One of the ways I intentionally practice appreciating the beautiful but so-very-ordinary stuff of real life and regular days is by keeping track of what I’m learning.
Truthfully, I’m still figuring out what exactly I’m learning in the midst of *waves hands around* all of this.
I wrestled with making and sharing this list. I’ve only just begun to process the last few months, and as I re-read the Winter list posted in February, I couldn’t help but think oh girl, you don’t know what you don’t know. Bless your heart, the entire world is about to change.
Putting words to, well, anything right now feels just about impossible. But I’m going to try anyway because one day, I just might be grateful to be able to look back and remember.
My friend Emily is the mastermind behind the simple yet meaningful “What I Learned” list-making practice. Since 2016, I’ve joined her by jotting down notes of the small, the sacred, the silly, and everything in between.
More than anything else, this helps me pay attention to what’s happening around me, what’s happening within me, and what surprises me along the way. Even, apparently, in a pandemic.
Seven Things I Learned This Spring:
1. There’s a reason this doesn’t feel right: we weren’t made for this.
I know it’s a little different for those who have a spouse or children, but for me, every conversation now happens through a screen. Texts. FaceTime. Bible Study. Church. Everything related to my job.
I’m incredibly grateful to still have a job, but I’ve learned that although my work hasn’t drastically changed, the rest of my life has and therefore, I have.
Anything that requires creativity takes, at a minimum, double the amount of time. Blog posts? Instagram captions? Preparing for book launch teams? Graphic design? Basically every aspect of my job? It’s all so very tiring. There’s a much higher creative tax to pay in both emotional energy and time.
My capacity is different, and for someone who self-identifies as an Enneagram 2 (super relationship-oriented + deeply feels the feelings of other people), the world feels heavy. Not dark, but heavy. I terribly miss my people. If I think about my church I tear up immediately. The amount of money I would pay for a hug from my closest friends is a bit ridiculous. And yet, even though all of that is true . . .
2. There’s something oddly comforting in knowing we’re all — the entire world — in this together.
3. The lens I choose to look through can make all the difference.
As always, I only barely understood what my word of the year would mean. And as always, God knew. My word for 2020 is “see” (you can read more about that here). It’s ordinary and unspectacular, but somehow it turns weeds into beauty. From March 24:
This is going to sound cliché, but it’s honestly the thing anchoring me right now so I’ll offer it anyway: I am so grateful that God doesn’t change, that He isn’t surprised or panicked, and that the world is securely in His hands.
(One of my small groups is currently studying Psalm 91. Verse 3 describes God as a refuge in the midst of a sudden, deadly disease so HOW’S THAT for timing.)
I’m a slow processor. I don’t know when (or if) I’ll wrap words around all that’s happening. But I’ve been thinking, listening, praying, and washing my hands. I’m paying attention, and this is what I see:
– Neighbors leaving toilet paper at doorsteps
– Strangers sharing resources, tips and courses
– Church in living rooms across the nation
– Companies taking care of their employees, not the bottom line
– Singles staying home, completely alone, to protect their neighbors
– Families figuring out a new normal, practicing patience moment by moment
– Health care professionals tirelessly working to fight for and care for our loved ones
I see beauty. I see a sense of together-ness that feels a little like I imagine the early church in Acts, a community sharing burdens and giving sacrificially out of love.
There’s loss and disappointment and fear and worry. It’s all there. I know it, see it, and feel it. But faith, hope and love are there too. And in the coming days, I want to be even more mindful of where I look and what I look for.
4. The ministry of cake delivery is a real thing.
I’ve made Amy Hannon’s strawberry cake three times this Spring. Once to enjoy at home, once to surprise Bible Study friends (doorstop deliveries from a distance), and once for the family lunch after my grandfather’s funeral.
Listen. I’m just here to tell you that Amy has given the world a gift in the form of this cake and its strawberry buttercream frosting. The glaze is great too, but again: strawberry buttercream frosting. (Cake and glaze recipe in her cookbook. Frosting recipe on her website.)
5. Sometimes doing the best you can and trying to find joy looks like putting up a Christmas tree in April.
I did take the tree down. I promise. And then in mid-March, when I realized I absolutely wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, I considered putting the tree back up. No decorations, no ornaments, no Christmas music, just . . . light. In the darkness and in the silence.
I held out. Really, I did. For two more weeks.
And then on April 3rd, during Holy Week, I posted this to Instagram:
How does it go again? The best way to spread quarantine cheer is by putting up a tree for all to see . . . (through the window, of course, because #shelterinplace)
It’s May now — nearly June — and for the first (and very likely the only) time in my life, the Christmas tree is up. Again.
The silent nights are just a little bit brighter.
6. Our legacy comes from how we live in the dash in between.
My grandfather passed away this Spring. There are two years written on his gravestone, but the years in the middle? The time in between? That’s what we’ll remember. That’s what lives on.
7. Mercy is full of surprises.
In September, my church began studying and slowly walking through Philippians verse by verse. We arrived in 4:4-7 right before Easter.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
A couple weeks later, I wrote a post inspired by these verses and the life of Joshua. It turns out, they hold up in a global pandemic.
I didn’t know in September that when we arrived in Philippians 4, the world would feel turned upside down and we’d gather as a community via video, the chairs sitting empty on Easter morning.
But God knew. And those words? They hold up in a cemetery too.
I shared the backstory in my newsletter a few days after the service, and last week I posted part of the story on Instagram — so if you follow along either place, this isn’t new. But I think when I look back on the larger global story of 2020, I’ll see this personal storyline woven through. From September to Eastertide to writing in pajamas on a Saturday to wearing a black dress in a graveyard on a Friday.
I already knew that God knew, but Mercy surprised me in a new way. I don’t want to forget. From Instagram:
Mom asked if I wanted to say anything at the funeral and I immediately said “no thank you.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through a single sentence. Friday morning, before zipping up my black dress, I re-read my (in)courage post. I had turned it in 3 weeks earlier, just before mom got the “you need to come” call.
“My post goes live tomorrow, mom, and you may want tissues nearby. It’s not exact because I didn’t write it for this situation, but it’s kind of crazy how it fits.”
“Will you read it at the funeral?” Deep breath. “Okay.”
For the record, I was right: I did not make it through in one piece. (Understatement of the year.)
Everything was okay(ish) until this part: Jesus, You wept over the death of a friend, even though You knew the story wasn’t over. And so Lord, You understand our hurting hearts. We bring them to You, asking for strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
Before the words were published online, they were read in a cemetery. With the wind blowing and tears falling and God watching, I held the words in my shaking hands and I gave them back to the One who always knew.
It was very far from perfect, poised, or put together. But it was true. It was love. It was legacy.
And it was a gift from the One who sees us and weeps with us, even as He keeps His promise to make all things new. He’s enough. And my gosh, He is so kind.
May Mercy surprise you today, and may you see in some small way how He sees you in all ways. He already knows, and so we’re never walking alone.