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The unseasonably cool, gray, wet weather in October left me feeling like Mrs. Noah aboard the Ark; and shorter days added to my growing dissatisfaction. I had a mild case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which has plagued me each fall since Lev’s death. With too little light, I struggle to be happy.

This fall I had my garden plans—indeed, I had removed the dead and dying flowers of summer and prepared the beds for fall planting. But instead of getting outside to plant, I stared through rain-stained windows at mud and muck.

Perhaps, like me, you are frustrated and discouraged by the unexpected, lengthy bout of bad weather. Sometimes we need to make a special effort to look for beauty and find joy. If I can’t find joy in my own garden—a source of continuing delight in widowhood—I will look elsewhere for it. I especially need to seek joy this fall, when I can’t pick up a newspaper, scroll through Facebook or watch the evening news without being confronted by some new horror in our nation.

When the world seems so ugly, the beauty of God’s creation provides blessed contrast and relief. At home we always have the beauty of the bayfront and the beaches, and sometimes the stormiest weather gives us the most extraordinary sunrises and sunsets. Take time to enjoy a moment of beauty.

Pumpkin Village

Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum

Because I grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas, where we enjoyed four seasons, I always rejoice when I stumble upon fall and spring in another location; and I always spend a week or more in Dallas when the Dallas Arboretum hosts Autumn at the Arboretum and Dallas in Bloom.

I flew to Dallas just as the weather improved and glorious fall days arrived; and Saturday morning I headed straight for the Arboretum, intent on reclaiming joy there. It did not disappoint.

With 4,500 mums and 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash—on the eastern shore of White Rock Lake, with panoramic views of the Dallas skyline and H.L. Hunt’s replica of the White House—how could it? The excitement of hordes of children, many of them in their Halloween costumes, only added to my joy. The theme this fall is “Adventures in Neverland”; and children delighted in exploring the Pumpkin Village, with its creative interpretation of Peter Pan’s adventures.

Finding Moments of Joy Every Day

Last summer on Nantucket I developed the practice of recording daily moments of joy with my iPhone each day as I walked the historic streets and absorbed the beauty of roses, hydrangeas and window boxes everywhere. I posted them on Instagram each evening—#reclaimingjoy—and discovered that when I intentionally looked for joy, I was more likely to find it.

Those were “thank you, God” moments; and that daily practice of gratitude has played an integral role in my reclaiming joy. I am not unique. So many widows have told me how they were only able to move from deepest grief by focusing on what they had to be thankful for instead of what they had lost.

As I wrote in the introduction to my memoir, Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, “This is a time when you are emotionally and physically fragile. You will not be able to avoid every uncomfortable task; but when you have a choice, choose what is rewarding and fulfilling, not what depletes you.”

That same discipline will help us move from all kinds of discouragement, disappointment and loss. Through trial and error, I have learned that creating moments of joy are most important when we are busiest at those unwelcome but necessary tasks. I try to build in a moment of joy every day. This fall—especially busy and stressful because of book demands—my Instagram hashtag is #takingtimeforjoy.

I may not have time to drive to the beach or take a long walk through the neighborhood, but I can pull into one of our many pocket parks along Ocean Drive to pause for a moment or two to say, “Thank you, God, for the beauty of our bayfront.” When it’s not raining, I can step outside to sit on a bench in my own garden. I can add beauty to my home, so that I can lift my eyes from my work to find joy.

If your Holidays look especially bleak this year, pencil in a moment of joy each day on your calendar—time with friends, tickets to the Corpus Christi Symphony’s holiday concert, special performances at your church, a visit to the art museum or botanical gardens. And on the next pretty day, lay aside your newspaper and turn off your computer and tv. Go outside and plant some flowers.

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  • This blog was adapted from Ella’s November garden column for Shoreline News, a bimonthly newspaper for the residents of Flour Bluff, North Padre and Mustang islands.
  • Read Autumn Anxiety Is Real for additional insight.

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Book signing
Book News

The Kindle edition of Reclaiming Joy is now available, and the second printing of my book is shipping! Thanks to all of you have purchased my memoir and an extra-special thanks to all those who came by while I was signing books at the Baylor Bookstore on Homecoming Day. I am looking forward to presenting programs to a book club and a study club later this month.

Upcoming Events:

November 9, 2018 – Guest of Fred Tromberg, “Law and Legal Matters,” PURE Radio Jax, 2:30 p.m., CST, Jacksonville, Florida. Listen Live Here

January 10, 2019 – “Resolved: To Reclaim Joy in 2019,” Deja Vu Crew, 9:45 a.m., First Baptist Church Recreation Center, Corpus Christi, Texas.

January 13, 2019 – “Resolved to Claim Joy”; interviews during 8:30 and 11 a.m. worship services, guest speaker at 12:30 p.m. luncheon, Great Hall, Wilshire Baptist Church, 4316 Abrams Road, Dallas, Texas.

January 24, 2019 -“Resolved: To Reclaim Joy in 2019,” Women of the Church, All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Contact Ella if you would like to attend and want more details.

In the Media:

November 1, 2018 – “Author of New Book for Widows Offers Help for Getting Through the Holidays,” PRWeb. Read full article here

October 28, 2018 – Ella describes her life before Lev, during 46 years of marriage and as a widow with longtime Phoenix broadcaster Pat McMahon on the God Show. Listen to full interview

October 23, 2018 – Ella discusses how Paul’s letter to the Philippians spoke to her during her journey from grief to joy on the Georgene Rice Show, KPDQ-AM & FM, 6:30–7 p.m., CDT, Portland, OR. Listen to the podcast here, skipping past the news segment at the beginning.

October 21: Longtime Amplify host Msgr. Ron Lengwin discusses the lessons learned in Reclaiming Joy with Ella, focusing on the role of faith in moving through grief. Listen to full interview

Photos: From top to bottom: Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum, Pumpkin Village, signing books at the Baylor Bookstore