Cheers to Reflections & Hope

Happy New Year and cheers to our first Unexpected Ever Afters blog post of 2022! To close out the past year and start anew, we thought we’d do something a little different: a joint post sharing gratitude for 2021, excitement for 2022, and a toast to the New Year. We are excited to share our memories, reflections, and hopes with you. We hope you join with your own toast to 2022!

What are you grateful for from 2021?

My initial response after reading the prompt, “What are you grateful for from 2021?,” is to scoff and roll my eyes. This past year had some struggles! But, once I settle down and really pause to think through the question, I realize that 2021 was actually more of a balance between challenges and successes than I instinctually gave it credit for. As I reflected on both the good and bad, I was reminded of the importance of continuing to cultivate a habit of gratitude to better counteract the negative information that can all too easily inundate my life. Gratitude is, of course, easily identified in the large, joyful experiences and highlights of life; but it can also be found in the unexpected and quieter moments. When I pause to be intentional about searching for gratitude, I discover that it continuously shows up in places where I didn’t always anticipate it.

When I look back at 2021, with my heart open to the moments that carried me through the challenges, I find that my grateful list is easily filled: Reintroducing visits with friends and families, celebrating my sister’s wedding, seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and two-stepping to country music with my husband while celebrating our anniversary. Even the smallest of moments can bring gratitude into my day-to-day life: cuddling with my kids during a spontaneous family movie night, receiving surprise postcards in my mailbox, dancing barefoot in the living room, and sharing a laugh with my students. The truth is, there was a lot of good laced through the challenges of 2021. For all of these good moments from 2021, I am grateful.

The close of a year offers a renewed opportunity to reflect on the past year as well as life in general. When I take the time to slow down and contemplate 2021, I uncover the underlying presence of more joy and hope than I typically acknowledged when wading through the thick of the moments as they occurred. While there were certainly aspects, even entire blocks of time, from 2021 that were difficult, as I reviewed my experiences from the past year, I realized there were also countless joy-filled moments. The number one joy-bringer was provided from many opportunities to spend time in-person again with family and friends and it’s for those memories from 2021 that I’m most grateful. In a way, the pandemic reminded me of the basics, of what most consistently fills my life with hope and joy: relationships.

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing beats face-to-face human contact. Connecting with loved ones has a way of easing the all-consuming divisiveness, hurt, and anger that permeates practically all aspects of news, social media, and, to a degree, life itself. I found through 2021 that interacting with loved ones eased general anxiety, reduced the tension and exhaustion of life, and provided a deep power of comfort, unity, and renewed hope for the future. Relationships possess the power to maintain connections with our past, protect joy in the present, and lay the groundwork for hope in the future. Although the pandemic continued to negatively impact many aspects of 2021 and created innumerous challenges and stress, I am grateful that this difficult time has created space for me to reassess what I value in life, and to pursue moments of rejuvenation, joy, and hope through the continuation of relationships.

What is one thing you are excited about for 2022?

Every January I take time to think through my intentions for the upcoming year. As I contemplate my hopes and goals, I choose a specific focus which I can break into actionable steps to ensure I am living my life intentionally. In 2021, I chose to set my intention on living from my heart. In many ways, I was able to fulfill this intention: My energy was spent enjoying time with my family, I focused on supporting and caring for my students, and I prioritized celebrations and time with friends. However, the year also presented many challenges which distracted from my intentions, including toxic news cycles, a continuation of the pandemic, unique work challenges, and family illnesses. At times, due to the daily impact of these challenges, my intentions were clouded by apathy and exhaustion.

When I look ahead to 2022, I feel most excited for a clean slate, a new opportunity to carry less of the heavy feelings and more of the hopeful. In her book, A Rhythm of Prayer, Sarah Bessey wrote, “God, teach us to love the world again. Teach us to love extravagantly knowing it may (it will) break our hearts and teach us that it is worth it.” This is my prayer for 2022, to find gratitude and love, even in (especially in) the challenges, and to keep my heart open to hope. My intention for 2022 is connection with family, friends, and faith. And, I am excited for all the opportunities these connections will provide to “love the world again.”

The thing I’m most excited about for 2022 is the opportunity for a renewed chance to embrace hope. There’s something about seeing the first page of a calendar that evokes a sense of anticipation and hope for all the good that might happen with the fresh start of a new year. Of course, at times I will fixate on the endless possibilities of not-so-good as well, but, I try to be intentional about keeping my mind centered on the hope-filled prospects and the excitement of a new year.

For me personally, 2021 brought to light that the most effective way to pursue hope is through connection with family and friends. Although I am not convinced the effects of the pandemic will ease just yet, I am aware that 2022 will also include aspects of isolation, frustration, and depression, but I am still hopeful for the opportunities for connection. To be honest, I’ve come to realize that a return to pre-pandemic normalcy will likely continue to be just slightly out of reach for a while. However, that doesn’t mean despair should reign, nor does it mean hope should stop being pursued. As I hold the daydream of a future which resembles what normal everyday life used to look like, I also make room to turn to what’s rejuvenating and hope-filled even now, within the current realities. I’m excited for a new year of opportunity to continue to seek out hope; to focus my energy on the aspects that are life-giving: connecting with loved ones.

What is your best one line toast to 2022?

Here’s to 2022: May our lives be filled with love, laughter, self-compassion, and connection, and may our hearts rest in hope.

May 2022 be a year centered on opportunities for finding and fostering rejuvenating, hope-giving connection with loved ones.

*photo credit: (#2) Jessica’s & (#1 & #3) Wendi’s personal photos*

Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer.  She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.

Wendi is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and enjoys sipping extra hot coffee, sharing a love of reading with her kids, and exploring bike trails.

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