I am stunned to realized that 2006 is just a few days from being over. Finished, done, completed and never to come again upon the horizon of time. And I am left to wonder, “Did I learn anything this year?” and “Did I make a difference anywhere along the way?”. I can't answer the second query, for none of us knows our impact on the lives of those around us. But the first question? That one I can definitely answer, for I learned, and relearned, so many things as I journeyed from January to December.

I learned that it's okay if you and I don't always agree on things - things like politics and religion, things like family dynamics and how we choose to live our lives. When I begin to think that you are wrong in your way of thinking, or when I begin to think that I am wrong in my way of thinking I remember the first lines of a poem I wrote so many years ago. “If I were like you, and you were like me, how drear would our existence be.” I learned that I am responsible for my thoughts and my actions - and you are responsible for yours. I guess maybe it all comes down to learning that I cannot control the outcome of so many things in the world, but I can control how I act and react. I can control my thoughts and my emotions. And I know that what I think is what I speak, and what I speak becomes my life. This has been a hard won lesson for me, and I know that I will be learning it the rest of my life.

I have learned, or have I just remembered, that joy and satisfaction with my life is not measured by the external checklist that bombards me every day. Can I feel inner joy and be at peace even if I don't have the whitest teeth in town? If I have some lines and wrinkles and age spots can I still be happy? If I don't find the perfect mate on eHarmony, am I all washed up? If I don't look good in a bikini am I a failure? If my bank account or my status in life are less than my neighbors, does that mean I can't be content? Oh, but such joy and peace were found when I came to the startling realization that even if it was possible to have the perfect teeth and the perfect body, the most beautiful face and the handsomest man fawning all over me, if I had a million dollars at my disposal and world acclaim, I might still be unhappy and without peace. Therefore, I learned to celebrate who I am where I am. And as a favorite teacher of mine says, “I'm not yet where I want to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be.” Yes, I am flawed, and yes I am less than perfect,, but I am alive and I know where I'm going. Goodness and mercy are found with each sunrise, and just like you, I am trying to do my best as I face that sunrise.

And on the lighter side of my discoveries this past year? I learned that joy can be found by turning up the music and dancing - in my pajamas, in the middle of the living room, with the dogs watching! I learned that walking really does feel good, and “Shelley's Version of Tai Chi” may not be marketable, but it sure is liberating and relaxing. I learned that I don't always have to take things, and people, and life so seriously. Broccoli isn't poisonous, life without French fries and fried foods is possible, dark chocolate is so much better than milk chocolate (that's a lie), and singing in the shower is good for my soul, even if it makes the dogs howl.

But my greatest lesson this year was to learn it's all about perspective - how I choose to look at things. And I choose to be thankful and grateful for each day of life I am blessed with. I choose to believe that there is goodness in the world and in people. I choose to dance and to laugh and to love whenever possible. I choose to forgive the flaws I find in others, and in myself. And most of all I choose to believe that joy and peace and contentment are within arms reach if only I will open my eyes and look around me, and accept the blessings that God showers upon me as I walk from glory to glory, from valley to mountaintop, from day to day.