It’s Time! An (in)courage Guest Post

Despite growing up attending church most weeks, I never knew much about Palm Sunday–why it mattered, why we celebrated, why everyone was shouting “Hosanna!”

Serving and working in children’s ministry forced me to figure out what the big deal was. Because, if I’m going to explain it to a bunch of elementary schoolers, I better understand it myself.

Today, I’m really honored and excited to share more about Palm Sunday over at (in)courage. You can click here to read that post.

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For years now, (in)Courage has been one of my favorite places to read about Jesus and how we can better follow him in the midst of our everyday lives. The writers and stories I’ve encountered there have changed my life and faith in a very real way. Sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, right in your inbox.

What Tulips Can Teach Us About Self-Care

Spring can be bi-polar, hinting at summer (last week) and then swinging back to snow and slush (this week). When I’m most anxious to leave winter behind, I pull out my tulip mug. It was a gift from my college roommate, who knew me well enough to choose a mug with my favorite flower.

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Tulips are magical, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t get over their different shapes and vibrant colors. But what I love most is how unruly they are, their stems always bending, reaching, and stretching towards the sun. It’s a quality I wish came more naturally to me: a healthy disregard for uniformity and confinement.

When we moved to Grand Rapids, I was most excited about how our new climate would mean more access to tulips. Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how wonderful it would be to watch them bloom all around me.

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While we anxiously waited for Leo to be born during our first autumn here, Ian and my mother-in-law planted tulip bulbs. Right now, their green leaves are just beginning to poke through the dirt in our front yard, and I’m reminiscing about last spring.

When we first planted them, I said meek little prayers for those flowers. I wondered what was happening beneath the ice, deep within the frozen ground. All along, I was afraid of disappointment if I set my expectations too high. I doubted. I assumed squirrels had sneaked our bulbs away, and I questioned whether our flower bed was getting enough sunlight. I noticed blooming plants in neighbors’ yards and concluded ours would never come.

But lo and behold, with the warmth of spring came our tulips.

Beautiful, two-feet tall purple tulips in the front. Behind them, a row of brilliant red, their leaves more ruffled. They sprouted in waves, early bloomers and late bloomers. My favorites were tall and elegant, tinted such a deep shade of purple they were almost black.

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One night, we had quite a rainstorm—hail and all, with the thunder loud enough to wake me from a deep sleep. The temperature dropped quite a bit, and when I walked outside the next morning, I found that the tulips had closed up.

It turns out that when it rains or when the temperature drops, tulips close up. Google told me this protects the pollen and ensures reproduction. I had no idea this sort of thing happened, but I was in awe.

A friend recently suggested that God speaks as much through creation as He does through Scripture. Today, I am thinking of all the ways God protects and shelters me, just as it’s somehow in the flowers’ nature to close and reopen in perfect timing.

How often do I keep pushing, fighting, and striving when surrounding storms necessitate that I stop and take care of myself a bit? I have learned a lot about self-care over time, but I still feel guilty when I choose to read on the couch instead of playing Hot Wheels with Ian, or pour an additional cup of coffee, or pay for a bouquet at Trader Joe’s, or head out for a solo evening at the coffee shop.

But, truly: even the tulips practice self-care. Nature itself knows what it can and can not handle. Self-care is not optional and not something we do to merely comfort ourselves. It’s something we practice to keep ourselves alive, fruitful, and thriving.

When I’m in a funk, I find it really difficult to get myself out; to make whatever good choices might boost my mood. Instead of choosing something really restful and restorative, I aimlessly scroll through Facebook and Instagram, refresh my email inbox for the millionth time, shuffle the clutter around my house without purpose. The pull of inertia is strong. And while it’s ok to sit with my discomfort and melancholy a bit, there also comes a time when I need to do my part to say goodbye to those heavy moods.

For the tulips in my yard, it was instinct. But my instinct is to choose distraction rather than rest. So, as any good INFJ would do, I made a list. I refer to it every once in awhile, when I feel overwhelmed and need reminders of what works and what matters.

Ways to care for myself:

-A cup of coffee in the morning. (This may not be the BEST or most healthy habit, but I figure in this stage of life, it’s a luxury I can grant myself.)

-Read the Bible.

-Go through my prayer journal.

-Make a list of things I’m grateful for.

-Turn on a good playlist.

-Log out of social media.

-Try some centering prayer.

-Leave my phone in the other room. (I’m embarrassed by how difficult this is.)

-Stretch.

-Read a book or a poem.

-Take a nap. (A nap is the elusive magical unicorn of self-care strategies.)

I want to be more willing to close up and shield myself from the wind and the rain. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to care for myself; I want it to be instinct, with no guilt or shame involved. This is what the tulips have taught me.

What Tulips Can Teach Us About Self-Care

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!