What I Learned: Fall

September - November

One of the practices I have most enjoyed this past year 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 fall!

1. During WWI more American women died in childbirth than American men died on the battlefield.

I learned this piece of information listening to this phenomenal talk by Jen Wilkin at the Advance 2017 conference. This talk about the vital role of women in the church was one of my favorites from this season.

2. Winston Churchill was a painter.

I don’t know why this surprised me so much, but I never would have pictured this brash, courageous world leader mixing paint colors in his spare time. He even wrote a book about his hobby titled Painting as a Pastime.

3. I really enjoy knitting.

After listening to this podcast episode and learning that Winston Churchill benefited from having a pastime, I decided to try my hand at knitting. So far I have successfully knitted 2.5 legwarmers, with quite a few horrendous mess-ups in between. I really enjoy it though, and it’s so fun to have something to do with my hands that isn’t directly related to any type of work.

4. When I have limited time to clean, I should choose something that makes the biggest difference to me.

I’d never really thought about it before, but there are different parts of my house that will drive me crazy if they are not clean and other parts that I could honestly care less about. For example, clutter on kitchen counters or our table makes my skin crawl, but a dirty bathroom sink doesn’t bother me as much. Ideally, both spaces would always be clean but that’s just not realistic. When time is limited, I can now choose to do the cleaning chore that matters most to me (or to my husband!) and will contribute to my sanity. My home isn’t necessarily any cleaner after learning this trick, but it sure feels better.

5. We are designed to feel and our emotions can be a way in which God speaks to us.

My natural inclination is to approach God intellectually, but I’ve started learning that God can use my emotions and feelings just as easily as he can use my thoughts and reasoning. I’m slowly introducing more emotional questions into my time with the Lord (reading my Bible, listening to sermons, etc.) like: how do I feel about this particular passage? Why do I feel this way? What do these feelings tell me about myself and the way I am approaching God?

6. When decorating a space it’s important to consider all five senses.

I loved this super simple tip from Myquillyn Smith’s Cozy Minimalist class. When I decorated for Christmas this year, I put this tip to good use playing music (sound), throwing extra cozy blankets on the couch (touch), diffusing essential oils (smell), making brownies and drinking sparkling grape juice (taste), and of course decorating in the traditional ways (sight.) It was SO FUN.

7. “...one form of superiority comes in the unwillingness to be served.”

This fall I read this short article by Amy Julia Becker about how Jesus let others serve him throughout scripture. I’m naturally bent toward independence and doing things on my own, but this season has been one where I’ve intentionally answered yes to many offers of help. From sweet women who came over to paint our new house for us to friends who brought dinner after I got into a car accident, receiving help from other people has allowed me to feel the love of God tangibly through their service. The moments of awkward humility (which are good for me in their own right!) are quickly eclipsed by love and gratitude.

8. “Szn” is an abbreviation of the word “season.”

I don’t know why the word “season” needs to be shortened, but at least now I know what “szn” means. Maybe I’m just an old crotchety grouch, but I’m not a fan of this abbreviation (haha!)

9. A surprising number of people take conspiracy theories very seriously.

Reply All is one of my all-time favorite podcasts to listen to when I want some fun entertainment and maybe to learn something new. This fall, I listened to several episodes (don’t ask me how many because I am ashamed) and learned about the complex world of conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate (which are strangely related.) I think they’re honestly fascinating, but I was surprised by just how many people take these things very seriously!

10. Pregnancy cravings are no joke.

I am ashamed to admit that when women talked about pregnancy cravings, I used to internally think they were probably no big deal. Then I got pregnant. After eating approximately 18 reese’s blizzards the past couple weeks and even storing emergency ones in my freezer for those times when DQ is closed, I now believe in the power and legitimacy of pregnancy cravings.

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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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What I Learned: Spring

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 spring!

1. All experiences - grief, joy, suffering - are object lessons for the glory of God

Over the last twelve weeks, I took part in a writing mentorship led by one of my favorite writers, Lore Wilbert. One of the most pivotal moments for me in the course was during a one-on-one call with Lore when she explained that all experiences - grief, joy, suffering - are object lessons for the glory of God. This changed how I view so many things in my life and encouraged me to begin this blog. I decided that if I have been given these experiences and the gift of writing, it is not for myself, but to be used for the glory of God, to build up the church, and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ. I learned so many other things in the course, but this was by far the most pivotal.

2. The difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy

Something I have been studying over the last few months after listening to this sermon from The Village Church is the difference between orthodoxy (right knowledge) and orthopraxy (right practice or action.) One of the things I have learned is that in scripture God reserves his harshest judgment for those with right belief and wrong practice - those who know what is right but don’t walk in it. This has challenged my thinking and how I practice faithfulness in my daily life, and having the language to describe these two ideas has been so helpful.

3. I can quit a book (and Audible will let me return it!)

In early March I started listening to this audiobook that turned out to be a terrible choice for the season I was in. It was nothing against the book or the writer; in fact, the reason I started listening was because of the raving reviews of a few writers whose book recommendations I really respect. However, it wasn’t for me in this season and that’s okay.

Before this, I had never quit a book without finishing it. It was a source of pride for me, that I could call myself a bonafide book-finisher. It turns out though, I can quit a book and be better for it. In fact, Audible let me return it no questions asked and I used the credit to buy a book that I am currently loving.

4. “Unity is easy if you don't care about holiness, and holiness is easy if you don't care about unity. But the Bible tells us we need both.” N T Wright (verbatim)

In April, Josiah and I had the incredible privilege of meeting, listening to, and even sharing several dinners with one of our favorite authors, N T Wright. At some point in the week, he shared this idea and I have been mulling it over ever since. So much of life is about tension and balance, holding two important things in your mind and heart at one time, and I am learning that unity and holiness fit into that category.

5. I don’t have to commit to a bad mood in order to validate it

I’m not sure when or how the bad mood started, but one evening I found myself irritable for no real reason. After about thirty minutes of being inexplicably angry at everything, I was feeling better, but I thought if I didn’t commit to my bad mood then it wouldn’t be validated. So I stayed mad. Until I realized I really didn’t have to. It seems so simple, and it is, but this realization has allowed me to move on from little bouts of irritation without dragging on for hours and making myself and everyone around me even more miserable.

6. How to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet

One of the most fun things I did this spring was host a family get together with my family and Josiah’s family. We ate pulled pork, baked beans, and this delicious cornbread made from a recipe that stole my heart because it comes straight from Disney World. I made it using my cast iron skillet and it was an instant favorite.

7. How to design and launch a blog

This spring I designed and launched a blog. It has been so exciting and scary and fun, and I can’t wait to continue publishing my writing in this space.

8. The psalms are the school of prayer

There have been many days over the last few months it has felt nearly impossible to pray. Grief and sadness felt overwhelming, and I was thankful for the psalms I could pray when my heart felt weak. Some of my favorites over the last few months have been Psalm 119:1-32; Psalm 143; and Psalm 23.

9. Sephora offers free makeovers and will match your skin tone with different foundations

The evidence of warmer days full of sunshine is a face full of freckles for yours truly. I love my freckles, I really do, but they make the already difficult process of finding a foundation that matches my skin even more of a struggle. As it turns out, Sephora has a wand that magically determines your skin tone and matches you with several foundation options. I just bought this foundation in the shade Birch 1.5 and I am so happy with the way it looks and feels!

10. This quote from Emily P. Freeman has been so helpful for when I am feeling overwhelmed by things that should bring me joy: “Pick what you like then see how it grows.”

One of the things I’ve noticed about grief is it makes even small decisions that should bring joy feel overwhelming to me sometimes. Over the last few months there were a few different situations - a day to myself to spend however I liked, picking out salsa at Walmart, choosing a new color of nail polish, etc - that could have been fun and exciting, but for some reason caused me to feel anxious. This short phrase (which Emily talks about here), “pick what you like then see how it grows,” simplifies what feels stressful in the moment, and brings joy back to fun decisions.

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