Are you familiar with the concept of choosing a word-of-the-year? The idea is to pick a word to focus on, mediate on and reflect on in daily life throughout the year. Almost a year ago, last January I chose the word joy.
On the verge of moving to a new country and in the midst of countless life changes, joy was perhaps the word I was most seeking. I’ve held tight to that word all year. When I’ve doubted my husband’s and my decision to move to Canada with our two- year old son and leave friends and family back home in Charlotte, NC, I’ve clung to the joy of taking a break from corporate America and focusing on motherhood. I’ve sought joy in the little moments of life. This word-of-the-year practice has provided reflection on joy in a different way, but for eight months, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to it.
Indeed there is. In late August, we stumbled upon the oldest church in Toronto while ambling around the city on a mini-exploration. The bells of St. James chimed on that Saturday afternoon and my son took delight. I was pulled-in by the open doors.
With towering, ornate gothic ceilings and plentiful stained glass depicting scenes from the Bible, St. James is beautiful. As my son took it all in- a smile spread over his face; I saw the awe in his eyes. His joy of travel, exploration, and adventure was incredible to witness. That is all that I ever hoped I could give him from this experience of moving to Canada. And right in the middle of that church, on a random Saturday, more than half way through the year, it hit me like a ton of bricks- JOY. The force of it took me by surprise.
This word-of-the-year journey was not intended as an exercise in faith, just as our decision to move away from “home” wasn’t intended to be an exercise in faith. But God has a beautiful way of sending you a message when he really wants you to hear it. I got the message loud and clear.
The next day at church, wouldn’t you know it, joy was the topic of the sermon. And as Hymn 474 was sung, it was as if the words were written on my heart. A joyful surprise in the best way:
“The joy of God comes close. Where faith encounters fears, where heights and depths of life are found through smiles and tears. The joy of God is here to stay, embracing those who walk the Way; the joy of God is here to stay.”
Months have passed. Life goes up and down; there are challenging days and long weeks parenting a toddler. Yet, gratitude multiplies when looked at through this lens.
To share one of those moments, my son had been asking me to say the “Our Father” for months during nightly prayers. On this particular night, instead of silently listening, he recited the prayer along with me. Tears welled in my eyes when I told him how proud I was of him. And he said something I’ll never forget: “My heart feels so happy, I love it when Mommy teaches me things.”
Again, joy, pure and simple, surprised me with its impact. I then clearly recognized that the challenges of parenting a toddler are also an exercise in faith. And my greatest endeavor, as a parent, will be to allow him to feel that joy too.
As we close the chapter on 2015, the feeling of gratitude is overwhelming. I type these words with a quickly bourgeoning belly and a full heart. Growing our family has been also been a journey of faith. The blessing of becoming a mother for a second time sometime next summer has already provided abundant joy.
Looking back, this word-of-the-year challenge was a parallel journey of deepening of my faith. As I look into the year ahead, with what I’m sure will have many new adventures, I will keep these lessons with me. I better appreciate that at the intersection of some of life’s biggest challenges, there are moments of joy unparalleled. I can’t wait for the next surprise.