Story and Photography by Caroline Maxcy Fox 

I’m giving you a formula at the end of this article that is guaranteed to work for New Year’s planning success. But first I’m going to tell you a story about how it didn’t. How this year, in those first hazy days of 2024, the tried-and-true, fail-proof formula failed me. 

And this all begins with another fail-proof formula for processing things. It involves: 

#1 Solitude
#2 Uninterrupted time
#3 Shimmering daylight 

Give me those three things, and my scattered thoughts start to click into place, my mind starts to actually work. I can process and grow. I can write and create and brainstorm with the best of them. I could conquer the world with enough of it, I truly believe. 

But the three seem to be quite elusive. Especially in the last three years since becoming a work-from-home parent to my toddler, Norah. And to find them in unison is nearly impossible. So here at the beginning of 2024, I’m trying my hardest to pivot. To seek out nearly perfect scenarios and roll with it, if you will. 

How do I find solitude in the presence of others? Noise canceling headphones help. 

How do I carve out large amounts of time where it doesn’t appear to exist? It seems, if you squint, you can find the time in tiny increments between all the other things pressing in. 

How do I learn to think in the dark? Seek the magic of the daylight beyond the horizon. 

The Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (1917 – 1980) said, 

“Christianity discerns that beyond the night
The dawn already glows.
The hope that does not fail is carried in the heart. Christ goes with us!” 

Now I can’t stop thinking of the dawn glowing beyond the inky black horizon of night. And somehow, by some miracle, outside of the laws of my fail-proof formula, I’m writing this in the dark. 

It was that first week of the New Year, that time of year when you’re not ever really sure what day it is. We were on a trip to Tennessee to visit my husband Devon’s side of the family, then hit the road to visit with my side. Between the two was a winding road, a national forest, a state line and a mountaintop. 

On the two-hour trip from valley to valley, we climbed our way up and over a snowy mountain range. As we got higher the light grew brighter, the air grew thinner, the sky grew bluer, the dusting of snow grew deeper, the road grew quieter. 

We stepped out of the car at the peak and into a crisp silence. We formed a snowball or two in our bare hands. Not another traveler to be seen. 

I took a deep breath of the crisp clean air and paused. Solitude. 

We threw our snowballs at the earth and climbed back into the warm comfort of the car and started the slow descent back to the valley floor. I put on my headphones playing soft piano music and relished the uninterrupted time to think. 

I used to hate winter and its wintery scenes, all barren and such. Twiggy brown branches grasping towards a gray sky. But then I moved a bit further north for a time and learned the pure joy of spring. The trees bursting with color and pillowy blooms. What was once tucked beneath a dusting of snow and gray is now carrying new, vibrant life. I’m grateful for it now. 

I can’t stop thinking about the dawn of spring glowing beyond the dull gray horizon before me. The magic of the shimmering daylight found in the bleak mid winter dark. 

After the snowy mountain top trip we come home to Florida where nestled amidst the pines and palms we catch flashes of fiery red and brilliant yellow leaves still loosely clinging to twisted branches stretching towards the heavens. A handful of the trees are finally reaching that seasonal moment, far behind the rest of the country, where they show us how beautiful it can be to let things go. 

And this is where my fail-proof plan goes off the rails. 

Every year as the calendar flips, in the first fresh days, I steal away moments to pause and ponder, reflect and journal, refocus and refresh, resolve and dream and plan. It goes a little like this: 

#1 Reflect
#2 Refocus
#3 Resolve 

I ask myself a few questions along the way with the help of a few guides and gurus. Including Jenn Barrett’s “Reflect and Refocus Worksheets” and Emily P. Freeman’s “The Next Right Thing Guided Journal” (message me and I’ll send along the links). The basis of it is… 

This past year where did you find joy? Where did you find frustration? And how can you implement (and de-implement) a few of those things into your new year? 

You start first by looking back. 

I flip through the pages of my 2023 journal filled with so many delightful things. There was a wonderful momentum. And then this fall a car pulled out in front of me on a back road, and we collided. My car careened off the side of the road and into a ditch, now totaled. I walked away that day with just a few bumps and bruises, but desperately clutching my newly pregnant baby bump. The very next day we began miscarrying what would have been our second-born. 

I can’t think back to this year without getting stuck on that October day. That week that ushered tragedy and heartbreak into our lives again. That moment when everything changed.

We know the Lord is good and His plans are perfect. We always, always want to be right in the center of those perfect plans even when we don’t understand. We hold hope deferred in our arms each day with our healthy toddler who we found out we were pregnant with in 2020 just months after miscarrying our first. We also know the Lord is still good when His plan doesn’t ever include the things we desire, when they don’t put healthy babies in our arms with foreheads to kiss. When we don’t walk away from accidents. When we don’t get the news we wanted at the doctor’s office. 

But I’m getting stuck there. Pulled like a magnet every time I try to reflect. 

And then I pray, “Lord help me.” 

Moment’s later His Word, hidden in my heart, memorized nearly decade ago in a different trying season, gently speaks to me again… 

“Do not call to mind the former things, 

Or ponder things of the past. 

Behold, I will do something new, 

Now it will spring forth; 

Will you not be aware of it? 

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, 

Rivers in the desert.” 

Isaiah 43:18-19 

And I realized the sweet Lord was calling me out of the wilderness once again and showing me the way. 

I had to let go of reflecting this time. The fail-proof plan was actually failing me. And I felt the Lord giving me permission to stop living there, in the stuck, and move on. 

So I’m setting it aside. Just crossing that part off of the list and looking forward. I suddenly feel light again. Like taking a crisp clean breath of mountain top air. 

To 2024: I see you. 

My eyes are turned towards the cleared path in the wild woods like a quiet winding road over a wintertime mountain top. My hope is turned towards Jesus. And my heart is turned towards the something new He longs to do. I hope your heart is, too. 

I don’t know where you may stand in these fresh first months of the new year. Maybe reflecting would be productive and prosperous. Or maybe, like me this year, you just need to take a deep cleansing breath, exhale 2023 and turn your gaze towards the future this time. But either way the time spent in thought is worth it. So here are a few of my favorite questions to consider: 

  • If the last year could be summed up in one word, what would it be? 
  • What brought you joy, excitement or fun this year?
  • A relationship, an experience, anything unexpected… 
  • What worked for you this year? A habit, new routine, new rhythm… 
  • What didn’t work for you? What do you need to let go of? 
  • What’s a goal from last year you accomplished?
  • What’s a goal still yet to be accomplished?
  • What friendships/relationships were life-giving? 
  • What friendships/relationships were life-draining? 
  • If those who know me best gave me one piece of advice, what would they say? 
  • What ideas keep you up at night? 
  • What were some major life lessons I learned this year? 
  • In what area of your life would you like to grow this year? 
  • What is the single biggest time-waster in my life, and what will I do about it this year? 
  • List 5 things you want to do this year. 
  • What’s the most important way I will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year? 
  • What single thing that I plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity? 
  • What do I want the theme of 2024 to be?