A letter: Your Greatest Strength

image by Moriah Lyon

Girls,

I usually take this time to write a letter to my dear husband. But when I read the prompt, you immediately popped into my head like popcorn, your faces bouncing up and down my mind's eye, cherishing each of your unique and individual selves.

I cherish you girls more than you could possibly know; some of you have raised me, it seems. I can remember four years ago when we started spending time together, you sitting at my dining room table, me making tea nervously, unsure how to hold a conversation with you, how to make you like me; you and I sitting at coffee tables and going on walks and talking about Jesus but also about sports and theater and boys and all of the things 6th and 7th graders talk about.

Now you girls are mostly in the second half of high school. We have added more middle school minions, but there are a few of you that come to mind when I think of my early years of dipping my toes into a life of ministry. It was like kids raising kids. That is what it looks like in my memory. We were raising one another, you and me; you forcing me to run to Jesus and ask Him how in the world am I supposed to lead you closer to Him. You teaching me grace and patience and acceptance, when the world said I was an idiot to not finish my Bachelor's degree, to marry young, to spend my life learning and serving and being served by you and your preciousness.

You are so strong.

Even when you look in the mirror, feeling weak and feeble, fickle and unable, tired and broken and defeated and all of the things opposite of strong... you are strong. Sometimes being strong doesn't look like strong.

In your beauty, there is strength. There is strength in your eyes that can pierce or soften, accept or reject, love or hate. In your hands there is strength that can help, heal, serve, or hurt, abuse, injure. There is strength in your body that you can use purely, saving your intimate creases and crevices, the precious parts of you; but you can also use it for the world's advantage, revealing all of your precious parts, falling into the trap that your worth comes from your body.

In your will, there is strength. There is strength in your self-will, when you choose to be patient and kind, to be selfless and sacrificial, to be loving and and not boastful. There is strength when you choose to worship Him and give Him thanks, even as a sacrifice.

In your words, there is strength. Strength that can heal or hurt, celebrate or mourn, cry or praise.

But your greatest strength?

Your greatest strength is Him; the One who has given you all of the other strengths. In Him you find the strength to use your beauty and your will, your heart and your mind, your actions and your words, all of what makes you You, to glorify Him. To grow, to love, to serve, to nurture, to bless, to keep on going when keeping on seems impossible. While you fall in love with Him and learn more about Him and study Him and know Him, your strength increases more than is possible without Him.

I promise you, He is your greatest strength. I give you my word, He is worth chasing. He is worth finding and fighting for and pursuing and seeking, even when time squeezes itself out of your life like go-gurt out of its plastic: too quick for anyones liking.

Your greatest strength is and always will be Jesus, who can walk you through the wildest waves of pain and the extravagant gifts of grace.

You are so strong.

NB

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

 

coffee date [tres]

the coffee date  

 

If you and me were on a coffee date, we would be sipping some iced americanos beneath the heat of this day. This beautiful, irreplaceable day. We would be sitting on my back patio, caged in my the brown wooden fence, but it wouldn't matter because there is plenty of life growing and living within the confines of that patio place. There resides a garden, flourishing green, more than simple sprouts of life. There grows nutrients and health, good things for my and your bodies. We would be sitting in our used, weathered, green fold up chairs, sipping our coffees and chatting about honest things.

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would have you celebrate with me that we finished our adoption courses! This is a huge deal for Pastor Man and me; it was our last huge mile stone before printing out gobs of paper, using gallons of ink, and shipping our home study paperwork to our agency. But it is also more than checking off an item on a to-do list, these classes moved our hearts further and deeper into this journey of growing our family through adoption. It brought up topics we hadn't yet conversed about, opened up doors and conversations that will not soon be closed. We talked about discipline versus punishment, attachment disorders, promoting attachment and what in our histories may promote/prevent us from attaching healthily? We learned and talked together about how we will share with our children how they're adopted; what stages and ages and ways we will share with them. So many things, so many tragically beautiful conversations were cracked open, and I would share with you a few of those precious moments.

This was us the instant we finished the courses: disbelieving , relieved, scared, honored. My question is: can anyone every truly be ready to parent? I think not. Unless I am simply horrible and confused.

So. Many. Feels.

If you and me were on a coffee date, we would talk about this so called Book I am attempting to write. I would share that I have had the privilege of spending condensed hours on it the last four days; that I have changed it and edited it and morphed it into something way more beautiful than what I started with. But that I also have so. far. to go. That this book will take months, maybe a year, to be fully ready. It is a piece of me, my very own heart, gaping open for the world to see, if it ever makes it. And I would share with you, that if it doesn't make it, I am okay with that. That I am pursuing this with my hands open, trusting that He is taking care of logistics. And if the sole and only purpose of writing this book is to help me process what has unfolded over the few short years of my life, then job well done, Jesus. I am processing and pursuing healing and redemption. I would possibly share with you a chunk of the words I have written; I have already shared with three people, one being a known author/editor/speaker in the genre of this book. I need all the loving-honest-critique I can get.

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would tell you with a genuine smile that I feel free in spirit. For the first time in months, for the first time maybe this year, I have felt a weight lifted and peeled off of me. That Jesus Himself has been removing layer after layer off of who I believed I was, who I have made myself to be. That He is peeling off the scales, leaving my bare skin raw and bleeding, but raw and beautiful and real. I would remind myself, with caution, that this free-in-spirit living is a gift, not an entitlement. That it is His gift to me, to you, to His children. Hope is crawling its way back into my heart, carefully and hesitantly, but I smell it and it tastes delicious.

If you and me were on a coffee date with, I would show you this book. I would share that I have read 2/3 of it in two days and am taking the last bit slow, because I just don't want it to end. I would tell you that it has torn apart and sewn together my heart multiple times. I would ask if you know of any good memoirs, any adoption memoirs?

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would ask you if you are going camping at all this summer. I would share that I am stoked to begin camping festivities on the 4th of July and spend a week in Coos Bay with my in-laws and there is talk of nails.  NAILS. I would ask if you RV, tent, cabin, or backpack? I would ask if you use an outhouse or dig a hole? I would wonder: what is camping to you?

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would ask you if you have experienced the love of Jesus today. I would ask you if you have noticed Him, let Him wrap His arms around you, tightly in an embrace. I would ask, without condemnation or shame, if you have been able to make time to be in His sweet presence? If you have slowed down enough to take notice, to soak Him in, to breathe in His grace for you? I would share with you the chunks of Isaiah that I have been sinking into, plunging my heart deep into his word's and letting them wrap their grace all around me. I would share with you verse 18 from chapter 30, "But the Lord still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help." His love exclaiming loud and clear that He will wait for us. That He is faithful. That we are blessed when we wait for Him.

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would ask you if you have favorite sandals. Because Amber asked about shorts, so I ask about sandals. To my absolute disbelief, I have chacos and I have worn them every day for an entire week. In fact, I have a chaco tan line. For me, this is a big deal. But I want to know: do you have a favorite pair?

If you and me were on a coffee date, I would do my best to ask you how I can pray for you. I would ask you and then I would do it. I would do my best to lay aside all of my brokenness and fears and cares, so that I can pick up yours and shower you in His graces. I would thank you for sharing your heart with me, for trusting your preciousness with me, for being vulnerable and transparent and honest with me. Because I am certain that community and friendship are birthed through those things.

A letter: A lesson you've taught me

loren My dear Pastor Man Husband;

When you pick up children and swing them around and around to make their giggles squeeze out of their smiles, my heart swoons and pauses and gives thanks. When you dance around, moving and flailing in IMG_0900-16ways that people would normally be too embarrassed to, I melt. When you live and love without abandon, relentlessly pursuing ways to value others, I am inspired. When you choose to sacrifice comfort and money in order to chase Jesus and His crazy calling, I yearn to be more like you. When you laugh in the face of trial, when your heart is light in the chaos of unknown circumstances, when you are hopeful when all seems lost... I praise Jesus for the spirit He has placed inside of you. Your spirit is free and honest, light and appealing.

My dear, my knees go limp when you run around with middle and high school students, telling them they are worth your time, by spending so much of your life with them, planning so many events for them, desiring to make space for them to encounter Jesus. My heart is bowed to its knees before Jesus when I witness you waking up at 6 am to take one of your guys to coffee before he needs to be at school, or when you go to the middle school talent shows, or when you stay up late in the evening on the phone with a student whose parents marriage is crumbling before his eyes.

Oh my heart, you have taught me so much in these four short years that I have loved you.

The way you laugh in the face of trial. The way you find light and joy in the midst of darkness. The way you focus on the good, the beauty, the goodness of Jesus, rather than the hard things that life throws at this world.

Above all, you have taught me to remember Jesus. To remember Him and know Him and find Him and love Him, because He makes life worth living.

Thank you for teaching me good things. Worthwhile things. Life changing things.

Yours forever,

NB

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

 

A Place of Peace: A Letter

image by Angie at Heartstrings PhotographyDearest Pastor Man,

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

The laughter.

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

Hope is such a risk. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honored to be yours, truly,

NB

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

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.

 

the coffee date

the coffee date If we were on a coffee date, you would be in France with me. Paris in particular. Two weeks ago, I would not have believed you if you told me we would meet up in Paris. To my knowledge and our planning, our 3 week trip was to Germany, and Germany alone.

If we were on a coffee date, I would either order a macchiato or a cappuccino, dairy free and with caffeine, because I can no longer avoid the deliciousness of caffeine. Its thrill through my veins is too awakening...addiction much? But I would also let you know that as soon as we get back to the states, my coffee intake will need to change because my body cannot go on enduring this constant thing of pain that it brings. What might you be sipping?

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I had a good day yesterday. I did my best to remain as present as possible and soak in my now; I failed at times, slipping into where I should be. But mostly I worked hard to breathe in the present air.

I stood before this amazing landmark with my husband and we chatted a lot of good words back and forth. I would tell you that when I was 16, my grandparents took me to this very place and I thought, "I wish I could come here with my husband some day. But who goes to Paris twice?"

Wish granted.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would share with you that last Monday in Rothenburg ob der Tauba, I told Loren I was going to write a book after this trip. We were on a walk through some farm fields, the green pastures beautiful, hills rolling, hands holding, and I shared that I have been aching to write until I couldn't anymore. Which may never happen (not being able to write). But I don't make time to write the way I crave to. I am determined to make writing a priority the day we return home. After a long nap of course.

If we were on a coffee date, I would then share that just two days later I began writing said book. In the last 7 days I have collected words of many, scrambled them together so carefully and so honestly, reaching nearly 10,000 words of the first [crap] draft. Part of me knows deep down that I will never talk or pay anyone into publishing those words, but part of me screams to stop doubting and keep writing, keep creating, keep honestly sharing.

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I have read four and a half books on this trip. Three of them being just for fun novels to get wholly lost in; it has been awhile since I have allowed such pleasures. And I think I may allow it a little more.

If we were on a coffee date, awkwardly I would share that I have a full marathon in 5 months. Run? Who? Me? What? That is something else I am going to change when I get back: prioritize exercising and running again. It keeps my mind clear and my heart happy and my soul rejoicing. I have not been inspired to run until today when we walked through a large park in Paris (hoity toity) and I saw dozens of runners...I then craved free movement.

If we were on a coffee date, I would ask you how you are doing. I would remind you that I have zero expectations of perfection from you, freeing you of any unnecessary fear. I would let you know that however you are doing, good or bad or great or just okay, I still think you're a wonder. I would ask you what you are struggling with, if you feel separated or close to Him, and how your friendships are.

I would share, vulnerably and transparently, that I fear I am losing a few of mine. My friendships seem to be on rocky cobblestones these days and I can only ask Him for strength. Only by His grace can I make it through each day.

If we were on a coffee date, I would remind you that He sees you and relishes in you. He sees you in your most vulnerably honest state and He says, "You are mine and I love you." Do you hear Him?

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This post-genre was adopted from Amber Thomas at Mr Thomas and Me. Hop on over to read one of my favorite writer's blogs. She inspires me daily.

"As you choose Must, your actions affect everyone and everything around you. How will you inspire others?" -The Crossroads of Should and Must

Thank you for choosing your Must, Am.

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]

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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

To Say I Love You: a letter

to say i love you a letter link up My dear husband,

It is said that women need to experience that they are known and loved, while men need to experience that they are known and respected. To respect you is to love you and to love you is to honor you. On this quest of wifery and learning to love you by respecting and honoring you, I think I may have a slight grasp on what it looks like to love you...for now.

To say I love you is to genuinely laugh at the jokes you share again and again. It is to see your humor and continuously fall for your quirky quips. It is to love your antics forevermore and remember the bliss they brought me in the beginning. This is something I have been working on, loving the one liners that I have heard for four years, and to be honest, I am falling for them again.

To say I love you is to smile at you from across the room, declaring the truth that I am yours and I approve of you. I see you and I know you and I cherish you. Sending you flashes of grins and pearly whites lets you know that I approve. I am remembering more and more to smile and grin and let you know that I have your back, that I love the words you are sharing, especially when you are preaching or teaching things about Him.

To say I love you is to support you in front of others. Friends and family and foreigners alike. It means that I don't correct you when I know  think you're wrong. It means I do not let the world know that you stretched the truth to make a story a bit funnier. And by George, I am horrible at loving you in this way. Will you give me grace to grow?

To say I love you is to put my phone down and be fully present. To give you the gift of myself and let you know that I am all ears, all eyes, all heart. My presence is something I often withhold from you, while I am busy crossing off tasks, sending emails, reading, or writing. Oh how I know I will regret these decisions if I do not slow down and tell you that I love you by giving you myself. My whole self. My attention. The gift of my presence is something I am becoming more and more aware of. Help me with patience?

To say I love you is to trust you. To trust that you will do what you say you will. To trust that you have integrity and pure motives.

To say I love you is to let you read at night before we doze off into the land of dreams. It is to compromise close snuggles every night and agree that every other night works just fine. Forgive me for the times I demand snuggles out of your warm self when you are dying to get into your long awaiting novel.

To say I love you is to notice you. Ask you about your day, inquire about your meetings and ministry, to wonder about your new gadgets and toys. To be into whatever you're into. To cherish whatever you cherish.

To say I love you is to love myself. This is a difficult one for me to understand, but you continuously tell me. It means that I surrender to the Truth [that I share with so many] and reject the lies that I am worthless, stupid, incapable. Loving you by loving myself means taking breaks, cleaning our home, baking treats, and going on runs.

To say I love you is to save our extra dimes and nickels for books that you are eager to read, but patient to wait for.

To say I love you is so many things and so much more than stating words with empty actions. Simply and mighty, these things I am learning, will change our marriage. If I choose to walk them out and pursue them...until death do us part.

To say I love you is to give you my hand in marriage; to present my heart, mind, and body as yours; to remain yours and yours alone through sickness and in health, with wealth and with poverty, for as long as we both shall live. To say I love you is to grow wrinkly with you

Help me grow in loving you.

Forever Yours,

NB

 

 

On growing old: a letter

lets get wrinky  on growing old  marriage Dear Husband,

When I purchased your wedding band three short years ago, I requested them to etch a few words into the white gold that you would wear for the rest of your life. As I wrote the words I so carefully picked out to place into the ring, the lady across the cold glass counter stared at me. She asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yes." I replied plainly. "Yes, of course I am sure!"

[Let's get wrinkly]

were the words I paid to engrave into that white gold ring.

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Wrinkly is not simply a goal, but a thrilling and frightening dream. A dream that seems so far and yet too near. A supreme dream that seems simple and almost easy, but discretely daunting and serious, extremely. You see my dear, I am honored to grow old with you, to be on your team. I hear that there are hard years, smoother years, sick years and healthy years. I see there is pain and I have seen there is joy - some we have experienced, deeply and unfortunately, but the key part of the beauty is the word, "we." Together. We have many years before us. We are such babies and I cannot imagine with the good Lord Jesus has in store for us.

Sometimes while I am getting my face ready to greet the day, you join me in the tiny space we call our bathroom. You pull me in close, your arms tight around me, and you place your head near my neck so that we are cheek to cheek. We stare into each others eyes through the mirror that coexists as our toothbrush cabinet. And we smile. We sit in that place of togetherness because our hearts reside there, safely. Tucked into the other. Often while we are doing this thing of sticking close and staring at the togetherness, I do my best to soak in the skin that currently protects our bodies - it is soft and smooth, nearly wrinkle-free. There are minor blemishes. I know that too soon, I will stare into that mirror and wonder when those wrinkles arrived. I know that too soon, we will be cheek to cheek and our wrinkles may be overlapping. I will do my best to be okay with this. Because with you, I am growing old.

And those wrinkles will be a trophy proclaiming, "We fought for our marriage. We worked hard and we are where we are, together. We had hard conversations and honestly painful days. We chose one another over self, day after day, we chose love even when we felt far from it. We denied our desires to flirt with others, to see what it would be like to be with someone else. We saw the big picture, instead of just what was before us. We walked through valleys and darkness...and through it all He held us together holding hands. And these wrinkles are our trophy."

love chocolate cherubs

I have agreed, vowed, that marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. I am understanding that life is fragile, even but a vapor  - over these last few months, we have learned that so much deeper. I want to learn these painfully difficult lessons with you nearest to my heart, you holding my hand [wrinkle-free or not], you pulling me close to remind me that you are here and not going anywhere.

I will not imagine growing old and wrinkly with anyone but you. 

I look forward to swallowing our vitamins every morning with each other as a life long routine. You making coffee ever so carefully; me making eggs ever so scrambly. I dare to say we may never live by the world's term of grandly, but I will gladly live plainly by your side, growing  old. Even wrinkly.

With a heart loving yours,

Natalie

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

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

On Valentines Day: why I cherish you

why i cherish you My husband-

It is that specific day that we celebrate and honor the vows we made to one another. The vows that were spoken only two and a half short years ago, but were made with such certainty, such high hopes, such excitement. When we spoke those vows into motion, I knew that we would face times of trial and struggle and tension...I knew that a great marriage wasn't easily achieved, that it takes years and decades of building life together, of navigating this journey of life as one. I knew that we would have adventures and surprises and discover more of who Jesus is, together. But I did not know what exactly those adventures, surprises, or trials and tensions would exist to be. And that was [and is] part of the great adventure. That was part of the excitement: we had a world of uncertainties and a wide open road of LIFE to pursue together.

As one.

Me and you [a brand new family unit] creating and forming a legacy.

I cherish you, may I tell you a few reasons why?

Right now I am watching you piece together a board game for us to play and your excitement for this game is so adorable to me. I adore you  -  you are adore-able. I fall for the way you squish your lips up real fat for me to kiss them while squinting your eyes. Your vision for not only making stronger students, but stronger families grips my heart and makes it soft. The way you talk about sweet Brenden, when your eyes light up about Jeremy and Kyle and Jake and all the other guys you believe in...it makes my heart swell with pride to be married to you. Our raw conversations that stir up pain as we walk through trial also bring me hope because you are true and honest and vulnerable; and in those rare moments I feel like the luckiest woman alive: you trust me with your heart. I hold dear the way you cannot lie or keep a secret to save your life, your lips quiver with the truth you are trying to conceal, and I know that you are inches away from busting into laughter. Your laughter is loud and often obnoxious; you can hear it from the other building. But it was one of those things I noticed that first week we met - I noticed that you laugh loudly and without shame, your joy radiates from your entire being, ricocheting from you onto anyone around you. It invites us into a place of freedom-joy, a place of light-heartedness.

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What I have been discovering myself treasuring is when you interrupt my attempt to get ready for the day. You walk right up to me and you hug me so tight that I cannot move. You're asking me to stop all that I am doing, to pause my routine and see you, hug you, be close to you. You invite me into this place of togetherness for just a few moments. Though sometimes I squirm and the words of hurry and late and work slip from my mouth with slight irritation...I need you to pause life to hug me, to embrace me, to pull me close to you and let me know that this is important. Me and you, together, is worth being a little later than I planned. You are worth it. Our marriage is worth it.

I used to push back and say I wouldn't be too mushy and annoying and overly gushy-lovey-dovey to you online...but here I am. I always told myself I wouldn't call myself your Valentine - but why? That is what I am. And I am proud to be yours; being married to you is my highest honor.

I still find myself staring at you in disbelief that I have you for life; that I am safe and covered by a covenant that we made before 200 people. Though we have not experienced decades together, I still cherish you. I am thankful to live life with you, to learn with you, to be humbled with you, to grow into beautiful humans together. I do not want us to take this for granted, this thing of marriage and companionship and life-together. I vow to continue pursuing you and searching for ways to serve you.

I love you, Loren Brenner.

Forever your Valentine & unashamed to claim it, Natalie

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The letter link up on refreshment

refreshement link up
My dear husband Loren,
This recent job transition has hit me in a way I did not expect. That sunny Saturday you finished your last shift at Trillium Farm Home, I remember rushing home to clean, put on a little make up, fix my hair and be beautiful for you. I prayed for you more that day than I had in too long, I handed you to Jesus all over again, and I was thankful for a fresh new season: hours for full time ministry.We have been waiting for this new season, this change, this chapter of life. The day you no longer have to request Fridays and Saturdays off so that we can take our youth students to retreats. The day you don't have to request an entire month off so that we can be at summer camps, pouring ourselves out into the most beautiful thing: lives. We have been waiting for this time to spend geared towards serving this beautiful church. We have been looking eagerly at this time like it would bring the answer. Answer to what? I am unsure, but surely it would provide something.

It did usher in something; like the clear crisp mornings we have been enjoying this January, your job transition has cleared up our foggy attempt at serving humans after you already spent a full day pouring yourself into dangerous and troubled youth...and it cleared up the weight you feel resting upon your heart. Cleared up as in made known - your calling to serve Corvallis Church was affirmed. As your hours transitioned from the Farm Home to serving this church, it dawned on me that we are a really good team. It became a new time of serving others, inviting in more people, meeting with more beautiful and amazing humans, but forgetting to see one another face to face. Our hearts were not being stitched closer as they once were; we were easily irritated with one another, and that bothered me. It hit me: we must spend sacred time together, just me and you and Jesus, or we will forget we are married and simply exist as a team. It's so easy to live side by side, working together and pouring ourselves out...all the while forgetting to stand soul to soul and see the most important human before our very eyes, forsaking intimacy.

Working together is beautiful and I have no words to explain what an honor it is. It is a rare gift that I don't want to take lightly and it knits us together in unique ways. I cannot imagine spending my time doing anything else right now - sitting side by side with you, praying with a couple or a hurting student or planning youth events and talking about ways others can see Jesus is my favorite thing. I mean that with all that I am. But like the bone chilling crisp air, I was reminded to my core how important time with you is. Time not in front of a screen or planning the next best thing. I want to set my cell phone down while we are together and in the car so I'm not distracted.

 time keller meaning of marraige quote

I crave to spend time face to face, soul to soul; playing games or praying or going on runs or taking walks or dreaming up life or sitting across from one another at a coffee shop...without our computers or books or a list of to-do's. It can be difficult to justify this as good time spent, when it seems we are together so often. But the sticky thing is, we are together with many others, often forsaking those vulnerable and intimacy building moments that are so necessary. So my dear, let us spend time together. Let us go on a date and spend a night away and play games together. Let us protect our marriage.

I'm convinced marriage is more fragile than we can comprehend and I don't want to forsake it. A fragile entity that must be handled with care, vulnerability, humility, integrity. It is a precious gift we should not neglect. So let us continue to chase Him together; let's be married and keep falling in love with one another by choice and out of that may our ministry and life overflow.

Besides. I like who you are. I like your humor and your heart and the crazy way your mind contains vast amounts of random knowledge. I like your smile and your crazy bearded face. I love that you chuckle crack yourself up; I also love that you think I'm funny. I love your heart for people and your desire to reveal Christ in a selfless way. I like you. I want to be with you, I want to know you and be known by you.

With a heart craving yours,

Natalie (runt)

 tim keller quote

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

Students: You are BRAVE

you are brave My Dear Students-

You amaze me. Of course, I always say that and those words will soon become just another sentence that flies over your heads. You will grow numb to those words. It is easy to grow numb to things we continue to say and hear all of our lives, is it not? Regardless, you continue to awe me.

Recently we began our Tuesday night (youth group) series Can I Ask That? The topics chosen were birthed out of many questions you asked during our small groups together. Tough questions like, "How do I respond when someone asks me what I believe about homosexuality? I don't even really know what I believe." "If God loves us then why was He so angry in the Old Testament?" "Can someone smoke marijuana and still be a Christian?" "Why don't all religions lead to Heaven? Does that make God selfish?" Your questions unfold and my own understanding is invited to be explored; do you know how much you teach me? You are so brave.

You are brave to care about these things enough that you would explore what they mean for you and your life. You are courageous to wonder where Jesus stands and you are contemplating if standing with Him is worth it. Spoiler alert: it is so worth it.

You're brave to wonder about things that many people write off or jump into extreme-mode. You're brave because you're willing to ask and seek and learn; you want to know Truth. We may disagree on a few things here and there along our way, but we can both settle together on the foundation of Christ. You want to know for yourself, not simply be told something and be expected to believe it. You are brave to seek Truth.

This letter contains no "answers." I feel that the only answer I can confidently give you about anything is: "search the Bible and search for Jesus' heart...fall in love with what He has for you. Then go and love those around you." What this letter does contain is encouragement to continue asking questions. Continue being curious about Jesus and His ways and what He has to say about things; complex and simple. But don't stop there...keep on going..search and seek and explore. Examine, probe, delve into Him and His word (the Bible). This is a brave thing, discovering Truth. Don't ever stop asking tough questions and seeking Truth; God can handle your questions and doubts. He is there waiting to show you the way encouraging your brave heart.

jeremiah 29:13With so much love and a hopeful heart to point you towards Him,

Natalie

We aren't so different

we aren't so different Dear girls-

It's been quite some time since we've met here. But here we are, once again, and on a new space.

This space is meant to be a source of encouragement to you. My hope is that on this space, you would see that you and I aren't so different. Our age may say differently, the world around us may suggest otherwise, but deep down in our core...we are very much alike. Don't believe me? Let me show you, sweet thing:

I want to matter.

I am often driven by the approval of man. I may ignore this at times, but when I ask myself what the purpose of an action was...I am faced with the truth that I was acting out of assumption of what others may think. When I feel the mark of disproval from a handful of influential people in this life of mine, the mark becomes a crippling bruise, inviting me to a prison place of pity. Why? Because someone was disappointed in me; my longing to be approved, applauded, and amazing has come up short and I am suddenly less than. And I want to matter.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10

I long to feel beautiful. Radiantly beautiful, from within.

I will make you beautiful forever, a joy to all nations. Isaiah 60:15

I crave to be known, not misunderstood. And I want this life to count for something; I don't want to die wondering if my legacy was one of His love or one of selfish ambition. I want to leave this earth knowing that others experienced Christ in me.

Do you see that we aren't so different? It seems the more I understand you girls, the more time we spend together, your beautiful heart is revealed. Your heart longs to make someone proud, to be seen as and feel beautiful, to make life count. You want to matter.

And you do.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.They cannot be numbered! Psalm 137:17

My dear girls, you matter so much to Him. Let that be enough. His heart is to overwhelm you with grace, enveloping all that you are into Himself, letting it be known that you matter to Him. His thoughts about you cannot be numbered. If there is one thing I pray to leave you with, it is to chase Him. Pick up your Bible, open it's cover and let the pages whisper sweetness to your souls - you will never regret that decision. It is dripping with His love for you and more than anything, I desire for you will fall in love with Him.

Because He is for you. God is pro-YOU. His love letter is drenched in that Truth.

Always sincerely,

Natalie

 

By His Side: a letter

by his side Dear Handsome Husband of mine..

You amaze me. Your heart is gold and can only get goldener (yes, goldener). Sometimes I am easily irritable, and for that, I am sorry. It is nothing you have done, but is simply one of my flaws. It is the curse of selfishness, the problem of this life. But let's move past that and celebrate something beautiful, significant...lovely.

I get to be by your side.

And you are by mine.

I am incredibly flawed, but I know that you continue to cherish me. I know that you will stand by my side as protector, friend, supporter, and husband through it all. Through sickness and weak broken bodies...through health and tickle fights. Through infertility and parenting and empty nesting, growing old and wrinkly...saggy, we will stand together. Through ministry and home making and whatever else we decide to pursue...Doula-ing and Photography. You are always rooting me on and you always will...it is who you are, it is in your nature, and I am beyond blessed to have you by my side. You are one of the most selfless beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Though you are imperfect (as all human beings tend to be), I will stand by your side through it all. That is what I committed when I stood before 200 some people and vowed, "I DO." Through painful days and heart wrenching months, I will stand by your side. Through poke wars (real ones, not on facebook) and weird voices and goofy toe points I will stand by you and smile. Some days I will be grouchy, and I apologize for that. Some days I will be exhausted, and I apologize for my lack of energy. But on those very same days, I will still proudly stand by your side. We are a team, Team Brenner. We are married and this is forever on earth, until death itself do us part. And that, my lovely man, is a cherish-able gift.

My husband, I am honored to be by your side. I am honored to make great leaps of faith with you; leaps like quitting your job so that you can pursue the calling God has placed on your heart to serve students with most of the time given to you. Leaps of loving others with a risk, dangerously. Leaps like welcoming a multitude of people into our home, our hearts. This thing we did, getting married, it changed us. It has taught us how deeply selfish we are and how deeply selfless we can be. It has taught us grace and patience, love and intimacy. It changed how we do life -- as we entwined our hearts together, our lives became one. Life will never be how it once was and that mystery is beautiful. Our vows were not conditional upon our feelings...but an unconditional decision. For this gift, I am thankful. I am thankful to continue growing together as we keep our eyes steady on Christ.

By your side I stand, through tough months financially, knowing we have all that we need and more. Reminding each other that money is just money. By your side I stand, through tough relationships that help us grow, knowing we are being molded more into His image, even if painful. By your side I stand, as you learn to check your email and respond. By your side I stand, as you grow this beard as long as you can and moisturize it with beard oil. By your side I stand, while you joke and joke and laugh and chuckle and joke some more. By your side I stand, when you dance around and get your groove on in the grocery store. By your side, I stand in the deep and muddy trenches, and on the tipiest of tops in the mountains. By your side I stand, literally and physically...but also when you are not around. I stand by you and want to honor you. By your side I stand, through all of the difficult parts of life and marriage and family and things, I have committed.

My husband, I adore you. I appreciate your patience with me as I grow. And I am honored to be by your side.

photo by K. Barnes Photography

Girls of Grace

girls of grace Good morning, dear ones.

It is Wednesday and it feels like forever since we have chatted on this space; though it's only been two weeks. I have missed writing to you.

This morning I woke early. The sun didn't shine it's face for nearly two hours after I opened my eyes and breathed in the fresh air of the morning.

My girls, I want to thank you. You may or may not have noticed (probably not because your life isn't all about me) but I have been in a funk. A funk of business, selfishness really. But you have shown me more grace than I would have asked you for. I am so grateful that you create a space of safety, where I can be me and you can be you and we can be human. As I thought on and prayed for you this morning, I realized what graceful girls you are. And this is something I pray you do not lose.

Being girls of grace will work miracles in your life. This isn't a transactional thing, but really a simple truth that is reality. Every time you extend grace to someone, including yourself, you will be overcome with a sense of peace and relief and joy that doesn't always make sense. When you choose forgiveness and mercy over hard hearted bitterness and irritation, your soul will naturally rejoice and in those moments, you will find Jesus. In those moments you will find freedom, releasing any tension you may have been holding. It's miraculous, really.

Do not lose heart. Do not stop sharing His grace with others. Jesus has conquered this world and you are His beloveds. When your immediate response leans towards lashing out in quick anger or a heart dripping with jealousy, remember that grace is freedom and freely given to you. You can accept it and choose it and claim it as yours. Remember that jealousy and hate and bitterness is prison and that the natural way of this culture is not freedom-grace.

Grace, a pure hearted offer extending forgiveness and mercy, is completely freeing. Grace works wonders.

Grace restores.

Grace redeems.

Grace is given and received, it is shared.

And you, dear girls, are drenched in it. You are drenched in Christ's grace and I pray that you continue to walk in it and share it with others.

I am praying for you today.

Sincerely,

Natalie

Friendship looks like..

friendship looks like Friendship looks like a letter in the mail from someone you see maybe once a year. Growing up, you would not dare to believe that friendships could exist outside of daily viewings - aka, if you don't see someone, then obviously they are not a part of your life. But now that I am adulting, I realize that most of my closest friends are not near me at all. They may live 30 minutes away or an entire country away. But friendship doesn't have to look like coffee dates every week; it can be letters in the mail full of all the good words that inspire, warm, and clothe you with grace. Words that build you up and tell you who you are.

letters from friends

Friendship looks like being sisters and sisters-in-law. Caring for one another and rooting one another on. Listening to each other and crying with each other and sharing with each other. Friendship looks like having each others back, taking sisters to get nails done, and buying dinner together.

Friendship looks like hikes in the woods, exploring unknown territories. It looks like bike rides and tea, sitting on comfy cozy couches and dodgeball. It looks like babysitting when you could use a night off and it looks like taking pop sickles to your momma friend with sick babies; it also looks like picking berries.

Friendship looks like standing outside in the dark, after a long meeting, talking about the most feely of things within. Things like frustration about our bitter hearts that have little reason to hold such ugly prickles. Things like the fear of never carrying a child, being broken for the multitude of broken families surrounding, and hating disease. Heavy things that are not often spoken of; but here in this place of friendship, it is safe and spoken and cried out. It is prayed over and reminded that this earth is broken.

It looks like speaking Truth with grace, but honestly...it is truthful because that is loving.

Friendship looks like sending knitted squares back and forth. Imperfectly beautiful knitted squares to create two friendship blankets. True story, totally happening right now.

It looks like saving small amounts of money each month to take a trip to visit your college roommate, who is now married with a little one of her own, and lives in Canada.

It looks like seeing someone one time a year and maybe talking 3 times a year, but doggone it, you are friends.

It looks like picnic baskets filled to the brim with a perfect date night in when you're feeling sick. Because friends know what's going on in your life and friends care for you.

picnic date at home

Friendship is a plethora of things and I love it. I love friendship because they exist on so many levels, looks different with a multitude of humans. And that is okay. What is friendship to you?