A Wreck to Delight-Filled

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

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

baby pregnancy announcement, coupled with adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have also been:

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

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

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

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

adoption, waiting for you, and pregnancy 

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

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

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

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

It is delightful to be delight-filled.

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

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

I crave for the Lord to renew my broken spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

december 2015 goals

Farewell, Corvallis [Brenners Hit Refresh]

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Dear Corvallis, You housed me on an August summer night in 2010 for the very first time, when I drove the 33 minutes from Harrisburg to you, visiting my brother who lived on Tyler Street. I had no sleeping arrangements, only my '92 Tercel and a debit card connected to a couple dollars, so I found my way to the local Fred Meyers getting lost along the way and purchased a soft blue blanket with the word "relax" etched into it everywhere. I thought, "If this blanket doesn't remind me to relax, I don't know what will." That summer was a rough one for me, but it was transitional too. I was soon to be Corvallis's, House of Charis's to be exact, next resident.

Oh Corvallis, I met two of my best friends within your limits. Actually, as my roommates. One married a man from far away and moved to Canada and the other became my sister-in-law, birthing babies who will forever hold pieces of my heart. For those two roommates birthed into best friendships, I will forever be grateful for you.

Corvallis, Corvallis, Corvallis, I walked the campus streets lined with vibrant colors and beautiful trees through the fall and then again in the spring. Oh yes, the winter too. Those were some cold nights. I will never forget the many days and nights, the strolling, the classes, the hours studying. You helped me get through full time school as well as full time night shift as a caregiver...until you didn't and I quit school. That was a good time.

Dear Corvallis, Loren and I dated long distance while I lived within your city. I wrote letter after letter and delivered them into your blue drop boxes over and over and over again. We married in one of your beautiful parks, and that day I will never forget. It is one of my favorite days.  You are where we began our family of two, and then expected a third, but then lost that precious little baby. You are where we officially began our adoption journey, and for that, I cherish you: babies and family embedded into our hearts and story.

Our apartment complex housed us for more than three years. We had best friends as neighbors across the hall and across the street. It is times like these that are so sweet, you will never forget.

Corvallis is where we built lifelong friendships with people our age, like the Listers and Hayes and Nelsons, people we imagined raising babies with and calling when we are sick. Friends we play weekly Catan with, rotate hosting Dinner Clubs, and help one another move. Friends who celebrate one another's new babies and mourn another's loss of theirs. These are friendships we will cherish forever. 

Corvallis, You housed Loren and my newlywed years. You were the grounds on which we became staff of a small church plant, the budding of a community that would change our life in so many ways, both painfully and beautifully. Your streets and buildings and coffee shops grew friendships that will last a life time. Corvallis, you were the city Loren and I spent countless hours with students and youth, young adults and married couples, elderly and sick, homeless and dying. I became a doula and a photographer, a pastor's wife and a wear-many-hats staffer. Oh Corvallis. The memories run deep.

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It seems as though it is time to just say "we moved" out loud; we have had many questions asked about where we are and can we have lunch soon, and the thing is: we moved already. It was between four cities, two states, and here we are finally settling and moved.

It has been time for us to say goodbye to Corvallis for awhile now. But who ever knows how to say goodbye to precious people, students to be exact, that have weaved themselves into your very souls? Goodness, we adore those kids. I think about them nearly every day and pray they seek Jesus above all else; especially above man. Man is so fickle. Jesus is so faithful and secure. We want nothing else for them but Him. 

And here we are, almost entirely unpacked, our address officially changed and our titles completely different. Our identity has shifted more than I guessed it ever would, and yet still we are at the mere beginning of our journey. But a few things remain and that is Jesus and our togetherness. We have never been more together, it seems.

It has been quite the two months, my friends. Words will never explain the depths of feelings and emotions and experiences we have been walking through. Now comes for a time of immense heart-healing and seeking Jesus in very honest and raw ways.

It is with many emotions, but mainly hope and relief, that we say farewell to Corvallis, we hit refresh, and we say hello to new chapter. Or perhaps we are entering chapter one, and the 3.5 years in Corvallis was an intense prologue - we won't really see the whole picture until we look back from a distance, I hear. We have now been moved into a cozy duplex in the greater Portland area for just over a week. Loren has a full time job starting in a couple weeks at another residential treatment facility for kids ages 7-11; he is praying about and very much considering pursuing his masters of arts in teaching come 2016. Because he is awesome. I will be finding a job in January - most likely at a retirement village, because let's be real: I love them. Those are my people.

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We discovered the cutest little coffee shop just a couple blocks from our place. It has a play area for kids, arts and crafts, and gluten free/vegan baked goods. Oh, and wifi! Boom boom boom. So naturally we woke up yesterday and walked hand in hand for a breakfast date.

What did this do to our adoption? many have asked. Not much! We simply are in the makings of a home study update and will forward those to the agencies we are working with. Also, many of you knew that we presented to a 5th birth mama on Friday...we still have not heard back! If she were to choose us, we need about $9,000 more dollars up front, so feel free to sponsor some puzzle pieces ;).

Well folks, if you have any questions, feel free to email me. We are very much thankful for this transition, for this refresh button. Jesus is real as ever to us and we are trusting Him, loving Him, and leaning into His tender healing arms of mercy.

Camp Recap: He never grows weary

  camp recap

When Loren and I decided that we were taking our kids to this particular week of camp, I knew it would not come easy for my heart. I knew that there would more than likely be some awkwardness and some pain; but I also knew more than anything, that Jesus would be with me and that He would sustain me and keep my heart pointed towards Him. He would give me strength and focus and grace to serve the students under my care, my little flock of girls who called me counselor.

What I did not expect was for Him to crack open my heart wider than it already was, to expose broken bits that I believed were healed and never to be touched again. He revealed to me that there is so much more to me, He has so much to do with my tattered heart, and He is more into the healing business than I could have guessed.

I have so far to go in knowing Him and understanding Him and loving Him. I have barely scratched the surface of who He is and what He has for me. I hunger for Him.

Halfway through camp, aka Tuesday evening and into Wednesday morning, Jesus and I started this conversation over and over again, "You had so much more for me here than what I expected. You always do. You had more in mind than for me to wear the title Cabin Counselor." In years past, I have had the privilege and honor and strength to serve the girls in my cabin with full availability. My heart strong, my mind clear, my focus driven solely for them. I was able to sit down and listen to girls individually, every single day, one-on-ones and hear what is going on in their life. We prayed and called Jesus to come and we cried on behalf of whatever brokenness they were walking through. But this year was different.

I knew that I was letting some of them down, and a couple even told me so, asking for forgiveness.

While God was doing intense heart surgery on me, my hands were forced to be open and trusting, knowing that He is big enough to care for the girls when I am in no shape to. I wanted to swallow what I was processing, to push the fragile and breaking parts of me aside, burying them to ignore for another four years, so that I could be present with the girls..but I knew that course was a course filled with more pain, less healing, and isn't honest. During musical worship one evening, my eyes closed and hands cupped, a picture of my heart sitting in the cup of my hands as an offering appeared: it was not beautiful. It was gushing blood, seeping thick red all over my hands, holes covering the entirety, and I was holding it up for Him to take. Please, Jesus, take this heart, give me grace, give me strength, make me beautiful; make this tattered filthy broken heart beautiful. I felt like a giant wound, walking around, sore to the eye. But I knew He was with me.

Tired. So empty. So worn and torn and ragged, unable to give of myself. Weary. I happened to be in Isaiah 40. Verse 11 says that "He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young." He was and is carrying my fragile, vulnerable, lamb-like self in His arms, close to His heart. He doesn't replace us when we are broken; He pulls us in close to His heart. Verse 28 says that "He never grows faint or weary." He never grows faint or weary. So while I was off, breaking and weeping, often times alone in the staff bathroom, Jesus was covering for me. He was stepping in and working in those girls' lives more than I could ever dream to. He was sifting through their hearts, revealing Himself to them, reminding them that He is so much bigger and more reliable and wise and with-us than any human being. Though I was disappointing a few, I found this immense peace and comfort, knowing that He never grows weary; knowing that He had work to do in them too, that they must learn to rely on Him. I can trust Him with the girls I cherish dearly, He will always and forever be with them, and I cannot.

Jesus is so big. He is so big and so beautiful and so lovely. He is delightful. I never regret chasing Him.

Camp had plenty of laughter and joy and silly weirdness. So much fun and goodness, so much beauty and delight. We giggled from our bellies, celebrated with our laughter.

Camp brings out the best in us: broken and joyful and honest, all in one.

 

Cheers to week one and the multiple ways He moved. Welcome, week two.

PS. A little personal tooting of the horn: I have not had coffee since July 30. Go caffeine free and decreasing inflammation of this body!

 

 

 

 

 


My friend Ashten is kicking off a brand new blog today!  "Just Go Left" is a passion project of sorts, and the idea has been cooking in her heart since her dog Warner was diagnosed with Protein Losing Nephropathy in early 2014.  "Choose joy" became the battle cry of #TeamWarner, and although they lost their long and painful fight on February 4, 2015, Ashten's desire to find the joys in life no matter the circumstances, has remained. "Just Go Left" will chronicle her journey of finding joy and balance, inspiring others to do the same. Her mission is to encourage her readers to choose joy, to find bravery and strength to thrive despite life's obstacles. Ashten aims to help others find balance in their lives so the joy can seep in.

Click on the button below and visit her new space! It's gorgeous and full of encouragement. 

just go left

On Journals

on journals, journaling for husband I love journals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you journal?

 

Our way back to the Sabbath

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

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

 

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

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

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

Camp tadmor, Oregon

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

Camp Tadmor, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Supporters: ministry update 

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

youth ministry

 

Visit our church's website HERE.

the coffee date (dos)

the coffee date If we were on a coffee date, I would more than likely show you what my next tattoo is going to be. I have been thinking about it for months and asked my artist friend to draw me up a little something. He is so gifted, like those people you see on TV or read about in magazines or go to concerts..he is talented in that crazy way that boggles your mind and makes you wonder how the entirety of the world is not lined up at his door asking him to create them something beautiful and unique and amazing. This ink so black will soon be etched into my skin until death do us part; but once death do us, this ink and me, part, I will then be able to greet the honorary soul face to face. What a beautiful day that shall be.

If we were on a coffee date, I would share that I am struggling with fear. Fear was absent from my heart for 3 straight years, it seemed, and I believed I had conquered it like you conquer a spider that you step on with a shoe that you aren't wearing, because you don't want to chance it getting on your foot. And I don't mean fear of a spider itself, because I will never be away from that fear; I mean fear of actual humans and their opinions that weigh so heavy on my value itself, as though my value depends on their thoughts of me - but that's simply not true. I thought that fear was to never again touch the face of my soul, like I was immune to it,  much like I thought I was immune to shingles and chicken pox which came back to haunt me twice over already. But no, I did not conquer fear and I don't believe that is humanly possible while living on earth. If it is, I think that we should stop sipping coffee and you should tell me right this instant how the heck you stopped fear from invading you and taking over your life and your mind, stopping it from writing itself on your heart over and over again. I mean, I have a few tricks here and there that involve submitting my heart to Jesus and reminding myself who He is and who I am with Him. In those moments, when I am wrapped up tight in His pure and perfect love, like a blanket swaddling an actual baby, I am free of fear and released of the tension that it brings. I need to let Him do more swaddling.

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I have not been back from Europe even a week and yet it feels like a lifetime ago. I kid you not, did I even go or was that a dream? My biggest goal for my return, my reentry into this life I live, was to not crowd out my heart and soul and calendar with things and meetings and to do's. That I was going to spend more time with friends, building and investing in friendships, and that I was going to read more and pray more and sit in silence more and take a nap every once in awhile. But of course, the women's retreat is this weekend and lots of life is being lived and it takes more than one single thought and desire to snap yourself out of a life long engrained habit of BUSYNESS. So, I am back at it again. At trying to slow down and not clog my schedule like hair in the drain, and breathe a little bit and smell the roses. I mean really smelling the roses that are in the vase in my living room. I know, because I have certainly experienced it, that if I slow down and unclog the drain of my calendar, that God will bloom into the quiet space of my home and the shattered pieces of my heart and He will spread Himself like yeast in bread, leavening and changing me completely. Into something beautiful, because when He is involved, beauty just happens. Beauty is inevitable when God is involved.

If we were on a coffee date, I would unfold this magical truth that I have the best group of girls ever. I mean dang. They are glittery and shiny and all the things real and beautiful. They are honest and true, they are in middle and high school and I feel that if anymore of them join this thing, my heart might explode all over the place. We talk about things like Jesus and tampons and boyfriends and non-boyfriends and Bible reading and grief and loss and sadness and anger and love and joy and self image and so many things that I could list them forever in a long string of 'ands'. I would tell you that I love these girls, so much that I forfeit sleep to meet them at 6:30 or 7 am before school just to chat and wipe the sleep from our crusty swollen eyes together and read the Bible and pray but mostly just let each other know how wonderfully loved they are. I would tell you that I make time in my life for them and watch them play sports or sing songs in choir or blow into musical instruments or dance or act in theater; that they sort of have been moving into my heart for the last four years and they take up so much space in my heart, I didn't realize my heart was so big. But it has to be, if they are all in there, because they are loud and noisy and excited and full of just as many feely-feels as I am.

Here are a few of them:

 If we were on a coffee date, I would honestly share that I have come  to grips that I kind of suck at being a friend. And I desperately want to be better at it.  True friendship, I am learning, is sacred and necessary and important..it is necessary to be whole and healthy and human because humans are fickle and we forget to focus on Jesus first sometimes and true friends point you that way. Even if its blunt and painful. True friendship happens when we fall into, or rather we bend our knees, into that deeper level of ourselves and we cross over the brokenness of who we are. Like my friends Bethany and Emily who have crossed over the most broken parts of me at my worst and remained patient and gentle and thoughtful and generous and so many loving selfless things. We are so fragile if we are honest, and when we allow someone to cross over that, releasing our need to appear perfect and whole, because let's be honest, we aren't, then we allow people to prove that they won't leave us just because we are human. I've come to realize how little I believe in my friends ability to extend grace and understanding. Friendship is an opportunity to be Jesus to someone, acting out God's love in tangible ways. Like my friend Jesse - the other day I called to update her on my life because its been actual ages since I have been able to do so...and she just loved me so well and loved me with grace and patience that I don't deserve. She represented God to me and reminded me who He was and I now have a more profound sense of God's love for me. So much so that after I hung up the phone, I started crying so hard in thanksgiving for such a friend as her.

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I have a key board safe guard on my new computer and it is annoying and hard to get used to.

I would then ask you: how are you doing with your fears? Are you fearing anything or anyone? What makes you fear them? Is there a lie that you are believing about yourself? What is that lie? Can I remind you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made? That He sees you right this moment and says, "You are mine and I delight in you."

I would share with you this piece that has been etching itself into my heart, writing itself so that it becomes more obvious than the fears that tend to scream themselves at me:

"See, God has come to save me. I will trust in Him and not be afraid. The LORD GOD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation." Isaiah 12:2

Fire away, my coffee date, how are you?

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This post was adopted by me from Amber at Mr Thomas And Me.

 

You are captivating: a letter

a letter to my girls My dear girls,

"You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." [Song of Solomon 4:7]

Did you look in the mirror this morning and know in your bones how captivating you are? Did you stare into the glass square, see past the surface of your flesh and into your soul, through your eyes, and experience the truth that you are altogether beautiful? That you are flawless?

Your magnificent beauty is much more than your face and your limbs and your torso. Your marvelous complexities run deeper than your flesh, though your flesh is used as the overflow of your Spirit, so wonderful.

"clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." [1 Peter 3:4]

IMG_9145

 

Oh girls, if only you could see yourself with His eyes. More captivating than the flowers, you are.

You are more precious than rubies, nothing one desire can compare with you. You offers one long life in your right hand, and riches and honor in your left. You will guide one down delightful paths; all your ways are satisfying. [Proverbs 3:15-17]

What makes you beautiful, radiant, breathtaking...is the mere evidence of you. I am not making this up, I am not fluffing you - this is real stuff, Truth is what they call it. The sheer evidence that you exist is what makes you captivating and precious and delightful.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;     but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. [Proverbs 31:30]

As you grow in body and grow in spirit, I pray and I hope and I earnestly desire for you to revere the Lord. Jesus, the most High, our King, and our Life source. When you fall in love with Him and let Him be your motivation, your identity, your reason to live and breathe and exist...it is then that you are at your most radiant. It is in the moments of submission to His way that you are absolutely and completely delightful.

Captivating.

From Germany to you, NM

The story of our Fundraised Income

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

matthew 6 11 daily bread

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

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

beautiful girls at camp

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Support Team, from my heart, thank you.

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

Millers: thank you...Thank you.

fundraised income

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

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

When 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

You are worth believing in.

you are worth believing in My dear girls and guys,

I had the unending honor of spending the evening with some of you last night. You never fail to amaze me.

Night of Prayer was last night and in all honesty, the prep for it was quite frantic feeling. But girls, and guys, as soon as our evening together began, I was flushed with this deep sense of awe. As Jake led us into worship with two intimate songs, you all gathered and sang songs of praise to our Father. And what a magnificent sight you each are! Whether you decide to sing or simply sit is up to you and I love watching you.

We then moved into a time of prayer stations, as you may very well recall. Things like writing our favorite verses on a poster board, planting seeds in soil, praying for people in our life who don't know the freedom-life Christ offers, writing out how He sees us.. and many more. Oh my soul, you kids.

prayer stations at youth group

As you may also remember, I had the complete privilege of taking over the foot washing station. I was really looking forward to this, but what I did not anticipate was the deep emotion that would actually overtake me as a whole. I was not prepared for Jesus to dig even deeper wells of love for you within my very soul. It began with my first contestant, Brenden. I could not help but tell him of Loren and my deep and real love for him. That we ache to reveal Jesus to him and that we are here on this earth to serve him as long as we are in this city. Have you ever experienced your eyes burning, trying to not open the floodgates of tear drops? That is what was happening every 2 seconds. I was ready to unleash Multnomah Falls upon your feet. As each of you allowed me to wash your beautiful feet, my heart exploded with joy and honor. I felt as though I was in the seat of honor. You may not even realize the depths of thanksgiving I experienced. It could have been selfish, the amount of joy I was being overtaken with. As each of you came, spent a moment with me at this station, and left to the next, I prayed for you. I prayed for your now, for your current life and for your future. I asked Jesus to love you so radically (which He already does) that you have no other choice but to fall madly in love with Him.

foot washing station

My kids, that are not kids and are not even mine, I believe in you. I care for you. I believe in each of you in very individual ways. My heart seems to be hallowed out and filled with love for you.

It hit me, as it usually does, that my heart for you does not even compare to Christ's love for you. That the only reason and the only way I am able to see you with these eyes is because of Jesus Himself. That His heart and His love for you is much deeper, much wider, much more. His love is sacrificial, selfless, saving, and offers freedom. This freedom-life He offers doesn't promise to be painless, but He promises to be with us IN the pain. And that is where the peace and joy is found, while we are broken, while we ache, while we cry ourselves to sleep. Because He is there and He defines us and He places an identity of Beautiful Belovedness on us.

I love you, students. But He loves you greater. His love for you surpasses anything any human could attempt to muster.

Your hearts and prayers are inspiring.

prayers

I pray that your day is well, while you are not at school. I pray that you spend time with Him in the quiet. Praying, reading, falling madly in love with Him because He is madly in love with you. Just as you are: imperfect and beautiful.

It is an honor to be in your life. You are so worth believing in.

With all of the love this human can currently muster, with the help of Jesus, your servant leader,

Natalie Brenner

ccEngage Youth Group goes Backpacking!

Loren and I were asked if our youth group could go back packing and we thought it would be a great idea, with the help of our 3 wonderful youth leaders. It was great, my friends. We fully enjoyed ourselves as we packed 40 lbs on our back and dug our heels up and down rocky terrain. With only one sprained ankle and two foot-cuts, the trip closed with honor! Memories were made that will never be forgotten. Example: Luke, Loren, Brenden and I decided to take a "short voyage around the lake before dinner time," because Tumble Lake is maybe 1-2 miles around the entire thing! Turns out, there is absolutely no trail to do this adventure with ease so we just made our way. Wearing shorts and t shirts, we carried Luke's pet rubber-boa snake through the elder trees, swampy mud, and stinging nettles that were 6 feet high. We passed by a hornets nest and only Loren was stung. We waded through the shin-deep swamp that quickly went to high waist-deep because of the sinking sand. Our 15 minute voyage turned into 2 and a half hours and that is a couple of hours I will not soon forget.

Our weekend had no shortage of laughter. I have a six pack of abs from my two tent buddies (Graice + Delayna). Talk about goof balls and silly jokes. SO much joy. We had campfires and roasted mallows and hot dogs. Loren and I both shared the speaking load. Our theme was walking with God. Our hearts were focused on walking in the Light of God and emphasizing the importance of falling in love with the Love Letter God himself has left for us (the Bible). We talked about walking in the darkness, tripping on roots and rocks; all we need is some light to expose the danger. As soon as we shed light on sin, it is not nearly as huge as it seemed. Like Kim always says, "mushrooms only grow in the dark." We talked about walking in the muck of sin - darknesses & sins like choosing to be selfish at home, seeking only our own desires, and never looking out for others. We talked about the purity of our mind and how being in God's presence will only do us good, make us more like Christ. That when we soak our souls in Him, sunbathe in His light, we radiate His love. We glorify Him and bless others. Its all about Jesus and all about spending time with Him and letting Him love you.

Changing this world begins with us allowing Christ to transform us individually.

As we spend time with Him, dying to our desires and yielding to His, we become more beautiful, more whole, more satisfied, more like HIM. We become light as our darkness fades away. We bring hope and joy to this world, but only by the power of His spirit. We are so un-incredible and He is more than incredible. His grace is sufficient.

One of our students is now planning to be baptized at camp in August! Praise Jesus.

We prayed together, and oh how I love praying with these kids. We prayed unity and peace, we prayed joy and love, that we may each see ourselves and each other with the eyes of Christ. That we would be humans of grace, because of His transforming love. That we would be a team standing tall on His promises, and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to our cities and schools.

Oh friends, it was good. Loren and I got home Tuesday around 4:15 pm. Put away all of our things by 5:30 pm. Sat on the couch staring blankly, then tried watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air..around 8 pm we slowly crawled into bed and slept for 12 hours. TWELVE HOURS! WE SLEPT IN UNTIL 8! It was beautiful. I was so blessed and refreshed and full of smiles.

We have some amazing kids here in Corvallis. Be praying with us! Our vision for the next year is to have a weekly bible study/prayer group in every school campus by the end of June 2015. This year, our Linus Pauling Middle School students started one after CIY Believe - began with 4 and grew to 14. FOURTEEN TEENAGERS MEETING TO PRAY! Every Monday! Can you taste the goodness and see the reach? Can you do the math? There are at least 6 campuses represented in our youth group. Pray with us that we can equip these students and build them up. That they would continue to experience the deep, unending love of Jesus Christ. That as they experience His love and grace, the result is to go out and make disciples. That is our calling, friends.

More is in the making, partnering with other small churches without youth pastors. Please be praying for Loren and I and for our beautiful church community. Pray for our youth leaders and for our students. We highly value discipleship. We have so many dreams and visions of what more it could look like. Pray with us; click HERE to read more about our fundraising and paying the bills.

We are so grateful that Loren isn't working full time at Trillium anymore. Thank you, team! We could not do it without you. Truly. Your investment is reaching many lives. Jesus is so faithful.

Enjoy the photos below of our backpacking trip from start of the hill to finish of the hill; if you happen to be a parent, you can save these to your desktop or cell phone. Let me know if you need help.

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So many huckleberries were eaten!

First glimpse of Tumble Lake!

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

This is the "poop talk" ... you know, go dig a hole and cover it up!

The partnering in...yeahhhh

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

Filtering lake water

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry  #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

Evening musical worship

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

Quiet times in the mornings

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

so much laughter

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

so much laughter

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

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Luke's pet Rubber Boa, Moses #Mosesthesnake

#ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry #ccEngage goes backpacking #youthministry

Oh no..

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Why Youth Pastors ROCK [& are my heroes]

I love being married to a man who loves Jesus. As a result of this love for Jesus he loves human beings, because well its what we do and who we are. He has the honor of serving as a pastor of sorts here in Corvallis, and one of the areas he focuses his heart on: YOUTH. STUDENTS. Middle & High School kids. Only the best of humans going through some of the toughest of times. Sometimes we are told how amazing we are because we "spend all that time with such horrific-aged, immature humans." What I say to that is, "You are missing out, if that is truly how you view them. We are the lucky ones to spend time with them." Some of these kids have wisdom many adults don't. Some of these kids sacrifice more for the Kingdom than some 22 0r 50 year olds. {If you want some real stories, email me and I'll gladly fill you in!} These kids teach me something new every single Tuesday evening at Youth Group. To view them as horrible, to write them off as completely and only immature, and to treat them poorly, is to do yourself [and them] a disservice. These kids are amazing.

These kids were created in the image of the Creator.

These kids are this generation, and the next.

Just saying, folks, I love these kids. I know a lot of you do too.

Claire

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Though these kids truly bring me closer to Jesus, they are still teenage humans learning simple etiquettes. {So are some people my age, for that matter}. I mean things like, keeping their lips glued together while someone else talks.

As a ministry wife and a leader myself, I am here to write a letter to all of you Youth Pastors {because I am partial to you} who are serving these students selflessly, as a response to a calling. Serving them because there is not much in it for you. Except of course, deep satisfaction & joy in giving yourself up.

Youth Pastors, here are 10 reasons you are my heroes:

1. Contrary to popular belief, you have immense self-control. At first glance, flailing your arms and letting out loud noises, you seem to be very much lacking in the self-control department. However, after observing for years, I have come to realize how incredibly self-controlled you are -  example: you have students constantly throwing things at you even though you politely and ever so gently asked them not to. I have seen your self-control in withholding an outrage when asking a student for the gazillionth time to not talk during the short 10-15 minutes of your lesson. The lesson you prepared for all day long, praying through, and spending your heart's love preparing. You know, that lesson that seems to go in one ear and out the other? It doesn't. That lesson or message or whatever you call it - I applaud you for standing up there, week after week, bearing your soul when it feels as though no one is caring for it. You put your heart out there and are interrupted time and time again, and you never hit anyone. You don't storm out yelling. You politely wait for them to quiet themselves. You are so self-controlled. I stand in applause, truly.

Well done.

2. You are some of the most confident human beings I know. Not confident in an arrogant way; nope. In fact, you are anything but arrogant because you know that you could not possibly do this job on your own strength. You are some of the most humble humans I have ever met. You are confident in the calling Jesus has placed on your heart and you are confident in the message He has laid upon you to share. I know this because, remember up above when we talked through the interruption stage of every youth group evening? Or the evenings when the kids are so sun-beat that they are snoring through the entire thing?  If you weren't confident in who you are in Christ, you would melt of despair every time you were interrupted or your audience seemed to be dying from boredom. You would stand there with a shaky and nervous voice, ready to crack at any moment. You might even, and probably do, cry yourself to sleep. But instead, you move on in your message. You nod and you move on with confidence, knowing that Christ has your back and He loves those kids and so do you. It's all going to work out and He will settle whatever needs to be settled within their hearts.

You inspire me.

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

3. You are selfless. Man do you give of yourself. You give so much time praying for the kids that show up to youth group every week - but you also spend time praying for the kids who only showed up once, and the kids who stopped coming once they entered high school. You pray and you pray and you spend more time praying for them, because that is the best thing you can do for them. Friend, those prayers are not in vain. You spend so much time preparing that lesson (there's that lesson again) to share more of Jesus' heart for them; you think and pray through the best possible deliverance methods and great analogies and stories. You deny evenings with your friends and/or family to take kids to Fro-Yo, on a bike ride, or scale up a mountain. {This is not to say you neglect your family; I am simply saying you spend numbers of evenings with kids. Whatever is healthy for you. A whole different blog post, because let's be honest: you tend to stretch yourself too thin, bearing the weight of every student}. You're selfless with your time because you know that spending any time with any one kid is investing in forever. You know that it is worth it, even if all you do is hike up a hill silently praying. Because, it is worth it when they know they are worth someones time.

You move me.

4. Did you say night out with the friends? What friends?. Some days you wake up and you wonder what it would be like if you had friends. You miss the old college days where all you did was study and eat frozen corn dogs and wrestle your roommates to the ground. The days you stayed up until 3 am playing video games or going to Taco Bell or sitting at Shari's with a bunch of friends. Some days you feel like friendship was a facade and you get confused with what is ministry and what isn't. Some days you aren't sure you have the capacity to even be a friend. I am not saying this is healthy - I am making an observation. Some times life is lonely. But do you know what I am learning? Every one tends to be lonely. I also am learning that you have permission to have friends. Not just a be a friend, but have one or two of them. Real friends - the ones you are completely vulnerable with, even though you feel ugly at your most transparent state. Let's be honest - we are all ugly at some point because we aren't in Heaven yet. Remind yourself to release the pressure of perfection and allow yourself a friend. A true and valuable friend will love you through it and help you process it all, pointing you to His Truths. You can be that friend to your friend. You need a friend, even if that friend lives far away from you. Skype and Facetime were created for a reason.

Dont just be a friend, have a friend.

5. You are not in this for the money. I feel like that statement speaks volumes in itself.

You encourage me to live for eternity more than temporary.

Flowers outside of the building
Flowers outside of the building

6.Your love runs deep. Contrary to what it may appear, your love runs deep and it is strong. It is that of the Father's. You seem all goofy and comedic, which you are those things, but you are also a deeply moved human being. You also feel all of the feelings, you cry tears of joy and of pain, of thanksgiving and of mourning. Your prayers for those precious lives dig deep wells into your very own soul. You invest your very own life into them, creating this massive weight of Love within yourself. It is only by God's grace that you are able to do this, and it happens without you realizing it is happening. But, once they decide to stop coming or tell you their hurting stories, you realize the depth of your love for them; your very own eyes well with tears and your heart feels their pain. Your compassion is basically tangible and it is more beautiful than a sunrise, and like I said: it is from the heart of the Father.

You are beautiful.

7. You are so patient. Too often, it may be an hour [or maybe two?] before a parent finally calls to let you know they forgot their kid and need you to take their kid across town. Instead of blowing a fuse and telling them off, because you need sleep & food and may have a family too, you kindly take their kid home. You do this without complaining or making the student feel like a burden, because it isn't their fault. And honestly, you love the kid and don't need to put that weight on him/her. The poor kid has enough going on if the parent can't remember where he is. You are beyond patient and practice grace in ways I cannot explain. You give grace when the world would tell you not to - and that is why you amaze me.

You are so full of and flowing over Jesus.

8. You get excited over everything; even if its nothing. Because there is no such thing as "nothing." Everything is something to get excited over - like pet mini-pigs, new guitar amps, and winning football games. Like new nail polish and a new pair of shoes, a brand new bike, and even a kid choosing to take his brother to the Aquatic Center. Inviting some one to play video games for the first time is a big deal and boy are we ready to applaud and celebrate this huge new step. You are excited and everything that falls out of their mouths is exciting and you celebrate with them. Even if what you're celebrating is nothing in line of what you have ever thought to enjoy, but because of them, this thing is now the coolest thing.

You give me hope.

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

9. You are grieved over things; especially when it's real. Yes, you are bummed when they didn't win the Talent Show or their basketball game. You remind them they are worth more. But you are also given weights that are not so easy to hand back to Jesus, weights that make your heart feel in ways you didn't know possible - like when a student comes to you weeping that their fairy-tale family is splitting up. Or when your students are picked on for being followers of Jesus. Or when they tell a story of deep abuse. Or when their friends are suicidal and they are coming to you for prayer and advice. Or when they mess up sexually and carry unnecessary shame. You feel their pain and you are the one they often come to when they need to navigate through tough situations. You are often the one they come to when their world seems to be falling apart and they are facing the feeling of "failture."

You are heroic.

10. You are priceless. Though you get paid enough to just barely make it, you are priceless. Odd how this world works. You are my heroes, Youth Pastors. I pray for the few of you that I know, I pray that you would be reminded once again how valuable you are. It's not because you're a Youth Pastor, but simply because you're the beloved child of God. We're all a bunch of messed up mis-fits that don't fit the criteria; except the fact that we are willing. Did you forget the good news? The good news is that He has invited you into His freedom and you can walk in His light-hearted joy, wearing peace on your feet. He is King - I wasn't sure if you needed that reminder. Sometimes I do. You change lives. Whether it is the students, their siblings, their friends, or even their extended families...you are changing lives. You know who else is affected? Those watching you: your parents, your siblings, your elders, and your coworkers (if you are bi-vocational like us!). Did you know that I have passed along many truths given to me by a few of my own youth pastors? Truths I learned in 6th grade - thank you, Alan. You reach far, Youth Pastors - your work is not in vain, it spreads through generations. We have had many people let us know the way we have changed their life, as we serve students. To me, it is a humbling surprise and blesses me every time. But it is proof that your ministry stretches further than you would ever plan or expect or comprehend. It is a reminder that you are changing more lives than the number before your eyes.

We haven't even mentioned the creativity this position demands. I mean snacks, games, lessons, analogies, "keeping it real." I would crumble under the pressure of creating fun and exciting and new games every week.

Not only do you have all of these kids on your heart, but your Youth Leaders. You are there to lead and serve them as well. That's a whole other post, friends. But just know, God knows. He notices the time and energy and prayers that go into your work. He holds your heart and He will carry these burdens.

To Youth Pastors all around: the work you do is hard work. It is heavy and it is emotional. It is light and it is joyful. It is so many things at such extremes.

It is all for Jesus.

And I am here to applaud you to keep running the race. To keep pursuing Jesus every day. You are changing many lives. You are glorifying Jesus Christ and bringing His Kingdom to this earth with the very breath in your lungs.

You are worth His blood, you are valuable, and you are holy. Not because you rock as a Youth Pastor or anything else. Simply because you have chosen the road that is narrow and few.

"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure."

You may not be a Youth Pastor - maybe a Leader who just as selflessly chooses to serve these same kids. You may be the Pastor's wife whose heart is just as much "in," and you may spend just as much time and energy and sacrifice, digging wells within your heart just as deep. Whatever you "do" for the Kingdom, you are changing lives. You are loved, you are value, you are worth the blood of Christ only because the Father said so. You are all of those things before you were born, so nothing you have done or haven't done will earn your way into His delight. You have already been brought to that place by His grace.

Brother. Sister. You amaze me. You are my hero.

Well done. Keep running this race, by His grace.

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

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Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Corvallis Church Youth Group  #ccengage

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

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From the Heart of a 12 Year Girl

I've got about 10 minutes before my next thing in life. I really want to share with you this small story, the small glimpse of what Jesus is doing here in this small part of the world. I sit here in awe at what God is doing in my life, the young girls He has placed in my life. It is when I start to think I have been placed in THEIR life when I get in trouble.. they have definitely been placed in mine to teach me and show me more of Jesus.

This afternoon I met with 2 middle school girls who are hungry for Truth. They requested to study the book of Colossians.

Bible Study: Youth Ministry @ Coffee Culture, PNW

After we read through chapter one, Claire grabbed a notebook FULL OF NOTES,  looked up and said,

"Well I have a question about chapter 3 verse 12."

As we jumped there she shared the problem we all face: being surrounded with sarcasm. The facade of strength. The wall and barrier of the heart. The struggle with her peers always pushing others down with their words, always dehumanizing others through sarcasm, blunt words, and bold rudeness.. the discomfort of the walls we put around our hearts. The walls that have poky swords sticking out at anyone that comes near.

The heart of a 12 year old girl shared the shallowness and hurt that comes with sarcasm. I was humbled, again, at the heart and maturity of this young lady.

The heart of a 12 year old girl shared that it doesnt match up with Colossians 3:12:

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."

Now that. That is strength - relying on those words, striving for those words through Jesus. Through the mighty power of a God that is bigger and can give us the miraculous power to wear and respond with those characteristics. Even when sarcasm is thrown at us.

As we talked through this I was inspired by her desire to pursue Jesus. Even though it is uncomfortable and extremely unpopular. To pursue Him not only as Savior, but as KING, as Lord.

I am confident that maturity and wisdom have little to do with age. I would dare to say these two 12 year old girls are more mature than many 30 year olds I know. They have the wisdom that only comes from the reverence of the Lord Jesus. They have the heart that strives to please their Jesus and the reminder that all they have to do is submit to His heart. To wear His love as their identity.

They have moved me to submitting myself once again to Jesus, asking Him to purify my heart. To remind me to be more real than not. To be vulnerable even when its risking comfort (which is always). To not turn to sarcasm. Will you join us in this unpopular voyage?

Here are the notes I took so that I would not forget the Truths these 12 year old girls taught me, reminded me today:

  • Sarcasm is a dangerous dehumanizing tool that cuts others down. It is not funny. It is not what pleases the heart of Jesus
  • Colossians 3:10-12 explains that we get to freely put on a NEW NATURE, a new identity. And it is freeing! We do not turn to sarcasm, but to tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentlessness, and patience because Jesus values us. He loves us. And if He loves me, then He loves you. So why would I dehumanize you, the one He loves?
  • Colossians 3:5-9 reminds me that I am human, and that sometimes, alot of times, I fail. But in Chapter 1 verse 22 I am reminded that I am made perfect because of Jesus. That I stand faultless and blameless before Him.

I learn so much from these girls. The joy and honor it is to spend time with the second half of my generation. I hope you will have the honor and privilege of doing the same thing: invest, learn, grow. You won't regret that time spent.

Impressive Middle Schoolers.

This last week I had the privilege of meeting with so many different ladies! Whether pregnant & married, 12, 15, or 65 years old, they each blessed my day tremendously. I pray I have the privilege of sharing some of their stories & the way each of them are changing this world for the glory of God. Today I want to share a particular two: Abby & Claire. These two spastic, spit-ball, firecracker, rainbows of girls impress me weekly! Kaitlyn & I picked them up after school and walked to my apartment. There we made hot chocolate topped with whip cream:

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We each memorized a verse to help us conquer our current ongoing struggles. I don't mean pretended to memorize; we sat there and repeated it & quizzed each other and promised to hold another accountable for keeping it memorized as well as utilizing it!

Then we made chocolate chip cookies! As we began divvying the cookies out, Kaitlyn & I asked who could they bless? First, their idea was to go upstairs & give some to one of my neighbors. Which was amazing; they had seen this neighbor earlier & blurted a middle-school statement about them. And now they wanted to bless this person! So we did.

Then they each thought of people in their life who they aren't exactly 100% fond of. Abby's in particular was her science teacher; this 12 year old girl decided to write her teacher a loving letter & give her cookies. Please, please read that again. Be inspired. Be moved by a 12 year olds heart.

People. These are world changers. We can learn so much from these middle school beauties. They're gold, pure gems. They inspire me and remind me why I am here: to help bring the kingdom of Heaven to the world around me. I pray & hope you will be inspired by them.

Think: who in your life bothers you so much that you need to make them cookies and give them a loving note?

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