“Wrap yourself in petals for armor…”

– Simmer, Hayley Williams

When you think about soldiers going into battle, you look for tough materials — steel, titanium, bronze, anything that looks like it can withstand anything. But is that the way to handle growing from trials? I’d say no.

The concept of Petals for Armor, Hayley Williams’ 2020 album, has defined my year in such a profound way. When you take petals off a flower, the flower is basically dying. Petals are delicate and beautiful but they can’t withstand attacks like the aforementioned materials. So what are petals for armor and what do they mean in this metaphor? Petals for armor, to me, means being completely honest with myself and God about the idea that my humanness—my anger, my sadness, my vulnerabilities—is a reality. The world tries to push the narrative is that we have to cloak ourselves in toughness, pretending to be ok and pretending we’re unaffected by the trials of this life. But that can too easily harden your heart and blind you to what needs to change.

Obviously no one was prepared for the literal turmoil of this year. We all made 2020 wishes and plans and sent them up believing they’d come to fruition. What we got was story after story of tragedy that confronted us with our very powerlessness as humans. Our bodies are finite and we’re not as good as we want everyone to believe we are. We are selfish and have unreliable hearts. Are we doomed to that? Kind of. But we’re called to be better every day. To grow into more loving people and be an encouragement to others. The question is: how do we get there? We have to confront ourselves honestly and wrap ourselves in our fallen petals. We have to look at our bruised hearts and egos, own up to the ways we’ve failed, and commit to change. Whether it’s letting yourself be sad and/or angry after a loss, admitting the ways you’ve perpetuated systemic oppression, or realizing you’re struggling with mental health and need help, putting yourself in that vulnerable position to understand your fallibility is the first step to true healing and growth.

We cannot heal by pretending there isn’t a problem. I’ve tried it in my own life and it doesn’t work. We have to sit with the ugly parts of ourselves and the ugly parts of this life as painful as it can be. Taking inventory of that opens the door to reorganizing and restoring. We fight the battle for our growth with armor made of fallen petals. And believe it or not, that’s beautiful.

Hayley Williams put her entire soul into this album and it shows. You can hear the raw emotions in her voice and it’s cathartic. This album speaks about pain, anger, sadness, relapsing, freedom, hope, and commitment to growing.

The first song that really hooked me was Dead Horse. This catchy song explicitly showcases anger after realizing you’ve really been wronged. Listening to this song the first time was hypnotizing. In more ways than one, this song hit me like a ton of bricks. When I listened to this song on repeat, I could hear myself angrily singing about my two biggest conflicts of the past two years and it spurred me to let myself be angry and later move on from them.

The opening track Simmer helped me realize that anger is not bad. It reveals what we value. In the second verse, Hayley sings “if I had seen my reflection as something more precious, he would’ve never.” The regretful way she sings that line cuts deep. Plus, this song is where we get the theme of the album Petals for Armor.

The songs Creepin’, Sudden Desire, and Why We Ever explain the pain of letting someone go. These songs hint at the struggle of realizing they’re not good for you and the ways you might’ve have self sabotaged in a relationship with them. In addition to the anger expressed in Dead Horse and Simmer, these songs talk about sadness and the temptation to return to something that is not good for you because of a sort of Stockholm syndrome. For me, acknowledging how all these emotions can be present was the most uncomfortable thing. Seriously, it sucks to be angry and sad about the way someone treated you and somehow still want them to make out with you again. But that’s when you have to listen to Dead Horse again and remind yourself that it wasn’t a healthy situation and you have to “beat it like a dead horse.”

Cinnamon, My Friend, Over Yet, Taken, and Sugar on the Rim are the turning points of the album thematically. This is when we start talking about hope. Cinnamon is a battle cry for realizing freedom. Like dance around your house or room where you’re feeling like yourself again. I love how My Friend is a love letter to friends that help you get through things. “You’ve seen me from every side, still down for the ride.” Like??? How sweet is it to hear a platonic love song? Let’s have more please. Similarly, Over Yet is a pump up anthem to pick yourself up and do the things that grow you in the right direction. I think Hayley made a workout video to this song which is iconic. Taken is a cute song about saying you’re off the market. Can’t relate yet but still a jam. Like a coffeehouse jazzy jam. Sugar on the Rim is like the reminder that fun exists by finding a silver lining in the pain you’ve encountered. Sonically, it’s such a unique arrangement it feels like a 70s/80s mix that you’d hear in the club.

Now, at the end of this year, the four songs from this album that are calling to me are Crystal Clear, Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris, Pure Love, and Watch Me While I Bloom. Yup, the two songs with garden metaphors. These are my self care songs now.

Crystal Clear to me sounds like the first step to committing to grow. There was a turning point late August of this year for me when I realized how far from myself I felt. I had realized how my job had brought out some really ugly sides to myself and I knew I had to keep my promise to myself about quitting my job before the end of the year. I spent the next few months searching and realizing I had a lot of inner work ahead of me. I couldn’t keep being afraid of the work it would take to be on the other side of this pain.

Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris is a beautiful love letter to femininity and how important it is to not compare yourself to other women. Having been in many situations where I’ve struggled with comparing myself with other women, this song is so powerful. I’m a different flower from other women and for people to compare our beauty doesn’t make sense. I will not let their comparisons take root in my heart anymore. Seriously, read or listen to these lyrics.

Pure Love is such an anthem for me understanding what love actually is. Especially in thinking about my relationship with God, it’s an invitation to be honest about how I feel so I can heal again.

Watch Me While I Bloom is exactly where I am right now. I’m figuring out how to set myself up for success not just for next year but for the rest of my life. To me, that means living a life full of love, music, and growing in the right direction as best as I can. It feels so good “to be in my body again” and “not to have to pretend.” I look forward to blooming. I have more to say about that for my 2021 word of the year, write up coming soon.

So, 2020 (and 2018-2019) — y’all were painful as heck for me. But I learned a lot that will undoubtedly come in handy later. Thankful for all the good, bad, and ugly but excited to move on. Dancing into this next chapter with a suitcase full of lessons and memories.

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