Hope: birthed at the dawn of the New Year

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

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

Hope is birthed at the dawn of the New Year.

I am very much ready for 2016.

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

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

Maybe it will be #theyearofBrennerbabies. #wecravecrazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, team.

Thank you for joining us on this wild ride.

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

Adoption Update: a financial conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

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

How it works:

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

1 puzzle piece = $25 

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

- OR -

Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal

-OR-

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finding Him [in the mess of church + holidays]

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

Until this "season" of my life.

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

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

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

I felt awkward. Because I am awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

baby loss, miscarriage, ornament

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

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

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

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

IMG_8689

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:

IMG_8695

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!

Adoption: correcting ignorance [pt2: when to tell a child he was adopted]

 

I am learning how quickly my Mama Bear instincts kick in when people say ignorant things, how easily my heart is ready to protect and defend our baby and Birth Mom, our Other Family we have not even met yet.

I also am learning how ignorant I was before stepping into this journey, how ignorant I still am, and how hurtful ignorance can be. 

There are phrases and words that sting the hearts of us on this journey like wasps, stings that last longer than you expect them to, as the venom spreads and courses its way through. So let’s talk about it. While I learn and my ignorance is corrected, why don’t you join me and learn too? And grace.  I’m honored to be here typing to you.

Last week we touched on: Birth Mamas and Open vs Closed Adoptions.

- - - - -

People have been asking this question the entire journey through: when will you tell your child that he or she was adopted?

Such a good and valid question that we also asked and conversed and prayed through.

Last summer I was chatting with a friend who had been battling infertility for a few years. Her and her husband discovered that his sperm count was at 0.  They decided to pursue insemination with donor sperm. I asked her what that would look like for their family - do you tell a child this? Does it even matter? I wondered and asked because I wondered if our story would unfold similar to theirs. She shared with me that a counselor said these words: a child should never remember being told he or she was adopted; let's use that same rule for this situation.

That churned the wheels in my brain and sparked some fun creativity. I had never heard it put that way, but it sounded right, it felt right, it seemed right. At this time, over a year ago, I was certain we would never have an open adoption - solely a closed one. Now that we are hoping for at least a semi-open adoption, this will be a lot easier and make sense. But even for closed adoptions, I suggest this way of thinking, "our child will never remember being told he/she was adopted, she just knew."

We are making a specialized book of this journey, fit just for our baby. We may purchase THIS BOOK or we may create a shutter fly book. Basically, the idea is to always have the conversation open and honest, that yes, you were brought into this family the non-natural-not-my-womb-like way, but you are still very much our child. Yes, you have Another Mother and Another Daddy, you have Grandparents who are tied to you by blood, and they treasure you...but so do we. Keeping a child's adoption a secret used to be the norm. But now, psychologists and studies show that it is much healthier for a child to grow up knowing that huge part of their identity. It is a bigger part than you or I could understand. To withhold such precious information, such treasurable pieces of someone's identity can be detrimental.

Loren and I both hope to make our home a space where our children, adopted or not, feel free to ask us questions about their identity. We pray that our home will be a safe space, coursing with honesty. Our social worker had some great input as well - she mentioned the difficult scenarios of the baby coming from a rape or sex trafficking situation. She has guided our thinking to remember it is good to be honest but also age appropriate; to answer with the truth but also withhold bits until the age is right, or frame the words honestly and wisely. It is a forever journey.

We hope and we pray that we will get to meet more than our baby's Birth Momma. We hope that we are able to meet a few family members, as many as possible, to learn about and study their family history. We want to bring as much information about our baby's First Family into our little book to share with our little one as he or she grows. Especially if our baby is another ethnicity; we so want to bring that culture into our family and ask about traditions and weave them into our lifestyle.

On a similar note, people [my ignorant self indluded] often times say something like "So why did her mom give her up?" or "How could she look at that little face and give him up?" Or, "...give their child up." So often we stereotype the Birth Mommas as irresponsible or selfish teenage girls; but what we don't choose to see is their incredibly selfless and responsible decision to place their baby in another momma's hands. Or they are simply forgotten as precious humans who made an incredibly painful decision. This was and continues to be excruciating. Their heart breaks daily for the child they chose not to raise. Those birth momma's sacrifice every natural hormone in her being to give her child a better life. Our greatest joy will be her greatest loss. On Mother's Day, what will bring me the utmost fulfillment and a heart filled to the brim, is what will crush her and bring grief to the surface. She is more like Jesus than you or I realize, sacrificing her heart so her child can have a better, more full, whole, abundant life.

SO. These selfless Birth Parents dont "give them up" like they give up soda, but instead give them a life they know they never could. We celebrate while she mourns. It is a common misconception that these babies are unwanted or unloved but in most of these cases, this is so not the case.

If you have a moment to read this quick post by a Birth Momma, I encourage you to. I can't seem to find enough of these sorts of articles and posts. Click on the quote to led to the article: "We place that final kiss on our baby’s forehead and pass them forward to your waiting arms because we know you will be taking it very seriously too."

PS! IF YOU WERE FOLLOWING US ON THE LITTLE WORLD OF SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU WOULD KNOW THAT OUR HOME STUDY ASSESSMENT WAS TODAY! Cathy, our amazing social worker, is gone and our home is mega clean and I love it. Scrubbed down to the cracks of the baseboards and decored with fall love from my Mother In Law. Anyways! About three times before she left Cathy said, "Dont worry, you're approved, I just need to get it written up and the signatures. You should be able to have copies by September 25." FOLKS! WE ARE SO CLOSE TO APPLYING TO AGENCIES AND PRESENTING TO MORE BIRTH MOMMAS. What a breath of relief, what a blessing our Cathy is. Thank you for rooting us on!

For more reading on Birth Mothers, 12 Myths About Birth Mothers.

To financially support our adoption, click here.

you never know what you're going to get [adoption]

IMG_0896-13 I was laying in the chair with the bib draped over me like I do every six months, because I like so few people in this world, have dental coverage. Something I still don't know how to not take for granted. I see this woman, this hygienist, two times a year and yet it feels like I have known her for years; she has been married twice, has two girls going to OSU, has a lot of strong opinions, is kind and thoughtful. Not once have our conversations lacked weight and meaning, every single time I have laid my self down to be subjected to her pointy tools and bright lights, we share significant words while I do my best to ignore the cold utensils tearing apart the vulnerable parts of my face. We talked about backpacking and tics and adoption and gay marriage and sex changes. It was quite the day for heavy topics.

She asked me if I am currently and still working as doula, she asked what inspiring things I have to share about my life this time. She says my life is exciting, and I scoffed because I feel like my life is a life like any others: ordinary and here, breathing and stepping one step at a time, time flying too fast for anyone's liking. I told her that I am not doing much, just building my photography business, cleaning some houses, and writing a lot. She told me I should write a book and I grinned at her while the silver, cold-jabbers clanked around the ivory that is my teeth. It hit me that she doesn't yet know that we are adopting. So I updated her on this new aspect of our journey, this door that has been opened, never to close, no matter what the outcome. It is now here, a part of us.

Immediately, she tells me horror stories from Oprah, about two adoptive families who "couldn't return their kids and didn't know what to do, because they were causing havoc and trying to burn down the house. I mean, you just never know what you're going to get and what their genetics are and what have you; what if they try to kill you?" My stomach plummeted below the raised seat-bed I was laying in, because the words, "couldn't return" never sits easily in my soul. Like these children, these babies, these lives are a product to enjoy and if they aren't satisfactory, I should be able to return them like shampoo or bleach, or my cheeseless cheese-burger. I swallowed as best I could with my mouth pried open as she shared another story about her friends marriage crumbling, ending in divorce, certainly because of the children they adopted. While the words were being spewed carelessly, my heart was surprisingly calm and prayerful, knowing that she has no idea the reality of what adoption is. Neither do I, not really; I have not truly yet adopted a life, this is an entire new avenue that I thought I knew what to expect. I wasn't't so much mad at her [and the many others who have hinting at] these accusations and assumptions, as I was sad that these are real thoughts and realities for some.

She pulled out the instrument that was being used to rip my gums to shreds and she asked, "I probably shouldn't have shared those things with you, you probably didn't know such horrible things could happen and are going to back out." I smiled as gently as I could and I said, "Actually, lots of people have horror stories that they like to share. And they don't horrify me or worry me. I figure that my biological child will have just as much, if not more, reason to rebel against me and burn my house down than my adopted child. Once this baby is placed in our arms and the papers are signed, this baby will be just as much mine as if I carried him; because right now, I am carrying him in my heart, woven in and throughout, knowing our babies are somewhere growing and waiting for me too. If my adopted child runs away, I am not going to point my finger at him and blame his unknown genetics."

And I wondered silently: would I know what I was going to get if this baby was growing in my womb? I would be confident in his or her race, but do we ever know what our children will be like? Is our standard of love so conditional that we will not risk loving and welcoming babies who need homes into our hearts? Where is our standard of what and who is "worth loving" coming from?

The conversation that unfolded there in the dentist office only continued the thoughts that have been ruminating in my mind: adoption is not for the faint of heart, adoptive parents are brave and strong even though they don't feel like it, adoptive families are ordinary people. Which means that ordinary people adopt, which means that you can adopt, which means you are brave and strong even if you don't feel like it.

In our Adoption FB group, there have been a few too many failed adoptions in the last week. So. Many. Failed. Adoptions. A failed adoption is similar to a miscarriage, in my small and humble, insignificant opinion: you plan for this baby, you have loved this baby since before you knew he or she existed, your life has wrapped around and intertwined itself, bending around this new life, this fresh life. Your nursery is decorated, your pregnancy-calculator begins and you count down the months until you meet this bundle of squish, and you think of the next holiday following, you imagine family events and walking around with this baby strapped close. A failed adoption is like a miscarriage in that it is tragic, it is a loss, it is painful and grief is involved. Adoption is tragic and beautiful, folded up into one. It is not a flip of a coin, it is not purchasing shampoo or a turkey taco, it is not buying something with the expectation that it will satisfy you and if it doesn't, you can return it. Adopting babies and children is a very conscious decision to enter into a new sort of pain.

Every now and then I see this type of post in our Adoption FB group: Let's talk about cocaine exposure. If you have a baby that was exposed to cocaine prenatally, what has been your experience? What did just after birth look like and how has it impacted your little one in an ongoing way?

These adoptive parents, we (it still blows my mind that I am in this category), walk through the door of adoption knowing that it isn't the same as conceiving, carrying, and raising babies with your genetics and your face and your medical history. We know that we may be in the NICU for two days to eight weeks, watching our babies heal and recover, wean from drug overdose. We grieve not having the choice to nourish them in the womb, but we love them as if we did. I realize I still haven't held a baby and looked into his or her eyes and known she was mine, but I know that when I do, when that moment comes, I won't think "you better behave and satisfy me, or I will return you." They are our babies, not our shampoo.

I saw this in our adoption FB group as well:

"My friends. Adoption is redemption. It's costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous.  Buying back lives cost so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him." -Derek Loux

I don't know where you are at in the way of adoption. I don't know if you think we are ludicrous or normal or simply just beginning to see the unfolding of what adoption can be. I feel like that is where we are at: the prologue of adoption, barely understanding what this will mean and look like, how this will change us, but so ready for God to continue working in and through us. No matter how painful and how unexpected and how different it may appear. We don't know "what we are going to get" but I give you my word, that whoever we get, we will love with all of our selves, we will treasure and kiss and nourish as though he or she carries our blood. Whatever babies are placed under our care while on this earth, we will love them and share with them who Jesus is, that they are worth loving, worth harsh opinions and judgements, and that their birth momma loves them indescribably. No matter what we get.

God is so patient with us, with me. I am grateful in the fibers of my being that He has adopted me, adopted me as His own. He chose to step into the tragic beautiful mess that is adoption, that is choosing broken and messed up humans. People who don't glorify Him well, who don't follow all the rules, who point fingers and Him and yell and blame Him for all of the mess that they have created, who don't listen to His loving instructions. I am one of those people. And I am so, so thankful that He has not returned me.

adoption

Running

running I've always loved running.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running puts me back on my swivel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nursery nook

 

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

A place to meet Him, daily.

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.

On our merry way..to Germany

brenners travel to germany Since the dawn of our precious union, Loren and I have been saving for two colossal dreams: adoption and a trip to Germany. We fundraise most of our income to be employed at Corvallis Church, so the money supporting us each month is precious and very much not ours, but His. That is something that I have learned time after time: it is not mine, so why would I worry, and why would I be careless with it? The money is His and so am I, and He cares more for me more than nickels and dimes.

Each month we have done our best to set aside $10-20 towards each of those substantial desires. With our first tax return, we eagerly put 3/4 of it into a savings account with the hope to save enough over the years to travel our little butts to Germany on our 10th year anniversary - that was the goal, though we knew it could be ripped out from under us at any moment. We weren't entitled to this ambition, we weren't clinging to it for dear life as if we owned it, we simply saved with the hope to make it there someday, but also knowing the reality that it may need to be used towards something greater.

You guys. Some way, some how, some reason, a couple in our family decided to generously gift us with the remaining balance to send us on our merry way to the grand land of Germany. This year, this month, THIS WEEK. Seven years earlier than we would have been able to. My mind freezes flabbergasted at the phenomenon that I am flying to Europe for the second time - this time with my beloved husband. This year of 2015 has handed me grief, knocking me to my knees which I will later unravel...but what a treasure to uncover rest and unfold adventure in a country that I have never been to? Plus, I will get to greet new faces with bright white teeth, nothing but warm smiles, because, hello, LANGUAGE BARRIER.

The tickets for this trip were booked last fall, thank you family. We placed it in the back of our minds and planned to plot the trip when the time was near. Like a June-bug on a windshield, April 1 hit and someone said, "Hey aren't you going to Germany soon?" At that point we thought, "WE NEED TO PLAN THIS THING!" As we began to prepare to leave, a deep and unwelcome sense of guilt and shame began to settle in. This sense of shame had been nagging at the back of my heart whenever I thought of this trip, but now it was unfurling itself ten fold with the approaching trip. Who am I to think that we can go to Germany so young in our marriage? Who are we to just up and leave our church community for a few weeks? What will people think of us? Are we so spoiled that we get to go to Germany? We do not deserve this. We could be giving this money to the poor. GUILT GUILT GUILT GUILT SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME. One day it dawned on me: whether I choose to carry this unnecessary shame with me or not, I am going to Germany. It would be a shame to not fully enjoy the trip, because I am allowing the sin of fear to creep in. And who says that God isn't in Germany, who says that pastors and ministry leaders aren't allowed real vacations?

Oh fear.

Oh shame.

Oh unnecessary lies that crop up and attempt to steal, kill, and destroy.

Three days remain, full of meetings and to do's and appointments and bible studies and precious people that I adore, before we step onto a plane for 10 hours. At the end of that 10 hours we will set foot in Frankfurt, Germany and our adventure will fully begin. We will meet family members, visit friends, and stay a few nights here and there in Air B&B's. I will turn 23, TWO-THREE, such a baby I feel and yet at the same time how am I 23 and married for 3 years? We will ride bikes and snap photos and write and rest and refresh and reset. We will see Him in Europe, in His people across the ocean, in His creation that is radiantly glorious, shouting His Name.

So my friends, we are off to Germany! Follow along via Intagram or Facebook. I will be posting on this lovely space as often as I am able, because I am falling hard in love with writing.

 

bis später, meine freunde
[until then, my friends]

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When waves come crashing at your feet

a blog post about trials and Jesus Dear girls-

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

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

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

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

take heart for i have overcome

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

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

I love you girls. You know that.

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

With so much hope,

Natalie

when waves come crashing

Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD The truth is, right now, I am exhausted, I am one giant emotion, and I have nothing to attribute the reasons to. My hormones are a confusing mess, it is not "that time of month," and I am not pregnant. My thyroid is fine. Simply, life feels like chaos; and that is because it is.

Who ever said life on this earth would be easy?

Certainly not Jesus. And He is who I look to for guidance.

The truth is, right now, I feel as though I am suffocating and gasping for air. I feel weary and tired, always ready to fall asleep, but when the time comes to lay my head on the pillow all of the worries and cares and burdens of those I love and spend time with come flooding into my brain all at once. As well as the long list of to do's, the ways we should change our life, the cool ideas to implement for our church, and many humans who I wish I could meet with. It is as though my mind's cue to run at full speed is the comfort of a cozy pillow.

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The truth is, right now, the weather is my favorite but is also my body's nemesis. I love the colors of every leaf, the temperature invites a scarf, and I do love walking with a warm something in my hand. But something happens during these darker months - you can look it up, its science - where people struggle a little more than they would throughout the year. Let's talk about it, not hide it. Let's shine light on it, so that it doesn't grow scarier in the dark. "Mushrooms only grow in the dark." SAD, seasonal affective disorder, is a real thing and doesn't have to be this big and dark hidden secret. Especially among Christians.

Though I am fickle and my emotions and hormones and feelings are often unpredictable, Jesus is not. Jesus, my God and my Lord, is stable, steadfast, reliable, and so extremely loving. This is the key to my finding peace among the angst, joy amidst the despair: that He loves me, that my weakness is not what defines me, and that I get to experience His grace on a deeper level when I fall into these pits. I am made in the image of God, as is every human being who has ever walked the planet Earth. Or the moon. He has called my by name, He has said I am beloved, and He is my defining value. He is my Redeemer. He brings joy in the darkest nights and hope in the dreariest days. My friends, He is real. This is not some made up thing for the weak- though I am so very weak. But in my weakness, He is made strong, and He works in me.

We get to experience His grace deeper when we are falling apart & broken messes, because even when we are those things, He loves us perfectly.

Jesus did not tell us to hide our despair or wear a facade of okay-ness. In fact, He invites us into this place of freedom called Honesty. An honesty that faces the facts and then moves forward, pursuing His heart in every situation.

The Truth is, I have a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to praise Jesus for. I have food multiple times a day, I have a warm shelter, I have clothes to choose from and create outfits with. These are some of the most obvious things. I have a team of people that I get to call family and coworkers, team members and pastors, and we are honest about this real struggle and have opened it up for discussion: that is celebratory. This church I am a part of is something else, I must say. More reasons for thanksgiving: I have three of the most blessed jobs: shepherding people I love and building them up and pointing towards Jesus, Doula-ing and supporting families during child birth, Photography and capturing beautiful humans with a camera. But here I am, still battling down-in-the-dumpness. And together, me and you and our church communities, we can point one another to our King, to our Healer, to our true source of actual Joy.

This is a vulnerable and risky thing, sharing my heart on the internet. But to me, it is worth it, if it means one more person has a bigger glimpse of what it means to follow Jesus. If one more person has a deeper glimpse at His love and the life He craves to offer, it is worth the risk; because friends, we need this Life. You need this Life. We need His love to live fully, and not just survive. He is our answer and I hope you'll join me in discovering His heart for us, individually & collectively.

psalm 43

Read here some tips for battling the weather blues.

"Three times He said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me."

2 Corinthians 12:9

"His grace is enough for you: you are okay, just as you are. Tears, shortcomings, strengths, all. His power is demonstrated through times of weaknesses, so they are okay. And you are okay. It is a relief to remember that and that it is okay to not be perfect. In fact, the times of depending upon grace when we are imperfect are the more beautiful powerful times. Not so much the seemingly 'perfect' times." A piece of encouragement from my friend to me and now to you.

A note to those in ministry:

Acknowledging that sometimes the circumstances in life are hard to deal with.   The demands of ministry are hard, the constant rejection is hard to not take personal, and this is a season where our bodies and minds have a hard time adjusting and handling those pressures.

A key to overcoming depression isn't just being reminded of how you should feel, because then you just feel worse for not feeling how you know you should feel.  It is reminding ourselves and each other of Jesus and how loved we are, acknowledging and validating each other's feelings and helping to get each other active in using our gifts in selflessness.

Learning that being broken is the norm and leaning into Him is freeing;

Natalie

Identity Crisis.

I am convinced that there would be no hurt or offenses [or sin] if we knew our identity.Too often I find myself in an identity crisis. Honestly, it doesn't need to happen as much as it does. In April I wrote this post about life being a daily battle, a raging war. I had felt trapped as though I were suffocating by life itself when I was reminded at the real-ness of the everyday war we are all up against, whether we know it or not. We can choose to fight and stand tall, with the help of God Himself, or we can choose not to / forget and become imprisoned.

I find these prisons to always be an identity crisis.

Ephesians 6: Bible

In April, I woke up every day to read through Ephesian 6:10-18. It became a habit, a discipline, first nature itself, to put on and wear the armor of God. It was a lifestyle that I slowly let slip away, because I forgot that the power was from the Spirit of God, not Natalie. During that time, I was set free daily of anxiety and stress. I was clearly reminded that when conflicts or offenses arise, it is because we are each in this war against Satan and the evil rulers of this world.When I remember those Truths, my heart is light and I have loads of compassion and understanding for others. Giving grace becomes easy when I have the Spirit of God protecting and guiding me, telling my soul that others need His spirit and grace too.

Trouble arises when I quit putting on my armor: Evil himself begins his subtle attacks, slowly, but surely. If I don't catch it right away, I slip into a state of exhaustion and weariness, because I am trying to fight the battle alone, without God's Spirit, His armor.  I had been catching myself feeling shameful over the last few weeks and I didn't like it. Shame does not come from Jesus. Talk about identity crisis. Though I was still spending time in His word and talking with Him about many things, I avoided the deep root issue going on: my identity was slipping away from Him. I wasn't placing my core identity in Jesus Christ everyday.

Today interrupted that dangerous cycle and I am grateful.

A true friend came over for lunch and said these words to me:

I love you, Natalie. I love your heart and I love you so much. Recently, when I am around you, I feel like you are imprisoned. Like you are trapped. What is going on?

She reminded me that, "We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world and evil spirits in the heavenly places." She wasn't condemning me. She was loving me and calling out my [sin] which was residing in suffocation. In Jesus, there is fullness of joy and life - which is the opposite of prison. I processed through with her what was going on and friends, it isn't easy to be vulnerable. It is a risk and it is painful and you reveal SELFishness. You reveal yourself and you feel ugly and you know you are wrong in so many ways and thats what is frustrating, but you still are being heard and known and loved and a friend will gently help you process and love you through it all. A friend will walk you through the painful parts of processing and remind you that you are human and you need Jesus' grace. A friend will remind you of your identity. A friend will pray with you before leaving.

I need to be a better friend to those I love.

This time of actual vulnerability and raw honesty escorted me right into Ephesians to turn to God in an honest way.

Ephesians 1:4-5

Before God made the world, He loved us.

He chose us.

We are His and because of that Truth, we are holy and without fault in His eyes.

Before I sinned, before I obeyed, before I existed, He loved me. The same is for you. We get to claim those words as part of our identity: chosen, holy, faultless. The verse following this says that it gives God the Father GREAT PLEASURE to adopt us as His own. Friend, does that not bless you in your soul and bring you peace? Can you take a deep breath of relief with me? He did not adopt you with hesitation or grudgingly or nervously or cautiously or with angst...He adopted you and it gave Him >GREAT PLEASURE<.

This, this is what brings me to praise God: because of His glorious grace poured out onto me! He loves me and chooses me even when I am filled with ugly bitterness and self-entitlement. He is so gloriously gracious! Because He is rich in kindness + grace. He has showered us in His kindness, along with wisdom + understanding.

All because of Jesus.

Here is the reason for my identity crisis: I forget who I am in Christ. I forget to trust God [+ His Truths].

I share because I wonder if this is more prevalent than we let on. I wonder if we are more alike on a deeper level than we think and allow each other to know.

Here is my break down of the beautiful cycle I want to continuously pursue:

I have found that when I give thanks I trust Jesus. Real and true and creative gratitude - giving thanks in the small and minute and in the large. I mean things like bubbles in pancakes when they are almost ready to flip; leather journals; sun after a rainy day; clear skies revealing stars; dust on the shelf; husband smiling when he gets home from work. [Visit our Life of Joy category]. When I give thanks for the small details of the life Christ is giving me, it is then that I am reminded how trustworthy He is. It is in the thanksgiving that He reveals His trustworthy love for me, individually. When I trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice for my falling-short and imperfect self, it is then that I let loose the parameters and measurements of this world. It is then that I quit fearing man and man's judgment, and revere the Lord. When we trust in Christ's sacrifice to atone for our sins, then we know we are holy and faultless in His eyes; we feel His warm embrace surrounding us & keeping us safe. It is then that I am released of ungodly expectations and standards and facades. It is then that I remove my identity from floundering and to Jesus. When this happens, I praise God because He has richly blessed us with grace.

I am convinced that there would be no sin if we walked in the identity of Christ. I am convinced [for now] that if we walk in our true identity every second of life, there would be no sin or selfishness or pride. We would see other people's identity as well, and give grace freely, knowing who they are in Christ. Jesus is always the answer [to an identity crisis].

Spending HONEST time with Him will always set us straight, always tweak our mindsets.

Closing nugget:

"And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit."

He loved you so much He identified you as His own, HE GAVE YOU PART OF HIMSELF. He put His own Spirit within you. A Spirit of grace and truth, not of fear and timidity. What a gift. We get to call upon Him even after we forget to - He resides within us.

Thank you, Lord, for being our identity. For calling us holy and faultless, and finding great pleasure in calling us Yours. You are the best Father.

[Make time to read Ephesians 1].

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If you related to this, check out Do You Know Who You Are?

Guest Post: Can Joy Be a Discipline?

It is my honor to have our first Guest Post on our little blog! It is my privilege to introduce to you, Beth Slater, an amazing woman with a pure heart that strives to glorify Jesus in all that she does. She recently did a word study on JOY and I asked if she would write a guest post. Beth is a follower of Jesus, wife to Brett, Momma to 2 boys, and so much more.

 

I’ve been asking myself lately “Can joy can be a discipline?” Is it simply a spontaneous emotion as a result of seeing the perfect wildflower, or smelling the air after a fresh rain, something of that nature? Or is joy something that can be fostered? The world would say it’s the power of positive thinking, might recommend a book to read or insist on a life mantra to repeat at all times of discouragement. But as I open my bible to see what God has to say about joy it’s not surprising that I find something very different than what the world has to say. When God speaks of joy He speaks of something truer and purer, something that transcends circumstances, a manifestation of a lifestyle and most exciting of all it is eternal- not a passing moment.

Let me show you 3 intentional ways of living that abound in joy.

1. The first way I see joy manifested is so simple and yet so easy to miss. Joy happens in the presence of God. From the Old Testament all the way through the new, people are joyful in God’s presence. In Leviticus, at the first priestly ceremony, God’s presence comes down to the sacrifice on the altar “and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” 9:23b, 24.

There’s a similar account in 1 Chronicles 29:22 as the Israelites celebrate their new king, Solomon, by offering sacrifices to God. And in the Psalms there are many instances of joy in the presence of God for example “Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence21:6, says King David while worshipping in God’s presence. Moving to the New Testament Jesus talks about joy being complete in Him “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them John 17:13. In Luke, Jesus has been crucified and He has resurrected, when He first appears to the disciples they respond in joy and they share a meal, “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 24:41. A few verses later it’s time for Jesus’ ascension as He goes up from them, the disciples worship Him with great joy, “Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy 24:52.

For us, we don’t have sacrifices to call God down from the heavens, we don’t have Jesus here in the flesh, but we do have the Holy Spirit, so let’s take a look at Galatians “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” 5:22, 23. A fruit of the Spirit is joy. As with each item listed, true joy simply cannot be produced by human flesh, it is a byproduct of spending time in the presence of God.

So let me ask you, do you spend time with God every day? Would you ask God to show you how to make room in your schedule so that you can spend time with Him each day?

2. Another way joy is manifested is directly from God, a gift, if you will. Going back to the Old Testament of Isaiah and Jeremiah, God promises His people, the Israelites, future joy “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder” Isaiah 9:3. “Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours” Isaiah 61:7. “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” Jeremiah 31:13.

The New Testament “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joyHebrews 1:9, this is speaking of Jesus, He is the fulfillment of the promise from the Old Testament passages. In 1 Thessalonians Paul speaks to the church, he commends them on how they imitate Christ “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” 1:6. Even in suffering the Lord gives joy to endure, stand strong.

How can you hold on to the promise that God will give you joy? How can you look to Jesus to fulfill that promise today? God is faithful, true to His promise, He will be faithful to you, too.

3. The third way that joy will manifest is when believers share their faith in God. Isn’t that so true? I love walking away from a conversation with a fellow Christian, my countenance is bright, my step is light, I have a smile on my face; I’d call that joy wouldn’t you?

As I read in scripture I am reminded that this isn’t only in times of celebration. Paul describes it as a refreshing in Romans “so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed” 15:32.

In Philippians, Paul is united in joy “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” 2:2. And I love this verse from 2 John “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete 1:12.

When was the last time you had a genuine conversation with another believer in Christ? How can you be an encouragement, or bring a refreshing word to someone today? It will surely bring you joy if you do!

Open sunflower

Do you see a flow?

It begins in the Old Testament and moves through the New. It begins with the sacrifice and is complete in Jesus. It begins in ritual and is fulfilled  in relationship. It begins with God’s desire to have a people that love Him, to have a community of people to respond to and to be united together resulting in abounding joy.

That is what I imagine heaven is like. Go today, be intentional about joy in your life, find your slice of heaven here on earth!

---

If you have questions for Beth or want to contact her, message me through Twitter, the FaceBook Page, or email! Links are on the side bar.

Plagued With Nightmares.

You may or may not know this about me: I am plagued with nightmares. Nightmares full of familiar faces doing unspeakable things. Nightmares that make me scream and thrash in my sleep, wake up sobbing, and fear closing my eyes. Nightmares that use the energy I should be storing during the night. Nightmares that lead me to beg for the dawn to arrive

Sometimes I wake up from my nightmare and ask Loren to pray with me. Sometimes I wake up from my nightmare and sit by the window. Sometimes I wake up from my nightmare and read a Psalm.

If you've ever had a nightmare, you understand the deep longing for the morning. You understand the ache to stay awake until it is time for night-break. You understand the fear that threatens to haunt you, as you pray to Jesus to carry you through the night. You understand that no matter how badly you want to, you cannot skip the night. You cannot jump over it to the morning. You must endure the dark night in order to see the sunrise. You cannot rush through.

Light peeking through the fence

Oh the joy that the sunrise brings! Oh the relief of the morning, the sun peeking though the window, touching the surfaces of life. The release of dark is unexplainable. The release of the dark, the entering into the light, it brings joy.

For years I have skipped through the dark of life. For years I have jumped over processing hurts and pains, knowing I needed to be joyful. I attempted to skip the nightmares of life, rushing to "the joy in the morning" because that was "where I needed to be." But I was confusing what Jesus calls joy with forced happiness. I was confusing humility with pride: I thought that in order to be the Christian Jesus asks me to be, I must ignore my pains and hurts -- that I don't even matter enough to process through things. What I am learning now, in the midst of trial and hurt, is that I get to choose joy WHILE PROCESSING MY PAIN. It doesn't make sense, but it is real and it is happening. Instead of rushing through the night, I am wading through and keeping my eyes on the hope of the morning, but also dealing with the struggle of the dark. I know that ultimate joy will come in the morning, and knowing that brings me joy. Having hope for the light brings joy. Even in the dark. Even in the trial.

So. As you go through the trials and troubles of this world (because if you are genuine and honest, they happen to everyone), I invite you to journey through the night. Don't sit through the nightmare clenching your teeth, sobbing, and controlled by fear (I know how easy this is). Don't let rage control you because the nightmares won't leave -- do not hurt others in your pain and fear. But venture through the night with a prayerful heart - ask Jesus to comfort you and protect you. Ask someone close to you to pray with you, read a few Psalms and let Jesus rescue you. Keep your eyes forward, towards the morning, because we all know that joy comes in the morning. We all know that light brings comfort. We all know that the HOPE of the light brings joy itself, even amidst the pain.

Hope is so, so good.

To anyone facing defeat, feeling bogged down, or letting fear consume you: Your morning is coming, cling to the promise that Jesus will not leave you. Do not fear. Turn your face forward, rather than inward, and ask Him to walk you through the night. He will carry you through, just as He carries me.

Your sunrise is coming.

Sun flower Cabbage, reaching for the sun

"He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us." 2 Corinthians 1:4-7

Sunrise in Corvallis, OR

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.

jesus

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.

let jesus listen to you

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.

- - -

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.

healing

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.

- - -

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!

Am I Begging For Appreciation?

I have a question for you. A question I must ask myself every day when I wake up and as I venture through my day. But before we ask, let's read Dorothy Sayers words:

Whenever man is made the centre of things, he becomes the storm-centre of trouble. The moment you think of serving people, you begin to have a notion that other people owe you something for your pains...you will begin to bargain for reward, to angle for applause.

To put that into the everyday, the real and the often craziness of life, we can say "when the laundry is done for the husband or for the children, when the dishes are scrubbed for the guests or the hosts, it is true, I {we all} think I am {we are} due some appreciation. But when Christ is at the center, when dishes, laundry, work is my song of thanks to Him, joy rains." And does it ever! His grace is sufficient and we are counted righteous by our faith! By our faith and faith alone.

So my question for you and myself is this: who is your heart aching to please?

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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