About five years ago I jumped on the popular trend to choose a word for the new year. As 2020 approached I was confident my word was joy. It seemed to settle my heart every time I thought about it. A year of joy. I not only wanted that (who wouldn't?) but I needed it! In 2019, life had become mundane and serious. I was deprived of joy and was desperate to have it back. So, 2020 was welcomed with open arms and the anticipation of joy’s arrival flooded my heart. And it did not disappoint. You might be wondering, “how in the world did you find joy in 2020??” Our world was in disarray from a pandemic, protests, loss, stress, and disappointment. Trust me, this year was one of the hardest years for most of us, but throughout it all, joy held my hand. Joy is what got me through and taught me so much about slowing down, cherishing each day, and living an authentic life. I thought I knew what it meant to have joy but I was wrong. Joy surprised me. Joy wrecked me. Joy wasn't what I expected. Somedays I was mad about it, while other days I was deeply encouraged. 2020 was a rollercoaster. Months passed, crisis hit, and I was incredibly disappointed in God. This was not the year of joy I imagined! I prayed for joy, I hoped for joy, but God didn’t answer my prayers, or at least not in the way I’d hoped. More days than not, I thought I either heard God wrong or believed He had forgotten about me. As the year lingered on, waves of isolation, hopelessness, and desperation crashed upon the shores of our hearts. Everywhere you looked there was so much heartbreak and anger. Opinions, helpful or not, rattled everyone’s brains. Although there were many weeks I could hardly make it out the front door, let alone by bed, I had an anticipation I could never shake. Joy was coming; it had to because I truly didn't know how to survive without it anymore. On the outside my body had given up, but my spirit clung onto the promise that joy was on its way. Joy became the anticipation for what was on the other side of suffering: a perspective and a posture toward the belief that there will be joy. As my desperation for joy grew, the evidence of its presence started to be clear. Circumstances didn't change. Our world was still in disarray and life was chaotic, but the desperation clarified my vision. Jesus started to teach me what it truly meant to possess joy, to cherish joy, and protect its presence in my life. The reality I have understood most clearly is that we find true joy when we dwell in the presence of God.When we live captivated by Him, He satisfies us. When our focus is on Him the result is joy. I used to think that to have joy meant to have an overwhelming amount of happiness; but happiness is circumstantial. Not to say that joy and happiness do not complement one another, but joy’s saturation runs much deeper. More often than not our joy is robbed by our expectation or our entitlement. To be joyful doesn't always mean you will be happy about it. Think of Jesus, it was HIS JOY to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2) while simultaneously crying out and asking for His suffering to pass (Luke 22:42). The pivotal point here is that Jesus knew what was on the other side of his suffering, so He pressed forward and clung onto the promise of hope. Joy such a simple word, but it has a weighted presence. It comes unexpectedly and forcefully. Sometimes you choose it out of desperation, and other times, it chooses you. Joy is not only found on the other side of our suffering, but also in the midst of it. It is not only our armor, but our reward. We too often allow our joy to be stolen by our circumstances. Joy isn’t merely a feeling; it is a response to a deep hunger for more. Stillness causes joy to flourish and trials only expand the depths of its roots. Joy is entangled with hope and its hope lasts an eternity. Yes, some lives carry a weight of darkness I cannot understand, but what if we choose to stand tall, be brave, have courage, and replace the weight of darkness with the weight of joy? What if we trusted that God is working even when we don’t see, feel or hear Him? What if we chose gratitude and celebration over disappointment and shame? What if we held true to the promises of God even if we haven’t seen breakthrough? What if the seasons change didn’t cause sadness, but ignited joy? What if this year truly looked different? Psalm 66:12 (TPT) “We’ve passed through fire and flood, yet in the end you always bring us out better than we were before, saturated in your joy!” Psalm 30: 11-12 (TPT) “Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise! He has torn the veil and lifted from me the sad heaviness of mourning. He wrapped me in the glory garments of gladness. How could I be silent when it’s time to praise you? Now my heart sings out loud, bursting with joy—a bliss inside that keeps me singing, “I can never thank you enough!” Now here we are. 2021, a new year with a new perspective. 2021, a year of dwelling in the presence of God. A year where our nearness to God will cause joy to envelop our lives. Psalm 27: 4-6 (TPT) "Here’s the one thing I crave from God, the one thing I seek above all else: I want the privilege of living with him every moment in his house, finding the sweet loveliness of his face, filled with awe, delighting in his glory and grace. I want to live my life so close to him that he takes pleasure in my every prayer. In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me, for he hides me there in his holiness. He has smuggled me into his secret place, where I’m kept safe and secure, out of reach from all my enemies. Triumphant now, I’ll bring him my offerings of praise, singing and shouting with ecstatic joy! Yes, listen and you can hear the fanfare of my shouts of praise to the Lord!