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.

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 grandmothers 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 grandmothers 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

A letter to my children, in the aftermath of the election

Dear Ian, Leo, and Ruthie,

Have you been able to tell that I’ve been a tiny bit out of it lately? I’ve been in a bit of a funk: stuck in my head, easily distracted, feeling melancholy. I hope you haven’t noticed, but it’s alright if you have. I’d like to tell you why.

You see, just a couple of weeks ago, our country endured the 2016 presidential election. In the aftermath, it seems like everything and everyone is going a little bit crazy. I won’t go in to the all the details here, but I will just tell you this: Everyone is feeling pretty disheartened, and things have gotten ugly. It seems as though many, many people are using this time as an excuse to be unkind. I think most people are scared, and sometimes fear makes us do and say crazy things. Some are scared of Muslims. Some are scared of black people. Some are scared of white people and a group called the KKK. Some are scared of terrorism, and some are scared of the economy, and some are scared to lose their jobs. Many moms and dads like yours are scared about the kind of world you might grow up in, and how it might be different than the world we’ve known up until now.

It’s likely that by the time Donald Trump is done being president, you guys will be 11, and 8, and 7 years old. (Ruthie, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be born just before the inauguration.) I can’t even fathom what each of you will be like in eight years, let alone what our country will be like. I don’t know what you will have experienced or what you will understand about our country.

But. I do know a few things, some of which feel more important than ever. Here’s what I want to tell you:

It’s important to be good listeners. I signed up for Facebook just before my freshman year of college, when they still required a .edu e-mail address to sign up. I love social media; your dad pokes fun at me a little bit because of it. But I’ve come to realize something that bothers me: social media allows us to talk but rarely requires us to listen. We can unfollow, block, or scroll past without a second thought. I can’t begin to imagine the ten million ways you all will be able to share your opinions when the time comes. But I hope you’ll try to listen before you try to be heard and understand before being understood. In our family, I promise we’ll try to be committed to the truth. We’ll try to always honor and welcome your questions. We’ll say, “Tell me more about that,” and “It sounds like you are saying…” I am not always a good listener because I love to be right and be an expert; I’m confessing that to you now, and I hope we’ll be able to learn more about this together.

It’s ok to be uncomfortable or not understand. It’s uncomfortable to disagree with people and hear people talk about their pain. But please—don’t walk away from those uncomfortable conversations. It is always ok for you to feel angry, sad, confused, afraid, or disappointed. It’s also ok for other people to feel that way too, even if you don’t understand or experience the same things. Our feelings may not always be true, but they are real. Remember that when you are talking to people and avoid the temptation to rely on quick resolutions and easy answers. Everything is not black and white.

Look to Jesus. The world is a confusing place, and faith can be confusing too. Some people—especially Christians—will try to convince you they are 100% sure of their answers and don’t have any lingering questions. I’d stay away from those people, because chances are, they aren’t being honest. I don’t think it’s wise to expect your faith and politics in our country (or anywhere in the world) to match up well; this is simply not the example Scripture sets for us. So, whenever you are feeling confused, something doesn’t sit right with you, or you wonder what to think, look to Jesus. He may not give you a straight answer—after all, he was mighty fond of asking questions—but he promises his spirit is within you and can help you navigate these situations. When I look to Jesus, I notice he was always making more room to welcome more people in, he was always choosing to lower his status in society, and the people in power almost always disagreed with him. I notice that he was gentle, and slow-moving, and loved to share meals with people. You might notice different things about him; I can’t wait to find out what they are.

It’s more important than ever to be kind. And being kind is always more important than being right.

It’s easy for me to say these things, but they are harder act on in the context of our real lives. They are challenging for me sometimes, and it seems they get a little bit harder all the time. But you know what? We are family, which means we are going to figure this all out together. We are going to practice, and mess up, and practice some more, and there is always enough grace to go around. I am not afraid of the world you’ll grow up in, because I know that Jesus is still in charge and you three are going to help build his kingdom. And nothing gives me more hope than that.

Love you guys,

Mama

How I’m learning to rethink home

Over the weekend, I had a surprise package in the mail from my friend, Melissa. She and I can’t go more than a few minutes without talking about books, and when we were in Dallas last month she had gushed about The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. I added it to my to-be-read list, and imagine my delight when it showed up in my mailbox this weekend. Can you imagine a better surprise?

It’s the story of a young orphan, Peter, whose father died on the battlefield and his mother after birthing his sister. Peter had been told that his sister was stillborn, but somehow, he has always sensed that it must not be true. A fortuneteller tells him that, indeed, his sister Adele is alive, and that Peter must look for an elephant, who will take him to her. Lo and behold, in a magic trick gone very, very wrong, an elephant suddenly appears in town that day.

Over the course of the story, the elephant grows increasingly heartbroken that she can not get home. That is Peter’s problem, too. Neither of them remembers their home, necessarily, but they know what they’re looking for.

This week marks one year since we moved to Michigan. Over the past few days, I’ve shared some of the lessons I’ve learned. Writing those lists was like free therapy for me (as writing often is); it helped me weed through my muffled, conflicted feelings and take stock of the good gifts we’ve been given this year.

One year in, I’ve been asking myself the question so many people have asked me over the past twelve months: does it feel like home?

I don’t like living in the shades of gray. I like certain, black-and-white, clear answers. I want to say, “Yes! Yes, Grand Rapids feels like home,” but I feel less certain than I’d like to be, one year in. The real answer is that Grand Rapids feels like home sometimes, but not always.

But how can that be, I wonder? It’s either home or it isn’t. Right?

Homesickness hits me like a freight train some days. It’s like grief: I can’t control when and where it pops up, and I can’t rush the rate at which I progress through it. Some days, all I want is to go somewhere and see someone who knows my story, who maybe knew Evan and me before we were parents. Even the grocery store still feels unfamiliar. I see Instagram pictures of the places we would surely be and the stories we would surely be a part of, if we were back in Florida, and it feels like we aren’t yet a part of any story, here.

Other days, I have a great conversation with a mom at the library. A neighbor and I exchange book recommendations. The boys and I head somewhere and have a great time. Evan has a good day at work, we enjoy our time together as a family. We are learning and playing together. Our house feels cozy and comfortable. Connection. Comfort. Growth.

Subconsciously, I’ve been acting as though one day, with the flip of the calendar page, Orlando would no longer be home and Grand Rapids would be. But it’s not so black and white.

I’ve learned that home isn’t so much a place. Because yes, Florida is home, and yes, Michigan is home. Both. Together. All at once. We’re beginning to understand that for the rest of our lives, we are going to have more than one home, and not just because we’ve lived in more than once place. In Orlando and Gainesville and New Port Richey and Land O’ Lakes and now in Grand Rapids, we have loved and been loved. We have grown and been challenged. We have found our people and our places and put roots down.

I was listening to a podcast recently (I can not for the life of me remember what one), and the host and guest were talking about rest. One of the women said that she was choosing rest, rather than chasing it. I love that. I am choosing the same approach with home: I’m choosing it, rather than chasing it. While I expected to feel differently one year in, 365 days is sort of an arbitrary timeframe. I’m trusting that God is still at work building home within and around us.

God is still at work building home within and around us.

As the elephant in The Magician’s Elephant wishes for her home, DiCamillo writes that “She was working to remind herself of who she was. She was working to remember that somewhere in another place entirely she was known and loved.”

All that is still in progress here; the best stories have yet to be told.

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering putting a Great Lakes window decal on our car. When in Rome, right?

Labeling

Ian went through a phase a while back in which he labeled everything. He was learning new words every day, and by golly, he was going to use them. We drove around town and he exclaimed from the backseat, “House! Car! Truck! Tree! Moon!” In the Meijer produce section, he’d shout, “Apple! Nana! ‘Mato! Pepper!” I don’t know the official, scientific name for this developmental phase. I could dig out my childhood development textbooks from the basement and read about the cognitive and linguistic significance of it all, but I’m slowly figuring it out for myself.

In some ways, he still does this labeling thing, but he embellishes more: “Mama! I saw a pick-up truck! I saw a blue pick-up truck, Mama. It so big!”

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Evan’s lab building is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from a hospital. Ian loves going to pick him up after work, because it’s very likely we’ll see a bus, ambulance, or construction vehicle. On the way home the other day, Ian was trying so badly to say, “I saw two ambulances and a police car,” but he could not even get the words out because was so over-the-moon excited. He was just yelling and sputtering random syllables, and Evan and I could not stop laughing.

Sometimes it drives me crazy, but it doesn’t matter how many ambulances or pick-up trucks or police cars we see. He remains exuberant at each and every sighting, as if they were ancient fossils, once-in-a-lifetime discoveries.

Back in November, our small group was talking about gratitude (as one does that time of year). Counting gifts is still one of my favorite spiritual practices; it never fails to bring my focus back around to Jesus. It’s how I abide, how I pray without ceasing, how I choose the better way.

Our group talked about this practice, reflecting on how it can sometimes be insincere or legalistic, and wondering if we miss the bigger story God is writing when we’re so focused on the minute details of our lives.

One friend said, “Sometimes, it makes me feel like a little kid saying grace, you know what I mean? Like, ‘Thank you for my chicken, and for my french fries, and for my puppy, and for Sesame Street, and thank you for my friend Sarah, and for my ketchup, and…’”

I get that. In the years I spent serving in children’s ministry, I heard so many prayers that were offered up for no reason but the simple desire to be just like the other girl in class or to have one’s voice heard. And sometimes, we would end up praying for everyone’s goldfish (all of which mysteriously died within the same week). My four year-old nephew loves to say grace before family dinners right now. When the time comes, everyone waits with baited breath. You just never know what kind of prayer you’re going to get with a four year-old.

I remember, though, that Jesus said we should receive the kingdom like a child, making ourselves simple and lowly. I used to think this meant accepting without question or believing without logic. Now I think Jesus was talking about joy and curiosity and love.

Ian’s world is coming more alive to him everyday. He might not know it, but he makes it clear though his excitement and his questions. Every moment is ripe with new discoveries.

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I want to see the world more this way, with never-ceasing joy and never-waning enthusiasm. Just like Ian notices every single pick-up truck in the Target parking lot, I want to take note and give thanks for every single gift God gives. Maybe it’s childish to do so. Maybe that’s good.

Tomorrow’s gifts might be the same as they are today, but Ian teaches me that familiarity doesn’t make them any less wonderful or miraculous. And indeed, there are gifts today that I don’t even have the words for yet.

In the meantime:
hot cup of coffee
throaty newborn giggle
slobbery toddler kiss
pot of spaghetti on the stove
tulips sprouting out front
house, car, truck, tree, moon

Dear Ian (2.5 years old)

Dear Ian,

A few weeks ago was your half-birthday. It came and went, and I didn’t think much of it until later, but it seems worth acknowledging. One day, you’ll be 25 years old, and I’m sure 6 month chunks will seem like drops in a big, overflowing bucket. But for now, they help me to acknowledge the ways you have changed and grown, the way time is passing, the way our family continues to grow and meld together.

At two-and-a-half, oh man, you give me a run for my money. Life with you is a roller coaster. It’s amazing to me how quickly you can go from pure joy to fierce anger to complete despondency to great elation…all within about 5 seconds. It’s exhausting, to be honest, but I guess it also makes our days feel full. Very, very full.

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Sometimes, two-and-a-half is fun. You have a great imagination, and you love to be silly. Nothing fills you with as much joy as spinning in circles until you fall to the floor. (Your dad and I simply can’t keep up with that.) We make silly faces, sing silly songs. We spin and climb and run. I often tell people that tickles are your love language; you can’t get enough. People often comment on the sweetness of your smile and the infectiousness of your laugh.

Other times, two-and-a-half is hard. You are stubborn as all get out. You want things done your way and on your time table. When a toy doesn’t work as expected or we refuse a snack before dinner, a temper tantrum is sure to follow. When you get hurt, your default response is to yell and throw something. (Forget about kisses to make it better.)

The truth is, you challenge me. I often don’t know how to respond in a helpful manner. I am constantly trying to think about how to phrase things and structure our days in a way that’s going to gel with your own agenda. People often advise moms to “choose our battles,” but some days, I grow tired of having to choose. I pray a lot.

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I hope that as you grow, you’ll learn to be more flexible. You’ll learn to set reasonable expectations and be resilient when things don’t go your way. (You are, after all, only a toddler.)

Meanwhile, I also see what your stubbornness can become: loyalty, determination, and passion. I look forward to watching you learn new skills, tackle big problems, and pursue goals.

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Our days are filled with both joy and frustration–it’s like every day is a microcosm of what the rest of your life might be like. These block towers and Hot Wheels cars are all you know right now and life will be bigger and wider one day. Joy will be greater and sorrow more profound. But I hope you’ll approach it all with this same fierce determination and wild passion.

(I’ll go back and read this tomorrow when you ask for a snack 100 times.)

Love you to the moon and back,
Mama