What I Learned in 2014

learned in 2014

It’s been a few months since a “What I’ve Learned” post around here. But Emily is hosting a year-end link-up for any of us to share what we’ve learned this year — silly or serious or somewhere in between.

Here you go, in no particular order, seven things I learned in 2014.


1. One of my deepest places of belonging is when I’m gathered with other writers.
writers barn w Richella

Over the last couple of years, I’ve attended several conferences and events for writers and bloggers and they’ve each felt like such a gift. This year I attended The Writer’s Barn event {hosted by Emily Freeman and Christa Wells} and the Allume Conference. Both of them were highlights of the year.

Even though I get sweaty {and sometimes inexplicably sleepy} when I meet new people and am in small talk situations, I truly love gathering with other kindred souls who need to write their way through the days like I do.

I’m sad each time I leave a writers’ event and I suspect it’s because these are my people. {That person in the Writer’s Barn pic with me is Richella, one of the dearest gals on the internet.}


2. Some of my favorite new reads this year were actually old books.
bookcase white before

Oddly enough, this year’s fiction bender showed up during my busiest months, September and October. Avoidance anyone?

East of Eden {1952} by John Steinbeck — why have I not read this book before now? Probably because the sheer number of pages mocked me with the familiar, “Welcome to yet another unfinished task, Marian.” Even though it’s epic and sweeping, I finished it in a week. It was that good.

Steinbeck can craft characters like no one else and this book has the most hate-worthy villain of any story I’ve ever read. His writing is simply spectacular. It’s one of those books I’d love to read again with really smart literary folks so that I can better understand the layers and symbolism.

Till We Have Faces {1956} by C.S. Lewis and Their Eyes Were Watching God {1937} by Zora Neale Hurston were two of my other favorite fiction reads for 2014. Again, why am I just now reading these? I felt like I wasn’t quite smart enough for Faces but things came together at the end and I think I got it. I think.

And because we’re talking favorite books, these two are newer but can’t go unmentioned: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls. Both were incredible, can’t put down sort of reads.

{I’m a booklist person. If you are too, you’ll find more reads on the “Booklists” tab at the top of the page.}


3. You guys care about getting dressed every day. And you want a little encouragement in this department. And writing about clothes is super fun for me. So basically we’re made for each other.
thrift stack sz 500

When I announced a new niche on the blog a couple of months ago, one geared toward real fashion for real women with real budgets, well…you all raised your hands and said, “Yes! Help me! Somewhere between college and age thirty-something, I’ve lost my sense of style and am drowning in a sea of yoga pants and pilled Target knits.”

The Real Gal’s Fashion Files and The Real Pretty Shop have been so much fun.

Fashion Files button

I’ve got all sorts of post ideas lined up for 2015 so stay tuned and keep bringing me your everyday style dilemmas.


4. We all have goods and services living in our brain that others might be waiting for.

This one springboards off number three. It’s been at least a year since a friend told me I needed to use the blog to turn my knack for thrifted loveliness and “wardrobe consulting” into something tangible. I dismissed it as silly and superficial, thinking that no one would go for that. Besides, I’m a serious writer. {Insert eye-rolling emoji.}

I’ve been throwing outfits together for myself and for others my whole life but never considered it a real “thing.” In fact, I’ve sometimes been embarrassed by my scavenging, piecemeal ways.

football scarf

Though clearly I was not embarrassed at age 4 with my flamboyant 70s scarf as I played Lucy to my Charlie Brown brother.

And then Shannan did her Goodwill Toward Women post, selling thrifted ensembles through her blog, showing the world that real fashion and real budgets can coexist. Well, I couldn’t sleep that night. My brain was alive with possibilities. As I mentioned, such inspiration has since found its way into regular posts on fashion and a “shop.”

But that’s not all. As things have unfolded, real life friends and acquaintances have asked if my wardrobe services are for hire.

They are, as a matter of fact.

For months I’ve been quietly seeking part-time work that would still allow me to move toward my hope of full-time writing. And while I haven’t started any official fashiony work yet, it’s crazy that my lifelong wardrobe hacks could translate into valuable services for others and also valuable work for me.

And so that has me thinking. Don’t we all have gifts that we deem unmarketable and superficial, but that others actually need? Gifts that we can barter, sell, or simply offer to others? Maybe it’s cleaning, organizing, problem-solving, cooking, or book-loving — whatever it may be, our taken-for-granted knacks and hacks can turn into something “real” — whether it’s vocation or volunteer. It simply takes some creativity, thinking outside the box, and listening to those who see things we can’t always see in ourselves.

My sister-in-law has a friend who homeschools her kids and makes a thousand dollars a month selling cakes {from boxed mixes} to gas stations that in turn sell them by the slice at the register.

What opportunities do we miss because we’re minimizing and devaluing our gifts simply because they come so naturally to us or because we don’t think they’re noteworthy?

You guys are all probably like, “Where have you been sister? This is so obvious.”

And it is obvious. Except when it isn’t. I’ve always believed in looking within to the ways we’re wired and letting that point us toward the future. During my professor days, I used to walk college freshmen through this very process of self-discovery. But for some reason it’s showing up in my own real life in ways I never expected {like fashion} and that makes it feel new and revolutionary.


5. Death is teaching me to make more of life.

I’ve only written one post about it but in November I lost a dear friend to cancer. She was the second friend I made when my family moved to this place twelve and a half years ago. And while there are those who feel her loss more acutely on a day-to-day basis than I do and that makes me feel like I don’t have the right to write about it, loss is real and so is the grief surrounding it.

I am a slow and prolonged processor of heavy things. When an alert on my phone popped up this week, reminding me of her birthday, I felt the heaviness all over again. Some things simply should not be and all that is within us rails against it.

The two years from diagnosis until her passing were a roller-coaster — joy when new treatments worked, devastation when they stopped working, learning how to care for someone in personal and meaningful ways, wanting to help but not wanting to be a burden, guilt because I was healthy and she wasn’t, honest conversations about the inevitable, and the obvious states of anger, regret, grief, and disbelief.

But like I wrote in the week before she passed away, it has also been an unexpected invitation to step more boldly into my own life, to choose courage instead of cynicism and gratitude instead of guilt. To go against my default settings that pull me under the covers instead of into my actual life. And like any powerful lesson, we’re prone to forget it when the craziness of everyday real life overwhelms us, just like we lose our grip on our tempers and our grace and our Gospel.

We have to keep grabbing hold of truth because it’s always slipping through our fingers. I want my many thoughts of Susan to be daily reminders to steward the life I’ve been given with intention and celebration, for her death to help me make much of life.


6. Sometimes joy is waiting on the other side of fear.
beach sz 500

When I was asked several months ago to share my story, one of brokenness and hardship but also beauty and redemption, for a Christmas women’s gathering at my church, I really didn’t know what to do. It took weeks of thinking and praying and talking with my husband before we said yes.

And then I felt like I was going to be sick every time I thought about it.

I anguished over how to share it in a meaningful way without including details that the whole world doesn’t need to know. I commenced to writing it out and then I’d start over. The ending refused to come together until the afternoon of the event and I worried that it was all just a mess. It felt like I was writing out this intense narrative and that’s because I was. It happens to be the story I know best because it’s mine. It’s also the story I’ve never really told.

When December 4th showed up with all of its butterflies and expectations, I simply hoped I wouldn’t do something way embarrassing like wet my pants, fall down, or throw up. I’m so serious about that. Irrational fears are the worst and I specialize in them.

I used to teach people for a living so I don’t have a phobia of speaking, but that was years ago and it didn’t involve real vulnerability.

No one was more surprised than me that when the time came to walk onto the actual stage, I didn’t shake or stumble {or lose control of any bodily functions.} Thanks to the countless prayers of others, I was just fine. The real surprise came when I realized that not only could I face my fear and come out on the other side, I could come out on the other side with joy.

Joy — the thing I never thought to ask for in all of those prayers but that God gave me anyway. It was one of my favorite gifts, experiences, and lessons of 2014.


7. I can write about too many things.
everything boy

At least it feels that way, like a liability instead of an asset. Do you know how badly I want to be a niche writer? Truly I do. But I’m seven years in and it’s just not happening. I’m more like that guy up there who finds inspiration and awesomeness in a lot of different places.

Thoughts about parenting, working out my faith, educating our kids, hot-gluing rugs together, and how to wear blazers — they all find their landing place here on the blog.

All the “experts” say this is wrong, that people need to know what you’re about within 10 seconds of landing in your online space. And I think they’re right. I also think {and hope?} that there’s still room for those of us who tend to host regular surprise parties with our very non-niche content.

I have a handful of favorite bloggers and the truth is, they can write about most anything and I’m still going to show up. Why? Because over time I’ve grown to love who they are and the many ways they inspire, encourage, and challenge me with their creativity and compelling thoughts. I show up for their consistent voice more than I show up for their predictable content.


about me collage

While I’d love to tell you exactly what 2015 will hold for this space and I have some goals in mind, I’m also along for the ride. Though my content shifts from post to post, I sincerely hope that my voice remains the same.

It will always reflect where I am and what I’m learning, not because the world needs all of my important thoughts but because real redemption — in the big things and the little things — is simply too good to keep to myself. When we tell our stories and share who we are, we reflect a God whose fingerprints are all over our lives. We direct the glory back to its true source.

I love this quote from A Million Little Ways:

I don’t believe there is one great thing I was made to do in this world. I believe there is one great God I was made to glorify. And there will be many ways, even a million little ways, I will declare his glory with my life.  ~ Emily Freeman

On some days I fully embrace this and on other days I struggle, feeling like I’ve got to find the thing or the project or the one true niche for me. {While also being the stellar wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, homemaker, world-saver, and responsible citizen.}

But I’m also learning how those fretful thoughts reveal that I’m far more concerned about my own glory rather than the One whose image I bear.

Whatever you find here, however my words intersect with your own moments, I long for you go into the world with a bit more courage and grace because of them.

I want you to see the glitter of possibility that’s sprinkled on everything — when life isn’t going as planned and dinner won’t make itself and mothering seems best left to someone else and our wardrobe has been in a state of depression since 2002.

There is always hope and beauty. I write to remind myself. And to remind you too.

Happy New Year friends! And thank you for showing up here, surprises and all.


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  1. says

    What a beautiful list, Marian! And your blog is lovely. So glad I stopped by from Emily’s place. Warm wishes for a 2015 full of all the gifts He brings!

  2. says

    Thank you for the reminder that we all have a gift somewhere. I am doing a bit of searching as to what that may be for me. I am not working outside of the home right now, just enjoying my year of rest from homeschooling. But I know in the future I will need to work so I am looking and thinking. I will not have a soul sucking job. I am prayerfully seeking my passion.

  3. says

    First of all, you are so blessed to live close enough to The Nester’s BARN!! Oh, that would be so fun to hang out with those sisters and other writers. Also, I feel just like you do about my “message.” I think the beauty comes when all of my interests and passions intersect, and I’m trying to look for that more this year. Have you ever heard of Allison Vesterfelt? I am taking her writing course entitled “Discovering the Power of Your Voice,” and it’s been helpful in that way.

    So encouraged by your words, here!

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