Here we are at the start of a new year, 2012. Once again, we embraced the celebration of Christmas―the sights, the sounds, the aroma of a season filled with holiday magic. I don’t know of another time of year when we give such priority to setting aside the busyness of our everyday lives to relax and enjoy each other as we settle down to be still and soak up the spirit that surrounds us. We quiet our minds and hearts as we encounter love, in its truest sense, and reflect on the reason for this celebration―God’s amazing gift of love. Now the questions are before us: what will this new year hold? Will we find our own measure of success? What steps should we take to prepare; and how can we stay on course during the year so we’ll turn our resolutions into successful realities? Turn on the television, pick up a magazine, search the Web, or simply talk to friends or family members and you’ll hear advice about how to set goals and make positive, healthy choices for this new year. While we may find ample advice, I do believe if we’re going to move through this new year successfully, we need to begin by establishing a focus―a sense of direction about how we want our lives to unfold and how we want to relate to the world around us. I’ve been hearing many people talk about choosing a word that will be their focus for the year―a theme they will use as a compass to guide them. Some have chosen words that refer to a character trait or state-of-being while others will focus on taking action. Here’s a sampling: gratitude, joy, peace, grace, remember, balance, celebrate, linger, risk, encounter. Have you chosen a word that will be your guide, your focus and your measure of personal accountability this year? It can be a powerful tool to help you live a life of meaning and purpose. Perhaps you’ll give it a try. I don’t want to simply grab something that sounds good so I’ve been seeking a focus that I believe God would want me to center my thoughts and actions around. Something in keeping with His desires and plans for me. I want 2012 to be a good year and I believe God has some great things in store. Yet, I know there will be challenges, trials and disappointments along the journey. As much as I’d like to avoid them, they’ll be there in view. Rather than run from or be consumed by them, I’ll need to face them, work through them and look for lessons to be learned. I just want to be sure that along the way, I don’t miss the joys and blessings that are there as well. One of the words I want to use as a personal guide for this year is look. One of my favorite prints is by Norman Rockwell who is well known for creating vivid portraits of American society. This particular drawing depicts people traveling along a sidewalk in front of a church: heads down, shoulders stooped, mouths closed in silence, each one focused intently on shuffling in solitude from one place to another. Unaware that along that same path are birds soaring, trees budding, flowers in bloom, blue sky, the warm glow of the sun, other travelers, and a plea on the church’s message board: “Lift up thine eyes.” My word―look―is a personal challenge and one I want to pass along to you. As we move through this year, let’s look behind to see where we’ve been and the lessons we want to carry forward with us. Let’s look around for the blessings God has provided, for opportunities to use the talents and gifts we’ve been given, and for fellow travelers with whom we can share the journey. Let’s lift up the eyes of our hearts to be aware of God’s presence and His promise to guide our steps as we look to Him. Then, let’s look forward with a spirit of expectancy to all that’s in store for us in the days ahead. Happy New Year! Nancy Williams, LPC maintains a counseling, coaching, and consulting practice and is the author of “Secrets to Parenting Your Adult Child” (Bethany House, 2011). Send comments or questions to her at www.nancywilliams.net.

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