writings Ansley.

    • Ansley

      Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoy them!


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