I don’t like to even think about when I was 23, truth-be-told.

Which is why I love to think of you.

You, sweet girl, are the template, the map, the measure of what 23 can be, ought to be, is.

Not for anyone else, mind you. Just for you. Which is what I love about you perhaps more than anything else: you create (and demand) your own template, map, and measure. Anything manufactured, culturally applied, socially mandated, or expected in any way? Uh, no.

Perhaps this, in and of itself, isn’t that unique (though I’m highly biased and believe it is; it’s you, after all). Perhaps what is most unique is that you KNOW this about yourself. You KNOW you are not interested in any path that others say is best. You KNOW you’re carving your own way – even though it often feels uphill, daunting, and Sisyphus-like. You KNOW yourself – your strengths, your beauty, your skills, your desires, your struggles, your brokenness, your capacity, your values, your mind. You KNOW you.

I did not. Nothing even close.

But you? You shine. You radiate. You beam. You boldly enter every room, every space, every job, every relationship, everything with all of who you are. Unapologetically. Unconventionally. Unveiled. Unabashed. And in some ways, completely undone: open, exposed, raw, real. It is breathtaking. You are.

And because of all this (and so much more), I sit here this evening and wonder what 24 and 25 and 32 and 47 and 58 will look like for you. The protective, worrying “mom” part of me can grind my teeth a bit. But she is easily soothed, because the woman, the sage, the wizened one that I have become feels nothing of the sort. That woman – the one who could see nothing of herself at 23 – can see now. And she sees you.

I see you.

I am amazed. I am awed. I am overcome. As much today as when they placed you in my arms for the very first time. I looked down at your beautiful face and wept – so grateful that you had arrived, not yet knowing how you would invite me to do the same.

What is 23? It is you, Emma Joy. More than enough. Never too much. (Never too much.) An infinite well of longing and passion and empathy and anger and ache and generosity and wisdom and hope. And yes, always, always, so…much…joy.

Happy Birthday. I love you more than these words, any words, all the words in the world could ever say.