The Wonder Report: September 2, 2022
It’s been about two months since I last popped into your inbox, and I’ve missed our time together each Friday. For those of you who have newly subscribed this summer, I’m sorry for the delay in sending you the weekly content you signed up for. Over the past four months, my life has changed pretty dramatically, and by the end of June, I realized I needed to take a short break to give myself a chance to adjust. When I decided to hit pause on The Wonder Report, I had no idea when I’d be back. And I’m happy to say that today’s the day.
It’s been a great summer and a difficult summer, a summer of learning and relearning, of trying new things and learning to appreciate the old.
As a young adult, I changed jobs (and sometimes cities) every year or two, and found the transitions exhilarating. I liked exploring and meeting new people; my young brain was agile and eager to learn. I adapted quickly and found myself thriving in continual flux.
Now, as an older adult (I’ll turn 52 in October), change isn’t as easy, especially the dramatic kinds that have happened in the past 12 months. I lost my mom, whom I’d cared for for years following her stroke. My husband and I moved into a new house in a new town. Our youngest son graduated high school and almost immediately headed off to boot camp, leaving us with an empty nest. I wrapped up a 10-year freelance writing career and began a new full-time marketing assistant job at my local library. And just two weeks ago, I started a graduate program to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science. Oh, and I took up crocheting.
The changes have been dramatic enough, but the real challenge was creating new habits and rituals to support these changes. A week or two before beginning my new job, I realized that the way I carried out my freelance life over the past 10 years or so would be insufficient to support a life of going to an office five days a week. I needed new clothes and shoes. I needed new morning and nighttime routines. I needed a new meal plan for dinners. I needed a lunch box.
And now that I’ve added graduate school in the evenings, the needs have shifted yet again.
But even though I’ve lost slow, lazy mornings and the opportunity to meal prep between assignments in the afternoons, though I miss working alongside my husband in the home office and taking our dogs for their lunchtime walk, I’ve gained coworkers I admire and enjoy working with, a new opportunity to use my gifts and creativity, a profession that excites me and pulls together many of my experiences and interests, and the reminder that we’re never too old to have new experiences and develop new habits, especially when God is calling us to step into a new stretch of the path.
Oh, and I also gained a new trophy: I won the first cookie baking contest at work by baking up a batch of these King Arthur Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies and popping a Hershey Kiss on top of them after they baked. These kinds of fun activities with fellow employees has been a balm to my soul after nearly a decade of professional loneliness working at home by myself.
So for now, my life has resumed a predictable enough structure that I feel comfortable stepping back into the habit of The Wonder Report, but I’ll admit I’m still not exactly sure what form or rhythm it may evolve into. I’m hopeful for a slightly condensed version every Friday, though it’s possible I’ll miss a week here and there if time gets especially tight. Mostly I look forward to reconnecting with you, to thinking together about what we’re reading and experiencing, about the art that inspires us, about the natural world that leaves us in awe, and about our faith in Jesus that helps us make sense of it all.
I wonder … what changes have happened in your life since we were last together? Have you won any trophies? Is your nest suddenly empty? Have you lost someone you love? I’m looking forward to catching up with you. Thanks for sticking with me while I took some time off!
I’ll admit that taking a break from The Wonder Report left me feeling a little bit like a failure. I wanted to be the kind of person that could keep all the balls in the air, even as new balls were being thrown at me. When I lamented this sense of failure to my friend Jenni, she offered me a different perspective. While I wasn’t writing in this space, I was actually doing some of the most important writing of my life: drafting letters to our son at bootcamp.
If you’ve never had a family member enlist in the military, you may not realize that during their initial basic training, they are removed from all the normal comforts and rhythms of life — including all phones, computers, and other forms of electronic or telephonic communication — and indoctrinated into the life of their military branch, battalion, and platoon. That means the only way we could communicate with our son for the past couple of months — our son who just graduated high school and had never really been a way from home — was through letters. So we spent many evenings this summer writing funny stories from home, copying quotes from his favorite author, and telling him how very proud we are of him. And when we got letters back from him, scribbled in the tiny margins of time his drill instructors gave him, it was the highlight of the week.
I wrote other letters this summer too: to my nephew when he graduated eighth grade, to my aunt during a health challenge, to a friend who was going through a hard time. The hardest letter I wrote was to my mom, on the first anniversary of her death. Of course that one won’t be delivered or read, but it was an important letter for me to write anyway.
This summer of letters reminded me why I’ve always loved to write and receive letters. And it also reminded me why I’ve always wanted this newsletter to feel less like a sales pitch or a highly polished publication and more like a letter from a friend. Whatever other changes may happen, that’s one aspect of The Wonder Report that will always stay the same.
I wonder … do you like to write or receive letters? What letters have you written recently? Who could you write to today who would love getting a letter from you?
By the way, if you also like writing letters, you might be interested in Gracy Olmstead’s recent Substack about letter writing. Her August challenge is over, but her thoughts on letter writing are inspiring.
Asking Good Questions
On the June 23, 2022, episode of the On Being podcast, Krista Tippett talked with adrienne maree brown, an author and activist, who’s been described as “a student of change and of how groups change together,” which made her an interesting guide for my summer. Brown is known for asking great questions … of herself and others … and several really intriguing ones emerged while I was listening to the podcast.
What are my most persistent spiritual practices?
What am I moving toward? What am I moving away from?
How does successful life function for me now?
How can humans be in a better relationship with each other?
What does it look like “to imagine a future where we all get to be there, not causing harm to each other, and experiencing abundance?”
How do we “get in a right relationship with change that allows us to harness and shape things, towards community, towards liberation, towards justice?”
What “unthinkable thought” am I willing to consider?
“What time is it on the clock of the world?”
Because asking (and wrestling with) good questions is another thing that will never change about The Wonder Report, I hope we might be able to take some time in the coming weeks to consider some of these (and other) questions together.
I wonder … what questions are you asking yourself in this season? How are you going about answering them?
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report. Thanks again for joining me. It’s a privilege to share this space with you and to enter into these conversations together. I’ll close with a few photos of the summer: a recital and a road trip, a polo match and a pond full of water lilies, a new home for our small church and my first day of grad school.
As always, if you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. I can’t always respond quickly, but I always respond.
Until next time,
P.S. After writing that last paragraph above, I feel I owe some of you an apology for failing to respond to a few of your very kind messages when I announced I was taking some time off. While I normally do respond to every message, those arrived during an especially difficult time. I received each of them as a gift but was not able to respond. I’ll just say thank you and I’m sorry and I promise to try to do better in the future.
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