Things I Learned in 2018


Here are twelve things I learned in 2018. They don’t correspond to particular months, but they are relatively chronological. Curious… what have you learned this year?

1) Fullness was a good word.

When the year began, the word ‘fullness’ kept popping into my thinking, so I decided that would be my focus-word for the year. It was a good choice. Just before we reached 2018, the fall of 2017 was remarkably challenging with waves of stress and sad news emerging in the lives of people close to us. In the midst of this, I decided I was really going to draw strength and care from the fullness of our larger communities and all the many relationships that are a part of them. I did. And I feel gratitude.

2) Grief is cumulative.

This is not really a new realization, but I felt this intimately this year. New griefs mingle with old griefs and call them forward. This can feel really big and can be challenging to manage when the Grief Ninjas show up. (Remember those?) At the same time, previous frameworks for mourning — that is, the ways we’ve reconfigured and stayed in relationship with what we’ve lost — can be called upon as strengths too.

3) I like limiting social media.

Several times this year, I created once-per-day or twice-per-day rhythms in checking social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, and I love it. (I’m currently on a twice-per-day rhythm. I also limit the time). This makes social media more manageable and less time consuming, and I find that I actually look forward to checking rather than feeling like this is something compulsive or mindless that I’m doing.

4) “Stories are our cure.”

Hannah Gadsby’s comedy-special-turned-masterpiece-about-trauma-and-storytelling “Nanette” really made a big impact on me. As you may recall from a previous post this year, I watched it one morning in April and was so moved by it that I watched it again that same evening — twice in one day. “Stories are our cure,” she says, convicted that when the time is right, healing can happen when we allow our communities to hold our stories with us and “take care of our stories” alongside us. I watched this, knowing that I was going to create more space, including more communal space, for some of my own stories this year. It was one of the most transformative aspects of 2018.

5) Our family is constructed. Big whoop. (Actually, it’s awesome).

In addition to our families of birth and marriage, for whom we are very thankful, we have a big, constructed, chosen family. This isn’t new. We’ve been building our family in this way since we were married in 2005, and it has expanded in such lovely directions as we’ve lived in four different states together. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of our lives, but sometimes… I feel sadness at the ways that frameworks for family are limited culturally, narrowing how people think about such things, who gets to be considered close and significant, how care is “supposed” to flow, and what roles people are “allowed” to take. (More about this in a future book? See number 7?) But here’s what I’ve decided: I’m going to stop acting like our family relationships are weird. We’re hardly the first people to have a constructed, chosen family. We’ve just experienced this in abundance. So a big part of our family is constructed… Big whoop! And in actuality… amazing!

6) Ethics of care and inclusive spirituality help to create sustainable activism. 

I participated in the 40 Days of Action of the Poor People’s Campaign this summer, and I learned so much in that process. I traveled each week to Lansing with hundreds of people from Michigan to hear testimonies from people who are directly impacted by systemic injustices in our state and nation. People called attention to these needs by risking arrest in acts of civil disobedience. I was really touched by the community camaraderie that was built in this organizing model. People were dealing with hard subject matter and taking personal risks, but the experience felt… so good. So affirming. So life-giving. Sometimes, I think that care work and a broad, inclusive sense of spirituality are devalued in activist organizing, but both of these lead to sustainability and deep bonds in community. They’re essential to the work.

7) I have a bare bones outline for a book.

This summer, I had the very wonderful occasion to fill in at Northside Presbyterian Church while my good friend and colleague received a well-deserved sabbatical. I initiated an 11-week sermon series entitled “Kinship” and had a meaningful time crafting that series. With some work and reframing for a different medium, I think this outline could become a book.

8) I require sleep.

Well, we all do. We all require good sleep to function well, and too often, we sacrifice it or underestimate its importance. But this year, I realized that my health in particular is very sleep-dependent. I am very impacted by even one night of poor sleep (which can be a challenge because one of my particulars involves occasional insomnia!) In the fall, I declared September to be “Sleep is Sacrosanct September” and created some new rhythms that helped me sleep better. These have been working well ever since and have made such a big difference.

9) Student ministry is still my jam.

Yes, student ministry is still my jam and my deepest calling. I’ve been doing this now for more than ten years. I’ve tried many other things that I also genuinely love, but the center of my calling continues to show up right here. I am glad to discover this. In 2018, I assembled a new community of undergraduates and recent grads that meets monthly in my home. Together, we have shared meals, and we and discuss spirituality and reflections on life. The people in this circle have added great joy to me! I am very eager to discover what we will do together 2019.

10) Tell the truth, love, then wait.

This year, I was involved in some justice work that invited me to give intentional testimony alongside others. This was challenging, emotional work, but at every stage, it led to meaningful connections with others. And in the end, it led to a long-desired reunion with a community in ways I have hoped for for years. Sometimes you just have to tell the truth, love, and then wait.

11) I have emerging callings too. 

This year, a number of inklings of calling emerged in my thinking through new relationships, conversations, and reading. I find myself drawn to explore concerns of health stigma, ableism, and healthcare access, and I’m curious where this will lead in the next year.

12) I like possibility thinking.

And I take this with me into 2019. “What is possible?” This is not only a good question to ask from time to time. I find that it has feelings attached. This feels much more spacious and expansive than questions of worry and anxiety, like, “What will go wrong?” So often, when we plan our days, or our goals, or our broader hopes, we immediately worry about potential barriers. I know my mind can go there. But when we open ourselves to questions like, “What is possible?” our days become a bit of a discovery process — “When I did that, what did become possible?” —  and that leads to gratitude.

These are some of my learnings. What about you?

Renee Roederer

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