Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe another year has passed. The year 2023 seemed to go by in a blink, and here we are once again, welcoming a new year. As I prepared for 2024, one of the things I did was pray about my new word. I wrote about my experience choosing a word in 2023 and I’m excited to tell you what I’ve chosen for this year.
My word for 2024 is: JOY!
I first started thinking about JOY several weeks ago when we drove up to Massachusetts to attend the Boston Pops Symphony as a family. Looking back, one of my favorite family vacations was our very first trip to the Boston Pops. My dad grew up in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston in a tiny town called Millis. He lived in the same house that his mother grew up in–a beautiful old Victorian house with green siding, an incredible front porch and a kitchen full of family meals and memories.
We drove to Millis at least once a year and spent several days with my grandparents in that old house, playing on the porch, walking up the street to the Little Peach (a convenience store where we would buy candy and the newspaper with quarters from my Grandpa), and visiting my cousins who all lived within a 30 mile radius. Sometimes we would drive into the city to see Aunt Jan, my dad’s older sister, who liv
ed in a fourth floor walk-up and rode the T to her job as an emergency room nurse at Mass General. We were fascinated by her life and loved hearing about her job and adventures.
Aunt Jan is one of the most JOYful and generous people I know. In fact, her favorite word, and one she lives by incredibly well, is JOY.
Fifty years ago, with a small group of family and friends, she went to the first-ever Boston Pops Symphony performance. Since then, she’s attended the concert every single year and taken hundreds of people with her to enjoy the music and fun. Not only that, but after that first one, she started having everyone back to her tiny apartment for a raucous party that lasted long into the night. To this day, she continues the tradition, buying a ton of tickets to a Sunday matinee, inviting all her family and friends, and then hosting a big party at her place after the show. She spends days cooking and cleaning and preparing and keeps everyone fed and happy and laughing for hours. It’s a blast.
When I was about seven years old, my parents took us out of school a few days before winter break officially began, and we made the eight hour drive up to my grandparent’s house, arriving long after the sun had set. My grandmother welcomed us into her old kitchen with hugs and the offer of food–always tubettini or potato (pronounced: pah-dah-duh) soup. As soon as we said yes, she began bustling around, thin robe flapping and pink hair curlers dangling, getting bowls and spoons and warming our choice on the stove. (Tubettini for me, please and thank you!) While we waited for the soup to warm, we ran into the living room to see my grandfather. Sitting in his chair, ashtray and newspaper beside him, he hugged us tight and whistled a tune as he slowly got up and plodded into the kitchen.
The next day, we excitedly put on our fanciest dresses, painstakingly pulled on those fussy tights, and then headed off to the concert hall for our first experience at the symphony. While I’m sure the music was incredible, there’s one memory that sticks out to me the most: Pops Santa. Near the end of the concert, the orchestra plays “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and everyone in the audience sings along. At one point, there’s a slight pause in the music, and Santa himself bursts through the doors and begins his walk to the stage, high-fiving and hugging kids along the way. As a first-timer, I had no idea that this was going to happen, so you can imagine my delight and surprise to see Santa suddenly making his way through the audience. Santa! I was enthusiastically watching this incredible spectacle from the balcony where we were seated and was completely shocked when a present was pressed into my hands addressed as follows:
From: POPS SANTA
I watched in awe as more gifts were passed down the row addressed to my two sisters and six cousins. To my little 7-year-old heart, this was pure magic. With huge eyes, we all looked at each other and wondered the same thing, “How did Santa know we were here?!” The JOY and delight that crossed every single one of our faces was something I’ll never forgot. All nine of us tore into those gifts and found something special just for us. It was incredible.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized who was actually responsible for those gifts. Aunt Jan had hidden them in her bag, waited until that perfect moment, and passed them down the row exclaiming that Santa had brought us gifts all the way from the North Pole. It’s one of my all-time favorite memories, and something I have been eager to share with my own children for years.
Christmas 2023 was the year we finally got to experience it as a family.
I got them out of school early on the last day before break. We packed up the car with suitcases, fancy clothes on hangers, drinks, and snacks. We drove 12 long hours to Massachusetts. My grandparents have been gone for years now, but we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house to hugs and tubettini soup.
With my kids being two of the oldest of all the second cousins, I wasn’t sure if they would still get to experience the JOY of receiving a gift from Pops Santa. I really just wanted them to be in the hall with the music swirling around and people singing along. But sure enough, when Santa burst through the doors on the bottom floor, my kids and all the younger cousins watched excitedly as he made his way to the stage…and then came the moment. Magically, gifts appeared, being passed along the row to each of the cousins. Pops Santa had remembered them by name, and I watched as each little face lit up with surprise and JOY. It was every bit as special as I remembered. Even my own kids, now keepers of the Christmas secret, were delighted.
Once again, Aunt Jan had shopped, wrapped and hidden the gifts until just the right moment. After the concert, we all headed back to her house where we found tables full of homemade food, cookies, and cakes and settled in to eat, laugh, and catch up with family and friends that we hadn’t seen in years. Just like always, she bought the tickets, made the invites, cooked and cleaned, hosted and toasted. We all got a good laugh when she loudly announced that she would appreciate it if we would use the trash and recycle bins she had set up in the bathtub instead of the one in the kitchen. Classic Aunt Jan.
This trip reminded me of the wonders of giving and receiving JOY in our lives. As I sat in the Big Room at PCC for the Christmas Eve Experience, I thought about how similar my experience at the Pops was to the Christmas story itself. In the birth of Jesus, God bent down from heaven and passed us a special gift. It came wrapped in cloth, at just the right moment, with my name and yours written in bold. The gift of Jesus was meant not only to save us, but to bring us JOY!
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great JOY for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV, emphasis mine)
What better way to spend a year than living into the JOY of Jesus, and also bringing that feeling to others. As I prayed about my word, my mind kept going back to the Pops and that feeling of JOY in being seen and known, and I knew that was where God wanted me to focus my attention this year.
As thrilled as I am to declare JOY as my word, to be honest, it scares me a little bit, too. I’m not always so good with JOY. I tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of person and while I keep my negativity mostly in my head, this endeavor will be a new approach to life for me. One that I’m nervously excited about taking on for 2024. As I told you in my previous article, when you start to pray about your word, if something comes to mind and you start to feel a little nauseous with nerves, you’re probably on the right track!
Are you choosing a word for 2024?
If so, share your word on Facebook or Instagram; the post might even help with your commitment. I hope you’ll join me in finding a new focus, something to help you keep your eyes on God in the coming year. Let’s see what happens when we live intentionally, looking out for all that God has in store.