What We Learned is a seasonal practice of reflection, initiated by the lovely and soulful Emily P. Freeman. It’s a simple habit of paying attention to the things that energize, delight, drain, and stretch us—be they serious or silly—as we learn to cultivate a soul at rest.
1. It’s okay to start a new habit without waiting for a new beginning.
In mid-December, at a friend’s suggestion, I purchased a Growth Book, which is a gorgeous, cloth-covered journal designed specifically for intentional spiritual growth.
My instinct was to save this fresh new journal for January 1. It would be more natural to cultivate a new habit after the holiday rush, right?
Except it was two weeks before Christmas and I was already frazzled by holiday chaos. I wanted to slow down and meditate on the significance of Christ’s birth, look ahead to the coming year, and seek God’s guidance for my family and my work.
The Growth Book invited me to do that now, not later. So I did. Each day before Christmas, I sat down and journaled prayers, fleshed out frustrations, and jotted down dreams and goals.
I only spent a few minutes each day with these thoughts, but the practice had a profound impact on my experience of the holiday season. I marveled with fresh wonder at the lavish love of Jesus’ humble coming. I didn’t feel rushed or pressured to pull off the perfect celebration. And when the sun set on Christmas Day, there was no letdown.
All that journaling helped my mind and heart appreciate the day before me while anticipating the days ahead. I’m so glad I didn’t wait for a new year to begin this new habit.
2. Horses are (still) my love language.
As a homeschool kid in rural Vermont, my horse was my best friend. I worked hard at my studies all morning, and after lunch I saddled up for an afternoon riding and writing in the wooded hills around our home. It was as idyllic as it sounds.
That lifestyle ended when I moved away for college and had to say goodbye to Maverick, my last and favorite horse. The loss of equine companionship is an ache that’s never dissipated.
In December, my eldest daughter and I began volunteering at Green Meadow Farm. Caring for the animals there, especially the horses, felt like slipping into a pair of perfectly fitted gloves. Muscle and sense memory erased the last 23 years without horses. Everything was familiar. Their scent, their movements, the soulful and subtle way they communicate.
Even when the snow was falling and the wind numbing my face, I just wanted to stand beside these majestic creatures and soak in their quiet presence. Their is a unique contentment in warming your fingers under a horse’s mane on a winter’s day.
Tomorrow is our last chore slot. I’m sad, but mostly thankful for the chance to reconnect with a part of myself I thought had ended with childhood.
3. Keeping a gratitude journal really is worth the effort.
There are people who naturally see the bright side of things, and then there’s me. Like so many Enneagram 4s, I actually kinda enjoy melancholy. I’m more prone to angsty reflection on the brokenness behind all of life’s ills, than I am to celebrating the beauty within that brokenness.
Remember my Growth Book? Besides using it for long-form journaling and habit-tracking, I’ve also been using it to keep a daily gratitude journal. And, wow, what a difference.
Case in point: If you’d asked me on January 31 how my new year was going, I’d have said, “HORRIBLE.” Multiple viruses, chronic health issues resurfacing, challenges in our business, loneliness…I had plenty of evidence for my adjective of choice.
But then, on February 1, I read back through my daily gratitude entries for January and legitimately cried thankful tears over the lavish kindness of God, my husband, and my community throughout that “horrible” first month of 2019.
Not only was I blown away by the abundance of daily goodness I’d so quickly forgotten, but by how crazy full life is! How much have I been missing all these years by not paying attention to those little moments?
4. I’m lonely for face-to-face friendship.
I’m an introvert and lover of solitude, but even I need friends. I’m thankful for Voxer, which allows me to hear my bestie’s voice and stay connected amidst the busy lives we’re living 700 miles apart. I’m thankful for local friendships that are strong enough to endure months of disconnection, but then settle right back into steady comfort within minutes.
I’m not without good, faithful, dependable friendships. What I lack is the kind of friendship that does life together day by day, in overlapping circles of school, church, and work. The kind of friendship that breaks bread together and has hard conversations and isn’t afraid to speak the truth in love. The kind of friendship that looks like discipleship, like iron sharpening iron.
I’m lonely for local, biblical community, is what I’m saying. Does that make sense?
5. A good pillow has the power to change your life.
On a slightly less contemplative note, I’ve been walking past the display of expensive Chiroflow water pillows at my chiropractor’s office for at least seven years. In January, after a five-day migraine stemming from my neck, I invested in one and haven’t stopped singing its praises.
I’d forgotten what it feels like to wake up without my neck and shoulders tied in knots. I thought it was just par for the 40-year-old course to need to turn your head slowly in the morning so the muscles don’t lock up. Turns out I was completely, blessedly wrong. Who knew?