Adoption Update: a financial conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

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

How it works:

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

1 puzzle piece = $25 

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

- OR -

Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal

-OR-

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

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

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

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

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

 

Simple Christmas Decor for small apartments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hats and gloves by the door

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

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

Choosing to live fully: Happy New Year

Good morning January 1, 2014! I woke up with the cold hanging onto my body with the grip of a dying man, fearing the unknown. I had forgotten it was January 1, until I opened my beautiful bible to Ezekiel 36:26:

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will remove from you the heart of stone, giving you a heart of flesh."

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My heart has been slowly turning to stone. Last year kicked me in the butt and kind of wore me out. There was much to celebrate and enjoy, which we did. But the stabbing pains led me to slowly shut off my heart to others, a mode we call self-protection. I struggled to confuse my calling with my identity which brought me straight into battle with giving into ingratitude. Ingratitude. Is that not the catalyst of so many of my sins in life?

As I processed what I had read this morning in Ezekiel, I asked what a raw, gnawing, beating heart of flesh would look like. What would it look like for the year of 2014, to have a heart pumping with 3,000 stallions?

Our fall was, has always been, and will always be, that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other. Standing before that tree, laden with fruit withheld, we listen to Evil's murmur, 'In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened...' (Genesis 3:5). But in the beginning, our eyes were already open. Our sight was perfect. Our vision let us see a world spilling with goodness. Our eyes fell on nothing but the glory of God. We saw God as He truly is: good. But we were lured by the deception that there was more to a full life, there was more to see. And true, there was more to see: the ugliness we hadn't beheld, the sinfulness we hadn't witnessed, the loss we hadn't known.

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

A heart of flesh. Jesus' heart was "flesh." The last night before He went to the cross, He did what? His heart chose to give thanks. What about Jesus standing outside of Lazarus's tomb, and John 11:41 reminds us of His thankful heart, "Father I thank you that you have heard me." And then a dead man rose. Thanksgiving raises the dead, turns a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. An empty, stiff cadaver surging with veins full of blood, arteries flushing with life. Giving thanks.

"How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?" Asks Ann Voskamp

The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now, through it all.

This year, I choose to give thanks. I choose to purchase that notebook I've been wanting and fill it with one thousand gifts of grace.

Happy day.

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A Year In Review! Our Top {19} Memories

The final hour of 2013 is coming to a close. Let's look back on the year in celebration together! Although there were many pains and heart aches, there was a multitude of joys to celebrate. •To kick the year off, we fed a lot of ducks down at the river, with Korbin! 20131231-211326.jpg

•CIY Believe had some of the best middle school students attend. I am so honored to know each of them

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•Somehow, we were a part of the Nockles beautiful wedding and immediately after, drove from Portland to Eugene to be a part of the Listers wedding. 20131231-211649.jpg

•One of my most beautiful friends got married to an amazing man! 20131231-203639.jpg20131231-203650.jpg

•One of my best friends who just happens to be my sister in law, married to my best brother, had their first baby = my niece. Elsy Grace Newbold is one of the most beautiful creatures to crawl this planet. 20131231-210824.jpg20131231-210843.jpg

•Loren & I somehow planned a retreat for the Young Adults group that has formed in our church! We went snow boarding at SkiBowl20131231-211230.jpg20131231-211238.jpg

•We both had the honor of being part of many glorious baptisms.

•We had the privilege of driving to the beautiful city of Bend and soaking in the sounds of Sigur Ros 20131231-211858.jpg20131231-211908.jpg

•Our amazing parents (Loren's) drove over from ID and stayed for a weekend. I had my first taste of what it means to "camp" in a 5th wheel and had my first s'more in a microwave.

•Winema middle school camp melted our faces with amazing students. Natalie spoke at bonfire and Loren was trained into a director! 20131231-212258.jpg20131231-212708.jpg

•The city of Corvallis had a lot of our hours and sweat: no regrets, I loved every minute of it. Such great relationships were built 20131231-213209.jpg

•Loren and I were immensely blessed by our bosses/leaders at Corvallis Church. The Millers took the staff families to Lincoln City for a weekend of bliss and pure refreshment.20131231-213327.jpg20131231-213338.jpg20131231-213350.jpg

•Our youth group spent way too much time in our apartment and we upgraded to borrowing a church's sanctuary! 20131231-213436.jpg20131231-213444.jpg

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•Fourth of July rocked. We watched the fireworks with about 35 people from church. It was such a special evening: we even started the National Anthem that spread through the crowd.20131231-213546.jpg

•The Brenner household cooked and hosted two Thanksgiving dinners

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•I saved money in a jar and had an adventure to Canada. I had the privilege of visiting one of my best friends, Haley. I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, learned how to knit, and so much more 20131231-222035.jpg20131231-222047.jpg20131231-222529.jpg20131231-222618.jpg20131231-222630.jpg

•I had my first {of hopefully many} experience as a woman servant; also known as a Doula.

•Christmas was more of a blessing than I could have asked for. I saw family members I rarely see, ate a lot of bacon, collected too many $0.99 VHS's from goodwill, and got a Kitchen Aid! Our most meaningful relationships have deepened beyond reason.

We were completely gifted to go to Idaho! And what a blessed week this has been. What amazing people we know in this state. The impacts they are making impress me and move me towards action. The people we have met with have reminded me that true heroes are not those who build security into every area of life, but rather live merely by trusting in the constant provision of "daily bread." The heroes in my life are those who pour their life out as an offering for others. 20131231-225016.jpg

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Idaho has been a great closing to our year. We have seen many people we love, spent cherishing moments with those we rarely see. We stayed up until midnight playing monopoly {that is 4 hours later than I would want to be awake}. It's been refreshing.

To end the year, we play a really nerdy game in an apartment rented by people I've never heard of. They have the best toilet paper I've ever laid eyes on.

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Here is to a Happy New Year. My heart is flourishing because of the life Jesus has offered and will continue to offer to me. Our life is shorter than I can comprehend and I look forward to what 2014 brings.

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Merry Christmas from the Brenners

I used to wish I was Mary. Yes, Mary the wife of Joseph and mother of Jesus. I grew up thinking what an honor it would have been to carry the Savior of the world, inside of my body. To have been counted as worthy somewhere between 14 & 16 years old, to carry God's Son, to feel God in the flesh kicking around and growing inside of me. I will forever see Mary as honorable; what a beautiful young lady. Now, as a 21 year young lady, that dream has slowly vanished and been replaced with an utmost respect for Mary. She could have been stoned to death among other horrific events to "ruin a life" at such a young age; and yet, she decided to trust The Lord God and say "I am yours. Your will be done, Lord, not mine." The reverence for The Lord she had, must have been deep and powerful: it moved her to be willing to sacrifice her future, her life. Something we {even still} place so much emphasis on: it tends to define us.

The words written in the Bible illustrating the birth of our KING mean so much more to me today than they did just 2 years ago. Two years ago {and even still today} I talked about the story so flippantly. But it's not flippant. It isn't "no big deal." It is not fiction. It is not solely a historical event. It is real and it is soul shaking. If you "dare to" allow the Truth to penetrate your soul.

Last night during Christmas Eve service, I was so stirred by thinking of the night Jesus was born. I was struck with awe as I imagined being there. What a holy night. A true night of glory, honor, magnificence. I mean, can you imagine the presence of angels?! Heavenly hosts?! Jesus Christ himself?! There are no words to describe it, I am sure. I recently had the privilege of being a Doula-In-Training for a friends labor/birth...the honor I had from that rocked my soul. I cannot even dream of the honor it would have been the night of Jesus' first breath in this world. 20131225-152308.jpg

Have you ever stopped to let the words of Christmas carols sink in? They're beautiful. The picture the lyrics paint are glorious:

"Son of God, love's pure light Radiant beams from thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace ... heavenly hosts sing alleluia." {Silent Night}

"No more let sins and sorrows grow Nor thorns infest the ground: He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found.

He rules the earth with truth and grace." {Joy To The World}

These carols pierced my heart last night and I pray, I pray that they may pierce yours. That this year, today, songs of old would be renewed in your heart, livening your Spirit as they did mine.

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We Christians often ask "non Christians" to "take a leap of faith" towards God. You know what I mean? {Whether you think you need Jesus or not, whether you see Him as Lord of your heart or just some far off idea for other people...I want you to consider something}. What if for a moment, we instead slowed down to see the leap God made towards us. Re read it & pause.

He leaped further than any of us could even dare to imagine. He, God the Creator, sent His own self in the flesh, His Son just to be with us. To reconcile. To offer grace. Grace and redemption as a gift. To offer peace when it makes no sense. To bring joy when sorrowful. To present hope when all is hopeless.

That is the gift I want to continuously receive and also the gift I pray to perpetually give.

Merry Christmas, folks. Be blessed. 20131225-161158.jpg

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Oh These Days of Pain.

Oh these days.I walk around in a haze of struggle craving to please the Lord with all that I say, wanting with all that I am to bring praise to His holy name. These days are filled with pain and joy; a rocky terrain with the sky pouring rain, rain that doesn't destroy but rain that is decoyed as joy.

Oh these days. Often I feel too deeply the pains of others. I let my heart and my mind completely join in with their suffers, allowing compassion to dig roots reaching into the depths of my being disputing for absolutes, that may not even be completely true. A curse it seems to experience such extremes and I frequently wonder, "Is this how I am supposed to be?" Feeling a strangers obvious ache, heartbreak for someone else's mistake; overtaking my heart, tearing it apart, bringing me to my knees calling upon Jesus imparting for this world.

Oh these days. Too often I look past the joys and straight to noise, forgetting to be thankful, to rejoice. I beg for His return which then brings on a burn for all of those lost and in concern, oh how does He discern? So then I ask for more time as we carry their weight of glory praying their stories join His.

Oh these days. I am reminded its real good that I am not in control for I would not know how to unroll history as a whole. Each life is so short and I crave for the souls of many to abort their distorted view of just how to cavort through this life. So often the belief to simply exist insists that we are here to assist no one but our self, to resist all temptation to care, the world tells us to dismiss the enlistment of Jesus' love. Oh so lost are so many but I must not obliterate the Truth that Jesus liberates removing the separate-ness of He and I. I must not forget that He died for my life [and yours] so that I can walk in the assurance of grace, without being denied or terrified. His face is turned towards me embracing my heart chasing me every day distaste is never a thing. For that I am forever grateful which turns my mourning into dancing keeping me deeply faithful. Shameful is no longer allowed, for that I keep my knees bowed praising His name so endowed. He lifts my spirits from the dark cloud reminding me not to fall into the drought.. but also saying "It is good, my child, to feel compassion throughout, because without carrying the weight of their glory you would not be fighting for My story."

These Days {the holidays} : Full of Aches & Pains.

Oh these days.These days hurt, they're filled with a lot of pain, deep aches, and the looming question, "will this ache and almost-dred of the holidays ever dissipate?" I know for a fact that I am not the only one who tends to have a bitter-sweet taste towards this time of year. Frankly, it saddens me that I am completely human and cannot push away these pains & be 100% happy. But life is not about my happiness. What I mean though, is sometimes I get down on myself, hard on myself, for feeling sad during these months. I too quickly diagnose it as selfish pride, which it very well may be. But diagnosing & labeling myself that way only makes it worse and creates more bitterness. All of today I was stuck inside my head mulling over conversations: words I should have/shouldn't have said, facial expressions I wish I did or did not make, you know, internally processing the first part of the first holiday. Then I would tell myself to quit thinking about it & move on; forget it. And then I thought, "Natalie, if you don't allow yourself to feel the pain, to process the aches, to be REAL now, then in about 20 years it will barf itself out all over the ones you love most. Your husband & children. Feel the pain & realize you're human." So together, let's be real. Let's not be constantly talking about ourselves & our situations, but in the moments of silence, let's be real with Jesus, get on our face, and cry out to Him. Let Him heal you before you make your heart messier than it needs to be.

About 35% of children are in a single-parent home = broken family. I didn't look up the stat for deaths in families, but I know that's also an aspect of depression during these days. I see that culture itself attempts to make divorce "normal." I now understand that growing up, when I "just wished my parents would divorce like Heather W's parents, because life would be so much easier" that I was believing a lie that culture has so creatively formed. No matter who you are or what age, or even the situation, there will always be a disconnect when your parents are not together. EVEN IF it is way better they are not together, say due to abuse, there will always be that brokenness. That dysfunction will remain. It will remain simply because God created it differently; and for some reason, if it's not "working" the way it was created to work, it is broken and not as good. It is not whole. So when culture tells you that your pain is invalid and that you are a puny whimp for craving what was meant to be, ignore it. Ignore that lie. It's like telling someone their toilet is normal, even when it clearly does not flush & is overflowing; bad analogy, but you get the point: if it's not working the way it was created to, it's broken & almost useless. It hurts & that is okay, because broken families equals broken hearts. And broken hearts ache. Now. Broken hearted I sit in Starbucks drinking a peppermint hot chocolate. As I prepped dinner yesterday, I was struggling all day. It was weird. Really weird. I had been having these "growing pains" days before Thursday arrived and I know Jesus was growing & molding my heart; He was definitely stretching me & I would love to tell you why someday. Face to face. BUT, as I sit here, I want to make a bigger point than the brokenness that surrounds us. We are engulfed in it! It would be so easy to allow the sadness of my broken family, and those broken around me, to become my focus. It would be so easy to shut off, shut down, and become a face in the crowd without a smile. But where in the Bible does it say life will be easy or simple? Where does it say we get to slack on self discipline, and choose the easy way, the wide road? Oh wait, it doesn't. I want to challenge you and myself to do two things: 1. in the silence, in the intimate moments with Jesus, FEEL YOUR PAIN & CRY OUT FOR HEALING, for joy; 2. in the busy, in the celebration moments, in the bulk of life, focus on Jesus and gratitude for your Savior. As a response to that gratitude of His unending & undeserving grace, look outward and pour your life out as an offering. Stop focusing on ourselves & our pains, and look outward serving this city and this world in the name of Jesus. Loving the other broken hearted people. Don't succumb to talking depressive talks with other depressed people...how is that edifying anyone? It just brings on more bitterness & who really wants to be around that? Stand tall, for the glory of God and be an encouragement. Heck, do you know what a smile can do for someone's day? Just smile & be intentional about it. Be ever grateful for the red, green, & gold everywhere; the warmth of this season. The music and lights! The joy and the coffee! I am sure we can all find something to gloom and ache for, but I am positive we can all find something to be thankful for. One thing, is the hope for salvation! Hello! We have true hope, people which brings true joy.

20131129-201423.jpg In honor of this season, I thought I would post a photo of my LOVELY inaccurate nativity scene :)

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Peppermint bark (paleo)

Ingredients: 1 cup softened coconut oil 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 1 tsp pure peppermint extract 3 TBSP mini dark chocolate chips Pinch of sea salt

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Method:

Mix all the ingredients! Pour mixture onto parchment paper (which is on some sort of sheet). Flatten & freeze until hard

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Thank you to Tammy who inspired this.