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.

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.

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?

On Moving to Michigan, One Year Later (Part 2)

Yesterday, I shared that this week marks one year since we moved from Orlando to Grand Rapids, and I started sharing some of the things I’ve learned over that time. You can read part one of the list here. Here’s part two!

What I Learned

I learned that to put my identity in Christ, I may need to remove whatever other things I’ve put my identity in. I’ve been pretty honest about my struggles with transition to a stay-at-home mom. For most of my life up to this point, my identity was in work, accomplishment, productivity, and influence. Motherhood messes with all of that. At the same time, misguided attempts to put my identity in motherhood come up empty, because it is NOT easy to feel successful at parenting. For years I have talked about putting my identity in Christ as opposed to other things, but this is the year I finally started figuring out how to do it. I’m still muddling my way through all this.

I learned that “discontent” is often a manifestation of fear and worry. I wrote more about that here.

I learned that “hard” and “good” are not mutually exclusive. When we were getting ready to move, everyone said, “This will be so good for your marriage! You’ll just have each other, so you’ll be so close!” Well, this has been the hardest year of our marriage by far. Admittedly, I sometimes want to go back to a year or two ago when marriage felt easy. But all of this required more and better communication, a closer consideration of the other person’s needs, and a willingness to change and adapt to the changes in one another, as well as the changes in our circumstances. So, what’s been hard has also been good for us.

I learned that it in hard seasons, it helps to have something to look forward to. I looked forward to Leo’s birth, to Christmas, to family visits, to going to Hope Spoken. Other times, I have looked forward to a book release or an episode of Gilmore Girls while the boys napped. This breaks of the monotony of being home with the boys, and like Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project, anticipating something for awhile makes it all the more enjoyable when it finally happens. In the midst of a hard day, looking forward to something helps me remember, “Not every day is this way.”

I’ve learned that God’s presence can be felt in so many places (even if they seem weird). Because we loved Summit so very much, finding a new church has been one of the toughest things about this move. We knew that would be true, but we didn’t know how true it would prove to be. At some churches, we liked the worship but not the sermon, or visa versa. Sometimes we felt welcome, and sometimes we felt out of place. We tried liturgy and we tried…well, whatever the opposite of liturgy is. Of all the churches we tried, only once did we leave feeling truly uneasy and thinking, “Uh, that was uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s right.” Every other time, we felt God’s presence and left assured of the fact those people were following Jesus together…even if we didn’t “like” the Sunday experience. I’m so grateful for the reminder that church is NOT a presentation to consume, to like or dislike like a Facebook status, according to my personal preferences. Church is about following Jesus, together, and only sometimes does that happens inside a building on a Sunday. I believed that and had experienced it before, but church-hopping illuminates it in a new way. Almost any place we showed up on Sunday, we knew God was there.

I learned that being a neighbor means being generous in unexpected ways. In Orlando, Evan and I had only lived in apartment complexes, and we never got to know our neighbors. The greatest and most tangible gift God has given us in Grand Rapids is our fantastic neighbors. They are the people I know to call when I need a babysitter or a (literal) cup of sugar. They are generous in so many ways, like letting our toddler sleep in the guest room while we play a board game, or dropping off a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or just walking across the street to say hi.

Tomorrow, I’ll share one final thing that I’ve learned over the past year.

On Moving to Michigan, One Year Later (Part 1)

This week marks one year since we moved from Orlando to Grand Rapids.

Once the calendar turned to 2016, Evan and I started looking at each other and saying, “Can you believe we’ve lived here for a year already?”

The answer is, resoundingly: no, not really, we can’t believe it.

A year is a long time, and I thought everything would feel further along at this point. Further along from what, exactly? I’m not quite sure. But I thought I would feel more settled, and that we would have deeper friendships. I thought we would have better rhythms and be fully invested in a new church home. It doesn’t really feel that way, yet.

I have a hard time knowing how to write about this. On the one hand, we really, truly love Grand Rapids. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard as heck. Almost every day feels hard, in some way. As much as we love our city, our neighborhood, our little house, and Evan’s job, homesickness sneaks up on me at unexpected times and in unexpected places. After one year, this all feels less like an adventure and more like a challenge.

I keep comparing this move to when Evan and I were first married, but I need to stop doing that. Almost nothing is the same as it was then. For one thing, Evan had already lived in Orlando for 4 years at that point. We didn’t have children, and we were both in school (as opposed to working full-time). Things were so very different.

So, after one year, I am trying to release some of my expectations. I need to acknowledge that we have two small children, which sometimes limits the times and places we can go exploring (and makes exploring exhausting no matter what). I need to acknowledge that Evan works long hours, and being at home with the boys drains a lot of my energy. I need to acknowledge that in this phase of life, we can’t expect friendship and community to just drop into our lap; they require work.

I wanted something profound to say about all this, but I just can’t figure out how to wrap this up neatly in a bow. Instead, am remembering that what I love most in life is to learn and asking, “What have I learned this year?”

As I started to think through that question, the reality became obvious: I have learned a lot. I’m going to share those lessons with you…but not all at once! (More to come tomorrow.)

What I Learned
I learned that Michigan and Florida have very different cultures, in every conceivable way. Consequently, we’re thinking harder about the kind of environment we want our kids to grow up in, and about how we may never find a “perfect” place to raise a family. We like Florida’s diversity, but we like Michigan’s neighborly, local first attitude. So, like everything good and worthwhile in life, it takes some effort to create the life experience you want, whether in the south or the midwest.

I learned that a “local first” attitude makes my heart beat fast. I think Texans like to think they have cornered the state pride market, but I’m telling you–Michiganders give them a run for their money. And with good reasons–there is a lot to love here. The natural beauty of Michigan is pretty amazing, and we haven’t even explored the half of it. And Grand Rapids, in particular, has been experiencing a local renaissance over the past decade or so, and we are hitting it in it’s peak. The local parks, stores, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops abound. I am so grateful for easy access to local produce, meat, products, and services. I find joy in discovering new places I love, and in then sharing those places with other people.

I learned that I don’t necessarily love winter, but I LOVE changing seasons. When people ask us if we will ever move back to Florida, we concede that the answer is probably yes, because it’s where our family is. At the same time, I hate the thought of replacing spring and fall with more Florida summer. I recently heard Rob Bell say that people experience despair when every day is exactly the same, and that’s kind of how I feel about Florida’s weather. The changing seasons means that I can experience more facets of God’s creation and become more intimately acquainted with the rhythms of the seasons. Scripture and hymns are rich with imagery of that natural world, and now I understand why. I sense God’s presence in the changing seasons, and I don’t have that “time is getting away from me” feeling quite as acutely. I’m more at ease with the changing calendar.

I learned that for all its annoyances and downsides, technology can be so wonderful. Especially Facetime and Voxer. These have proven the best ways to keep in touch with friends and family. We probably Facetime with our parents at least once a week. I have long Voxer conversations going with some of my very best friends (and I am working on convincing everyone I know to jump on it). Some of the girls from my connect group and I have a Tuesday afternoon texting thread about The Bachelor. When we left Orlando, I knew that I would be heartbroken if some of those relationships fell by the wayside. While nothing beats face-to-face time, I am grateful for the quick and easy ways technology has given me to keep in touch and check in.

Tomorrow, I’ll share what I learned about marriage, God, and being a good neighbor.

Learning to Embrace Change

Are you guys sick of me talking about my birthday, yet? I’m a little sick of me talking about my birthday. But, I’ve still been thinking quite a bit about this past year and how much has changed. I’ve already written about how 26 was a full year: Malawi, the Writer’s Barn, Michigan, Chicago, changing jobs, leaving a job entirely, writing, Evan graduating, Ian growing, reGroup…it was a lot. A lot of good. But a lot. I am beginning to imagine that 27 will be a lot like that as well–after all, if nothing else, we’re having another kid–but to be honest, I would like for 27 to involve a little less new and a little more settling in.

I’ve recognized recently that I keep expecting the rate of change to slow down or stop altogether, to give my mind and heart a break from the constant shifting an adjusting. But instead, over the past year I learned that change is not an event or something that happens to us at certain point on a timeline. Change is just the current of our lives; it’s the force that keeps us moving along.

Most of us look at change as a threat. And why not? It’s foreign and jacks up what we know and like. It makes the consistent inconsistent. It typically removes comfort.
But change is not a threat. It’s a fact. If we act as if change just happens upon us — surprise! — in a sudden upheaval, we miss its continuing flow and its lessons and the opportunity to keep up with it. Change is a fact of life. Throughout history, we’ve seen shifts in our culture, our communities, the way we think, and the way we express our faith — whether it comes from a revolution, a movement, or a ripple. Change is a reality, and we’re living right in the middle of it.
The good news is that God can be found right in the middle of it as well. God does not change, but He uses change to change us. He sends us on journeys that bring us to the end of ourselves. We often feel out of control, yet if we embrace His leading, we may find ourselves on the ride of our lives.
Brandon Hatmaker, in the introduction to Interrupted

As I think about everything that’s gone on over the past few years, as tumultuous and wonderful and occasionally scary as it all seemed at times, I also know that the change catalyzed all the growth and personal, internal change I’m so grateful for: letting go of perfectionism and fear, embracing freedom, a willingness to be more honest, a readiness to fail. I guess it’s a bit cliche, but it felt like an “ah-ha!” moment: stop resisting and fearing change. Just roll with it, and trust that good will come of it and the settling in will happen somewhere on the other side.

Part of my problem is that I want all of my life to feel settled all at once. I have been waiting for a moment when everything feels still and nothing is shifting. But instead, I keep imagining my self, standing in the middle of a room in which the floor is completely blanketed in balloons. Do they ever, truly stop moving? No, they just keep shifting, slowly, but noticeably. Right now, my marriage feels nice and settled; I think we are in a good place and a good rhythm. But lots of other things–home, community, church, career, creativity–are all shifting (in ways I don’t even understand yet). And I can fight against that feeling–desperately trying to stand still long enough for all the balloons to settle down on the floor, or I can just embrace the movement.