For years I’ve been engaging in a practice of looking back before moving ahead. It started as a a post I shared at the end of every month and then transitioned to every season.
We are doing our best around here, setting the intention to engage in reflection while also realizing we are all, in a way, relearning how to be people in the midst of countless transitions, questions, and reconsiderations.
Once per quarter I share my in-process considerations, not necessarily fully worked out narratives. You’re invited in on the journey. I reserve the right to change my mind.
Here are 8 things I’m learning in no particular order.
1. Kids will always need their parents.
Our kids are 17, 17, and 14 now and we are officially in the thick of the teenage years. Their needs are nuanced, sometimes confusing, and often hidden. But they need us every bit as much now as they did when they were toddlers. We’re learning how to show up for them without a playbook, a rulebook, or (sometimes) a clue.
2. Early Christmas shopping is the best thing ever.
Because we weren’t as busy this holiday season as we have been in years past, I did most of our Christmas shopping in November this year. All of the organized humans of the world have been telling us this secret since the dawn of time but I finally learned it for myself. Choosing gifts is much more fun when you aren’t in a hurry.
3. Time with my sister is essential.
Speaking of time, my sister and I prioritized time together this winter and it shows. She only lives a little over an hour away, but because of the pandemic we only saw each other three times in 2020 and all of those times were short, social distanced, and around other people.
For a couple of days in the last few months we finally had some time, just the two of us. We ate good food and I cried deep tears and all was right with the world again.
I am more myself after I spend time with her. Little sisters will always need their big sisters.
4. “Quiet isn’t always peace.”
These words from Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem helped me to discern an area in our life where we were remaining quiet and calling it peace. But in fact our silence was contributing to our lack of peace.
I’m grateful for the poets who use their words and help us to find our own.
5. I love gas fire logs.
This feels like a confession.
We’ve always had a wood burning fireplace and turned our noses up at the gas logs.
We’re not like those people who just turn a knob and have fire. We have to work for it! Bring in the wood and stoke the flames and hope it catches!
And then we stayed at a house with gas logs for a few weeks while we were doing some renovations and now we will never go back.
You just turn a knob and have instant fire! No chapped lips or cold rooms in the rest of the house!
6. I’m learning to trust my intuition.
Not at the expense of everything else and not intuition all by itself. But I’ve lived most of my life suspicious of myself and this has been a season of calling myself out on that, of paying attention to the knot in my stomach, and of moving toward what I know is right even though people around me might disagree.
7. Choosing a word for the year gives everything a frame.
I’ve not always been a word of the year person. But last year I chose the word Welcome as my word and let me just tell you: that word was a lifeline in the middle of the pandemic when everything in me wanted to reject what was happening around us.
Instead, God invited me (through my word of the year) to have a different posture toward unwanted circumstances, challenging me to welcome them instead.
We’re only a few months into this new year but already I can tell the same will happen this year.
Pro tip: if you haven’t chosen a word for the year, it’s never too late! I even think it could be helpful to choose a new word every season. This is a great time for that.
8. Water is healing, starting with our tears.
I have cried more in the last 12 months than perhaps my whole life combined. This is not an exaggeration. There was a stretch of months where I cried every single day, multiple times a day. I cried so much I thought it might be changing the actual look of my face (this is also not an exaggeration.)
It got to the point where I wished there was a new way to grieve that didn’t involve tears, like jumping or standing on our heads or taking spontaneous flight. But over time I’m learning that God knows what he’s doing, and he designed our bodies to produce healing waters that come from our eyes, the window to our souls. And they fall one drop at a time.
This is what I know: Though the days of the old school blog link up are past, I still love having a community of people who value the art of reflection. Now we have a Guided Journal dedicated to this important practice. If you don’t have a copy yet, the beginning of a season is a good time to start. I’m always glad you’re here.
For the last several years, I’ve been writing down the titles of books I finish. Then, at the end of the year, I pick 10 favorites and make a list for you here. I’ll include the last six years at the bottom of the post. These are not books released in 2020, but ones I read in 2020. So many great books!
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich
I’ve been reading Sean Dietrich’s work online for years on his website Sean of the South and I’ve always loved his writing. But to sit down with a whole book of his is next level. This is the story of his life, the story he said he would never tell. I was hooked from the first line. I read the hardcover copy but his southern accent drips with story so if you’re into audio books this might be one to listen to the audible sample online before you decide which version to read.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett [Audiobook]
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight
Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison
Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level by Laura Tremaine
The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s by Andy Greene [Audio Book]
Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
One: Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs
Finally finally finally I finished my friend Deidra’s book this summer. I started it years ago but never finished it for who knows why. But this summer I just wanted to hear from her. I wanted to lean in closer and hear her wisdom and I’m so glad I did. I’m grateful she took the time to write all of this down. The feeling I had had at the end was hope, gratitude, and a profound longing for God who is and how, at this very moment, God is in the business of making all things new.
As you make your own lists of books to read in 2021, perhaps you’ll add a few of my favorites into the mix. To give you more to choose from, I’ll include my 10 favorite books from the past six years.
If you would like to receive a monthly list of the books I’m reading, enter your name below and you’ll receive my most recent letter on the last day of every month. Happy reading!
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My Top 10 Favorite Books From Years Past:
For years I’ve been engaging in a practice of looking back before moving ahead. It started as a a post I shared at the end of every month and then transitioned to every season. We are doing our best around here, setting the intention to engage in reflection while also realizing we are all, in a way, relearning how to be people in the midst of countless transitions, questions, and reconsiderations.
This is the place once per quarter where I share my in-process considerations, not necessarily fully worked out narratives. You’re invited in on the journey. I reserve the right to change my mind.
Here are 8 things I’m learning in no particular order (some links used are affiliate links):
1. Eating out is a luxury and a gift.
It actually always has been a luxury and a gift, but this pandemic has taught me just how much. I used to take for granted the fact that we could forgo our at-home dinner plans and grab something out. Now, eating out is a rarity (Are they open? Do they have outdoor seating? Do they only do carry out?)
One of our favorite local places has outdoor seating and we took full advantage a couple of times this fall. A gift, every minute.
2. We need leaders who have a well-developed emotional intelligence.
A year ago I would have told you I am a fairly grounded person – integrated mind, body, spirit. But I’m here to tell you after this year I have a lot to learn about being at home in my body, about respecting my own intuition and emotional intelligence.
Take decision-making, for example. If we have a decision to make, most would encourage us to make a list, weigh pros and cons, find clarity of thought. When people make decisions they regret, we often say they “weren’t thinking straight” or “acted emotionally” — all negative connotations.
What about relational intelligence? Emotional maturity? Intuitive decision-making? Imagination and sensing?
Thinking is one form of intelligence, but it isn’t the only form. It’s good and needed but it also isn’t isolated. We need the heart and the body, too.
I’m not just making this up: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
It doesn’t say Love the Lord your God with all your thinking.
There is a kind of intelligence that moves beyond books, beyond test scores, beneath impressive resumes. Emotional intelligence is often overlooked or discounted (see: how we disqualify it by calling it “emotional” intelligence. As if regular intelligence doesn’t automatically include emotion.)
3. We belong to another King and another Kingdom.
With the US Presidential election now behind us, I’ve done a fair amount of reflecting about power, control, justice, and our longing to belong. Maybe you’ve done this, too.
I keep coming back to Kingdom language, and not in a condescending, dismissive kind of way we can sometimes see on the Internet ie: God is on the throne! (Yes, God is on the throne but God wasn’t on the ballot. We had to make a choice.)
More, I’m considering all the ways throughout history that people have wanted the benefits of the Kingdom (belonging, security, value, shalom) without the presence of the King.
4. Honor > Shame.
An obvious statement, it would seem. But one I have to keep learning. This has been a season of a lot of sadness for me personally. I’ve been tempted to carry some shame about that but I keep coming back to the true reality that no one has ever been shamed into freedom.
I’m doing my own work to honor the space I need for reflection, prayer, and healing. If you’re carrying sadness this season, I hope you’ll learn to do the same. I’m practicing this posture of honoring God by honoring the way God has made me to be in the world.
This is not easy, but it feels right.
5. We really needed the Pearsons this Fall.
This Is Us is one of a very few shows our whole family watches together and you guys. We’ve never needed Jack, Rebecca, and The Big Three like we did this season. (Not to mention everyone’s favorite Beth and Randall.)
6. Our five senses have a lot to teach us.
In September I hosted a five week series on our five senses on The Next Right Thing Podcast and loved every minute of it. What a rich experience it was for me to pay attention to details that often go overlooked! If you missed it, here are all 5 episodes in one place:
- Start With Your Senses
- At Home (with Myquillyn Smith)
- When You’re Feeling Stuck
- When You’re Afraid
- Life With God
7. Growth happens outside your comfort zone.
This is not original to me, but it’s a phrase I keep repeating to myself this year. You might be nodding your head along with me, then I must be growing a LOT! When was the last time I was in my comfort zone?! I’ve been growing. And also grieving. You too?
8. Nail polish is for grown ups.
I’ve confessed before that I only wear black and white polish – usually white in summer, black in winter. The end. But during these quarantine times, I jumped on the Olive & June bandwagon just for kicks and found I enjoy the weekend routine of nail care. Who am I?! For me, the polish is great but I’m obsessed with the tools. Here’s a link to try them out! (That’s an affiliate link so I can get a free polish if you use it thank you for your service.)
This is what I know: Though the days of the old school blog link up are past, I still love having a community of people who value the art of reflection. Starting in January we’ll have a journal to use together (!!) but for now, I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments below or on Instagram using #wwlcommunity. I’m always glad you’re here.
For years I’ve been engaging in a practice of looking back before moving ahead. It started as a a post I shared at the end of every month and then transitioned to every season.
In the spirit of simplifying my online life, one change I’m making to this quarterly rhythm is I’m no longer going to be including the link up at the bottom of these posts.
I know there is a small community of you who still love to link your posts up and I have plans to find a more collaborative way for us to share what we’re learning in the months to come.
But in this time of transition, I still invite you to keep track of what you’re learning and share it in your own spaces as I trust you have done and will continue to do.
We are doing our best around here, setting the intention to engage inn reflection while also realizing we are all, in a way, relearning how to be people in the midst of countless transitions, questions, and reconsiderations.
Here are 10 things I’m learning in no particular order:
1. Guacamole is a magical food.
It’s just avacado, tomato, red onion, cilantro, kosher salt, pepper, and lime juice. Why then, pray-tell, when you put them all together do they create a combination of perfection? And why did it take me so long to start making it at home? We will never be the same again ever.
2. Mitchelville, SC housed the first self-governing community of freed slaves during the Civil War.
Months before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, this small area of Hilton Head Island was home to formerly enslaved people who created a thriving community together. They did so well that Harriet Tubman herself traveled there to learn how they might be able to duplicate these efforts in other communities.
According to this BBC article, “They were able to buy land, vote, farm for wages, and grow sweet potatoes and greens which provided vital supplements to their diets.There were elected officials, taxes, street cleaners, stores selling household goods, and crucially, compulsory education for children aged six to fifteen – the first law of its kind in South Carolina.”
This history is remarkable all by itself but even more? We’ve been visiting Hilton Head Island for over twenty years and I never knew this part of history.
My days of not knowing Black history are past and so while we were on the island in July, John and I drove up to learn what we could about these resilient people and their lives in Mitchelville on Hilton Head more than 150 years ago.
3. Not being racist is not the same as being anti-racist.
It’s been said a lot over the past three months, but there is a difference between being not racist and being anti-racist.
With gratitude to Dr. Lucretia Berry and her team at Brownicity, John and I are learning what that means specifically; for us, our family, and the way we move through the world. Black lives, families, hopes, history, and futures matter.
4. My first book got a new cover!
This isn’t so much something I learned as it is something that happened.
But two things I did learn is (1) when they recover an already existing book, you have to go through the cover process all over again. Which is kind of fun and also weird because you wrote that book 10 years ago. And (2) when you recover an existing book, all of the online retailers get extremely confused and the new cover version is hard to find.
But alas! Here she is.
5. “Supposed to be” no longer has any meaning.
“I was supposed to be in London right now . . . “
“We were supposed to be at a family reunion this weekend . . . “
“School was supposed to start last week . . . “
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2020 it’s that control is in fact exactly what they have always said: an illusion. To control, coerce, and manipulate is not our job (and if it was we’d be fired from it anyway.) Instead, we adapt, accept, acknowledge what we need to let go, and continue to do the next right thing.
6. The kingdom of God is most evident to me in the sacred overlap.
It’s that middle space where two separate circles come together. It’s the part they have in common, the middling part. J.R. Briggs wrote a book called The Sacred Overlap (I endorsed and recommend it!) and I found his words to be a ray of light in the midst of the heaviest fog.
When we’re afraid, either/or becomes our default mode as we seek to assuage the pain of uncertainty. Love is where we live between the extremes, not in the mushy middle.J.R. Briggs, The Sacred Overlap
7. Things can change quickly.
In late March, I remember saying out loud to someone “I wonder if years from now we will be shopping for cute masks at real places like Anthropologie!”
That idea seemed so foreign and far away. And then April came. Normal can change to super weird fast. But that means it can also change again.
Things will not always be the way they are now. From pandemics that pass (history says so) to kindergartners who grow (history tells us this too) we are ever changing, growing, and learning.
8. When in doubt, love.
In the midst of the rioting, the anger, the injustice, and confusion of this summer, I read this post by my friend Kaitlin – and it reminded me of the power of love.
In the midst of my daily parenting, inability to answer my kids hard questions, and regular mess ups – I’m reminded of the power of love.
In the midst of not knowing what the next literal minute will hold and not knowing if we’re doing this whole thing right – I’m reminded of the power, the call, the invitation to love.
Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
9. Trader Joes chocolate croissants are the easiest way to have a fancy breakfast.
How to make them:
- Buy them in a pack of four in the frozen section at Trader Joes.
- Set them on a baking sheet the night before.
- Go to bed.
- Wake up.
- Marvel at how big they got overnight.
- Put them in the oven.
- Take them out and impress your family.
10. Struggle reveals what is true.
He is the best man I know. During this time of quarantine, personal heartbreak, loss among those in our close community, and the struggles of daily life, John continues to be the one. I like him and I love him. He sees me and I’m grateful. I didn’t learn this for the first time this summer, but I’ve learned it in a new way.
This is what I know: Though the days of the old school blog link up are past, I still love having a community of people who value the art of reflection. I’m working on ways to make this practice a more communal one in the coming months, but for now, I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments below or on Instagram using #wwlcommunity. I’m always glad you’re here.
“When you sing your sad songs, I will learn the words and sing along.”
– Ellie Holcomb
There are a thousand things we should have learned in school but didn’t. Here I’ll name six:
1 – How to be a true leader
2 – How to handle fame and attention
Musicians, high school quarterbacks, pastors, award winners, public servants, politicians, teenagers on social media — so many in the spotlight don’t know how to deal.
3 – How to properly eat dessert
It’s with a fork, not a spoon. Do not come at me with “What about ice cream?!” Ice cream is fine. It’s the cakes, the pies, the brownie sundaes. Why are y’all using spoons for this? Don’t answer that.
4 – How to be anti-racist
5 – How to listen without an agenda
6 – How to be a friend to someone who is suffering
In Psalms of lament, at least four things are present in some form: a prayer crying out to God, an honest complaint, a request, and a vow of praise or confidence.
Let’s don’t rush through the first part to get to the last. And by all means, never rush someone else through the first part, either.
I have a lot to learn about healthy lament. So far, 2020 has been a relentless and dedicated teacher.
One thing I’m trying to do well is to listen when others sing their sad songs, to learn the words, and try to sing along.
Welcome to What We Learned, a quarterly practice where we pause to reflect on the past season before we move ahead into the future. “It’s not the experience that brings transformation,”says author and teacher Jan Johnson, “it’s our reflection upon our experience.”
If that’s true (and I’m convinced it is) then it’s vital we establish intentional time to reflect on our lives. Reflection is part of my daily and weekly routine, but once a quarter I like to share some of my list and invite you to share yours. Note: Where books are shared, affiliate links are used.
I spent the first week of this season in California but every week after that, like many of you, has been spent under Stay-At-Home orders in North Carolina. Suffice it to say, these last three months will take some time to unpack. But partial reflection still counts so here are 10 things I learned this spring in no particular order:
1. Sidecar Doughnuts makes the best doughnut I have ever had.
On March 6, 2020 I was in Southern California on the last day of the last trip I took before the Stay-At-Home orders were in place and I tasted a Sidecar Doughnut for the first time. This pandemical situation has distracted me from this memory which I have now brought forth and is yet another reason why I’m so grateful for the spiritual discipline of reflection. Because behold:
This I think is the blueberry one but the one I had: You guys it was the Butter & Salt. A BUTTER AND SALT DOUGHNUT. How did they make two regular ingredients that we all have in our kitchens into a miracle food?
2. Starting again doesn’t have to mean starting over.
No matter how long you’ve been away, no matter how far it seems you’ve traveled from the routine or rhythm you once practiced, it’s always only one step back to find the life again. I’ve had to remind myself of this truth over and over again this spring.
3. Fifteen minutes of reading in the morning goes a long way.
This spring I’ve finished Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich, Searching For Certainty by Shelly Miller, and Life Without Lack by Dallas Willard — mostly by reading with a timer for just 15 minutes in the mornings.
4. I will never regret hanging the hammock chair.
It’s one of those things that looks really good in a magazine photo but when you get it in your house you realize you don’t know where to put a hammock chair, how to hang it, or what to do with your life. But then, when you have to stay home for two months straight, you figure it out. (And by “you” I mean “John” but you could, too. I believe in you.)
5. Working from home during a pandemic is not the same as working from home during not a pandemic.
Of course that seems obvious when you say it, but in practice I had an expectation of myself to thrive during these stay at home times because I know how to do this. But turns out, none of us knows how to do this. And that’s okay. I talked about this on my friend Laura Tremaine’s podcast (you can listen to that episode here).
6. Zoom is the worst but also the best.
One of my personal goals at the end of February was have less Zoom meetings. Funny, right? I’ve been learning how to lead a remote team for a few years now, but things seem to have ramped up over the last six months as our hope*writers team has doubled, then doubled again. Even though these one dimensional meetings take double the energy, I’m grateful we have a way to do business and life via the screen.
7. It’s rod iron fence, not rot iron fence EMILY.
Every now and then I’ll share about a word I learn I’ve been saying wrong for my whole life. Thank you, Shelly Miller, for writing this in your book for me to read and finally learn this one. Rot iron?! What does that even mean? [Edited to add: The people have spoken and I have heard from eleventy hundred people that the word is, in fact, wrought iron. And now my head has exploded the end.]
8. Having a good system is not equal to living a good life.
What was good for yesterday may not be good for today and blanket solutions aren’t always ideal. My next right thing may be different than my last right thing. This was a relief to talk myself through (you can listen in on that conversation here for twelve and a half minutes).
9. Together from a distance is better than apart.
My parents came on my birthday at the end of April and we hadn’t seen them in months. We kept a safe distance and that made it difficult and frustrating and sad. But it was better than being apart.
10. It will not always be this way.
I keep learning this over and over again, but this spring this statement has been both a comfort and a grief. We’re in the middle of a pandemic: it will not always be this way. My teenagers are home: it will not always be this way. I’m tired, a little lonely, and sad. It will not always be this way.
Now it’s your turn. What’s something you’ve learned this season?