My story started in the throes of shame and secrecy and sin: I was an unexpected life conceived through a love affair, out of wedlock.
I imagine my parents learning about my little soul growing inside my mom, and what they must have felt. I’m sure there was a mixture of excitement and sorrow and shame swirling around the secrecy of the soul conceived out of wedlock, but I know there was immense grace and goodness and glory being birthed too.
I was loved from the start and I know that to be true. I never doubted that. I simply love knowing that I, Natalie Brenner, was conceived in “the wrong way” and through that, God still shines His grace and goodness and turns our imperfections into glory.
Over the last year I have done an immense amount of soul-work. I have made mistakes, lived imperfectly, been face-to-face with my brokenness.
I have dove deeply into what it means to be who I am, worked at unthreading layers of quiltage in my heart, inspecting all of the loose thread and piecing together how it was sewn in the first place.
How in the world did the quilt of my heart end up so messy and complicated and complex and wounded and healed all wrong and right and…?
I am a mess, you guys. A real wreck. Not just because I stand in the wreckage of everything I thought my life would be, but also because I have done a great job of creating coping habits to protect my heart and it is passed time to retire those habits.
For years I numbed myself from feeling how I felt in a giant area of my life. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I did it to survive. I had learned this little coping mechanism long ago in the beautiful house I grew up in, where sensitivity was shamed and emotions were embarrassing.
Suppression and repression became an addiction I didn’t even know I had.
Convinced that to be raw and vulnerable in all the pain and hurt I experienced meant I was weak and without faith, I turned off my ability to be personally offended and hurt, especially by a particular someone.
I worked at destroying disappointment in a particular area of my life and marriage, because there simply seemed no way to fix it except to tell myself it didn’t exist anymore. So I assumed complacency and covered up my calamity with okay-ness, stuffing all the strain and moving forward and being fine. But through that I shut off a whole lot more than just the ability to be personally offended and hurt.
What I have found through my soul-digging is that I didn’t even know I was doing this. I just did it.
Since the abruption of life as I knew and expected it to be, I have been stripped of every last thing. Forced to stand naked before the King — undressed of all my most prized titles and dreams and identities and accolades and approvals and even people — over and over and over again I experience being completely exposed and still loved.
I laid bare in the reality that what is best about me isn’t all of the identities and people I love and things I do and words I say and passions I pursue…but it’s just me.
Simply me. Raw. Naked. Unashamed.
Being forced to my face countless times has made me unafraid of being stripped, because when all had been taken from me, He was still right there.
Robed in grief, the shattered pieces of me spread out for all to see, He still shone upon me, His love still radiant.
The wounds in me run deeper than I wanted to see or admit, but I find that as I run my fingers over them and touch them and turn my attention to them, there is hope for their healing. They don’t hurt any less when I ignore them, they just hurt differently, seeping out like an infected poison in other areas of my life.
I am finding that looking at the wounds, as ugly as they are, is the best way to tend to them and heal them and seek my wholeness.
When I was staring separation and divorce in the face, I was sure I was going to die of shame. So much shame wrapped up in the dissolution of a marriage — in my family and community and online and as a faith-based person.
I was confident divorce would make me Not Good Enough.
But one day He spoke so clearly into my shattered soul, saying “When you say you aren’t good enough, you are inherently denying My Truth. I say you are a glorious work of Myself, I say you are My masterpiece. Stop eating the lie that you are not good enough. You are made in my image then, now, and tomorrow. Your marriage and wife-title is not your core identity, therefore as you lay it down, you are still wholly Beloved.”
Here’s the deal, you guys. When I work towards holding onto and looking those truths in the face, that I am His even in all of my Not Good Enoughness… I find this huge well of compassion. I find oceans of grace.
If grace were an ocean, we’re all sinking.
When I welcome compassion for myself, it becomes first or second nature to see others through that same lens.
I am not perfect at this and have a long way to go — I still struggle with seething anger and wanting to yell things back in response to a someone poking at my wounds just to hurt me. But even in all of my failure internally or externally, I keep finding this:
as I unpack self-compassion and allow myself to wade through the ocean of grace waiting for me…I also find this undeniable strength to offer compassion towards the people/person who is hurting me.
I vacillate between disappointment in myself and others…and seeing the very real need we each have for true compassion.
Shame stops compassion. Learning to walk in unashmedness is learning self-compassion…and compassion for others.
Compassion is what is going to save us. It already has saved us, we simply get to continue allowing it to serve us each day...or not.
I said here and I will say it again: we all have wounds, and some of us are simply bleeding out all over everyone else and trying to pretend like we aren’t. There are no enemies in the flesh and blood, we are all starving for grace and compassion, and I hope to keep diving into what it means to offer it even when dysfunction and adversity are in my actual face.
When I think back to being conceived out of wedlock, I know for me if that happened I would feel heaps of shame. I grew up being told that “all sin is equal, sin is sin.” But it was also implicitly revealed to me that there are actually sins that are worse than others, and having sex before marriage or getting pregnant out of wedlock is one of those sins. So when I think about my start, and how I began through “the worst of sins,” I think of all the grace that wove itself in through that “mistake.” (My parents never labeled me as a mistake!)
Tomorrow I have the privilege of speaking at Community Chapel in Sweet Home, Oregon on the last day of their Cling and Reclaim spring event. I will be sharing pieces of my story, of how in the actual world do we wake up and keep moving forward through life’s seemingly unending disappointments? How do we cling and reclaim God’s truth and bring Him glory?
It will all come down to choosing to stare our suffering in the face, our sin as well as the sin done against us. It all comes down to saying yes to seeing ourselves as honestly as possible, and then realizing that He is still right there loving us.
The more I walk through the wreckage of my life, the more I discover I don’t need to be ashamed. The more I open myself up to making mistakes and living imperfectly, but also freely, I also live unashamed. I have this inherent habit of trying to live perfectly, to avoid shame. But I am finding that even…maybe even especially… in the wreckage, I am unashamed.
He is not forsaking us, even in our loneliest or most sinful hours: He is with us.