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I’m coming up on my seventh blogiversary in a few months, and while there have been many things to love about blogging, my favorite is the way that it has prompted me to be more reflective—and therefore more intentional—about the world and my experience in it.

I heard recently that “experience doesn’t make you wiser; evaluated experience makes you wiser,” and I believe that much of the wisdom I’ve accumulated in the past several years can be attributed to my practice of evaluating my life (and specifically what I’ve been learning) here on the blog.

In the past, I’ve written about what I’m learning at the end of each month. This year I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach, documenting what I’m learning at the end of every season. My hope is that this longer time frame will allow me to focus on bigger picture ideas and lessons that need a little more time to percolate before they can do their work of effecting genuine change. To that end, here’s a look at a few things I’ve learned this winter.

About Myself, I Learned . . .

1. A decade is too much time for me to reflect on. 

At the start of January, it seemed as though just about everyone was sharing their recollections from the past ten years—from what they’d experienced to how they’d changed and where they’d grown. I’m obviously a big fan of remembrance and self reflection, but found I couldn’t bring myself to look back over the entire previous decade. Almost nothing about my life is the same now as it was in 2010, and the drastic ways in which my circumstances have changed—though almost exclusively positive—made for an exercise that was too overwhelming to be enlightening or beneficial.

2. For years, I was afraid of getting older because I felt like life was passing me by.

I will be turning thirty-six next week, and this is the first birthday in memory that hasn’t been tied up in painful—or, at the very least, complicated—emotions. In discussing this lack of weightiness with my therapist, I came to the realization that past birthdays were hard for me because I wasn’t where I thought I should be in life: either I wasn’t married yet, or I wasn’t a mom, or we hadn’t bought a home, or I hadn’t had more than one child. In the past year I was able to cross off the last of those milestones and now that I feel like I’ve achieved the life I’ve always dreamed of, my age doesn’t seem to matter as much. I’m no longer waiting for life to begin; now, at thirty-six, I’m ready to fully embrace the living.

3. Having three kids doesn’t mean I have to give up blogging.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that before the twins’ birth, I worried that growing our family might require me to step away from blogging. While I can’t say that life with three kids has gotten easier (in fact, this past month was probably our hardest yet), I’m getting better at managing my time and energy in order to make room for the things that are most important to me. And my time away from consistently blogging revealed that posting regularly in this space is high on my list of priorities and not something I am willing to let go of, even if it requires me to make sacrifices in other areas of my life.

4. Finishing things is a way I can bring small doses of joy into my life.

In this year of pursuing joy, I’ve been making a note of all things big and small that help me experience joy. One rather unexpected finding is that completing a task results in lightening my mental load, allowing me to focus on more important things and ultimately boosting my attitude and my mood. Examples include: closing kitchen cabinets and drawers right after using them; picking up around the house as I move through my day; or writing a book review as soon as possible after finishing the book. In her newest book, Anne Bogel gave a name to this habit I’d already been practicing: “completing the cycle.” It seems counterintuitive, but going that extra mile when possible has helped me feel significantly happier.

Life Observations . . .

5. Love without honesty is hypocrisy. Honesty without love is abuse. 

I can’t recall where I first heard this, but it’s stuck with me. This February, a month in which we are bombarded with various ideas of what “love” really means, I’ve been thinking about the true definition of love and how it manifests in my life. This quote has been an important reminder that genuine love requires honesty but that honesty in and of itself is not love. I’m not always the best at knowing whether to err on the side of truth or grace, so lately I’ve been relying on the Holy Spirit to guide me towards either speaking up or holding my tongue to avoid being either hypocritical or abusive.

6. Self shaming affects everyone around me because it makes them wonder if they should be shaming themselves too.

I tend to be much harsher toward myself than I would ever be toward anyone else. However, a number of recent podcasts and personal experiences have made me realize that being hard on myself (i.e., perfectionism) can have deeply painful repercussions for those around me. While I might never excel at self kindness (particularly related to body image and coping skills), it’s easier for me to do when I frame it as an indirect act of compassion towards those around me.

Life Hacks I Picked Up. . . 

7. Getting up early makes the rest of my day run more smoothly.

I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but in the past couple of months I’ve learned that waking up before Charleston (and, if I can hack it, before the twins) sets the stage for a significantly better day for all of us. Getting up just thirty minutes to an hour earlier gives me time to get a few things done around the house, read my Bible, and pray—all key components of a successful day for our family.

8. You can add to/edit Chatbooks over time.

For the past five years I’ve used Chatbooks to create biannual books of my Instagram photos for my grandmother (who doesn’t have social media) and for our own family. Previously, I would wait until it was time to order a new book (at the start of the new year, and just before Mother’s Day) to create my book—a task that would take dozens of hours and result in enormous amounts of stress and frustration as I attempted to get the books just right. I can’t believe I only recently realized that you can edit a book over time through the iphone app! Now I add to my book every time I post to Instagram. Not only does this save me quite a bit of stress and time, it allows me to be more intentional about the pictures and captions I choose to include. I like that I can see the current cost and page count of my book so that I’m not accidentally spending over a hundred dollars on a single photo book that holds more pages than it needed.

About Parenting, I Learned . . .

9. I’m a much different mom to Kali and Sully than I was to Charleston.

Since having the twins, and especially since Charleston’s birthday, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how differently their newborn years were/are from his. The fact that they are twins, and that they aren’t my firstborn, is a huge difference. But perhaps more significantly, they are getting a very different version of me as a mom. I have matured a lot in the past five years, I’ve grown in confidence and humility, I’ve learned a thing or two about parenting, and I’m at a much healthier place emotionally and spiritually. I also recognize the gift of these two babies that I never thought I’d have. The cumulative result of these various factors is that I am less uptight with the twins than I was with Charleston, more compassionate and less overwhelmed or stressed. I recognize how fleeting the baby stage will be and I’m more intentional about enjoying every moment with them. I wish that I’d gotten more right during my first go at parenting a newborn, but I am so thankful for this second chance. I am hopeful that this improved version of me can partly make up for the fact that there is less of me to go around now than there was five years ago!

10. It’s okay to ask for and receive help.

Lately I’ve been going out almost every day with all three kids. This is about as easy as it sounds, and it has required me to accept offers of help from friends and strangers alike. While it’s done a number on my ego, I’m getting better at accepting the help—whether it’s a stranger holding a door for me when I’m pushing the double stroller into a store, or a friend scooping up a fussy baby during group time at Bible study. Closer to home, accepting helps means letting Luke wear one of the twins while he works, or inviting my in-laws to babysit so that Luke and I can take a date night. I’m learning to accept these kindhearted acts of service with gratitude, knowing that I would do the same for someone in my shoes but also not feeling like I immediately have to repay the act of kindness in order to “deserve” such generosity.

11. The best thing you can tell a twin mom (or any mom of lots of kids) is “you’re doing a good job.”

I get a lot of comments when I’m out with the kids. Most of these are along the lines of, “wow, you’ve got your hands full,” or “I could never do what you are doing, I’m so glad I never had twins,” or the perennial old lady favorite, “God bless you.” I don’t mind these comments as they are all coming from a good place. However, my favorite thing to hear is simply, “you’re doing a good job.” It’s nice to have the validation, and unlike some of the other comments, I don’t feel like it imparts the message to my children that they are somehow a burden. (For the record, I attempt to counteract comments about my kids being “a lot” with a positive response, like “life with them is such a blessing,” and Charleston usually chimes in with, “having twins is the BEST thing ever!”) Now, when I see other moms who appear to have a lot on their plate, I’m sure to acknowledge their efforts with a kind word as well.

12. Having low (or no) expectations is the key to less stressful days with my kids.

People often comment that life with twin babies must be hard, and my usual answer is “it’s easier than I thought it would be, but I had very, VERY low expectations.” And it turns out that maintaining those low expectations is crucial to my sanity. On days when I have a clear idea of how I want things to go and how much I hope to get done, everything seems to go off the rails and I’m left overwhelmed and disappointed. But when I’m more flexible and hold plans and expectations loosely, I’m often happily surprised by how well things go, and at the very least I’m not disappointed.

13. Doing what’s best for one of my children might require sacrifices for another child. 

Having parented a singleton for nearly five years, I never thought about how much siblings sacrifice for one another. Even something as simple as picking up a crying child or changing a dirty diaper might mean that another child is getting less of my attention. Often there is more at stake, something Charleston is learning now, having given up extracurricular activities for a season while I am occupied with caring for Kali and Sully. I hate that I can’t meet all of my children’s needs at once. But Luke pointed out recently that in the long run, not being constantly “rescued” is probably in their best interest. At the very least, my children are each learning that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and this anti-entitlement training is one of the best gifts I can give them.

14. Age five is a big deal.

I’ve thought this with each new age Charleston has reached, but five feels like an even bigger deal than every other age. Not only will he be starting school this year, but he is old enough to have vivid memories of this age, and he’s learning lessons that will likely stick with him for life. I feel like the stakes have been raised and it’s definitely prompted me to be more intentional in my discipline, teaching, and conversations with Charleston.

15. Birthdays get a little easier each year.

As with my own birthday, Charleston’s birthday felt much less weighty this year. This has a lot to do with the fact that I know I’ll get to experience the baby and toddler years a second time, but it can also be attributed to my accepting that my child is growing up and that if I spend too much time mourning a transition, I’ll miss out on enjoying the current stage. It’s okay to be a little sad that it’s over while also embracing the present and feeling hopeful for the future.

I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman to share what we’ve been learning lately.

What was the biggest or most important lesson YOU learned this winter?

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