Last year I wrote a post for my 22nd birthday -- a kind of ode to my 22nd year of life, as it began -- and it was so meaningful to me that I decided to make it an annual tradition. So here we go.

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Hello, 23.

You look ambiguous to me.

You look at me like someone new. And of course you are.

This feels faintly familiar, and at the same time, not at all like anything I've ever experienced.

It's what it is to come back to yourself. Everything feels familiar, like your old home, and yet somehow different, like you're walking around your childhood spaces and bumping into things because you're taller and your limbs are longer.

More angular.

You know how when you get older, your face thins out? That's how I feel right now.

23, I can see your cheekbones.

There is a metallic glint in your eye, like a sword.

You feel a little tough. A little hard. Like you have edges.

And yet you feel like me. I sink my fingers into your surface and discover the kind of softness you get from memory foam. Plush and thick and comforting and dense and deep and real.

I am expecting the edge of a sword blade, a little bit -- and what I get instead is softness.

And I am surprised.

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It's my birthday, and I've got absolutely no idea what to expect from the year to come.

We never really have any idea -- not REALLY. But sometimes we have expectations, we have hopes, we have plans.

I've got some ideas. Some things percolating in my mind.

But I do not know what to expect. This year could be anything. It could be everything new and different. It could be everything familiar.

I have a feeling it will be both.

21 broke me. 22 put me back together. And I have a feeling that 23 will launch me.

You see, I'm coming to the end of my rope. The ship that is me is tugging at the traces that bind it to the dock.

I am becoming uncomfortable. My life does not fit like a good shoe anymore. Like a kidskin glove.

My little hands have outgrown it. Because my hands are small, but my life is smaller still. Or it feels small.

I'm full of metaphors today.

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I can feel myself squirming. I am weeping a lot these days, and that tells me that I have to change.

Something has to be different than the way it's always been.

I'm uncomfortable.

And I don't know what will be different, but what I do know is that something has to be. It has to be.

Otherwise I will lose my mind.

I have hope, but I also have a fair bit of a raised eyebrow. What will this year bring me? Will it show me that I'm different than I always thought I was? Or -- more likely -- will it show me that I'm who I always knew myself to be, deep in my heart?

Both, I think.

I think I'll learn that who I thought I was isn't really home base -- but home base will feel oh so homey.

It'll smell like the quilt my nana made me for my sixteenth birthday, like the way my pillows smell. Like my copies of The Lord of the Rings. 23, I imagine you will feel something like the way the vacuum cleaner felt in my hands when vacuuming was my chore every week. I imagine you will feel like the hefty weight of my Norton Anthology of Western Literature, that veritable tome I had to read in junior high. Like the way my voice feels in my throat when I sing, the way it feels to hug my mom and daddy. The way my brother's hair has always felt the same when I mess with it, even though he's a good ten inches taller than I am and I can't reach his head anymore.

I think, rather than shattering me utterly, I'll be made more whole.

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Really, the older we get, the more we become ourselves.

I DO feel older than I did at this time last year, and at the same time, I feel exactly the same. Like I've learned nothing. Like I'm back at square one.

But hope comes from the ability to believe that what feels like the end may be only the beginning.

And right now, a lot of my life feels like both endings and beginnings.

I have despair and I have excitement. I have plans and sometimes they feel like they'll never come to fruition.

I'm beginning to wonder if I have stopped believing the plans I make for myself.

Birthdays are both endings and beginnings. We close a year. We open a new one.

The box that 23 comes in feels plain and unadorned. Wooden, probably not sanded. With sharp corners and maybe a splinter or two.

But I have a feeling that it will become more and more beautiful to my eyes. That where I once saw plywood I will come to see a box made of the pines of Lebanon, adorned with pearl.

There is a glint of a jewel on its lid. Its hinges are made of mithril-silver.

I always write that things will be more beautiful than I expect. But I really think 23 is going to blow me out of the water.

I really think it's going to turn me inside out. I really think I'm going to be so delightfully surprised I can hardly see straight for joy and shock but mostly shocked joy.

I really do believe it.

I believe I'm going to surprise myself. Or, more accurately, that my Jesus is going to use ME to surprise myself.

Didn't see that one coming, did ya.

And I didn't, either.

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23, as I have written this, I have become more hopeful.

New avenues are going to open to me that I've never even dreamed of.

I can feel it in my bones.

There is going to be so much newness, so many surprises, that we're going to redefine surprised and delighted. My picture is going to be in the dictionary next to that phrase.

And yet, most of all I'm going to remember all the iterations of myself I've ever been -- and they are each going to come to rest in me, and I am going to be myself. I'm going to relax.

It reminds me a little bit of the cross-stitches I used to do when I was a little girl.

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I don't fit into boxes.

I'm an artist and an academic. I'm an opera singer and a writer and a debater. I'm an apologist and a coloratura. I'm a secretary and a student and a reader and a dreamer.

I think I'm in the process of learning how to reconcile All The Things.

I think one of my favorite things I've written recently has been my post about how I am the Little Dipper.

Sparkling and gleaming. A ladle from which to drink deeply of the cool water of something -- the metaphor breaks down here.

An offering.

And little.

I guess what I was about to say here is that constellations don't have to synthesize or summarize themselves but that seems very lame but what do I care. It's my birthday and I can write what I want.

Or something like that.

But hey. That thing about the constellations -- it's true.

And by the way, constellation is the most lovely word.

I think there are going to be lots of times I don't like 23.

But I also think -- I believe -- that it is going to surprise me in such a way that I cannot contain my delight.

Yes, delight.

Because if 22 was the year of hope (and it was), then I think 23 will be the year of being delighted.

Delighted out of the best surprises ever.

The best part of birthdays is how loved you feel. The second best (and this goes with the first) is being surprised by the gifts people give you. The best part of gifts is the surprise of them, full stop.

I think this year will be that.

A gift I never expected, but that delights me to my golden core.

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