Adoption Update: a financial conversation

adoption, waiting for you We have been in the Adoption Waiting Phase since May 11 [when we hired Susan through Christian Adoption Consultants].

I am going to invite you a little deeper into the process, into what we are talking about and praying for and looking at in the way of adoption costs.

We presented to 3 different birth moms through private attorneys, early on in our process, before even being home study ready. Had any of these brave mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $8,000 or as high as $12,000, including travel fees.

Once home study approved, we presented to two more birth moms through agencies. Had either of these two mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $38,000 and as high as $48,000, not including travel fees.

VOCAB RECAP: "presenting to a birth mom" = having an attorney or agency show your Family Profile book to an expectant mom, who has {courageously} made an adoption plan for her baby.

Since announcing our adoption in May, we have fundraised and saved about $14,000 but spent $3,000ish on the home study and agency applications, leaving us at around $11,000 in the adoption fund. Any money ever donated or put into that account from our own paychecks stays there unless spent on adoption expenses. We are extremely disciplined in that way. There is no way we would use this money as an emergency fund or for anything other than our adoption. Our adoption means too much to us and the people who are generously donating are trusting us.

I have spent countless hours applying to grants. I mean, countless. I believe we have applied to 9 adoption grants, received 3 denial letters, and are in the Waiting Phase for the other 6, praying big prayers of provision. Why they would deny us, I have no idea - except that there are so many applicants. One of them even said, "Don't bother applying if you make more than $150,000." I thought, "Oh we've got this grant in the bag! We make like 2% of that!" Wrong. Denied. Too many applicants. Not matched yet. The other day I asked our adoption facebook group who received grants and how many they applied to -- I think 3 people out of the couple hundred commented. One family received $14,000 in grants, and explained how abnormal that is. The other two explained that they each got matching grants (your fundraising through them will be matched up to a certain point) for $2500 and $8000. To say I was a little discouraged is an understatement.

I cannot tell you the amount of nervousness I have had in the last few weeks regarding our fund and its lack of growth. Don't get me wrong, we have been blown away by people's sacrifice and generosity and courage. The support we have had so far has encouraged us and completely deepened our faith in humans. Every day though, Tummy Baby and I pray for Heart Baby and we beg God, "Lord, please provide us with grants. Please, Jesus, we ask for $15,000 in grants. Or God, we pray and we ask for a private adoption. Lord, your will be done. Help me trust your provision."

I also applied to about 5 different adoption, interest free, loans. Due to our extreme lack of credit (our score is great! we just haven't had a lot of debt), we were only approved for one and it was a really low loan.

Currently, we are reading this book that I will forever recommend to anyone considering adoption. I wish we had read it before beginning the process, but that's okay! Better now than never. It is called: Adopt Without Debt. The other night I read this: "There is not one example in the Bible of God calling someone to do something and then using debt as a tool to accomplish it." I don't believe that taking out a loan for our adoption is a sin or wrong. Not even 1%. I believe that the heart behind taking a loan out to bring a baby into your home is beautiful and pure and good...not sinful or selfish or materialistic. But that quote stopped me to think, do I believe God called us to this? I do. Do I believe He can provide for us without a huge $20,000 loan? I do. Will I walk in that freedom and trust that the funds will be available when they need to be? Not always, but I am working on it one day at a time.

 A COMMITMENT: TIME TO GET TIGHT AGAIN, and I don't mean our bods.

Before our big job/life/career transition, we were operating on a very strict budget and have been pretty disciplined our entire marriage (thank you Jesus!). Since May we were putting $100/paycheck towards our adoption, plus most of my photography money. Our life was sort of thrown up and tossed around, and so was our budget. God always, always, provides whatever we need, and reminds us what is a need versus a want. Oh my, our needs are slim if we are honest. But we were less than disciplined in the last two months, and we are at that point where it is time to get tight again! Once we have Loren's first paycheck in January (and when my job gets to rolling we will re-assess) we will be able to set up a budget again. We will be going back to using only cash for spending, aside from paying bills. This adoption means so much to us and we know that it starts and continues with sacrificeOur goals for our budget beginning in 2016:

FIRST, OUR PRIORITIES AT THE BEGINNING OF JANUARY PAYCHECK: >Tithe >Bills paid >$80/month total allotment for gas for both cars >$300/month total allotment for groceries >$100/month to adoption (plus any photography sessions)

If able, we will have these additional Budget Envelope Goals as well as, and here are ways we are cutting back and beginning to save again:

>Grocery spending is going from $400-$450/month to $300/month ($75/week). Included in our grocery budget: cleaning supplies, paper goods, toiletries, etc. Back into meal planning. I will find 30 meals that we like and put them in an easy rotation system. I will re-discover my "maximum spend" list, meaning I will not pay more than $1/lb for apples.

>We have gone back and forth about getting internet. We have never had internet/netflix/tv/hulu in our marriage. I have been doing a bit of freelance writing which requires internet so I either use the hot spot our parents gave us or spend a few dollars at the coffee shop. But it adds up. So we are still debating which is more cost effective:we are leaning towards no internet. Budgeting a couple drip coffees a month, $10/month towards coffee shop internet & dates. (This is low priority and may not end up making the cut, or be lowered).

>Gifts for others envelope will go from $40/month to $5/month and I will have to become crafty. Gulp. I could also resort to not having friends?

>Eating Out will go from the current loosey goosey to being budgeted into Dates. Instead of what we had as $30/week for dates, we will go back down to $5/week for dates ($20/month). This means we get to be creative again about date night! If we want to see a movie or go to a nice restaurant, we will save the months worth of dates and compile them into one date.

>We will plant another garden this spring. We will raise 3 chickens this spring

>No clothes buying (we really only buy clothes this time of year for Christmas gifts, anyways! Or we consign)

>No more 3D Crest White toothpaste. We are going generic and coupon-savy, friends. This is the real deal. I LOVE MY TOOTHPASTE. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to brush my teeth. This was a big decision for me. (I know, pity). Generic household & baby items, here we come.

>Cloth diapers. (Please don't debate me. I hate debates. I research.) We have purchased some second hand and also have a dear love who has offered to donate theirs to us! Bless

>Tax return: if we get one this year, a percentage of this will go straight into our adoption fund as we have done with every return.

There you have it, friends. We are on the road to saving and paying for this adoption. Go ahead and feel free to ask us how we are doing with our budget and if we are being disciplined or not - accountability is always good. With everything, we are trying to remember that grace is good and covers every bit of this. We will fail and miss it. But we will pick ourselves back up again and remember the goal: bringing home our baby. So, little Baby, wherever you are: we are still waiting for you. We are making sacrifices for you and will work hard to continue putting money into your fund. If you are waiting through an agency, Lord will provide one way or another. If you are waiting through a private attorney, Lord will connect us. We love you.

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

Able to donate towards our adoption? We are still working on this puzzle! This is a photo I took in Austria and a quote that means a lot to us. We are writing names on the back of each piece that is purchased, and show casing the puzzle in our nursery in a double sided frame. That way, we can forever remember and thank Jesus for the many people who helped bring our baby home. We are over halfway finished with the puzzle! We have 403 of 720 pieces sponsored. Are you able to sponsor a piece?

How it works:

1)   Decide how many puzzle pieces you want to purchase to financially support our adoption fund!

1 puzzle piece = $25 

2)  VenMo nataliekbrenner@gmail.com and write in the memo "Baby Brenner"

- OR -

Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal

-OR-

Donate via check. Email us at nataliekbrenner@gmail.com and we will send your our address to mail in a check!

However many you decide on, stick the name(s) you want written on pieces in the memo.

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized.

This puzzle, when finished, will get us to $18,000 - about half of our adoption financial goal.

Follow along: >Instagram: @nataliekbrenner or #brenneradoptionjourney >Facebook: Natalie Brenner >THIS BLOG!

 

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.

A Wreck to Delight-Filled

It has been two months and one day since our world blew up in our face and then our hearts were crapped on. I sat for about five minutes after typing those words and simply stared out the Starbucks wall-of-window at Sparky's Pizza's sign. There is a piece of the window-pane covering part of the r and it looks like "Spanky's Pizza" and all I can picture is a pig while I think over the last two months and all of the broken pieces of our heart. So there is that.

I am sipping out of an extremely lovely red cup while my abdominal muscles lose their strength and my tummy grows rounder by the week and I cannot believe that there is a tiny and precious and so loved human growing inside of my very broken body. Still. Today. At 16 weeks.

baby pregnancy announcement, coupled with adoption

All I want to do is write and process all. the. things. that has become "us," but all I seem to do instead is unpack the boxes that seem to signify what life was and prepare for a home study update. Oh and also I keep driving to Costco and Target because they are so close to our new life and they have all the things we need want.

Being honest is sort of one of my things. Part of why I haven't been posting on my blog is because what I see blaring loudly in my face as the honest truth is flat out ugly right now. And not honoring. And just yuck and sad. And who wants to read about that? What happens when being honest is ugly and full of really uncomfortable truths and realities? Truths people don't usually want to hear because, it hurts too bad. It doesn't make you feel happy inside. It bursts your bubble of what was. What happens when being honest, I mean to-the-bone gut wrenching honest, means that you acknowledge and come to grips with the fact that every single human being has great capacity to hurt, burn, and wound deeper than we should, in order to save face and keep a perception. Even pastors and mentors. Even friends. Even the "best" of friends. Even you. And me. Do we put up our guards and not let anyone near our hearts? Do we continue to risk being burned because in risking our own hearts we learn what real Love is? Will we whole heartedly see where we fell short and burned someone? Will we be truly repentant or always be justifying it here and there? These are questions that may not even matter. Or they may make the world of a difference. I don't know. I am just me, writing words, and looking for Him in the chaos that has become my heart.

We humans are a big mess of a wreck sometimes. This is a little honest glimpse into where my heart has been the last two months:

>Angry. Fuming with hot red anger. Anger that could punch holes in walls and faces.

>Fear. Fear of the false things people have been told about us and fear of the false things they may choose to believe. Fear of being pregnant again; fear of losing the human our bodies entwined to create; fear of mourning another loss; fear of not being chosen by an expectant birth mother; fear of agencies suspending our adoption; fear of people deciding not to support our adoption now that we are pregnant again; fear of people saying, "You got pregnant after adopting, it happens all the time!" please stop. We became pregnant after the first time of beginning adoption and lost that one. So please, its not a formula.

>If only's. If only people knew our hearts; how we sought wise and trusted counsel; how we spent hours in prayer crying out to God about big and painful decisions. [If only's change nothing. They only change your heart from being in one place to being in a worse place]

>Questioning. Where did we go wrong? Certain strings of days play themselves on repeat in my head and I continuously ask Jesus, "Where did we go wrong?" I can see little bits here and there, but the big stuff, the big decisions? Questioning God and will He be our defender? He has been, in many ways. He is so faithful. Questioning our identity and our careers - are we terrible if we decide not to pursue vocational ministry at this time, if ever again? What are we if we are not Youth Pastors and church staffers? Could we even begin to dare to enter a ministry under our heart's conditions right now? No. We couldn't. So we didn't. We were honest with ourselves and decided to breathe and pray about what "calling" means to us and is it a career or is it character or is it the way we walk about life daily.

>Confused. I am in a weird group that seems to be population me + my friend Shelley who I've never actually met. We tried to conceive and carry for almost 2.5 years. We endured fertility treatments and then loss. We decided to pursue adoption, knowing full well and also expecting, we may conceive again. So I walked the road of infertility for a short couple of years that felt like forever, joined the adoptive parent community, and now am pregnant at 16 weeks and still won't know until June if my body will come through. It just feels weird. Who are my people? My infertile friends are like, "Yeah you make me sad," and that makes sense; my friends who never really endured infertility and loss are like, "ISNT THIS THE WORST THING BEING PREGNANT" and I'm like, "I love you friend, I do. But actually, I feel like I am actually doing something right for the first time and I am thankful for my pain-filled boobs. But yes, being nauseous all the time and vomiting isn't my favorite. But it means my body is doing it right, right?!" I am weird.

>Frustration. Frustrated at dear friends for selfish reasons. This is because, guess what world? I am so much a human.

>Sadness. Sad to say goodbye to so many people that mean so much to us. Our Dinner Club pals. Our older generation pals. Our same-age pals. Our young pals. Our youth groupers. Our baristas and credit union peeps. So. Many. Pals. These are people we built our life around for four years, people we love and people who love us and believe in us. Who have built us up and walked through tough stuff with. A real loss bringing layers of grief. 

But I have also been:

>Hopeful. Hopeful for the life created within me. For our adoption. For 2016 to bring fresh life and healing. Healing that we need deeper than our bones and ligaments. Hopeful for growth and healthy relationships. Hope is good for the soul. Hope brings laughter.

>Laughing. My husband makes me laugh so incredibly hard.

>Thankful. I am so incredibly thankful for the baby in my belly. One day at a time, I am grateful that I see signs of life continue. I am also deeply grateful to be on the journey that is adoption. I am honored and humbled and so grateful that our hearts have opened wide open for God to do crazy things. I am thankful for Costco.

>Joy. Joy for a new chapter. The next chapter. This chapter. Joy for the little belly bean, nugget, peanut, baby with a beating heart within me. One day at a time. Joy to breathe in a new city and not feel trapped. Joy that adoption has grown only deeper within our hearts.

adoption, waiting for you, and pregnancy 

pregnancy & adoption announcementSo as you have read, I have sort of been a wreck of feelings and thoughts. Until about a week ago, I have done a terrible job of keeping my thoughts captive. I have allowed my head to run rampant with anger and scenes and words and lies about my identity and value. Why is taking our thoughts captive so difficult? Why is pushing out the dark and inviting in the light so much work? The answer is: it isn't. I just make it difficult and exhausting.

I am a truth teller and I will continue to be until the day I do not breathe oxygen. The truth is, I am extremely unpredictable. I have good days and I have bad days. I have amazing moments and I have extremely embarrassing moments. I have moments, just like you probably do. But for the last few days, minus a few hours yesterday, I was delight-filled.

Delight-filled because I decided to turn off the radio and instead spend drive-time praying, spend cooking and shopping and teeth brushing praying. Delight-filled because I have been opening the pages of my Bible again, day after day, letting His word comfort and lead me, reveal His unending and ever faithful love for me. Delight-filled because I have been choosing to fill my head and my heart with prayers for our baby in my tummy and our baby in our hearts, for my family members, for my husband, for our adoption finances, for the presidential campaign, for the so valuable humans who are being completely degraded right now, for refugees, for the amazing people who are walking down the street.

I mean filling my head and heart. Not just small little whispers here and there, but reforming a habit that I unraveled too long ago.

It is delightful to be delight-filled.

Henri Nouwen says, "If you want to follow Jesus you [must] control what you take in every day. When you are on the bus or subway, or in your car, why busy your mind with all the garbage of advertisements? Why fill your mind with television and radio? ... I don't mean you shouldn't ever go to movies or watch television, but control what enters your mind and heart. It's not just a question of pushing bad things out but a question of holding on to something really good. It is good to have a prayer on your lips wherever you go. There are so many moments in life when you are free to pray..."

I want to transform this December from a wreck to delight-filled. I consider myself a Realist and my friend Kathleen says that is code for Pessimistic. I don't think its too late to change that part of me, to transform it, to will change and overcome that heavy weight.

I crave for the Lord to renew my broken spirit.

I yearn for moments to turn into days strung into weeks and then months where I am not walking in fear of anything but the mighty God I put my trust in.

I ache for His presence to bring me peace, moment after moment, day after day. Grace abounding, because He can and He will and He does. He brings the grace, my friends.

"When your past memories are bigger than your present dreams your life is in trouble." I saw that today and I am taking one day at a time to breathe and dream about today and about tomorrow. To not dwell. To hold in good things, future things, present things.

I hope to find His heart in the dailiness of my healing. Even when I take one step forward and three steps back.

Join me this December, and pursue a delight-filled spirit?

december 2015 goals

The Tunnel: days following a miscarriage

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I invite you to read these words from Chelsea, our last guest post for the month. Chelsea and her husband have been married for over 10 years. She loves americanos, is a notary, and is trying to radically pursue what it means to die to herself. She has walked through 4 IVF's and 6 IUI's, and through all of that a lot of pain, loss and 3 miscarriages. Meet Chelsea:

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“I’m so sorry to tell you …”

All the phone calls started the same way. In some cases, I was anticipating this call, the bleeding had already started. In others, the hope levels had risen high enough in my chest to anticipate a different set of words coming from the doctor’s mouth. Either way, the outcome was the same. “This pregnancy is no longer viable. I am sorry to share that you are miscarrying.”

Numbness set in. Tears flowed. Questions started flying up to God faster than my brain could think them. My heart would pound loudly. I’d feel sick to my stomach. “This is happening. I am losing my baby.”

When Natalie asked me to write something for her blog, I wanted to invite you into this small, dark tunnel that is the days following a miscarriage. Because miscarriages happen. Not just to me and my husband, but to you or your friend or your sister-in-law or your pastor’s wife. We have walked into this dark tunnel 3 separate times, and each time, the loss and grief is unique, yet overwhelming.

I remember my first miscarriage, lying on the bed, genuinely wondering if I would ever be able to get up again. Every part of me ached. I cried over the loss of dreams, the life that we would never see. I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually strained. God, where are you? Why me?

The heaviness almost became unbearable. I could feel the weight of sadness puncturing my soul, encasing me like a thick wool blanket. I remembering feeling so thirsty but knowing that drinking water would only eventually result in a trip to the bathroom, which held a painful, visible reminder to the sorrow I was feeling.

One of the many hard parts about miscarrying was realizing that life was still going on around me. Days began to pass and with it, I had to shower, grocery shop, go to work, cook dinner, visit the doctor. The fact that people around me were smiling and laughing seemed so surreal. Didn’t they know how sad I felt?

I remember the first time my husband and I laughed together after each of our miscarriages. It almost felt disloyal to our angel baby. Were we allowed to be happy and laugh when that baby never would?

Slowly, and only thanks to God’s peace, strength and presence, the sadness got a little less heavy. It still lingered, mostly catching me off guard in small moments - observing a child at Target, watching a mom hustle a crying baby out of a church service, seeing a commercial on TV with a tiny infant. My breath would catch and my eyes would fill. I would slip in and out of present moments and into a delicate room of reflection and sorrow.

The reality is, deep grief, that kind that comes after losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, can be all-consuming. Even when you believe in God, even when you know His promises are good, even when you feel His peaceful reassurance of His presence. Even then, grief is hard. Sadness is real, loss is tangible, yet Hope is at hand.

Friends, grieving takes time and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you need to rest, do it. If you need to scream into a pillow, do it. If you want to hibernate and grieve quietly, do it. If you need to cry, rent The Notebook and sob. If you need to eat McDonald’s French fries, eat them. If you want to go to the movies, grab a drink with friends or sit in a coffee shop, go there. The truth is, there is no wrong way to grieve. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself the permission to take care of YOU. Be cautious not to shut out your partner. Keep those lines of communication open, even if it’s just to whisper “I feel sad today”.

Put your healing first. Trust that those around you know you are doing the best you can. Sometimes it means you simply have to walk through an ocean of tears.

Healing takes prayer. It takes bringing your grief to His feet each and every day, even if you have no words left to say. God is big enough for your questions, compassionate enough to gather you in His arms, gentle enough to calm you. And even then, it will still hurt. But, in time, it will hurt a little less. The tears do slow down. I promise. Then, the heavy wool blanket of grief that covered you will start to feel a little bit more like a cotton afghan, then a thin scarf, and at some point, you will be able to separate that fabric from hanging on you all the time. The tunnel opens up, fresh air lets in, and a renewed strength comes. When that time comes, it doesn’t mean you have forgotten. It simply means you are moving forward with a new beautiful scar on your heart.

The tunnel is never easy but the words of Psalm 34:18 (ESV) encourage my heart: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Friends, let’s thank Him today for His goodness even in the sorrow. And let’s remember we are never, ever alone.

With love and hugs,

Chelsea

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Thanks for reading! I love to get to know new friends. Feel free to check out my personal blog at www.trialsbringjoy.com or on Instagram at @chels819.

Adoption + Puzzle Update [vol. 7]

adoption puzzle fundraiser

We are almost halfway puzzle-funded. Our puzzle will bring in $18,000 when completely sponsored which is about half of the cost of an agency adoption. We decided to just keep adding pieces to the puzzle and write names in as they arrive -- we don't want to lose any pieces and if we are honest, the longer we wait to put it together, the higher the chance of losing pieces.

There are more transitions than one happening in our life and we have reason to believe that God has orchestrated life as a trip. As cheesy as it is, life is a journey, a trip, a tour with stop signs and green lights and cross walks and yield signs. He just happens to be the Tour Guide, gently giving us one day at a time to breathe and to live and to pursue Him, guiding us without telling us what the next big sight is. I think He knows we are best tourists when we don't know all the answers, when we don't have an idea of where He is taking us, when we aren't in actual control. We couldn't handle life if we knew the entirety of the process, if we were in actual control. It's too much responsibility for our human selves.

adoption puzzle fundraiser

Halfway puzzle-funded and our little family profiles are currently at 3 of the 5 agencies we are praying to work with. They are active, they are ready, they are sitting in a pile awaiting the right birth family to open up and sift through the pages.

If we were to be presented to a birth family tomorrow and if they were to choose us, we would owe the money at match. This is a scary time for an adoptive couple, but its a time that each of them walks through. Will the money be provided? Will He come through? Or will He not? This is where the twists and turns in the road are so scary that I am thankful I am not the Driver.

Adoption grants are weird. A lot of them want you to be matched before you can apply for them. But the linch pin is that you have to have your money up front when matched. So how does that work? I am working my tail hiney off to fill out as much of the adoption grant paperwork as possible, have it all ready to go, and then once we are matched, send it off.

Adoption loans are another thing I am learning so much about.

I am an adult.

Wouldn't it be nice to just have $35,000 sitting in a bank account right now, ready to go for our baby? Let me answer that: yes. But that is rarely how it ever goes.

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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True friends are so necessary. Friends that know your character better than even yourself at times. Friends that call out your character, revealing that they believe in you, that you are strong, and you are not inherently and deeply evil. I am learning this daily.

My friend Bethany said she has had this little pink number for a couple of years and couldn't wait any longer to give it to us:

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It is pure preciousness because Loren is a BBC alumni and we have never seen such precious clothing. Of course he swooned and then freaked out, what if we have daughters. It sits on top of our nursery dresser, along with some little boy shoes and shorts, and a little bear hat knitted by the one and only beautiful Graice Miller - a 16 year old who has forever weaved herself into our hearts.

adoption nursery

adoption nursery

I sit near this shelf quite often, rocking in a chair that was gifted to us from Allan. The shelf itself was scrap wood given to us from Josh. Friendship makes up a home and now a nursery and I am learning already that friendship helps raise babies. You know that saying, that it takes a village to raise babies? What happens if all of your friends move away or if you move away from them? Right in the knick of time when the babies start coming. That has been one of my questions all this time, but like I said, God is big and He is the Tour Guide. He is mighty and powerful and all-with-us. I have real questions and real fears and real wonderings, and I wonder if you do too. When in the thick of something big and life changing and beautiful, what if life itself falls apart from the seams? What if the quilt that was once your life becomes unraveled and the stitches fall out? What if you become undone even more than ever before?

Every day I ask Him Big Questions and every day He reminds me, "I am with you. I am defender, I am reputation, I am Dad. I am with you."

There is no other option, really, but to trust Him fully at this point.

adoption nursery

Would you sponsor/purchase/claim a puzzle piece or two? I will etch your name or whosever you leave in the comment box, writing it forever to exclaim that you helped us grow our family through adoption. You helped us find one of our babies.

How it works:

1)   Decide how many puzzle pieces you want to purchase to financially support our adoption fund!

1 puzzle piece = $25 

2)  Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal

-OR-

Donate via check. Email us at nataliekbrenner@gmail.com and we will send your our address to mail in a check!

-OR-

Donate via VenMo. Nataliekbrenner@gmail.com

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized. We will be framing this beautiful puzzle in a two-sided-clear frame for our nursery, show casing all of the names who helped bring our baby home!

Losing Baby April: a miscarriage story

empty arms october pregnancy loss awarenessoctober pregnancy infant loss awareness

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my friend Andrea, and her beautiful family. Wife to Daniel, momma to Paige and Baby April who is in heaven. I am so honored to have Andrea share their story of losing their precious little baby. I will never forget sitting on the couch messaging her, asking her about her miscarriage. I eventually asked her what the due date was...and I began sobbing as soon as I saw it. We had shared the same due date this year.

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In April 2015 we lost our second baby at 10 weeks.

I went in for my first ultrasound, so excited to be pregnant again. My doctor was having a hard time getting a good picture of the baby, she called in her ultrasound tech which didn’t have me worried. It was when she asked me to hold my breath, twice, I knew something was wrong with our little baby. They couldn’t find a heartbeat and just like that we lost that little soul. I knew all the risks and complications that come with being pregnant but I never thought this could happen to me. How could God let this happen to me. I was so mad at him. My daughter was going to be a big sister, we would have two just in time for Christmas. In those ten short weeks I had the rest of our lives planned out. It wasn’t just the pregnancy that got taken away, it was so much more.

The next couple months were the hardest months of my life. I felt like I couldn’t keep going, why keep going? I had a hard time taking care of my daughter. I didn’t work for about a month. It was hard to do anything. I remember going to the grocery store a couple days after we had found out and just breaking down. All these people were freaking grocery shopping and I had a baby inside of me with no heartbeat, it wasn’t fair. It was hard for me to see people going on with their lives like nothing had happened. I never realized until it happened to me that a miscarriage is the loss of a child, no matter how far along you are. My baby had died and I was a mess.

People told me ‘well at least you know you can have a healthy baby’ or ‘be thankful you already have a daughter’ I don’t think people were trying to hurt my feeling but those words hurt so bad. I know I have my daughter and I am so grateful for her bright personality but it’s just not what I needed to hear at the time. I needed someone to tell me it was okay to feel the way I was feeling, I needed someone to sit there and be sad with me, to be mad.

That’s what I needed.

I am still coming to terms with this whole thing. Some days it slips my mind and some days it’s all I can think about. That precious little baby should be in my arms early November. It is hard when I see ladies who are about as far along as I would have been. It is a pain I don’t think will ever go away. I talk about it and want people to know, I want people to know what my family has been through and about our loss. I want to let people know it’s okay to talk about, I don’t want to act like it never happened. It shouldn’t be something people feel they can’t talk about. I want everyone to know I have had two kids and I love them both with all my heart and can’t wait to see by baby that was too beautiful for this earth.

My life is forever changed no matter how many more kids I do or don’t have.

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A Lifetime of Love: a baby loss story

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my dear friend, Holly.  Wife and momma. Hard worker and loving kindness. I went to church with Holly when I was in High School. Fast forward a few years and she contacted me when she was pregnant with Jaxon, letting me know that she had already endured a miscarriage, wondering if I had any tips on how to healthily go about this second pregnancy. (I am a doula). Two months later I am walking through my own darkness of miscarriage so I reach out to her, hungry for validation and prayer.

Thank you for sharing, Holly.

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“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew {and} approved you {as my chosen instrument}; Before you were born I separated you and set you apart, consecrating you; I appointed you a task– “ Jeremiah 1:5

I am a mother. Not because I carried a baby for 9 months or because I delivered a new person into this world, but because we conceived.

I was 20 years old and on July 10th, 2013 a spark ignited in my womb and life was created. I know this was the day of our baby’s beginning as this was the day my husband proposed to me. The evening was so full of joy and excitement as our dreams were becoming true that we couldn’t contain ourselves and I will never be ashamed of it since it was through that love expression, God spoke and life was made, even out of the marriage covenant.

Before I left for my first wedding dress fitting 4 weeks later I saw the positive sign on the pregnancy test. I was shaking. Partially due to nerves but more so the love that flooded me as I placed my hands over my womb and knew there was a life in there for the first time! Beautiful!

I told my fiancée the news the next day and after a few deep breaths he said with tears in his eyes, “I’m going to be a daddy?!” and so the hugs and tears commenced.

One week. One week was all we had with our first child before I just didn’t feel right. We went to the doctor who scheduled an ultrasound by which we were able to see the sac where he was so cozy but our little one was still too small to be detectable at 5 weeks old. We went home assured that everything was fine but the next day I bled and it didn’t stop.

A trip again to the E.R. confirmed I was in “active abortion of the embryo” as the Doctor stated so calmly and rationally, with no sense of compassion, sadness or softness. I cannot begin to describe the intense feeling that completely overtook me after that. My body is aborting him? I am losing my baby? Why? What did I do wrong? I was shaking. Partially due to being cold in that backless hospital gown but more so the sobs that came as my heart shattered into a

We were told that 1 out of 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage; especially the first confirmed pregnancy a woman bears, then we were sent on our way. The pain I felt not only physically from the cramps but emotionally I can never express. “I am so sorry…” was all I could utter to my fiancée as we sobbed together that night.

I remember holding it because I didn’t want to see the reality the blood produced and I remember when I flushed my innocent baby. I knew it was him and not just another clump. I could feel it. A mothers’ intuition.

Guilt and shame clothed themselves on me like dirty rags after that. I couldn’t enjoy myself. It was wrong to feel happy when my baby was dead. I had killed him with my worry. It was my fault he never saw sunshine or got to experience rain on his face. It was my fault I never got to feel him kick or hear his heartbeat. I caused this… These words the Enemy spoke over me 24/7 in the months that came after that. When my 21st birthday came that December I choked down every drink as best as I could. How dare I consume this! If he was still here I wouldn’t be able to. It was a slap in my face that he was gone and I was empty.

Everyone told me I did nothing wrong, that it was just what happens, that our baby was alive and well in heaven and I would meet him someday. I felt supported and comforted by people trying to help but if I am honest there was nothing comforting about these truths. It was just another reminder that he wasn’t here.

I wish I could give some sort of sage advice to those of you who are seeing friends or family members walk through this type of loss but, I can’t, since I have fallen speechless as I have been in your shoes, watching dear friends and family members grieve. Even going through it myself I too have only been able to say sentences that begin with that horrid “at least he didn’t…” statement and no matter how many times I say “I am so sorry for your loss” I know it is of little help.

What I can tell you though is that prayer is the only weapon we have to help our loved ones when unexplainable loss has occurred. Guilt and shame are wretched tyrants who attack when we are low and cause fear that we will never be whole, never be okay and never not be a failure, but Gods word says in 2nd Timothy 1:7 “He does not give me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of sound mind.” So pray over your friends and family. Encourage her that it isn’t her fault. That her baby was appointed and created by the Lord of All, just for her in that time and when his life had fulfilled Gods purpose he was called to come home just as we are at.

I wish I could take away the pain you feel, dear sister. Know you are not alone in feeling like it was by something you did to cause this turn of events. You did everything right by loving your child from day 1. You did everything right as your baby’s protector and nurturer. You did it, Mommy. Now rest in your Fathers’ arms of healing and put your faith in His love letter to you. Psalms 139 is His comfort to you right now! The Enemy is allowed no ground in your heart to sow seeds of guilt and shame, so attack him back with the Shield of Faith! Stand as your child’s protecting mother and declare that your baby’s life had a purpose and a reason. He/She is not a waste! Your son or daughter is an angel, given to you from a loving God who knew that is exactly what you needed in the time you had him or her. Celebrate your baby’s life, speak of him or her. Mention his or her name out loud in honor since their lives had just as much meaning as those who live 100 years!

The Lord healed my heart of the hurt and delivered me of guilt and shames chains. I know my baby is at peace, so I am at peace. I know my baby is dearly loved by his maker so I allow myself to be dearly loved by his maker. I know my baby was conceived for a purpose so I will live my life with purpose. My baby is my angel and I will praise the Lord for his days here on earth even if it was just one week. One beautiful, splendid, marvelous, miraculous and most lovely week I

Psalms 103: 2-4 "Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul, And do not forget any of His benefits; Who forgives all your sins, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you [lavishly] with loving kindness and tender mercy."

My name is Holly Strasheim and I am a daughter of a King, wife to a man after Gods own heart and a mother to two children. One very active baby boy named Jaxon and one very loved baby in heaven. It was nice to meet you!

If I Could: a letter to those walking through miscarriage

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I didn't know until March of this year. I didn't have a reason to know. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my friend, Josie. She is wife to Danny and momma to many. She loves netflix and is one of the best friends you could ever ask for. She is honest and she is true. They have lost two babies through miscarriage. Be blessed as she shares her heart through a letter titled, If I Could.

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My very dearest friend, I was crushed to hear your news:

I lost the baby.

I never would want anyone to face what you are going through now and will continue to go through for some time. I have been there. To be 100% honest I had forgotten some of the things I went through in the midst of my loss. Time has done a lot of healing to that wound, but I was amazed at the vividness of remembrance of the pain as you described to me your pain, so it will probably always be there with you, but changed and morphed hopefully into a less constant drip of a wound.

If I could I would run ahead of you and silence all those who will say things to you that make your heart squeeze and flip. You know they love you. You know they mean well. They honestly just don’t know. They have no idea what to say and feel they must say something. We know they don’t need to, but they will. If I could I would run ahead and whisper in their ear “Just say ‘I’m sorry and I love you’ and nothing else”.

If I could I would take away the pain you feel when you see other pregnant women and babies. Then it wouldn’t be necessary to also take away the guilt that comes immediately after this pain. The guilt is worse than the pain when the woman is a friend, or a sister or a relative. I would take it away so you never felt terrible about the person you are becoming on the inside. The twist of envy and sadness. If I could I would take it away if for no other reason than because people won’t understand it, and it will hurt them, but there is no control over it no matter how much you wish there was.

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If I could I would wipe away that date from the calendar. That due date. The one that was supposed to bring you all the joy but instead it brings all the hurt. I would just take that date right out of the week, the month and even the year. Even 9 years later mine echoes in my mind. If I could I’d save you from that.

If I could I would take away that anxiety of the next two pink or blue lines. I would fill you only with joy over the prospect of seeing those positive results. I would make that joy grow and bloom and overflow you, pushing out the anxiety of even breathing lest it trigger round two of your worst nightmare.

If I could I would tell all those around you that this process takes time. Much more time than you or anyone else wants it to. That somedays you will be fine and others not so much. That no amount of pushing you to “get over it” will in fact make you get over it. I’m not sure there is a getting totally over it. You may have other babies, and as those babies grow you will think of the ones that are not growing. You will think of them less, but they will be with you always. If I could I would help people understand that, because to be honest, most won’t.

If I could I would tell you how the father of this baby will handle this. Maybe he will not be affected as much as you, which at times will sting. Maybe he will be deeply affected but not willing to accept that or own it, that also might sting. You have to give him Grace, it wasn’t his body but it was his baby. He may not understand how you grieve because it is so different than how he does.

If I could I would be there to stroke your hair and hold you while you suffer the loss of something so precious. I would tell you to not be so hard on yourself. I would tell you to let yourself feel those feelings because bottling them will just lead to an explosion later. I would say it’s okay to be angry, but don’t let it grow into bitterness. It’s okay to be sad, but ask for Peace from the only One who gives Peace that passes understanding.

Here is what I can do. I can tell you that I know that pain. I have walked this road. I can tell you that for me the fact that I get to share in your pain makes me feel a sense that my pain is helping us both, and while that is not the reason for the pain it can be the good part of it. I can tell you that experiencing pain can make us much stronger, but it requires you to lean on The Bearer of our Burdens and to look for ways to express your gratitude to Him even while in the throes. For me this pain has lessened, became distant.

I don’t know what your story will be, but I will be here to hear it whenever you need.

Midnight thoughts with a Sleepless Me [adoption]

pancakes at midnight midnight thoughts

Sometimes you just need to get out of bed and make pancakes at midnight and have a small bowl of blueberries as a side.

My brain is on over drive this year. Or has it always been? Maybe we are all simply made that way: on overdrive. Or possibly we were not at all made in that way, but this culture has created us to be driven over board. Our brains foggy because we have so many things to think about, so many ways to live right, so many chores and tasks and jobs, so many people to please, so many boundaries to set and undo..

So I got out of bed, made some pancakes topped with peanut butter with a side of berries so round and blue and decided to put fingertips to keyboard.

I can't stop thinking about this One Girl, "M". She lives in a state other than our own and she is carrying precious cargo within her very own body. I first heard of her mid-July, from another friend whom I cherish more every time I chat with her. When we first heard of her situation, we prayed against abortion...we prayed life and life and life abundant and more life. We had already been presented to two birth moms without any luck of being chosen, but trusting that God knows what He is doing and where He is placing His children.

It was before July 22 that "M" knew our Friends had Oregonian Friends looking to adopt a baby. We were excited and hopeful, but knew it was an unlikely match. She is young and young moms have a higher rate of failed adoptions; nothing like a good ounce of investing your heart knowing it could be broken all over again with yet another loss.

An entire month later we receive a small update about our precious girl "M" who we have added to our prayer list of birth moms. Our Friends asked us what adoption might look like, so we shared specifics of what our hope for an open adoption could be like. Attending doctor's visits, taking Birth Mom & family to lunch, maybe buy some maternity clothes, pay for counseling; after the baby is born: texts, photos, FB page set up just for the two families, visits as able, etc. It wouldn't have to be a forever goodbye, but rather a continual hello. I looked up a local attorney for "M" that would work well with our attorney; don't believe it was ever passed along because she wasn't ready yet, but we were wanting to do anything to help.

Our Friends accepted our inquiry of, "If I send you the link, will you send 'M' our online family profile book to at least look at?" They said yes. She did. This was around August 22. A couple days later, "M" posted a cute little ultra sound photo to her Facebook page [Facebook stalking, I am creeeeeepy], letting the world know that she is 14 weeks pregnant and she cannot wait. At this point, my heart slumped only slightly, seeing the even more unlikeliness of this match. But also trusting that Jesus knows what He is doing with His precious babies. I just hope we all listen to His heart.

Again, I submitted my heart to prayer, I lifted my hands, and I knew God was bigger. I know that He has hand picked children for us.

Just this week I was notified that "M" is still completely undecided. She isn't sure that she can parent her baby but she doesn't want to say goodbye forever. She loves this little human growing inside of her. I do too. We asked if we could send a letter and a hard copy of our family profile. She said yes. We let her know in our letter that we are more than available for an in-person interview (we would be up there within a day!), a skype or phone or Facebook interview. Whatever would make her feel comfortable to even think about trusting us to adopt, parent, raise, and treasure her precious baby. The hard copy of the book arrives Monday - so the letter and book won't be sent out until next week. I cannot help but wonder, is this our baby? Is this our birth family? Is our baby's gender going to be revealed this week? Will we have this really cool story about our Friends knowing her and connecting us to forever love one another and the same baby?

I was certain we would be a family of 3 in 2015. First, when we began pursuing Christian Adoption Consultants in January/February of this year; we read that their average hire-to-placement time is 9-18 months. We thought and we prayed and we fearfully hoped, "That could be this year!" We told a few really important people in our lives that we were doing this, and had plans to tell the rest, we were going to adopt this year, we are pursuing family growth. And then in February/March when I was pregnant, it was a big DUH that this year would most definitely be the year we became a family of 3. 2015 the Brenners grow from 2 to 3. It was already in the ink press, ready to be typed out and sent out for the world, headline news of my life. I really felt like Jesus was letting me know, this is the year. And then suddenly it wasn't.

At least to my knowledge. It is still possible, but highly unlikely.

I have no idea what our life will look like by the end of 2015. No. IDEA.

But what I am learning is that adoption is out of my control. Whoever said that pursuing adoption was taking our life into our own control has never walked the road of adoption. They have no idea what they are saying. We are not in control. But that is a good place to be in: forced to trust Him no matter what, with all of the intricate little details. It is in the complete trust and submission that our hearts are able to rest. Truly rest, calm and surrendered, bowed before His throne, knowing with all that we are that He is good. He has good plans for us, even if they are through painful trials and difficult circumstances and seemingly-impossible scenarios and all of the million and one scenarios. He is so good.

When life and circumstances are undependable, He proves dependable. When life reveals itself unsteady and not so sure, He proves steady and sure and trustworthy. When life falls between my fingertips, all of my plans and sure promises and hopes, He is all I have left to cling to.

I am going to finish this glass of OJ and this pancake bite and attempt to sleep, trusting that He is holding all of the pieces together.

To support our adoption, purchase a piece of our puzzle HERE.

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

  camp recap

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our way back to the Sabbath

Camp Tadmor, Oregon The rhythm of camp/being-the-speaker's-wife is healing to the frantic pace of every day life. Camp never fails to teach me the best tempo of living healthily. When you are the speaker's wife (aka: not in charge of 10-15 little minions), there is no racing from one thing to the next - there is no hurry. I have already read one book and a half of another (a memoir of an adoptive momma); I have written words, because words are a way of life for me. I would bet money that Heaven is full of words. Beautiful, juicy, enriching words.

The house we are staying in is bigger than two of our apartments put together into one. It's cold, but its clean. Its a simple home to stay in, with few accessories and little flashy enticements, and I love it. The internet is spotty. Its on the lake and I want to never leave this beautiful place.

 

I couldn't wait for this week. I knew this week would force me to slow, to open my hands and remain open-handed, because there is time to do so. I knew this week would re-center the axel of my heart that has spun off into the world and chaos of anxiety and busyness and people pleasing. Because who doesn't want to be awesome for everyone? This is the facade I wear for myself, people. This is the facade we chase. 

Sunday night as the sun set and the minions were quiet, Loren introduced himself to the crowd of campers, so very young and moldable. The age range here is 3rd through 5th grade; not our typical crowd, but more precious than ever. Loren fits in better than I have ever seen, as he moves and flails around, fluctuating his vocal chords to craziness. The kids love him. His camp name is Greg. (Note: every one else's camp names are things like, Frog, Dandelion Field, Anemone, Rolo). My smile didn't leave my face as I observed this man I married, from the front row. It wouldn't fade and it was genuine and real. My spirit was free as we literally overlooked the entire valley, seeing across to the ocean mountains.

There was also a talent show. A talent show where a bunch of 9 year olds did gymnastics and beat boxed and break-dance (he was breaking alright, breaking his pride) and sang. One guys talent was "flexibility." Anothers was "lip singing." The lip singing talent is where I cam all undone and started crying. This little blond girl stands up there all shy, while Let It Go blares through the speakers and the crowd is standing and swaying and singing and she is pretending to sing into a mic. She starts throwing her hands in the air and getting into this beautiful song when I just start crying. These kids, so young and full of beautiful dreams and high hopes and Jesus. So much innocent faith here, so much fresh joy, so much preciousness. I felt free in His presence.

Camp tadmor, Oregon

The sunset? Don't even get me started. I was all about those sun flares.

Camp Tadmor, Oregon

I am learning that it is easier for me to live simply in the way of accessories, clothes, spending our money, nice things...but when it comes to living simply in the way of "busyness"? I must slay this idol in order to chase Him. I have to be forced to slow down. It's not a godly thing. When we traveled Europe, that hit me harder than it has before. This week, I have been reminded of that too. My heart and soul, my very being, yearns for a slower life. I am so embarrassed that most people's emails and texts and sentences to me are disclaimed with, "I know you're busy, but..." This isn't me - it can't be, it won't be. It's a lie, a face. We can't live at camp or on vacation in Europe forever; we cannot pull out of our work and mission and activities that accompany life, so how can we, I, cultivate and create a slower and simpler life? How can we rest and slow down, in the midst of the busiest society? Every time I ask myself that, I am also faced with: how do I also serve others and make disciples and love well? I believe there is a way to do both. Jesus did it.

I will keep pointing towards the Sabbath. Can the Sabbath mean more to us than one day off? Working hard all week, serving the Lord in whatever we do, and resting in Him? We must keep the Sabbath, but also access Sabbath rests multiple times a day. I mean...prayer.The ancients (the Benedictines, the monastics) honored 7 hours through prayer pauses every day. SEVEN HOURS. I think they were on to something. I think that in their prayer pauses, their minds refocused and reset, their hearts were placed back into the center, on the axel, and God was on the throne.

"Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath." Exodus 16:29

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any word, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20:8-11

I dream of creating a holy space for the Sabbath. Of serving Jesus with such clarity and dignity and resting on the 7th day. I dream of setting the day apart, preparing a special meal for dinner, lighting candles, pausing for prayer. One of our supporting families shared with me that they would spend Saturday preparing for the Sabbath. They would bake their favorite dessert in preparation for the following day; their calendar was protected; their technology was switched to off; their hearts were recentered. I want to live like that; I want to receive the gift that God has given us through the Sabbath.

Let's make our way back to a true Sabbath.

From there, from places of rested spirits and calm hearts, knowing who we are in Jesus Christ's eyes, we will change this world with love.

In the trenches of grief

finding christ in grief Trudging through grief is like trudging through mud. Mud as waves: powerful and thick, vast and unknown, mysterious and dangerous, dominant.

[My eyes are red with weeping; darkness covers my eyes. -JOB 16:16]

[Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. -KING DAVID Psalm 30:5]

As the waves of sorrow billow onto the shore of where you once stood, you wonder when and how and why you are now in the middle of the gushing water that threatens to crush your fragile and frail body.

trudging through grief

[I too have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. When I go to bed, I think, 'When will it be morning?' But the night drags on and I toss til dawn. -JOB 7:3-4]

You catch glimpses of rocks, boulders, in the distance and wonder how they remain so faithfully strong up against the wall of the earth. They bolster the dirt that turns into mountains and you wonder how they do that? How do stones enlarge themselves to be strong and mighty, so much so that they hold up the earth as hills to hike and we walk above and below and beside them? How do those stones and those rocks abide on the shore and never leave land, continuing to exist safely ashore? Sure, high tide kicks in and the swelling waves sink their splashes onto the rock's surface; but never are the rocks, boulders, hurled into the depths of those surging masses of water in danger. The rocks do not toss around among the towering surges of ocean, they are not fickle and weak, bending beneath the strength of...water. They dwell in the sand upon the shore at the very base of the mountain. If only you could stand on that rock.

[The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. -KIND DAVID Psalm 18:2]

Grief is dreadful and distressing, often dislocating you into the dwelling of depression. Pressed deep within yourself, that is how depression feels. Pressed-deep within yourself. Trapped, entangled, imprisoned by self and sorrow and sadness and suffering.

[I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. I must complain in my bitterness. -JOB 7:11]

Some sit with you in silence, not forcing words or furthering hurt. Some hug you as you sob and pray with you when you have no words. And it is no wonder God gave us the church - to find a few close friends who offer grace instead of shame.

Some say [out of love] they understand but they don't. How could they? They are not you; they do not feel your feels or know your heart or know your time with Him. They may understand to an extent but this was not given to them to process, this was given to you and only He fully understands. They assume incorrectly and offer formulas that mean nothing but agony and guilt to you. Formulas that sound righteous and right, holy and honorable, devoted and devout. But formulas are just that: formulas. And He does not work with formulas. There is no formulating your way out of the trenches of grief and despair and into His place of peace and refuge. There is no one formula to march out from the waves with your very own strength to stand upon the Rock. I know this so well, because often I am placed in the category of "they," in my self-righteous state of thinking I know. And for that I am terribly and awfully sorry. Gravely, I apologize for thinking that I know where you are, because surely I do not. I am not Him. I am both culprit and critic. I am guilty as charged.

formula for grief

[People who are at ease mock those in trouble. They give a push to people who are stumbling...Please be quiet! That is the smartest thing you could do. -JOB 12:5, 13:5]

I have something for you, dear Reader, who may reads these words and may [or may not] nod with each syllable. I have something for you that was given to me today, as I was stuck in the depths of despair, unsure that I could be pulled out. As I drove from point A to point B in my shiny vehicle-car, I sobbed into the wheel that steers and I had no will and no discipline to speak Truth to combat the dark cloud that looms all the days and all the nights, stringing together in darkness. But I have a friend that is dear, dear to me and dear to you, now, because I will share the Truth words she sent to me while I was out in the waves being tossed around much like a rag doll. Brace yourself now, for tears will ensue if you are needing a stony hard and angry heart to be broken and crumbled at the cross in humility. Ready? Commence reading and read aloud:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your plans are to bring me good and not to harm me.

You will never leave or forsake me.

You have loved me with an everlasting love.

Nothing can separate me from the love of God.

I am made in your image.

In you, I am new.

You are faithful.

As I obey you, you will give me the desires of my heart.

Even the birds are beautifully clothed and fed, you care for me.

You clothe me in strength and dignity.

You uphold  the weak and comfort the broken hearted.

Sorrow is for a short while but your joy will come in the morning. Your joy is my strength.

combatting depression

My dear Readers, many whom I know and many I do not, I pray hopeful prayers that your eyes can be wide open for the healing balm of beauty of this earth, ears open to the morning sounds of bird's praises, and your senses open to the gifts of tastes and smells that delight you. It is in the small and minute that we can find grace to get through the long and low days. I am beginning to believe that it is in the trenches of grief that we can find Him more than we ever have, among the pain and the aches and the agony and they heart-breaks. In the trenches of grief, He is there, still and quiet, but there. May your heart be touched with the duplicity of love reaching out to you through your sorrow. I pray these things would be written on your heart as He relentlessly pursues you with His overwhelmingly beautiful love.

Upheld in the Deep Waters

trials and tribulations and jesus

“He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He delivered me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. They attacked me at a moment when I was weakest, but the Lord upheld me. He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.” Psalm 18:16-19

It is possible that your heart is residing in a place that does not seem to reflect the picture these words are painting. Safety. Deliverance. Rescued. Delightful.

You may be slumping and sagging in a sea of crashing waves that feels so desperately isolated, feeling anything but delightful and rescued; others say they understand and it is possible that they do. Despite their pure-hearted and loving attempts to bring comfort, what may instead be brought forth is discouragement as they attempt to pull you out of the water themsleves. But don't be upset with them; they only love you. You may feel as though life itself, maybe God, is attacking you and you are at your weakest. How can the Lord be upholding me when He is busy dragging me down? You may wonder.

when i am weak then i am strong

[The crazy thing about being at your weakest is that there is so much room to see Christ.]

In those moments of weak, in the days of trials and sorrows and weary dreary aches, Christ is near. He is present. He may not seem like it, but may I assure you and let you know that He is? That doesn’t mean you have to get up and DO. That doesn’t mean you have to say things you do not mean or reside where you are not. But it means you can recognize that He is there in the midst. Recognize that God is not life and life is not God – circumstances are not God. We can yell at God and blame God and ask God why, but He is not our circumstance. He is not to blame, even if He could have prevented. He is not here to serve us, to prevent suffering and pain, He is here to be just that: HERE. Present. With us. God with us. He sees our everything, He sees our naked souls bare and vulnerable. He, above all, is trustworthy with the preciousness of them.

[And oh how He loves.]

When we are weak we have room and reason to call out to Him. When we are weak, we cannot depend upon ourselves. When we are weak, we have no where to turn but to Him. It is possible that you feel you are avoiding Him, you are turning away from Him. It is possible that you are. But as you recognize those things and hear the still small voice, “Fear not, for I am with you,” you know He is there.

I encourage you to let Him reach down and rescue you, to allow His strong hand to draw you out of deep waters. Just because He draws you out of the deep waters doesn’t mean you don’t have shark bites and coral cuts to deal with. But He will be there to heal those too. When your enemies are too strong, allow Him to deliver you, let Him protect and stand to comfort you - use His word, the Bible, to be a source of strength and comfort and protection. When you are weak and lying in the sticky muck, uncertain of what to do or where to go, lacking any ounce of the will-power you once contained…let Him uphold you. Let Him draw you out of the deep and dangerous waters. In broken and empty times you must simply exist and recognize that He is there. Lean into His chest. Hear His heartbeat.

Can you rest in the peace that He is there, with you? Imagine your weak fragile self lying so carefully in His mighty strong and safe hands. Head upon His chest, listening to His wildly beating heart; much like a Father should safely love His child.

Let Him uphold you, because He delights in you.

the safety of His arms

 

When waves come crashing at your feet

a blog post about trials and Jesus Dear girls-

It has been so long since we have met on this space. The days and weeks that have passed since I last wrote to you have held so much life.

Girls. [My whole heart and desire is to show you more of Christ.] I yearn into my bones and back out through my entire existence to point you towards Him, to reveal that He is in fact the very best thing for you, and that you need Him. I don't know how else to put it: without Him, life sucks. Without the Life Source, the Hope, the Joy, the Freedom that only Jesus can give, life isn't all that it can be.

With or without Jesus, you will have trials and troubles, worries and concerns, fears and temptations. Life will still throw itself at you like a whirlwind attempting to drown the joy in your heart, forcing it to disintegrate like sand in your hands. The waves of the ocean may crash and tumble, twisting you all around, banging your precious body on the sandy bottom of the sea. The storms will still show up, tossing your hair up and around, tangling it into a mess of knots attempting to frustrate you.

Without Jesus, crumbling to bits and pieces has never felt so lonely, so desperate, so hopeless.

take heart for i have overcome

With Jesus, crumbling to bits and pieces reminds you that there is Hope for tomorrow, Hope for forever, and Joy amidst the strongest of waves. Amidst whatever waves crashing against your flesh, Jesus is more present than I could ever attempt to explain. Jesus is there and He is close and He is holding your heart. He is safe and secure, He is trustworthy, and He co-suffers with you. Jesus knows, He sees, He loves. He is patient and kind, He understands all, He believes the best for you. Jesus gives you freedom when you accept the Truth that your circumstances do not define you. The truth that when a situation stirs up your world, weighs your soul so heavy you cannot stand, Jesus still defines you as beloved, as His. Jesus gives you worth and meaning and purpose. Jesus remains.

My girls. You may or may not have waves crashing at your feet, threatening the very life you desire, attempting to steal you away into despair. But there will [more than likely] be a day when the waves are too strong for you, too scary, too big. They may not seem fair. And when those waves are threatening your joy and your hope, I pray that you cling to Jesus. I pray you remember that Jesus sees the biggest picture, is piecing together the picture for all of humanity. I pray that you see Him there and you believe that He is for you. I pray and I hope with earnest that you let Him be near you. That you accept the gift of grace and freedom that He so earnestly offers you.

I love you girls. You know that.

But He loves you more than I could ever dream to.

With so much hope,

Natalie

when waves come crashing