2018: the year of gentle joy


I was riding shotgun down a gravel backroad in Utah, or maybe Idaho, when I realized this was my hope for the year. It was my twenty-sixth birthday. I was stronger than ever, and just as lost as before.

Do you ever feel like you have all the answers, but you aren’t done asking the questions yet?

I’ve rooted my identity in those questions, too afraid to admit that I’ve known the answers for years.

I’ve pranced around, packed suitcases, and ran away every time I’ve heard God reiterate any of the answers. I didn’t want to face the steadfastness or responsibility of being who He created me to be.

I heard Him, but refused to listen. 

This year has been one for growing pains as I shed certain parts of my character that no longer serve where I’m at in life. Most days, it felt like my heart was being chiseled; it hurt. I shed many tears, and fervently repeated the same questions I have for the last decade.

Eventually, I begin to put my palms out and ask to do the work that was being asked of me.

Gentle joy weaved itself in and out of my days, mixed in with substantial, booming laughter. 

I said no to certain things, setting firm boundaries and recognizing my own needs. But mainly, I said yes. 

Yes, I’ll make the drive there.

Yes, I’ll dance with you.

Yes, I’ll do that job.

Yes, I’ll listen to what you have to say even though I stubbornly don’t want to.

Yes, I’ll try this thing that has always scared me.

And everything began to change. Yes was the beginning of accepting the answers to all the questions I’d been asking.

The months have been packed full of making memories with my family. From watching my grandma clasp a rosary while she traces her wedding ring to rocking my baby cousin to sleep, dancing around the kitchen with my mom to working on a tractor’s hydraulic hoses with my dad. I’ve hugged my sisters and drank too much with my cousins.

I look around and see that my friend group is full of people who enrich my life, and are excited to have a front row seat to my joy, heartbreak, and anything else happening- whether they live a few miles down the road, or across the country.

I have boarded planes and driven across the state to travel with my grandparents. I’ve looked around at baggage claim for the familiar faces of friends waiting to pick me up from the airport. I’ve curled up in hotel rooms and chased down sunsets in other states. I said yes to staying in a place with friends a little longer and fell in love with a man across the room. I tucked my passport into my purse, just in case.

While I’ve done all of that before, gentle joy allowed me to really feel present in a way that I enjoyed for the first time in a long, long time.

Sometimes I still said no. It felt scary and easier to stay in the safe, comfortable life that went according to my own schedule. Looking back, I see that I said no to a lot of opportunities that God placed before me. I remained in a place of stubbornness and hurt instead of moving forward with compassion and grace- for myself and others. It was elementary to say “nope. as much as I want to change and grow and be, I’m gonna stay complacent because it’s way easier than facing the reality of work it takes to move forward from trauma or heartbreak or bad choices or anxiety or depression or plans not going the way I think they should or….” Those days got me no where I wanted to be.

That was simply part of the chiseling and healing that needed to happen within me before I could open my eyes to see how truly good life is when you allow growth to move you forward.

As I slowly walked through this season of gentle joy, the realization that I wanted to be more became unavoidable. More present. More kind. Show up more.

The year is quickly coming to a close, and I can’t help but smile as I reflect on all the gentle joy. Maybe my prayer for 2019 is more.

image by Tawny Irwin