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

finding Him: the healing ladder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

elsy grace

On Journals

on journals, journaling for husband I love journals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you journal?

 

Dear Supporters: ministry update 

dear supporters Dear You, who have supported us for up to three years, Dear You, who may be supporting us for the first or second time,

Thank you.

Loren and I have found ourselves occupied every moment of the day, from literal sun up until after sun down. I think of you so often, nearly daily, wanting to thank you for supporting us so well. Faithfully sending in your checks or cash or online giving, you guys make. things. happen. Thank you for investing in us.

I hadn't checked our financial support update in what seemed ages (though it really wasn't that long), and I was blown away with tears of joy to see that you are all giving more than faithfully. For that, we are forever grateful to Jesus and to you. THANK YOU.

Loren and I just finished our very first premarital session (8 weeks worth)! It was such a humbling and honoring thing to lead two wonderful people through hard and beautiful conversations as they prepare for marriage. We definitely don't know everything there is to know about marriage, communication, or being a human...BUT what we do know is that when Jesus is our everything, we thrive. And so do others.

The summer has made its definite appearance, as I'm sure you're very aware. Summer is always such a good-crazy time; students are out of school and some pause on sports, which makes them more available and able to spend time with one another (and us). We kicked off the summer together this last Tuesday by caravaning 20+ people in four cars to the beach! That was a memory-filled 8 hour day.

We have sent out invites to our incoming 6th graders and are so ready to have them join us in a couple weeks for our Summer Fun BBQ at Danny's! Danny is the all-time-faithful-been-here-since-the-start youth leader.

We also have the privilege of welcoming three new youth leaders to our team this summer. Our grand total is 6 leaders in addition to Loren and I; we are thrilled to see our team growing as the students number also increases.

We recently baptized Payton! He is a genuine, Jesus-seeking young man and we are honored to have a front row seat to his life, as he asks hard questions and looks to Jesus for the very first times in His life.

As we move into the heat of summer, we are planning to spend a lot time outside! We have a couple BBQ's, Loren's taking the guys camping, I'm doing a Disney Movie Night with the girls, Saturday market strolls, and lots of water games, because why not?

This next week, Loren is the main speaker at Camp Tadmor for the Juniors, grades 3-6. We also have two weeks at Winema this year which is, hello sandy beds!

Basically, over all, we love these kids (that aren't really kid) so much it sometimes even hurts and we are honored to play a small role in their life. We pray and hope that we serve them well throughout this summer, bringing them closer to who Jesus is and the life He has for them here.

And again: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.  It is not in vain, not wasted. I firmly believe your dollars are being invested eternally in the lives of so many people.

youth ministry

 

Visit our church's website HERE.

Laundromat Diaries: stepping out into unknown territory

When Loren announced to the youth group that we were pursuing adoption, joy reverberated through the entire room like a train may as well had just exploded through the wall and launched itself straight through. In those precious moments, it settled into my vision that these are some of our biggest fans. These kids have been with us for years, some nearly five. They aren't kids anymore.

corvallis church youth group

The sound of water swishes around and around, twirling our clothes and towels and laundry galore into a heaping tangled mess of dirty-to-clean sudsy water. I am in the corner of the laundromat, the sun is down and it is past 9 pm on a Tuesday. It's nearly 10. I woke up early this morning, 5:30. My eyes burn with exhaustion and my body shakes from lack of nutrients. We forget to eat on days like this but remember to guzzle caffeine like its a life source. As I loaded the square washing machines, dirtied up by someone else's daily life, the ground messied with garbage and soap spills and broken bits of God knows what, it hit me again: we are adopting.

I am in a laundromat, and we are adopting. Despite the fears, we are here, and we are in it.

Since the day we moved into our delightful apartment, we planned to move into something bigger and much more house-like when babies were coming. We nearly moved 3 times in the last three years, with great hopes of nearing that stage. We agreed: if there is one thing we need when we have spitting-up-pooping babies, its a washing machine. Ain't no one got time to go to the laundromat with a newborn and without sleep. We never moved from that apartment. We remain in the same small apartment that we have made our own, our home, where our hearts have entangled and intwined into one and we pray that the Spirit of God flows in and through by the way of peaceful presence. Our hearts and His Spirit may reside there, but a washing machine doesn't.

Against all odds, we are adopting.

I am in a laundromat, and we are adopting.

Do you even know the amount of fears that have surfaced leading up to hiring Susan [consultant] and stepping into this process in faith? The fears are few in number but great in weight: money, owning a home, money, nice THINGS. Always in America it seems to return to, things.

For months I would research and look at family profile books of those who have gone before me - you know, the books that birth moms look at and pick and choose their adoptive families. I would scour them and search for them and learn them and study them. Nearly every single adoptive family either owned a giant home or appeared to. Giant homes with yards and fancy cars and definitely multiple bedrooms, like at least 4, and most certainly they had washing machines. There was no way we could ever pursue adoption, living in this tiny apartment, with this small income, with no washing machine. No birth mom would ever subject their child to that.

But here we are. Sitting in a laundromat at 9:45 pm on a Tuesday after being up and going for 16 hours straight...pursuing adoption.

Our income? Insignificant.

Our way of living? Simple.

Our home? Small. Rented. Apartment dwelling.

Our community? Mind blowing and more amazing than I could have ever dreamed up.

Our hearts? Expanding daily by the grace of God and the power of His way. Willing to bend beneath His grace and be shaped and broken and shattered before His throne, for the love of Pete. Or Christ. Yes, for the love of Christ.

Tonight at youth group, the kids shouted and hooted and hollered and my heart was moved. These kids students love so deeply; they love like Jesus. They love a child they do not know, but have high hopes for. Two of them brought us cash to purchase/sponsor puzzle pieces. (Go to the bottom of this post HERE and see what the puzzle is about!) WHAT EVEN.

As I loaded the towels my heart was conflicted. The joy is increasing, my joyous highs are gaining height, but in the quiet and the silence and in the empty laundromat after 9:30 pm, my heart still grieves from loss. The lows are still devastatingly low. I am learning to dance the dance of grace, which sometimes means joy and sadness all wrapped into one; I am learning to live in honesty, whatever honesty may be, and acknowledging that He is there in the honesty. That He is very present in the joy and He is very present in the sorrow and that He is very present always. That joy and grief and sorrow and pain and Hope can all reside in one heart at one time; because of Him.

The fears still surface. Fears like, what if we don't get chosen? what if she chooses us but changes her mind? what if we lose another? what if our home study is not smooth? what if we don't get as many grants as we are hoping for? what if...? But just like any fears, I must do my very best to submit them, hand them over, and trust that He is writing this story for a purpose greater than me. Greater than us. Greater than we will ever know. Because it isn't our story, its His. We just have the honor to play a small part in it.

This journey is clearly led by Him, by God. He has taken our hearts and is leading us one step at a time, one day at a time, in faith, trusting Him. He has not proven Himself untrustworthy. Renting a home, living simply but honestly, a mostly fundraised income, using the laundromat...we are in this process of adoption. So day by day, we place our hearts in His hands, sometimes multiple times a day, and we say, "I trust you. You are here out in the unknown territory. And you are good."

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

A Place of Peace: A Letter

image by Angie at Heartstrings PhotographyDearest Pastor Man,

I asked you this morning where our place of peace was. You were confused, baffled, unaware of what I was asking you and looked at me like I was weird. I don't feel well and I snapped, "The place we find peace! Where do we find peace together? TELL ME WHERE WE ARE AT PEACE." And then we laughed together and said, "Obviously not here sitting up in our bed reading on our day off."

The laughter.

These past few months have been nothing short of character shaping, dear Pastor Man. Me and you, we have walked through vibrant light in beginning our pursuit of adoption in January, we treaded through some dark valleys of whip lash loss and tragic grief, and now are heading back up to the mountain of Hope.

Hope is such a risk. 

But the possibility of great joy is just as much part of the risk as is grave grief and deep disappointment. The great joy is worth the risk, when we are ready to ride the wings of Hope again. Here we are, mounting up on the wings.

Oh my dear Pastor Man, you have been used to lighten my heart in so many ways. Jesus, He knew that a serious, deep dwelling, processing, self analyzer like me needed an intelligent, deep thinker, goofy Pastor Man like you. He knew that together we would laugh deep belly laughs and fall on the floor, me crying and you confused at tears of joy. He knew that the darkened valleys of angst and sorrow would be blessed by bellies of laughter where peace comes in the midst of trial and tribulation.

image by Angie Nelson at Heartstrings Photography image by Angie Nelson at Heartstrings

Our laughter-unison, the vocal chords bouncing up and down together making music unplanned, brings peace I didn't know was available. In the risk of Love and Hope and living life abundantly, laughter is an avenue, a place of peace.

Laughter with you ushers in peace unexplainable, and for that, I can only thank God for creating such an aspect of life as laughter.

Laughter, genuine and from our toes and soul-soles, is our place of peace.

I pray to keep allowing that place of peace to reside in our home forevermore, creating a laughter-foundation of Joy and Hope and Peace for all to walk in and out and live beneath these roofs we call our own.

Thank you, dear Pastor Man, for leading me in the way of laughter, a place of peace.

Honored to be yours, truly,

NB

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

Stray Cat Faithfulness

STRAY CAT FAITHFULNESS Sometimes I sign myself up for things like speaking engagements that are not huge at all but to me they are like mountains to climb, kind of like the South Sister where you need to train for months and then it sneaks up on you and here it is and you feel wholly unequipped, untrained, unready for such an event as this.

But then while preparing for said things, a little voice inside my heart pipes up and says, "You have been preparing, simply by walking with Me in honesty." And it is in those moments that the daunting and scary thing of sharing my heart with people becomes only slightly less daunting and intimidating, mainly because I am reminded that this life isn't actually about me; it is about Him and how He is in the dailyness of now and how can I share the way I have grown closer to Him over the last season of craziness, the last few bits of life lived?

While I sit down to pray and listen and ask Him questions like, "What would you have me say to these beautiful women who I love and adore and look up to and am so much younger and less experienced and less wise than?" And then I am right back to that scary phase where I wonder what in the world I am doing here; anxiety bottles up within me and I am nervous like someone is feeding me something out of a brown paper bag and I am blindfolded. Speaking and sharing (and writing) are frightening to me because its like stripping yourself bare for everyone to see. Sharing my heart is like face planting into a puddle that exists near a sewer or swamp and you aren't sure if what your lips and eyes and nose are engulfed in is mud or feces and all you see are creepy crawly things that make you nervous and feel uncomfortable, like you might vomit. Speaking and sharing and writing make me feel completely out of control and scared mainly because they make me come to grips with who I am and where I'm at in a non-physical sense and more of a heart/emotional/spiritual sense, and in order to do those big and energy-consuming things...I have to be honest.

I'm the word-thinking type, where I see and process the world and this life with words. Words upon words rather than colors or music. So that's why I am inclined to speak and write, because those things need words.

While I prepared for what I was going to unfold this last weekend I tried so hard to gather words that weren't so prickly to my heart, didn't reveal any of my grief and aches and pains and sadness and all of the things that are ugly and seemingly to me, ungodly. I wanted to share something huge and awesome and wise and knowledgeable and new and WOW-worthy. But while I prayed and asked Him what it could be, He continuously returned me to this year, to this part of my story, to my sadness and my loss and how I have grown through grief even though I feel so shrunken and small like a grain of sand among big blown up beach balls.

While coming to grips with the fact that He would not let up on this, I was reminded how utterly faithful God is. I mean, more faithful than a stray cat returning to the food that you left out on accident. He shows up over and over again, so many times, that you eventually realize He never actually left. Much like a stray cat. Instead, He has remained faithful like a long strand of clouds that blanket the sky for as far as you can see.

While I am in the midst of realizing how present and how ever faithful He is, so faithfully here that He has never left, I forget about how fickle I am. So often it seems like my fickleness writes itself on my heart to read over and over again more than His faithfulness and in studying that, I am making life so much more about me and my weaknesses and my ugliness and my yuck than about Him and His greatness and His power and mighty works and His faithfulness. Which deserves way more attention than I could ever give. But I can at least give it a shot.

So here we are: Honesty. There is so much freedom in honesty. Not mere honesty as in telling the truth rather than lying to your mom about what you and your friends did last night. But honesty as in raw, gut wrenching, cracked egg shells of hearts honesty about how you feel, about what you fear, about who you see yourself as, about your trust or lack of in Him. Honesty that isn't clever or polished or shiny or attractive; no slides or video clips or shows, but just pure honesty. Even if it means admitting that you forget that God exists, that you don't believe that He cares, or that you are so angry with Him that you don't want to acknowledge His existence.  If there is one thing I have learned in the last few months, it is that God can handle our brutal honesty so much better than we expect; He takes our honesty in the palm of His large hand and He holds it so carefully, knowing that our fragile heart resides right there with it. I believe there is freedom in honesty because, when we are honest, we are our exact selves. There is no hiding, no deception or fake residing between He and us. And He accepts us in that raw, vulnerable state of being of us-ness. 

Psalm 25:2 says that honesty and integrity protects us...

How freeing to be completely accepted and wholly loved, even while being known down to the fiber of our existence. Even when we are kicking and screaming and letting Him know that we don't see the gift of this life as a gift, but as a curse and we don't agree or like the story He is asking us to live.

That to me, is a perfect love. And perfect love casts out fear.

 

The story of our Fundraised Income

fundraised income missionaries Many of you know that Loren and I fundraise most of our income. A multitude of you support us financially, emotionally, and prayerfully. You are our team and without you, we would not be where we are now. We would not have the capability of serving others to the capacity that we are currently able, we would not be able to spend hours with new believers, old believers, and unbelievers; __believers of Jesus and His word, that is. We would still be able to do a portion of these things as all Christians are called to do, but not to the full extent that we have been given the opportunity and privilege to now. For that, I cannot thank you enough. But I also know that this is bigger than us little Brenners...this is eternal and for Him.

To start off our marriage, Loren worked 21 hours a week at Trillium Farm Home - the securest safe unit for troubled mentally-ailed teens in the state - and I worked 21 hours at US BANK in Monmouth. Our schedules were exactly opposite of each other, which was painful on our precious little fragile brand new marriage. Every lunch break at the Bank I would walk to the nearest coffee shop, whip out my computer, and do my computer tasks for the church. Oh how deeply I craved to be in the office or downtown at Starbucks working for Corvallis Church, rather than in another city on my lunch break of a Bank job. But that was what we had to do; I know it could have been a lot more difficult. Eventually a full time position for Trillium opened up and I was able to quit my Bank job in order to spend more time with young women and also building more structure to the "program" [I would hardly call it that] part of the Youth Ministry. Our income was a beautiful $1200-1600/month.

In order for both of us to have the capacity and availability to serve the church the way we dreamed, the way we felt called, we needed more income. We needed to fundraise.

When Loren and I first began fundraising in December of 2012, I was scared to my wits end. Fears loomed and the reality that I had to be confident in this calling was frightening. THE THOUGHTS YELLED AT ME: You mean, we are going to ask people to send us money...every month...for...years? What a request to ask of others. Who was I to say I was called to this? Who was I to say that I am equipped? All we had were willing hearts and a confidence in this calling. When in High School, I did my fair share of fundraising for sports teams and mission trips - but those were easier and less daunting because they were one time events. We asked for a certain amount, one time. Not a recurring amount for years. There are many foreign missionaries that live solely off of fundraised support - but we were not moving to Europe or Africa or Haiti. We were remaining in Corvallis, exactly where we were, for the purpose of training and equipping the growing church plant right before our eyes, working to save lives eternally.  The individuals that Jesus was bringing to Corvallis Church were our mission - the humans of this city.

Mike (our Pastor/Mentor/Boss/Friend) walked us through what it meant to fundraise and how to do it. He taught us things like creating a pitch, reviewing the pitch, praying about the pitch. What is our story, how were we drawn to CC? What is the need here in Benton County --> statistics show that this exact county has the least percentage of church goers in the entire US. What is our bigger mission? What is our role in this mission? Mike taught us how to ask as specifically as possible. The need is monthly support - he reminded us not to be deceitful, be honest in humility. And let me tell you, it was humbling. It is still humbling. Mike spent so much time preparing us and walking us through fundraising - he trained us, he equipped us, he empowered us. I will be forever thankful for the hours, years, of investment Mike Miller has given us.

That first year we began receiving about $200/month of outside support in addition to Loren's second job. By the end of the year almost $600/month was being donated. As God faithfully continued to grow us and the church steadily and yet so faithfully, He also provided more income. Little by little, we saw that there was hope for Loren to possibly cut back on hours at Trillium to spend more time serving this church community. By December 2013, our faith had been built by mountains that were moved - though we were not quite half-way supported financially, it was possible. We saw that we could get there and were nudged deep within our hearts to make the leap. A part time position at Trillium opened back up and Loren went back down to 21 hours. By paper, that was the stupidest thing we could have done. But my heart was so inspired by my husband's faith. I was brought so much closer to Jesus by his act of faith, in leading our small family towards God's heart. We sent out more letters letting our Support Team And More know that we had experienced what God can do with willing hearts, and we craved more of it. We were hungry for more of His goodness. THESE WORDS WERE SENT SO FRIGHTENINGLY AND YET SO HONESTLY: So Loren is cutting his hours in half at Trillium, which removes all of his benefits and half of our income, and we need you! We need your support, so please continue, if not add to it.

 

matthew 6 11 daily bread

How scary this was! There were so many feelings of fear, excitement, and uncertainty. I knew that God had never let us go hungry - He always showed up in miraculous ways. Food on our doorstep, potlucks with left overs, random unexpected cash/checks/getaways, etc. But this was a big step for us little Brenners. We decided to lean in to God's mission rather than seek comfort on our own efforts. There is much more comfort in knowing that your 9-5 job will always bring you a paycheck, no matter what. There is so much comfort in having benefits and paid vacation time and promised raises. Hourly wages. An hourly wage and set hours = comfort, as we know what to do, we know when we can clock in and clock out, and we know with confidence that we will receive a certain amount of pay. But as we talked and dreamed and vision casted, we knew that God' mission was bigger than those comforts.

January 2014, my goal was to have Loren done with Trillium by July. Oh how earnestly I prayed for this to happen! It did not happen. August however, Loren took the entire month off to travel around for camps and retreats and all of that good Youth Ministry stuff. That was kind of a trial month to see how we would survive without the Trillium paycheck. Things were tight, but things have always been tight, and that is okay. We have learned to accept the tightness, pick ourselves up and say, "We have never gone without. We live extremely rich and blessed lives. Nothing we have is ours, everything a gift from Him." November was another month he had to take a lot of time off of Trillium. Tons of conversations and hopeful, terrifying prayers later...we decided to make the biggest leap yet at the end of 2014: Loren put his 2 weeks in. Officially quit. Be done. No more paychecks from a 9-5 job...but no more days and hours spent there, no more Trillium. This was a blender of scary and thrilling and trusting. It was here! Finally, we were at a place to leap into the unknowns of full time ministry and fundraised income. More letters written and sent out, letting our faithful and so generous supporters know that we are indeed leaping into a big pool of something and were trusting that He would be there to catch us. Our supporters are His hands - we needed His provision through them.

beautiful girls at camp

January 3, 2015 was Loren's last day at Trillium. Oh the praises were mighty and loud that day!

We had made the decision to lean in to God's mission rather than seek comfort on our own efforts. "And that always starts with being ready and willing to sacrifice and God having room to show up." [<<Mike shared that with us the other day]. Mike, among other Corvallisites, continuously confirmed our calling and reminded us not to doubt it. So did every single person who has supported us in one way or another - they have said with their sacrificial generosity, "You are called to this mission and we are here to support you. We've got your back. We believe in you, we believe in God in you."

"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in Him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any God except their own God.'" [Daniel 3:28]

God has never let us go hungry. He has never failed us, He has never abandoned us. I cannot tell you the depths of trust He has won me over to.

- - -

"The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it pleases the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.” The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request." [Nehemiah 2:4-6].

With this piece of scripture, which has been so helpful with fundraising, we are reminded that the provider isn't Artaxerxes [humans], but God. They key to fundraising is our attitude, our heart, our humility. The results are God's - it is not about getting money, but being shaped into a godly you, transformed into a trusting, faithful, good steward.

I cannot begin to share the depths of transformation that has occurred through this huge thing of fundraising. It is one small and yet vastly significant way the Lord has been working in us over the last three years. Reminding us that all of our things are not ours at all. The cars we own were literally given to us, the home we rent is used for so much more than housing us (currently we have an extra loved roommate), the money we receive is to pay our bills and bless others, and the community we live in is a gift. Nothing we deserve. Everything, I learn again and again, is simply a gift bound up in love by God's faithful provision.

The other day I was telling Loren that I am learning to grasp this verse in a whole new light: "For we live by believing and not by seeing." [2 Corinthians 5:7]. When I look at the numbers and the budget and the income and outflow...when I SEE the numbers, it hits me that we should be panicking and having anxiety attacks and one of us needs to go get a 9-5 pm. But...never have we felt this angst as deeply as the numbers try to tell us. [Don't worry, we don't rack up the credit card]. We have always attempted to swallow our fear and entitlement - key word here: attempt - and Jesus always shows up. He always provides, whether through a random check given to us, a meal dropped off, someone purchasing a car for us and then offering to support us by paying for our car insurance [WHAT], and so many more things. So Many Things that make me say, "God, I never need to worry. Why would I? You have never failed us. You always always always come through, when I am seeking your way."

We have had many [young] couples share with us that they wouldn't want to put the financial burden on others. Also that they would never be able to live with such uncertainty when it comes to income. That they would never, "put their family through that." To those words I want to encourage you to really put those fears down and place them in His hands. If He is calling you to something bigger than yourself, you have no room to throw "buts" into the equation. If your ministry and calling is bigger than yourself, which it is, then everything that encompasses it will be bigger than you can handle. And that is where He comes in and rescues and assures and builds trust.

My friends, I share all of this to encourage you: do not doubt your calling. Do not doubt what has been laid upon your heart. If you are called into anything but money feels like the show stopper...don't listen to that. Don't see money as a show stopper. I have experienced that this is far easier said than done. But please, take this story and let it be another confirmation to the faithfulness of God. Let it be empowering.

And Support Team, from my heart, thank you.

My church: I cherish you oh so much. I still cannot believe that we get paid to spend time with you, to love you, to write letters to you, to plan events for you, and all the things.

Millers: thank you...Thank you.

fundraised income

[ If you have any questions, please email me. I am mainly an open book. Also, this post was already so jam packed, I figured I should stop before I kept going.]

Also- oddly, I enjoy spreadsheets, excel, and budgeting. We have quite the system down that helps us remain flexible but not go under. We save for things like adoption, Christmas, Germany, and gifts for others. If you would like some help, I would love to see what I can do for you!

When the rain pours over

vulnerably honest I am such a human.

Faulty, frail, fragile. Bruised, broken, battling an enemy. I mess up, I make mistakes, I mean to do well, but instead do poorly. Greedy and guilty, I have a severe case of "human."

The rain of honesty pours over my humiliated self. 

Whiny words and slimy thoughts, so often I am far from pure. I know what I ought to do and I often do not do it. I do what I know I should not. Rabbit trails of selfish sorrow and pitiful play dates take over my mind, when I am not careful. Carelessly wandering, the words in my head run rampantly, in circles. Circling the truth with wagons of lies from the enemy. Swirling round and round, inviting fear and insecurity and selfishness.

The rain of reality pours over my vulnerable self. 

Wayward, my heart slides. It slides off to the side of me, off the path of purity and wholeness and freedom and peace, off the path of Him, more often than I want to admit, confess, own. It takes all of me to walk on the grass. Every ounce of energy, it deceivingly seems, is taken up and used to pursue good. 

The rain of confession pours over my healing self. 

My dreams are big, wild, and I believe, graspable. Dreams and visions and hopes to bring Great Love to this world. Greatness and freedom that only He can offer; joy and peace that surpasses understanding. In the daily and the weekly, in the momentary parts of living. In the sweeping and the scrubbing, in the sitting at our desks and the ordering our coffee, in the opening of our eyes in the morning and the laying of our heads on our pillows at night. Joy and peace, I crave to reveal, but joy and peace are only found in Him.

a shaken world and broken heartAnd I am so human.

I am trying, just as you, to find my way on this weary land we named Earth. One foot in front of the other, I attempt. And when my world is quaking, my heart breaking, peace resides because Heaven still stands. We never leave His strong and safe hands. Even at our most offhand, sinful, broken states

I am merely human. Just like you. I have 24 hours in a day, a family I want to nurture and care for, a home I love to make, a list of to do's that must get done. But a vapor, is this life of mine. Though I am weak and fragile, made up of such fickle flesh and bones, my soul is strong when rooted in Him. Though I am sinfully broken and have reason to breathe shame, and even some people would cast that shame, because of Him I can breathe grace and peace. Because of Him I can stand in His strong hands and have confidence that I am okay, right where I'm at - wherever I'm at. That I will, one day, understand fully His plans and goodness and love. A love that is patient and kind, selfless and sacrificial, hoping and believing the best.

The rain of honest vulnerability [right where you're at, whatever that is] washes off the filth of facades and the masks we place onto our broken [beautiful] selves. The rain of honest humility, scandalously vulnerable hearts, cleanses the pressure of wearing a fake face and leads us to a purity of wholeness, offering a launchpad into His gracious and freeing way.

Rain brings fresh new life.

It is so freeing to be right where you're at, and accepted. Wholly known and so patiently loved.

james

“Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (James 5:13–16).

 

The Weather Blues: they're a real thing.

the weather blues are real. SAD I love fall. I always look forward to fall. I always want fall to stay.

But what I forget, every year, is the blues that tend to follow fall's arrival. I forget that it is quite normal and that our bodies are affected by the weather change. I tend to get exhausted easier, pack too much into my day, fall into a pit of feeling discouraged and depressed.

I fall into this swirling downward spiral of exhaustion, discouragement, loneliness - even though I am constantly meeting with people. It is an odd thing. Craziness threatens to overtake my mind and I wonder why I am a despaired soul.

The article linked below was posted in our church facebook group, because we care about each other and crave to remind one another that it is okay to be human on this earth: Dark Days here for folks with seasonal depression disorder.

Posted with the article were 5 additional steps to take that I have also taken and experienced true freedom as a result:

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Depression is a real thing. If you're struggling this time of year, this article has some great ideas. I would add a few...

1. Talk to someone about it. It is not scandalous that Christians struggle with depression. It is scandalous that we don't talk about it! Depression is not just a spiritual issue although it expresses itself as a troubled spirit.

2. Engage with your church family. Seek community and reminders of how valuable we are. Remember, others may be feeling the blues so don't take things personal if it takes a bit more effort than normal.

3. Serve someone else. I am convinced from my experience that if we can serve someone else, it lifts our spirits and gives us the right perspective that we are at our best when we are acting selflessly towards one another.

4. Pray and ask for prayer. This should be #1. Ask your pastor, friend, parents... for prayer. Prayer moves our hearts to be more in line with God and God did not create you to be depressed. So when you spend time in prayer with Him, your heart aligns with His and you will feel His presence.

5. Talk to someone... seek community and listen to advice. Remember, your perception of what is going on is wrong... you are the affected one. So listen to others and seek help.

That is what the strongest people in the world do. They ask for help.

seasonal affective disorder

In addition to all of these things, I encourage you to really dive into Jesus's heart for you. I have experienced this as the best thing for me. When I spend amounts of time reading His love letter and praying through the words so carefully etched into our Bibles, I find so much peace. I find that, "Hey I am okay, I am going to make it." When I am soaked in His presence, I am less offended and have a clearer head, even when discouraged and feeling the blues.

Recently, as in the last 4 days every day at least one time a day and up to 3 times, I have found myself turning to Psalms 17 and 18. There I pray through the words of David, his cries to his Father God. In his honesty, David cries out letting the Lord know that he is despaired, exhausted, beat down and attacked on all sides. He praises God because He is so worthy of our praise. He claims God as his savior, redeemer, refuge, protection. Every time I have sat down and claimed God as those things, I am overwhelmed with peace. I am reminded that I am okay and He has placed an identity of Belovedness over me.

Im here to remind you that if you experience SAD, you're not crazy. You're not a bad person. You're still youu!

A Church that is Blowing My Mind.

What if there was a time and a place that was created simply to be together, to share a meal together? What if there was a place where it was safe to mess up, where it was safe to snort while laughing, and be yourself as "unacceptable" as that may be? What if there was a place where middle schoolers were accepted and loved as humans by the older generation?

Tuesday night youth group rocked my pants off! (If that were true I would be in jail). But seriously, our Young Adult group from Corvallis Church joined our youth group for a potluck and games.

Can I just say that sharing a meal must be the best and most Jesus-y thing ever? Not to be heretical or anything, but in all honesty when we share meals it is like saying, "Hey, let us be friends. Let us commune. We are equals, on a journey at different paces and different stages, challenged with different obstacles. But one thing is for sure, you have a belly and I have a belly and we need food. Wanna eat?"

I will also say that hearing a spark-plug 12 year old girl squeal and squawk can actually make you deaf - I am sure. Especially when it happens every thirty seconds for about 2 and a half hours. It is like having an earthquake within your body and you are unsure if anyone has lived through it. And yet, not one of the adults left, not one complained, not one yelled at the excited middle school girl. No, they loved her. And she thrived with joy. To me, that is a mystery. It is a mystery that a group of 18-29 year olds got to spend the evening with a group of 11-17 year olds, and everyone clearly enjoyed them self. It is a mystery that sharing a meal and simply being together is possibly the most unifying act...but is also the easiest and simplest act in the world. It is a mystery that we played games and they were enjoyed by middle schoolers and career-ers alike.

On a world's standard, this makes no sense.
It makes absolutely no sense to spend time with "lesser than" people -- and in this world, if you are younger then you are lesser.
Jesus. Jesus brings us together when it makes no sense -- Jesus brings joy to the relationship that makes no sense: the man who breathes hunting & outdoors somehow relates with the man who grew up as a city boy and went to Bible College. Jesus is the unifier, the common theme. Jesus brings a middle school girl to heal a broken heart of a 27 year young lady. It makes no sense. But at the same time, it brings all the joy.

I am still processing the beauty & restoration that fellowship, koinonia, brings.

1,000 gifts

If you are like me then you often times find yourself in a rut. A rut of gloom, negativity, failure, pride, irritability, despair or depression. You find yourself relearning life lessons for the 185th time: that gifts are freely given (not deserved); that we are saved by grace & grace alone; that we cannot view ourself as ugly, unworthy, a worm, and displeasing to the One you wish to please. I have found that when I forget these Truths, I am also head-deep in a pit; a rut. The dirt is slipping in over my head, I'm drowning and I see myself as covered in filth. And then, and then Jesus reminds me that life itself, time, the simplest of things like laughter are gifts. Gifts of grace. He is saying, "I love you. You are an imperfect being made perfect by a perfect God. The moment you said yes to Me, I was pleased. And pleased I will forever be."

I 100% believe that all gifts are products of grace. From the smallest gift of morning shadows on a hard wood floor to huge gifts such as a husband who fears The Lord & leads me closer to His feet. I have started a quest, an excursion of recording 1,000 gifts of grace. I was given the idea by a speaker at a women's conference: 1,000 Gifts of Grace.

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So far, I have 6. 1. I am thankful that Loren can work 20 hours less at Trillium each week. There are only two of us to provide for & I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve our church community even more. 2. I am thankful that my mom comes to our church. 3. I am thankful for the church community that has been built through Corvallis Church. We are truly living life together, and I do not want to take this time for granted. 4. I am thankful for foggy, fall, crisp mornings. Something about them brings complete joy. 5. I am thankful for Kent Smith. For so many reasons.

Over time, I will record these gifts that I am ever so grateful for.

Today, in Canada, I thanked God for His word, His written love letters. I was reading in Psalm 78 and verses 21, 22 settled in my soul with some thanksgiving.

"When The Lord heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned...for they did not believe God or trust Him to care for them."

For they did not believe God, they did not trust Him to care for them. And that made Him furious. I don't know about you, but so often I find myself distrusting, worrying, anxious, not believing Gods written promises. Has he yet to break His word?

6. I am thankful that I have a trustworthy caretaker, life giver, creator, savior, king, and God. A trustworthy and caring friend who comforts and gives strength, boldness, peace. I am thankful for His grace and acceptance.

Will you join me in honestly pursuing gratefulness for the gifts of grace? What are you grateful for?

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Surgery for Endometriosis.

20131001-192924.jpg Last night Jesse & Daniel brought me some amazing Paleo pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. I have one left. I must have enjoyed them?

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Yesterday, the alarm went off at 6:11 am so I could shower & put on some mascara before surgery. Loren was so confused as to why I would need to "doll up" for surgery, and I explained that I was going to be feeling pretty yucky, ugly, and gross so the least I could do is have on some mascara. We arrived at the surgery center at 7 am, got all checked in & precious Loren was coffee-less as well as breakfastless. The sacrifices this man makes for me are countless.

They led us to my little stall of a room: you know those "rooms" that are made of curtains? I changed into the best hospital gown I've ever worn. I would say I've worn my fair share of hospital gowns, and this one was BOMB. It was purple & not made of thin cotton cloth with holes in all the wrong places. No. It was soft & purple and the best part was this: there was a hole that they plugged a heater pump into! Say whaaaatt. I know right? Wish I had Loren take a photo. It was danged sweet.

The next thing I know I am peeing in a cup to make sure I am not pregnant, which I am not.

They then begin strapping some sweet astronaut looking leg warmers to my calves! Hooked up to this machine. I have this weird blood clotting disorder called Factor V Leiden and so, lucky me! I got to have leg massagers leading up to, during, and after surgery! It was pretty sweet. I also got a shot of Heparin in my shoulder - which is a blood thinner. And man! Did I bruise.

To add to the already blessed morning, Loren was cracking all sorts of jokes. We started with just 1 nurse checking me in and soon enough had 4 or 5 just standing around laughing at my husband. What a champ he is, always bringing a light heart to situations.

The nurse who checked me in brought back child hood memories. Starting at the age of 6, I had my first of 7 surgeries (ears, adenoids, benign lumps, now this). I won't forget my first surgery: I was just a wee one, freezing in the thin, cold, cotton robe with holes in all the wrong places. As the nurse stuck my hand with my very first IV, I remember her calming me down and talking to me so kindly. She planted a seed in my heart: a seed of desire to be a nurse, to calm people down when they are most scared, to remind them it will be okay, to tell them they are safe. Yesterday, Nurse Ruth was awesome! She totally calmed any nerves that I had, she laughed and we joked about God knows what. I just remember how light hearted she made me feel. And I loved her. I should write her a thank you card. (have you ever had a mean nurse? I have. She was so mean).

The anesthesiologist was simply a gift. He was like Loren (but not as amazing): your above average goof ball, trying to make light anything that may be stressful. Lucky for me, I was already lighthearted so I fully enjoyed his presence.

After what seemed like 1700 hours but was really just two hours, I was finally being wheeled into the freezing op-room. As I scooted my bootum onto the work table, the awesome anesthesiologist pumped some morphine into me which knocked me out cold before he even put the sleep-meds in. Next thing I know, I'm back in the "curtain room" where I started, with Loren talking to Nurse Ruth about where my pharmacy is.

As I doze in and out of sleep, I am very aware that I need to use the restroom but had nothing near the capacity to do so. About an hour and a half later, Nurse Ruth comes back asking what I can eat. Not the soup, the crackers, the anything :( it all was gluten-enhanced. So you know what she did? She downright shared her personal apple with me. She even cut it up. What a Nurse! She deserves a purple star. So many blessings showering over me.

Loren is such a babe. He helped me get dressed then wheeled me out to the car. Somehow he magically already picked up all the meds & whatnots that I needed. We get home & he basically carries me inside. I can't tell you what a champion this man is. There are roses on the table.

I lay down & about 8 minutes later I hear a knock on the door. Loren brings in this beautiful bouquet of flowers in this darling little planter. He reads the card. Third word in I knew it was from Haley and started weeping. Maybe from the drugs? I was quite emotional. Either way, that mama is too good to me.

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Basically I then slept for hours.

Then. Evening rolls around & I cannot tell you the work God begins doing in my heart. To be brutally honest, sometimes I have a hard time accepting Gods love. It's a hardened heart thing - a pride thing. Where I don't want to be imperfect & feeble. I don't want to constantly make mistakes. I don't want to be weak. I want to be perfect & worthy of Gods love. But I'm not. No one is. We need grace. And lately, it's been a hard season of humbling myself to remember that I am just not good enough. That Jesus loves me, not for anything I've ever done, but simply because I exist. Because He has created me and is still creating me.

Well last night he sure hounded that into my heart. Through my husband, through the nurses, through Jesse & Daniel, through Haley, through Heather, through Mike, through Kaitlyn & Jeff. Then today through my mom & Elmer & Ari & Mary. He showed me how much he loves me through their love. Through their provision of friendship and food. Of care. I was literally a pile of organs covered with stitches & skin and some clothes, doing nothing for any of them. Heck; I was probably annoying with my moaning & smelly odor. I can't even do the dishes or walk standing straight: I am pretty pathetic. And yet, they loved me. They cared for me. They prayed with me. It made no sense. Just like the love of the Father. It makes no sense but it's there & it's real & it's proven.

I cannot help but praise & thank our God for the church family and friends He has blessed me with. I am so grateful, so blessed, so honored to be a part of His work here.

Check out these beauties:

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We are so loved, folks.

I am most reminded of that when I am completely weak, physically, and literally have to depend on others to survive. Thank you, Lord, for humbling & painful moments such as these.

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PS. I had some Endometriosis removed! Yay for doctors and medicine.