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 Unbrokenby 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?

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