I have started and drafted dozens of blog posts since August 2018.
They’ve been about motherhood, about race and racism, about marriage and divorce, about healing and wholeness, about self-love, about foster care and the perils of working with DHS…
But only a small few have made it to the published side of this little space I call mine.
2018 exploded a whole world of pain that was hidden from even myself…or at least I was working extremely hard to keep it hidden from myself. Because what happens when we stare unspeakable damage in its face?
How do we rise from such depths of brokenness?
How do we pick up all the pieces that shatter? There is no way to put them back together how we or the world (aka Christian culture) feels they should be, because piecing together a shattered plate comes back together differently no matter how hard we try.
So silencing the hidden shattering happening beneath the surface seems like the only way to survive. But in so doing, I ended up slowly dying instead of thriving.
Until one day in August I was forced to look The Truth in its face. We were forced to look at it, and we each get to choose how we move through the truth of ourselves.
Will we keep looking at it, sit in it, and feel the depths of damage that has been done? Or will we continue to hide it from ourselves, keep going and trying to survive despite the dying that’s actually happening? Will we tell ourselves lies and falsities, twist reality, because the pain of the truth is so uncomfortable?
The choice is ours.
But what I’ve learned since August is that I don’t want to hide.
I don’t want to live anything but true and honest and to myself. I have one life on this earth, and I want to live it fully.
A soul slowly dying beneath silenced suffering is not fully living — it is withering.
It’s February 21, 2019. It has been pretty much exactly six months since my world exploded by truth.
I was sure that I wouldn’t make it to a day where even the sun could bring me joy — I believe the sun is God’s given anti-depressant (I also am on anti-depressants, but the sun adds a real nice extra level of joy in a typical Natalie). I was sure I wouldn’t make it past the depths of depression, the darkest nights, the sorrow-consumed-crippled days.
But it’s sunny and the air is brisk and the birds are sitting on bare tree branches and to me it feels like the most beautiful day.
There is nothing special about today except that it is today and I feel free, relief, hope. I feel real, alive, and honest.
I have been doing really hard heart-work over the last six months.
When everything I imagined for my future was essentially dismantled in one way or another, I found myself asking how in the hell I got to here.
How could I have lived so many years so sure of things, and then suddenly realize I had created a lie that even I was believing? A fantasy.
Through the hard work of groups such as Mending The Soul, The Genesis Project, and weekly therapy, it became clear incredibly quickly that my Person (aka: me, Natalie Brenner) had simply been doing what she knew how to do to survive and do her best to thrive. It took a bit of time for me to not hate that Person though. How could she betray herself and people she loved in this way?
I dove super deep into studying the Enneagram as well as The Highly Sensitive Person and found for myself wells of grace. It was apparent that I was far less emotionally honest than I had thought I was for so long…and when I think back to nineteen year old Natalie, I now have a lot of compassion for her instead of hatred.
The more I learn about myself and the way my Person operates, the more patience I have for her. The more patience I have for her, the more love I have for her, and also I have hope for her too.
I have a lot of hope for the Person of Natalie Brenner.
We all have childhood wounds. I love my parents. My mom and I have come a long way from when I was 12 to now. But my family was pretty dysfunctional growing up and now more than ever I can see clearly how my childhood shaped my beliefs about myself and marriage and walking through a Christian journey.
The Christian culture also really screwed up the idea of dating and marriage and sex for me, too.
All in all, we are a bunch of humans screwing each other up and I hold no one hostage in my heart or am pointing fingers — but I AM stating the truth of how I got to here.
The world is a whole lot more broken and dysfunctional than little teenage Natalie could have understood, and her idea of how the world would operate was so so skewed and naive.
But that’s okay. It’s okay.
There are a bunch of broken hearts bleeding out right now, but they were breaking before too, it was just hidden. Now we are all forced to stare the damage in its face and we have the choice to move towards healing or stick in stagnation.
I know I for one am chasing healing and wholeness.
As for DHS and fostering two of the most beautiful souls on the earth, I will say that there have been multiple times I was ready to throw in the towel. Not because of the girls, but because of DHS and the attorneys.
When I think of fostering again after this case is closed, I sort of laugh because it seems stupid of me to subject myself and my kids to the systems and people of DHS. Buuuuuut the kids. The kids of this city deserve adults to step in and stand in the gap for them — if not me, then who?
And yes, I still have four kids, two of which stay with me forever and two do not.
What I will share about this journey of fostering children through a broken system is that it has refined me in so many ways. I really don’t like being disliked, I don’t love being the one to push buttons and call out people’s crap — but as a foster parent, I feel it is my responsibility to speak up and advocate for vulnerable children in this city. When I signed up to be a foster parent, it was embedded into my soul that these kids all deserve adults to stand in the gap for them in a super terrible time of their life, where everything is in limbo.
So, though my experience working with DHS hasn’t been ideal (I will say that my certifier and a supervisor at the branch are real gems), it has refined me in many ways. It has forced me to speak up and speak truth, to point out things I may be wrong about but things I see. It has forced me to take low blows and get back up again.
If you saw on good ole Instagram, my baby boys started preschool! Do yourself a good favor and click on that photo and swipe through the progression. It is too good.
Sage continues to thrive in school, he works well by himself, and also loves his friends and teacher Kianna. Ira basically cries from the moment he wakes up to the moment I drop him off and through a couple rounds of the song “Mommy Comes Back.”
Their teacher told me that Sage will often comfort Ira through the day, and after they sing their little Mommy Comes Back song a few times, Ira is fine but definitely misses me through the day. He is likely not totally ready for preschool, but it’s what we have to do to make ends meet.
My photography business is still going strong and I will be in a few different cities this year, so hit me up to see if yours is one of t hem! Or sign up for my photography newsletter to find out.
Every day is different. Every moment of every day is different. Some days and moments are much darker and much harder than others, but overall I am grateful.
I have more playlists on Apple Music and Spotify than I could have dreamed. I’ve drank more glasses of red wine post-bed time than I knew I would love. I’ve met so many people in the trenches of the hidden-suffering. I’ve journaled a lot. I’ve let go of so many boxes. I’ve gotten two tattoos that mean the world to me. I’ve spoken so much truth. I’m learning to be bothered. I’m working on seeing how I repress and suppress pain.
Essentially…I’ve found freedom through the explosion. Strength by being weakened. Hope through the fire.
For the first time in my life I feel free to fully be in my skin. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. Self love is far more important than I was ever taught. And just because I love myself doesn’t mean I love other people less — love isn’t pie. There is enough Person in me to love everyone else fiercely…and myself too.
I am learning to love the Person of Natalie Brenner as messy and complex and complicated as she is. I am learning there is space for all of my Person, and that I deserve just as much space for myself as the next person — I’m always working to create space for people and now see the absolute necessity to create that space for myself. If I cannot create a big enough space for myself, what makes me think I can create more and more space for others?
So much love to you. Thank you for joining me on this journey of self-love, healing, fostering, adopting….and finding Jesus in it all.
His grace wrecks me in the best kinds of way.