Good morning, 22.

Good morning to a new year of life.

I look you straight in the eyes. Steadily.

You look more like me than 21 did. I see my own face looking back at me.

But you also look older than I remember feeling.

It's as if I'm supposed to have it together. Or something.

I'll have you know: 21 was the hardest year so far.

I mean, some of 17 was rough. Graduating high school is usually rough. There were some raw months during 19. And I'm sure there were some times in the single digit years that were hard.

But 21...

Nothing was like 21.

I tell people a lot that it was the best year of my life -- and also, simultaneously, the absolute, no-doubt-about-it worst.

I feel like 21 held me close to his breast while simultaneously chewing me up and spitting me back out again.

21 made me cry with joy.

21 broke my heart.

And then, when I was most fragile, 21 lifted me back up again.

I feel like I was beaten upside the head and crushed into the earth -- and then, as I wept into the dust that coated my face, someone helped me straighten my tired legs and push myself up with the failing strength of my arms and stumble to my feet.

And so I am not the same.

22, your face looks quieter.

You look a little less agitated.

There is a determined angle to your lip. A set to your jaw.

But your eyes -- blue, like mine -- they are softer.

They are the eyes of someone who still has quiet hope.

They glimmer, and whether that is with silent tears or with wild life and laughter, who can say?

I think it is both.

22, I stare down your barrel -- the length and breadth and height and depth of 365 more days around the sun -- and I have hope.

I think that even though some people might call me just a baby, I am old enough to know better than to hope blindly.

Beauty does not come without struggle. Without pain.

But I have hope.

You know, 22, you look a little different, but I still behold the same familiar features of my own face.

I want to beg you not to break my heart. Do not become someone I don't know.

But, 22, if 21 taught me anything, it's that I am brave and strong and radiant and shining in the midst of silver tears.

And that I am the Darling of God, even when my soul feels like it has been destroyed.

22, I have hope for us, you and I.

I wouldn't say I'm ready.

But I have hope, until the next August 12 rolls around.

Let's go.