Reflecting on this past month and seeking joy in the moments has helped me move from just getting through the days to knowing what’s important and meaningful.

January is a long, wintry month in Minnesota, but I know what to expect. December is one of the most contradictory months. It’s ethereally gray in the Midwest and enviably sunny and bright wherever you are. It’s filled with excitement for holiday festivities or dread over expectations. Traditions remind us of who we’ve lost, but also of who and what we’ve gained. Past years haunt us or revive fond memories, and the future feels hopeful and/or uncertain. Turning the calendar (literally or figuratively) offers an opportunity to reflect on the past year’s events and our accomplishments, our joys and sorrows, wishes and regrets, and our hopes for the coming year. Toss in your current circumstances—what are you dealing with right now? —stir the pot and bring the new year’s anticipation to a boil. What are you cooking up for 2023?

istock photo by NiseriN

December is a gateway—a door closes on the past and opens to the new. It’s time to reexamine old, outworn habits, integrate new ways of seeing and responding, and step through. What opportunities lie before you? How will you manifest joy, especially when darkness prevails?

Last December my book launched, and it was easy to find joy. This year, I have had to inhabit the darkness. While my mind wants to write, create, and finish end-of-year projects, my body is lying flat in bed for at least 16 hours a day. I’m in limbo, waiting for an MRI to determine what, if anything, can be done to resolve the lumbar compression impinging on the L3-4 nerves of my spine. To support my weight, I lean on my hands on the countertop while standing and sit with my forearms on my thighs. I make myself sit to eat. I make myself eat. I’m typing this with one finger on my phone, lying flat, with ice packs under my low back and neck. And I’m happy! Because I have a moment of grace to create.

It may not be the quality I expect or desire, but the process of creating is as important as the outcome. I am determined to find joy in at least one moment every day. I’m seeking purpose and beauty in the dark.

I’m looking for joy in all the small places: watching the stray cat chase the turkey and stalk the birds and bunny after breakfast; festively wrapping gifts I’m excited to give; “helping” in spurts as my son takes on the annual gingerbread cookie baking; and writing a coherent sentence after weeks of reading, listening to books, and reacting vs creating. I’ve been reflecting, processing, practicing gratitude, and focusing on what I can do rather than what I can’t do, all while mindfully attending to the present, because I cannot predict what the future will bring. I open the door to joy.

Connecting—and reconnecting—with special friends has been a highlight of this mandated break from tasks and routine. After an intense year promoting my memoir, Standing at Water’s Edge, I’m allowing myself to focus on what I want to do rather than what I “should be doing”, according to the marketing experts. Happiness is not about the things we have or the checklists we cross off, but the connections we make, the relationships we nurture, and the joy we create in the moments of our one precious life. What will bring you joy today?

The colors of my wardrobe changed throughout the month. Early in December, my eye gravitated toward the beiges, mauves, and muted earthly hues of the stacks of sweaters in my armoire. I needed grounding; I needed to feel the dreariness of this new medical complication. Living in limbo, with all its uncertainty, is energy zapping. I had to just “be”. As Christmas approached, I turned to blues and purples as the blizzard of white outside settled into a meek sky and subzero stillness. I was ready for color. Happiness and joy follow when we invite them in.

Reflecting on this past month and seeking joy in the moments has helped me move from just getting through the days to knowing what’s important and meaningful to me. Living in the darkness—accepting it, honoring it, seeing beauty in it—allowed the light to flicker within. It’s a lesson I’m learning over and over (read a previous post on finding your way through the darkness).  As the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

As you move through the final days of December, open the gateway to a new year as you gently blow on the candle of your solar plexus to illuminate what your heart truly wants.

Blessings for joy and beauty in the moments of 2023.