The Holidays.The expectation for this time of year is unbridled JOY and gratitude.

Don’t factor in that we’ve barely seen the sun in months, that we will be financially strapped for the next few months because of gift giving expectations, and we must attend party after party with people we would barely associate with otherwise.

But hey, there are free booze.

And big signs in bold letters and lights saying, JOY. 

You will be filled with JOY during this taxing time otherwise you aren’t doing it right. And by “it” we all know that means life.

A few years ago I more or less removed myself from the holiday season. Living in abject poverty I was unable to afford gifts for others and my nomadic nature had taken me off anyone’s holiday shopping list. The last Christmas I participated in was spending it with friend Cynthia’s family to watch them open their gifts with none of my own. I love them but it oddly left me not filled with the JOY I am to be experiencing this time of year. 

My 2016 seems to be on par with most people’s year. It’s been a year of crushing disappointments, set back after set back, and trauma. Ya know just another typical year. 

As I try to ride out the remainder of this year I have taken to hiking all over the country. Seeing what America has to offer. One of the main things my mom and I have been able to bond over is that “nature is very healing.” It’s what we say as we wonder off into the woods with a book instead of going to the doctor.

So, it’s just me and my pup. I can go days without speaking to anyone, which for an extrovert like me first felt taxing. Now it is beginning to feel… still slightly taxing. I freak out and tell people my entire life store in 2 minutes when someone engages me. 

Today my pup and I are in New Mexico hiking a trail around a man made lake in the desert. The path isn’t well marked, I have lost my footing a couple times, my lack of depth perception has made some uneven steps difficult and slow going, and I’m constantly having to step between my pup and cacti. This isn’t suppose to be a difficult path, yet we are finding it to be so. We are too deep on the path now that we find ourselves continuing, in-spite of ourselves.

We round the bend to the lake and stop. 

No.

No fucking way.

A pelican. A big huge pelican just chilling in the water.

Pelicans bring me such unbridled JOY. They draw out feelings of pure happiness that I rarely feel as an adult. I can’t explain it, it’s just one of those things. Pelicans in the wild, they’re my happy place. 

Towards the end of my marriage my ex-husband, and what I would later find out, his girlfriend would make fun of this pure JOY. I was mocked so throughly I stopped celebrating every pelican sighting I had. I would quietly bottle up the feeing to the point where it wasn’t eliciting the same joy, because it had to be ramped down and controlled. 

When my marriage lay in rubble and I was piecing myself back together I had a pelican tattooed on my forearm. I wanted to remember to never let someone steal my JOY again. I can have all-caps JOY whenever it over takes me. 

It sinks in that I was staring at a pelican, in the desert- a place I never would have expected to see a pelican, I let myself be overcome with JOY. Real JOY. Not forced. Not demanded. Not pressured into it. Not controlled. We had trotted down a path on a cold and windy day and were rewarded with pure JOY.

That’s the thing about JOY, that really all-caps kind. It’s not always yelling at you from signs put up by your local government or favorite store. 

Sometimes it comes rip roaring into your life because you did what was challenging and you were graced with finding JOY in the unexpected. 

And unexpected JOY can create its own light inside of you, a light that is hard to extinguish. 

A forced joy, because this is what you are suppose to be doing right now can leave you hollow and empty. 

Take that path. Stutter step down the slippery parts. Protect your loved ones. You never know pure JOY might be around the bend.