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Eek! It’s Halloween! Which means that October is over! This month’s end seems to have shown up out of nowhere, well ahead of my anticipated schedule. I’m not quite ready to dive into these last couple months of the year, but there’s no stopping time, so I guess we’re about ready to do this. First, though, a look back at what I learned this month. 

I’ve written before about my process for compiling these What I Learned posts, but here’s a little recap for those of you who are new readers:  I keep a running list in Evernote of things I learn throughout the month—lessons that stand out from sermons or personal reading, insights that occur to me as I go about my days, life hacks I’ve stumbled across and want to remember. At the end of the month, I pull out this list and do some editing. Many of the items are reserved for future single-subject blog posts, and some get deleted because they no longer seem interesting or relevant. The remaining items are turned into my official monthly list of What I Learned.

I’m always surprised by the consistency in these finalized lists: without my trying, they tend to be the same length (between 12 and 15 items) and fall into predictable themes—a little personal reflection, a lot of faith, an aha! moment or two. I suppose that, while the specifics of what I learn each month may change, the patterns are the same. Perfect for a knowledge-seeking, comfort-zone-dweller like me.

1. Levi jeans are highly underrated. 

I’ve been on a quest this year to find the perfect pair of jeans. For me, perfect means comfortable, stretchy but not saggy, and flattering. Over the last few months I’ve tried on dozens of pairs and purchased a couple—including some designer denim that cost far more than I would normally pay—but still hadn’t found a pair that I loved. A few weeks ago I was admiring a friend’s jeans and was shocked when she told me they were Levi’s. I know the brand has been around for ages, but I didn’t know they could look so cute! That night I went onto Amazon and bought myself a couple of pairs, and they have FAR exceeded my expectations. I bought two pairs, these and these. Not only did each pair cost less than $40, but they meet all of my perfect denim requirements. I think I’ve found a new favorite brand of denim. (A quick note on sizing for those of you who may be interested: the bootcut jeans seem to fit true to size, and the skinny jeans run a little small; if you’re between sizes, I’d recommend sizing up.)

2. God can (and does) use various parts of our journeys in unique and awesome ways.

When I was in school to become a teacher, I always said I would teach any grade but Kindergarten or Middle School. Well, God has a sense of humor, because during my brief teaching career I eventually taught both Kindergarten AND Middle School. Much to my surprise, I loved my time in Middle School, but Kindergarten was a challenge: the kids were cute, but the curriculum just wasn’t my jam. Fast forward about a decade, and I am now a stay-at-home mom to a 3-year-old who is getting ready to read. These days I am relying heavily upon the reading preparation skills and word games I used with my Kindergarteners—strategies I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been a Kindergarten teacher. I love that God is giving me a second chance to utilize these skills, essentially redeeming a time in my career that I had felt was largely wasted.  

3. The radio edit of a song can be significantly different from the original. 

I knew that radio stations edited out objectionable lyrics, but hadn’t realized that the instrumentation in radio edits can also be quite different. A few weeks ago I was listening to a playlist on Google Play Music and heard a version of Reckless Love that was shockingly different from the version I know and love. It was so different, in fact, that if I’d heard the radio version first, I likely wouldn’t have liked the song at all (while in its original form, it’s one of my favorite songs). I’m wondering now how many Christians songs I’ve assumed I didn’t like because I’d only heard the watered down version on the radio.

4. As a society we have authority issues because we have trust issues, stemming from truth issues.

We are studying the book of John in my Women’s Bible Study this year. Throughout the book we see Jesus butting heads with the Pharisees, who refused to acknowledge His authority. Our Bible Study teacher pointed out that today’s society also has issues with authority; this is because we refuse to acknowledge the existence of absolute truth, which makes it difficult for us to know who to trust.  When truth is relative, nobody has the right to claim authority. In the Bible, we see that the Pharisees needed to acknowledge the truth of who Jesus was before they could trust that He was worthy of holding authority over them. We, too, need to acknowledge the truth of the Gospel before we can trust its power over our lives.  

5. Hiding toys and “repackaging them” gives them new life.

I’ve used this hack before, so this is really a re-learn for me this month. I was sorting through Charleston’s toys last week and decided to box up a few of his Lego sets and toy cars; I didn’t do anything fancy, just put a few cars or Lego’s into some shoe boxes and stacked them in his closet. He rarely played with those toys before, but since I repackaged them, he loves asking me to pull down a box during play time, and its contents will occupy him for an hour! 

6. On an iPhone, you can take pictures while capturing video.

We got new phones this month and when I discovered the photo button next to the video record button, I’d assumed it was a new feature with this latest operating system. I pointed it out to Luke who told me it’s always been there, and that he’d been using it for years. How had I not known this?! Now that I’m aware of this little hack, I’m using it every chance I get—see the photo below, captured mid-video during Charleston’s ride on a playground zipline.

7. You never know who will be impacted by a small act of kindness or obedience. 

Last week I delivered a meal to a friend who had just had a baby. This friend is a Christian, in fact we know each other through the Bible study we both attend. But her dad isn’t a believer, and was surprised when she told him a friend was delivering dinner. He isn’t surrounded by Christian community, and this simple gesture stood out to him; when he commented on it, my friend was able to tell her dad that this is something that Christians do—we look out for people. I didn’t make my friend’s family dinner in an effort to tell anybody about Jesus, but God used my service to plant a seed. We don’t need to know where or how God is using us for His purposes, we just need to be faithful in serving Him. 

8. There are only two emotions: love and fear.

Our pastor recently shared this quote from psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler Ross: “All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety, and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.” I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on what this means for my own interactions, and what it says about the actions I see in others. No conclusions yet, just plenty of food for thought.

9. An average of 20 million people visit Austin, Texas, every year! 

This is more than the annual visitors to Rome (4.2 million), Hawaii (8.3 million), and even London (17.4 million). It’s a pretty great place to visit—and live!—but I’m not quite sure it rivals Rome. . . .

10. The way to speak truth in love is by first establishing relationship. 

Since naming Love as my word for 2017, and with 2018’s word of Grace, I’ve made an effort to lead with love in my words and actions. However, I find that many people (sometimes myself included) are so concerned with being loving—or what we perceive as loving—that we neglect to speak truth into the lives of those we care about. I was talking with a group of friends about how we can do both, and we decided that it is possible, but that we can’t lovingly speak truth without first forming friendship. Once we’ve poured into the relationship and made it clear that our words come from a loving place, we’ve paved the road for some truth-telling. I believe this is how Jesus worked: he established rapport with His followers, making it clear that He was for them and had their best interests in mind; only then were they open to hearing His truth about who He was and what it meant to follow Him.

11. Some things only come into focus when viewed at a distance.

We were at a Halloween festival a couple of weeks ago and I was attempting to observe Charleston as he jumped inside a bounce house. But I was too close to the netting and wasn’t able to see him clearly. However, when I backed up a few feet, the lines of the netting were less intrusive and the children inside came into focus. That experience has stuck with me: so often I try to make sense of a current situation, and I just come up empty; my understanding is incomplete and the meaning is unclear. But, after waiting a few days or weeks or even years, the picture comes into focus; the situation starts to make sense. I know there is value in remaining present within a moment, but I also want to be more patient with myself and with God as I await clarity. This requires that I make time for regular contemplation and reflection—on whats going on right now and also on all that has occurred in the past

12. I’m not really capable of playing it cool. 

I attended a Happy Hour Live! event earlier this month, where I had the opportunity to meet three women I deeply admire (Jamie Ivey, Chrystal Evans Hurst, and Annie F. Downs). I’ll share more of the juicy details on Friday, but my biggest takeaway about myself from the event is that I go a *little* overboard when meeting a—for lack of a better word—celebrity. Leading up to the event I’d promised myself I would remain calm and for goodness sakes, not say anything embarrassing, but within moments of meeting each woman, my gushy side came out. I gave them hugs, showered them with compliments, and told them each how much their work has meant to me. I even asked some personal questions that I now very much regret. Needless to say, there was no questioning my status as a fangirl; when I’m excited about somebody or something, my enthusiasm has no filter. 

On Friday I’ll be back with a recap of my month. . . a recap I couldn’t post sooner, because our family has some serious Halloween-ing to do today, and an October recap wouldn’t be complete without some trick-or-treating pictures! I hope you have a fun (and not-too-spooky) Halloween! 

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