Graffiti Grace

IMG_1420 We strolled the last few streets in the Czech Republic and I noticed her ferociously scrubbing the bottom of a building wall. Painted creamy white, nearly egg shell, I wondered why she was even trying to remove the paint that was stained into her building.

The only sensible way to remove it was to cover it up with fresh paint, bandage it, pretend it did not exist.

Berlin drowns in graffiti.

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At first glance, graffiti ruins the beauty of what was meant to be seen. It demolishes the designer's plan, frustrates the one who believes he is in control. Graffiti leaves its mark, the maker's mark, claiming itself to be remembered for as long as it is visible.

Sometimes the marks of graffiti remain visible for an entire lifetime. Sometimes it is impossible to forget and completely demolish the mark.

Graffiti, no matter how ugly or offensive (or beautiful and lovely), is built into the stone. We cannot fully and completely remove graffitin art. We can paint new coats on top, bandaging the thing we deemed as unworthy to be seen, but soon enough, more graffiti will replace the fresh coat of pure paint.

Graffiti is inevitable it seems.

Even on a wall so rich in history, so important to a country.

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Graffiti on the walls of our lives are disguised as vandalism. We cannot remove the graffiti, the unwanted art being painted so violently or silently, that is being etched into the stone walls of our lives. No matter how gravely we despise the graffiti, no matter how unplanned and unwanted, the story is being painted upon us and we have little say in what it looks like.

We do not craft the way of our own journey, no matter how severely we feel entitled to.

Though we do not choose the color or image of the paint plastered into the parable that we live, we do have the freedom of response.

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Some respond with fresh coats of paint, attempting to bandage and cover up the ugly and unwanted. Others ignore the graffiti completely, pretending it does not exist; while others add to the graffiti, numbing ugly with ugly, pain with pain. Some embrace the paint as art, the damage deemed as refinement, and make something beautiful of it.

Not always does one jump to seeing the beauty in the art of graffiti, the graffiti grafted into the glimpses of life, disguised as vandalism but residing as grace. It takes practice and discipline to honestly and immediately see pain as grace, graffiti as art.

I will not pretend that I see all of the graffiti etched into my journey as beautiful art; not yet anyways. I accept that one day, [some day, whether near or far], I may look back at the scribbles and doodles and irrevocable incisions imprinted into my heart and see beauty. I may marvel at what once ripped me to pieces and broke me in half. And then in half again. But I am not yet at that place of beautiful brokenness, charming wholeness.

That place of constant delightful goodness is freeing and light, joyful and attainable. I know because I once resided there so carelessly, so freely, so easily and naturally. Confidence assures me that we will be there again someday. Fear tells me I should pretend I already am. Integrity begs for honesty.

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So for now, I will walk the road and peek into the puddles to see reflections of the sky so blue and clouds so silky, soaking in the small gifts that I am able to honestly see, while the walls covered in graffiti escort me to the next chapter. I believe at the end of the chapter [or maybe not until the end of the story], I will come to the end of myself. And at the end of myself is the opening of the hands, which leads to surrender. Surrender ushers in grace.

The graffiti walls lead us to grace. Somehow and somewhere, there is always grace in the graffiti.

 

Tchuss, Tubingen. Hallo, Rothenburg: Germany vol. 2

IMG_0129 Germany is beautiful. Graffiti is everywhere, but I barely notice it in comparison to the unique buildings and cobblestone roads. The people here are generally quiet and seem to be good at enjoying present life. They seem present. Aware. Almost always soaking in whatever scenery is before them. The part of Germany we have been in this week (southern) has a lot of little villages hidden in nooks of forestry, with rivers or creeks running through them. Water is my favorite.

There are castles in many of the towns.

God and I have been having honest conversations. He is shifting things around in me, changing chunks of my soul, rearranging my thinking. My priorities are slowly and slightly shifting and it's scary, because change is not comfortable, but it feels right in my heart. 

Aside from a certain continual ache within my being that I will not pretend doesn't exist, this birthday was by far the most memorable. Loren took me to Cafe L for fruit and cappuccino, then on a dreamy paddle boat ride down the river in Tubingen. We sat and we peddled and we laughed and we smiled and we chatted and we enjoyed the peaceful calm.

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Loren got us another Air B & B in for the night in a little village named Buhl. The 25 minute bus ride was beautiful; we drove through country fields of horses and green grass and yellow flowers and farm homes. Pulling into the village center we asked the first man we saw if he knew where a street was; he quickly pointed his finger and we were on our way. It wasn't long before the majestic castle shouted, "here, here, your host home is here!" Our eyes locked with sheet joy and we took a few more steps forward before Jurgen stepped around a tall square bush and exclaimed, "You must be Loren!" (Except it sounded like Loraine, which was wonderful). His English was nearly perfect, lacking a heavy German accent. Jurgen was jolly.

The front yard was pure bliss and I wondered what the inside of this gigantic German home looked like. I wanted to adopt these friendly people as my aunt and uncle. And this village as my own. So the room and everything about it was perfect:

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Jurgen encouraged us to try the German restaurant down the cobblestone walk, around the corner, and through the gate. So we did and we ate the best pommes. Among other yummies things.

I absolutely relish the amount of time that must be put into gardens. Everyone always has flowers, everywhere, all of the time. So much life. Here are some photos from our walk:

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In the morning, the birds and sun greeted us equally as wonderfully. Monika made us breakfast which we devoured happily.

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 We hopped on the Friday morning bus back to Tubingen to meet Tony - and off to the castle we went.

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Saturday we sprinted to our bus which was wonderful because I haven't ran in way too long. (So about that marathon training..) Grabbed some cappuccinos and boarded trains to the very northwest part of the Austrian alps.

 

We first stopped in a small island village on Lake Constinence, Lindau. This town was cuter than cute. When walking out on this ledge to the lookout, one view was of the snowy alps and the other of a gorgeous town.

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Next we entered Bregenz where the gandala awaited to take us up to the alps. From the top of the mountain you can see Switzerland and Germany (and Austria) and the curvature of the earth.

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This morning we worshiped with a bunch of Germans. This church is over 800 years old.

  

We said tschuss tschuss to Tubingen today, which means we also had to say goodbye to our dear friend Tony.

After a four hour train ride, our Air B&B host picked us up at the station and dropped us off down in the village center. We were now in the village that I have been most looking forward to - Rothenburg. This town was the little place my good old cousin Walt Disney based Pinocchio off of. It ALSO was where parts of the Deathly Hallows was created. HARRY POTTER, PEOPLE!

I thought Buhl captured my heart...but this town, this town has stolen my heart forevermore.

              

It's 12:30 am and I am exhausted. Thanks for checking in and following along on our great adventure! Be praying for us, for our hearts to be close to Him and one another - that as we travel, we would continue to be selfless and caring for one another.

If you have any questions, fire away in the comments! I will do my best to answer them within a reasonable amount of time.

Tschuss!

Oh child, we're all foreigners: Germany vol. 1

brenners and backpacksIt's my birthday! Today we celebrate the day my strong momma literally pushed me from the dark and into this world, the light. I feel extra loved today as we sit in Cafe L while sipping a [caffeine free, dairy free - don't judge me] cappuccino at a long wooden table with sun warming me.

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Last night Tony [long time friend], Max [German student, Tony's roommate], Loren, and I sipped Spanish wine and toasted Happy Birthday, Gubertstag, at midnight -- apparently you celebrate into your birthday here. I found myself sitting among 3 amazing men while they sang to celebrate me in two different languages, and the appreciation was real. I won't soon forget this birthday.

So much has happened since Saturday the 18th at 6 am. We traveled a good long while...the hours calculated, I am unsure. The flight from Seattle to Frankfurt was 10 hours and sometime during those hours we gained half a day and were 9 hours ahead. When we landed at 11 am, my watch read 2 am.

We made our merry way to the baggage claim, brushed our whites pearly, and set off for what we thought were simple directions to our first stay [Vilma, Air B&B]. Vilma has been writing in German and sticking those words straight through English translator; this is all good and cherries until google translates walk [street] names or tram stops into English. Exhausted and ready to sleep for years, we didn't think to take notice. By the grace of God we got off at the correct tram stop. As we released tourist-like semblance, an African refugee woman took us under her wings and stepped in as godmother. "Your host lives on a cemetery?" She asks bewildered. "No, no, she simply put the German through google translation and that is what it came out as. Do you know a street named 'Forest Dig?'" Shaking her head, she was clearly flabbergasted and wonderfully delightful. As we slowly paced our way, Loren mentioned something about us being foreigners. That is when she lulled the now legendary, "Oh child, we are all foreigners."

When we found Vilma's home, it was similar to finding gold while panning in the river. She welcomed us with open arms and warm hugs; it was as though we were old friends visiting from ages past. Immediately we were encouraged to remove our shoes and step into her slippers. It's the German way, we learned.

VILMAS HOME!Our stay with Vilma in Frankfurt was perfect for our jet lag recovery. We went on long walks through the nearby parks, which were full of pigeons, trees, flowers and benches. I could see myself living there very easily as I fell in love with the simple neighborhood, welcoming to families and a quiet lifestyle.

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Our room at Vilma's was on the third (of 4) small floors of her home; windows big, inviting sun, fresh tulips, and birds showing off their gifts of music. She invited us to sit on her back patio in the garden area and sip [carbonated] lemon water. When Vilma sent us off on our cheery way, Shem quickly put together an amber heart necklace, which I later learned is a huge act of kindness and love in the Lithuanian culture [where Vilma grew up].

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Tuesday we traveled to Tony [one of Loren's best friends] who currently lives in Tubingen. This town is pure romance for us tourists. Cobble stone roads, old cracked buildings, absolutely breathtaking. It reminded me of Brugges, Belgium. We explored the Tubingen castle, an ancient monastery in a near by village, and old town.

Tubingen with Tonytubingen brick road 

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view from the Tubingen castle 

IMG_9987 Tony invited us to join him for his worship night Tuesday, put on by his student group, Unterwegs, which means "along the way." Their office is great - in the basement is where worship was held, but they also watch movies and have a kitchenette down there. The main floor is open for students to hang out and use their wifi, sip coffee or tea. Upstairs is the office. So much light through the windows! We also joined Tony last night [Wednesday] for Cafe English at one of the pubs. Basically, it's an event Unterwegs hosts to invite students to - it's a time to practice their English and learn about American culture through games likes scategories or trivia. Our table had 4 German students, all studying American Studies. It was an odd moment to realize that their entire degrees are based off of and learning about our American and English culture. Are we that interesting?

   

Tubingen's mark platz. 

  I met a new friend, Jasmin [pronounced Yaz-mean]! She contacted me via this lovely space of mine awhile ago and lives in Tubingen. Jasmin is wonderful and beautiful and all things lovely. She even loves Jesus! It's wonderful meeting people face to face. Turns out, she sees our friend Tony nearly everyday. This world, so small. Our God, so big.

   Check out this hillside we ate lunch on before heading down to monastery in the next village over:

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Sadly for me, I won't be posting this on my actual birthday. I forgot my phone in Frankfurt which has been a mixture of not mattering at all and yet a hassle at times, since it carries vital information and some fun photos of travels. I also forgot my USB card reader. Therefore, I ordered one on amazon because amazon owns the world and it should be arriving tomorrow, along with my phone, in the mail! What what.

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Loren is about to take me on some boats....I know, so romantic, but I want to add in some first impressions I wrote down along the way. Impressions are just that: impressions that are subject to change.

Ready? First impressions:

1. Everyone we have asked for help from has been welcoming and kind; though not all of them have been able to help because of language barriers, we did not leave their presence with sour tastes.

2. Germany loves fresh flowers! There are flower stands everywhere, along with fresh fruit. It's refreshing. In nearly every home we have been in or seen, there have been fresh tulips. Even in the windows, there are masses of flowers. I love the flowers and fresh fruit stands.

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3. We walk way too fast. We noticed that we are just going going going, while everyone around us seemed to be taking it slow, strolling to their destination and enjoying their time walking.

4. Take your shoes off right when you walk in a home and leave them by the door.

5. LACE. All the lace. I loooooove this part - in nearly every window there are no blinds, but only lace or sheer fabric. It is elegant and quaint and I plan to bring some home as a souvenir for our home. Because why not.

6. A lot more people smoke than we are used to, which is fine, just an observation. also, you can smoke in restaurants if you're sitting outside. Same with alcohol - there is no brown bag law.

7. America is so far the only country I've been to that has toilet seat covers - not Germany, England, Belgium, France, Canada, Mexico. We are really worried about our butt skin and not the environment.

8. There are never paper towels to dry your hands...just odd blowers that disguise themselves as long metal sticks that are attached to the facet.

9. The public restrooms toilet paper isn't locked up...they trust us.

10. Graffiti.

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11.The sleeping patterns are as follows: bed time - 1 am to 2 am, wake up - 9 am to 10 am.

this is us after midnight...we are so not night owlsI adore my husband and am so honored to be a foreigner with him. He has been practicing his German for awhile now and is doing a superb job of getting us around as well as making sure I eat non-poisonous foods. Well!

Off to boats on the river and new exploring. My soul is full.

Tschuss!

 

To Say I Love You: a letter

to say i love you a letter link up My dear husband,

It is said that women need to experience that they are known and loved, while men need to experience that they are known and respected. To respect you is to love you and to love you is to honor you. On this quest of wifery and learning to love you by respecting and honoring you, I think I may have a slight grasp on what it looks like to love you...for now.

To say I love you is to genuinely laugh at the jokes you share again and again. It is to see your humor and continuously fall for your quirky quips. It is to love your antics forevermore and remember the bliss they brought me in the beginning. This is something I have been working on, loving the one liners that I have heard for four years, and to be honest, I am falling for them again.

To say I love you is to smile at you from across the room, declaring the truth that I am yours and I approve of you. I see you and I know you and I cherish you. Sending you flashes of grins and pearly whites lets you know that I approve. I am remembering more and more to smile and grin and let you know that I have your back, that I love the words you are sharing, especially when you are preaching or teaching things about Him.

To say I love you is to support you in front of others. Friends and family and foreigners alike. It means that I don't correct you when I know  think you're wrong. It means I do not let the world know that you stretched the truth to make a story a bit funnier. And by George, I am horrible at loving you in this way. Will you give me grace to grow?

To say I love you is to put my phone down and be fully present. To give you the gift of myself and let you know that I am all ears, all eyes, all heart. My presence is something I often withhold from you, while I am busy crossing off tasks, sending emails, reading, or writing. Oh how I know I will regret these decisions if I do not slow down and tell you that I love you by giving you myself. My whole self. My attention. The gift of my presence is something I am becoming more and more aware of. Help me with patience?

To say I love you is to trust you. To trust that you will do what you say you will. To trust that you have integrity and pure motives.

To say I love you is to let you read at night before we doze off into the land of dreams. It is to compromise close snuggles every night and agree that every other night works just fine. Forgive me for the times I demand snuggles out of your warm self when you are dying to get into your long awaiting novel.

To say I love you is to notice you. Ask you about your day, inquire about your meetings and ministry, to wonder about your new gadgets and toys. To be into whatever you're into. To cherish whatever you cherish.

To say I love you is to love myself. This is a difficult one for me to understand, but you continuously tell me. It means that I surrender to the Truth [that I share with so many] and reject the lies that I am worthless, stupid, incapable. Loving you by loving myself means taking breaks, cleaning our home, baking treats, and going on runs.

To say I love you is to save our extra dimes and nickels for books that you are eager to read, but patient to wait for.

To say I love you is so many things and so much more than stating words with empty actions. Simply and mighty, these things I am learning, will change our marriage. If I choose to walk them out and pursue them...until death do us part.

To say I love you is to give you my hand in marriage; to present my heart, mind, and body as yours; to remain yours and yours alone through sickness and in health, with wealth and with poverty, for as long as we both shall live. To say I love you is to grow wrinkly with you

Help me grow in loving you.

Forever Yours,

NB

 

 

On our merry way..to Germany

brenners travel to germany Since the dawn of our precious union, Loren and I have been saving for two colossal dreams: adoption and a trip to Germany. We fundraise most of our income to be employed at Corvallis Church, so the money supporting us each month is precious and very much not ours, but His. That is something that I have learned time after time: it is not mine, so why would I worry, and why would I be careless with it? The money is His and so am I, and He cares more for me more than nickels and dimes.

Each month we have done our best to set aside $10-20 towards each of those substantial desires. With our first tax return, we eagerly put 3/4 of it into a savings account with the hope to save enough over the years to travel our little butts to Germany on our 10th year anniversary - that was the goal, though we knew it could be ripped out from under us at any moment. We weren't entitled to this ambition, we weren't clinging to it for dear life as if we owned it, we simply saved with the hope to make it there someday, but also knowing the reality that it may need to be used towards something greater.

You guys. Some way, some how, some reason, a couple in our family decided to generously gift us with the remaining balance to send us on our merry way to the grand land of Germany. This year, this month, THIS WEEK. Seven years earlier than we would have been able to. My mind freezes flabbergasted at the phenomenon that I am flying to Europe for the second time - this time with my beloved husband. This year of 2015 has handed me grief, knocking me to my knees which I will later unravel...but what a treasure to uncover rest and unfold adventure in a country that I have never been to? Plus, I will get to greet new faces with bright white teeth, nothing but warm smiles, because, hello, LANGUAGE BARRIER.

The tickets for this trip were booked last fall, thank you family. We placed it in the back of our minds and planned to plot the trip when the time was near. Like a June-bug on a windshield, April 1 hit and someone said, "Hey aren't you going to Germany soon?" At that point we thought, "WE NEED TO PLAN THIS THING!" As we began to prepare to leave, a deep and unwelcome sense of guilt and shame began to settle in. This sense of shame had been nagging at the back of my heart whenever I thought of this trip, but now it was unfurling itself ten fold with the approaching trip. Who am I to think that we can go to Germany so young in our marriage? Who are we to just up and leave our church community for a few weeks? What will people think of us? Are we so spoiled that we get to go to Germany? We do not deserve this. We could be giving this money to the poor. GUILT GUILT GUILT GUILT SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME. One day it dawned on me: whether I choose to carry this unnecessary shame with me or not, I am going to Germany. It would be a shame to not fully enjoy the trip, because I am allowing the sin of fear to creep in. And who says that God isn't in Germany, who says that pastors and ministry leaders aren't allowed real vacations?

Oh fear.

Oh shame.

Oh unnecessary lies that crop up and attempt to steal, kill, and destroy.

Three days remain, full of meetings and to do's and appointments and bible studies and precious people that I adore, before we step onto a plane for 10 hours. At the end of that 10 hours we will set foot in Frankfurt, Germany and our adventure will fully begin. We will meet family members, visit friends, and stay a few nights here and there in Air B&B's. I will turn 23, TWO-THREE, such a baby I feel and yet at the same time how am I 23 and married for 3 years? We will ride bikes and snap photos and write and rest and refresh and reset. We will see Him in Europe, in His people across the ocean, in His creation that is radiantly glorious, shouting His Name.

So my friends, we are off to Germany! Follow along via Intagram or Facebook. I will be posting on this lovely space as often as I am able, because I am falling hard in love with writing.

 

bis später, meine freunde
[until then, my friends]

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Marriage is not a competition

marraige is not a competition Not only are the dishes scattered on every available surface, but they are covered in crusty chunks of food that is going to be a real pain to pick off. Chunks that won't simply fall off with the heat of water hitting their existence...chunks of food that are actually super glued with sauce to the plate. The croc-pot has been "soaking" in hot cold water for the last four days, waiting for my attention. The dishwasher's green light has been lit up since  Sunday, signaling that the clean dishes await their homes in our too-small of cupboards. The trash resides in the middle of the kitchen, filling an Amazon box that once held $20 boots (because my 3 year hand me downs had holes in them...correct I do not purchase a new pair with each season). The brown rings in the toilet? I see them and I have decided they won't jump out as a dragon to kill anyone. Don't mind the piles of books and loose papers and randomness. Yes, you do actually see a pop-sickle stick licked almost clean on the carpet. No, we don't even have children. And exercising! Who even has the energy to wake up at 5 am to go on a run anymore? And then there is blogging....blogging is time consuming and scary and big and sometimes feels like, "Why am I even trying to write? Does this matter? People are better than me. People have cooler lives than me with cooler stories and much more AWESOMENESS. Whine whine whine, inadequacy inadequacy inadequacy. "

To read more of this post, head on over to A Beautiful Exchange Blog.

On growing old: a letter

lets get wrinky  on growing old  marriage Dear Husband,

When I purchased your wedding band three short years ago, I requested them to etch a few words into the white gold that you would wear for the rest of your life. As I wrote the words I so carefully picked out to place into the ring, the lady across the cold glass counter stared at me. She asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yes." I replied plainly. "Yes, of course I am sure!"

[Let's get wrinkly]

were the words I paid to engrave into that white gold ring.

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Wrinkly is not simply a goal, but a thrilling and frightening dream. A dream that seems so far and yet too near. A supreme dream that seems simple and almost easy, but discretely daunting and serious, extremely. You see my dear, I am honored to grow old with you, to be on your team. I hear that there are hard years, smoother years, sick years and healthy years. I see there is pain and I have seen there is joy - some we have experienced, deeply and unfortunately, but the key part of the beauty is the word, "we." Together. We have many years before us. We are such babies and I cannot imagine with the good Lord Jesus has in store for us.

Sometimes while I am getting my face ready to greet the day, you join me in the tiny space we call our bathroom. You pull me in close, your arms tight around me, and you place your head near my neck so that we are cheek to cheek. We stare into each others eyes through the mirror that coexists as our toothbrush cabinet. And we smile. We sit in that place of togetherness because our hearts reside there, safely. Tucked into the other. Often while we are doing this thing of sticking close and staring at the togetherness, I do my best to soak in the skin that currently protects our bodies - it is soft and smooth, nearly wrinkle-free. There are minor blemishes. I know that too soon, I will stare into that mirror and wonder when those wrinkles arrived. I know that too soon, we will be cheek to cheek and our wrinkles may be overlapping. I will do my best to be okay with this. Because with you, I am growing old.

And those wrinkles will be a trophy proclaiming, "We fought for our marriage. We worked hard and we are where we are, together. We had hard conversations and honestly painful days. We chose one another over self, day after day, we chose love even when we felt far from it. We denied our desires to flirt with others, to see what it would be like to be with someone else. We saw the big picture, instead of just what was before us. We walked through valleys and darkness...and through it all He held us together holding hands. And these wrinkles are our trophy."

love chocolate cherubs

I have agreed, vowed, that marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. I am understanding that life is fragile, even but a vapor  - over these last few months, we have learned that so much deeper. I want to learn these painfully difficult lessons with you nearest to my heart, you holding my hand [wrinkle-free or not], you pulling me close to remind me that you are here and not going anywhere.

I will not imagine growing old and wrinkly with anyone but you. 

I look forward to swallowing our vitamins every morning with each other as a life long routine. You making coffee ever so carefully; me making eggs ever so scrambly. I dare to say we may never live by the world's term of grandly, but I will gladly live plainly by your side, growing  old. Even wrinkly.

With a heart loving yours,

Natalie

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This letter is part of The Letter Link-Up. They are written to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment with the chance to shed light on your heart. 

Dying to myself in marriage - What?

a blog post on marriage I was recently posed with this question, "How do I share a bed and a bathroom? How do I share my coffee? HOW DO I LIVE WITH A MAN?

The thing I've come back to so many times during our marriage is dying to myself. It is so easy to become pig headed and hurtful, throwing vicious words like daggers and ferocious glares like arrows. When a discussion doesn't go my way, it is often too easy to be stuck up and stubborn, prideful and rude. Thinking my way is best, my way or the highway, doofus.

[Oh the ugliness that ensues when self is in control of me, rather than Spirit]

Over and over again, I must die to myself. I must say, "Self, the world and this marriage does not revolve around you: I know, hard to swallow."

To die to self is to listen and exist where the other is at. Whether that is in joy, in trial, in happiness, in sorrow, in frustrating days and victorious days...go to where they are and be there. Be present, be with, know.

To die to self is to swallow the need to prove oneself right or correct. Is crushing someone's spirit so that you can prove you're better/smarter/cooler/more Awesome in correct-ness really worth it? Is proving yourself right to humiliate someone else satisfying?

To die to self is to ask forgiveness, to admit that you hurt the other person - and that was wrong. That was unloving. That was selfish. Sometimes it takes going into the other room and breathing deeply, asking Jesus to calm your wildly beating heart that is turning hard as stone. For me, it often means asking God to humble me, to soften that stoney heart. Which is painful at times, even humiliating. Because in those moments I am admitting that I was wrong, I am imperfect, I can be mean and cruel and unloving. I am selfish. But in those moments when we are raw and honest and broken and humiliated...then we are dying to self and ready to ask forgiveness. Ready to apologize. Ready for restoration. That is where a relationship can flourish.

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To die to self is to serve the other, to see them as valuable, important, human. To give 100% and expect 0. What I mean by this is that dying to self means loving unconditionally. Without conditions. Without strings attached. To serve and sacrifice without the, "Only if/because he ______." To serve unconditionally is to surpass human capability and you will need Something, Someone, greater to teach you and give you the will power to do so on a continual basis. That is where it gets hard...the continual part.

To die to self is to acknowledge that you, me, I am not in fact the most important thing for this universe.

I cannot imagine not having Jesus. Not having His guidance, example, and Spirit to strengthen me in these times of self-denial would make it impossible. He is the ultimate sacrificer, the ultimate self-denier, the ultimate giver of self. Only He can give me and you the strength we need to die to ourself and see others as more important, as valuable, as human.

If you find yourself reading this and are an unmarried being, don't disregard. This is for you too. This little reminder is for every human in every relationship.

 

the other morning's sunrise outside of our patio apartment

 

NOTE: I am not saying that you must be a doormat. I also am not talking about abusive relationships. That is completely different. I am talking about two people, committed to one another, and covenanting to sacrifice for and serve one another. Not for their own gain, but out of complete and utter selfless love.

 

On Valentines Day: why I cherish you

why i cherish you My husband-

It is that specific day that we celebrate and honor the vows we made to one another. The vows that were spoken only two and a half short years ago, but were made with such certainty, such high hopes, such excitement. When we spoke those vows into motion, I knew that we would face times of trial and struggle and tension...I knew that a great marriage wasn't easily achieved, that it takes years and decades of building life together, of navigating this journey of life as one. I knew that we would have adventures and surprises and discover more of who Jesus is, together. But I did not know what exactly those adventures, surprises, or trials and tensions would exist to be. And that was [and is] part of the great adventure. That was part of the excitement: we had a world of uncertainties and a wide open road of LIFE to pursue together.

As one.

Me and you [a brand new family unit] creating and forming a legacy.

I cherish you, may I tell you a few reasons why?

Right now I am watching you piece together a board game for us to play and your excitement for this game is so adorable to me. I adore you  -  you are adore-able. I fall for the way you squish your lips up real fat for me to kiss them while squinting your eyes. Your vision for not only making stronger students, but stronger families grips my heart and makes it soft. The way you talk about sweet Brenden, when your eyes light up about Jeremy and Kyle and Jake and all the other guys you believe in...it makes my heart swell with pride to be married to you. Our raw conversations that stir up pain as we walk through trial also bring me hope because you are true and honest and vulnerable; and in those rare moments I feel like the luckiest woman alive: you trust me with your heart. I hold dear the way you cannot lie or keep a secret to save your life, your lips quiver with the truth you are trying to conceal, and I know that you are inches away from busting into laughter. Your laughter is loud and often obnoxious; you can hear it from the other building. But it was one of those things I noticed that first week we met - I noticed that you laugh loudly and without shame, your joy radiates from your entire being, ricocheting from you onto anyone around you. It invites us into a place of freedom-joy, a place of light-heartedness.

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What I have been discovering myself treasuring is when you interrupt my attempt to get ready for the day. You walk right up to me and you hug me so tight that I cannot move. You're asking me to stop all that I am doing, to pause my routine and see you, hug you, be close to you. You invite me into this place of togetherness for just a few moments. Though sometimes I squirm and the words of hurry and late and work slip from my mouth with slight irritation...I need you to pause life to hug me, to embrace me, to pull me close to you and let me know that this is important. Me and you, together, is worth being a little later than I planned. You are worth it. Our marriage is worth it.

I used to push back and say I wouldn't be too mushy and annoying and overly gushy-lovey-dovey to you online...but here I am. I always told myself I wouldn't call myself your Valentine - but why? That is what I am. And I am proud to be yours; being married to you is my highest honor.

I still find myself staring at you in disbelief that I have you for life; that I am safe and covered by a covenant that we made before 200 people. Though we have not experienced decades together, I still cherish you. I am thankful to live life with you, to learn with you, to be humbled with you, to grow into beautiful humans together. I do not want us to take this for granted, this thing of marriage and companionship and life-together. I vow to continue pursuing you and searching for ways to serve you.

I love you, Loren Brenner.

Forever your Valentine & unashamed to claim it, Natalie

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Keeping Marriage Sacred \\ Week of Prayer & Fasting

keeping-marriage-sacred Day one of what I foresee as a powerful week is coming to a close and my mouth is craving some bacon and eggs. I felt a little saliva being produced as I typed that. [Our church is doing a corporate week of prayer & fasting]. But this is about more than denying my self my favorite foods; I also decided to deny myself the social medias I am addicted to: Facebook, Instagram, and I threw Twitter in there because why not. We also decided to skip watching any movies this week - our late night movies to wind down will be replaced with reading and praying. I share these things because I am excited. I am hopeful. I am refreshed. I want to invite you to do this same thing: deny yourself something that you are addicted to; spend that time praying and reading your Bible and seeking the heart of Jesus. Jesus is enough...He satisfies.

Today I spent a lot of time praying over our marriage, looking back, looking ahead, and asking questions. It's our day off so we ventured into the beautiful hills of Corvallis and hiked through the Lewisburg Saddle. Holding hands, we prayed, we chatted, we walked in silence. AND I LOVED IT. We spent some time sharing a few different ways we could serve one another, better than we have been. And for this, I am thankful. We each hold this unique position that no one else in the world has the privilege of: being one another's spouse. We get to know the other more than any other human, we get to serve the other in unique and powerful ways, we get to build up and cherish one another more than any other human being that walks this earth. Today I needed that reminder, and that is what I was given.

keeping marriage sacred

The THING that is shouting most into my heart is the need to keep our marriage sacred. In order to do this, we must set down our screens. Our phones, our computers, our TV. When we look into the screen, we lose sight of the very real presence that exists around us. We forget real life. When we exit the screen, our brains are still so caught up in whatever was on the screen and we don't know what to talk about. We allow our brains to go into a world that isn't one another, isn't right here and right now, and our hearts grow numb. Our hearts callous. This is no new thing. This is something I've known, but am feeling urgency to address.

It is also ironic that this very thing you're reading is promoting the thing I am fighting to be addicted to: SCREEN TIME.

When driving, walking, sitting together, I want to choose conversation. I want to keep marriage sacred. Existing soul to soul. Denying the temptation to forsake one another, by picking up a screen. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek talks a lot about the current generation and how we are dopamine-driven -- that we are addicted to the dopamine hormone hits we receive from the world of Facebook. The moment dullness sets into our present reality, we go to the dopamine-driven world of social media. We forsake the present, the people, the lives before us. Even our spouses. Even my spouse. I forsake my marriage and the importance of Loren when I continuously pick up my phone instead of exist with him. With these actions, I am saying, "Sorry, you're not enough, Facebook is."

EMBARRASSING, YEAH? But raw honest truth.

When I think of keeping my marriage sacred, I think of a couple I very much cherish - Kent and Diana. They have an added room to their home; the conservatory. It has windows surrounding its entirety and a glass ceiling. Light comes in from all angles. It's my favorite place. Ever. It's no wonder they spend time in that precious space holding hands, sipping tea, praying, enjoying breakfast. They do not have screens glued to their very hands. They sit together and remain fully present. The other day I asked Diana what they spend their time talking about. She laughed and exclaimed, "Oh Golly! Well...everything!" Because they are not driven by the dopamine hits of social media or sending emails or texting this one person this piece of information that their life depends on, they are driven by conversation with one another. They knit their hearts so closely together, stitch by stitch, word by word. Sharing life.

Do I think we need to build a conservatory off of our apartment? Yes. But do I believe that is the answer to stitching two souls closer? No. I am convinced it is because they remain fully present; their hearts towards Christ. They cultivate a deeper friendship than many I've witnessed. I desire this deep friendship, this sacred marriage. I crave to keep my marriage protected, pointed towards Jesus, centered around Him.

In order to do that, I must rid myself of this addiction to the screen.

How do you keep your marriage sacred? Do you find it embarrassing to admit that you are addicted to the screen?

 

The letter link up on refreshment

refreshement link up
My dear husband Loren,
This recent job transition has hit me in a way I did not expect. That sunny Saturday you finished your last shift at Trillium Farm Home, I remember rushing home to clean, put on a little make up, fix my hair and be beautiful for you. I prayed for you more that day than I had in too long, I handed you to Jesus all over again, and I was thankful for a fresh new season: hours for full time ministry.We have been waiting for this new season, this change, this chapter of life. The day you no longer have to request Fridays and Saturdays off so that we can take our youth students to retreats. The day you don't have to request an entire month off so that we can be at summer camps, pouring ourselves out into the most beautiful thing: lives. We have been waiting for this time to spend geared towards serving this beautiful church. We have been looking eagerly at this time like it would bring the answer. Answer to what? I am unsure, but surely it would provide something.

It did usher in something; like the clear crisp mornings we have been enjoying this January, your job transition has cleared up our foggy attempt at serving humans after you already spent a full day pouring yourself into dangerous and troubled youth...and it cleared up the weight you feel resting upon your heart. Cleared up as in made known - your calling to serve Corvallis Church was affirmed. As your hours transitioned from the Farm Home to serving this church, it dawned on me that we are a really good team. It became a new time of serving others, inviting in more people, meeting with more beautiful and amazing humans, but forgetting to see one another face to face. Our hearts were not being stitched closer as they once were; we were easily irritated with one another, and that bothered me. It hit me: we must spend sacred time together, just me and you and Jesus, or we will forget we are married and simply exist as a team. It's so easy to live side by side, working together and pouring ourselves out...all the while forgetting to stand soul to soul and see the most important human before our very eyes, forsaking intimacy.

Working together is beautiful and I have no words to explain what an honor it is. It is a rare gift that I don't want to take lightly and it knits us together in unique ways. I cannot imagine spending my time doing anything else right now - sitting side by side with you, praying with a couple or a hurting student or planning youth events and talking about ways others can see Jesus is my favorite thing. I mean that with all that I am. But like the bone chilling crisp air, I was reminded to my core how important time with you is. Time not in front of a screen or planning the next best thing. I want to set my cell phone down while we are together and in the car so I'm not distracted.

 time keller meaning of marraige quote

I crave to spend time face to face, soul to soul; playing games or praying or going on runs or taking walks or dreaming up life or sitting across from one another at a coffee shop...without our computers or books or a list of to-do's. It can be difficult to justify this as good time spent, when it seems we are together so often. But the sticky thing is, we are together with many others, often forsaking those vulnerable and intimacy building moments that are so necessary. So my dear, let us spend time together. Let us go on a date and spend a night away and play games together. Let us protect our marriage.

I'm convinced marriage is more fragile than we can comprehend and I don't want to forsake it. A fragile entity that must be handled with care, vulnerability, humility, integrity. It is a precious gift we should not neglect. So let us continue to chase Him together; let's be married and keep falling in love with one another by choice and out of that may our ministry and life overflow.

Besides. I like who you are. I like your humor and your heart and the crazy way your mind contains vast amounts of random knowledge. I like your smile and your crazy bearded face. I love that you chuckle crack yourself up; I also love that you think I'm funny. I love your heart for people and your desire to reveal Christ in a selfless way. I like you. I want to be with you, I want to know you and be known by you.

With a heart craving yours,

Natalie (runt)

 tim keller quote

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"This letter is part of The Letter Link-Up. They are written to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment with the chance to shed light on your heart."
The Letter Link-up | Mr. Thomas & Me

Christmas: beautiful. painful. joyful. exposing.

christmas We have decided to stay in Corvallis, cozy in our city, on Christmas Day. This year, we are skipping the I5 Corridor, the emotional roller coaster that Big Days bring and beginning something new, something I hope will be beautiful.

Or so I thought that was the answer.

Pastor Gerry preached about my internal struggle with Big Days and Big Seasons - the fight for balance; it's like Pastors are real humans and know what it's like to be a human... I believe that explains their speaking straight to our hardened, broken hearts.

Last year Christmas Day, we drove up and down the I5 corridor, hitting 3 houses full of family and flew out of town the following morning at 6 am. Exhaustion? I'm sure we all felt it in some form. Don't get me wrong: I love every single member that I have the privilege of calling family. I love them immensely. Some are loud, some are reserved, most are crazy, all are loving and thoughtful, more generous than I would ever ask. They're flesh and blood, these bonds last forever. But cruising around the state in 24 hours visiting dozens of beloved human beings accompanies a lot of emotions. So Loren and I decided that we would stay home this year on Christmas Day, celebrating family throughout the month. I was sure this would remove any roller coaster of feelings; but emotions are bound to have their way in this girl.

Why not bounce from one extreme to the next? We are determined to figure this Christmas thing out. The entire month of December has become a Christmas celebration; it's been warming. We spent two days in a beautiful cabin on the river with my dad's side of the family. We made ginger bread houses and everyone ate prime rib (I, of course enjoyed white turkey). We soaked in heat by the fire, took a family photo or two, and enjoyed the presence of one another more fully than I have ever experienced. Loren and I chatted with my Aunt & Uncle all about running and marathons and trails and crazy adventures. It was what Loren would say, groovy.

But the reality that we live in a broken world; that most of our family have not experienced the very real freedom found in Jesus; that my family is not whole but is split up into fragments...the fact that bitterness remains and broken hearts have hardened; these realities still exist.

IMG_4854 IMG_4857 It was a beautiful evening.

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We spent last Sunday with my mom and family. We spent time with a cousin, aunt, grandparents - our hope was to celebrate Christmas with as many beloved family members as possible, but not all in one day. 

What will we do on Christmas Day? We will probably wake up between 4 and 6 am like the previous two years, wiping sleep from our eyes so quickly you would think there was bacon. This time around I plan to remember to purchase breakfasty foods before we wake up Christmas morning.  Why not cozy up under grandma's quilt, sipping warm beverages, and watch a couple Christmas movies while cookies bake and cards are made to share with Park Place residents? Park Place is the assisted living community I spent two years working for. Park Place is home to many people who don't remember me, my memory has been lost in their diseased brain with Alzheimer's. But I remember them so clearly. I remember their stories, their hearts, their characters. I remember how many cream packets were dumped into Eleanor's coffee and to heat Lorraine's shower up past the temperature for boiling. I remember the sweetness of some who have passed and the bitterness of others who still live on, feeling trapped in their weak bodies. Most are simply existing and I wonder what their thoughts hold all the days long. Park Place holds a special place in my heart and we are blessed to take some simple treats and cards. Maybe we will carry this sort of tradition on and into the years of raising babies into children and children into adults. Our extended family is large in number, a multitude of hearts - we have plenty of members to visit throughout the entire month of December. SO why not share some of His love on Christmas with those who don't have many, if any, members to call family?

Initially, I thought this would cure all of my Big Emotions that Big Seasons bring. I thought balance would be found by skipping out on the normal chaos of Christmas Day. Though we do hope to make this more of a tradition, family throughout the month, the brokenness still remains. The pain and the hurt and the exposure to vulnerability still remains. Our brokenness still screams, our hearts are at risk, and this world needs saving. Spreading out Christmas, going from one extreme to the next, won't heal these hearts. Won't bandage these wounds. Won't restore broken families. Won't create balance.

But this season and every season, the same Truth prevails; the same Truth offers freedom. The Truth that God is with us, in the lack of balance. Emmanuel. The Truth that in Him we find freedom from anxiety, unforgiveness, and entitlement; the fight for balance. He is with us in our broken hearted spirits, He is rooting us on into His arms of safety, He is beckoning us as we scramble to spend way too much money, and He is restoring these broken hearts one stitch at a time. And that, that is beautiful. This life is beautiful.

Emmanuel.

What are you doing for Christmas?

PS: to any family reading this: I love you; I'm honored to know you, let alone call you family. It is my heart that gets all stirred up inside...thinking of how deeply I love you. Thinking of the brokenness that surrounds you and the daily battles you fight. You amaze me, family. Truly, you bring me awe. I have watched some of you face horrors untold; some of us have faced giants together. They are memories that last forever and tend to surface during these months. You are strong

By His Side: a letter

by his side Dear Handsome Husband of mine..

You amaze me. Your heart is gold and can only get goldener (yes, goldener). Sometimes I am easily irritable, and for that, I am sorry. It is nothing you have done, but is simply one of my flaws. It is the curse of selfishness, the problem of this life. But let's move past that and celebrate something beautiful, significant...lovely.

I get to be by your side.

And you are by mine.

I am incredibly flawed, but I know that you continue to cherish me. I know that you will stand by my side as protector, friend, supporter, and husband through it all. Through sickness and weak broken bodies...through health and tickle fights. Through infertility and parenting and empty nesting, growing old and wrinkly...saggy, we will stand together. Through ministry and home making and whatever else we decide to pursue...Doula-ing and Photography. You are always rooting me on and you always will...it is who you are, it is in your nature, and I am beyond blessed to have you by my side. You are one of the most selfless beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Though you are imperfect (as all human beings tend to be), I will stand by your side through it all. That is what I committed when I stood before 200 some people and vowed, "I DO." Through painful days and heart wrenching months, I will stand by your side. Through poke wars (real ones, not on facebook) and weird voices and goofy toe points I will stand by you and smile. Some days I will be grouchy, and I apologize for that. Some days I will be exhausted, and I apologize for my lack of energy. But on those very same days, I will still proudly stand by your side. We are a team, Team Brenner. We are married and this is forever on earth, until death itself do us part. And that, my lovely man, is a cherish-able gift.

My husband, I am honored to be by your side. I am honored to make great leaps of faith with you; leaps like quitting your job so that you can pursue the calling God has placed on your heart to serve students with most of the time given to you. Leaps of loving others with a risk, dangerously. Leaps like welcoming a multitude of people into our home, our hearts. This thing we did, getting married, it changed us. It has taught us how deeply selfish we are and how deeply selfless we can be. It has taught us grace and patience, love and intimacy. It changed how we do life -- as we entwined our hearts together, our lives became one. Life will never be how it once was and that mystery is beautiful. Our vows were not conditional upon our feelings...but an unconditional decision. For this gift, I am thankful. I am thankful to continue growing together as we keep our eyes steady on Christ.

By your side I stand, through tough months financially, knowing we have all that we need and more. Reminding each other that money is just money. By your side I stand, through tough relationships that help us grow, knowing we are being molded more into His image, even if painful. By your side I stand, as you learn to check your email and respond. By your side I stand, as you grow this beard as long as you can and moisturize it with beard oil. By your side I stand, while you joke and joke and laugh and chuckle and joke some more. By your side I stand, when you dance around and get your groove on in the grocery store. By your side, I stand in the deep and muddy trenches, and on the tipiest of tops in the mountains. By your side I stand, literally and physically...but also when you are not around. I stand by you and want to honor you. By your side I stand, through all of the difficult parts of life and marriage and family and things, I have committed.

My husband, I adore you. I appreciate your patience with me as I grow. And I am honored to be by your side.

photo by K. Barnes Photography

Trusting is vulnerable & vulnerability is risky.

columbia-gorge-hood-river-682x1024 Refreshed and reset, yesterday was a gift.

Loren and I were given a mini getaway from some supporters; for this I am indescribably thankful. I cherish all of our little mini getaways. They offer us a chance to be me and him, and him and me, and married and have clear minds and remember that we are newlyweds.

Monday morning was spent reading and praying and sitting in His goodness while gazing across the beautiful mass of water that is named the Columbia Gorge. Our room is cozy; my favorite part is the fireplace, always the fireplace.

We love exploring mountainous terrains with no plan except to get lost in the forest. We drove around until we hit gravel and decided that would be a perfect place to park the car and start running, exploring. The path we started on was beautiful, even breathtaking. It was a wide gravel road with muddy pot holes, but was lined with green forestry.

About a half a mile in, we picked our eyes up off the ground and Loren pointed out a much skinnier path, hidden within the forest, about 20 feet to our right, with a creek running parallel. We had no way to get down to that trail except to crawl down the 15 foot mini cliff very carefully. My iphone photos don't do this place justice, but you can see the difference between the two trails, yeah?

running

The path was skinnier, narrower, a lot less muddy, rockier, windier, ruttier...and the beauty did not compare. The adventure that came with this path was thrilling, exciting, even breathtaking. At one point, there was a log laying over the creek -- that was the path given: a log. Instead of turning around or climbing back up the bank to the boring, wide, easier path, we did what we had to do. On my hands and knees, I crawled over this slippery log, praying to not slip and break my ankle. This path was made for others much more skilled than us, much more equipped than us. This path was made for adventurers and risk takers. This path was designed for those who trust the builder.

In this state I have found my heart in, I could not stop thinking about my recent lack of trust in God, in my builder. As we sprinted through the forest, my heart's song was "How majestic is your name, oh God." And I spent the hour consumed by His path. His path is narrower, less traveled (Matthew 7). His path is full of blessings and beauty and radiant joy. His path is more difficult, harder even ( John 16:33). He asks us to search for peace and work to keep it (1 Peter 3:13-17). He invites us to believe the best in others, hope all things, and be patient and kind -- even when it makes no sense. He asks us to forgive those who have hurt us, to pray for those who persecute and insult us, He asks us to be selfless...He invites us into a life of grace. So yes, His path is less traveled, a little more rocky, and full of obstacles. But the obstacles don't touch the beauty, the thrilling adventure, the joy that is inevitable.

bmx courseMy expectations of life are crumbling. My expectations of self fail more than every day. This has brought me down into a place of self pity and frustration: not pretty. But the problem doesn't lie in my failing of expectations; the problem lies where my source of life and hope have been placed: in expectations of self. In circumstance. Not in Christ. My source of hope and joy should never be placed or depend upon my self, my expectations, upon my understanding. Mike reminded me of this and has pointed me in a direction of freeing navigation towards Jesus. When Proverbs states:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

I was reminded that my own understanding includes my expectations. So when I am depending on my own understanding and the expectations I have of self and life, and they fail...I then crumble. I crumble to pieces because I was depending on such fickle things. My heart cries for many things; my patience is being tested in many ways. (complaint, complaint, complaint: embarrassing, but honest) I had so many plans and many expectations that seem to have been crumbling. Subconsciously, I felt I had been failing at life. I know that these things shape me in mighty ways; I know that these things create an endurance in me that I would not otherwise have. I know that I have a deep well of compassion for many things, and this compassion would never have arrived had I not endured through...experiences this far. But that doesn't make the endurance any less stretching. Knowing that Jesus is using all of life to mold me into His image doesn't make life easy. But it sure makes life worth it, it makes life purposeful. It means that this is not in vain.

Discontentment has nothing to do with circumstances and everything to do with where my heart is placing Jesus.

A change of scenery, a new pet, a baby, purchasing a house, moving to a new city, a new job, a spouse...none of these things will truly bring contentment. They may bandaid our discontentment for awhile, but it won't be long until we are right back where we started: frustrated, uneasy, discontent.

discontentment

As I ran through the forest, I was grateful that He is my Builder. Why? Because He is trustworthy. He has proven Himself trustworthy for generations, but also to me in my individual and very insignificant life. Lungs burning, inhaling the cold winter air, feet pounding on the icy ground...I could not help but think through the risk of trust. It once came so easily, trusting in my God. Trust in God implies that I will release my grasp on entitlement. Trust in God says that I am letting go, opening my hands, releasing the need to try and control. Trust says, "God, I am going to choose your lighthearted joy. I am going to look at life one day at a time, trusting that You will use my every moment of pain and trial and testing...my choosing to trust You...You will use it for Your glory and You will use it for others." Or whatever your case may be. When suffering and trials hit is when the rubber meets the road and we must ask ourselves, "am I ready to truly follow Christ and do as He asks, even though I have an excuse to live in sin, an excuse to wallow?" But this is perhaps the most important time to trust; this is where Christ is revealed. It is scary to trust, because in trusting we let go and are vulnerable - we are a target, a target for disappointment, to be let down. But it is important to trust, because when we let go and stop trying to protect our hearts, we find peace and freedom and joy unexplainable. It is important to trust because He tells us to trust Him, He invites us into this secure place of safety: His arms.

In His arms I have experienced safety. In His arms, I see life as an adventure, not as exhaustion. In His arms, I thrive and I am beautiful and I am a radiant creation, because of Him.

Join me as I begin at the basics again, of trusting in His goodness one day at a time.

I feel like a wobbly, trembling pony learning to stand for the first time...but I am ever so confident in my Master. IMG_4692

A Christmas Tree

a christmas tree Monday, December 1st, we drove to the Blodgett Tree Farm and picked out our best tree yet!

A beautiful foggy morning of course

An old rustic saw, four hands, a lot of cheering later, and we had our $5 tree packed into Brett's truck. Praise Jesus for church community, because we don't have a truck and people in our church do...so therefore we share.

cheap christmas tree

Loren and I went home and decorated our lovely small space our hearts claim as home. (Simple decor for small spaces). We trimmed a sliver of the trunk off to make an ornament out of. Somewhere we lost our tree skirt. So I walked my body over  to Jo Anne's and purchased some plaid fabric to drape around the bottom -- this idea was most definitely inspired by my neighbor and friend, Kiley.

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Growing up, I always planned on having classic, color themed, trees of "perfection." We had crazy trees growing up, overwhelmed with ornaments of shapes, sizes, and colors galore. They were crazy and I always wondered what was so wonderful about them. I always told myself I would not have a crazy tree, but one of class and order and theme.

HA.

What I did not know was the love of each handmade ornament and what it meant for our family. That each cotton ball glued to popsicle sticks symbolized hard work, creativity, and a thought out process.

Now that I have grown a bit more and have our own trees to decorate, I love the home made ornaments. In fact, the one of Ari made me cry when we got it in the mail...she is TOO cute. We don't have kids who bring a plethora of them home, so our tree features our niece's faces and homemade ornaments.

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We also have 3 Starbucks cups from a student, Kyle. He gives us them every year - we were wondering if he realized he did that? We will see this year.

I read this post the other day about trees and how they are what we make them. But how life is also what we make it. I have been in and out of a funk (can funks last for more than a year?) so her words were a gentle nudge in the right direction. That when I am bummed and when I am looking down instead of out and up, I am making the conscious choice to stay in that place of funky-selfishness. And though I know these things, and knowing these things doesn't actually seem to help but make me feel worse, it doesn't always make it easier. But each time I have looked at our tree this week, I was reminded of that. I was reminded that instead of just staring upon it with exhausted and burning eyes, a slumping heart, I can look at our tree and be blessed by it. I can be reminded that it is a symbol of cheer, of merriness, of generosity. It is a symbol of joy, to me.

I love planning a day to drive out into the woods with a saw and my husband, pick a tree that won't fit in our tiny apartment but we make it anyways. I love watching Loren saw it to its last strand of tree bark, tipping it over and dragging its furry self to the truck. I love dreaming of bringing our kids out to do this, sipping hot chocolate, and maybe finding snow to sled in.

I know a handful of people who are skipping the Christmas decorating - they have great reasons that work for them. But for me, my soul would slouch. The mere act of bringing Christmas into our home makes my heart joyful. It isn't just for December 25th that I put these things out to enjoy; it is for the entire duration of their stay. It is the atmosphere that red, glittery gold, and green bring. Every time you look at your tree, be reminded with me: this is a simple green tree that you chopped down and literally put in your home. [Which is really weird.] But the symbol is that we are bringing life and merriness and cheer into our homes. We are bringing extra light and color and joy into our homes. I now see the love and the thought in the hand made ornaments; not the tacky crap that is glued together.

Christmas and traditions and our home are what we make them.

Our attitudes are what we choose them to be. Free or imprisoned.

Simple Christmas Decor for small apartments

simple christmas decor for small spaces I am finally allowed to listen to Christmas music! Not that I haven't been since October. But no longer am I shunned and shamed and told how horrible I am. And to that I respond: why not? Why can I not be merry and bright for more than 25 days? Why can I not associate Christmas cheer with the entirety of November and December, including Thanksgiving and how much I love that day just as well?

December 1st, we got our tree, we drove straight home, we unpacked the Christmas bin. Because we are such little toddlers when it comes to life together (just over 2 years), we have a single bin of Christmas decor and a single shoe box of ornaments. Isn't that wonderful? I think so. We also live in a cozy home that happens to be on the smaller side. Here are my nifty ways of bringing Christmas into an apartment, making it home:

DIY Picket Fence: stocking hanger $8 We bought floor boards for $0.25/foot at an old barn that is overflowing with...stuff. Loren cut the longest one into two 20'' pieces for the backing. Then we painted them with red spray paint, sand papered them, screwed together and walla!

diy stocking hangerMy writing desk as my mantel. I don't have a fun fire place or mantel to display all things cute: so I use the top of my desk! The greenery is literally from the forest ground. I made the gingerbread house for $3. The santa that looks a little...sleepy?..he is from my grandma! The candle was purchased last Christmas season on sale for $2.99 at Jo Annes :)

I also spray painted pine cones with gold glitter, and set them on old candle holders painted black.

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Window welcomes I am all about welcoming the neighbors and passer by's with warm windows! So we added lights to our two windows that face the sidewalk. I also added a strand of plastic candy canes! $1 at the good ole Dollar Store.

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Wreaths on the walls. Because space is limited, I use the white walls as much as possible! Also, thanks to Grama, this little beauty hangs above our kitchen sink and mugs.

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Jo Anne's has their seasonal sales right about two weeks before each holiday. Which is great. So last year I purchased this little beauty for a whopping $1.99. Because their mega cute decor is spendy, I hung it up to spruce up my oven. No big deal, folks. We can be cheery for inexpensive! The use of towels and pot holders is widely encouraged by this gal.

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Side table, simple decor, by the couch & blanket basket.

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And of course, MISTLETOE. Because I love to have an excuse to stand in one place waiting for my husband to kiss me. I bought this beauty for $5 from a scruffy man off the side of the road. He was great, we are friends, this was his favorite, naturally I knew Loren would appreciate it.

misteltoe

Just saying, I like to decorate my bathroom. And this was the best way I could think of doing so with such a small space!

Again, tree clippings from our tree and the forest. The tins and vase I already had! Pine cones are a bag for $2.50 at Jo Annes. (I am their neighbor and current roommate). Also, towels are super cheap there, ($1.99-2.99)

simple christmas decorseasonal towels

Candles & gold accents in the walkway, on any ledge I have!

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The wrapped door...totally did this. 12 feet of ribbon (at Jo Annes) was $4. I wrapped the door on the inside, hot glued a little bow heart together, and there was Christmas! Out front I have a welcome sign, greenery and red & gold ribbons in a tin, and three tree stumps with candles. We plan to decorate the apartment walkway with lights like last year!

simple christmas decor for small spaces

As soon as you walk in or leave, you can grab (or set down) your hats and gloves! I have had this basket out for almost two months, since the cold entered our life. It sure helps when we are heading out in a flurry!

hats and gloves by the door

Well friends, the home is cozied and She and Him Holiday vinyl is almost always playing. I still need to set time aside to sit and knit and watch a few Christmas movies. Relax and soak in the cheer this holiday brings! Hopefully have some middle/high school girls over to bake and decorate some cookies!

How do you decorate for Christmas? What do you look forward to?

Officially a Pastor's Wife

officially a pastors wife I am officially a Pastor's Wife. It has been almost a week since Loren's ordination.

Before this extremely special Sunday arrived, I already considered myself in the category of: pastor/ministry wife. I would meet with the other two Pastor's wives weekly in the beginning of this church plant, Loren's title was a pastor kind of sort of, but mostly a "coach" or "shepherd" or "chief servant leader." But recently, Mike asked us if he could do the honor of ordaining Loren. All we needed was to set a date and invite his parents.

Ordination: appointing a [very imperfect] man and revealing his calling of shepherd-ship/pastoring in front of the church; extremely honorable and not taken lightly. That is my own personal definition.

ordination

Pastor Mike surprised us with a little slide show of his relationship with Loren over the last 6 (?) years. They met at Camp Winema long ago. Loren was Mike's intern the summer before this beautiful church was planted. (Also the summer we met). The church launched in October 2011, Loren went to finish up his BS in Preaching at Boise Bible College, moved back here in June 2012 ready to join the staff as the Youth Coach/Leader + any other ministries we felt urged to start. We were wed in August and the following October we launched our youth ministry! Since that time, a lot has happened. We still lead  the youth ministry team, Loren and I both work part time outside of the church, and we live mainly on outside/church support (thank you, Team!!!). Loren has grown, I have grown, we Brenners have seen how terribly much we have to grow, we have grown as a church and as a ministry team. Corvallis Church is radiant and imperfect. Mike wanted to honor the time and sacrifice that Loren so willingly gives for this church; ultimately for Jesus.  I don't want to mislead: its all for Jesus. But really, it's more than Loren's decision; we feel called to the mission of Corvallis Church right now. If we weren't here, we don't know where we would be. The only reason we live in Corvallis is for the planting and caring for this church. The thing is: it isn't about us, it isn't us, we live by His strength and the Life that He seems to quite literally breathe into us. I wish I could explain it.

Friends, though I already considered myself a ministry wife, this Sunday something changed - I was hit in the heart on a whole new level. Which, I did not realize was possible.

officially a pastors wife

Just as Loren shared with the church (as I stood aside and cried because my husband has a heart of gold and when he puts words to it,  my heart is actually ripped right out out and is being buttered with joy) that morning, this is not a light title. As he spoke and I stood, I was in awe that my life was occurring this way. I didn't plan this out. This is not a label to throw around like "beardy," which is currently Loren's thing. To be given this title of "pastor" is a big deal and we pray to carry it with honor and dignity and compassion and an honest pursuit after Jesus. But my friends, what came this week...this week I was reminded even more of seriously how fickle and misfit I am. I am so completely imperfect, down to my very most personal thoughts, down to my nerves and DNA. I am so dreadfully awful that I do not understand why God Himself would invite me into such an equation as this. He must have some big and glorious renovation plans to be making something out of me, out of us, and I look forward to the day where I can say, "Ohhhh, this makes sense."

Jesus has this way of humbling us. Reminding us how deeply we each need Him and how very present He is, ready to help.

As we met with people this week, invited new friends and already-friends into our home, it was very apparent to me how deeply I need to be altered. Sometimes this mouth has a mind of its own that seems so far away from my real and true heart. Or maybe my real and true heart is quite further away from where I would hope it is. Whatever the case may be, titles are titles. They do not define us, they do not usually instantly transform us, they do not (de)value us, they are not us. I am me, Natalie. At the end of the day, and during the middle and beginning, I am just another follower of Jesus finding my way on this earth. And Loren is also just another human., so in love with Christ and wants to share Him with the world; despite his very much introverted tendencies.

I am completely, down into my core, honored to be Loren's wife. Not because of his title, but because of his heart & life. Quickly following that honor is the privilege of being in ministry with him, serving and sacrificing to build up the church before our very eyes. Corvallis Church.

The kind of stuff I live for: This week we got to sit down with our Pastoral Team and dream about ways to bless individual families and people during this holiday season. Yes. That's right. We got to spend time praying over the members of our church and plan out ways we may be able to bring them joy, the reminder that Christ is on their team. This is the very best job: bringing joy and peace and best of all Jesus, to others.

officially a pastor's wife

And right now, I have the front seat to many lives. I will do my very best to cherish it as a jewel in my crown. Sorry I am so weird and say weird things. But really, I pray I soak this time into my being, learn more than ever, and fall down onto my face because I am confronted with the very real humanity of self. And lean hard into His grace and forgiveness. Also, if you could start praying for our future babies? There is this thing about some Pastors Kids. And I just want to love them so well, I want to teach them Jesus and His saving grace, not religion and rules and laws. Those Littles are in for an adventure.

To any Corvallis Church members who may be reading this: if you have had the honor (chuckle) of practicing your patience with Loren or I, thank you for loving us so well! You get to actually raise us as babies, it seems. I am so grateful to know you; forever this group of people will be close to our hearts - you've grown us Brenners since dating. We are growing up! Almost. Also, a lot of you hold a place in my heart, a place of Heroes.

Note to self:

When Before all else fails, humble myself.

Canada wrap up

Various titles this post could have had: Canada Wrap Up; Au-Natural Fall Decor $0; Cute Baby Boy Award; Gluten Free Thanksgiving Treats; Husband Welcomes Bride Home the Best Way Possible. SO you see? How could a girl describe this post in a small title? Has it really been only just a week since I have been back from the land of Canada? If there is one thing I do not understand in this life, it is time.

On a heart level note, I decided while in Canada that this verse from Corinthians must be my new anthem call:

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 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Monday the 13th was Canada Thanksgiving! We needed to decorate a little extra for the holiday, so on our mid morning walk to good ole Tim Horton's, we decided we would make an au-natural craft for our table piece and our door hanger. Straight from the walking path!

So this happened:

fall craft

fall craft

fall craftingWe laid out all of our goodies at home to see exactly what we snatched.

fall crafts with real leavesAnd we got to work with all that we had; we purchased nothing. For the center peace: a glass bowl, candle, leaves. That was what we used.

fall center piece with real leaves

For the door wreath, we used floss and tape. Why on God's green grass? Because that is what we had! We were obviously trying to be P31 wives.

Here is our FOUR STEP real-leaf wreath: 4 step real leaf wreath

4 step wreath

Too easy, friends. The putting-together part took us maybe 15 minutes.

Because this caramel apple crisp was so good that we ate all of it and left none for the boys, I thought I would encourage you to try it. Also, it is nothing different or special: simply Delicious.

thanksgiving desserts gluten free

Apple Crisp: 3 green apples, peeled & quartered Mix: 1 1/2 cup (gf) oats 1/2 cup dark brown sugar 2 tbsp butter 1 tbs coconut oil Put mixture over apples, drizzle caramel sauce! Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Pumpkin Brownies: 1 box of gluten free chocolate mix 1 can of pumpkin 2 tsp pumpkin spice mix: bake: eat.

Sweet Potato Casserole: chopped sweet potatoes, bake in water for 20 minutes to soften take out, add brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, top with marshamllows! bake another 25 minutes at 350

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welcoming wife home from trip

Though my flight was delayed and I was the only passenger with my luggage misplaced, I didn't mind. I was just happy to get home and see my husband. I was excited to be held by his arms and snuggle with him on our couch watching the Cosby Show.

I will tell you what, though. Loren has always been the best at welcoming me home. Whether it be from a birth I supported as Doula (this happened this week!), from an evening away with some girls, or from a trip of some sort...he has always been so welcoming!

He buys flowers and welcomes me with notes. I never expect it, but he always does it and it is always such a treat. It is always such a gift. He picked me up holding a rose and Cafe Yumm which was perfect. Then when we walked up to our front door, I was welcomed with a plethora of notes. Inside was a bundle of flowers in an OWL COFFEE CUP. It's a vase, but it has a handle, and its big so he thought it would be a perfect coffee cup. He also had another bouquet of flowers on the table. HUSBANDS! Learn from this man. He is amazing.

I am beyond thankful that I was able to save my "allowance" (photography, pillow making, coordinating money) to visit H in Canada. But apparently Life wanted to slam itself back into me a little harder than I was prepared for. Let's make this Canada Thanksgiving thing a tradition?

Come visit me! I'm talking about money

how-to-set-budget Good morning and good day to so many good friends!

Today I am talking about budgeting! A few things I am touching on: how we live on an extremely tight budget, how we still save even with a low income, and quick tips to saving money immediately! It's not all fun. It takes discipline - but it's worth it!

I have the honor of guest-posting over at A Beautiful Exchange. Come on over, read my post and be sure you visit her beautiful blog. She is pregnant with Baby #2!

Click HERE.