Musings,  Catholicism,  Motherhood

Courage, Dear Heart: Why I Chose to Live by a Word of the Year.

How a Word of the Year generator inspired me to live courageously for 365 days.

A statue of St. Joan of Arc next to the quote, "Courage, Dear Heart" by C.S. Lewis. Courage was my Word of the Year for 2021.
My Word and Saint of the Year for 2021: Courage and St. Joan of Arc.

New Year, New Me?

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. In my youth, I had planned and dieted and set lofty goals with the best of them. And every year, I would be left feeling disappointed in myself for not achieving whatever goals I had imposed on myself. Then December would roll back around, and the cycle continued.

After converting to Catholicism, my focus shifted to setting penances and goals for Lent and living as liturgically as possible for Advent. Planning how I would deprive myself of worldly pleasures and taking on more novenas than I could keep track of felt like a much better use of my time than whether I would lose that last 5 pounds before December 31st.

And then, 2020 happened. I had my second baby. I was working at an office job with my two sons in tow. I was navigating life in a world locked down by a pandemic.

More than anything, I was drowning in what felt like a never-ending cycle of caring for others, living up to the expectations set for both working and stay-at-home mothers, and trying not to lose myself in the process.

So when the last week of December arrived, I found myself feeling restless. I wanted to turn the page on the dumpster fire chapter of my life that was 2020, but I struggled with how to do it.

That’s when I remembered Jennifer Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator.

What is a Word of the Year?

Having hung around in Catholic online spheres for a hot minute, I was very familiar with the Word and Saint of the Year Generators created by author, comedian, and fellow convert Jennifer Fulwiler.

The concept was simple. Go to the website, click a button, get a Word of the Year.

What I did not understand was, why? How could a random word help me? What would I do with it once I had it? (Other than posting it on Instagram for all to see, of course. That was part was hella obvious.)

Still, other people swore by it, so I participated, and each year, I would choose a Word of the Year on December 31st and forget what it was by the end of February.

2020 was different, though. I needed direction—a call to action. Something simple and easy that would help keep me on track when I started to lose focus on my goals.

Having a single word to meditate and pray on seemed easy enough. So I took the plunge and hit the black “Show Me My Word” button…

The word "Courage" from Jennifer Fulwiler's Word of the Year Generator.
Word of the Year Generator (Jennifer Fulwiler, ©2021)

Courage.” All the words coded into this generator, and my Word of the Year was “Courage.”

Did I even need to be courageous?

How would the word “Courage” apply to me or my goals?

Then again, what were my goals?

Where did I want to be by the end of the year?

A Call to be Courageous.

I had my Word of the Year. The question was, what was I going to do with it?

I needed to set goals, but I didn’t have something that I specifically wanted to complete—only a jumble of feelings weighing heavily on my heart—a tangle of knots in my life that needed to be undone and smoothed out.

It did not take long to figure out which knots needed undoing first.

I was feeling suffocated in my own home, drowning in trucks and tax textbooks and endless piles of laundry with no place to call my own. But what was courageous about needing space away from my family?

I took it to prayer and realized that there was something brave about addressing my need for autonomy. It took courage to recognize and admit that I had allowed myself to be overrun by my family’s needs and that I was not the only one suffering because of it. I was irritated and bitter all the time, snapping at my husband and sons at every turn because they were always right there. Yes, it was courageous to acknowledge my need for space, and my whole family has benefited from my decision to prioritize myself.

Home office. Set against a brick wall with a white corkboard decorated with pictures. A desk with a computer and covered with a red tablecloth. A wooden chair and books complete the set up.
My little corner of the world.

Let me tell you, taking that first small step for myself was liberating.

I looked to the next knot in my heart that needed attention.

Since becoming a mother, I had neglected my hobbies and passions. I fell into the trap of thinking that my life had to revolve around entertaining my kids and keeping house. I also had that full-time job I was working at the same time. Somewhere along the line, I had lost sight of the little things that made me who I am.

What did I enjoy? What brought my soul to life? What were my passions?

I had always loved to write but was never brave enough to share my words with the world. My voice felt so small and insignificant. I thought that no one could care about what I had to say or that my writing was even worthy of taking up space.

This time, courage led me to silence those voices in my head that said that I was not good enough, not talented enough to pursue my dreams of writing. And courage showed me that those voices were wrong.

This blog directly resulted from prayers for the courage to take control of my dreams and passions. I have taken many courses on media, marketing, and blogging over the past year because I realized that my talents were worth the investment. I have written guest posts for several other websites and have more plans for future guest posts. I wrote an entire 30-Day Affirmation journal with daily reflections and prayers straight from my own heart. I went from knowing nothing about graphic design to finding that I’m pretty good at it.

After having two babies, I was uncomfortable with my body and even more uncomfortable with being seen working out in public.

Courage was there when I signed up for a gym membership and went to work out as many days as I could after work.

I was tired of juggling all of the pressures of my full-time job with taking care of my kids. I was exhausted by feeling like I was “only” a secretary and that I never had the time or energy to pursue my own career goals outside of what I had known most of my adult life.

Courage was there when I applied to Ascension Press, and it was there when I decided to work from home and take care of my kids alone during the day. I am thriving at my new job, and my kids and I are learning how to balance work-from-home life pretty darn well. I feel like I am in control of my life for the first time in years.

Postive First Response pregnancy test, held up to a window overlooking a backyard.

Courage was there when two lines appeared on a pregnancy test when we thought a new baby was out of the question. And again, when I trained at my new job in between intense bouts of morning sickness.

All of this was the direct result of responding to that call to be courageous.

A Spirit of Courage, Not Fear.

Without a doubt, my Word of the Year manifested itself in my life in many ways. I prioritized myself, made huge, scary life decisions, and restructured my family’s dynamic.

This courage was not my own, though.

I had not thought the process of choosing and following a Word of the Year to be a spiritual one. I failed to see how focusing on a random word could draw me closer to God or strengthen my faith.

But the courage and strength that got me through this crazy year were indeed not my own. I believe that God speaks to us in different ways. He approaches our hearts and meets our souls where we are. And I fully believe that my Word of the Year was not a coincidence. It’s funny to think of God using a website developed by a comedian to help inspire me to cast aside the things that were pulling me away from Him, but here we are!

It also helped that my Saint of the Year was St. Joan of Arc, the poster-saint of courage. Her intercession was invaluable this year when life started to feel more like a battlefield than the domestic bliss that I had envisioned.

My other heavenly friend this year was Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Without her constant intercession through a daily rosary (and a powerful novena that took quite a bit of courage to undertake), I was able to see the value in clinging to the Spirit of Courage given to us by her Divine Spouse, the Holy Spirit.

By meditating and praying on the word “courage,” I was able to identify the effects that fear was having on my life. Fear of being more than what I thought myself to be. Fear of change. Fear of following the promptings of the Spirit.

Let me tell you, fear has no place in our hearts or our lives. But learning to overcome fear does not always look like colossal life changes and a sudden boost of confidence. Overcoming fear does not happen overnight. It means frequenting the Sacraments, even when you just don’t feel like waiting in line for Confession or wrestling your toddler for an hour during Mass. It takes waking up every day and making a thousand little decisions with a prayer in our hearts for the courage to throw off what keeps us down.

It’s terrifying, arduous work. And it’s worth every last moment of discomfort. (Ask me how I know!)

Why Should You Choose a Word of the Year?

I know that my entire experience with my Word of the Year is highly subjective. There were plenty of years where choosing one did absolutely nothing for me. It is hard to imagine the impact a simple Word of the Year generator can potentially have on your life, but the secret lies with your attitude.

A random word is not going to suddenly make your life better. It’s not a magic solution to all of your problems. A Word of the Year serves as a jumping-off point, a place to start when your goals and resolutions seem endless and overwhelming.

Much like the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, you can meditate and pray on your word when you need to recenter yourself. You can take your word to prayer with His Word and look for what your Heavenly Father has to say on the subject. Write those verses down and refer back to them when you need to recall the enormous, reckless love that God has for you. Find a saint who exemplifies your word and ask for their prayers. The possibilities are endless!

It’s tempting to view things like a Word of the Year as nothing more than a fashionable way to kick your New Year’s resolutions. Still, I promise that when viewed through the lenses of faith and prayer, having a Word of the Year can genuinely be an invaluable addition to your life this year and every year after. You only need to be brave enough to see what lies in store for you.

I’ll leave you with the words of C.S. Lewis that have hung above my desk this entire year:

“Courage, Dear Heart.”

One Comment

  • Claire Obenson

    Very inspiring post, it almost made me cry! I think you should share this with Jen Fulwiler.
    Very best in the new year, JuliaMarie and I look forward to reading more of your writing and seeing your graphic design work.

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