Almost every year of my past decade has been marked by some great hurdle, challenge, hardship, or pivotal event: a new baby (or babies), a cross-country move, an infertility trial or miscarriage, an emotional breakdown, the purchase of a new home, a once-in-a-lifetime storm, a global pandemic. . . . A great gift of those eventful years (even when the events weren’t always ones I would have chosen) was their aptitude for serving as birthplaces of learning. Within the tear-stained wrapping of those years lay pearls of wisdom and annotated roadmaps for navigating future trials and crises. I lived through some pretty big things, and in the living I learned a great deal about God and about myself, about the world and my place within it, and about the people walking beside me.
What, then, am I to do with a year like this one that was really kind of “normal”? The scars of 2022 are minimal; is it possible that wisdom can still be found etched within their shallow marks? Looking back across the last twelve months of normalcy I see that even calm waters carry an undercurrent of lessons; 2022 was not empty of new takeaways and revelations. This year was one of settling and rebuilding following an extended period of upheaval, and this steady year paved the way for new levels of maturing and furthered understanding and growth.
Community was a theme for my year, and some of my greatest learning came through relationship. Much to the surprise of my introvert’s heart, I learned how deeply I crave relationship and how rewarding an investment in friendship can be. I prioritized groups and meetups and playdates and never regretted the times spent with friends. Despite my intentionality I found how difficult it can be to make and maintain connection and had to learn new and creative ways of engaging—leading to some unconventional relational opportunities that were some of the year’s greatest blessings.
People are complicated, though, and I learned a lot about what to expect out of others and when I have expected too much (or, at times, have had too much expected of me). There were times I felt excluded, other times when I realized how I had been the one doing the excluding. I walked the precarious line between giving too much of myself and holding too much back, rarely striking the perfect balance between oversharing and reticence; there were times when I offended, other times when I held my tongue for fear of overstepping and later wished I had spoken up.
I learned more and more about who I am through how I chose to present myself to others; at times I liked what I discovered, but mostly I was uncomfortable with what I was seeing and sought to make changes. I was ever grateful to the friends who encouraged and accepted me, rough edges in all, and I discovered beauty and loyalty in my inner circles.
Time after time this year, my eyes were opened to how different we all are: even people we assume will act and think and believe just like us can surprise us. Throughout the year, I cultivated a posture of curiosity towards those around me, seeking to understand and not judge. There were hard but important lessons about gossip (slippery slope, bad idea. . . ), and jumping to conclusions, and just how tricky relationships can be when God is not at their center.
A crucial lesson in navigating community this year was learning how to balance friendship with family life while also maintaining some personal space (because I have not ceased being an introvert who needs plenty of time to myself if I hope to stay sane). We found that our family does best when our schedules are not too full and we spend most nights together at home. And speaking of family and of home. . . I continued learning, always learning, from my children this year.
Each season (sometimes each new day) is different with children, and this one has been our most challenging yet. I appreciate the independence I am seeing, and love watching new relationships form between the siblings, but I also face an unending barrage of miniature crises in need of my intervention: we are learning how to handle competitiveness and tattling, the sharing of toys and of time and of mommy’s lap, and how to foster healthy family dynamics without resorting to empty threats or droning lectures. Much is required of me and I feel I am failing at every turn.
There are enough glimpses of beauty in my kids, though, to know we are doing something right; of course, most of these sigh-of-relief moments take place when I opt to get out of my kids’ way and let them work things out for themselves. They have shown me they are so much smarter, stronger, more creative, and more resilient than I give them credit for. I can see the light of Jesus shining through them, and I am constantly reminded that I am not wholly responsible for their sanctification. I am thankful to the Lord that He has temporarily entrusted these little lambs to me, but ultimately He is their primary and true Shepherd.
This year Charleston and I fine-tuned our homeschooling dynamic and continued to learn what works well and what doesn’t. Together we learned a shared love of discovering stories together as he entered the world of independent reading, and I got to experience the joy of introducing my child to some personal loves (Harry Potter, in-depth Bible study, and word-based board games, to name just a few).
A health scare with one of our kids this past spring opened my eyes to how fortunate we have been when it comes to our kids’ health, and how we have taken this for granted. Kali’s wide-eyed enthusiasm taught me about approaching the world with awe and wonder, and Sully’s insatiable curiosity taught me how seek out fresh answers and compose articulate responses. All three kids taught me SO MUCH MORE THAN I WANTED TO LEARN ABOUT PATIENCE, and about how much I need Jesus—because there is nothing like a day filled with tantrums to bring me to my knees, desperate for mercy and in need of the replenishment that can only be found in Him.
As they grow older, my children are revealing their uniquenesses, and we are learning how to relate to each of them at their level. There are some universals, though: I am seeing how I am responsible for teaching my children how to treat and talk to me, and how this matters; how we must be careful and intentional with our language, giving names to things and ideas; the importance of identifying places for physical objects to live; and how I need to always provide scaffolding upon which ideas can grow. I’ve learned our kids all do best with plenty of structure, but also plenty of time for creative play. They also need all the sleep they can get, and very little leniency when it comes to boundaries around food, privileges, and treats.
Kids other than my own were also my teachers this year, as I stepped into a serving role with the Kindergarteners at church. I learned that I enjoy spending time with my kids more than with other people’s kids, but also that there is a great deal of fulfillment that comes through serving outside our comfort zones. My leadership there was a weekly reminder of how I love and need my life to be as unchaotic as possible!
Looking beyond the walls of my home and church and city . . . I was a careful observer of the world this year, and I wished I could look away. At a distance, people broke my heart in the ways they chose to hurt one another, to deny truth, and to glorify self and selfishness while rejecting God and His goodness and beauty. In politics and world events, I faced an onslaught of heaviness and darkness. Most frighteningly, I came to realize not everyone sees this brokenness for what it is; whether too distracted or simply too misguided, few seem to share my concerns about where culture is headed.
I’ve grieved the decline in morality and decency and God-given freedoms, and I’ve largely felt alone in my sadness. As I have become increasingly disillusioned by the world, and more distrusting of institutions and those in authority and even cultural narratives, God has shown me how I tend to spend far too much energy worrying about what others believe and how they vote and where they stand. God is teaching me to remain true to my convictions without feeling the need to micromanage the convictions of others.
I got a small taste this year of what it is like to do without. We all felt the harshness of inflation, which brings its own lessons in frugality and resourcefulness. When our van was in the shop for over a month, we learned to live as a one-car family (which proved harder than expected), and when our dishwasher gave out this month and we chose not to replace it, we stepped into some lessons about good old fashioned elbow grease.
We said goodbye to all of our streaming services and are encountering new lessons and gifts through the absence of so much media. Along those lines. . . some of the year’s biggest takeaways and growth moments occurred during my monthly media fasts, and I continue to see how, despite my resistance, I remain far too tied to my devices and sources of distraction and how I must be intentional about setting these aside if I hope to clearly hear the voice of God.
There were some very uncomfortable lessons to be learned this year about my body, with which I am always striving (and usually failing) to make peace. I have felt less need to control the shape of my body, though I have a far way to go with this. I also have a far way to go in learning to accept the various signs of aging, though I’ve made headway in seeing aging as a gift to be welcomed rather than a burden to be resented and resisted. As far as fashion goes, I learned how much I love a good ball cap and a comfy pair of overalls, and that high-waisted jeans still aren’t for me.
Of course, God was woven into every part of my life and my learning this year, but there were some core takeaways specific to my faith life. This year I began waking up an hour earlier on weekdays to spend time in the Word and in prayer. These quiet times with the Lord were sometimes dry; I did not always sense God’s presence, or recognize His work in those early morning hours. . . but there is no denying the fruit that has grown out of my intentional choice to abide in Him.
The roots of my faith continue to deepen, and my spirituality is continually pruned. Part of this pruning process has involved an awakening to areas in which I have been cavalier with my doctrine; I have at times fallen prey to false teaching and progressive ideology, seeking to make God in my image while failing to recognize and glorify the wholeness and goodness of Who He is.
As faith shifts, I’ve questioned myself and my beliefs, even as I have held tightly to an ever-expanding trust in my Abba Father. A reverence for Him and His Word has made me cautions in my approach to Him; but in this, too, the Lord has walked with me, offering grace for the ways I misunderstand and misstep. He has reminded me that He cares more about being in relationship with me than about the inscrutability of my doctrine or the impeccable outworking of my faith. The Lord has taken my hand, walking with me in love and not fear.
A quest towards perfection was at the core of so much of my year, and really at the center of nearly every one of my thirty-eight years. I’ve stumbled and fallen too many times to deny the truth: I am not perfect, and never will be. Still, that tendency of at least striving for perfection (even as I acknowledge the futility of this goal) continues to press its way into every corner and crevice of my parenting, my relationships, my writing, my habits, and my faith.
In looking back across a year of learning, I see where the threads of perfectionism have been tugged and slowly begun to unravel. In their place, the Lord is weaving new vines of growth and learning that are stronger and also more flexible, winding their way around my heart and drawing me towards Him. He is the source of all wisdom, knowledge, and truth. This year I learned (and am continuing to learn) how to trust Him as the Author of my story and the lessons it holds.
I learned years ago that featuring shots from our annual family photo shoot is the icing on the cake of my annual What I Learned reflections. Many thanks to my amazingly talented friend Shanyn for capturing our family so well in these photos.