What I Learned: Summer

June - August

One of the practices I have most enjoyed over the last few months has been keeping track of what I am learning. The idea came from this post by Emily P. Freeman, and I’ve found that the discipline of writing down the things I am learning as I learn them has encouraged me to pay closer attention to my life. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned this summer!

1. It's natural to distort memories

In June I listened to this podcast episode in which Dr. van der Kolk talked about the nature of trauma and how trauma is experienced bodily. This was something I thought was so incredibly profound - that the nature of trauma is that the brain doesn't allow for a story to be created. He said, "Memories are never precise recollections, but in general, as we move through the world, memories become integrated and transformed into stories that help us make sense. But in the case of traumatic memories, they’re not integrated, and they’re not even really remembered as much as they’re relived."

2. There were Girl Guide (similar to Girl Scout) troops in concentration camps in WWII

During WWII, when Japan occupied China, American and European children living in China (many were missionaries’ kids attending boarding school) spent years at a concentration camp guarded by Japanese soldiers. The Girl Guide troop leaders were able to use songs, games, and manners to help the kids feel a sense of normalcy during their internment. I learned about this incredible piece of history by listening to this podcast episode where you get to listen to the story from one of the Girl Guides who was there.

3. Succulents need two teaspoons of water per week

Turns out keeping a plant alive can be part science. My brown thumb and not-dead-yet succulents thank the internet for this tip.

4. Minorities often experience a type of double-fear when something terrible happens

This is an odd one to find a home on this list, but I think it bears mentioning. I read a book this summer titled A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. It was beautiful, stirring, and gave me the amazing gift of increased empathy. This book is about an Indian-American Muslim family, their joys and sorrows, and the intricacies of their family dynamics throughout the years. It is heartwrenching and beautiful and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There is one moment in the book in which this family watches the news of the 9/11 attacks. The family stays home, paralyzed by fear like most of our country was. Then, one of the main characters expresses her fear and dread, praying that the terrorists were not muslims. The next day, the father will not allow his daughters to wear hijab out of fear for their safety. This is the double-fear I do not think I was ever consciously aware of, a fear for national security and a fear for familial safety following something like this. When I learned of the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, something that shocked and saddened me and millions of others around the country who had been praying for her safe return home, the headline ran that her murderer was an illegal immigrant. I felt a pain in my chest  then not just for her family, but for other families who will feel this fear on top of the fear we all feel.

5. Recipes always take twice as long to make as I think they will

This summer I cooked from scratch more than usual (which is to say I made approximately 5 food items from scratch and can count that as "more than usual" because my baseline was 0.) Here is what I learned. 1) Food is amazing and delicious and can be so calming to cook. 2) Recipes always take twice as long as I think. Always. It's science. Maybe it's because I'm not a fast vegetable chopper or because I double check the recipe five million times before committing to pouring my liquid ingredients into my solid ingredients because I *just need to be sure.* Whatever it is, I've learned to start doubling the time in my head so my expectations are met and I don't get too hangry.

6. Free trials are great if you put them on your calendar

Listen. I know that free trials exist because in 30 days, I'll forget about them and the company will be happily charging my card for the next 20 years. I had committed to not falling into that marketing trap for years until I realized something - I can put those trials on my calendar. With some trials, you can cancel immediately and the company will still let you enjoy your month of free bliss, BUT for those that don't allow me that option, Google Calendar is your friend. Now I have dates with "Cancel your ____ subscription!" on my calendar and it's been so wonderful trying all the new things. (Other tips: set up your subscription with an empty pre-paid card. Google "how to cancel my ______ subscription" when you can't quite find the right link. Set up your calendar alert on the day BEFORE your subscription will renew.)

7. I like dotted notebooks better than lined notebooks

When I filled up my lined moleskine, I opted for a dotted notebook instead of my usual lined go-to. It has been SO FUN. The dots are there as a guide, but I have all this freedom to doodle or keep my notes in a hierarchical format that is uniform and clean. I'm definitely a fan.

8. Kindle Cloud Reader exists

Did you know you can read Kindle books without owning a Kindle? You probably did because I am super late to this party, BUT GUYS. Kindle Cloud Reader is amazing. I can read books on my computer. I can score with those awesome Kindle book deals that Ann Bogel mentions on her site (check that out here.) I'm still a firm believer in paper books, but for those times when I have my phone or computer handy, but not a book, it's been a game changer.

9. People are uncomfortable with grief

Most of the posts on my blog mention grief in some form or another, and this summer an article I wrote about grief was published by Fathom Magazine. I’ve had so many people send me encouraging notes and messages on social media about my posts, but I’ve also had a few people lovingly (I think. I hope. I choose to believe.) say things like, “have you considered writing about something else, something happier?” or “I’m worried you’re going a little too deep into talking about your grief.” For each of these types of comments, I’ve received half a dozen people saying they had no idea someone else felt the same way or they felt like I had given them permission to grieve their own loss. *That* is why I choose to write about grief.  I’m hoping to write a full post about this soon, but I didn’t realize just how controversial a topic grief could be, and I think it’s controversial because it makes us feel so uncomfortable.

10. Most nail polishes contain formaldehyde

I am not one of those people who only bathes in essential oils and hasn’t washed her hair in 9 months. (If that’s you, that’s awesome! Go you! But it’s not me.) When I found out some of the ingredients in almost all nail polishes, I was shocked, but not quite shocked enough to swear off nail polish forever (because it’s cute guys.) The solution? Zoya nail polish from Amazon! I ordered this set of 4 nude colors. It’s free of the icky ingredients in most nail polishes, comes in cute colors, is not ridiculously expensive (amen), and arrives in 2 days with prime shipping. What’s not to love? (PS this is not an ad. I just really like this polish and I also like that it’s not poisoning me slowly through my overgrown cuticles.)

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A Letter to My Husband on Our First Anniversary

Dear Husband,

I wanted to write you a love letter with timeless words and meaningful sentiments for our one year anniversary. Instead, I could think only of your hands, your long fingers and bitten nails, the way the top is tanned dark and your palm is pink with creased lines. A few days ago, those hands held a dirty rag and cleaning supplies while you cleaned our whole house top to bottom as a surprise for me. You said it was cathartic to use your hands to make our house shine after a full morning of staring at a computer screen putting words together into sentences and thoughts and paragraphs.

Over two years ago your hands held a tiny black box with a ring hidden safely inside. They shook as you bent down on one knee and held that ring up to me, asking me if I would marry you. Do you know that was the easiest, “yes” of my life? I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t have to think. My answer was and is forever, “Yes.”

For months before we were married your hands tapped out text messages to me while I was at school. Even 250 miles away, your hands found ways of comforting me. On a warm August day, I stepped into a white dress, my hair curled and my makeup done, and I waited. When I saw you, I wanted to fall into your arms and never leave. I wanted to whisper all the things I love about you into your ear and watch you smile. I wanted your laugh to be the soundtrack I listened to for the rest of my life. When we said our vows, I tried to memorize the moment, not wanting to forget how the sun shone brightly on your dark hair and glinted off the new ring on your finger.

People ask me what it is like to be married to you and I want to answer it is like a dream. Every night that I fall asleep curled next to your warm body in a bed we share, I can’t help but think about what a gift you are to me. Every morning that I wake up and you are there beside me, sleep still in your eyes and your hair a morning mess, I feel as though I am waking up to a dream.

People say we are still in the honeymoon phase and have yet to experience what marriage is truly like. It is always spoken like a low warning, as if our joy and love is a threat because our marriage is less than a year old. Sometimes I wonder if they would change their minds if they had been with us on those long nights when your hands rubbed the small of my back while I cried into your chest. I wonder if they would try to stuff the words back into their mouths if they had stood beside us at the funerals we attended, if their eyes found the grave mud still on my shoes kicked off at our front door. When I say that being married to you is like a dream, it is not because we are unfamiliar with what it is like to live in a nightmare.

Our love is young, but it is not untested. At night in the darkness of our bedroom your hand always finds mine and you pray for us, your voice as soft as a lullaby. On weekends when you stand on a platform with lights shining in your eyes and the members of our church gathered in seats to hear, that same hand curls around your bible as you preach. You are a man who is as faithful in the quiet and the dark as you are in the spotlight on a stage, and this is something for which I am more thankful than you know.

When we are home, you slip your hand into mine while we sit beside each other. Your fingers are calloused from the strings on your guitar and I think about how you fill our home with music. With you, each moment is its own verse and bridge and chorus. Sometimes you sing quietly along with the music and I hold it in my heart like a secret, the way your voice lingers in the room even after you’ve stopped singing, as if the walls are still listening.

Your hands fit you. Your hands are big like your joyful laugh and the way you love people in a way that is larger-than-life. Your hands are soft like the way you speak to me after a long day, or the way you tear up at every sad scene of a movie. Your hands are warm like your smile and the way you invite people into friendship so easily and naturally.

I stand next to you and your hand finds mine just like your laugh found me and your soft voice found me and your smile and friendship found me. You pull me out of myself and make me better. You serve me tirelessly and encourage me without complaint. You are my counterbalance, the hand I find in the middle of the night when I am afraid.

We’ve now been married for a year and every moment feels sacred. I don’t ever want to forget that. I don’t ever want to forget how our hands, just like our lives, fit together perfectly. I am grateful that we found each other, that one night the Lord deemed it good and right for us to reach out, look each other in the eyes, and fit our hands together. I pray, even if it is a foolish prayer, that we will always have each others’ hands to hold.

With Love,

Your Wife

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from  Be Light Photography .  You can view the rest of our wedding gallery  here!

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from Be Light Photography.

You can view the rest of our wedding gallery here!