Last month I was drinking coffee with a friend and chatting about life. I shared snippets of my life —the good, the bad, the ugly. And then suddenly I was at a loss for words when she asked me, “What makes you so strong?”

Those five words circled around my mind for a few seconds as I struggled to find my own words. It was at that moment when I realized that I’ve never sat down and contemplated the reason why I am the woman that I am today.

I sat in silence for a while as I replayed the past 21 years of my life in my head. I sat and took a few seconds to peel back the layers of my life to get to the core of what makes me the strong, independent Ashley that people see.

And then it hit me… The center of my strength is my mom. She is the only person that has been with me throughout every step of my journey. Mom, you are the reason that I am the strong, independent, fierce, goal getting, sassy but classy woman that I am today.

My mom’s journey was not perfect, but whose journey is? Mom was pregnant with me at a young age. She was a teen mom, a label that will stick with her forever. She had no idea how to raise a child. She had to grow up right away, because the clock was ticking. Mom had two choices in 1994: she could give up, or she could try. Thankfully, she didn’t give up. She gave me a chance to live, and she gave herself the chance to try. My mom missed out on a lot of things in life and she was criticized, because she chose me. 21 years later, I’ve watched my mom continue to choose her children.

My mom is the reason for my strength. She may have been a teen mom, but she was one darn good mom! She never missed my soccer games. She made sure I had perfect attendance at school. She attended every parent teacher conference. She made sure my summers were spent with books. She made sure my homework was done. She made sure I was well dressed.

She made sure I said please and thank you. She knew every single one of my friends and teachers by name (and she still does). She taught me to be kind. She made sure I had a full belly everyday. She bought me the things I needed, and not the things I wanted. She taught me to be grateful. She desperately tried to keep me young forever, and then I discovered eyeliner, leg shaving and texting. She listened to me. She played the role of mom AND dad for half of my life. And she taught me to love.

My mom is the reason for my strength and independence. I watched her work two jobs while raising three children. I watched her defend me when others said that I didn’t have the money to go to college. I watched her sacrifice everything for me. I believed her when she said I could be anything I wanted to be. Several years later, I am the first in my family to attend college, because of her faith in me. I listened to her as she spoke truth over my life. I’ve cried with her, I’ve laughed with her, I’ve learned from her and I admire her for not throwing in the towel. My mom is my best friend, my rock, my everything. My mom stands in the core of who I am. She is the reason for my strength. She is the reason for much of my success.

Have you peeled back the layers of your life to get to the core of your strength?

What makes you so strong?