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!

Camp & Transformation by Humiliation

We are coming off a camp in Idaho, heading to Sisters, OR for two days {anniversary celebration}, and then off to the next camp on the great Oregon Coast. A little beauty called Winema {where our story began}. Let me tell you: it feels like a 5-ton semi truck hit me, followed by a freight train. Coffee doesn't even help. I have that thing where your eyes are burning when they're open and they're screaming at you while they're closed. My back is all sorts of achy and I'll just stop there. I have some beautiful war wounds from paint balling. Basically, I LOVE CAMP. Camp is great; it's saturated with friendships and great conversations. It's filled with carbs and sugar and way too much caffeine. And Jesus? He is everywhere and it is obvious that He loves you. Camp is the beginning to many students and adults decision to follow Jesus. Camp is simply wonderful. It's like a Petri dish of growth. The amount of grace and stories and brokenness we shared is just...I can't put it to words. So many stories. I love sharing words with others.

I learn so much from middle school students. They amaze me and I'm honored to spend time with any of them.

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20140807-122122-44482795.jpg Loren & I are both so honored that we were a part of TMC's camp. The leaders over the ministry are what you call, TOP NOTCH. They are so sweet to our soul and they have blessed us personally in many much ways.

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20140807-123646-45406585.jpg Guys- I did not want the water balloons popped on me. I bribed kids to transfer mine to Kevin. It only worked 2/6 balloons. I was just an unhappy camper soaking wet.

20140807-123645-45405383.jpg Let me explain: they sold balloons, in 3 sizes, as a means to raise money for an orphanage in Haiti. They raised over $700! What this really meant was: OVER 300 WATER BALLOONS NEEDING TO BE POPPED. Lord help us.

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20140807-123644-45404220.jpg I read somewhere that humiliation transforms us. {Pretty sure that is from Jen Hatmaker's Interrupted}.

I am learning how deeply gracious people are with me. As I've said recently, I'm in this terribly great time of being humbled and reminded of how un-incredible I am. I don't mean that I should be prideful in the fact of being obsessed with myself in a poor manner -- but just being reminded how much I need not think of myself at all. I don't walk around life hanging my head low complaining about myself. I simply attempt to not think too highly and not too poorly of myself; simply not at all.

I'm simply in such an awkward larva stage with presenting spoken word -- awkward like I'm hoping to someday look back and think, "Those poor listeners. Bless their souls and redeem those times, Jesus." Because I'll grow and be better and less awkward and shaky. Less larva. Right? Someone tell me I will! The team here at Ten Mile was deeply gracious with my below subpar abilities. There was no kicking me out or throwing tomatoes - probably because they love Jesus.

20140807-124230-45750502.jpg 2 girls that I shared a cabin corner with were baptized, so that's always a good day!

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[Insert anything you enjoy but just aren't amazing at, and maybe you can relate?] Here's what's frustrating: when I practice by myself, my emotions are high and it is exciting and real - I can spout out the spoken word poem without my notes and all...hand me a mic in front of a group of 300 eye balls and it's like I've melted into myself, swallowed whole - my nerves jump up and down, heart with a million stallions stampeding across it. I learned that if I pace back and forth, that helps. I am certain it was Jesus who gave me a deep well and a passion within myself to write and share and speak...but I haven't practiced enough. I am just a larva. A little baby. Real awkward. But in order to pass the awkward and grow through the larva..well I have to go THROUGH it to the other side (Lord please let there be another side).

Humiliation is transforming me.

Life is showing me that I am just a little larva crawling out of the cocoon. And boy am I crossing my fingers and confidently hoping I'll grow and get better. Please let me sprout wings, Jesus! I am no where near great, but I have this deep ache to grow and flourish in these areas. I love almost every moment of my hobbies and pursuits, I'm inspired and motivated to continue learning. But in these awkward, humiliating stages...frequently I dance around the idea of quitting life and moving to Canada and working as a Barista somewhere {I drag my husband along in these day dream ideas}.

Being a beginner at all things that you enjoy is downright humbling; it's humiliating. But in order to pursue those things, we must walk through the awkward.

It hurts and it's difficult and painful for all involved. Think about the literal aches in physical growing -- you get growing pains. It changes me as I strive to get better and lean harder into God with every opportunity given. It transforms me as I am forced to depend on Him, forced to remind myself of His grace, forced to walk in the identity and definition and value as His beloved. Becoming the beloved is painful but oh so beautiful.

Humiliation transforms us. If I were never humbled, I would be an old ugly soul thinking I knew everything. Looking down on others. Being embarrassed ensures I'll not soon forget my mistakes and I'll work and pray to be better. Because no one likes to feel like a fool -- however, it is so freeing to know my identity isn't in that. It is so lovely to know it relies in a God much bigger.Humiliation makes me fall to my knees and beg God to remind me of my value in Him.Not in my performance {prraaaaiiise The Lord}. Humiliation of self reminds me to encourage others in their races, their desires & dreams. Even especially if it's no where near perfect.

I have been created with deep wells of passion and stirring - you can call me dramatic.

You were created with dreams and desires and gifts..how are you using them? Are you running with them? How badly I want to cheer you on. Are you practicing them? It's awkward in the larva stage, isn't it? You know what. You were made to give your gift. Though it may be humiliating and uncomfortable, you were made to give the gift that was given to you. And I want to root you on. I want to spur you on to using your gift and flourishing and knowing that it's okay to mess up and look like a downright fool. It's worth it afterwards -- it's worth the risk. At the end of your life, will you want to remember that you tried the things you loved or that you never risked a moment?

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P.S. I cannot say enough: the humans at Ten Mile Christian are amazing and a gift and basically, they are gifts to this world!

Will you stay around & learn life with us? Head over to the sidebar and follow me on BlogLovin!

You Are More.

You Are More; Newport Beach A {long} letter to all girls: whatever your circumstances are, you are more.

Dear 13 year old who desperately needs to be loved...

You crave people's approval and you so desperately want people to like you. You are afraid of their opinions and what they really think of you. You base your value off of what others say or think of you.

you are already worth more

O sweet girl, although a parent is quite absent, don't see it as a rejection of you. I need you to hear this: this is not a reflection of who you are, nor is it your fault. You cannot see this, but your parents are both hurting too. You will experience your first panic-anxiety attacks. You will think there is something wrong with you. You will be very tempted to physically scar yourself, attempting to escape the very skin that keeps you where you are. But all that will do is create more pain, so please take my word for it and don't. You are so much more loved than you can imagine! Soon, your fear of someday being a parent will begin to form : you fear hurting innocent children without even knowing it. Sweet girl, rebuke that fear for children are from the Lord. You can choose how to parent.

Dear sweet girl, one of your parents will leave for months because of a job. You will be at home to clean and cook, as well as attempt to care for your sweet little sister. You will begin to believe the lie that life might be better if they were divorced...oh sweet girl, rebuke that. Your heart will ache and you will smile to cover it up. But I want to encourage you to lean into the One who loves you most.

Don't being kissing tons of boys and pursuing the most superficial "love" ever known. You do not need to measure up to other girls, to what these boys think is "worth." You do not need to lower yourself to dirt by letting people think of you as a body. Pursue real love: Jesus; He loves you and wants so badly to hold your heart. You are so much more than you see yourself.  You. Are. More.

Dear freshman girl, you will meet a boy who pursues you; he is 17. That should be your first flag. He will treat you with no respect, and for a very sad reason, you will do almost anything he asks of you. For months. I wish you would listen when your heart tells you to stay away from him.  You are loved and beautiful and precious in the eyes of Jesus, and this is not what He wants for you. Flee.

Dear sweet 17 year old, it is 2009 and you will spend countless hours praying for your future husband. I commend that! How marvelous! 3 months into those heart felt prayers, you will begin dating a man-boy: he will not be your husband, despite both of your beliefs. He will hurt you and, listen up: you will hurt him. You both will turn inward and be so selfish that you believe you're selfless. You will both believe that someday you'll be married, so someday your bodies will belong to one another...and that lie only leads into mistakes. Sweet girl, you are more. Your body is sacred, and so is his. You do not belong to one another, in fact the very opposite. I want to tell you, scream at you, that you are creating deep wounds. I mean, deep canyon-like wounds that hallow out parts of your heart. Sweet girl, run from the pleasure of your flesh, run from the temptations that scream at you. I promise there is One who will and can make you whole, but it is not any boy that walks this earth today.

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Sweet 17 year old, your home has become a hell of it's own. You are struggling to believe what is normal and what is not. The alcohol and absences have increased. When the people are present, the arguments are thundering. The darkest-possible-failure in your parents marriage is known by you and your sibling, but not the other parent. You will awkwardly sleep in different friends' homes, and think so lowly of yourself, that you will end up spending countless, uncomfortable, sleepless nights in your car. But sweet girl, I want to encourage you to go home more. Your little sister is trying to survive too, and you should not abandon her. Go home, pray with her, cry with her. Tell her she is beautiful and loved. Lean into Jesus instead of withdrawing from what's happening. Stop pretending and wishing that life is "perfect", because no one's is. Pretending to smile through struggle doesn't make you a good person or a good Christian. Be more honest with yourself and look outside of your circumstances. See the gifts, look at the calm forest that surrounds your chaotic home. Turn your face towards Jesus and He will give you strength.

Dear sweet 18 year old, you're still in high school and you will completely total your Honda Civic. You will be driving your baby sister and she will break her arm because of the wreck. You will stay in the wrecked car, while vehicles line up for miles behind you. You will beg God to take your life, dramatically but very truly dreading the moment you face your parents. You will be pried from your car, and watch it smoke to it's death. Please, instead of craving your own death, praise God for saving your life. Note the variety of people who have stopped to help: see the gift and know you're loved. Two people in your life will tell you for months, even years, how dumb you are because of this accident: don't let those lies hide in your heart. Reject and rebuke them. See those two people with love and grace, noting that they don't know how loved they are. You are more, sweet girl. You are more than your mistakes and people's hurtful words. You are loved and Jesus holds your heart safely, if you'll let Him.

Dear sweet girl, off to college and still dating that man-boy! You're going to miss out on so much, and while you're clueless about this, a good number of roommates are praying that you and this man-boy break up. You will hide in your room at House of Charis, crying yourself to sleep because he hasn't lived up to being your savior that you so desperately want him to be {although, you would never admit that is what you want}. You will ignore the constancy of roommates telling you that you are more: don't. Listen to their words, for they are from a King's heart. You are more and He brings you worth. He is in every corner of that house, His grace is in the walls itself; stop ignoring His beckoning love.

you are more and he brings you worth What is so sad is that you will be running from Him but you won't believe that fact for a second. Stop running from Him. Sweet girl off to college, your nightmares will begin to venture into a newer and deeper level: you will begin thrashing at night and screaming, you will wake up crying. Oh sweet girl, He is still with you, if only you'll look in His eyes and ask Him for His presence.

Dear sweet college girl, you will gain a roommate who will constantly illustrate what friendship is and what love is. She will wake you up for your night shift when you feel depressed, she will pray with you during your nightmares, and she will always encourage you towards Jesus. Within a week of knowing her, she will save your life when you are suddenly attacked with bilateral pulmonary embolisms. Wake up! Let this life-threat wake you up, precious girl. You are so asleep. Don't continue life in this miserable pattern, believing these wretched lies. Jesus has so much more than you're willing to accept! If only you would open your eyes wide, open your hands to receive.

Believe me when I say your roommate wants the best for your life and that someday you will consider her one of your closest friends. Be ready for the day she moves away and you feel as though your heart is ripped out. You will still see one another, after all. Don't let the lie dig its roots, the lie that you have just lost one more dear one. No, have confidence that your friendship will only strengthen.

Oh dear sweet, precious girl. It is the summer after your first year at college and the summer the depth-of-mess in your parents marriage comes to light. The reality is devastating for so many reasons and too hurtful of details. You honestly think you might die from a broken heart, and part of you wants to. You are going to spend countless nights walking in the dark, weeping your little blue eyes out. You will feel hopeless and helpless. The one you believe to be your future husband will only add to the pain. You have battled with wanting them to divorce, believing it must be better on the other side - but from where I stand, now that it has happened, I want to tell you that it really is no better. And as you begin to grow a hatred for both of them, I want to beg you not to. I want to ask you to be stronger than that, to lean into Strength Himself (Jesus) and patiently love your parents.  Your heart is going to tell you to read a book: Captivating. I know you've tried it before, but this time, read it for what it is. Listen to the message that Jesus has been trying to tell you. Let Him listen to you. Let Him hold you while you cry.

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Dear 19 year old: you will go to camp to volunteer for two weeks. Before going, {you're not going to believe this, but its true} you will write to man-boy telling him it is time to stop talking & that you each need to seek Jesus's heart separately. You will explain that you're unhealthy for him and he for you. You will begin praying for his heart, that he would also seek the love that Jesus has for him.  To this, I applaud you. I applaud you for leaning heavily into Jesus and His strength. Finally, you are realizing humans are not your saviors and you cannot be theirs. I commend you for begging Jesus, for the first honest time, to let His will be done in your life. The ashes will soon be shed and beauty will rise. Sweet girl, it is because you see! You see who you are, for the very first time, the silt has been removed from your eyes and you know you are precious! You know you are loved! You know you are accepted in the arms of a King who is mightier than anything you can dream! Oh sweet girl, in this moment when you stand on the sand dunes shouting praise to God for freedom, soak in the moment. For, you are free.

Dear sweet girl, you will soon (as in 3 days!) meet people who will drastically change your life. You will meet the Millers, the Petersons, the Evans, and your true to-be husband. The man you spent countless hours praying for in 2009. You will know the moment you talk with him, that you are marrying him, and it is going to frighten you, shake you to your core. The man you have been waiting for is here and for the first time, you feel like you need more time. But sweet girl, just like all of the moments before, Jesus is right here with you. I promise you that He is faithful. I give you my word that He is holding your heart and that His will is perfect. Believe me when I say that you will be more blessed in the next three months than your entire precious 19 years combined.

Oh sweet precious girl, you will enter into something you always told yourself you wouldn't: a long distance relationship. I know, I know, it doesn't sound like you - you like to watch every move of the person you're dating, you like to control the life and the moments and the memories, you like to make sure there is no possible way for them to cheat on you. But guess what, sweet girl? You gave Jesus your heart to do with it what He wants, and He is going to stretch you and strengthen you. He is going to show you that He is trustworthy. That you can lean into His arms when doubt rises and fear threatens. He is going to do miracles over the next year. Jesus is going to prove to you how special you are to Him, even though He doesn't have to.

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Dear sweet girl, there is so much more that I wish I could share with you. This letter barely scratches the surface of the life you will live. But before I write a novel, I want to be sure you hear some things: The people in your life that hurt you, your family and friends, you cannot hate them. You cannot disown them. And please, for the love of humanity, do not hurt them with your words! Everyone gets hurt; that is part of living in this broken world. They are people too, and they are just as loved as you are. You must love them without fear. There are so many ways you will be hurt and one way you can always count on being healed: by leaning into Jesus and calling upon His mighty name. He is constant and He is perfectly loving you. He is your refuge and safe place - not humans of this world, but Jesus Christ. He is your King and He is your Creator.Do not fear when your life {feels like it} is crumbling. Do not believe the lies, sweet girl, that tells you that your value and worth come from ANYTHING except Jesus and His heart for you! Not your friends, not boys or men, not your parents, nor your youth leaders, not even your grades or your job! None of these things bring you worth. Hold tightly to His promises instead of looking at what is going wrong. Cling to His promises and share with others the confident hope you have.

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In all circumstances, look for the gifts that Jesus is showering upon you. If you do not see them, look deeper at the details surrounding you. You. Are. More.

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If you know someone who doesn't know who she/he is, please share this with them. We all have circumstances and situations - no matter what they are, if they are causing us pain, they HURT. I cannot experience someone else's hurt nor can they experience mine - but together, we can remind one another who we are. And that we are more than we tend to define ourselves.

Being Thankful through the Pain

This morning was our first gathering for the ladies' small group that I am co-leading! It blew my expectations out of the water. Ladies Study To be transparent, leading a small group often makes me anxious, nervous, and even nauseous. But in those moments of weakness and self-doubt, I am forced to lean into grace all the more. I am brought to my knees once again, my heart seeking God's counsel, and I press into His love and guidance. My confidence, or lack of, shifts onto Jesus and I am reminded that I can be a tool for Him to use. Which means that if I am willing, He will do the work! As the ladies began filling the home, some bringing their children and some without, my heart was at peace because I knew that the morning wasn't about me - all that I did was organize and assemble! Which brings so much relief. I was excited to begin this study with women that I spend hours praying for.

I was impacted by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, so I felt as though it would be a fitting study for the ladies: I am passionate about it because it talks about the real & painful messiness of life and invites us into a life overflowing with joy, even through the hard and painful struggles. Let's be honest: this journey of life is difficult and often exhausting. Why join a small group and pretend our lives are perfect, and we perfectly serve our families and friends, while we perfectly give thanks in all circumstances? We are imperfect, but we know that Jesus sees us as His beloved children, and He smiles upon us with gladness as we take steps towards Him. "Small groups" are meant to be a place to safely be transparent, to honestly seek Truth, and to be real. So let's be real.

And that is exactly what happened.

I let so many tears drop from my eyes this morning. The first question of the study guide was: When you look back on the timeline of your story, tell about a moment you hit a pothole in your journey of life? Tell about a moment in your life that was hard and painful and looked nothing like a gift. That is a personally vulnerable question! I stated up front that if it was too uncomfortable to share, please don't feel pressure to - but also, share if you feel appropriate. Half of the 16 women present shared a deeply vulnerable story from their life - a moment, or many moments, when pain was present, depression was in their face, and Heaven seemed too far away. Stories shared about hurts from parenting, marriage, addictions, divorce, childhood...it was raw and it was beautiful. Most of them shared exactly how the struggle and trial ended up blessing them! I was grateful for their honesty, giving more proof that Jesus really does carry us through the fire. Living proof sat before my eyes that we can come out of the flames stronger and even more beautiful. Beauty from ashes, people. We all have those bumps and potholes in our life, we all have "soul holes" that need to be filled. I continuously thanked Jesus for the opportunity to be there, among these precious children of His.

As we moved through the discussion, many deep thoughts were shared. How do we remain thankful through the painful struggles? I would love to share with you our journey of conversation:

Grumbling, complaining, and busyness cause us to close our hands and our hearts towards God. [And the gifts He wants to give us]. Being still and surrendering to Him brings calm and helps us to open our hearts and our hands. He is our calm in the midst of chaos! Oh the sweet joy of having access to the Calm.

Receiving the grace Jesus offers AND being filled with grace to the point of overflowing means that we have no room for anything else - especially bitterness and complaining. It removes self-focus. Overflowing with grace looks like dwelling on God's goodness, even in the pain. We know who we are in Christ, because His grace tells us we are His; we are able to offer grace to anyone we come into contact with - even those who hurt us. We are not defined by anyone's opinion except the loving Jesus's!

Ladies StudyAs we give thanks in the painful moments, we are not giving thanks for the pain itself, but for the HOPE of salvation and for the trustworthiness of Jesus. We are grateful that our pain does not define us, but Jesus does as He looks upon us with grace and pure love, seeing His marvelous children!

Why is it so hard to be thankful when we are going through a time of pain, struggle, or darkness? Because all we are seeing seems dark and painful; we do not see past the struggle. We cannot see beyond our circumstance, therefore we cannot see the good in the pain. The endurance being built, the character being strengthened, the hope deepening. We must look at the gifts that surround us.

Overflowing joy, living life in the fullest way possible, happens when we see each moment as it really is. Without the blinders of self, without the focus of "me." If we can look past self and out the window at the clear blue sky, we can see the good gifts that only a good God can lavish on us. Every moment is a gift; a gift of grace. Even in the painful times. Read the first chapter of Voskamp's book and see that even through the thick of Hell on earth, there is grace. I look forward to discovering ways to deepen my gratitude, which will only deepen my joy for life and my love for Jesus!

What are 5 things you are grateful for?

See the gifts surrounding you!

A Letter To Our Supporters & Our Church.

Coffee Culture creates an atmosphere of coziness. In that coziness, I enjoy sitting on the couch located in the back corner. Sipping my vanilla latte, I read through a Psalm, soaking in the serenity that it brings. "I have all that I need...He lets me rest...peaceful streams." I love it so much that I decide to etch it deep into my journal, slowly scrawling it onto the page with ink. The man sitting parallel to me turns. "I noticed you had a Bible and are writing...that. I hope you dont mind," ("Not one percent," I think). "I am new to town, I was hoping you had a recommendation for a good church. I am not much of a singer, but I do love a good sermon along with some fellowship."

Brett is his name. And my eyes must have exploded with great happiness as I shared with him that I personally attend Corvallis Church on Sunday mornings, I live in community with the people throughout the week, and I am even blessed to be on the staff! I stated that it was a church plant. "A what?" "You know, a church plant. A baby. Well, we are not a newborn anymore," I say, "We are in our third year!"

I went on to explain the beauty I have experienced. I mentioned that the pastor didn't even go to seminary, which really interested him, but instead had listened to the Holy Spirit and responded to a calling from Ephesians 4. He and his entire family. I expressed the growth I have seen in a multitude of the individuals who have walked through the doors on Sunday and stayed from anywhere between 3 weeks and 2 years! I mentioned that every Sunday morning, we have women who bring home-prepared food for the cafe, using their gift to build up and serve our church! I stopped myself, realizing I could go on forever sharing what Jesus has done and is doing through this church.

I share all of this to make a couple points.

1. I want to thank everyone who has decided to begin and decided to continue supporting Loren and I financially. It is because of God's provision through you directly that I am able to sit in a coffee shop on a Saturday, study God's word, and share with strangers the absolute beauty of a church community. It is because of you that Loren and I get to actively minister to people, pray for people in chunks of time, teach others about the wholeness that comes from pursuing a life of righteousness. Time and time again, I am overwhelmed with complete gratitude that others see the call and believe in the mission God has set before us. THANK YOU for encouraging us, supporting us!

2. I want to thank the people that make up "Corvallis Church." Each of you have moved me, driven me closer to Jesus himself. Thank you for choosing to grow with us, with me. Thank you for sharing your life, your stories, your heart! Thank you for committing to the community, but ultimately to serving God in this beautiful city! Thank you for being worthy of complete and utter excitement, when asked about "the church I go to."

I cannot wait for tomorrow morning.

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The Battle of Anxiety & Peace.

Do you ever wake up anxious? From the very first moment of peeling back your eyelids, your pulse jumps rapidly, your mind races, and you long to crawl back under those warm blankets? That was me today. My first response was to get into my Bible, pray in my journal, turn on Gungor. I attempted to stay busy and distracted, pleading with God to strip off the fears screaming into my soul. I recited Psalm 34:4 aloud, repeatedly. Frustration never helps anything, ever, but I was allowing it to simmer. Do you ever get angry because you're anxious, thus, feeding the issue?

I had paused, glancing at the books and journals stacked high on the table, screaming that they need read. An important one caught my eye: the journal with my list {in the making} of One Thousand Gifts. Reminded of the joy that harvests when naming and counting the gifts in my current circumstance (whether great or sorrowful) I chose to grab it and began giving thanks. I began noting small things, looking around our home, hunting for beauty. The headline I had written on that page read, "Count the ugly as grace: Ugly Beautiful." As I recounted my day, I listed the gifts God has graced me with:

327. thread strands, everywhere 330. books, borrowed by friend 332. walking the trash to the dumpster: fresh air 338. crumbs, mush, dirt, all sorts of trash piled high on the kitchen floor 342. hot chocolate with whip cream 345. husband kisses before leaving for work

"Inserting verbal gratitude into stressful situations is almost like being healed of mental blindness."

Ann Voskamp was right when she said that fear or anxiety cannot be in the same place as joy or gratitude. The millisecond I put pen to paper, my anxiety and fears fled, my mind slowed, and a patient and reverent heart replaced the fearful. Life around me fill up, (in)tangible becomes more tangible than ever. It was a miracle, "gratitude precedes a miracle."

I know {and have the choice to use or not use} the secret sauce to my battle of anxiety and peace, the war of ingratitude versus gratitude: it is when I recognize the gifts God surrounds me with; it ushers in peace, joy. I see His love encompassing me. Do you see it enveloping you?

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Starting February 5, I and a beautiful woman from church will be leading a ladies study through Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. I crave for everyone {and myself} to peel back the layer of silt that traps their eyes from seeing the glory of God, everywhere. I desire for others the freedom that gratitude towards our God brings, I ache to be a vessel that is used to launch such joy into people's lives. A grateful heart sees God in all, which overwhelms with joy, recognizing His deep, unending love for us, steering our hearts towards trusting Him. Trusting Jesus, seeing His perfect love, removes fear: perfect love casts out all fear.

Flowing Over Into Lives: Joy.

flowing over into lives joy This exposition of documenting one thousand gifts, in the small, minute parts of life, I find myself probing even hunting for beauty. I discover that I am steadily praying, thanking God for the dampened, mossy trees, fog rising off big buildings, birds screeching in the distance. I discover I am asking Jesus to teach me to see His beauty in all, that my eyes might wander and behold His glory in everything.

I chose to start the early morning off at the laundromat with my two journals {my usual journal along with my gifts journal}, my bible, and a treat: a 12oz vanilla latte. As I gradually unwrapped chapter 15 of the book of Romans, my heart was being filled to the brim; it was replete with cheer. I hit verse 13 and about wept my soul straight through my eyes. The two sentences scripted into a verse shivered my bones, shaping a smile between my lips.

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Paul prayed this over the Romans and my soul leapt with a luxury unexplainable, that it was recorded for my eyes to read. "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him." The understanding deepened: this joy and peace that is accompanied, escorted by gratitude, it is here because through each named gift, I am brought closer to the feet of Jesus. My soul is secured in Jesus as I trust Him; my essence is being gently hollowed out, expanding to create more space for Jesus's love and in that my trust has enhanced. As I thank Him and recognize the good gifts {in the small and minute} that He gives, I trust Him more and more, surrendering myself with acknowledgment that He cares. He cares for me and for you - why else would He surround us with beauty, encompass this world with grace and glory far and wide? And when I continuously gaze upon the goodness, I am without reason to not trust. Which accompanies peace. Delivers complete joy. And then, THEN I am "overflowing with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." Flowing over, I will, into the lives around me; into the neighbors I share walls with, the bystander folding her clothes across the table, and the old man at the grocery store.

Still being made new, imperfect but transforming,

Natalie

1,000 gifts part two

Read part one of 1,000 gifts here. You know how it's November? And people's Facebook statuses are all about what they're thankful for? I love that; I completely believe that if you're truly giving thanks, your heart changes. It transforms. The way you perceive life is different...it becomes joyful and positive. It brings strength when you feel completely weak: why? Because you're giving God glory, you're recognizing you cannot live this life alone.

This morning I read Psalm 92. After I read it through I went back to verses one and two:

"It is good to give thanks to The Lord...it is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening."

As I've stated before, I believe that all gifts are acts of grace from Jesus. I am continuing my quest of making a list of 1,000 gifts that I am deeply grateful for.

7. I am thankful for quiet mornings, rain storm happening outside, a time to sit in silence & soak in the peace of God.

8. I am thankful for the sales at Jo Anne's.

9. I am thankful that I get to welcome a very random (yet not so random) group of people into my home & feed them Thanksgiving dinner.

10. I am thankful for our patio, as well as the garden we planted.

11. I am thankful for medicine and doctors.

12. I am thankful for Allan Peterson's belief in and support of Loren and I. A complete encouragement.

13. I am thankful for true prayer warriors in my life (to name a few: Haley, Kent, Lindsey, Allan, Mike).

14. I am thankful for early morning Psalms.

15. I am thankful for the growth that has happened through having a very broken family.

16. I am thankful for fearless leaders who have sacrificed so much for the sake of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. (to name a few: Mike & Heather, Ben & Bethany, Melissa, Loren, Anthony & Emily, Russel & Emily, soooo manyyyy moreee )

17. I am thankful for the church family I am part of.

18. I am thankful for conversations with Stephanie Bean.

19. I am thankful for a sewing machine.

20. I am thankful for the ability to communicate with my sisters-in-law who live far away.

What are you thankful for? Have you started a list?

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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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