Hope: birthed at the dawn of the New Year

happy new year, #2015bestnine I'm parked by the fire place at my in-laws house in Boise, feeling the warmth of the fire wrap around me like a cozy blanky. Except its better than a blanky because I don't have to put forth any effort to keep the heat in.

It's a weird thing, this turning of the years like a leaf. Somehow our brains can compartmentalize time and box up the adventures, experiences, trials, and joys of 12 months, stick them into a filing cabinet drawer of our memories, and enter a year with fresh hope and goals and ideas. But as you and I also know, those same adventures, experiences, trials, and joys from each passing year still stick with us. They still phase us, scar us, boost us, and help make up who we are as individual humans. As cultures and countries. As humanity. But still, though the experiences of each year stick to us like glue, becoming a part of us, we are still somehow able to look into the next year, literally as the hours count down, and as soon as that ball drops or that whistle is blown or those lips are kissed, something special happens.

Hope is birthed at the dawn of the New Year.

I am very much ready for 2016.

There were many moments, stringing into days and weeks, and even months that I could not help but think, "I am ready for 2015 to be done." "I do not like 2015." "2015 marks itself as pain-filled, wound-induced, and heart breaking." My heart felt like it broke in half more than I thought it could. And the slightly terrifying thing is this: I am young; I potentially have decades ahead of me. Decades that could very well hold years more pain, loss, betrayal, and broken-heartedness.

And let's be real: 2015 wasn't constantly darkened from what seemed to be the pits of hell. I can just be a drama queen. If my sister[by law, by also by friendship] Emily is reading this, she would give me her look that says, "Nat, don't be such a debbie-downer, you had some really good moments." And she is right. >Though we lost our first baby, we experienced a positive pregnancy test that was not phased by loss and fear. It was the most joyful of moments, full of laughter and dreams and name-games and dancing; full of nursery plans and Christmas dreams of snuggling our newborn close near the tree; full of love and excitement without a hint of fear. >We found joy amidst the mourning every time we visited our nieces. Nieces are gifts from heaven. >Our best friendships deepened, solidified themselves all the more. >We explored 5 countries over 3 weeks in Europe, sipped wine in Paris, ate frites in Germany and Netherlands, we climbed the Eiffel Tower and said prayers in ancient churches and rode trains through Austria. >We spent countless hours with the best of youth; a few tears are falling now as I think over those sweet memories. >We began our incredible journey towards adopting our baby. The #bringhomebabyBrenner hashtag was birthed and I ache for the day it changes it #broughhomebabyBrenner. >We discovered another baby [boy] in my tummy, who is still residing there today at 19 weeks 1 day. >And, we moved to the Portland area.

Maybe it will be #theyearofBrennerbabies. #wecravecrazy.

Loren and I were looking at my "2015 Instagram Best Nine," the most liked photos on my little account, and we were like, "almost all of these were from the last three months!" Every single one except our adopting announcement. What's ironic is that the most liked photos were from some of the absolutely most painful and difficult time.

I don't want to spit on 2015. I spent many days and nights on my knees crying prayers into carpet fibers, but in those moments I knew more than ever that He was with me. I can look back on 2015 and find more grace in the broken pieces of it than in the whole and pretty pieces of it.  So instead of burying the ugly we wore last year and instead of pretending that it didn't happen, let's remember that the messy fragments often serve as the avenues to grace. Let's clothe ourselves with dignity. It is in the messiness and the brokenness, the dirt of this world, that we often find Jesus. We find Him when we are raw, stripped down, and at the bottom of the pit because there is nothing else to experience but His tender grace and presence.

Gah, He is so good and so hope-filled and so joy-importing.

As we approach 2016 tonight, I feel the tingling of Hope in my heart.

I feel the budding of Hope for a joy more profound than I have ever known. Hope for experiencing love and loving deeper than ever. The budding Hope is beautiful and bright, vibrant and radiant. It brings freedom, Hope does.

Hope that we would be better kids to our parents, better siblings, better grandkids, better spouses.

Hope for my heart, that it would find more healing. Deeper healing than I have ever experienced.

Hope for my husband's heart, that it would also find healing.

Hope for Tummy Baby, that we will meet this little boy and kiss him and smooch him and begin the years of parenting.

Hope for Heart Baby, that we will raise enough funds to adopt our baby, that we will meet our birth mama and have a relationship with her. That our family would embrace this baby, no matter what, as their own; that they would acknowledge the baby growing in our hearts and understand that adoption is not charity or a metaphor, but the very heart of God. Adoption is redemption. Family is so much more than blood.

Hope for our marriage to continue thriving, our friendship to develop powerfully, our love to strengthen and deepen.

Hope for writing; that I would finish my [fifth draft of a] manuscript, that I would continue writing as a freelancer and ghost writer, that I would grow and learn.

I want more than anything for my Hope to fully reside in Jesus. And for all other hope to flow out of that. My hope is that I would see Him in the mess and the beauty, that I would see the mountains and remember that our Creator crafted them carefully, that I would see Him in people...the messy, toothless, smelly people. But also in the people I {unrightly} deem as snobby and too-good-for-you. I want to see Jesus in all the things, even when I may only see splinters of Him.

He is my security and my safety, my home, and He shall [more than ever] be my Hope.

Happy New Year, team.

Thank you for joining us on this wild ride.

PS. Did you see our adoption shirt fundraiser was kicked off tonight? The shirts (3 styles) will only be available until January 21, so be sure to order one and support our adoption!

The Undoing of Myself

  Risk the ocean

....While at camp I sat on a specific dune and I cried. A lot. Because I knew what was coming: the undoing of myself and everything I knew.

Jesus was doing some reconstruction inside of my soul. He was refining me like fire refines a diamond and it burned like fire does, but I knew it would produce something more beautiful than before. I sat on that dune and let the tears fall into the sand freely as I prayed and listened to His heart for me.

Repeatedly, I felt Jesus whisper to my heart, "My sweet and precious daughter. I have so much for you. So much more than what you are clinging so tightly to. If only you would lay down your clenched hands and open them in surrender. If only you would pursue what I have for you. Yes...you will live a blessed life serving me if you marry this man. You will arrive at Heaven one day, stand before me, and I will welcome you as my good and faithful servant. But. But if you chase what I have for you...if you lay down your need to control and listen to the identity I have for you, you will be so much more blessed than you could ever imagine."

I am guest posting over at Allison Ramsing's space, mystoryisbeautiful.com. To read more and finish this post, come visit me!

Finding Him [in the mess of church + holidays]

church and holiday anxiety I have never been nervous to go to a Sunday morning gathering, to be a part of a church. I have never experienced anxiety towards walking through the doors on a Sunday morning, with the knowledge that I would be sitting among fellow humans who may or may not know that they are beloved by Jesus, worshipping Him with music and songs, listening to a message about His grace and truth, meeting new people, sipping coffee, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

Until this "season" of my life.

There has not been a comfortable or "normal" Sunday morning for me since before October 8.

Today was the first Sunday we attended a church service since moving away from Corvallis. For various reasons, we have been unable to visit a church since moving here, but I knew leading up to today that we would be walking through some doors with the intention of worshipping our King among other humans. Our friends are a part of a young church up here and have been asking us to visit since before we relocated; Loren had promised weeks ago that we would attend their Christmas Service which was today. To say my palms were sweating and my heart was thumping is an understatement and I am gaining an entirely new understanding of some people's story than I would have asked to understand. We walked through the doors, hand in hand, and were greeted by nearly every human being; we were clearly new faces and we were asked the dreaded question, "What brought you to Portland?" Instead of dumping words on anyone, we stated simple and less complex things like, "a job" or "work." I found myself breaking eye contact and wanting to shout, "We are with Will & Annie, so don't worry about us! No need to ask us questions! We will move along now," but instead stood and talked and answered questions and let my palms sweat and smiled.

Who knew that the most basic and natural of questions could stir up so many feelings? The things I am learning these days.

I felt awkward. Because I am awkward.

Church has been weird for us, and that is weird in and of itself. It can be scary looking for a new community to accept you as you are, with all of the broken and whole fragments and feelings that make up you. Neither of us are mad or angry or bitter at The Church. Nor are we bitter or mad at Jesus. Neither of us have given up on The Church or negate its purpose and meaning and importance. If you were to ask us: is The Church important? We would answer, Yes, we believe it is, because Jesus calls The Church His bride - and if He deems it important and lovely and Beloved, then so do weWe may not understand much, but we are confident that He speaks Truth.

Though Sunday morning church has been weird for us, each time we have attended the last couple months, my eyes have welled up with tears and Jesus has moved in my heart and met me there. I haven't allowed myself to feel the weight of what I am processing, not while at church, but I allow bits and pieces here and there because I am afraid that if I do not, I will lock it up inside only for it to explode in years to come all over precious people who do not deserve its volcanic hot mess of an explosion.

As we stood and we sang Christmas carols and hymns in the middle of a cafeteria among human beings who are just as fragile as us, I felt Jesus near and dear, reminding me that He is here and that Christmas is about Him. I felt Him nudging me towards His cross, bowing my heart, reminding me that The Church as a whole is good and very messy and made up of imperfect humans, but it is good. It is beautifully Beloved. And He came to unite us, save us, redeem us, heal us, free us. As my tears silently streamed down my face and the words passed from heart to vocal chords to lips,

"O holy night the stars are brightly shining It is the night of our dear Savior's birth Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new glorious morn Fall on your knees O hear the angels' voices O night divine,"

I was reminded again how precious this time of year is. No matter what. No matter how messy our lives seem to be, no matter how dysfunctional our families are, no matter how broken we feel. No matter who is missing (I should be sitting here next to the tree snuggling and cradling a one month baby), no matter how many different family members you have to visit separately due to divorce and separation, no matter what, I want to remember how dear and how very precious Christmas is. What Christmas exclaims.

We agreed we were grateful we visited a church again, met up with some friends, and sipped coffee while worshipping our King.

baby loss, miscarriage, ornament

We humans may be fragile and feel like we are falling apart now more than any other time of year, but this is the season that we heavily acknowledge and focus on The King coming to earth in the form of a baby, the most vulnerable and defenseless and humble state of being. God, the Creator of the universe, squeezed Himself into a body. A baby's body. It is in remembering our Saviors birth that our soul can feel His coming's worth; the weary world rejoices because He brings hope.

My heart longs more than I knew it could to meet the baby that has been growing in our hearts, his or her dear and adored Birth/First Family, and know that they are safe. My heart longs to make an ornament with little baby's messy hand print as a Christmas gift for his/her Tummy Mama. It is amazing to me how deeply the seed of adoption and family growth has been rooted as a desire into my heart. But more than that, I long for Jesus so desperately, so fiercely. I long to keep Him close, so near to my heart and soul and conversations. I ache to grow more into who He has created me to be, because I am confident that who He has in mind for me to transform into is a free and beautiful me. I am confident that the same goes for you. But I am also learning to rest in who He has me as today, even with bitterness in my heart and big wounds to be healed, because He is so much bigger. I am learning that it is peaceful to cherish what He is doing today and find delight in His presence here and now, amidst the messy and unknowns, celebrating the moments I find Him in strangers and family and my new home.

So. Though we Brenners are in this awkward but exciting and joy-bringing limbo of re-settling and learning what this chapter may look like, there is hope. Hope for the weary world to rejoice and fall on our knees in humble surrender. Surrender on our knees with hands open, palms up is the most freeing posture I have discovered. I don't know where you are right now, who or what you are longing for and craving during this very emotional time of year. But whatever you are processing or grieving or missing or longing for, my prayer is that you would find Jesus all the more gracious, all the more merciful, and all the more as Healer. My prayer is that you would long for Him too, allow your soul to feel His birth's worth; that you would experience His deep and unending faithful love, which brings more security than any human being could ever offer.

Farewell, Corvallis [Brenners Hit Refresh]

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Dear Corvallis, You housed me on an August summer night in 2010 for the very first time, when I drove the 33 minutes from Harrisburg to you, visiting my brother who lived on Tyler Street. I had no sleeping arrangements, only my '92 Tercel and a debit card connected to a couple dollars, so I found my way to the local Fred Meyers getting lost along the way and purchased a soft blue blanket with the word "relax" etched into it everywhere. I thought, "If this blanket doesn't remind me to relax, I don't know what will." That summer was a rough one for me, but it was transitional too. I was soon to be Corvallis's, House of Charis's to be exact, next resident.

Oh Corvallis, I met two of my best friends within your limits. Actually, as my roommates. One married a man from far away and moved to Canada and the other became my sister-in-law, birthing babies who will forever hold pieces of my heart. For those two roommates birthed into best friendships, I will forever be grateful for you.

Corvallis, Corvallis, Corvallis, I walked the campus streets lined with vibrant colors and beautiful trees through the fall and then again in the spring. Oh yes, the winter too. Those were some cold nights. I will never forget the many days and nights, the strolling, the classes, the hours studying. You helped me get through full time school as well as full time night shift as a caregiver...until you didn't and I quit school. That was a good time.

Dear Corvallis, Loren and I dated long distance while I lived within your city. I wrote letter after letter and delivered them into your blue drop boxes over and over and over again. We married in one of your beautiful parks, and that day I will never forget. It is one of my favorite days.  You are where we began our family of two, and then expected a third, but then lost that precious little baby. You are where we officially began our adoption journey, and for that, I cherish you: babies and family embedded into our hearts and story.

Our apartment complex housed us for more than three years. We had best friends as neighbors across the hall and across the street. It is times like these that are so sweet, you will never forget.

Corvallis is where we built lifelong friendships with people our age, like the Listers and Hayes and Nelsons, people we imagined raising babies with and calling when we are sick. Friends we play weekly Catan with, rotate hosting Dinner Clubs, and help one another move. Friends who celebrate one another's new babies and mourn another's loss of theirs. These are friendships we will cherish forever. 

Corvallis, You housed Loren and my newlywed years. You were the grounds on which we became staff of a small church plant, the budding of a community that would change our life in so many ways, both painfully and beautifully. Your streets and buildings and coffee shops grew friendships that will last a life time. Corvallis, you were the city Loren and I spent countless hours with students and youth, young adults and married couples, elderly and sick, homeless and dying. I became a doula and a photographer, a pastor's wife and a wear-many-hats staffer. Oh Corvallis. The memories run deep.

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It seems as though it is time to just say "we moved" out loud; we have had many questions asked about where we are and can we have lunch soon, and the thing is: we moved already. It was between four cities, two states, and here we are finally settling and moved.

It has been time for us to say goodbye to Corvallis for awhile now. But who ever knows how to say goodbye to precious people, students to be exact, that have weaved themselves into your very souls? Goodness, we adore those kids. I think about them nearly every day and pray they seek Jesus above all else; especially above man. Man is so fickle. Jesus is so faithful and secure. We want nothing else for them but Him. 

And here we are, almost entirely unpacked, our address officially changed and our titles completely different. Our identity has shifted more than I guessed it ever would, and yet still we are at the mere beginning of our journey. But a few things remain and that is Jesus and our togetherness. We have never been more together, it seems.

It has been quite the two months, my friends. Words will never explain the depths of feelings and emotions and experiences we have been walking through. Now comes for a time of immense heart-healing and seeking Jesus in very honest and raw ways.

It is with many emotions, but mainly hope and relief, that we say farewell to Corvallis, we hit refresh, and we say hello to new chapter. Or perhaps we are entering chapter one, and the 3.5 years in Corvallis was an intense prologue - we won't really see the whole picture until we look back from a distance, I hear. We have now been moved into a cozy duplex in the greater Portland area for just over a week. Loren has a full time job starting in a couple weeks at another residential treatment facility for kids ages 7-11; he is praying about and very much considering pursuing his masters of arts in teaching come 2016. Because he is awesome. I will be finding a job in January - most likely at a retirement village, because let's be real: I love them. Those are my people.

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We discovered the cutest little coffee shop just a couple blocks from our place. It has a play area for kids, arts and crafts, and gluten free/vegan baked goods. Oh, and wifi! Boom boom boom. So naturally we woke up yesterday and walked hand in hand for a breakfast date.

What did this do to our adoption? many have asked. Not much! We simply are in the makings of a home study update and will forward those to the agencies we are working with. Also, many of you knew that we presented to a 5th birth mama on Friday...we still have not heard back! If she were to choose us, we need about $9,000 more dollars up front, so feel free to sponsor some puzzle pieces ;).

Well folks, if you have any questions, feel free to email me. We are very much thankful for this transition, for this refresh button. Jesus is real as ever to us and we are trusting Him, loving Him, and leaning into His tender healing arms of mercy.

Welcome, Vanessa: Canvas Campus Ministries

We have the immense honor of supporting our friend Vanessa as she prepares and adventures into an exciting time of life: campus ministry in England! Vanessa is one of the sweetest humans you would ever meet. When Loren and I were in Europe, we visited our friend Tony in Germany; he introduced us to this lovely new friend Vanessa! She shares parts of her story and how Jesus grabbed her attention and changed the course of her life. Help me welcome the beautiful Vanessa with open arms and take a moment to pray about supporting this beautiful mission. 

Canvas Campus Ministry, England

Dear reader,

I am obviously not Natalie – I have much shorter hair and while reading this you can image me speaking in a slightly British-mixed with German voice. Who am I then? I'm German student who has just graduated with a M.A. in Literature and Culture Theory (maybe you can guess my favorite book by the beginning of this post) and is preparing to move to Birmingham in England to work for a campus ministry called Canvas – part of an American organization called Globalscope. Some of you might have an idea what campus ministry involves, others will probably have no idea what I am talking about.

I have thought about how best to explain what we do over the past few days: I could list all the facts of the events we put on weekly as a team of ministers in England, tell you how many students we have that first get a glimpse of what Jesus means to us and could mean to them in our community or give you some numbers of baptisms that happened and free meals were served over the past few years. But I have decided not to do that. Why? Because those things do not really tell you much about Canvas. What I will tell you is some of my own story with the sister ministry in Germany and how I ended up wanting to work for Canvas. Many similar stories exist at Canvas and the Globalscopes across all countries that we serve in.

I grew up in a semi-Christian home in the North of Germany, by the time I got to college, I wouldn't have thought of calling myself Christian ever. It mostly stayed that way during my undergrad – I had just lost my mother to cancer, I was far away from home, but I had friends and a boyfriend. I thought that would be enough – but something was missing. It took until some of those relationships broke up that I met one of the campus ministers here in Tübingen. Mind you, I had met them before, but I never wanted to talk to those “weird Christians”. I thought all they would want to do is beat bible verses into me, so I would finally become Christian again – spoiler alert: that didn't happen! Instead I met a loving friend and mentor who became someone I could trust and talk to about anything. She never made me talk about faith unless I wanted to, but through her actions I felt that there was a greater love out there. So, I began being involved in the ministry more and found a space where I was comfortable enough to explore my faith and ask questions. Questions like: am I ever going to feel okay about my mum passing away? How can I improve the friendships and other relationships that I am a part of? And also: where does Jesus fit into all of this? About a year after joining the ministry I had a baptism remembrance service (okay, you got me – that's one baptism- ish thing I am telling you about) and started connecting with a local church that is loosely linked to the campus ministry here. I got to grow in leadership positions both there and in the ministry to come to today: waiting to be sent to England to become that person that first welcomed me into the community and opened up the possibility for all this to happen.

Open Mic Night at Canvasone of the Hangouts where people come together to have funI know there are stories like mine waiting to be uncovered in England. When I think of the students there, I see myself shyly walking through those doors for the first time not quite knowing what to expect. It makes me hope that I can be a friend to them and share some of what has been given to me with them. I hope that God may be able to spread his kingdom through our work in Birmingham.

Tuesday Nights: where we have free food, some music and a talk about life and faithLastly, I have one thing to ask, dear reader. You can go away from this blog post with a good luck wish for me – and that is absolutely fine. But there is one thing I still need to go to England: financial support. Our work at the ministry is provided for by monthly and one-off donations by people of many different backgrounds. I am currently at about 40% of my needed budget and a month away from the beginning of the school year in England. So, if you've read this and would like to get in touch with me about partnering over the next year, sign up for my newsletter so I can contact you via email to talk about this some more: click here. If you just want to give, you can do so HERE – I hope we might be able to work together to bring God's love to Birmingham.

Vanessa

Joy unkissed by grief

adoption is beautiful, brenner adoption The other day a super extraordinary thing happened to me: I experienced a constant and gentle joy, a pure joy that existed throughout the entire day, not touched, unkissed, by grief. I was heading to visit a friend after work and before youth group; she is a new momma, baby fresh from the womb. No sign of grief washed over me, no hint of anxiety or fear or tight-chest-edness while I drove. No sadness. No despair. Only a freeing sense of joy. Only joy.

This pure-joy-unkissed-by-grief has become a rarity for me this year. This year has been the year of tears. Tears of joy and grief all in one complex thing that makes up a Me. Grief has made me awkward. It has made me unsure of myself, wanting to claw out of my very own skin. How do I feel beautiful when the body I live in is broken and breaking? I find my way back to His word and His promises and I know they are true, no matter how ugly and broken I feel.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

As I parked my car in her driveway, I inhaled waiting for the sting of grief, waiting for the stabbing thought "I should be nearing my labor and delivery, over 30 weeks round, preparing to meet our little BB," waiting for the icky ugly feeling that now always accompanies the deep joy I have for the people I love most. It didn't come. It didn't threaten the joy that I have been asking and fighting for. While I sat in the most precious nursery of all time, she fed her baby girl and rocked in the cushy chair and my heart was full. Full of all-the-good-things. Full of pure joy, unkissed by grief.

It is a lovely feeling, this thing of pure joy without the ugliness that grief never fails to bring to my heart. I write this post carefully, with hesitation even, because I know that in the next moment I may be right back in the place of ugly grief begging for glimpses of grace. The place of fighting for pure joy, the heart aching for freedom and laughter and light heartedness. But I also write this post because I want to share how beautiful it is to experience those moments, moments that may become a day, maybe stringing into a week...moments of joy unkissed by grief. I want to bask in those moments and days, allowing my heart to soften and soak them in, rather than harden and protect itself out of fear for the next moment of stabbing grief.

I want to do more than set my life on default to survive, to merely exist and get through. That's more than I could have said three days ago in honesty; sometimes I feel defeated and wonder if jaded is easier. But today I don't want to live numb to life, jaded and apathetic; I don't want to give in to wounded-ness and stop chasing Jesus-joy. What relief to taste the sweetness again. I am a whole-hearted believer in sorrow often becoming a part of someone, moving in as a permanent resident, but I also believe that it can thin out over the years, stinging differently than when it was fresh. I believe that we do not have to merely exist and get through life as a giant wound for years on end. Though believe me, this year I have felt like a gaping wound. I know that gratitude and thanksgiving don't come naturally; but I believe that those rare brave humans who search for good and true and beautiful things, even in the minute and mundane, who thank Jesus for those little precious things, are those who unravel the secret of joy in the pain. I am not there, always finding the joy amidst the grief, but sometimes I do. And most of the time I am quiet about it, timid, carefully and silently seeking Him out in the little things.

This week I have not been able to stop thinking about our little baby. Not the baby we lost, but the baby we are waiting for...the baby we are planning and preparing for through this tragically-beautiful thing of adoption, the baby God is moving mountains for, the baby that will join two families into one. His/her mama has been on my mind a lot this week, too, as I go throughout my days working and spending time with people. I cannot help but wonder where she is, what she is doing, how old she is, is she married? What ethnicity is she? What ethnicity is our baby? What about gender? Is our baby 6 months in the womb or 6 days? Has our baby been created yet?

We made tamales Monday and friends...it brought me so much joy. I could be a Mexican-baby-momma. I can do this! If our baby carries a culture that tamales are a thing, count me in. I will make those. Next month we are trying an Indian dish and then an African American dish.

brenner adoption, adoption is beautiful

As I watched my dear friend snuggle and feed her precious newborn, my heart was full and I wanted so badly in the most purest, most-non-jealous way to be holding our baby right there with her. The baby that has cracked our hearts wide open for this life of adoption. I want to snuggle and smooch and kiss and love and count his or her toes. The longing is pure and light and lovely and it has been unkissed by grief for a running of nearly two days. Two days. My secret strategy? I have none. No one said the magic words to snap me out of it for a brief day, there was no magic prayer or chant or billboard or thing. I have chosen to walk honestly and search for Him, even if timidly and quietly, unnoticeably, but hunt for Him and His graces. 

Something in the deepest parts of me knows that our baby and his/her momma needs us to be praying for them. It is quite possible and likely that is why their presence on my heart has weighed so heavily this week. Loren and I have been praying for our baby and his/her birth family since January; every night we spend time praying over them. But I wonder if I am being called to pray for them constantly, perpetually, ongoingly..they are not leaving my heart or my thoughts and I can't wait to be able to look back and see why. I cant wait to meet them and ask what was going on during this time that my heart would be so heavy for them.

This joy? This joy is different than the joy that Natalie Brenner is usually "known" for. This joy isn't jumpy and crazy but calm and gentle and very present. It is light. I don't know that I will wake up tomorrow with joy unkissed by grief. For months I was not sure if I would ever again experience joy without kisses of grief. But right now today I am accepting the joy, unkissed by grief, and I am counting it an immense reason to be grateful.

Thank you, Jesus, for your good gifts of grace. Teach me to see them in the mundane and every day.

Camp Recap: He never grows weary

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When Loren and I decided that we were taking our kids to this particular week of camp, I knew it would not come easy for my heart. I knew that there would more than likely be some awkwardness and some pain; but I also knew more than anything, that Jesus would be with me and that He would sustain me and keep my heart pointed towards Him. He would give me strength and focus and grace to serve the students under my care, my little flock of girls who called me counselor.

What I did not expect was for Him to crack open my heart wider than it already was, to expose broken bits that I believed were healed and never to be touched again. He revealed to me that there is so much more to me, He has so much to do with my tattered heart, and He is more into the healing business than I could have guessed.

I have so far to go in knowing Him and understanding Him and loving Him. I have barely scratched the surface of who He is and what He has for me. I hunger for Him.

Halfway through camp, aka Tuesday evening and into Wednesday morning, Jesus and I started this conversation over and over again, "You had so much more for me here than what I expected. You always do. You had more in mind than for me to wear the title Cabin Counselor." In years past, I have had the privilege and honor and strength to serve the girls in my cabin with full availability. My heart strong, my mind clear, my focus driven solely for them. I was able to sit down and listen to girls individually, every single day, one-on-ones and hear what is going on in their life. We prayed and called Jesus to come and we cried on behalf of whatever brokenness they were walking through. But this year was different.

I knew that I was letting some of them down, and a couple even told me so, asking for forgiveness.

While God was doing intense heart surgery on me, my hands were forced to be open and trusting, knowing that He is big enough to care for the girls when I am in no shape to. I wanted to swallow what I was processing, to push the fragile and breaking parts of me aside, burying them to ignore for another four years, so that I could be present with the girls..but I knew that course was a course filled with more pain, less healing, and isn't honest. During musical worship one evening, my eyes closed and hands cupped, a picture of my heart sitting in the cup of my hands as an offering appeared: it was not beautiful. It was gushing blood, seeping thick red all over my hands, holes covering the entirety, and I was holding it up for Him to take. Please, Jesus, take this heart, give me grace, give me strength, make me beautiful; make this tattered filthy broken heart beautiful. I felt like a giant wound, walking around, sore to the eye. But I knew He was with me.

Tired. So empty. So worn and torn and ragged, unable to give of myself. Weary. I happened to be in Isaiah 40. Verse 11 says that "He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young." He was and is carrying my fragile, vulnerable, lamb-like self in His arms, close to His heart. He doesn't replace us when we are broken; He pulls us in close to His heart. Verse 28 says that "He never grows faint or weary." He never grows faint or weary. So while I was off, breaking and weeping, often times alone in the staff bathroom, Jesus was covering for me. He was stepping in and working in those girls' lives more than I could ever dream to. He was sifting through their hearts, revealing Himself to them, reminding them that He is so much bigger and more reliable and wise and with-us than any human being. Though I was disappointing a few, I found this immense peace and comfort, knowing that He never grows weary; knowing that He had work to do in them too, that they must learn to rely on Him. I can trust Him with the girls I cherish dearly, He will always and forever be with them, and I cannot.

Jesus is so big. He is so big and so beautiful and so lovely. He is delightful. I never regret chasing Him.

Camp had plenty of laughter and joy and silly weirdness. So much fun and goodness, so much beauty and delight. We giggled from our bellies, celebrated with our laughter.

Camp brings out the best in us: broken and joyful and honest, all in one.

 

Cheers to week one and the multiple ways He moved. Welcome, week two.

PS. A little personal tooting of the horn: I have not had coffee since July 30. Go caffeine free and decreasing inflammation of this body!

 

 

 

 

 


My friend Ashten is kicking off a brand new blog today!  "Just Go Left" is a passion project of sorts, and the idea has been cooking in her heart since her dog Warner was diagnosed with Protein Losing Nephropathy in early 2014.  "Choose joy" became the battle cry of #TeamWarner, and although they lost their long and painful fight on February 4, 2015, Ashten's desire to find the joys in life no matter the circumstances, has remained. "Just Go Left" will chronicle her journey of finding joy and balance, inspiring others to do the same. Her mission is to encourage her readers to choose joy, to find bravery and strength to thrive despite life's obstacles. Ashten aims to help others find balance in their lives so the joy can seep in.

Click on the button below and visit her new space! It's gorgeous and full of encouragement. 

just go left

to you, who chose abortion

Camp Tadmor, Oregon I have been thinking about you so much these last few months. Your story that I do not know bounces around in my heart and I wonder what you are doing today, right now, in this moment. I don't know much about your story, nothing at all, except one seemingly-minor decision that was made: abortion. Whether it was earlier this week or 55 years ago, you remember it like it was happening in this moment. You recount that day, that decision, that moment, and you wonder where the freedom that was promised to you went.

Where is the freedom that you were promised? The release and relief, that feeling of rightness and wholeness?

For years I have prayed for you, hoping the best, hoping His grace would engulf you day after day, letting you rest.

We are in the throws of adopting and I think of you more than ever, wondering if your decision will forever change our life too. The reality of abortion has become so much more than a vague concept in the last few years, it has become an indisputable and unavoidable truth that has invaded my heart like the sun invades the darkness, steady and sure, untouchable but visible in all the ways. The last few weeks I have seen post upon post of outrage over the horrible reality of Planned Parenthood crumbling the bodies of babies and selling them for profit. I have shared a few of these posts myself, out of complete uncertainty of what to do, feeling helpless in the way this darkness is happening. If anything, spread the word, get light shined into this darkness, someone stop this madness, is all I can seem to think. But while posting those two video links, my heart stopped and I wondered if you would see it and feel a ping of condemnation, a sting of shame. I do my very best, wording and then rewording, trying to wordsmith the post so that it is clear that I am not pointing my finger at you, at the woman who chose abortion, but at Planned Parenthood and the evil that is being conducted. 

I imagine you battling again and again the shame and guilt and regret. I imagine you walking out of that building, with a piece of you extracted from your very self and exterminated forever, wondering if what you decided was the right decision, wondering if that really was a life. I imagine you remembering that day, year after year, craving invisibility, hiddenness. I imagine Mothers Day being painful, the weeks leading up to it littered in grief. I imagine you wondering if your baby is in heaven with Jesus, imagining if your baby will introduce you to Jesus one day. I believe he or she will; I believe that your baby will be whole, no longer torn apart and crushed from forceps and instruments and tweezers, and ready to shower you in grace and love, the same love and grace that stems from Jesus.

I read these words from you, about how you were 23 when you got pregnant, fearful of what your family would do once they found out about your situation. You were scared, so scared, that you immediately thought of abortion. Remove the tissue, remove the issue - certain that would bring wholeness and healing, certain that was the decision for you, that you could move on forever and not blink. Not carry this decision around with you like a tumor on your heart. You explained that you know God can forgive you, but that you are sure you will be bearing this sin forever on this earth. That you feel shame for what you have done, that you always, every single day, ask the Lord to forgive you and heal you deeply, because you cannot forgive yourself. Oh my dear, He has forgiven you. You explained that you cry alone, so often, wishing you could undo the past, undo the decision, remake that choice, choose life for your baby. You are 28 while you write these words, five years later, and not a day goes by that you do not think of that day. You say that you look forward to the day He blesses you with another angel, but fear your body may be ruined from that one decision that felt so small and insignificant all those years ago.

I am sorry if my unknowing words deepen the caverns of the wounds you carry with you. I do my best to think about my words, but I know that I have no idea what hurts and what doesn't. I know that I do not know your grief the way I know mine, which means that I hurt you without meaning to. I am sorry for the shame that you have had to carry around like rocks on your back, for years, alone. I am sorry that you have been shunned and thrown out, rejected to your core, cast down as worthless.

But today, today I pray that you let His love invade every broken piece of your heart, that Jesus's presence would capture and gently caress the pieces of grief that have taken over parts of your soul. I pray that you allow yourself time to heal, that the healing ladder takes time, more time than we like, and that this is just as much a loss as any; I pray that these words contribute to healing and not hurting. My friend, I wish I were with you praying and holding your hand, praying freedom and peace over you now, telling you the Truths that you are beloved and so forgiven. I hope for you a joy that is impenetrable, only possible through Him.

I am sorry for the lie that was told to you, that you would be whole, that this one decision will not affect or influence or alter you. It angers me, deep inside of my bones, the fabrication, the deception, the lies, the distortion of reality. It infuriates me for you.

I am sorry for ever deepening the wound that has widened your sou, where sorrow has moved in permanently.

You are deeply loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

finding Him: the healing ladder

healing ladder The coffee shop isn't too full today, but rather a person here and a person there. The middle tables are emptied, no one filling them up as occupied. My side of the shop has two tables which are filled full, except they're not - my table could seat four but seats one, the other only holds two, but they are as inhabited as they will be until the current renters leave. The other side of the small room that has become a second home to me is two more tables, both with one person each, doing their own thing. Computers, devices, books.

David Crowder's voice plays and repeats through my ear buds, singing about how He loves us. About how beautiful He is, how great His affections are for me, how He loves me.

I type letters forming into words translating into sentences into my Word document, I process things that are painful to think about, but need to be put to words, need to be pulled out of my head and my heart so that they can be sorted out and understood or at least known in the small world that exists as me; emptied so that my head and heart have space for more of Him.

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy. 

The words that forever altered my life four years ago while sitting on the sand dune that stands at Winema, a camp for students to meet Jesus face to face, repeat and replay, over and over again, and my heart is weaving them in and out and in and out of itself. My heart is grabbing ahold of these words again, like an outstretched hand. Isn't it so important to be honest with where we are, what our hearts are doing and what they are processing, so that we can move forward and find healing, becoming a whole person, so we can then launch into loving others well? The whole person that we are destined to be, the wonderfilled person of glory and grace, transforming into someone so much more beautiful than we would ever have planned out for ourself? The healing ladder, becoming the whole soul we are intended to be, may take a little longer for me than it does for you, and vice versa, and I believe that is okay. I believe that we can be patient with one another.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.

I type words rapidly, processing hurts and aches and bruises that have made their home in the whole that is me, and suddenly as his words pass through the tiny cord into the ear buds, traveling through the canals of my ears, penetrating my heart, I am right back at that place where I realize just how beautiful He is, how great His affections are for me. His glory, His beauty, His love for me eclipses and overshadows and dims the afflictions that nag at the soul of me.

How He loves us, so, oh How He loves us. 

I think of those words, branded into my rib cage, forever and always inked into who I am.

And for a brief moment in time, I exist in the beautiful escape of His presence and His love, the grace that abounds amidst any afflictions that I may have.  His glory and His all-encompassing loveliness that is so full of peace and delightful beauty, His affections and care and gentle touch, they dim and becloud, they surpass any grievance that prevail.

It is when I turn my gaze towards Him, to listen to words that will direct and guide me to Him, when we choose to choose Him, choose His presence despite or rather especially because of the affliction, the damage, the infirmity; it is when we choose to choose Him that we encounter the reality of joy amidst the pain. Peace surpassing the understanding.

I am His child learning to play with the chalk all over again, finding delight in the little things, climbing one rung of the healing-ladder at a time.

elsy grace

Amidst the Wait

The other night, Loren and I drove to the tallest peak around, Mary's, parked the car and hiked to the tippiest part of the mountain. From there we could see the ocean, which is a good 50 miles of windy roads west. We played this weird game that he loves, gifted to him by his momma, and we packed a picnic basket full of treats to keep us happy until the sun said goodbye. The horizon was clear, the sky painted colorfully, our hearts were happy.

We sat and we talked about this thing of adoption, this tragically beautiful thing that has been cracked open in our hearts and our life, a door that will never be closed again. A door that is no longer a door, but now a lifestyle, a thing, a part of us. We sat in silence some of the time, my head on his shoulder, pants dirtied by the grass we were planted in, eyes over the valley and coastal mountains, watching the ocean ripple as the last round of the sun tucked itself behind the curvature of the globe that is our world. While we waited, the view was breathtaking - the wait was not agonizing, but full of beauty. The destination was not exactly the sun setting behind the world; the goal was to enjoy the wait while it set into its place. The wait was full of beauty.

Life with this guy is only getting better. As we spend the days apart and together, living life and working and doing what people do, I cannot help but see my love for him grow imperfectly deeper. But deeper. SO much deeper than it ever has been. He is sweet and tender, oh so tender with me, he is thoughtful and genuine, one of the most genuine humans I know. We have never had the issue of yelling or screaming at one another; we set the tone for disagreements early on, knowing we wanted to leave a legacy, a legacy of loving communication, honest and not passive, honest and not abrasive, honest and not harsh, honest and gentle, kind and patient. We fail at this, but we get back up and we try again. We apologize and we smooch our lips, the four coming together as one, we hug and we pray.

Prayer knits hearts together.

This is my favorite mug and I have been wary to post it here, for months now, but here it is. Here it is, loud and proud. It was a gift from the dearest of friends. I carry books and a small notebook with me everywhere. Going to acupuncture? Grabbing my book, just in case I can't sleep. Heading to the doctor? Got my book, waiting rooms can be full of waiting. Driving to a meeting? Don't worry! My book will keep me company until you arrive. Or my notepad full of notes and thoughts and little things I don't want to forget, like the way my tea tastes or the way that lady smiled just right or something I overhead that hit the spot of my soul or that quote or verse that I cannot stop thinking about.

Words are important to me. And while I wait for whatever I am doing, I tend to fill my head and my heart with them.

At the laundromat, all I could do was pray. We have now heard of four different moms, through the grapevines of Washington and Idaho, who have discovered themselves pregnant on accident. I want all of their babies, but this is not God's plan; so I will pray for them, by name, daily. All teens, the same ages as the teens that I love and spend so much time with and so many moments praying and planning for. Two of these precious ones are going back and forth between the ginormous decisions of adoption versus abortion; these things are not black and white for these girls, as it so easily is for, say, me. All I can do is pray life over these babies, but also over these girls; not choosing abortion seems like an easy choice for me, I can see all of the negatives, but for them, it feels like the only option. What they are not seeing is the years of carrying that, the years of wondering what their decision did, the years of guilt that I want to remove and displace and shed from their precious hearts. What I know with all of my soul is that I can do my job of praying endless prayers of life and grace and showers of joy over these lives, all of them, mommas and babies. If that is all that my job is in their life, then so be it, I will get on my knees and I will pray.

The process of getting our homestudy going is taking an entire month longer than what we had planned and worked so hard for. We finished the gobs of paperwork, the education hours and training, all within three weeks of receiving the application. Hoping to have our in-home-study and interviews completed by the end of July and applying to agencies by August. Here we are, encroaching on August, ending July, and still not even scheduled for the interviews and visits. But what I know in all of my heart is that I can trust the process. I can do everything in my power to do what I think needs to get done and by when, but after that, I have to trust with hands open wide, surrendered heart, knowing that He is stalling or quickening whatever part of the process is needing those things.

What is crazy is that we have been presented to two moms already -- that part of this adoption process has been quickened and surpassed the few expectations that I had. So though our home study is delaying and taking what seems, forever, I can see that He is already working. He is slowing and delaying one area but quickening in another, and He must know the turn tables better than I, and I must trust.

 We were given this beautiful rocking chair. Sunday. I have now spent a solid "insert number here" amount of hours in this chair. It's a lot less organized than in that image - I have books and journals and mugs and cards and pens sprawled out all over at my feet. I sat in it for an hour and a half Sunday, an hour Monday, an hour Tuesday, and now three hours today [Wednesday]. I woke up with a full day of good things planned: cross fit and running [training for that marathon!], bible study with my high school girls, a meeting with a youth leader, acupuncture, meeting with a photography client...anyways, good things, beautiful things, necessary things. But I woke up and my endometriosis is kicking me in the uterus, so I called it a day. I decided that it was okay to stay home some of the day and rest my aching body. I wish I could explain the ache that has become me. I am learning that it is okay to sit, and instead of wallowing in self-pity and pain, I am trying to pray and to read and to write. Forcibly turning my eyes from my pain to others, lifting them up and writing to them encouragements. Because He is good, and He is always always always doing that same thing: encouraging. But as the day progresses, it is becoming more and more difficult. This wait feels emptied of any and all beauty.

He is here amidst all of the chaos that is completely unknown and uncertain. He is here amidst the prayers and the unfinished-scrambled-eggs, the raspberry leaf tea, the journals and the books and the cards. He is here amidst my endometriosis, amidst my cancelled good-things and plans, amidst all of the waiting.

He is here while we wait, and while we wait, I am learning the dance of grace and prayer. Graceful prayer, the dance of wait. I am wondering if there is more beauty to the painful waits that we want to see? Than I am able to see? I hope to someday look back on these waits and see the canvas painted with so much beauty, I wonder how I had missed it.

PS. Adoption Puzzle Update coming soon: It is almost all put together so is impossible to turn around. Karen at Michaels and I have been playing phone tag with the customized frame! But you should know that we have about 420 pieces needing purchased! If you have not yet sponsored a piece, we hope you will! Visit this post here.

On Journals

on journals, journaling for husband I love journals.

Leather, pleather, plastic-covered, paper-covered, home made, store bought, etsy shopped, spiral-bound, not-spiral-bound, big, small, thick, thin, pocket, notebook...you name it, I'll write in it.

If I were out of my mind and gave you my journals to sift through, you would find: prayers, letters, day-recaps, tear stains, mascara spots, goals, dreams, secrets, victories, verses.

A lot of my [youth] girls, who are less like kids and more like young ladies, are in the stage of first-boyfriends or dreaming-of-first-boyfriends and thinking of marriage and men and all the things that 15 and 16 year old girls think about. If you know me, you know this makes my heart race and my palms sweat and my head swim with anxious thoughts and BUT WHAT IF's. I did my fair share [read: way too much] of boyfriending and kissing in High School and don't fall for the "gotta try it before you commit" thing.

For four years now I have been sharing with these girls how not-worth-it [I think] it is to date when you think you're ready at 16, how not-worth-it it is to spend your first hand holding with a boy you just met, to not let your lips fall on a guy who you just started dating in high school yesterday. I have been sharing honestly and vulnerable, but also doing my very best to hold my hands open and trust that Jesus is working through them [no matter what] just as He worked and is working through me. My heart and my hope is that I do not come across as a 100-year-old Grama that doesn't know anything [which in my mind, I now know to listen to these 100 year olds] and instead come across as someone that loves them so much that I share what I have learned over these short years of the life I have lived. And what I have learned is this: boyfriending before you leave high school isn't worth the heart ache and distraction. Even if you end up marrying the man, you are going to have to wait years...and if you are choosing to wait to enjoy the thing of sex until marriage, that is a painfully difficult long time to wait. It only gets harder, year by year, month my month, day by day. I promise.

Today I was in TJ MAX looking for a planner for Loren. We decided that if I could find one that he likes, he would start trying to use it and organize his work and meetings better, seeing it all laid out before him, rather than in the tiny glass screen that is his phone. While sifting through the precious things of journals and planners [which were all too girly for my manly husband] a woman, maybe 75, asked me what I do with journals. I said to her, "You know, last week I bought 15 journals and I picked them out so delicately. My husband is a Youth Pastor and I cherish and adore the girls, so I wrote them a little letter inviting them to use the journal specifically to pray for and write letters to their future husband. You know, to try and keep their eyes on Jesus and what He has, rather than chasing around what looks good now." Her eyes started welling with tears, something too familiar to me, so mine did too. She told me that she had lost hope for our kids these days and that this meant so much to her.  She said that she loves journaling, that writing is her thing, that she would be praying for those girls when she journals.

I am wondering if maybe journaling for our future husbands, our current husbands, and maybe even our passed husbands should be more of a norm? And maybe it is, but maybe it isn't. Maybe you have three little ones to chase around and feel overwhelmed at the thought of it. Maybe you aren't married and are nervous to let your heart go there, to hope. 

Maybe if I journaled and prayed and wrote more letters to my Future Husband when I was in high school, I would not have gotten so wrapped up in the midst of numbing one pain with another thing that didn't look like pain [boyfriending and thus, things that follow]. But it is also possible that you are not married or do not plan to ever get married, and that is just as much okay as the former. I told the girls, my girls that are not my girls, that they didn't have to use the journal for that reason, but that was why I had purchased them. I told them that there may be times where they don't want to ever get married, and that is beautifully okay, and they can spend time studying God's word and praying their hearts closer to His, becoming His beloved, regardless. But if they do choose to study what marriage looks like, what their Future Husbands character should reveal, praying for their dailyness and everything...how cool of a gift would it be to give him? How much of a treasure would it be to look back through it with him and see how God worked through your prayers? The prayers you prayed, for him?

If you are part of any sort of youth ministry, I wonder if you might pray about doing this for your girls too? Or something similar, something that fits your girls. I didn't know it was actually that cool until a flood of texts came through the next day sharing that some of them had already written letters and prayed for their Future Husband and how excited they are about them.

I love journals. We have some going for future kids.

Do you journal?

 

Running

running I've always loved running.

In sixth grade I was on the cross country team; I had a crush on both Jordan Buhler and Anders Wick. I couldn't decide, okay? I had a light pink backpack at that time, a knock off brand which was so uncool - it was no Jansport. After cross country practice one day, I walked home in the rain and my backpack was such poor quality that it became completely transparent and everything inside of it got wet. But it was okay, because Jordan walked me halfway home and that made me happy.

I would have continued running on the cross country team if I were allowed to do both cross country and volleyball. But because they were during the same season, the time of year when Back To School sales are strong and the leaves begin falling to the ground turning crunchy, I had to choose. I chose volleyball, year after year, because I knew I would at least run a little bit during volleyball warm ups; up and down the court. If it were an extremely athletic day, I could also run before or after volleyball practice.

After middle school ended I had to choose between track & field and softball. Again, I knew I would be running during softball; throwing a shot put and a softball was similar enough to me, so I decided to lean into the game with the balls not-so-soft and became the backup Varsity pitcher right away. Center field was my primary position, starting as a freshman. I ran when I was able, whether that was in the morning before school or work, greeting the morning sun, or in the evening beneath the shining stars. But most definitely, I did not run daily.

While Loren and I dated, we ran together and prayed aloud for life and people and things. We prayed for women who have chosen abortion, women who are in the thick of such a huge decision, for our little church community, for our future togetherness, our future babies. Two months into our marriage we and our married-friends drove down to San Fran to run the Womens Nike [Half] Marathon. The next year, Loren and I ran the Corvallis Half Marathon and the Mary's Peak 25k [which was actually 17 miles] Trail Run. A few months after that ridiculously painful and arduous run, we made the big adult decision that we wanted to do a marathon. My generous grandparents sponsored us to run the Portland Marathon 2015. [That's this year...in less than 3 months].

It's the pressing of my feet into tennis shoes, lacing them up tight like a bow on a birthday present, the stepping outside into the breeze so brisk, lungs filling up with fresh air, the moving of my body, pushing it to its limit and then some, the pounding of my feet as my heart follows suit, the clear air inviting a clear mind, an empty canvas, ready to be painted. It is as though my mind and my heart are released into reality, the reality of thanksgiving and freshness, with every step, one foot in front of the other.

Running reminds me that everything will be okay. Though my body aches and often my heart too, running allows my brain moments of rest without to do's; all I have to do is keep going. Just keep on keeping on.

My last two years of high school and freshman year of college were severely distressing; my family was facing infidelity, alcoholism, workaholism, complete destruction. Nothing new for anyone who lives in this broken world; but its pain-filled. Decisions I made during those years were not so beautiful, with my actions and my words and my intentions. I was confused, my heart chaotic, nothing made sense. But running beneath the stars late into the night, laying in the middle of the field across from the tennis courts, breathing in the crisp air burning my lungs as I cried out to Him..those nights kept me partially sane.

Running is a space for me and God and God and me and us together, chatting and existing.

Running puts me back on my swivel.

Though running has always been important to me, though it fills me up full and I have my greatest revelations and sometimes my most intimate and raw prayers, it also has always been secondary.

I could go months, nearly a year, in between runs and get up and go steady without walking for 7 to 8 miles with an 8:30 mm. Leisurely. No big deal. The half marathons were nearly easy for me; I barely needed to train. I peer into my near future with this marathon in the early stages of October and for the first time I am nervous for this race. This run. This challenge.

Running has never been so hard for me as it is now.

I've been attempting to train for this marathon and I feel blocked up, obstructed, arrested from my usual ability. My maximum milage as of recent has been 4 miles at a 9:45 mm. Sweating profusely, breathing with difficulty, my lungs burning from scar tissue, my body aching all over but especially in my back. When I finish, my muscles clam up tight, contracting and clenching together, letting me know they are done working, done stretching. They feel solid in my body, muscles of molasses.

My friend said she thinks I'm having a brain-block. That I kind of have things rattling around in there.

I cannot help but think of bible reading and praying and spending time soaking in His nearness. This lifestyle of walking with Him in the everydayness, is so important to me, so pressing and all that I want. But how it is so easy to place that second, if not last, on our priority list. Like I ditched cross country for volleyball, I often ditch reading my Bible for community life. I justify it with, well its basically the same because Jesus is all about community. Neither volleyball nor community are inherently bad or evil; they're both beautiful and good and lovely. But when I make the decision, because it is very much my decision and yours, to look away and walk away from the nook of prayer time with Him, my heart becomes starved. The Holy Spirit in me is parched, running ragged, losing its nourishment. The muscles of my core are weakened and malnourished, gasping and reaching for His presence and solitude, and I deny it. 

It is easy to go an entire week without opening the pages and unfolding what He has for us, for me and for you; when we do finally return to that place, it feels awkward and weird, scary and vulnerable. Unsafe. Which is so much a lie. After weeks of soul-malnourishment, the returning run, the returning-meeting in solitude feels off and abnormal; it feels broken. But I am convinced that habit and ritual will turn this back into beauty, into a freedom place where my heart runs towards Him.

As of recent, I have been carving out an hour of moments with Him in the nook of our nursery, the corner near the window, on the rug that is so cushy and inviting and perfect for my knees and my tears. I do my best to ignore the lie that it is scary and too vulnerable, that I will hear nothing from His heart, and instead enter that place of silence and solitude and fullness and presence. The place of holiness because He is so there. Every morning, waiting for me. When I do not enter that place of presence, I feel Him beckoning, calling, sweetly saying, "But this time means something to me too, Dear. Not just you. I need this time, too." And so I lay down my to do's and my work and the nagging of my scull and I enter into His nearness.

nursery nook

 

Soon there will be a rocking chair in this corner, inviting me to rock and to lean into Him, to lay my heart on His chest as it rises and falls with the breathing of in and out. I hope to create a space of prayer here, in this nursery nook, building a habit into this room of prayer and grace and presence. A no-phone-zone. It's not some guilt-ridden thing that needs to be engulfed in condemnation, but rather a delightful, filling-up invitation.

A place to meet Him, daily.