Monday, December 31, 2012

the year of the lion.

*Sorry for the wonky formatting! Blogger is being a jerk :( I'm working on it. Happy New Year to you! :) *

Listening to: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers
Line Obsession: "I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen." - Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Last December, my sister decided we should pick a word instead of a resolution. You’ve heard of this practice, yes? I see bloggers do this all the time, but my sister is not a blogger. I’m not sure how she got the idea, but I thought it was way snazzy. Because I can’t think of the last resolution I actually made and kept. And I think it’s because, for me, once everybody starts doing something, it doesn’t feel as personal or as special. I’m a New Year’s Resolution rebel.  

But a word? That idea made my heart kick. Words make me happy. (“Ha-peh, ha-peh, ha-peh,” as Phil Robertson would say.) I spend lots of time weaving words and sentences into stories. But even beyond writing, I’d been thinking about the power words have over people. About how easy it is to speak hope into someone’s life, or to crush their spirit, just with a word. And about how some people dwell on affirmations they’ve had (sometimes dwell to the point of “ego-swell”), and some people let criticism or rejection (from ten years ago) suffocate their dreams. Words are a big deal.

“Take some time and think about it,” my sister said.   

“Right,” I nodded. And then with my next breath, I decided: “I pick JOY.”

It just seemed like the right thing to do. And truly, I assumed that I’d make whatever word I picked into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And HenryCavilIsInLoveWithMe isn't actually a word. So joy seemed like a good choice. Joy’s something we all need to embrace more of, yes? So joy it was! Er … joy was me! Or something.

Honestly … joy never felt like my word.

Joy was like the square-shaped chocolate you pull from the box, the one you think is caramel, but then you bite into it and it’s mushy, tasteless orange-fluff-puff. My disdain made no sense. JOY – the real kind – is amazing. So how could joy be the fluff-puff of word pickery? I decided to try and roll with it.  

And then my mom got in on the act and picked a word. She was like, “What’s your word?” And I said, “Tell me yours first!” And at the same time we said … joy. 

Except my mom said it like, “JOY!”

And I said it like: *shrug* “Joy, I guess.”

Though it made no sense, that’s when I knew: I had no joy for joy. So I decided to back up, and ponder the word-thing some more, and keep an open mind. If I found a word better than joy, I’d claim it. As if.

The next day, I woke up to a word perched on the edge of my tongue, a word trembling to be spoken, said, hollered, declared. A word that was so obviously meant to be mine. 

And it made no sense at all.

So I said it like a question, “Roar?”

My dog sat up and cocked her head at me. I sat up and scratched her adorably fuzzy face and said it again, “Roar?”

Like Biscuit was going to nod back and affirm that ROAR was, for sure, the word of the year. (It would have been so awesome if she had.) She just sighed and rolled over so I’d scratch her tummy. And I remained perplexed.

Joy … makes sense. But in the immortal words of Tina Turner (and Simba), I could not help but wonder: what’s roar got to do with it?

And then ROAR was everywhere. I found it in quotes. I heard it in church. I heard it in a song. I read it in books. (Lots of characters roar with laughter.) One day I was trying to remember a brilliant quote from the great theologian Count Olaf, so I reached for Lemony Snicket. And, as I did, a ginormous purple book fell out of my shelf and thunked against my toe.

The word I shouted could be roughly translated as: “poop.”

But the word I saw, swirled across the cover of the fallen book was: 

Roar. (It’s a commentary on the Chronicles of Narnia.)

The funniest ROAR happened when I gave my family Christmas crackers. Not, like, saltines. But you know the crackers that Brits pull on Christmas day? The wrapped cardboard tubes that pop apart when you pull them? Crackers have lots of quirky stuff inside: a paper crown, a fortune, a trinket, that sort of thing. My dad got a pink cruise ship on wheels. My brother got … a small blob of plastic that hadn’t cooked long enough in the toy mold.

My trinket? Was a little green lion.

Since you probably have no desire to snorkel in the Sea of Metaphor, I’m going to cut to the specifics: my word for 2012 was ROAR. And while I didn’t think of it every single day … I can look back over this collection of days and weeks and minutes and know that roar … is exactly what I did. At the risk of sounding like a cornball, life roared at me. And I roared back.

I collected all sorts of roar quotes this year, but one of my favorites was from Mark Batterson who says, and I’m paraphrasing, then when opportunity roars at you, you have to roar back. And when fear roars at you, you have to roar back. So while I know ROAR could mean a thousand things, positive or negative, that’s the meaning it took on for me
ROAR = Be brave, be bold, and engage your life.
(Even when it scares the poop out of you.)

The irony in all of this, of course, is there is absolutely nothing about me that roars. I’m barely 4’11” and while I have certainly been described as “feisty”, I’ve never been described as assertive or even very loud. I veer more toward shy and timid. And that’s not a bad way to be, if that’s actually how you are. But I think, for me, the shyness has more to do with self-consciousness, and with fear (fear of rejection, in particular). Fear is a word I embrace every year, without consciously meaning to. (I’m a total Piglet.) And I know all too well that the fear-stuff, however founded or unfounded it may be, is emotionally and socially crippling. 

Unless you roar back at it.

This year I roared back. It’s not like I ever got un-afraid, but I did stuff even though I was afraid. Instead of waiting for opportunities to fall in my lap, I chased after some of them.  I had good days and suck-days; years are always a stormy mix of both. But I lived hard this year, in a good way. I roared with laughter and with tears and with brazen little whisper-prayers. Joyously. Wondrously. Hopefully. Every breath I drew was hallelujah, as Leonard Cohen would say.

Instead of a resolution, what I discovered this year was a realization: that 1.) I’m little, in every possible way. And 2.) I'm a little bit lion-hearted. 

Transformations don’t have to be heralded in Facebook statuses, or announced for all the world to see, in order to be genuine. They don’t even have to happen on January 1. But they can happen. And sometimes, the loudest changes begin quietly. 

Beauty for ashes. Water into wine. Apathy into passion.  

A whisper into a roar.

And some days, the whisper is the roar. Those are the sweetest days of all, I think. When you take that first little step and realize you’re walking toward something good, toward the kind of life you were too afraid to fight for before now. I’m forever inspired by people who keep moving ahead through their fear - boldly. Courageously. 

So, in the off chance that you’re bored with resolutions, or just a little bit disillusioned by 2012 … if you need a word for the year, I would love to entrust you with ROAR. When fear roars at you, roar back. When you’re happy, roar up at the smiling sun. Roar softly. Roar bravely. Roar, and run after the life you’d like to be living. You've got it in you.

Here’s to your year of the lion. May it rock your socks off. 

If you had to pick a word to describe the last year what would it be? Are you a resolution keeper? Or a resolution rebel? 


  1. This post makes me want to be braver. :) {And what you said about shyness and self-consciousness and fear...I totally get that. That's exactly how I am.}

    I make resolutions, and I probably end up keeping less than half of them. But I like the challenge and the idea of fresh new year ahead of me. I write out very specific goals (some of them are more like rules :) for myself and tack them to the wall just above my desk. I learned that having them constantly in my sight makes me more likely to keep them. :)

    Happy New Year to you, Natalie!


    P.S. The pictures in this post aren't showing up for me. I just got my computer back from being repaired and things have been a little weird, so I'm not sure if it's just me or not.

  2. Such a good thought-provoking post. I love your word! It's so unique and descriptive. And I love it when that happens - certain words/ideas start popping up all over the place. That's been happening to me this past semester and summer. I keep stumbling upon quotes and Bible verses about how difficult life is and what a long and hard journey it is to Heaven. That sounds kind of discouraging, but that's what I've needed to hear: that i'm not entitled to a year of good things from God just because he's given me a few tough ones.

    This quote comes to mind often: “If a man be going to a desired place, howsoever the way be troublesome, the sweetness of the end will make him forget the discouragements of his passage. Perhaps we must wade to Heaven through a sea of blood. It matters not. The end will recompense all. Though we lose our limbs on the way, it is better to limp to Heaven than to dance to Hell.” -Richard Sibbs

    And as for a word, I've tried to pick words for myself only to have them completely disappear from my brain until the next new year's eve. haha i picked joy too and that quickly left my thoughts! :) Oh well, I'm not a big fan of resolutions and things like that...I liked your idea of thinking of a word for the past year rather than the upcoming one...I'll have to think on that.

    Happy New Year! Courtney

  3. A word for 2012:

    Honestly, my word would have been "AVOID!". Because instead of accepting and changing, I avoided so many issues and stresses that would have been so much smaller had I dealt with them. I ignored them, and got confused and restless and scared, until, I finally made myself make a change. (I blogged the whole thing on my blog :)

    Next year, my word will visible. I will pay more attention, I will let myself be vulnerable and imperfect. I will embrace messy hair ;), imperfect writing, and laugh alot more at myself. I will speak more words of life and I will make myself visible to the One who I tend to hide my heart from when things get messy.

    Happy New Year, Natalie!

  4. I have not heard of this pick a word tradition, but I kind of love it. What a wonderful post! Happy new year! :D

  5. I'm proud of you for owning your ROAR, Natalie. That's huge! My word was hope and I've got a recap post coming tomorrow. My word for this year scares the pants off of me.

  6. Can I just say that I knew you would write an awesome kick-ass post that would challenge and inspire for the new year. I was totally right! This was awesome! I'm not sure what Word I'll embrace for the year..I've yet to journal some goals and ideas also. Thus said, I'm actually a Resolution Keeper(I say that as I usually choose the rebel side ;) )..however last year was the one year I had no goals etc and yeah...I think goals keep me going. Especially if I hang them on my wall and they can be seen all the time :).
    Thankyou for the great post as always!
    Happy 2013
    Hannah :)

  7. I haven't kept up to date with the blog world for the past year and a half or so, since getting married, but I am so glad to have a built-in routine again for reading your blog. You always inspire me to write.

    My husband and I started choosing words for the year instead of resolutions, last year! He heard about it on the radio and liked the idea. We chose "faith," and it could not have been more appropriate for last year. Not quite as unique as "roar," but definitely what God had for us then. This year, our word is hope, and I am excited to explore what that means for us. And I will probably be blogging about it soon, as I am trying to develop a routine of writing more regularly, too.

  8. Love this post! I've picked a word every year for the past few years, but it does have a habit of changing to something unexpected before the year is up. Happy 2013, Natalie! I hope it is lovely. :)

  9. Oh my gosh, how cool is that, your word was so present in your life. Amazing. What's this year's word? I must think of one, although I'm really liking roar. Last year, hmm...I'll have to think on that too.

  10. I got off my google reader just to tell you how much I loved this post.

    You go roar, Natalie.