“The practice of looking back and paying attention serves as an anchor for the soul in a fast-moving world. Instead of waiting for the world to stop so we can catch up, we slow ourselves, we look around, and name what we see.”

– Emily P. Freeman


I’ve committed to following Emily’s lead this year, joining her in What I Learned, by pausing to reflect on the last season before barreling into the next. (Learn more about Emily’s simple rhythm of reflection in Episode 61 of The Next Right Thing podcast).

To kick things off, here are seven things I learned this winter in no particular order:

1. Books look better with their dust jackets in the garbage.

In an attempt to quiet some visual noise in my house, I removed (and trashed) the dust jackets from every hardcover book I own. They no longer scream at me with their bright, fonty, obnoxious spines. My shelves—and my soul—are calmer for it.

2. To-do lists are best kept in one place.

I have long used the To-Doist app to manage my avalanche of daily professional tasks. My personal lists, however, have always resided on random scraps of paper on my desk, by my bed, tucked into books and shoved into my purse. I put an end to this “system” in January by purchasing a simple notebook to house my daily to-dos/notes. Before I head to bed each night, I write what needs to done the next day and leave it sitting on the footstool of my morning reading chair. The next day, I add to the list any quotes/takeaways from my morning devotion/non-fiction book that I want to revisit, then I transfer it to my desk so I can add to it as needed throughout the day.

3. Social media sharing is a discipline, not a dumping ground.

In an attempt to be more intentional about how I share my life and serve my community on Instagram, I developed a posting routine that forces me to be more thoughtful and less impulsive with my posts. The result has been a richer, less selfish use of the platform that is doing my heart—and hopefully the hearts of my followers—good.

4. I can complete a Bible reading plan.

Number of YouVersion Bible reading plans completed in all of 2018: 0
Number of YouVersion Bible reading plans completed in January/February 2019: 4

What changed? I moved my favorite chair to a room in our house I actually enjoy sitting in, and started putting my butt in it every morning at 6 AM, no exceptions. My coffee is programmed the night before to start brewing at 5:55 so that all I have to do is get up, turn on the light, drink a glass of water, pour the coffee, sit down, read the day’s plan, read a chapter of non-fiction, go over my to-do list and then jump into my day. It’s not fancy, but it’s become a habit and it’s working.

5. Keeping routines on the weekend matters.

I used to treat the weekends like a free pass to break every routine/good habit I kept during the week. This winter I learned that it’s important to stick with the good things that helped me stay energized and clear headed Monday – Thursday from Friday – Sunday, too. This includes getting plenty of sleep and exercise; getting outside for a daily walk around the neighborhood; rising early to read/write; drinking less (or not at all) and eating well.

6. Horses are a heart check.

My dad was a renowned Hackney pony trainer. Growing up, I always feared having to face the smell of a barn or the sight of a horse after he died. Six months before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 13 months before he died from it, God moved my family to a neighborhood full of horses because…of course he did.

I walk our golden retriever nearly every day, and each time I can choose one of several back alleys that will—or won’t—take me directly past horses. Some days I can look the horses in the eyes and feel light and bright. Other days? Not so much. Either way, my body’s response to them is a way for me to check in with my grief. I’ve found that the hardest days are the ones when they aren’t there. But then I remember they are likely out somewhere far better, just like my dad, and it is well.

7. Ron Swanson is still king.

After having not watched Parks and Recreation since it went off the air in 2015, this winter Ryan and I started cackling through an episode every night before bed. It’s “literally” the best.


Now it’s your turn. What did you learn this winter?