It’s a weighty thing, reflecting on an entire year’s worth of learning. As one who claims learning and reflection as two of my highest values, I carry this task with seriousness and a dichotomous blend of gratitude and apprehension: I am grateful for all I learned this year—the lessons themselves as well as the opportunity to reflect on them; AND I am apprehensive that somehow I’ve done it wrong—that I learned the wrong lessons, or that they were not fully learned, or that I am misrepresenting all of this newfound knowledge in the writing of it. My age-old nemesis Perfectionism rears its ugly head in these earnest attempts to share all of my heart in a solitary blog post.
The truth, one that I do know but perhaps have not yet really learned, is that I am doing this imperfectly. And therein lies the beauty: learning is cyclical and ongoing, resistant to the confines of calendar years and limited word counts. But its ephemeral nature is part of what makes it worth pursuing.
All of this is my long-winded way of psyching myself up for writing a post that will barely scratch the surface of what I learned in 2023 . . . and consenting to share it anyway.
This was a year of listening to God and leaning into His leading for our family, even when we were not entirely sure of where we were going or why. This led me to reluctantly say yes to leading a women’s group, a role for which I felt highly inadequate; the experience was a highlight of the year and taught me so much about community, leadership, teaching, and my own God-given gift for ministry. Then, after years of silencing God’s gentle nudges that it was time to leave our former church, we honored the messages we could no longer deny and moved to a new church home. Through that experience we learned how our church move did (and didn’t) affect our church community; that saying goodbye is easy in some ways and much harder in others; and that it’s not always possible to identify the ways a current place is a poor fit until you have relocated to some place that fits like a well-tailored suit.
We are still learning the lay of the land in our new church home—settling into volunteer roles, making new friends, adapting to new styles of teaching and worship. And having moved away from our last church, I am still working through my approach to thinking and speaking of our old church in a way that does not disparage fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, recognizing that God is at work in churches that are still glorifying Him even if those churches are not the right fit for our own family.
In this year leading up to my fortieth birthday, I am learning to make friends with a body that is changing and aging. I gained wrinkles and lost hairs this year, and each glance into a mirror is an exercise of setting aside vanity and accepting the changes that happen to us all. My body has also grown this year, layers of fat and muscle filling in spaces that were hollow not so long ago. I may never learn to love this bigger body of mine, but I have learned a few ways of making these changes tolerable: refusing to step on a scale (something I have not done in almost two years); seeing the weight gain as an opportunity to have fun with fashions that I couldn’t wear when I was bone-thin; talking about the discomfort rather than bottling up my body shame; and feeling gratitude for the energy, comfortability, and health that comes from existing at a higher weight.
Parenting is a perpetual classroom in which I am endlessly learning my kids’ personalities, needs, and gifts, only to regularly toss out all that I’ve learned as they grow and change so rapidly. We crossed a number of big milestones with the twins this year (removing the crib rails, potty training, weaning from breastfeeding) and I RE-learned that the anticipation of these milestones is always harder than the reality of them. I’m reminding myself every day that my kids are no longer little, that it’s important to treat them in age-appropriate ways and that they will let me know when they are ready to be pushed and when we need to pull back so they can just be little again for a bit.
I’m learning to hold high standards for Charleston’s schoolwork and behavior without overwhelming him, and how to have the types of conversations we should be having with him at this age. I’m learning how to manage the twins’ always-evolving emotions and the unique set of issues that the twin-dynamic brings to our family. I’m learning how to do school with all of our kids at once, and how to navigate their growing sibling relationships. I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of having older kids who are more independent and pretty great at entertaining each other. Mostly, I’ve learned how my love grows with my children, expanding to encompass their new selves and pressing on the walls of my heart so that I don’t know how it hasn’t yet burst.
Friendship and community are a constant area of growth for me. This year I learned to seek friendship in unexpected places, and that relationships are a lot of work. I’m learning to make room in our schedule and our home for community, and that time with friends and acqaintences-who-will-become-friends is always worth it. Our family is learning how to do whole-family friendships, which we are starting to understand is a lot harder than it sounds. More than ever this year, I learned how blessed I am to be married to my very best friend. We’ve grown in the last several months, encouraging each other in our unique giftings and prioritizing our relationship. Fifteen years in, he continues to surprise and amaze me and I am thankful that our marriage is as strong as it has ever been.
I don’t know where to begin with all I’ve learned about the broader world this year, other than a deepening awareness that the world is VERY broken. I’ve learned that even when politics seem at their worst, they can get messier. I’ve witnessed the reality of antisemitism, and the willingness of a culture to deny basic realities regarding things such as gender and the sanctity of human life and the existence of evil. But I have also witnessed a desperation for truth and revival. I have talked with, and heard stories of, people who are recognizing the emptiness of a life without God and I have learned that God is faithful and ALWAYS AT WORK, even in (perhaps especially in) the moments that seem most dark.
This year I have become more cognizant than ever of the fragility of human life. Loved ones have experienced sickness, accidents, and cognitive decline. I am reminded that health—my own, and that of my loved ones—is a gift that should not be taken for granted. After the passing of my grandmother last month, I felt the sting of loss, even a loss that is expected. I learned firsthand the cliche that grief is not predictable, that it waxes and wanes and can show up in the most unexpected spaces. I learned to lean into the tears and sadness and to hold them alongside the hope we have in Christ for a future heavenly reunion.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway of this year is that there are seasons of waiting, and seasons of waiting fulfilled. This was a fulfillment year that brought many long-awaited changes for our family: a new church home, new family rhythms (particularly the changes related to our involvement in Trail Life—something we prayed about joining for years), a new vehicle, and new stages for our family now that we’ve moved out of toddler life. In all of this I have witnessed God’s faithfulness, carrying our family through times of questioning and anticipation as well as times when dreams have begun to come true. I have no doubt He is continuing to work beneath the surface in our family even now, paving the way for what I will learn in the year to come.
Many thanks to my friend Shanyn of Shay Wills Photography for the photos I used in this post! As always, she captured our family so well.