It’s the end of the year, the end of a decade, and all around us we’re seeing recaps of the past twelve months: the top ten news stories of the year, the photos of the year, the person of the year, etc.

If you’ve had a difficult year at your house, you might not want to reflect on the previous 365 days at all. We have a tradition at our house that helps us find the beauty in even the most challenging seasons.

Every year, on New Year’s Eve, I gather round my husband and six kids (some by email, some by FaceTime) and ask, “What were the best surprises of the past year?”

Some years we’ve had AMAZING surprises: a new baby, a mission call, a wedding in the family. But even the years when we’ve experienced sorrow— when my mother died, when I struggled with depression, when my husband needed surgery and my son spent several months in a wheelchair—we were surprised by the kindness shown to us by friends and strangers.

Our surprises are occasionally grand: an unexpected vacation, a new job, the lead in the school play. More often they are simple: a book everyone loved, Baby Yoda, a new cookie recipe. When a Trader Joe’s opened in our town, it made the list and we still look back fondly on the year someone gave us tickets to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.

More than a list of accomplishments, our annual catalog of surprises serves as an inventory of gratitude. Even years where we crashed and failed, where it’s easy to list everything that went wrong and all that is broken; we sift through the rubble and find the tender mercies, the evidence of God’s grace in our lives.

In truth, it’s at the end of those hard years when our list grows long and detailed. Sometimes we start with grumbling, but we always end with gratitude and awe and humility. Yes, each year presents obstacles and challenges. Yet we also find delights and surprises, small mercies and grand miracles. When we end the year with gratitude it’s easy to look forward to the next year with hope.

I invite you to make a list for 2019. What were your best surprises of the year? What delighted you and brought unexpected joy? And as you think about 2020, you’re probably already making goals and grand plans. Be sure to leave room for surprises.