Last year—2017—was a hard year for me. Looking back, I view it as my Great Year of Deconstruction. Belief systems and false idols I’d established for myself came crashing down around me, and I was forced to take a hard look at everything I thought I knew and believed about myself and my world. I endured the torturous refiner’s fire, and while I did not emerge unscathed, the year’s challenges rendered me a healthier, wiser, and more whole version of my former self. I was eager for a fresh start in a New Year—one that would hopefully involve an easier road for me and my new and improved spirit.

Alas, God had different plans for me in 2018. Circumstantially, this year was even harder than the previous one. There was more pain, more frustration, more family trials, more emotional upheaval. But my experience of this year was different: in the past, my spirit and soul were at the mercy of all that I was facing. But in these past twelve months, as challenges have swirled around me, I’ve felt God’s loving arms holding onto me, keeping me grounded in the eye of the storm.

Reflecting on what God is teaching me through the highs and lows of this year has been an anchoring practice, tethering me to reality and guiding me on the path of perseverance. There have been countless lessons—many that I’ve shared in my monthly What I Learned reflections, some that are ongoing lessons from what I was just starting to learn in past years (2017 and 2016), others that are still being learned one day and moment at a time and that I hope will make next year’s list. The twenty items below are just a highlight reel—the lessons I’ll want to look back on in future years and know, Yes! THAT was one of the gifts of 2018!

What I Learned Through Parenting:

This portion of the list is inordinately long because being a mom is not only my full time job, but also my most important role at this point in my life. It’s no surprise, then, that Charleston and I are learning so many things together these days.

1. “It’s going to be a little sad, but it’s going to be really good, too!”

Charleston made this reassuring statement a few weeks ago as he tore down an elaborate train track in order to build a new one. From the mouths of babes come the most profound truths. This sentiment fits with my entire parenting journey—there are so many sad endings, but these make way for wonderful new beginnings. Charleston exited the toddler stage this year and is on his way to become a full-blown Big Kid. It’s been heartbreaking to let go of my baby, but if I spend all my time pining after days gone by, I will miss out on all of the good things each new stage brings. It’s comforting to know that God’s grace extends to these growing pains I’m experiencing. 

2. On potty training: transitions can be  easier when you let your child determine when they are ready. (Also: don’t overthink it.)

We didn’t potty train Charleston until right around his third birthday, and though this is admittedly pretty late, it made for a fairly painless experience. We didn’t rely on bribes or charts or elaborate schedules. We just started putting him in underwear, and the training pretty much took care of itself. Believe it or not, I didn’t read a single book about potty training—it’s the one parenting item I’ve put the least mental energy and effort into, and it was the thing that has been the easiest!  

3. On transitioning out of the crib: It’s okay to let go of things that are no longer serving my child.

Charleston never spent a whole night in his crib (in fact, he is still sleeping in our bed at night—something I’m fine with), and by the time he turned three he was rarely napping in it during the day. But I was reluctant to transition him to a toddler bed because it felt like the end of an era, and I wasn’t ready. Once we did take down those crib railings, I was surprised by the relief I experienced: the anticipation of letting go was harder than the letting go itself. 

4. On nap time: releasing expectations often leads to the outcome I wanted all along.

After we transitioned the crib to a toddler bed, I expected that Charleston’s napping days were over (he was never a great napper to begin with). Instead of insisting on a daily nap time, I started leaving him in his room for quiet time—and much to my amazement, he began putting himself down for naps! Now, at almost four, he naps for up to two hours nearly every day; he’s a better napper now than at any other point in his life, and that only happened after I stopped trying to force the issue.

5. On reversing the car seat: my days of silent car rides are over, at least for now.

This was another milestone that we arrived at fairly late in the game, mostly because he was still small enough to fit in the reverse car seat and didn’t really complain. My entire car experience changed when we switched his seat forward a few months ago. Our drives are now much more interactive, because seeing everything Mom sees when we drive leads to a lot more questions and commentary. I miss the “me time” I once experienced during car rides, but know that it won’t be too many years before I’m longing for interaction from my backseat driver. So for now, I’m doing my best to savor our car ride conversations.

6. I am a competent mom, and I’m fully capable of solo parenting.

As a full time stay-at-home mom, this is embarrassing to admit, but prior to this year I had a LOT of help with Charleston during the weekdays because Luke was working from home and was very involved with daytime parenting duties. Luke still works remotely, but in recent months his work load has ramped up, so he’s started working full time from a co-working space which allows him to have more focus than he could from his home office. Most days (Monday through Saturday) he’s gone by 5 in the morning and doesn’t get home until dinner time. I’ve had to take on a lot more of the household and parenting responsibilities, and while my past inner critic said I wasn’t good enough/strong enough/responsible enough for this task, Charleston and I are both thriving with this new schedule. We miss Luke, of course, but being forced to step up my parenting game has made me a better and more confident mom. (The simple exercise of acknowledging my parenting shortfalls, but focusing on what I am doing right, has been very helpful as I work to find my footing as a hands-on mom.)

7. Watching your child go through medical issues is the scariest experience of a parent’s life.

Last March, Charleston had his first ER visit for what turned out to be croup. In September, he had eye surgery to remove several styes. The two experiences were some of the hardest ones I’ve ever gone through, and I was thankful to have Luke by my side in those moments. I now have so much empathy for parents (especially single parents) of children with chronic conditions, and I recognize what a blessing it is to have a healthy child. 

8. Three is a really hard age, with the potential to be a really great age.

You always hear about the Terrible Two’s. For us, Two turned out to be one of our favorite ages but Three has been extremely tough. The switch happened almost overnight: from the moment he turned three, Charleston began exhibiting defiance, prolonged tantrums, a bad attitude, and excessive moodiness. And in talking with other parents, I’ve learned that nearly all of their children went through a similar phase around age three. Through this rough year, I’ve learned a lot about what works for my child (loose structure, clear boundaries, choices, demonstrating empathy, positive incentives, natural consequences) and what doesn’t (traditional punishments like spankings and time outs, power struggles, too much activity). Our challenges have exposed many sin issues within myself (anger, selfishness, resentment, need for control . . . ), and they’ve provided countless opportunities to offer grace to both Charleston and to myself when I’ve fallen short as a parent. In spite of our struggles, there is so much to love about this age. Charleston is more independent but still loves hanging out with me. He’s learning new skills, is an endless source of amusement, and asks the most amazing questions. I especially love how God is using Charleston’s questions about life and God to grow me in my own faith walk.  

What I Learned From and About Those Around Me:

9. Puppy parenthood is no small task.

Our Arlo pup became part of our family in March. We love Arlo, of course, and especially love what a great companion he has been for Charleston, but it would be difficult to overestate what a huge challenge his addition has been for our family. I’ve learned a lot about dogs and pet ownership this year. I had no idea how much effort, mess, and expense a dog could bring, and I certainly did not predict that the puppy behaviors (jumping, chewing, barking, counter surfing) would last as long as they have. Since undergoing boot camp, Arlo is a totally new dog and is finally starting to feel like part of the family. But it was a tough year with him, and I feel terrible for ever giving the side eye to dog owners who talked about the difficulties of raising a puppy. It really is a lot like having a newborn, and significantly less rewarding.

10. Luke is an Enneagram 5.

Luke worked with an Enneagram coach earlier this year who determined that Luke was not a 6, as I had previously assumed, but a 5! The knowledge floored me because, how could I have been so wrong about the most important person in my life? After recovering from the blow to my (self-proclaimed) Enneagram-expert’s pride, I was able to see the truth in this classification, and it has helped me to have a much better understanding of Luke’s habits, attitudes, and mental frameworks. Our marriage is in a better place now than it has ever been, and this revelation is partly to thank: learning Luke is a 5 was the best thing that has happened to our marriage since my own decision to go to counseling last year. 

11. Racism is still a big problem in our country.

I read and listened to a lot of content this year about what it means to be Black in America. This knowledge has been hard and uncomfortable, and it’s forced me to come to terms with my own white privilege and subtly racist attitudes. I am thankful for this newfound awareness, even as I remain unsure of what next steps are required of me to combat this systemic problem. 

12. If you have the chance to meet someone you respect and admire, do it!

This fall, I attended a Happy Hour Live event where I got to meet Jamie Ivey, Chrystal Evans Hurst, and Annie F. Downs—three women whose podcasts and books have taught me so much over the past couple of years. It was wonderful to hug these individuals who have had a profound impact on me, and it has me eager to meet more authors, podcasters, and faith leaders in the future. 

Practical Things I Learned This Year:

13. Two hundred books in one year is too many books.

I wrote all about this in Wednesday’s Reading Wrap-Up post. In summary, I’m glad to have reached this personal goal, but realize now that cramming so many books (especially audiobooks) into a short time does a disservice to the books themselves (because I don’t remember what I’ve read) and to my own reading life (because I’m not fully enjoying my reading experiences). 

14. Having a day each week to myself makes me a better wife, mom, and human.

Since this past spring, Luke has been taking Charleston and Arlo to his parents’ house for one full day nearly every weekend. While I miss the family time on Luke’s only day off, I’ve come to enjoy and even depend on these days to myself when I can do some writing, run errands on my own, or indulge in some pampering. These Kendra Days create space in my schedule that my mind, body, and soul had been craving. They allow me to be productive which I’ve learned is crucial for my mental health, and I come away from them feeling ready to tackle whatever life has in store for me in the week ahead. 

15. Life doesn’t have to be so hard.

This year marked the first time in a long time—definitely since becoming a mom, and perhaps ever in my adult life—that life felt a little less overwhelming. There were moments this year when I experienced an odd sensation I couldn’t place . . . until I realized that I was feeling happy. It had been so long since I’d felt true happiness, I’d forgotten what it felt like. (It makes me so sad to type that sentence, but it’s true.) There has still been a lot of unnecessary worrying and plenty of stress, but as this year has progressed, I’ve begun to feel a little lighter as I’ve moved through daily tasks that were once burdensome. I’m starting to realize that not every item on my to-do list requires intense preparation, contemplation, and a postmortem; I can simply check off the task and move to the next thing. It’s hard to emphasize what an enormous shift this is for me, and while I’m unsure what elicited the change (writing comprehensive action lists and identifying what is saving my life and what works for me certainly helped), it’s been a welcome one. 

16. Secondary infertility is scary, expensive, painful, confusing, and lonely; being open about the process takes some of the sting away.

Luke and I have been trying to conceive a second child for nearly four years, since right after Charleston was born. It wasn’t until last January that we sought medical assistance from a fertility specialist and I began opening up about my infertility in my writing and with people beyond close friends. This battle is one of the hardest I’ve ever fought, and it helps to have a great medical team behind me, and to be surrounded by prayer and encouragement from people I love. Though there is still no baby on the horizon, I am feeling more hopeful than I was at this time last year, and as I wait, I am learning how to trust God when His plan for me looks different from what I would have planned for myself. This journey has taught me how to be expectantly hopeful AND content in the present at the same time. 

What I Learned About Myself, My Faith, and Life

17. It’s time for me to stop fighting with my body.

This stressful year, combined with intense fertility drugs, has taken its toll. More wrinkles have sprung up on my face in the past year than in the previous five combined, and despite few changes to my diet and exercise habits, my body is carrying about ten pounds of extra weight that has managed to land in all the wrong places. While my body image has been at its worst this year, I’ve been forced to consent that I have very little control over my appearance. No amount of anti-aging creams will keep the crow’s feet at bay, and these unwelcome pounds are here to stay regardless of how few calories I consume. I have yet to make peace with these changes, and realize this may be a lifelong struggle, but I am finally to the point that I recognize the fight is futile and an unwise use of my time and energy.

18. I hate aging, but like myself a little more each year.

As much as I dislike the effect aging has on my appearance, or the fact that time seems to be flying by with me sprinting to catch up, I’ve welcomed the maturity each year brings. I’m ending this year a little more comfortable in who I am, and confident in this path I am walking. I’m grateful for all I’ve been through and the sanctifying work that God is doing in me.

19. I am less sure about most things, but more sure about a few, important things.

This is probably a universal side effect of aging. Over the past few years I’ve experienced shifts in my politics, my views about the Bible and the Church, my parenting philosophies, and my own identity. Where once I had all the answers, I am now sure of very little and am more okay with living in the grey. However, there are a few things that I’ve never been more sure of; these Gospel Truths have become my guiding light, holding me steady amid the shifting tides. And this clarity has led to remarkable changes in my attitude and approach to life.

20. God is real and present, and is doing a great work in my life.

This was the most significant thing I learned all year, and it was pervasive within every aspect of my 2018. God has been speaking to me (or rather, I’ve finally been open to hearing Him because He always WAS speaking) in many new ways this year: through music and studying Scripture; through prayer and experiencing nature; through sermons and podcasts and books; through conversations with friends and interactions with my child; through writing and through silence. This was my year of Grace, and in 2018, God’s kindness and grace were abundant in my life. I’ve spent a lifetime longing to experience intimacy with the Lord, and this year He quenched my thirst for His living water. My cup overflows.

Thanks you so much for allowing me share what God has been doing in my life this year. And a huge thanks to Brittany Herring Photography for capturing these lovely photos of our family! 

What did you learn in 2018?

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