Yesterday I turned 23.
I received texts and cards and Facebook notifications. People said so many kind words, words that reminded me of who I am to others and encouraged me. I spent time on the pond with my family and ate more watermelon in eight hours than the past 22 years combined. It was a fairly low-key celebration.
Today, a dear friend took me and another out for lunch to celebrate and to step away. During our conversation, she asked me how it felt to be 23 and what 22 was like. I’m not one for fluffy answers, and so I told my friends the honest one.
22 was hard. It was probably the weirdest, strangest, most difficult year so far. I fully expect weirder and stranger and harder years to come, but so far, 22 has the previous 21 beat.
Like good friends, they nodded and validated my very real feelings about 22. They reminded me that I graduated from college, started my first real, full-time job, moved out, moved back, moved out again. I did a lot of moving.
Unlike Taylor Swift’s 22nd year of being alive, it never really felt like the perfect nighty to “dress up like hipsters…to fall in love with strangers.” I rarely felt, “happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way.” And if I did feel that way, would it really feel “miserable and magical”? Confession, I made it through all 365 days of this past year without listening to “22” all the way through. Sorry TSwift.
This past year has been hard. It’s felt like I’ve fumbled through it, not really sure of who I am or what I’m doing or where I’m going or if there will be any breaks along the way. I’m hungry and craving whatever it was I had at that last stop, somewhere between my junior and senior year of college. I don’t even know what I don’t know. I show up to church six days a week and balance the strangeness that comes with that. I know I need to write more, but I just don’t have the words.
It’s been weird. It’s been messy.
As I’ve been reflecting on 22, I keep trying to find this really incredible theme I could write about, something that would inspire others. I want to write something that fills others with this insane hope. Something that says, “Hey, you just graduated from college and you feel a bit lost, and hey, you’re also 22, check this out! Things are weird and hard, but don’t worry because _______.”
And then I realized that was fake, at least for me. And I hate being fake.
If there has been one theme from this past year, it’s been, “How to be you when you feel like anything or anyone but you.”
It’s a catchy title, and I fully expect the subsequent book to sell millions of copies.
For 21 years, my identity was (Yes, in the Lord. Thank you, church answer) grounded in being a student. As much as I wanted it to be fully rooted in Christ (which is awesome and great), sometimes, when something or someone consumes your life for 21 years, it sort of becomes a core part of who you are.
As a student, I had free reign to learn. My entire job was to learn and figure out what I was going to do with all that learning. And then one day I walked across a stage in a hot, crowded gym, and it was time to do whatever it was I was going to do. People try to prepare grads for that moment, the moment they realize they are starting over. Their community, their home, their job, it’s gone. And they’re left as this strange person who is a mix of their hometown and their college town and the people who molded them from both of those places.
As I settled into this new normal, I often found myself at the dinner table or talking with a friend over a cup of coffee, feeling very much like someone I didn’t recognize. I found myself asking the question, “How do I be me when that is the last person I feel like right now?”
“Oy with the poodles already.” (Thank you, Lorelai Gilmore. I knew this phrase would come in handy one day)
This past year has been about the marathon, not about the sprint. It’s been about the courage to wake up and step into patterns and habits that I want to shape me, to form me. It’s been about stepping into community (Yes, recent college grad, it’s weird and uncomfortable, and if you’ve moved home, that doesn’t mean that it’s easier for you than all your friends who moved far away.). It’s been about admitting when things are way over my head, and I’m barely treading water. It’s about asking for help (Lord, have mercy, asking for help.).
It’s been about recognizing my deep and aching dependence on the Father. More and more I’ve started calling God, Father this past year. He is the Father. He is my Father. This year has been too big and too overwhelming for anything or anyone but the Father. It’s been a moment by moment kind of year. The Father doesn’t ask us to do a year in a year. He asks us to a year in 12 months, 365 days. He asks us to do each day hour by hour, minute by minute, moment by moment.
And I am deeply dependent on the Father.
My prayers have been about wisdom lately. It’s been a difficult month in a difficult year, and I desperately need the Father. I need His wisdom.
That is what 22 has been like. A little random, a little chaotic. It’s been purely and beautifully moment by moment. It’s been filled with feelings of uncertainty about who I am and what I’m doing and where I’m going. I hope food is along the way in this journey. I hope some friends decide to tag along, or at least they don’t mind me dragging them with me.
There have been beautiful moments. Please hear me on this. In a year of weird, strange, difficult moments, there have been moments of laughter so deep that tears pour out my eyes. There have been nights spent sitting on the kitchen floor or in the screened-in porch connecting with people over shared experiences. There have been Hallmark movie marathons with new friends. There have been many scenes in the office that have included very healing (and very loud) laughter.
The difficult year doesn’t diminish the beauty. It mixes in with it. Because just as 22 was not all difficult, it certainly wasn’t all happy-go-lucky, “let’s sit by a camp fire and sing songs together.”
It was messy, full of difficult decisions. It was a bit confusing (I’ll give you that TSwift.). It was one of complete and utter dependence. And I’m sure it won’t be the last year I will describe using those kinds of adjectives.
How to be you when you don’t feel like you.
I have no idea.
But I feel more and more like I’m on the heels of the Father or maybe in his strong, gentle hand. And praise the Lord for that, because if not, then I really would be in a mess.
Here’s to 23. May it be just as exciting and difficult and messy and beautiful as 22. And may it lead me straight into the arms of the Father.