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A few years ago, in December, I was wrapping gifts and– with the melancholy that sometimes visits during the holidays– letting tears slip down my cheeks as I mourned things that hadn’t happened that year, carefully crafted plans come to naught (primarily, a baby). I continued to wrap and cry, grumbling a bit that I wasn’t getting the gift I really wanted, when I remembered the friend who’d handed me tickets to a Christmas concert the week before. One by one, I began thinking of all the good things in the past year that happened without my planning, without my goal-setting. Joys, successes, new friends, small victories…handed to me with no effort on my part, wrapped up beautifully and tied with a bow. I ripped a piece of wrapping paper, turned it over and wrote down everything that had surprised or delighted me in the previous months.

Many items were simple: books and movies I loved, a childs’ award at school. Some were bigger: my amazing visiting teachers, new friends, an unexpected vacation with the family. The list grew long and joyful and a tradition began.

I guess it’s like a gratitude list, but our monthly gratitude poster on our fridge tends to be filled with the same things: food, the cat, Mommy (with a heart around it)…Whereas an end of the year list of surprises recognizes the serendipity of life, the endless possibilities, the belief that good things will continue to happen.

Sometimes I get stuck thinking there’s nothing good around the bend. But my past lists remind me– life is full of surprises.

I caught myself in that same mournful mood last Sunday. I’ll spare you my list of failures. But as I found myself sinking, I grabbed a pad of yellow sticky notes, wrote something different on each one and slapped them on the wall: Pioneer Trek, homeschooling Mary, attending a dozen 40th and 50th birthday parties (because I’m right in the middle), my son’s ACT score, my two youngest making it to the top of Timpanogus, a PUPPY, so many new friends…

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And I can scarcely imagine what lies in store for next year. Yes, I’ll still make goals and work toward them. But I also hope to recognize God’s hand, to drink in the beauty and wonder of life without worrying too much about what I accomplish. I hope to dance joyfully through my kitchen, laugh with friends, bring comfort to those who mourn. To live unshackled from how I think things should be, rather to unwrap each of God’s mercies with gratitude and delight.

Tell me please, what were your best surprises of 2014? Where have you found joy, beauty, delight, satisfaction?  

25 Comments

  1. Lisa

    December 18, 2014

    I love it, Michelle! Let’s see, my 2014 surprises mostly have to do with being brave enough to leave behind some bad life situations. The surprise? The peace and freedom and joy I feel !

  2. Michelle

    December 18, 2014

    Lisa, I’m so glad. Peace and joy are the best surprises of all!

  3. Kellie

    December 18, 2014

    Seeing my name in print, on and offline. Strengthening my friendships with people far away. Realising my sons like hanging around home with me. Going on two dates. Surprising myself with what I can do. Baked brie and Camembert. Answers to prayers. Being amazed at the people who call me friend. Failing stats, twice. Opportunities that have blindsided me, then danced around my kitchen and smile.

    • Michelle

      December 19, 2014

      I love your list, Kel. It sounds like an extraordinary year. Did you know your birthday letter to me was one of my highlights of the year?

  4. Sandra

    December 19, 2014

    Thanks Michelle. I need this tonight. I’m feeling wounded and can’t change what someone has done, so perhaps I really do need to step back and look for the good.

    I moved into a really cool house in a really great place. My kids teachers are wonderful: so calm and so thoughtful. I have new friends faster than the last move. And the old friends that were already living here- that’s just a gift. I ran better and faster and stronger and longer than I knew I could. I’m delighted every time I open the pantry for a new jar of jam and see all the fun varieties I’ve made. My husband accompanied me on the guitar as I sang for the first time ever. We adopted a cat that is trained to use the toilet- no litter boxes. It has been a good year.

    • Michelle

      December 19, 2014

      Ah Sandra– I’m glad it helped. Home, teachers, friends, running!, singing, jam and a cat…lovely!

  5. Emily B

    December 19, 2014

    I love this idea, Thank you, Michelle, for sharing it.
    ….becoming great friends with a family that we bought a bike from, who knew? More confidence and assurance as a mother this year. Two chance meetings at book signings, maybe I should attend more of those! A baby that naps easily. My husband signing a new client via an unexpected referral. Singing with orchestra again, after a…let’s see, 10 year hiatus! Meeting the author of a book my spouse and I love. Working with a voice teacher. Buying a motorhome for a screaming deal. My daughter learning to crochet like a maniac. My son talking and going to primary, and me loving his teachers. My health. Thank you again Michelle, I feel better already!

    • Michelle

      December 19, 2014

      I have a feeling there’s a story behind that bike purchase…I love your list. It’s interesting how all your lists make me feel happy and full of hope.

  6. jenny

    December 19, 2014

    struggling this year, especially since fall… nothing horrible, just too many little things piled together. this is a good and beautiful reminder. i can’t even write my list right now… but i will. thanks, michelle.

    • Michelle L.

      December 19, 2014

      ah Jenny, I hear you. I couldn’t have written my list a week ago, but it will come to you. Sending you my love.

  7. Colleen

    December 19, 2014

    Lovely post, Michelle! Always a good reminder to focus on the good. My biggest surprises of 2014 were ending up at a college I never thought I would attend (transferred for a major) and finishing a book I never thought I would! Merry Christmas!

  8. HeidiAnn

    December 19, 2014

    I love it!! Something I need to do, too. And I really hope you named that puppy “Snuggle” because it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Snuggle Bear (pardon the pun).

  9. Laura

    December 19, 2014

    I love this post. I’m going to make my own list. However, one of the surprises that comes to mind first is a hard time that one of my kids was having has suddenly vanished and he has blossomed (is that bad for a boy?) this year.

    • Michelle

      December 19, 2014

      That’s an awesome surprise, Laura. One of my sons did the same thing and it’s been amazing to witness.

  10. Alicia J.

    December 19, 2014

    My best surprise this year was how much I love my primary class of 13 four year-olds. After a rough year last year their enthusiasm, cheerfulness, fun, and funny personalities was just what my heart needed. I would never have guessed but fortunately Heavenly Father knew.
    One thing I was not surprised by this year is how much I love your posts (and your blog). Your words always inspire and encourage me. Thanks for writing Michelle!

  11. debbie

    December 19, 2014

    Oh, I love this!! Reading each comment was just as good as reading your post. Thank you, each!! I love that mercies and blessings are so quirky and individualized, but with universal undercurrents that ring in each of us!! I had to think for a minute, but, honestly, the best surprises this year turned out to be the heartbreaks (which I can say now because I am no longer in the throes of grieving.) A baby that wasn’t meant to be, a house that got away. I am beginning to be a believer in plan B. It is beautiful. More so, I am learning, than the dream. Merry Christmas!!

  12. Shannon

    December 20, 2014

    Thank you for this! I am going to put this idea into action with my family the next FHE, which gives me some time to think about my list. And thank you for your blog, I love to read your posts.

  13. Blue

    December 20, 2014

    Took my first writing class ever in february; it was a six week workshop and there were 10 students, all women, all LDS. somehow it was just perfect, and we bonded so much we formed a writer’s group when class ended and have become the dearest friends.

    a man in my ward is the wrestling coach at the high school, and last month he pulled my junior high son into his sphere of influence and got him to join the high school wrestling team, which has been an answer to prayers and my son has begun to change and blossom in so many positive ways even though it’s just been one month. my boy who was so close and bonded to me all his life but grew distant the past couple years, has been reemerging, bringing his light back into my days. seeing him happy, growing, and succeeding has been wonderful.

    my daughter has managed to navigate all the crazy demands on her time in her life and stay on top of things while doing a pretty great job at it all. and we ran away on a couple trips together this year-she’s just so much fun to travel with. she’s a joy beyond anything i imagined parenthood would be.

    my ex and i managed to divorce without any bitterness or acrimony…in fact now that we’re not married and no longer have the hard things that we struggled with in the mix, we’re better friends than ever and that’s been a tremendous blessing for the kids.

    despite the divorce and how that can stymie people, my wall is full of christmas cards from people who didn’t let that stop them from being friends and sharing their love and lives with me.

    the weather was glorious on my birthday which just added to my sense of joy.

    and This Song. it moves me every time i hear it…so i’ve been listening to it a LOT. several times a day. don’t know why but it just thins the veil for my soul.

    despite some huge hard things that you’d think would be too much in a way, 2014 has been a year of wonders and i’m filled with gratitude, hope and peace.

  14. Anne

    December 20, 2014

    Thinking of all the surprises of this year is such a wonderful way to wrap up 2015! The two best surprises of my year were receiving my endowments as a young single adult and being accepted to teach at two major conferences as an undergrad.

  15. Rebecca

    December 20, 2014

    My best surprise of 2014 was the decision of the Cook County Clerk to allow same-sex marriage four months earlier than the rest of Illinois. My now-wife and I got to be among the first to be married in the state, and it solved so many problems that had been looming. Also, now I have a wife, which is amazing.

  16. Sage

    December 21, 2014

    Love this post, Michelle. This year began with a mix; a new house but horrible health. It was no surprise but a true blessing to have the total support of my husband for months on end when I could barely function. One son shed his sadness and his smile radiates in brilliant contrast to his previous demeanor. The other son returned successfully from his mission with great maturity and testimony. My older daughter attended the temple for baptisms almost weekly. My 8 year was baptized by her oldest brother and confirmed by her wonderful father. My baby started kindergarten and warms my heart with her singing while she plays. I try to overlook my self-consciousness that makes me feel like people don’t like me and throw parties anyway. I feel very blessed.

  17. Stacy

    December 21, 2014

    I had my fifth baby at home this summer in a perfectly wonderful water birth. The pregnancy was difficult and unplanned, but my little baby is the best blessing. He makes me laugh every day, has made my heart grow about 3 sizes bigger, and I’m so grateful he came to us.

    My children went back to school this year after years of homeschooling, and every so often the stars align and both my littles sleep at the same time and I savor the few minutes of unexpected quiet. And sometimes I even nap.

  18. Sage

    December 21, 2014

    Yeah for naps, Stacy. And 5th babies. Born at home!

  19. Anna

    December 21, 2014

    Two of the biggest and best surprises from this past year are being called and serving as a Young Performing Missionary in Nauvoo and being invited to perform in BYU’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro. Both experiences have changed me 🙂

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