These pics above are from both December and January. You’ll forgive me. I loved the snow theme. We spent much of our January on the road. College of Bishops meeting in Florida. Reading, PA with family while Andrew was in Canterbury with the Archbishop of the ACNA. Washington DC with family connecting to the March for Life happenings. Then, we made a surprise re-visit back to Reading just in time to get snowed in for four happy days. Kids were ecstatic. Snowball fights. A massive snow cave, and yes, a snow bunny.
I’m joining Emily Freeman and loving this little ritual of looking back. I find that it’s a little bit like an Ignatian examen. It’s an exercise in gratitude and perhaps one day all of these “learnings” will make an awkward but charming diary of sorts.
So, here it is, what I learned in January:
1. I could be a truck driver. Give me audio books a smattering of podcasts and a wide open road. In my real life I have to fight to find time for reading. When I’m on the road, all I have to do is push play. Happiness.
This is what I’m currently “reading” on the road:
The Whole Brain Child. I love Daniel Siegel, a neuroscientist who gives us tips on how to build healthy brains. This is making me a better parent.
Chronicles of Narnia from Focus on the Family Radio Theatre. We listened to six of the seven books thanks to Andrew’s Aunt Nancy’s Christmas gift of the entire set. Every family should have their own copy. Period.
All the Light We do not See. A lovely book I’m savoring full of growing up during WWII. I haven’t finished it but love the splashes of reoccurring metaphors and finding seasons of joy in the midst of such intense suffering.
Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I’m happily jumping on the bandwagon. Too many people have said that this book is changing the way they order their life. And yes, I agree. There are nuggets here I’ll keep coming back to.
These are the podcasts I’m listening to:
The Allender Center from Dan Allender. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough. The ending the year well/beginning the year well podcasts are still echoing around in my heart. I now have an expanded ritual for this time period and this month it enabled me to net truths from last year instead of allowing them to slip through my fingers.
I’m inspired to build a stronger family culture around books here: The Read-Aloud Revival by Sarah MacKenzie.
This has become my cotton candy: Happier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin. Hilarious. Two high powered sisters from the Bronx doing exactly what my sister and I do: tweak small habits that make big differences in our quality of life.
2. I have a new writing ritual lifted straight from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. She is prolific and in one of her podcasts, she divulges to an interviewee that she writes in coffee shops in London to the sound of rain on her phone. For two hours she writes to gentle rain and then packs up and takes a walk across a lovely London square to a new coffee shop and writes to the sound of thunderstorms. Hmmmm. As someone fascinated with neurology, I was intrigued. What fires together wires together, right? If you often snack on pringles while you drive on long trips, you are probably going to get a pringles craving during your next big trip. This works extremely well when we are developing habits. So, I’m writing again and now I experience an exceedingly strong creative urge every time I hear rain tap against window panes. Hmmm…I love rain.
3. Candlelight changes the atmosphere of a family meal. I found a few simple candlesticks under the credenza in the dining room and they are now permanent fixtures on our table. I light them to signal presence. This is when we put down phones and look into each others’ eyes. I think I’ll move to votives soon so I no longer have to scrape wax spots off the table.
4. Candles are a big part of Hygge and Hygge is my new favorite winter word. Hygge is a Danish word which means more than just coziness, it means making beauty out of winter and creating a sense of belonging in the home, often with candles, a roaring fire, a warm drink, and a friend. Here was one of my favorite articles on creating Hygge at home.
5. My mother is a master at Hygge. Mom has big cable knit throws in every room, gas fireplace and candles always lit, and extra hot chocolate ready on the stove. But, she wins on the Hygge rating scale with her breakfasts. She always makes the most delicious warm breakfasts with hot oatbran cereal. Stir nuts and then frozen blueberries, watching them plump up and become shiny and then when the steaming bowls come to the table, drizzle on a bit of honey. Healthy. Comforting. Hygge.
6. This brings me to the January learning which is throwing open the sash on an extremely dusty room:
With gratitude there’s no room
I’m pretty sure I knew this once but never understood that the same truth applied to writing. I’ve been mired in. Snowed in. Entirely stuck this past year. And the pit? I couldn’t get over the language of self-promotion tied to blog writing, book writing, social media writing. Build an audience? Those words make me feel slightly ill. Build a platform? Deeply ill. I remember sitting in on a talk at the Faith and Writing Conference at Calvin College on building an audience without losing your soul. They came up empty on the second part of the title. Don’t worry, you won’t, the publishing editors said after explaining what kind of self-marketing was needed to break into today’s market.
The truth is that my most rooted sins are related to approval addiction and get twanged whenever I do anything that smacks of self-promotion. I never want sharing content or searching for the perfect words to be about proving my self-worth. You can see the conundrum. I’ve been frantically searching for divine answers for exactly one year.
The answer came oddly in the shape of a word from Drew Barrymore from the Happier Podcast I eluded to earlier. (I know. Cotton candy. But, stay with me here.) She was sharing about a new groundedness she had achieved with gratitude. This was the gist of what she said, or maybe of what I heard: Her creativity comes in response to deep gratitude of what she’s been given. She knows that she’s just a normal person who’s been given extraordinary gifts. Talent honed by many? Gratitude. Years of fame which have given her the ability to direct her own film? Gratitude. Fans waiting to watch? Gratitude. Great staff to work with? Gratitude.
Gratitude connects us to the truth of grace:
I am but dust and yet I am allowed to be a kingdom bearer.
Thus, I’m building a new narrative around writing:
I get to play with words. I get to wrestle with meaning. I get to plunge deep into Word, allow it to transform me, then craft something new, and give it away.
Receive. Craft. Release. Worship.
How does gratitude change the light in your stuck rooms?
And you, Friend, what did you learn in January?
Photo taken outside the most charming chapel of St. Brendan’s Anglican, Mount Desert Island Maine where I baptized my nephew and niece this August. Photo of open sketchbook taken from Death to Stock photos, all others, mine.