First Words for the New Year: Laugh and Overcome

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Here we are again. Congratulations! Another turn through the calendar. Another edge to cross over. Another chance to do it better this time. Waking up today is a gift and each of us has the opportunity to accept this gift and do something with it. Such is the joy and responsibility of each new day, however, the changing of the year holds such special significance and gives us the chance to feel it in a more epic way. Epic in scope as well as story, for it is our epic, and today, it continues.

First, a blessing to you and yours for 2023:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Numbers 6:24-26

First Words, Part One

As we were beginning our celebration yesterday evening, Sally noticed that she had missed a phone call from one of our nephews. We don’t hear from him often and were concerned that something was wrong. She walked into the other room to return his call. In between bursts of music, the voices of children, and the sounds of preparation in the kitchen, I could faintly hear her voice as she checked on our nephew. Suddenly, over everything, I heard her laugh.

In that moment, I thought to myself, wow! Sally really has a great laugh. Relieved that everything was fine, I went about my business and she reappeared a few minutes later, still chuckling. Regaling us with her story, she shared that something she had ordered for her mom was accidentally shipped to our nephew’s house and he wanted to let her know. Puzzled, I asked, “What was so funny?” She said, “I asked him if he needed for us to pick up the items and deliver them. He said ‘no, I just wanted to hear you laugh.’ It really tickled me!.”

May we all receive a call sometime this year from someone just wanting to hear us laugh! Earlier this week, I had written a note to myself asking “Where did the laughter go?” I’m not sure what prompted it but it was part of some self-reflection on struggle and adversity. You know, the melancholy introspection that sometimes accompanies birthdays, holidays, and the changing of the calendar year. Thinking back over the year, I wonder “Did I laugh enough?”

Mirth. Lightheartedness. Fun. Good humor. The world can be so deadly serious. We “play for keeps” knowing that, often, “the winner takes all.” Aside from hearing the beautiful tones of Sally’s laugh, my heart felt deep joy at the simple innocence of my nephew (a man in his 30’s) wanting to share the silly nothingness of the shipping mistake, knowing it would elicit her lightheartedness. Where did our innocent joy go?

Billy Joel once told us that “He’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” I’m not sure how persuasive his argument was for Virginia relative to her own concern for her soul, but he does strike a chord for those of us prone to responsibility and seriousness. The odds are pretty high that, sin or no, we aren’t laughing enough. There is a deep well of joy within each of us, just waiting to be tapped. We all know laughter to be great medicine – this year is a great place to apply it more liberally.

First Words, Part Two

An annual tradition that Sally and our daughters started a few years ago, was to participate in a “Saint of the Year” and “Word of the Year” activity. The saint and word are randomly generated through a website and the goal is to use them both as a focal point for self-reflection throughout the year. I often hear them discussing their discoveries as they learn more about the their own saint and contemplate their word. This year, I decided to participate.

My word was “Overcome.” Google tells us:




  1. succeed in dealing with (a problem or difficulty).

“she worked hard to overcome her paralyzing shyness”


  • defeat (an opponent); prevail.

“without firing a shot they overcame the guards”

  • (of an emotion) overpower or overwhelm.

“she was obviously overcome with excitement”

Considering this word, I realize that I don’t use it very often but the more I think about it, the better I like it. The fact that we can both overcome a particular challenge and be overcome with a particular emotion give this word some very useful depth for those of us contemplating our hopes and our dreams for 2023. For the new year, let’s resolve to overcome…

  • the fear, uncertainty, and doubt holding us back from the bold moves that might move us forward.
  • the preconceived notions of those who disagree with us. Perhaps they are not the fools or enemies it is so easy to to see them as.
  • the resentment we feel toward others for what they’ve done to us.
  • the resistance we face in the pursuit of our hopes and dreams.
  • the voices in our own heads telling us we’re not strong, smart, attractive, worthy, or loved enough.
  • the ignorance that lives within us and around us.
  • the attachments to habits and vices that hold us back from being our best self.
  • the acceptance of the status quo when there is something better waiting to be discovered, envisioned, and implemented.
  • the tendency to be so darn serious about everything when there is great power in innocent mirth.
  • the patterns of behavior in our relationships that do little to lift or be lifted.

Thinking on it some more, perhaps there is another side of the word that may hold even more promise as we allow ourselves to be overcome by…

  • gratitude for each and every day, recognizing the gift of life for what it is.
  • the joy of laughter in the small, the silly, and the innocent.
  • the love of others over ourselves.
  • the majesty of a sunrise or sunset, the crash of a wave, or the scale of a mountain.
  • the emotion of the moment, fearing nothing of the past or of the future.
  • the awe and wonder of children.
  • the connection of a relationship.
  • the beauty of a painting, a song, or a poem.
  • the forgiveness offered by another.
  • the self-release of forgiving another.
  • the timelessness of being fully alive in a moment.

Looking over the short list above, I realize that it is by no means exhaustive. What would you add to it?

Rolling Into 2023

Here we go again. The new year, and all of its possibility, is upon us. These first words are just a beginning – a reference point as we look toward the horizon. But let’s not look too far, for both words are meant for this moment. Right here, right now. Where is the laughter? Where is the smile? Find it now. Find it today. Let yourself feel the joy from laughter’s awe and wonder. Allow the elemental innocence of mirth to fall upon you and those you love.

Then, be prepared to overcome. Step up to this moment and the next with your best self. Muster the determination to push beyond the resistance, the noise, the doubt, the fear, and all of their real and imagined barriers that hold you back from living your best life. Show up for yourself and those you love, ready to do battle with the internal and external struggles that define our moments, and our lives beyond them.

Finally, allow yourself to be overcome by the immense, beauty, joy, and possibility of a world so big, so broad, and so powerful that our minds can barely comprehend it and our hearts scarcely contain it. There is so much good to be done, love to be given, things to learn, and gifts to be shared, that it takes a lifetime to scratch the surface. Today is a great time to start. Let’s start with laugh and overcome, then see where it goes from there.

Showing 2 comments
  • Patrick Berry

    I could hear Sally’s laugh in my head as I was reading and I even enjoyed an internal chuckle.

    “Overcome” is a great word for you and carries the depth of a single word with many applications.

    Great write-up Phil. Happy 2023! To overcoming and being overcome!

  • Mary Jo Campbell

    I could hear Sally’s laugh as you described the situation. She does have a good laugh!!!

    I , for one, do not laugh enough… except when I’m in the company of my sweet grandchildren. Thanks for the reminder of how good laughter is for all of us.

    In 2023 I’ll challenge myself to overcome the situation s that keep my face frowning and grimacing and seek more opportunities for smiles and laughter.

    Happy New Year!

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