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10 Surprising Things I Learned in 2017

2017 was a good year. I look back and feel like I grew so much as a person.

There were a lot of mundane moments, a lot of big moments, a lot of heartbreaking moments, a lot of beautiful moments, a lot of sad moments, and a lot of amazing moments. And I learned a lot more about myself!

Almost all of the lessons I shared at the end of 2016 carried over to this year (thriving without coffee, continuing to discover how much better I feel when I get great sleep, I love coaching other bloggers, I’m more of a fashionista than I realized, I’m not as introverted as I always thought I was, etc.) Read the post here for all the details the surprising lessons I learned in 2016.

It was so good to reflect on 2017 and put together the top 10 lessons I learned in 2017:

1. I want to blog for the 97%, not the 3%.

I’ve been putting words out on the internet in some fashion since I first started a website for girls when I was 19.  That’s a lot of words.

Putting words on the internet can be a scary job, at times. Because no matter what you say, no matter how you say it, if more than 10 people are reading, someone is probably going to read or interpret something incorrectly and be hurt, upset, or offended.

I’ve held back many words over the years. Some needed to be held back — they were words that were better shared face-to-face with a trusted friend.
But there are other words that needed to be shared, but I held back because I knew that 3% of the people wouldn’t like them. They’d probably misunderstand, misinterpret, or just plain miss the point. So, I held back because of the 3%… when 97% of the people probably would have been blessed or encouraged by those same words.

Near the beginning of 2017, I made a commitment to stop worrying about the 3%. And I have to tell you, it has been one of the best changes ever as a writer. It’s been so good, so freeing, so incredible to post for the 97% of you instead of holding back out of fear of the response from the 3%!

2. I’m an Enneagram 8.

I fought against this for a long time. I wanted to be a 2 or something warm and fuzzy like that. But nope, I’m an 8 through and through.

And this year, as I spent a lot of time studying the Enneagram and talking with people who understand it well, I came to fully embrace the beauty of who I am and how I am wired. It’s really helped me to understand myself and my perspective better and it’s helped me to move in a direction of becoming healthier as a person.

3. I don’t need to rely on Jesse so much.

Jesse went to Israel for two weeks in April. It was the longest we’ve ever been apart since we were married and it was the first time he had gone on a long trip and I had stayed home and run our house. It was a BIG deal for me — because it meant I had to face a lot of insecurity and put on my big girl pants and deal with a lot of things Jesse usually always takes care of.

Little did I know that my phone would get lost (or stolen?), our cars would break down, and I’d need to make lots of phone calls and interact with WAY more people as a result. Did it scare me? Yes. Did I have a few minor panic attacks? Yes. But you guys… I’m so grateful for these past two weeks because I grew up as a result of them.

I drove all over Nashville. I made phone calls. I dealt with the AT&T people, the phone insurance company, our landlords, teachers, coaches, parents, doctors, repairmen, and all sorts of situations that were brand-new to me.

I got to rely on God, not my husband. And it was good for me. And I learned that, with God’s help, I’m much more capable & competent than I believed myself to be! Ever since he’s been back home, I’ve been so much more self-sufficient and confident and it’s been really good for our marriage!

4. I am no longer a big fan of early rising.

In April, I decided to try getting up at 4:30 a.m. every morning again. I thought it would be a really helpful thing and that I’d fall in love with early rising again — something I used to be a big fan of.

Instead, I discovered that It’s hard for me to consistently get to bed before 10 to 10:30 pm in the season of life I’m in. I can do it, but it kind of makes the whole evening feel stressful instead of calm.

I also found out that when I wake up really early and jump straight into my to-do list for the day, I feel like I want to make the most of every minute. Which means that I can’t give myself permission to relax much at all and end up feeling like I’m rushing through the day trying to cram as much into each hour as I can.

By not giving myself permission to rest and refuel, I ended up running on fumes very quickly. Which meant that I was less productive, much more on edge, and was generally a not-so-nice person to be around.

Ultimately, I was surprised to discover that I am a lot less calmer, a lot more anxious, and a lot more prone to fall prey to “the hustle” when I get up really, really early. I can tell you this is not at all what I expected from this experiment. In fact, I wanted to just fall in love with early rising again and be able to profess that it was the best thing ever for me.

But the results don’t lie. So I’m going to go with what I know is best for me and my family right now — even if it flies in the face of what I thought would be the case.

5. I like tent camping.

I always thought I didn’t like camping… but that was because I’ve never actually been camping since I was 6 or 7 years old!

So I was nervous how our tent camping weekend with our Community Group would go. But you guys, I totally surprised myself and genuinely LOVED the tent camping experience!! It was incredible to be out in nature and be serenaded to sleep by the frogs. It was so fun to see our kids having a blast without any sort of screen for entertainment.

And I savored the opportunity to be unplugged, to soak up the sun, to sit around the campfire, to read in the hammock, and to laugh and talk and make so many memories with our Community Group.

Yes, it was a lot of work to plan and prep for. Yes, there were a lot of bugs. Yes, the bathrooms and showers weren’t as clean as a hotel. Yes, it’s not as comfortable to sleep in a tent as it is to sleep in my own bed.

A big part of our camping success was you all and your helpful advice when I asked for advice and suggestions of what we should bring. I may have gotten teased for being over-prepared, but we couldn’t believe that there wasn’t anything we wished we would have brought that we didn’t. And I owe it to you all for sharing your experience and wise advice.

I would have never thought to bring some of the items you suggested or to pack like you advised, but it really made a difference and made the trip so much smoother and more enjoyable. And next time, it will be so much easier to pack and prepare since I have my trusty To Bring On A Camping Trip list now. ?

(Oh and we are planning another Community Group Camping Weekend in a few months!)

6. I don’t have to always wear makeup.

This past year (in big part thanks to getting brave and going makeup-less on Instagram Stories on a regular basis) I’ve stopped feeling the need to wear makeup everyday or spend a lot of time on my hair. It’s not that I’m giving up makeup or fixing my hair, it’s just that I’m becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin.

I used to pretty much never step foot out of the house without full makeup on and my hair fixed. Now, I often leave the house or get on Instagram Stories with messy hair and no makeup. It feels good. It feels freeing. And it’s evidence of the work that has happened in my heart in the past two years.

I still like being put together and try to spend a little time making myself presentable every day, but I stopped worrying so much about what other people think or say about how I look. Some days, I have on a cute top, cute jeans, cute shoes, and full makeup. Other days, it’s a hat, 6-day hair, workout clothes, and little to no makeup. It doesn’t change who I am inside.

And I’m learning that the people who love you most don’t care about how pulled together you look or not. And that the people I want to attract online won’t care, either. There’s so much freedom in just showing up as YOU — on the great hair days and the messy bun days.

(Oh and we also discovered — thanks to doing a week-long skin patch testing procedure in December — that I had developed allergies to a number of different makeup products I had been using. So I’ve cut down to only a few products that are approved by my dermatologist now and my eczema has been world’s better!)

7. I absolutely LOVE Boston!

On our 14-day road trip, we had planned to swing by Boston and check out a few of historic sites there. It was our first time to visit and we quickly discovered we wanted to do a lot more than “swing by” and we ended up spending all day there and fallen madly in love with Boston!

Within a few hours, I told Jesse, “I think I want to move here. Or at least rent an apartment in the North End and come visit for a week every month.”(Hey, a girl can dream, right??)

I adored the coffee shops, the open air restaurants, the quaint streets, the scenery, the smells… I almost felt like I was back in Rome! And now I can’t wait to go back and visit!

(You can read more about our day in Boston and see all of the places we visited here.)

8. I have sort of become a pet person.

You guys. I never thought I would be a pet person. Ever. Um, well, Quill has changed all of that.

I have found myself showing other people pictures of him on my phone and talking about him with people when they are talking about their pets… and I’ve caught myself and have been like, “Who are you anymore?!?”

Well, apparently, this little guys has weaseled his way into our hearts… including my formerly-non-pet-loving heart.

And now my kids are hoping that my severe pet allergies will just up and go away so that we can get a dog! 🙂 (I am allergic to basically all pets — except pretty much reptiles and hedgehogs!)

9. I feel so free when I live as loved!

“Something has changed with your writing…” I’ve heard this comment over and over again the past year.

Yes, something has changed — not just in my writing, but in my heart.

Last Fall, I started a 9-month Discipleship Program at our church. I knew that the program was not your typical Bible Study, but I had no idea that it was going to be like 9 months of intensive counseling!!

One of the biggest aha! moments for me was the section on idols. I discovered I had a major “Approval idol” and that it was driving my decisions, ruling my parenting, and hurting all my relationships.

I’d always known I struggled with being a people-pleaser, but I had no idea how deep my need for others’ approval ran nor how it was wreaking havoc in my life.

As a result of that discovery, I started paying close attention to the why behind everything I do.

“Why am I stressing about my response to her? Why do I feel like I should invite her over? Why do I want to make sure she knows xyz about me? Why am I feeling the need to explain or apologize or hold back information? Why am I scared to be honest and vulnerable?”

And on and on I questioned myself, only to realize that most of my decisions were ultimately being made thinking of other people’s approval — and often, it was people whom I didn’t really even know well!

I’m on a journey of inward healing and transformation and I’m learning to bask in the truth that my Heavenly Father loves me. As I am. Right now. Period.

When I rest in His love, I can live as loved… without having to stress over what someone else thinks of me.

There’s so much freedom there! I can love my husband, parent my kids, invest in relationships, post on my blog or on social media… and bring my true self — the raw, the messes, the real, the beautiful — without having to agonize or stress or expend energy worrying how I’m being perceived or what others think.

10. I’m learning that struggling as a parent can produce beautiful results.

This year, I’ve struggled as a parent more than I ever have. My neat little boxes of how I thought I should parent have been blown to bits by some unexpected circumstances.

Someday — when the time is right — I’ll share the journey with you all. For now, I’ll just say that I’m learning to parent all over again in a brand-new way.

I’m learning to step back and stop trying to micromanage my kids’ lives. To stop trying to stuff them into the little mold I had created for them and instead to embrace exactly who God has made them to be. To stop being frustrated when it feels that they aren’t right where I think they should be/making the perfect decisions I think they should be making/responding or acting exactly as I think they should be.

I’ve tried to stuff my kids into my little box of what I thought they should be instead of embracing them fully for how God has wired them. I’ve attempted to squelch their zest for life because it’s meant too many messes, too much spontaneity, too much unpredictability.

I’ve shut down their ideas as impractical. I’ve talked more than I have listened. I’ve cleaned more than I’ve snuggled. I’ve been frustrated when they were so different than me instead of embracing how uniquely God has designed them.

I’ve written to do lists and plans and schedules when what they really needed was for me to just sit with them, love them where they are at, step into their world, and be present with them.

As I’ve done this, I’ve gotten to not only know my kids in brand-new ways, but I’m closer with each of them than I’ve ever been.

I’m grateful for the wake up call. I’m grateful for hard things that come into our lives that end up challenging all of our current way of life and show us that there is a better way. I’m grateful for a God who uses unexpected circumstances to wake me up and shake me out of my unhealthy parenting ruts.

I’m grateful that my kids want me to be so involved in their lives, that they want me to spend time with them, and that they are so willing to overlook and forgive me when I fail and mess up.

I’m grateful for second chances. I’m grateful for grace.

Motherhood has humbled me, broken me, and remade me.

Motherhood has taught me to trust Jesus like never before, to let go of what other people think of me, and to make decisions in the best interests of my own kids — even if other people didn’t understand.

Motherhood has opened up a depth of love and compassion in my heart that I didn’t know I was capable of.

And it’s radically transformed my understanding of the Gospel. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

I love my kids so fiercely — even on the downright awful days. But to think that my Heavenly Father loves me even more than that? It’s mind-boggling.

What did YOU learn in 2017? I’d love to hear!


I have been working on a surprise project the past 2 months and finally get to tell you about it! I’m launching a live group coaching in January called 4 Weeks to a More Productive Life where I’ll be walking you through some life-changing principles to help you live a much more productive and fulfilled life.

It’s designed for you if you…

  • Wish you could change your life, but don’t where to start
  • Hope to find a way to become more productive and get more done, but feel overwhelmed by the thought of taking yet another productivity course or reading yet another book on time management.
  • Want to make 2018 the year that you actually stop wishing and hoping and planning and start DOING.

Doors will open for a few days only beginning January 1, 2018. If you are interested, you’ll want to sign up to be on the waitlist because you’ll be the first to know when it’s available and you’ll also get access to my brand-new printable called 6 Ways to Start your New Year Well.

Go here to sign up — I can’t wait to have you join me for the live coaching!

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  • Alison says:

    You probably wouldn’t be allergic to my labradoodle. Just sayin’ 🙂

  • Heather says:

    Would you be willing to share what the 9 month discipleship study/class was called? Or is it a curriculum put together by your church?

    Thank you for sharing, it is helpful to hear your reflections!

  • Mireille says:

    Thanks for sharing!m

  • Erin says:

    We sound so similar! Wish I could talk through each of these sections with you!! Great post!

  • Stephanie says:

    I learned that I MATTER. I also learned to seek peace no matter what. I also learned that I like parenting young adult children. I love seeing the world through their eyes even when they PUSH! I enjoyed your post very much.

  • Yvette from down under says:

    My word for this year is kindness, kindness to my family, my community and to myself. Kindness includes not having to be right and allowing grievances to drop and not stew over them. Allowing spontaneity instead of being organised to the point of being too rigid. Giving more, time, money and self. Looking for opportunities to demonstrate kindness when there is an unkind word or action I am aware of. Volunteering to be helpful in my local community, be encouraging, complimentary. Kindness to myself is being realistic about limitations and not beat myself up when I have to say no. Not look so critically at my appearance or my mistakes knowing I am loved regardless. Take time for myself by allowing the unnecessary tasks to wait when I need to be mindful of the moment. The world would be happier if each of us practised kindness

  • Emilie says:

    My other connection to you was that I too am allergic to all animals and my son really wants to get an animal and I’m wondering now if we could look into getting a hedgehog

    • It depends upon your allergies. Mine are to pet dander and hedgehogs have almost zero dander, so that’s why I’m not allergic to it. Very few people are allergic to hedgehogs, but it is possible that you could be.

  • Becky Haggard says:

    Beautiful, God’s mercy and grace are endless! Thank you for your honesty and encouragement!

  • That’s nice that you’ve discovered you’re a pet person. My kids are begging me for a dog as well. Still struggling with the decision. So much attention and maintenance.

  • Rachael says:

    Been reading for years. First time commenting (I think). I love this post. It resonates deeply. Especially the part about writing for the 97%. I don’t blog (or write); but, since I read this post yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about how to apply the same principle to my life. I have saved a lot of money following you; but, I think this is the most valuable tip I’ve gotten in a long time.

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing. I have been on a similar journey in parenting and need to keep working on Jesus as the one I am accountable to and not others’ approval. I really appreciate your honesty and your willingness to share. If you have any resources that have helped you in your journey, I would love to hear about them.

  • There is a lot here that is convicting me in a really healthy way! Thank you for sharing!

  • Milissa says:

    I want to say that the honesty in this post really inspired me. I also tend to hold back when writing, afraid of what others will think of me. After initially reading this when you first posted it, I started to consider what was on my heart that might be worth unburdening. So I wrote a post on how hard I felt 2017 was and why–it’s the why that was hard to share. I’m not saying this in hopes other readers will rush to my site to read it, but because it was a big step for me. I wrote with no rose-colored filter and felt so much lighter afterwards! It was also a good way to express how I see my theme of PEACE for 2018 might play out and how I can actively make it happen while still surrendering to God. So thanks for the realness, the rawness, the purity of your words here. I personally really appreciate it!

  • Becky says:

    I noticed the same thing about early rising as my kids got older. When they were all little and in bed by 8pm it was easy for me to get to bed early enough to allow for early rising. But things changed as my kids became pre-teens/teenagers and began to stay up late or be out late working or at a friend’s house. Nowadays our house doesn’t wind down until 10pm, sometimes later. I don’t even try to get up before 7am anymore, LOL!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Those are some great lessons! I’ve learned the importance of how much better I feel when I take care of myself. I had surgery early this year and needed to take six weeks off of work. It was the first time in almost 30 years that I put myself and my health first in almost 30 years. It was amazing how stress-free I was, how much better I ate and slept. How fabulous my body can feel when I take care of its needs.

    Unfortunately, circumstances at work have resulted in a little bit of backsliding (lots of stress and hours). However, I’m still making my health a priority and I still feel better than I did at the end of 2016. My focus for the next year is to make further strides and remember that making my needs and health a priority is important.

    I hope you and your family have a great year!

  • Dana says:

    I agree Boston is such a great city.
    We went last year and fell in love.
    Can’t wait to go back

  • Mylynda Levine says:

    Thanks for being so real with us, Crystal. This is so courageous of you and so encouraging and enlightening for the rest of us. I stand with you in the trenches of parenthood, dear Friend. WOW, it’s tough but so worth it. I am a paramedic. People often say to me, “Oh that must be a really hard job.” Not really. Not when you compare it to marriage and parenting. Both are the scariest jobs/responsibilities that I have ever had and I have been doing all three of these for over 20 years. Just when I think that I have one the battles whooped, I get my feet kicked out from under me. Praise God, I get right back up and go at it again. He is my Strength.
    I noticed another reader asking about the discipleship training that you went through with your pastor. I would love information on it, as well, if you can persuade him. Good Health is my word(s) for the year. I have to start some things and stop some things. Say a little prayer for me, please.


  • Crystal,

    What a blessing that your church had the discipleship program! God led us to a new church this year where every sermon is discipleship basically. We have grown so much!

    Looking back, we see how God had been preparing our hearts for this transition for a few years. Our spiritual lives impact everything else so much.

    I also left my business mentor with whom I had worked for over two years. God made it clear that it was the right decision although I was still under contact and kept paying her.

    It was a huge step of faith which God honored greatly.

    Have a beautiful 2018!

  • patti smith says:

    Love this post…didn’t want it to end. really touched me in many levels. Thanks for your tips, life lessons, and speaking your truth.

  • Rebecca says:

    What great lessons! I would love to hear what skin care you love and works well for you:)
    I am in the process of learning that my home doesn’t need to look pinterest perfect. I am a very organized person, but get on pinterest and other blogs and try to take their perfection and place it on/in my home or on myself/ family. It causes a lot of stress and when I am striving for peace and a heart for God, well you can guess the mess it makes!
    I am also trying to figure out what is best for our children as far as school. We have done both public and homeschooling. I have a heart for homeschooling but as a former teacher I was also looking forward to going back to work after being home for 12 years. My sweet older 2 are asking me to homeschool them again. If you have any thoughts I would love to hear them. I am praying daily and know I need to do what is best for each child.

  • Tracy says:

    I have learned a lot of hard lessons this past year. My family lost 4 family members this past year. My son ended up being diagnosed with PTSD and some other conditions due to all the losses and effects from him being bullied severely when he was in PS. I have had to learn a completely new way to parent my son. Also have been trying to learn who I am as a person. Losing my Dad to suicide and then losing my Grandma and Uncle/Godfather was a huge shock. Which caused me to realize that I have not been happy and that I have no clue who I am as a person. So I have been working on that and starting new traditions with my son to help us feel like a real family.

    I also learned who I can really count on and it surprised me how few I can count on. I had been there for so many people when they really needed me to the point of neglecting myself and only a couple of those people were there for me when I needed it the most. So I have learned to distance myself from most of them and I am actually doing a lot better since then. It was so hard though.

  • Emily says:

    Love this! I appreciate your honesty more than I can say.

    There were a couple of typos I wanted to let you know about that I’ve put in quotation marks below. I have no idea how else to share with you other than through the comment section.

    “and aput on my big girl pants and deal with a lot of things Jesse usually always takes care of. I had”

    Thank you for sharing your heart!!

  • Cheryl Lewis-McCarren says:

    Love you and miss you Crystal. You have grown so much over the years – it is a beautiful way to honor YOURSELF.

  • Carmen says:

    I’d have to “second” (or is it “third”?) the request that your pastor put that Discipleship Program curriculum into printed form. It sounds like exactly what I need to go through! Or if you know of any books similar to that topic, I’d love to hear about them.

    My surprising learn this year is that reviews are crucial. I felt like 2017 was a crummy year but when I went back and wrote down highlights, looked at stats, etc. it was actually a great year!

  • Tiffany says:


    I can’t tell you how happy I am to see these types of posts again on your blog. I really missed them and how encouraging they are to me to live my best life. So so happy to see you putting these things back on your blog. I have pretty much just been following you on Instagram since you made your change in 2017. Glad you brought these back. Keep up the amazing work!

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