Carlos Giusti, Associated Press
In this Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 photo, a girl waits for her mother in the hallway of Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, which opened its doors as a daytime community center after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. "We're trying teach them how to be happy again," said the school's Director Zoraya Cruz. "We're not worried about the curriculum right now. We want them to feel comfortable and safe."

The holidays serve as a catalyst for greater hope in our lives. Whether it’s the Christmas message of childbirth, the Jewish Hanukkah message of dedication or another faith or family tradition of love, the holidays bring a message of hope to our world.

I feel it’s badly needed.

I know I join others in expressing the sentiment that 2017 was a difficult year. We felt it in our world, country, state and communities. Most importantly, we felt it in our hearts.

While global economic conditions improved, many regions of the world continued to suffer. Civil wars in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and other countries caused bloodshed and needless violence. North Korea nuclear missile tests reminded us the world remains a dangerous place.

In the United States, we were hit hard with natural disasters in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and other places. Even worse, we witnessed carnage that came from our own. An evil gunman fired from a hotel window on the Las Vegas Strip, slaughtering hundreds of people. His rage and alienation affirmed the darkness in some people’s souls and brought new relevance to the lyrics of a familiar Christmas song: For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The women’s march on Washington and “me-too movement” brought focus to decades of abusive behavior towards women. Call it a tipping point, call it a sea change, just don’t call it over. Women will have more to say in 2018. There’s no going back on this one.

And then we have the United States of America striving to become a more perfect union, even as we feel deep divisions within our polity. We used to work hard to come together on the big issues of the day. Now we don’t seem to even try. Have we reached the point of permanent estrangement?

We face challenges in Utah as well. Take a stroll through Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City and feel the aftermath of Operation Rio Grande. It’s difficult to feel safe walking through a public square as the sun sets. I’m left wondering, is this really my home town?

We have 59,579 children living in intergenerational poverty in Utah, and another 257,275 children at risk. They need our help.

My natural optimism prompts me to always find hope even in a difficult year. For me, hope starts in the heart — something I call our bright center. It then extends outward in concentric circles.

Bright centers shine brightest when we act with integrity, possess a gracious spirit and treat others with respect and kindness. We are agents unto ourselves and capable of great love and service. That’s where we need to start.

Extending outward, the first concentric circle includes our family and closest friends. Hope builds in this circle. My circle starts with my husband and children. We are not perfect, but we share near-perfect love. Every day is great when I get to be with them.

Next, our circles enlarge to extended family, in my case, loving brothers and sisters, sensational in-laws and brothers- and sisters-in-law. As the youngest of 11 siblings and marriage into a family of eight children, I am rich in family. Hope is building.

The concentric circles continue to reach outwards to more friends, neighbors, co-workers and community leaders. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we lift each other. We also benefit from great community leadership. Hope increases.

My hope builds as I fortify my bright center and reach outward to my family, friends and fellowmen.

To quote the same holiday carol referenced earlier…

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men."