Motherhood, Shaped by Grace

One of the greatest challenges of motherhood is the way is forces me to let go of my control freak tendencies. The mess. The unpredictable behavior. The demands on my time and energy. All of these things are out of my control.  I know you don’t need me to tell you all the ways toddlers and newborns can thwart our attempts at order, cleanliness, and calm; I’m sure you’ve seen all your mama-friends’ Instagram stories.

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But I don’t only like to control my environment. I really like feel in control of myself—my time, my emotions, my personal growth. I like to have it all together, and though I hate to admit it, I like for other people to think I have it all together. And if not, I at least want to have the choice. Dirty dishes in the sink? I decided to leave them there; I’ll deal with them tomorrow. Going out of the house with spit-up stains on my shirt? I chose not to check the mirror one last time before I left; I decided no one would notice or care; I decided I didn’t want to make the effort to find a clean shirt again. It’s all my choice. I am in control.

Until I’m not.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to keep it together, but postpartum depression was the thing that finally brought me to my knees.

I often describe my postpartum depression as something like an out-of-body experience. I was watching my anxiety attack from far away, trying to get through to that girl. I’d think, “There’s no reason to feel this way. Everything is ok. Take a deep breath. Calm down.” But those thoughts couldn’t reach whatever part of my mind was reeling. I was no longer in control of my emotions, my responses, my mind. It’s a scary feeling, to be honest.

Before this, I was white-knuckling my way through motherhood like a nervous new driver grips their steering wheel. The result was that I was often overwhelmed, because I was living like it was all up to me while believing I wasn’t up to the task.

I’ve heard it said that while we need not be grateful for every moment, there is something in every moment to be grateful for. This is how I’m thinking about my PPD; I wish I had never experienced it, but I’m on the hunt for things to be grateful for within the experience. And one of those things is the recognition that I need to cede control of my motherhood journey to Jesus.

In A Family Shaped by Grace, Gary Morland writes that even after we’ve eliminated bad habits and disharmony from our families and even after we’ve adopted more peaceful practices, we still need to hand over our families to Jesus. He writes that I need to release my family, my role, my limits, and the results. Releasing my role and my limits is what really got me thinking. Gary suggests this prayer: “Thank you that my limits are the beginning of your life being revealed in my mortal body.”

I have spent my entire motherhood journey trying to compensate for my limits, but postpartum depression taught me that I just need to release them to Jesus and trust him to fill in the gaps. Gary goes on to pray, “I act as if releasing control is a sacrifice that I have to do as n act of faith out of obedience. In reality, releasing is a relief. It’s a gift.”

This has been true for me. I’m grateful for my postpartum depression because somehow, miraculously, in its aftermath, I’m feeling a sense of sweet relief. Maybe this is how God is redeeming that hard, painful season. I feel as though God is healing not just the depression. He’s also redeeming the mothering I did before that point. I’m not merely returning to how I mothered before the PPD set in. Instead, I’m moving forward in an entirely new sort of freedom and grace.

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“You have been specifically wired and gifted to cover your specific assignment, your course on the river. Your family is your course on the river. But you were made to do this in union with God, not on your own.”

A Family Shaped by Grace releases today. It’s an easy read and very straightforward. As I read, I found myself wanting more Gary’s story of transformation, but maybe that will be his next book. 😉 In the meantime, A Family Shaped by Grace was a gentle, kind reminder about how living like Jesus really can transform our families for the better.

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What I Learned This Spring

Today, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman to share what I learned this spring. WHAT

  1. The phrase is “sleight of hand,” not “slight of hand.” I had no idea “sleight” was a word! I also learned that “carrot” and “caret” are two different words. Who knew?! (Well, not me, obviously.)
  2. An estimated 1 in 7 women experiences a perinatal mood disorder like postpartum depression. One in seven!! That is such a huge number, and I had no idea. PPD is not something that’s been discussed much in my circles, but I know now that it’s much more prevalent than I realized.
  3. Speaking of that, this spring is when I finally came to terms with the fact that from November 2015 to around January or February of this year, I was experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.
  4. I also learned that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s been observed since 1949. (!!!) That’s a real long time for me to just be hearing about it tthis year. (In the state of Michigan, it’s also Postpartum Depression Awareness Month.)
  5. Grammarly is like spell check, but for the entire internet. Whatever you’re typing–an email, blog post, Facebook comment, etc.–Grammarly will proofread for you. (It’s a free Chrome extension.)
  6. The Pomodoro method is pretty dang helpful, as far as productivity and focus are concerned. It goes like this, you work for 25 minutes and then take a short (~5 minute) break. Do that four times, then take a longer break. Then repeat.
  7. The Enneagram is far more interesting and complex than I initially thought. I’ve always loved personality typing, but I just started reading The Road Back to You, and I’m finding it completely fascinating.
  8. Mortgage paperwork is practically neverending. (Did we really just move into our house this season? Yup, we did. It’s only been about a month!)
  9. That bit about good fences being good neighbors? Totally false. We took down the fence in between our house and the next door neighbors’ house, and it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.
  10. Dressing a baby girl is so, so fun. And it’s super funny when your son may repeatedly ask if the baby is wearing a ball gown. (He learned about ball gowns from this book.)
  11. When there’s something big and important going on, but it’s hard for me to write about, I get stuck. I have been struggling big time to write about my postpartum depression experience, and it’s making it feel practically impossible to write about anything else. But for now, I’m content with list-making.
Going through this list is making me realize how very, very full this season has been. And there are so many good things to look forward to this summer and fall!

This spring, I’m feeling grateful for a new home, a healthy baby girl, and emerging from the postpartum depression fog.

Grace upon grace.

A Mother’s Day Reflection

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Today is Mother’s Day, and so I’m lost in a sea of introspection, mulling over my own mothering and the influence of so many mothers in my own life. Over and over today, I’ve been struck with how blessed I am to be surrounded by wonderful mothers.

There is my own Mom, of course. She is a woman so wonderful that I think almost everyone who meets her knows within moments how special she is.  She continues to teach me about creativity, kindness, forgiveness, and family. I love her.

There is my mother-in-law, a woman who has opened the doors to her home and her family so wide, that I have always felt right at home. I love her.

Then, there are my friends, many of whom are the best mothers I know. On my hard days, they encourage me and listen to me vent. On my good days, they celebrate with me. They are examples of compassion, patience, faith, and courage—whether in mothering or not. They inspire me and make me want to be better while knowing I’m accepted as I am. I love them all.

And there are also writers, bloggers, and public figures who have transformed my own mothering experience through their words, art, and activism.

It’s a great cloud of witnesses.

One of the things I love most about being a mom is the same thing I love about being a woman—what an amazing company I am surrounded by, both near and far. It’s an honor and privilege to count myself among them. Seriously.

These days, my children challenge me and also make me insanely happy. I’ve talked so many parents about how there really aren’t good days and bad days; there are just days jam-packed with both very good moments and very bad moments. My children can be stubborn, aggressive and emotional; they are often needy, demanding, and loud. There are speech delays and allergies and behavioral challenges that keep me up at night and make me question my parenting decisions. But my children are also joyful, passionate, compassionate, and eager-to-please. They are smart and curious, always eager to learn. They have contagious smiles, awesome laughs, and the sparkliest blue eyes. They are awesome snugglers.

I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about this in my writing or on social media. (In fact, I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about it in many of my offline relationships either.) But I find that I can’t talk about Mother’s Day this year without acknowledging that since Leo was born, I have struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I started taking medication just a few weeks before Ruthie was born, and only over the past few months have I finally begun to feel the cloud lifting. I am finally feeling like myself again.

I don’t like admitting this part of my story. I’ve been trying to write about it for months, but I haven’t really been able to. Maybe some day soon I can share more of the story. But what I can say right now is that the past 18 months or so have been incredibly difficult, and I have struggled to find joy in my motherhood on many, many days. I have felt like a failure, and it has felt almost impossible to be the mom my kids deserve. (I know that’s not true. But it felt real, nonetheless.)

I’m grateful to be mostly on the other side of that. At the same time, I’m mourning the time I lost. Today at church, we talked about the now-but-not-yet Kingdom of God, and one of the most significant things I’ve come to understand is that in motherhood, like in the rest of life, there is room in my heart and hands for both joy and sadness. I can carry them both. As much as I feel grief over my PPD, I also feel deep, abiding joy in the presence of my children and in the act of being their mom.

Motherhood is exhausting, and there are days I wonder what in the actual heck was I thinking?

Motherhood is also my most important work. It’s not every woman’s most important work, but it is mine.

Being a mom is my greatest act of resistance, and it is my greatest contribution to the kingdom of God.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Anne Lamott says there are three essential prayers: Help, thanks, and wow. Motherhood makes me pray those three words in an endless loop.

Today, I am grateful.

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.