What I Learned (May 2016)

It’s that time again! Time to share what I learned in May.

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1. We (as a society) have watched 400 million years worth of YouTube videos. I can’t decide if I think this is a terrifying or awe-inspiring accomplishment. Maybe both? When I first read this, I thought, “We don’t watch that much YouTube!” Then I remembered Sesame Street songs and Peppa Pig, and I thought, “Oh…ok.”

2. Adulting is hard, and it is practically impossible to find a primary care doctor in West Michigan. I will not regale you with all the nitty-gritty details of my search for a primary care doctor, but let’s just say I spent literally hours on the phone and computer before I finally found a doctor. (Now let’s say a prayer that I actually like her.) It’s so frustrating when I finally decide to tackle a task I’ve been putting off, only to have it turn out to be even more difficult than anticipated.

3. Rejection is sometimes worth celebrating. Over the past few months, I have started submitting essays and articles for publication to a few places. My fear of rejection is real and often loud, but you know what? I was actually excited to receive my first rejection letter. I immediately turned around and resubmitted the piece somewhere else, and I created a folder in my inbox for all future rejection letters. I hope there will be a lot of them, because that means there is a lot of writing happening around here.

4. There is yet even more room left in my heart for loving tulips. At the beginning of the month, Evan’s mom and sister came for a visit, and we trekked out to Holland to see the tulips. I was even more in awe of them this year than last. (I think it had something to do with having endured the winter!) I have always loved tulips, and somehow, seeing thousands of them has only made my love grow. The colors! The variety! I’m in awe.

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5. On the parenting front, I learned that it helps to have toys set aside for rainy days and sick days. (And by “it helps,” I mean it may save your life. Or at least your sanity.) I came down with a nasty virus last week (complete with fever and dehydration). Meanwhile, Evan had bought and set aside a little box of toy construction vehicles for Ian. I was SO grateful when all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with a box of tissues, and I could pull out those toys. It’s a parenting tool I’m going to keep in my back pocket from now on. (P.S. I recently heard one of the hosts of the Coffee & Crumbs podcast explain that whenever one of her children is home sick, they go out for ice cream. I love that idea so much! Even the worst days deserve a little fun.)

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6. We’re eating more apples these days, and it’s because they’re sliced. I don’t know why, but I found this article so fascinating. And just speaking for myself, I HATE biting into a whole apple. We can all thank McDonalds for this, apparently.

7. And finally, in an ode to my word of the year, I learned that joy is contagious. When I first saw the Chewbacca mask video show up in my news video, I ignored it. Then I ignored it again. And again. And finally, finally, just because it was showing up SO many times…I watched. And y’all. I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile. Joy is contagious, as over 100 MILLION views clearly indicates.

Here’s to a summer full of learning lots of new, good things. What did you learn this month?

 

What baptism taught me about freedom

The other day, my friend Melissa asked me to tell her about my baptism. We’ve only been friends for a few years, which means we missed important moments in the other’s life. Over time, we make a point to tell each other those stories.

Both my church and Melissa’s have celebrated baptisms recently, so she asked me to tell her my story. When, she asked, and where? And did your life or faith change at all?

Good questions.

In October 2010, I was baptized at the beach. An Orlando Magic basketball player was baptized right before me, almost seven feet tall, so the pastor waded back in towards shore when it was my turn. I don’t like to swim in the ocean; the waves are overwhelming and I worry about whatever creatures lurk near my toes. Before I let the waves crash over my head, I was calm standing amidst them. Only afterwards did I realize how tightly I was clutching my pastor’s arm.

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It may be just a lapse in memory, but the church I grew up in didn’t talk about baptism much. (Or at least, they didn’t talk about water baptism much. They’d provide a weekly opportunity to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but mentioned water baptism only once in a great while. It seems backwards to me, now.) I think I was already in college when my younger sister was baptized. (I don’t remember being present for her baptism, and being away at college is the only excuse I can think of.) I can’t tell you if or when my parents were ever baptized; we never really talked about it.

When Kelsey was baptized, I had a sense she was beating me to the punch, that this was something I should have done a long time ago. How could my younger sister be baptized before me? But any time I was invited to consider baptism, I thought I should do it, but it never something I wanted. I didn’t see the point; I just thought it was something anyone with a mature faith should probably do.

In college, my church would pull a baptismal tank right out onto the stage and baptize people in the middle of any old Sunday service; no pomp or circumstance necessary. Each time I saw someone get baptized, a singular nagging thought ran through my mind: “I am being disobedient.” I felt that baptism was a clear directive from God, and it was one I had been disobeying or ignoring all my life.

I remember talking to my father-in-law afterward my baptism and saying, “It’s just never something I had felt ready for before. I was probably being a little disobedient.”

He looked at me and said, “Well, no, I wouldn’t look at that way.”

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Melissa asked me how my faith changed that day, if at all. I couldn’t think of anything at first, but as I’ve mulled it over more, it came to me.

I used to believe that every little thing in my life was done in either obedience or disobedience to Christ. I feared making the wrong choice and was sure I had made the wrong choice when it came to baptism.

I am so grateful that this sense of “should” and obligation was not enough to make me take the plunge. I’ve since learned to recognize when I am letting “should” call the shots. “Should” is bossy and often forces me to behave in certain ways, but it is never enough to make me brave. I’m sad to think of what I might have missed had I let guilt drive my decision.

%22Should%22is bossy,

I used to believe that God operates in a world of right and wrong, yes and no, should and should not. My faith changed after baptism because I began to lean into the freedom Jesus offers me.

I stood in the water and remembered Jesus on the cross. I ducked under and remembered that his death means I am no longer punished. And I stood up in the sunshine, shook the saltwater from my hair, and opened my eyes to see nothing but freedom. I remember that Jesus doesn’t ask for my obedience or my right choices; he doesn’t ask for my correctness or good example. He simply asks for me, and gives me Himself in return.

Perhaps the best part of my baptism experience was that it took place on the beach; it makes for an easy and frequent metaphor. I love weddings because they remind me of my own marriage vows and the sweet man who’s mine. In the same way, the beach reminds me of joy, peace, freedom, and resurrection.

The sand rubs against the soles of my feet, the sunshine warms my bare shoulders, I watch the blueish water lap up on the shore, and I remember.

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Where did the flowers go?

Yesterday evening, the boys and I pulled up to Evan’s institute to pick him up. We parked as we often do beneath the shade of a green tree. Bradford pear trees, we’ve been told. The line of them is like a hedge in front of the building.

Ian loves picking Evan up from work because the institute is across the street from a hospital; emergency vehicles are plentiful. But on this particular day, it wasn’t an ambulance that caught Ian’s attention.

He gazed out the window and asked, “Where did the flowers go, Mama?”

Just a few days before, those pear trees had been covered in beautiful white blooms. But Ian was right–the flowers were gone.

Last spring, I didn’t realize how quickly the blooms on so many trees fall away. I also don’t remember the tulips being such bright and vibrant hues, and I don’t remember whether our backyard had so many purple flowers growing. (Truly, they are weeds…but they are pretty weeds.) I don’t remember the little leaves on the red maple trees ever being so small. Did you know that when the snow melts away, the grass beneath is already green? This year, so much about this season seems brand new.

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Last year, I had not yet experienced winter.

Today, there is evidence of decay: a hole in the shoulder of my favorite cardigan, a paper cut on my finger that I keep aggravating, leftovers in the fridge that sat for too long and need to be discarded. Those tiny white flowers, fallen away. So much in the world around me seems hopeless: wildfires are blazing, refugees are wandering, families are waiting to find each other (to say nothing of politics).

But I look out the window. I look across the street to my neighbor’s house, painted the most beautiful deep navy blue. And in the fading light of the evening sky, against that inky color, the green grass almost seems to glow.

Where did the flowers go? My answer was wholly unsatisfactory; my limited understanding of botany was hardly enough to quell his thirsty toddler curiosity. How can I adequately explain that the tree will keep changing all year long because in every season, a new thing is happening?

Even while the ground was frozen, daffodils and tulips waited just below the surface to spring forth. In every season, there is life and death, give and take, falling away and going forth.

Even when we stand ready–like Mary heading to the tomb–the resurrection can take us by surprise.

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I have seen the miracle and I will testify. The frozen ground and the bare tree boughs are long gone. They have left the dark night of winter and are stepping into the light of life once more, blooming and verdant.

I have seen the very earth spring back to life, beneath my feet and above my head. And do I not believe that my very Jesus was dead in a tomb and descended to the deepest depths, but as spring had foreshadowed for all of history, regathered out of enduring Might? Do I not believe the very stone was rolled away?

When God assuages silly fears

On Easter Sunday, we ate dinner on our front porch. We kicked off our shoes, Ian ran around the yard, and when the mosquitoes reluctantly sent us back inside, we opened the windows. It was beautiful and warm and welcome.

Then, in what seemed like the worst possible April Fools joke, it was rainy and snowy and icy the entire following week.

I’ve learned that the worst thing about winter is waiting for it to end. It seems like no matter how much I might (hypothetically) like the snow and cold, there is no denying how wonderful it is to feel the sun warm my shoulders, to kick off my slippers or wool socks and feel the ground beneath my feet.

Remember when the White Witch was reigning in Narnia, and it was always winter but never Christmas? That’s what it’s like to wait for spring.

Still, I must admit we had a very mild winter. Evan has bemoaned the fact that he only got to use his thoroughly-researched snow shovel a handful of times. Ian keeps asking when the snow is coming back and if he can use his sled. It seems the men in my house didn’t quite get their fill of winter.

By all accounts, we can’t use this past season to judge Michigan winters and if we might be the type of hardy people who can endure life in the midwest. Perhaps you’ll need to touch base with me again next April to get my true feelings about Michigan.

But in the meantime, I’m grateful.

I’ve heard it said that the two most-repeated phrases in Scripture are “remember” and “fear not.” I know I can trust Jesus with my fears. I can trust Him with the big significant ones–like the fear I’m not a good enough mom to raise these boys, or the choices I’ve made are out of His will (whatever that means), or I’ll never be rid of my anxious and approval-seeking nature. But I can also trust him with my little fears…like a midwest winter.

I don’t have any hard-fought theological understanding of God’s sovereignty. On the one hand, would a big omnipotent God really care to change the weather forecast on my behalf?  Did He set the weather into motion millennia ago? Does He know and care for me so intimately that He’s involved with the minutest details of my life? Somehow, I believe He’s big enough and good enough that all of those things can be true, simultaneously. It’s a mystery, but I’m good with that.

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Winter may have been mild, but it was still challenging, which had more to do with the condition of my heart than the weather forecast. I have been like Noah, sending out the dove, searching for proof of God’s promises after a hard time of transition and uncertainty. (Not that I’m comparing my cross-country move to an apocalyptic flood. Not exactly.)

It has seemed as though Jesus, in His kindness, sent me an olive branch. (It looked a lot like less than half of Michigan’s average annual snowfall.) It’s as though He looked down and gently said, “Fear not, Cornetts.”

Fear not the winter, fear not the snow. Fear not the ice, fear not the wind.

Fear not.

Fear not the new and the unlikely and the unexpected. Fear not the unfamiliar, fear not the change.

This week, temperatures hit the 70s. I know we are not out of the woods just yet; it’s been known to snow at the end of May around here. But on Friday, we played in the neighbor’s backyard again. I wore short sleeves to church on Sunday and didn’t bother to grab a sweater. I am remembering how it feels to walk barefoot around my home.

Truly: after a long winter, spring feels like a miracle.

 

Living My Metaphors

I have made no secret about the fact that I’m a tiny bit obsessed with the Sorta Awesome podcast. I started listening at the beginning, almost exactly a year ago, right after we moved to Grand Rapids. The podcast has kept me company during our year of transition.

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Last week was the one year anniversary of our big move, and I wrote about what I’ve learned and how I’m reconsidering how I think about and define home. Imagine my surprise and delight (a divine coincidence, I think) when the most recent episode of Sorta Awesome was all about the places we call home, and how they shape the people we become. Megan & Kelly talked about culture, stereotypes, climate, and people, and how each of those factors change us in myriad ways, seen and unseen.

Megan and Kelly’s conversation was inspired by Sarah Bessey‘s saying that the plains of Western Canada mirror the open space and exploration she has needed to thrive throughout her life. Sarah said, “In so many areas of our lives, we sort of live our metaphors pretty effortlessly at times. For me, I’ve found that…I like a bit of room.” Kelly and Megan then shared how their homes reinforced the predominant metaphors of their lives: how the extreme and ever-changing seasons in Minnesota teach Kelly about her need for variety and transformation, and how the “boom and bust” economies of Oklahoma remind Megan of the ups and downs of her own experience.

As I listened to the podcast, it struck me that Megan, Kelly, and Sarah have all moved around quite a bit. I wonder if that gives them each a greater appreciation for the lessons their hometowns have to teach? Before moving to Michigan, I had lived in Florida for my entire life, and I wonder if the extreme familiarity of it dulled me to this reality.

I’ve spent so much time rethinking place and home this year, and it seems that my mind and heart are now awake to a whole new sphere of spirituality. Just like pregnancy and childbirth helped me see God in a different light, living in Michigan unveiled a whole new channel God is using to reach my heart. I just love the idea that the places we inhabit have something to teach us about our very lives. Our spiritual and emotional experiences are not separate from our physical lives (whether those of our own bodies or the surrounding physical environment).

I am looking back on Florida’s summertime thunderstorms, so consistent you can set your watch by them. I am thinking about what that teaches me about God’s presence. I’m thinking about how He provided for Evan and I in the first few years of our marriage–without fail, consistent, reliably. I’ve learned that while God is mysterious and sometimes surprising, He is not erratic or capricious.

And now I’m thinking about Michigan’s seasons: how we watched the earth spring to life, slowly brown and fade, fall silent under the weight of the snow and ice, and now slowly bloom and green again. Moving meant we needed to walk away from so many good and life-giving things; I felt loneliness and uncertainty, but I am recognizing signs of new life. And let’s not forget that I gave birth to a baby boy just as winter descended. God speaks, breathes, and shines no matter the season.

God speaks, breathes,and shines no matter the season.

Our old pastor used to say, “God cares less about what you’re doing and more about who you’re becoming.” It’s probably also true that God cares less about where I’m living and more about who I’m becoming. I think that we are in Michigan, in part, because I needed to experience God afresh, and He’ll use the climate or economy or neighborhood or whatever it takes to meet me, teach me, transform me.

It’s a metaphor I’m happy to uncover and eager to live in to.

Obsessions (April 2016)

Each month, I share some of the best things I’ve read on the Internet, in 3 categories: faith and family, learning and creativity, and perfectionism and freedom. Happy reading!

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  1. “What life’s Big Moments really look like,” by Anne Bogel. “…there’s nothing like a relaxed, semi-distracted environment to promote low-stakes but important conversations with the people that matter to you. It’s an environment that builds trust and encourages truth-telling.”
  2. “Words of hope for this volatile time we’re in,” by Jennifer Dukes Lee. “This election season is going to bring out the worst in some people. But let it bring out the best in us.” 
  3. “Encounters with Christ: The Unbelieving World,” by Claire Gibson for She Reads Truth. “…believers have this distinct and extraordinary gift: our fear lives side by side with our joy.” 
  4. “Sufficient,” by Katie Schmidt. Katie is a friend and former coworker, and this is a wonderful story. “In the days following, for whatever reason, the theme of rejection was everywhere I looked. I couldn’t find an area of my life that was untouched by the big, loud, unmistakably clear message: you are not enough.”

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  1. “Your Calling Isn’t Just Between You and God,” by Sarah Bessey for Christianity Today. “Within community, our callings can grow slowly and organically throughout all seasons of our lives. I used to think discerning my calling would always be that mountain-top moment of clarity and call, but now I know that it can also be lived into as we follow Jesus. It can be ordinary and slow and communal.”
  2. “19 Amazing Caterpillar Transformations.” We have been to our local botanical gardens for their annual butterfly festival multiple times this season. So, I loved stumbling across these (truly) amazing caterpillar transformations are amazing. (via Rachel Held Evans on Facbeook)
  3. “Why It’s OK if your passion isn’t your full-time thing right now” by Ann Swindell. “…what I’m realizing now is that the necessary boundaries that most of us live in — our jobs, our responsibilities, the hours we give to mothering and laundry-folding and meal-making and grocery shopping — those boundaries are actually gifts to us, if we will receive them that way.”

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  1. “What is an Enough List and How it Helped Me Enjoy Everyday,” by Melissa Camara Wilkins for Storyline. “…it’s only a short leap in your heart from ‘I never do enough’ to ‘I’m not enough.'” 
  2. “What Each Meyers Briggs Personality Type Needs To Let Go Of In Order To Grow,” by Heidi Priebe.” What’s that you say? The pursuit of perfection? Oh.
  3. “All the Things We Know,” by Joy the Baker. “Considering all of the adulting we tackle everyday, in all of our relationships, there’s not much we can’t do (besides breathe underwater).  Let’s look at our to-do list with fresh eyes and high-fives.”