Painting a Legacy: A Kindred Mom Guest Post

On a Monday morning this past October, my husband Evan and I sat in the waiting room at the OB-Gyn. We were waiting for an ultrasound, wondering if the little one growing inside me would be our third boy or—what seemed almost impossible—a girl. Weeks before, we had decided that if indeed we were having a girl, we would name her Ruthie, hoping to carry on Nanny’s legacy of creativity and love. The night before the ultrasound, my mom texted to say Nanny had gone into the hospital after some abnormal blood work. I laid on the exam table and Evan held my hand as the ultrasound tech proclaimed what I almost couldn’t believe: we were going to have a daughter. Ruthie. 

What I couldn’t have predicted as I looked up at the flickering, shadowy image of our little girl was that Nanny would pass away just four days later.

Today I’m honored to have a guest post up on the Kindred Mom blog, about the connection between Ruthie and my sweet Nanny Ruth. Click here to read more!

Abundantly More (We Bought a House!)

On the night after Ruthie was born, Evan and I were settled in to our tiny recovery room. Ruthie snoozed on my chest, nurses popped in every so often to take my vitals, and Evan read me text messages sent to us by family and friends. At some point, he checked my Facebook to find a message from our next door neighbor, Rachel. She was downsizing, she said, and her house would be going on the market soon. If we knew of any smaller homes coming available in the neighborhood, could we let her know? And would we keep her house in mind if we knew someone buying?

Another neighbor responded and said, “What about the Cornetts, what with their growing family and all?” I don’t know if she was being facetious or not, but I laughed it off. That would be nice, I thought.

Evan looked at me and said, “We should buy that house.”

“We won’t get approved for enough,” I argued, “And even if we do, we’ll be outbid.”

Since we moved into our rental, the Grand Rapids housing market has exploded. It’s very hard to find affordable housing these days; there’s just not much available. Several homes on our street have recently sold, all within a few days and sometimes above asking price. We felt super lucky to have rented our house when we did; it’s hard to imagine finding a similar home for rent within our budget these days.

Our lease is up at the end of March. Our property management company has sent out a home appraiser on multiple occasions, and we assumed that the owner was going to at least raise the rent, or perhaps even put the house up for sale.

Meanwhile, we really didn’t want to leave our neighborhood. I’ve shared over and over again what a blessing our neighbors have been to us, and they are really our closest friends here in Grand Rapids. Evan can bike to work, and we’re within walking distance of two different parks. Ian’s preschool is about two minutes away. So as time went on, we had this bubbling undercurrent of uncertainty and anxiety. What if they raise our rent to more than we can afford? Where else would we want to live?

So, back in that hospital with our brand new baby girl, we started speculating about what Rachel’s house might sell for. We wondered what might happen if we jumped on it before Rachel put it on the market.

“Well,” I told Evan from my hospital bed, “I guess it can’t hurt to see what we can be approved for.”

When the pre approval process was complete, we were left with the number at the bottom of Rachel’s price range. We asked her if we could come look at the house; Evan had never been inside before, and I didn’t really remember the details. As she gave us a tour, I tried to imagine our furniture in the rooms, our art on the walls, our books on the shelves. Every so often, Evan and I glanced at each other and tried to hide our smiles.

We went back home to talk, which took approximately 2.5 seconds. We walked back outside and knocked on Rachel’s door again.

“We want to buy your house,” we said. “Here’s what we can offer. We’ll take it exactly as is.”

Rachel gave us a big hug there in the entryway, and told us about how she loved the house and just wanted someone else to love it. We love it.

The past two months have been filled with approximately one million emails and electronic signatures. Real estate agent, mortgage broker, home inspector, and appraiser. Bank statements, W-2s, purchase agreements, interest rates. The home-buying process is amazingly complicated and often confusing, and Evan had handled every detail; I’ve been incredibly grateful for him during the whole process.

And today, we close on our first home.

It will still be a little while before we move in, but we have been dreaming and planning and packing. We’ve joked about installing a conveyor belt between the upstairs windows and just sliding all our furniture and boxes across the side yard.

I’m amazed by God’s provision in this: the way all the finances worked out so well, the timing of this with the end of our lease, the fact that we get to live next door and across the street from people who have become dear friends. I am thrilled about the half-bathroom downstairs, the finished basement, the air-conditioning, and the fenced-in backyard. All these gifts will make my role as a stay-at-home mom just a tiny bit easier; they really feel like an answer to prayer.

It feels a little crazy to buy our first home right in the middle of this crazy newborn phase, as we didn’t have enough change lately. And we know this won’t be our forever home. But I am in complete awe over what a gift this house is, how God has truly given us more than we could have asked or imagined for this season of our lives.

When I chose dwell as my word of the year, how could I have known then that we’d be purchasing a house? How could I have known that I’d have a clean slate on which to create the home I really wanted?

At first, I began planning a million Pinterest projects. We talked about paint colors and new rugs, replacing lighting and building shelves. I scrolled and scrolled through every home decor picture I’d ever pinned. We read DIY tutorials and talked about which projects would get top priority.

But then I remembered something: to dwell well requires transforming and renovating the interior of my heart, rather than my home. Colorful pillows, large pieces of art, mid-century furniture, and fiddle leaf figs are merely decoration; they are not the foundation. The home I want to create is one defined by peace, grace, joy, laughter, music, reading, and conversation. I can’t wait to drive Hot Wheels across the wood floors, to have dance parties in the living room, to carry the kids up the stairs to bed. I can’t wait to paint the front door and put a sandbox in the backyard. I can’t wait to invite people over for dinner. I can’t wait to open the windows in the summertime and drink hot chocolate on the couch in the winter.

I’m standing on a new door mat, welcoming in a new season, and it’s one marked by gratitude and joyful anticipation of all to come.

Made for This

This morning, Ian was at school. It was Leo, Ruthie, and me at home, the three of us still in our pajamas. (A luxury I get to enjoy because of my sweet neighbor Lindsay, who takes Ian to preschool for me these days.) Leo was puttering around the living room, playing with this and that, carrying a yellow bowl of Cheerios around with him and coming dangerously close to dumping them all out on the carpet. I let that go, because I figure he needs to learn to carry things without tipping and spilling them, right? I’ll probably regret that a week from now when I’m sitting on the floor, staring at crushed Cheerios, and feeling guilty because I still haven’t vacuumed.

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At any rate, Ruthie was laying on her play mat, watching the lights blink and flash, until she started to get fussy. I picked her up and cradled her in my arms, and I was struck in that moment by how perfectly she fit there. Her head was in the crook of my elbow, my arms underneath her back, one hand patting her little diaper-padded bottom. She relaxed, took a deep breath, stopped fussing, closed her eyes, went to sleep. She is the perfect size for my arms right now: not the least bit heavy, but not so small that she feels fragile like newborns do. Her legs wrapped around my hip just right, her one arm under mine and the other resting gently on my chest. Just perfect, like she was made for me.

Because, after all, she was.

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Just yesterday, I raised my voice at Ian after asking him to wash his hands about a million times. He burst into tears and proclaimed, “You scared me!” Ugh. I’m often impatient with Leo at breakfast time, because he demands to be held the entire time and all I want to is to eat my bagel without sharing it and finish my coffee while it’s still hot. I’ve been feeling guilty today because Ian is on a field trip to the bowling alley, and I feel like I should be there.

I wonder, if not aloud then at least subconsciously, am I the right person for this job?

But today, as I held Ruthie in my arms and she fit there just right, I remembered: I was made for this.

We were made for each other.

What’s Saving My Life Right Now

Today, I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what’s saving my life right now.

I’m so cognizant of how rough this current season could be, as we slog through both winter and the newborn phase. And while I’ve certainly had my moments, these past few weeks have really been very joyful (though exhausting), and I’m feeling enormously grateful.

And in the midst of that, I’m trying to pay especially close attention to the small moments and lovely things that make my winter days feel slightly less gray and a bit more cozy.

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1. My husband’s paternity leave. I know maternity and paternity leave is a hot-button political issue right now. (It’s crazy to me that I even need to write that sentence!) Just a few months before Ruthie was born, Evan’s institute changed their leave policy, and he was able to be home with us for three full weeks. I can’t express how much this eased our transition into being a family of five. It was a relief to know Evan didn’t need to use up his sick leave or vacation time (especially with his sister’s wedding coming up later this year). We didn’t have this luxury with our first two pregnancies, so this was such a big deal.

2. Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed. During one of the presidential debates, I retweeted a Merriam-Webster tweet about people searching for “leppo,” as in “A leppo.” (It’s one of those things you have to laugh at, otherwise you will cry.) I immediately got some (well-intentioned) snark from some friends about how–being the nerd I am–I would follow Merriam-Webster. But here is what they quickly learned: Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed is hilarious and very well-done. And let’s be honest—Twitter can be a depressing place these days. My feed needed a little fun, but this feed is still relevant and interesting.

3. Wonderful, heartwarming novels. I haven’t read much good fiction lately. In fact, since reading All the Light We Cannot See almost a full year ago, I’ve been in a bit of a fiction hangover. Nothing has quite gripped me. I checked out a few fiction picks from the library, but almost always returned them before finishing them. (I’ve read some great non-fiction, though.) All that changed this month! I read both The One-in-a-Million Boy and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. They aren’t really comparable to All the Light, but I think they’ve both broken the spell. I loved them both. They are easy reads, but they have great emotional depth. In both books, the characters are flawed and complex but also endearing. The writing in The One-in-a-Million Boy is phenomenal, and The Storied Life… is a great read if you are book person. I feel buoyed by these books, and I can’t wait to read my next piece of fiction.

4. Hot coffee in the morning. Before moving to Michigan, I was a strictly iced-coffee girl. Last winter, I finally took the plunge and started drinking the hot stuff, out of pure necessity. This year? I am learning to love the ritual of a hot cup of coffee in the morning—the savory smell of freshly-ground beans, the clink of the mug, the swirl of white cream, the warmth against the palms of my hands.

5. Our baby swing. Seriously, I’ve fallen more in love with this contraption with each successive newborn. I love that it’s compact. I love that it’s a swing and bouncy seat in one, saving us an extra piece of gear. But most of all—I love that our babies have loved it.

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6. My word of the year. I haven’t written much about it yet, but I chose “dwell” as my word of the year. I wanted something that had tangible as well as spiritual applications. I wanted something that embodied coziness, stillness, presence, and focus. I wanted something that would encourage me to release some of my anxiety and fully enjoy my present moment (whatever it may be). I wanted to stop always wanting to be elsewhere. As I waited for Ruthie to be born and in this hazy newborn stage, it has been so helpful to reflect on this word. And—because this is how God works—this word is already shaping up to mean more than I could have expected this year. (I can’t wait to share more about that soon!)

7. Voxer. Voxer remains my favorite app. It’s the best way I’ve found for keeping in touch with long-distance friends, and over the past few months, I’ve been participating in a few writing-specific Voxer groups. I love it.

8. Google photos. Digital photo organization used to be my nemesis. The frustration of finding one specific photo used to drive me crazy, and the fear of losing all my photos perpetually hung like a dark cloud over my head. Not so anymore. Google Photos is proving to be the easiest method I’ve found for getting pictures from my phone to my computer and visa versa, and I love the way it’s organized and the features it offers. My favorite feature is the search option. I can search “baby” (or “house” or “flower” or “winter”) and it will pull up every one of my pictures with that item.  (Not to mention—free, unlimited cloud storage.) Yes and amen.

9. Ellie Holcomb’s new album. Ellie Holcomb’s new album, Red Sea Road, came out this week. It is so wonderful, guys. I love Ellie’s voice, and I love the way her songs incorporate Scripture. I’ve had this album on repeat all week.

10. The way Ian says, “Ruthie Elizabeth” when he talks to his sister. It’s really more like “woo-fee ee-lissa-bet!” (When choosing her name, I didn’t think to consider how hard it would be to say “Ruthie” for a preschooler with articulation issues!) Leo and Ian are both so sweet to little Ruthie right now, and I especially get a kick out of how Ian interacts with her. It just makes my heart swell, really.

And what’s more life-giving than that?

Obsessions (January 2017)

There is so much good stuff on the Internet these days, but a lot of it is being drowned out by all the crazy, all the politics, all the arguing. When the cultural climate is the way it is now, I often find out that my frustration edges out inspiration and creativity. These stories, essays, articles (and even a poem!) have lent me a little more of the latter.

Here are some good things to read on a day when you find the Internet overwhelming and disheartening.

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  1. “2016 and the Risk of Birth” by Rachel Held Evans. “In 2016, the world bared its teeth and my baby giggled back.” This is the single best reflection on 2016 that I read. I love and so related to Rachel’s thoughts here.
  2. “On being a Christian and being a feminist…and belonging nowhere” by Sarah Bessey. “Jesus made a feminist out of me. It’s true. I can’t make apologies for it, even though I know that Jesus plus feminist might be the one label that could alientate almost everyone. I understand that–I do.”
  3. “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees” by Jesse Carey for RELEVANT. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)”

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  1. Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown Was No Old Lady Whispering Hush” by Barrie Hardymon for NPR.  “Goodnight Moon, and indeed most of Brown’s exceptional and quirky bibliography, are that perfect marriage of mesmerizing for children and tantalizing for adults. They’re a pleasure to read — precise and rhythmic — words that don’t rhyme still harmonize so beautifully that even the most halting reader can become a poet, telling her child a blessing.”
  2. “This is Your Morning” by Enuma Okoro for aeon. “When my people deny me, I no longer labour with insistence. I shrug my shoulders. I shape my lips into plastic lines. I do not argue with them to claim me. I had not thought about not fitting in. I had thought only of a home.”
  3. “Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  
  4. “To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation” by Jeanne Marie Laskas for The New York Times Magazine. “She looked for stories. Not pro-this or con-that, not screeds, not opinions about what someone heard on N.P.R. The president needed to hear the stories — that’s what he couldn’t get himself.”

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  1. “These Unproductive Winter Days” by Addie Zierman. “Now, I’m standing here in the shock of reality that is mid-January in Minnesota, sufficiently humbled and a little bit paralyzed. Everything is slower, harder, slippery-er here in the actual work of the new year.”
  2. “You Don’t Have to Be In Crisis to Ask for Help” by Kendra Adachi. “But if we wait for tragedy to strike before we ask for help, we lose.”

 

Read anything good on the Internet these days? Please, send it my way!

Dear Ruthie (3 weeks old)

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Dear Ruthie,

Welcome to the world, little one. I suppose I’m being true to birth order stereotypes;  you are already three weeks old, and I’m just now getting around to writing you a letter. I hope you’ll appreciate the gesture anyway.

With both your brothers, labor was induced one full week past my due date. So, that’s about what I expected from you as well. On Wednesday afternoon, I texted our neighbor Jolanda and said, “I’m not holding my breath for her to arrive any time soon.” Less than a few hours later, contractions had started. It was as if you heard my thoughts and said, “I’ll show you, Mom!”

We arrived at the hospital a little after midnight. Around 3 a.m. I moved out of triage and up to the labor and delivery floor, where they gave me my epidural. You were born at exactly 11 a.m., after only 15 minutes of pushing.

This was your sacred and surprising entrance into the world. Two things stand out to me as I look back on that day.

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The first is this: when you were ready, you were ready. Of course, so many variables determine and shape the course of labor; I don’t pretend to understand any of it. But you forged a very different path than your brothers, who may have been content to stay in utero forever. You surprised us with your eagerness, with your readiness, with your sudden presence. I am so looking forward to the ten million different ways you’ll surprise and challenge us over the course of your life.

I tend to hesitate, to waver, and to second-guess. At times, I let my insecurities and doubts trip me up. I hold back. That wasn’t true of you in birth, and I’m hopeful that quality will persist, changing with you as you grow. I hope you never stop being ready, hungry and thirsty for an abundant life. I’m praying you always move and act with wisdom, but that you don’t hold back more than necessary.

Here’s the other thing: you are loved, Little One, and our family is loved. Living here in Michigan with all our family and most of our friends in Florida feels very lonely sometimes. I worried about how your arrival would work out. I was stressed and indecisive about when your grandmother’s should schedule their flights up here, hoping they would arrive in time for your birth but not wanting them to waste time and money flying up here if you weren’t going to arrive for weeks. Dad and I felt a bit isolated.

But that truth is, that feeling wasn’t at all justified. When it came time for you to arrive, we were not at all alone. Katie and Bryan across the street watched your brothers that night and the next day. Lindsay and Jolanda both helped make sure Ian got to school and Leo was well cared for. Both your grandmother’s immediately started texting making plans to change their flights and get here as soon as possible. Our small group at church—new and still getting to know one another—has already set up a meal schedule, and other friends have offered to do the same. People have rallied around us.

The timing of your arrival and the way it coincided with other events in our lives reminded me of how carefully, thoughtfully, thoroughly God provides for us. His provision is sometimes practical and other times less tangible, but it is always real. I am so grateful for our people. I want you to know that as you grow, you have a whole big tribe who loves you and will care for you. Bob Goff often says that God doesn’t pass us notes; instead, he passes us each other. It’s true.

I’m so glad you’re here, Ruthie!

Love you lots,

Mama

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Ruthie, at 3 weeks old:

  • Eating 2-3 ounces of formula, every 4 hours or so
  • Burping an awful lot and spitting up otherwise
  • Wearing a lot of footie pajamas, and the onesies Dad’s family made you at the baby “sprinkle”
  • Wrapped up in a big blanket all the time (because Michigan)
  • Crying loudly (And to think we spent the first day of your life wondering why you had barely cried at all)
  • Sleeping at least one good four hour chunk at night, but…
  • Wanting to stay awake and be held after you eat at night
  • Growing well; you’re already up to 8 lbs
  • Smiling at us (unintentionally) as you fall asleep
  • Loved by your brothers, who jump up to check on you whenever you make the slightest noise
  • Swinging in the swing a lot; it’s your favorite place to sleep and rest
  • Sporting what may be the world’s chubbiest cheeks

How I’ll make it through winter

When we lived in Florida, “winter” (the quotation marks are very important there) ended on January 2nd. “Winter” was basically synonymous with the holiday season, and once Christmas and New Years passed, we moved headlong into spring.

Not so now, living here near what feels like the very top of the world. It’s almost the end of January, and I have a long ways to go before I can enjoy the the fresh greens and pastels of Easter or my the sprouting tulips in the front yard. The ground is still frozen around me, snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, and I feel lucky if the sun ever pokes her head through the clouds.

This year, I embraced the fact that the “winter blues” may, in fact, be a real thing for me. I’d go so far as to call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I’m not really sure. I’ve also had a newborn this year, so HELLO, hormones. All of this is an excellent recipe for a bit of melancholy.

One of 2016’s greatest lessons to me was that I navigate hard seasons much better when I have things to look forward to. I also learned that I need to acknowledge what I’m looking forward to, in the same way that writing a gratitude list helps me recognize what I’m thankful for.

So, I’m trying to preempt whatever sadness might come wandering through the front door. With no further ado, here’s what I’m looking forward to throughout the rest of this winter.

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Visits from friends. Two of my very best friends, Courtney and Melissa, are both coming to visit us in February. I continue to be amazed and so very grateful that our friends and family are willing to trek all the way to Michigan to keep us company and engage in our life here.

Hearing Sarah Bessey speak in person! Part of the reason Melissa is coming to visit is because Sarah Bessey is coming to speak at our church! (It was just the excuse we needed to get Melissa up here.) I consider Sarah to be a pastor in my life, someone who talks about Jesus in a way that speaks right to my heart and whose writing has transformed my relationship with God in very meaningful ways. I can’t wait. I’ll probably cry.

Ruthie’s smiles and coos. Newborns are such sleepy little things, and this isn’t the most exciting phase. One of my favorite things about motherhood are those very first intentional smiles and coos, each a sign that our baby is finding her place and voice and joy within our family.

More snow. All our snow melted away over the past week or two. I’ve been grateful for a few warm days, but I don’t like the cold if there’s not at least a little snow to make it pretty! The world feels so gray and bland right now; some snow will brighten things up.

Hanging up our spring wreath. It’s the little things, you know?

A beer or glass of wine at the end of the day. #notpregnantanymore

Reading more of The Jesus Way. I set this book down for a very long time and am finally picking it back up again. I have basically underlined the entire book. It’s enlightening and convicting and helping me look at Scripture differently.

Getting my first issues of Real Simple in the mail. This is my favorite magazine, and my sister bought me a subscription for Christmas! Magazines feel like a small indulgence, a small pleasure, and while picking them up in the grocery store is fine, I enjoy them even more when they arrive in the mail.

Drinking more hot chocolate. It’s become Evan’s job to whip us up some hot chocolate on cold nights. It’s a lovely ritual.

Getting back to our small group. We took a few weeks off for the holidays, and then Ruthie was born, so we’ve missed both of January’s meetings. I am missing these Tuesday evening gatherings, and I’m excited to jump back in for February.

I’d love to know: what are you looking forward to this season?

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” –John Steinbeck