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

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!

Obsessions (Fall 2016)

It’s that time again! Each month, I share some of the best things I’ve read on the Internet, in 3 categories: faith and family, learning and creativity, and perfectionism and freedom. Because I’m combining two months worth of links this time around, there is more to dig through than normal. But, I promise I wouldn’t share these links if I didn’t think they were worth your time. Happy reading!

And of course, it’s the 20th of the month, which means Issue #003 of The Drafting Desk will ship out to inboxes this afternoon! This month, we’re talking about hospitality: how perfectionism leads us to avoid it, what being hospitable really means, and how we can approach it (with less pressure!) during the holiday season. If you’re not a subscriber, you can claim some free goodies and get signed up here!

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  1. “In Her Time. (She Chose Pizza.),” by Ashley Ann Campbell. Oh, y’all. Grab a tissue. I have been following Ashley’s blog intermittently for years, and I remember when this sweet girl came home. This is a story about the small and large victories of parenthood, and it’s beautiful.
  2. “Love on a Monday,” by Shannan Martin. “My gut knew we were kin, but my brain protested. Isn’t that what life asks of us, to lean heavy on the scale of our perceived self protection?”
  3. “The Heartbreak and Joy of Being a Lifelong Cubs Fan,” by Katherine Riley. “I had learned that being a Cubs fan was about balancing naïve optimism and relentless pessimism, and I was determined to never again let the former eclipse the latter.”
  4. “Tune In to Your Heart,” by Emily Allen. “I heard somewhere recently that it is not possible to have grace for yourself. If you have to have grace for yourself, that is just one more thing you have to generate from your empty well.”
  5. “Right Here,” by Erin Loechner. “I know what my mother would say. As a child, when I’d lose anything – Where are my swim goggles? I can’t find my science book! – she’d respond simply: Where did you last see it?”

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  1. “10 Things the Bravermans Can Teach Us About Food,” by Kendra Adachi.

    “The chairs don’t match, the tablecloth is plaid and dated, and the multiple tables under it aren’t level. But don’t we all look at this photo and say, ‘I want to go to there’?”
    (In related news, I am still looking for a show to replace Parenthood. I thought This is Us might be it, but I’m not there just yet. Fingers Crossed.)

  2. “13 Writing Tips from J.K. Rowling, Because She Knows a Thing or Two About Perserverance,” by Sadie L. Trombetta. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
  3. “It Can’t Wait” by Dina L. Relles. “Sometimes I picture the rest of the world moving at super speed while I’m stuck, stationary and still, in the slog of this small life.”
  4. “What We Write About When We’re Not Writing,” by Kathleen Harris. “You need two half-gallons of milk, because the children are pouring themselves larger and second glasses of the stuff. You make a note of that. Two half-gallons. Write the number two in parentheses, next to the word ‘milk.’ You don’t write about the fact that your children are growing older, becoming gangly-limbed strangers to you…”

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  1. “Earning My Grey Hair (And Feeling Weird/Great About My 30s),” by Haley Stewart. “So I’m letting myself feel a little weird about it. And I’m also letting myself feel a little awesome about it.”
  2. “Wise Words,” by Mari Andrew. (This is an illustration, so you’ll just have to click the link!)
  3. “I failed the Write 31 Days challenge,” by Rebekah Crosby. “The old me and the new me are doing battle over whether 16 out of 31 is failure. Math says yes; old me says yes.”

How I Learned to View Writing as a Spiritual Discipline

I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic a few months ago. I love books about creativity and adored Liz’s Magic Lessons podcast, so I couldn’t wait to dig into this book. (Admittedly, I’ve tuned out for season 2 of the podcast, but I still recommend the first season.) I began thinking I was reading a book about one thing (writing), but it turned out to be about much more than that. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the book’s subtitle isn’t “creative writing beyond fear.” It’s, “creative living beyond fear.”

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Some of Liz’s ideas–particularly about inspiration, ideas, and how they find us–are a little…woo-woo, shall we say? Evan rolled his eyes as I relayed some passages to him (which was absolutely the reaction I expected); he is far too rational for that sort of thing. I didn’t always agree wholeheartedly, but so much of what she said resonated with me.

Liz’s writing is never explicitly faith-based (though she often alludes to various kinds of spirituality), but as she described the Muse and inspiration and ideas, I thought about the Holy Spirit. Scripture attests to the idea that he keeps fellowship with us, and that we were created in the image of a very creative God. I thought of how Jesus asked us to be co-creators and to play an active, collaborative role in building his kingdom. I thought of what Nathan Foster says about praying with our imagination.

I found myself thinking about creatively approaching every area of life: motherhood, career, marriage, friendship. Let alone writing. Books that work their way into every nook and cranny of my existence are, in my opinion, the best kind.

When talking about her favorite poet, Liz wrote, “He became a poet the way other men become monks: as a devotional practice, as an act of love, and as a lifelong commitment to the search for grace and transcendence. I think this is probably a very good way to become a poet. Or to become anything, really, that calls to your heart and brings you to life.”

In the margin, I scribbled, “This is how I want to become a writer.” But, truly, that is how I want to become everything: daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, writer, friend. I want each role I play to be lived in out in a furious, generous act of love. I want it all to be evidence of my lifelong commitment to Jesus and the building of his kingdom.

Emily Freeman writes a blog series about unconventional and unexpected spiritual disciplines: practices like beginning where you are, learning nothing, and wearing better pants. Those posts are some of my favorites, because I am learning to view all of my life as a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is anything we do day-in and day-out, like breathing, that connect us more to our souls and our God.

I usually describe writing as a hobby. When I was a journalism major, I would have described it as my future, hoped-for career. At certain times, I’ve described it as a sanity-saver. But it wasn’t until recently that I also began to understand writing, too, as a spiritual practice.

I am constantly scribbling prayers in the margins of my journal and Bible, and when I blog, it’s most often about the ways I see God showing up in and around me. But the connection goes even further: The very act of writing feels like prayer, like communion, like living and moving and having my being in Jesus.

 

You can read all the posts in my series on spiritual disciplines here.

Obsessions (September 2016)

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

 

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1. “Get the Epidural” by Jessi Klein.But how often do people really want women to be or do anything ‘natural’? It seems to me the answer is almost never. In fact, almost everything natural about women is considered pretty horrific. Hairy legs and armpits? Please shave, you furry beast. Do you have hips and cellulite? Please go hide in the very back of your shoe closet and turn the light off and stay there until someone tells you to come out. (No one will tell you to come out.) It’s interesting that no one cares very much about women doing anything ‘naturally’ until it involves their being in excruciating pain.”

In this piece, Jessi raises a point I’ve never heard before. (It doesn’t mean someone hasn’t made it. But I haven’t heard it.) Here’s the truth of the matter: I have never felt stronger and more capable than I felt while giving birth, even with an epidural. That does not change the fact that I have been made to feel guilty and less-than for having chosen some pain meds during labor! I think there are plenty of excellent reasons to have a “natural” birth, but I’m not sure that merely wanting to prove our own strength at women is one of them.

2. “Why this election makes me hate the word ‘evangelical’” by Russell Moore. “For years, secular progressives have said that evangelical social action in America is not about religious conviction but all about power. They have implied that the goal of the Religious Right is to cynically use the ‘moral’ to get to the ‘majority,’ not the other way around. This year, a group of high-profile old-guard evangelicals has proven these critics right. But thank God, that’s not the whole story.” 

3. “An Ode to Being Super Mom” by Kendra Adachi. “That night in bed, the darkness weighs heavy. / Or maybe it’s the pizza you picked up in your Chevy. / You cry in the silence, wishing the guilt would go away. / Why is it so hard to be Super Mom every day?”

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1. “A Mary Anne with Kristy Rising: On the Enduring Legacy of the Baby-Sitters Club Books” by J. Courtney Sullivan. “When we talk about The Baby-Sitters Club now, we don’t talk about which characters we were. We talk about which characters we are.”

I credit The Baby-sitters Club with turning me into an avid, lifelong reader. Would it have happened otherwise? Probably. But still: these books were the first to keep me up in the middle of the night, reading by flashlight.

2. “How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit” by Rebecca Solnit. “It starts with passion even before it starts with words. You want to read people who are wise, deep, wild, kind, committed, insightful, attentive; you want to be those people. I am all for style, but only in the service of vision.”

3. “Seasons” by Austin Kleon. “Creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season it is, and act accordingly.”

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1. “When rest is a necessity” by Alia Hagenbach.  We need an excuse to earn rest and carry our exhaustion and busyness like a completed chart full of gold stars.”

2. “How I Moved On From My What Not To Wear Style” by Stacy London. “…with time, we can form a new sense of out identities as useful and productive. I will have more to say and experience and share and love and do. Age is a gift, not simply because we aren’t dead. It’s the gift of time that allows us to change our prejudices and perceptions. We’ll be here longer to preserve history and make history. I want to celebrate that. I want to respect it.”  

I found this article by Stacy London fascinating. Sometimes, when I write, I have this sense that if I’m going to say something, I better be 100% sure because I can’t change my mind once I hit “publish.” I can only imagine how Stacy must feel as her style evolves, when she spent so much time telling people how they should dress! I love the freedom, yet seriousness, she expresses here. (Language warning.)

3. “On Overcoming” by Katie Schmidt.I posted something that was kinda true, but kinda not. I did this because…sometimes I just can’t convince myself that the truth is as important as how people perceive me.”

 

And, in other news: The first issue of The Drafting Desk lands in inboxes today!

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In our first issue, Rebekah and I are each sharing a little bit of our perfectionism “origin stories”: how we landed here and why we are writing on this topic. We are also including a free bonus download! If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here. When you subscribe, you’ll get access to printable prayers for perfectionists and a beautiful phone and desktop wallpaper.

I can’t WAIT for you to get your first issue, and I’m thrilled you are joining us on the journey toward freedom.

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.