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.
My friend Emily is the mastermind behind this simple but meaningful 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.
Seven Things I Learned This Winter:
1. Cozy looks like the lights of a Christmas tree shining on a February morning.
This picture was taken in early December but anyone who stepped foot in my apartment in early February knows it still looked exactly like this image.
Neither my roommate or I spend much time at the apartment in December, since we both go home to be with family, so most of our Tree Admiring Time happens after the actual holiday. Sometime in mid-January, we both admitted “I love the tree. It’s cozy and homey and I’m not ready for it to come down just yet.” And so it stayed.
A few days after we (finally) took it down, a text saying “I miss the tree. The room is so empty now.” was sent and immediately received a “me too” response. So I’m just here to say if you want to leave your Christmas tree up until February because it brings joy, I am behind you 100%.
2. Volunteering in your local community is one of the best ways to plant roots right where you are.
It takes time and sacrifice, but it’s outrageously uncomplicated. I’ve lived in Birmingham for many years now and in 2019 I began volunteering at a local food bank. I haven’t said a word about this online because, well, that’s not at all why I show up and volunteer on Wednesdays.
I’m showing up, but not for show.
Of all the things I said “yes” to in 2019, this was one of the best. And over the past few months especially, in the midst of the holidays and a new year beginning, I’ve been reminded of the importance of knowing your neighbors.
3. There are people all around you that are silently walking through the dark
No, this isn’t something new that I learned between December-February. But oh my word, I was floored (and saddened) by the number of private messages in response to my Instagram post about night terrors.
“Try it tonight and I’ll call your bluff tomorrow,” I said after a recent night terror, promising myself I’d say something publicly next time. I knew that doing so would likely lead to an increase in frequency of night terrors, because why in the world would the darkness like to be called out, and I was right on that front.
But I wouldn’t undo it. That post isn’t going anywhere.
If you’re silently walking through the dark, I am so sorry. It’s a fight and I know what it costs to keep on showing up. But the battle? It has already been won. Not to spoil the ending, but Light wins.
For years, I’ve turned to my playlist in the early morning hours before dawn breaks through. After sharing about night terrors, I offered to send the link to the private playlist to anyone who would like it. That offer still stands! In fact, the playlist is now public and linked right here.
(I’m a big fan of Apple Music — I literally use it every single day. You can sign up for a free trial here. I believe you’ll need Apple Music to access the playlist, but an Instagram follower who received the link replicated the playlist in Spotify if that’s more convenient for you.)
4. They waited for a word to break the silence, and now we mark 400 years of silence with 4 weeks of hushing.
Growing up, I didn’t participate in Advent. In fact, I had no idea that the Church even has a calendar (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Ordinary Time, etc.). I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but the more I learn, the more I appreciate the various celebrations and seasons.
On the first day of this past Advent season (2019), I posed this question on Instagram: What if the last time God spoke, it was 1619?
It takes half a second to flip from Malachi to Matthew, but 400 years pass silently in-between. All these years later, we intentionally slow down and remember, quieting our hearts and our lives for four weeks.
The question gripped me and the irony of hushing surprised me, but I didn’t expect the response. There isn’t a close runner-up, this is hands down my most liked and shared Instagram post from 2019. A few days after, a friend called to say the caption was read at a table of writers and I had to sit down when she rattled off the names. If I were to list writers who have greatly impacted my life and are still living, half of the names were at that table.
And then Emily (who was not at the table that evening but is most certainly on that list) shared the post in her newsletter with these words: “First I stopped my scroll for the photo and THEN the caption made me close Instagram all together and think about her words. What a post!”
I’ve been thinking a lot about why the words resonated. Why are we drawn to talking about silence, but by and large live busy lives full of distractions? (By “we” I also mean me.) I think perhaps it’s this: we long to live these days well and we’re desperate for “happily ever after.”
We are the people in the middle, the generations who get to tell the story in the in-between, on this page, in the already-not-yet.
God, may we be a people who wait well, who cling to hope when the night is long, who remember and believe even in the silence that darkness doesn’t get the final word.
5. Sometimes redemption looks exactly like a bouquet of red tulips. (Here’s why.)
6. Not everyone is driving through a kaleidoscope at night.
I have a hard time driving at night, especially if it’s raining, partially because the accident that totaled my car happened in the dark (I never saw it coming) . . . and partly because lights look like the image on the left.
A friend shared the tweet below and my jaw dropped at the picture. My immediate thoughts: Wait. Is this for real? You mean to tell me this isn’t how it looks for everyone?
According to Healthline.com, astigmatism affects 1 in 3 people. So apparently, it’s for real. And apparently I need to make an appointment with my eye doctor.
7. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament.
My feet have carried the dust and dirt of Nazareth’s streets. I’ve been there, walked its roads and breathed its air. Nazareth matters to me, but I never realized that the first mention of this Very Important Town is when an angel arrives. Before that? Nothing.
I learned this while reading A Month of Sundays: Thirty-One Days of Wrestling with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by Eugene H. Peterson, who says:
“Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament, never in the Talmud or Mishnah, never in Josephus’s historical account written in the first century, and never in any other Greek or Roman writings. The town was totally insignificant … It was so obscure that it was something of a joke (John 1:46).”
In Luke 1:26, we see the first mention of Nazareth in the Bible. The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named — wait for it — Nazareth.
There is no place that is too small, too insignificant, too unreachable for God. A few weeks ago, before reading A Month of Sundays, I wrote a post titled You Have Not Been Forgotten or Overlooked. The truth of this Nazareth lesson isn’t just for places . . . it’s for people too.
(For more fun facts + inspiration, visit Emily’s corner of the Internet or click here to look through any of my previous “What I Learned” posts.)
In Alaska (where my daughter lives), everyone leaves their outside lights up until the Iditarod starts (first week of March). I love learning new things–such as Nazareth never being mentioned in the OT.
I too love the coziness a lit Christmas tree brings to a dark night. And late at night when most the house lights are turned off, it gives off a nice amount of light. I only took our Christmas tree down the first of February because small kids were coming for a week.
I am playing your playlist right now. Thanks for sharing. I have been thinking about silence a lot lately-how i need to be more comfortable with it as well as what have i not heard from God because there is too much noise in my life.
When I see Christmas trees out at the curb the day after Christmas, it makes my heart sad. I’m with you in wanting to extend Christmas far into the new year! I don’t like driving at night, either, because the light display is too much for me to navigate. Always enjoy your writing…
Bev @ Walking Well With God recently posted…Do You Feel Stuck? Part II
Bev, it’s so fun to see your name here in the comments. Thanks for “stopping by.” :)
Kaitlyn, good lovely morning from over at Emily’s! I can’t tell you how much I love those twinkling lights far past Christmas day.
You made me smile …
Linda Stoll recently posted…What I’m Learning This Winter * Loose Ends
Thanks for sharing your insightful seasonal list. I relate to your one about volunteering. I started cooking for a local homeless shelter, and when I delivered the food, I had the honor of breaking bread with them. It was such a moving and beautiful experience that I am planning what I will cook next for them.
I love that, Denise. Thank you for sharing!
I loved thinking about Advent again. What fun to experience a collision of holidays on this ordinary Friday!
A collision of holidays… :)