I stand back and marvel at our new snow covered Christmas tree. After such a hard year, I wanted nothing more to fill our house with joy; even if it meant looking like the crazy woman at Menards on Halloween day obsessivley comparing trees before dragging the biggest box to the register. Just saying.

The kids jockey for the best branch to hang ornaments while the lights glitter and sparkle.
I pull out a faded, beat up foam wreath – obviously created by a second grader.  There I am, sunburned cheeks (I lived in Arizona, not such a good place when you’re pale because of your Irish and Scots heritage)with buck teeth and pig tails in place with red fat ribbons that looked like yarn. It would’ve made Rainbow Bright proud.

My mind rolls back to my grandparents hous where this ornament hung in their grist as tree. There was something magical about their Spanish style home with white stucco exterior, red porch, sidewalks and roof.

They had a big backyard for my five siblings and I to get in trouble and roam. We usually got kicked outside during the five o’clock news. That was a scared time for Grandpa. Heaven help you if he was interrupted. Although if you were quiet he would give you lemon drops or mints. Personally I think it was his way of making sure we wouldn’t talk during the news.
Grandma Shaw would be out the front porch looking at the horizon in her button down plaid shirts and brown polyester pants.

She’d give us hugs and threaten to spank us if we got out of line, after all, there were six of us heathens. But I felt safe and loved and carefree. I could get through my struggles with her pearls of wisdom. I felt protected. 

I snap back to the present taking in the view of how the kids dressed our tree. An explosion of purple ornaments and silver glitter snow flakes fill my sight. I sigh because glitter was everywhere; I think to myself that my artist daughter is right. “Glitter is the herpes of the art world, no matter how much you try to get rid of it, it just keeps on giving.”

It reminds me of how 2017 has been. My friends have referred to me as the modern female version of Job – aside from the devil smiting all my kids, although I’ve had some bending knees moments. My tribe has been the quintessential version of the TV version of Friends when they sing “I’ll be there for you” sitting around a fountain. But they mean really meant it if you’ve ever binged watched the show. No matter the problem, they rallied for each other.

If you’ve been following my blog then you’d know every area of my life has been turned upside down. Anyway 2017 has been a year I’d like have a form of dementia to forget it. So much so I’ve had fantasies of throwing the year in order to drown it in that fountain, surrounded by my friends as they sing “I’ll be there for you.”

But here’s the thing, when you’re in the valley and God impresses on you to be bold, brave and courageous, he isn’t kidding because he knows something we don’t. We’re too busy thinking about the struggles and pain. But he knows this is where the biggest growth happens. He knows our roots will reach deep into his soil. He knows if we lean into him we become resilient. Before we realize it a new storm will come along with tornado winds. The storm may blow around you and make you bend and shake you to the core but you’ll withstand the storm because of deeply rooted you’ve become in your faith 

My thoughts on 2017 is to finish the year well. Like me, I want you to look back on 2017. Don’t think of it as the year of pain; but as the year of growth. You’ve become a better you because you walked through the hardships. Take everything you’ve learned in 2017 with a deep breath and exhale into the new year with hope and confidence.

Enter the year determined to be gutsy and courageous. Know there will be moments to grow better or bitter. I feel as though this is a moment to impress upon you all the pearls of wisdom I’ve gained.

Things I wish I’d known when God asks you to be strong for the year long journey:

1. If your biggest dream is to model yourself, your home, and your life like the glossy pages of The Mangnolia Journal, find a new dream. There’s only one Jonana Gains and the world would be better a better place if you live your life to the fullest with your gifts and talents. Besides it’s exhausting to try to create the perfect magazine ready home.

2. When God tries to get your attention with his message of Joshua 1:9 which you end up seeing in stories, comments from friends, sermons and the Post-It’s stuck to the window at Starbucks, listen and prepare yourself for battle. Especially if he’s telling to you be brave. Just saying…

Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

3. There’s no need to have an “I’m tough, I can do this myself” attitude when your salon lady who does your nails and your counselor offer jewels of aged wisdom. This is a chance to be vulnerable and ask for help. In my experience they offer the finer points of life that help you avoid smacking your face on your problems like a revolving glass door.

4. When the going gets tough, it’s okay to dance it out like you did as a kid with your Sony Walkman and your mix tape of Madonna, Paula Abdul, and Boys On The Block. Let yourself go and feel the joy of the breath in your lungs and the fact God is with you always. His job is to help you see how resilient you are.

5. Always keep a box of tissues in your purse, especially when you’re attending a Girls Night Out event at your church. Chances are your friend on crutches will cattle prod you to the front in order  for you to ask for prayer from the speaker. You’ll end up ugly crying with snot running out of your nose and into her hair as she hugs you and prays over you. This, of course, will be in front of 150 women who know you. Embrace it.

6. Keep your best friends close and your tribe closer. The second you falter and do something stupid – they’ll call you out on it and help you with your Come To Jesus moments. They’ll lift you up in every trial. 

7. Realize sooner than later – you can finish the year well. And that means not gulping numerous cocktails. You will regret that choice and all the stupidity that follows. Nothing good comes from drinking your problems nor stuffing your face with dozens of cookies for all of you emotional eaters. Your pants will thank you. Choose to be gutsy and determined. Choose to dance it out. Choose to be better not bitter. Choose to inhale God’s Word. 

Pull the thread that ties all the challenges and mistakes and heartache. String it together and look for God’s jewels. Make a list of his hand in it all and not just the moments of thanking him for the closet parking stall at Wal-mart.

Like my Christmas tree with all the bright lights strung together and top of herpes induced glitter, marvel its flaws, take in its character and then breathe. Walk into the new year with gutsyness, bold truths and raw faith.

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