I have been reflecting on what I’ve been learning in posts like this one for ten years—almost since the inception of this blog. Often the lessons come easily to me, leaping out of my life and onto the page (screen?) as I absorb all that life is teaching me. In other seasons, the lessons are harder to find: I’m certain they’re there, but getting those nuggets of wisdom to reveal themselves takes some effort.

This past winter was an effortful learning season, and not for a lack of material. This season brought the usual joys (the holidays) and challenges (trying winter, incessant colds) as well as pivotal events (the loss of my grandmother, a major car accident, a vacation, and a surprise pregnancy), but my mind has felt numb to the significance of all that has occurred. I’ll get into a little more of why that is in this post, but perhaps my biggest takeaway of this season is that it can be difficult to find wisdom and meaning when I don’t feel like myself, when just getting through my days is a struggle. I’m hopeful that the fog will soon lift and that learning will come readily again. In the meantime, here is my best attempt at summarizing what I’ve learned this winter.

1. Loss is always hard, even when it’s expected.

My grandmother passed away just before Thanksgiving (which technically wasn’t this winter, but did take place since I reflected on what I learned in fall). Her passing was not a surprise: she was 98 years old and had recently been placed in hospice care. We knew the end was approaching. But the news of her passing hit hard, and was made more difficult because of the specifics surrounding her final hours (my parents were not able to be with her when she passed because they were visiting us in Texas—I don’t think I will ever get over my personal guilt around that). Cognitively, I know that she lived a long and full life. I know that she is now in a better place with no more suffering or tears. I know that I will see her again. But none of that knowledge makes our loss any less difficult or sad. I miss her, and probably always will. She was my last remaining grandparent and her passing has brought up a lot of emotions around life’s finitude and the many more losses I will inevitably experience as I and my loved ones age.

The picture on the front of this memorial tribute is a painting my grandparents received as a wedding present in 1946.

2. Lots of preparation and good rhythms made for our best Christmas season yet.

On Christmas night, Luke reflected that he thought it had been our best Christmas to date and I had to agree. Our season was a perfect blend of Advent celebrations, well-chosen seasonal events, just-enough holiday decor, and treasured home traditions. The season felt calm and unhurried, allowing us to enjoy each other and all the joys of Christmas without much stress. The kids’ ages have a lot to do with this—they’re old enough for the traditions to be familiar and easy, but young enough that it was all still magical—but another contributing factor is that we’ve been working hard for nine Christmases to create a holiday season that suits our family needs and preferences. We’ve done away with the unnecessary extras (like excess parties and gifts) and leaned into what matters most to us (focus on sacred traditions, lots of Holiday books and music, and time spent around our personalized Christmas tree). I’ve gotten into a good rhythm of doing the work of Christmas (specifically Christmas shopping, wrapping, and Christmas cards) well before Thanksgiving so that the season feels enjoyable and not stressful. Not every Christmas season will go so smoothly but we were thankful for one that did!

3. A lot of people had a really rough 2023.

It can be hard for people to talk about challenges when we are in the midst of them; I’m no different! In talking to people—even people I know well—about their experiences in 2023, many have reflected on what a tough year it was. This has surprised me—partly because our own 2023 was, for the most part, a really good one, and also because in many instances I had no idea these individuals were having a hard time until after the fact. This has been an important reminder that what we see on the outside is not alway an accurate indicator of what is going on behind the scenes. I cannot assume someone is okay just because that is the story their life appears to be telling. This is a valuable reminder to consistently approach others with greater empathy and curiosity.

4. God answers prayers we hadn’t thought to pray.

It was wonderful to share the news of our pregnancy with you all this month! (Thank you so much for sharing our excitement!) As I wrote in that post, this pregnancy was a surprise answer to a prayer we had been too afraid to pray. If I had been honest about my soul’s deepest longings, I could have admitted how much we hoped for a fourth child, yet I was afraid to ask God for a child I didn’t think was a possibility—especially when He had already blessed us with three perfect children. It felt greedy to ask for more. But God’s gifts are not limited by my own insecurities or misperceptions of what may be too much. His miracles are bigger than my imagination. I was afraid to pray bold prayers for a fourth child, yet the Lord knew our hearts and answered those unuttered prayers. The Lord is ALWAYS good and ALWAYS kind; that’s true whether or not life is going my way . . . but it has been incredible to experience His goodness and kindness through the gift of this little one.

5. My mind is a much nicer place when I’m on antidepressants.

As thrilled as we are to be expecting a fourth child, the pregnancy has not been easy. My usual first-trimester woes of nausea, fatigue, mood swings, insomnia, and anxiety have been compounded by the necessary weaning off of the antidepressants that have been an actual lifesaver for me over the past three years. I’m confident that purging my body of this medication is in the best interest of our baby, and I’m happy to make the sacrifice, but the brain changes I’ve experienced in the past two months are a keen indicator of the immense difference that medication was making for me. Thankfully, I have not reverted to my 2021 levels of debilitating depression, but my mind has felt foggy and sluggish and my mood is unpredictable, with bouts of sadness pinpricked by moments of intense irritability and even rage. Luke has been my rock in this season, helping me ride out the emotions and reminding me that it won’t be this way forever. No pregnancy has ever gone on indefinitely, and it won’t be long before I am able to return to the medication that keeps me stable. In the meantime I am focusing on the good these changes are doing for our baby, and feeling gratitude for modern medication that (when not pregnant) can help my brain function normally.

6. Gymnastics and ballet in costumes are the cutest!

This semester the twins are participating in their own extracurricular activities for the very first time—Sully in a Superhero Gymnastics class and Kali in a Princess Ballet class—and it has been the cutest thing to watch! All three of my kids love dressing up, and the costume component of these classes has elevated an already fun experience. Seeing them tumble and spin in their darling outfits has been a genuine joy this winter.

7. Short-term challenges work well for me.

I ditched New Year’s resolutions a long time ago, but this year I’m trying something new with small monthly challenges. In January, I did a Read My Shelves book challenge (reading only books that I already owned in Kindle or Print) and it was a success, helping me make a good dent in the books on my physical TBR and freeing me from the pressures of new releases and library holds. In February, I did two challenges: the first was to complete our library’s Winter Bingo, another goal that put some helpful boundaries around my reading. The second was a no-spend challenge in which Luke and I both committed to making zero non-essential purchases for the month. I cheated slightly on that one when I bought the twins souvenirs from Legoland, but minus that one exception, I bought nothing but groceries and necessary home supplies this month. It felt good to save some money and pinpoint areas where I was making unnecessary purchases. (I’m not a big spender, but those Kindle deals and discount kids clothes can really get me!) I haven’t committed to specific challenges for the remaining ten months of this year, but I am really liking the shorter time frame and specificity of these challenges that can lead to helpful insights and potentially lasting habit change.

The twins got Blackout Bingos on their Challenges and I *almost* did—just missed the Adult Craft Night that was scheduled on a night I sadly could not attend.

8. Life is so fragile and can change in an instant.

On February 8 (one day after Luke’s fortieth birthday), he and Charleston were rear-ended when Luke stopped for a school bus on a busy highway. It was not a pretty accident: Luke’s truck was badly damaged and the SUV that rear-ended him is totaled. Charleston got a gash in the back of his head that required stitching, and Luke’s back may never be the same (thank goodness he has a great chiropractor). Navigating insurance has been a nightmare for poor Luke, and he and Charleston are still pretty shaken up three weeks later. But it could have been so much worse! I hate that they experienced this accident AND I am thankful for the Lord’s protection over them in what could easily have been a fatal accident if circumstances were just slightly different. Their experience (like Oma’s passing at the start of the season) brought home the fragility of this life and enhanced my appreciation for every moment that we are all safe and healthy.

9. Traveling with one kid is so easy!

Charleston and I traveled to California in late January to participate in my grandmother’s memorial. (I’ll be sharing all the details of that trip in Thursday’s Lately post!) We had a fantastic time with my parents, and in addition to the many great memories we formed together, I came away from the trip with an awed awareness at the simplicity of traveling with just one (mature, well-behaved) child. From packing and navigating the airport, to making entertainment choices and figuring out meals and sleeping arrangements, everything was just so simple. I love that our family does most things as a complete unit. (Another big takeaway from the trip was how crazy I am about all of my kids—I missed the twins massively while we were apart!) But there’s really something to be said for simplifying things with different arrangements every once in a while.

And now it’s your turn: what is something you learned this winter? Do you, like me, have seasons when learning comes easily and seasons when it’s harder to find the significance? Why do you think that is? Let’s compare notes in the comments!

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