Photo by Alison HowardWhat a year 2015 has been.  One word comes to mind when I reflect on the past year: BRUTALFUL.  The past 12 months have been equal parts brutal and beautiful resulting in so much more refining that I signed on for.  It has been the most altering year of my life but also the most restorative and it’s all because of the my decision to surrender.

The past few years I have been assigning a word at the start of each year as a focal point for progress and growth.  Almost like a prophetic word over my own life.  In 2014 my word was converge, which means to bring all things together.  In 2015 my word was surrender and that one little word truly shifted my entire life, because when you live a surrendered life, things just tend to change.  I surrendered my marriage, my desires, my work, my plans, my dreams, my ambitions to God in the grandest leap of faith I’ve ever taken and you know what?  Despite the fact that it was hard and painful and extremely uncomfortable, life is better than it has ever been.  My marriage is healthier.  My home is (mostly) peaceful.  I’m working on projects at my own pace instead of submitting to stress and chaos.  For the first time in years I feel free and steady and so EXCITED about the new year.

Read on as I share what worked in 2015, what did not, who inspired me in 2015, and of course my word and goals for 2016.

WHAT WORKED IN 2015
Below is my list of accomplishments (professionally and personally) and things in general that worked for me in 2015.  It’s so easy to play the comparison game, but please don’t.  This list is to share with you my triumphs, but more so proof as to what can be accomplished when you work hard, surrender, and surround yourself with really great people.  It is by no means a brag sesh, as you’ll see further below that I also experienced several challenges this past year.  I hope this list serves as inspiration that you CAN make big strides in your life and business if you remain diligent, consistent, fearless and love what you do.  Here we go!

In 2015….

-I read 73% of the Bible!  The goal was to read 100% but that fact that I read 50% more of the Bible in 2015 than I did the year before shows major progress.  I’m finishing up my remaining 27% and then starting over. : )
-Overall, I cared less about what people thought about me this year than ever before.  I think this has something to do with getting older.  In general, I just compared myself to others less.  Making everyone happy simply wasn’t as important as it used to be.  I think you can set strong boundaries and be still be a kind and loving person.
-I did my final wedding in April, 2015.  It was the most beautiful and grand wedding I have ever planned and coordinated and it went perfectly.  It was a fantastic way to end that aspect of my career.
-I started the REFINE Group on Facebook, a group for Wedding Planners, and we have grown to over 800 wedding planners!  The REFINE group is all about support, encouragement, and education and I truly adore my REFINERS.
-Our family began sponsoring two children through World Vision this past January.  The little boy we sponsor lives in Kenya and the little girl we sponsor lives in Brazil.  (Read more about this in the goals section below.)
-I hosted so many parties in our new home this year and LOVED it!  Well, mostly loved it.  Hosting can be stressful at times and takes a lot of preparation and forethought, but hosting parties for our extended family in our own home has been a small dream of mine after being gone for nearly 15 years.
-I was selected to host a new lifestyle TV show and we shot the pilot in March.  The show wasn’t picked up but it was such a cool experience.  I would still love to do TV at some point.
-I was more active than I have been years before.  I went to the gym more consistently, I ate better.  Boom.
-My deep love of cooking was rekindled and I spent so much time in the kitchen this year.  I absolutely LOVE cooking and am even thinking about attending culinary school in 2016.  You can see some of what I whipped up by using the hashtag #alisonhowardcooks on Instagram.
-LESS social media worked for me so so so well!  I spent way less time on my phone and more time being present.
-Mark and I went away sans kids several times this year to some of our favorite CA spots (Big Sur, Napa, Carmel, San Luis Obispo).  We also took a trip to Las Vegas (half work, half pleasure). I was reminded how much I love spending time with Mark.  He was reminded that I plan every trip around the best places to eat. ; )
-I was invited to speak at the Pursuit Conference in April 2016.  Although I’ll be speaking about business, this is the first faith-based conference I’ve been invited to speak at and I am honored that they would include me alongside so many other speakers I have admired for such a long time.  If you love the Lord and are a creative entrepreneur, you MUST attend.
-In January our family created a JOY Jar.  It’s this really pretty jar that sits on the dining room table and next to it are a few pencils and piece of paper.  When something awesome happens to anyone in the family, a blessing, and unexpected gift, an act of service one did for the other, a family trip, anything that brings deep joy, we write it down and drop it in the jar.  On New Years Eve we will read them and recount the most joyful moments of 2015.
-Mark and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary in November and this was a big milestone for us.  Marriage is HARD but I truly have a wonderful husband.  I am grateful.
-I coached 7 wedding planners from Washington, Texas, Los Angeles, Missouri, and San Diego! I love coaching and will continue to do it in 2016.
-As a family we took a few short trips to San Luis, Yosemite, Hume Lake, water skiing at Kaweah and next up is Disneyland in January!  Our kids are 11, 7, and almost 6 years old and are so dang fun to travel with now that they are so big.  We’ve had a lot of fun with them this year.
-I was better at receiving direction and discernment from those I trust this year.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK IN 2015
I’ve already shared with you some of what worked for me in 2015 but the following list is comprised of a few challenges I faced this year.  I am far FAR from perfect and frustrating struggles presented themselves often this past year.  Some are more personal than others and the very personal things I’ve excluded from this list (you’re welcome).

-Although I LOVE speaking at wonderful conferences, I realized this year that I will only consider and accept speaking engagements that are very purposeful and content rich.
-My first attempt writing a course was so much more than I bargained for.  I am a perfectionist to a fault and I experienced some major analysis paralysis.  I start re-creating the REFINE course in January and I will stick with what has always worked: being straight-forward and keeping things simple.  I don’t know why I overcomplicate things.
-When I lack consistency with my fitness and disciplined with portion size I completely undo so much hard work.  No more of that.  I can’t get away with it anymore (hello 30’s!).
-Not putting God and my marriage first and acting in selfishness never works.  It’s taken me years to learn this, but living intentionally and with a serving heart is what makes me happiest.
-Waking up later than 6:30am DOES NOT WORK for me.  I tried to be the cool easy-going mom who can sleep in and roll out of bed at 7 and get the kids to school by 7:45 – ha!  I am a monster when I wake up late and have to rush.

WHO & WHAT INSPIRED ME IN 2015:
This portion will be personal as people in my personal life inspired me more than strangers.

Perry & Cathy Howard – They are my in-laws and this year they have shown me who I want to be as a parent and a eventually a grandparent.  They are selfless, serving, and giving of their time and hospitality.  They love our kids so much and always help out with them, though they don’t view it as “help”; they see it as spending quality time with their grandkids.  They are reliable and present and involved and attentive and I am so grateful for them.

Ron & Kim Broomfield – Godly people who counseled and guided us during the most difficult season of our married life.  Thank you so much for your honesty, transparency, support, prayers, and for being the safe place we needed. We will forever be grateful for you both.

Mike & Judy Bussard – Married for over 40 years, full of love, grace, forgiveness and wisdom.  Lovers of God and people.  I hope we will be just like you when we grow up.  Thank you for a lifetime of favor and kindness.

Kari Medeiros – My best friend.  I just can’t even put into words what your love, grace, and support has meant to me the past year.  Thank you for being my shoulder, my sounding board, my ear.  You inspire me so much and I wish I were more like you.  Also – you’re a freaking badass at giving birth.  I’ll never forget 12/2/15.  I love you.

Megan Vickers – My other best friend.  I love you Mergs.  We have a way of just being real with each other.  No pretenses; it is what it is.  Thank you for admiring me when I don’t deserve it and for being such a sweet and hilarious kindred spirit.  You get me in ways many don’t and I hope my example has both inspired you and saved you from worlds of pain.

My REFINERS – Holy moly.  You all inspire me daily.  You’re not rude or petty or narcissistic.  You understood my vision of community and you dove right in.  You teach, you learn, you give, you serve…all without any sliver of chip on your shoulders.  I admire, respect, and commend you for elevating the wedding planning industry.  Thank you.  So much love to you all.

MY WORD FOR 2016
I believe assigning a word to the upcoming year that reflects what you intend/hope to happen/focus on can be energizing and prophetic.  I’m assigning two words to 2016: CONSISTENCY and DISCIPLINE.  I feel the two really go hand in hand (especially since I struggle doing things when I don’t feel like doing them).  I have cultivated a lot of really good habits and practices this year but to continue to grow and refine myself I need to embrace consistency and discipline (even though my rebel heart is scoffing as I write this).  ; )

GOALS FOR 2016

1) To fall more in love with God and be more disciplined in Bible study and prayer.
2) To love others well.
3) To serve and give more than in 2015.
4) To finish the REFINE course by March.
5) To continue that novel of mine and maybe even finish it.
6) To consistently workout and eat well – ESPECIALLY in November and December!
7) To run a 5K with my family.
8) To write to my sponsored kids monthly.
9) To attend church regularly and join a women’s group.
10) To live authentically.

I wish you all more blessings in 2016 than you ever dreamed of.  I wish you all the courage to let your lights shine.

Happy New Year!
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