Hope: birthed at the dawn of the New Year

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

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

Hope is birthed at the dawn of the New Year.

I am very much ready for 2016.

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

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

Maybe it will be #theyearofBrennerbabies. #wecravecrazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, team.

Thank you for joining us on this wild ride.

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

Finding Him [in the mess of church + holidays]

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

Until this "season" of my life.

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

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

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

I felt awkward. Because I am awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

baby loss, miscarriage, ornament

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

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

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

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

The Tunnel: days following a miscarriage

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I invite you to read these words from Chelsea, our last guest post for the month. Chelsea and her husband have been married for over 10 years. She loves americanos, is a notary, and is trying to radically pursue what it means to die to herself. She has walked through 4 IVF's and 6 IUI's, and through all of that a lot of pain, loss and 3 miscarriages. Meet Chelsea:

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“I’m so sorry to tell you …”

All the phone calls started the same way. In some cases, I was anticipating this call, the bleeding had already started. In others, the hope levels had risen high enough in my chest to anticipate a different set of words coming from the doctor’s mouth. Either way, the outcome was the same. “This pregnancy is no longer viable. I am sorry to share that you are miscarrying.”

Numbness set in. Tears flowed. Questions started flying up to God faster than my brain could think them. My heart would pound loudly. I’d feel sick to my stomach. “This is happening. I am losing my baby.”

When Natalie asked me to write something for her blog, I wanted to invite you into this small, dark tunnel that is the days following a miscarriage. Because miscarriages happen. Not just to me and my husband, but to you or your friend or your sister-in-law or your pastor’s wife. We have walked into this dark tunnel 3 separate times, and each time, the loss and grief is unique, yet overwhelming.

I remember my first miscarriage, lying on the bed, genuinely wondering if I would ever be able to get up again. Every part of me ached. I cried over the loss of dreams, the life that we would never see. I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually strained. God, where are you? Why me?

The heaviness almost became unbearable. I could feel the weight of sadness puncturing my soul, encasing me like a thick wool blanket. I remembering feeling so thirsty but knowing that drinking water would only eventually result in a trip to the bathroom, which held a painful, visible reminder to the sorrow I was feeling.

One of the many hard parts about miscarrying was realizing that life was still going on around me. Days began to pass and with it, I had to shower, grocery shop, go to work, cook dinner, visit the doctor. The fact that people around me were smiling and laughing seemed so surreal. Didn’t they know how sad I felt?

I remember the first time my husband and I laughed together after each of our miscarriages. It almost felt disloyal to our angel baby. Were we allowed to be happy and laugh when that baby never would?

Slowly, and only thanks to God’s peace, strength and presence, the sadness got a little less heavy. It still lingered, mostly catching me off guard in small moments - observing a child at Target, watching a mom hustle a crying baby out of a church service, seeing a commercial on TV with a tiny infant. My breath would catch and my eyes would fill. I would slip in and out of present moments and into a delicate room of reflection and sorrow.

The reality is, deep grief, that kind that comes after losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, can be all-consuming. Even when you believe in God, even when you know His promises are good, even when you feel His peaceful reassurance of His presence. Even then, grief is hard. Sadness is real, loss is tangible, yet Hope is at hand.

Friends, grieving takes time and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you need to rest, do it. If you need to scream into a pillow, do it. If you want to hibernate and grieve quietly, do it. If you need to cry, rent The Notebook and sob. If you need to eat McDonald’s French fries, eat them. If you want to go to the movies, grab a drink with friends or sit in a coffee shop, go there. The truth is, there is no wrong way to grieve. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself the permission to take care of YOU. Be cautious not to shut out your partner. Keep those lines of communication open, even if it’s just to whisper “I feel sad today”.

Put your healing first. Trust that those around you know you are doing the best you can. Sometimes it means you simply have to walk through an ocean of tears.

Healing takes prayer. It takes bringing your grief to His feet each and every day, even if you have no words left to say. God is big enough for your questions, compassionate enough to gather you in His arms, gentle enough to calm you. And even then, it will still hurt. But, in time, it will hurt a little less. The tears do slow down. I promise. Then, the heavy wool blanket of grief that covered you will start to feel a little bit more like a cotton afghan, then a thin scarf, and at some point, you will be able to separate that fabric from hanging on you all the time. The tunnel opens up, fresh air lets in, and a renewed strength comes. When that time comes, it doesn’t mean you have forgotten. It simply means you are moving forward with a new beautiful scar on your heart.

The tunnel is never easy but the words of Psalm 34:18 (ESV) encourage my heart: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Friends, let’s thank Him today for His goodness even in the sorrow. And let’s remember we are never, ever alone.

With love and hugs,

Chelsea

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Thanks for reading! I love to get to know new friends. Feel free to check out my personal blog at www.trialsbringjoy.com or on Instagram at @chels819.

Adoption + Puzzle Update [vol. 7]

adoption puzzle fundraiser

We are almost halfway puzzle-funded. Our puzzle will bring in $18,000 when completely sponsored which is about half of the cost of an agency adoption. We decided to just keep adding pieces to the puzzle and write names in as they arrive -- we don't want to lose any pieces and if we are honest, the longer we wait to put it together, the higher the chance of losing pieces.

There are more transitions than one happening in our life and we have reason to believe that God has orchestrated life as a trip. As cheesy as it is, life is a journey, a trip, a tour with stop signs and green lights and cross walks and yield signs. He just happens to be the Tour Guide, gently giving us one day at a time to breathe and to live and to pursue Him, guiding us without telling us what the next big sight is. I think He knows we are best tourists when we don't know all the answers, when we don't have an idea of where He is taking us, when we aren't in actual control. We couldn't handle life if we knew the entirety of the process, if we were in actual control. It's too much responsibility for our human selves.

adoption puzzle fundraiser

Halfway puzzle-funded and our little family profiles are currently at 3 of the 5 agencies we are praying to work with. They are active, they are ready, they are sitting in a pile awaiting the right birth family to open up and sift through the pages.

If we were to be presented to a birth family tomorrow and if they were to choose us, we would owe the money at match. This is a scary time for an adoptive couple, but its a time that each of them walks through. Will the money be provided? Will He come through? Or will He not? This is where the twists and turns in the road are so scary that I am thankful I am not the Driver.

Adoption grants are weird. A lot of them want you to be matched before you can apply for them. But the linch pin is that you have to have your money up front when matched. So how does that work? I am working my tail hiney off to fill out as much of the adoption grant paperwork as possible, have it all ready to go, and then once we are matched, send it off.

Adoption loans are another thing I am learning so much about.

I am an adult.

Wouldn't it be nice to just have $35,000 sitting in a bank account right now, ready to go for our baby? Let me answer that: yes. But that is rarely how it ever goes.

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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True friends are so necessary. Friends that know your character better than even yourself at times. Friends that call out your character, revealing that they believe in you, that you are strong, and you are not inherently and deeply evil. I am learning this daily.

My friend Bethany said she has had this little pink number for a couple of years and couldn't wait any longer to give it to us:

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It is pure preciousness because Loren is a BBC alumni and we have never seen such precious clothing. Of course he swooned and then freaked out, what if we have daughters. It sits on top of our nursery dresser, along with some little boy shoes and shorts, and a little bear hat knitted by the one and only beautiful Graice Miller - a 16 year old who has forever weaved herself into our hearts.

adoption nursery

adoption nursery

I sit near this shelf quite often, rocking in a chair that was gifted to us from Allan. The shelf itself was scrap wood given to us from Josh. Friendship makes up a home and now a nursery and I am learning already that friendship helps raise babies. You know that saying, that it takes a village to raise babies? What happens if all of your friends move away or if you move away from them? Right in the knick of time when the babies start coming. That has been one of my questions all this time, but like I said, God is big and He is the Tour Guide. He is mighty and powerful and all-with-us. I have real questions and real fears and real wonderings, and I wonder if you do too. When in the thick of something big and life changing and beautiful, what if life itself falls apart from the seams? What if the quilt that was once your life becomes unraveled and the stitches fall out? What if you become undone even more than ever before?

Every day I ask Him Big Questions and every day He reminds me, "I am with you. I am defender, I am reputation, I am Dad. I am with you."

There is no other option, really, but to trust Him fully at this point.

adoption nursery

Would you sponsor/purchase/claim a puzzle piece or two? I will etch your name or whosever you leave in the comment box, writing it forever to exclaim that you helped us grow our family through adoption. You helped us find one of our babies.

How it works:

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

1 puzzle piece = $25 

2)  Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal

-OR-

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

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Donate via VenMo. Nataliekbrenner@gmail.com

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized. We will be framing this beautiful puzzle in a two-sided-clear frame for our nursery, show casing all of the names who helped bring our baby home!

Losing Baby April: a miscarriage story

empty arms october pregnancy loss awarenessoctober pregnancy infant loss awareness

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my friend Andrea, and her beautiful family. Wife to Daniel, momma to Paige and Baby April who is in heaven. I am so honored to have Andrea share their story of losing their precious little baby. I will never forget sitting on the couch messaging her, asking her about her miscarriage. I eventually asked her what the due date was...and I began sobbing as soon as I saw it. We had shared the same due date this year.

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In April 2015 we lost our second baby at 10 weeks.

I went in for my first ultrasound, so excited to be pregnant again. My doctor was having a hard time getting a good picture of the baby, she called in her ultrasound tech which didn’t have me worried. It was when she asked me to hold my breath, twice, I knew something was wrong with our little baby. They couldn’t find a heartbeat and just like that we lost that little soul. I knew all the risks and complications that come with being pregnant but I never thought this could happen to me. How could God let this happen to me. I was so mad at him. My daughter was going to be a big sister, we would have two just in time for Christmas. In those ten short weeks I had the rest of our lives planned out. It wasn’t just the pregnancy that got taken away, it was so much more.

The next couple months were the hardest months of my life. I felt like I couldn’t keep going, why keep going? I had a hard time taking care of my daughter. I didn’t work for about a month. It was hard to do anything. I remember going to the grocery store a couple days after we had found out and just breaking down. All these people were freaking grocery shopping and I had a baby inside of me with no heartbeat, it wasn’t fair. It was hard for me to see people going on with their lives like nothing had happened. I never realized until it happened to me that a miscarriage is the loss of a child, no matter how far along you are. My baby had died and I was a mess.

People told me ‘well at least you know you can have a healthy baby’ or ‘be thankful you already have a daughter’ I don’t think people were trying to hurt my feeling but those words hurt so bad. I know I have my daughter and I am so grateful for her bright personality but it’s just not what I needed to hear at the time. I needed someone to tell me it was okay to feel the way I was feeling, I needed someone to sit there and be sad with me, to be mad.

That’s what I needed.

I am still coming to terms with this whole thing. Some days it slips my mind and some days it’s all I can think about. That precious little baby should be in my arms early November. It is hard when I see ladies who are about as far along as I would have been. It is a pain I don’t think will ever go away. I talk about it and want people to know, I want people to know what my family has been through and about our loss. I want to let people know it’s okay to talk about, I don’t want to act like it never happened. It shouldn’t be something people feel they can’t talk about. I want everyone to know I have had two kids and I love them both with all my heart and can’t wait to see by baby that was too beautiful for this earth.

My life is forever changed no matter how many more kids I do or don’t have.

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A Lifetime of Love: a baby loss story

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my dear friend, Holly.  Wife and momma. Hard worker and loving kindness. I went to church with Holly when I was in High School. Fast forward a few years and she contacted me when she was pregnant with Jaxon, letting me know that she had already endured a miscarriage, wondering if I had any tips on how to healthily go about this second pregnancy. (I am a doula). Two months later I am walking through my own darkness of miscarriage so I reach out to her, hungry for validation and prayer.

Thank you for sharing, Holly.

pregnancy loss awareness pregnancy loss awareness

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew {and} approved you {as my chosen instrument}; Before you were born I separated you and set you apart, consecrating you; I appointed you a task– “ Jeremiah 1:5

I am a mother. Not because I carried a baby for 9 months or because I delivered a new person into this world, but because we conceived.

I was 20 years old and on July 10th, 2013 a spark ignited in my womb and life was created. I know this was the day of our baby’s beginning as this was the day my husband proposed to me. The evening was so full of joy and excitement as our dreams were becoming true that we couldn’t contain ourselves and I will never be ashamed of it since it was through that love expression, God spoke and life was made, even out of the marriage covenant.

Before I left for my first wedding dress fitting 4 weeks later I saw the positive sign on the pregnancy test. I was shaking. Partially due to nerves but more so the love that flooded me as I placed my hands over my womb and knew there was a life in there for the first time! Beautiful!

I told my fiancée the news the next day and after a few deep breaths he said with tears in his eyes, “I’m going to be a daddy?!” and so the hugs and tears commenced.

One week. One week was all we had with our first child before I just didn’t feel right. We went to the doctor who scheduled an ultrasound by which we were able to see the sac where he was so cozy but our little one was still too small to be detectable at 5 weeks old. We went home assured that everything was fine but the next day I bled and it didn’t stop.

A trip again to the E.R. confirmed I was in “active abortion of the embryo” as the Doctor stated so calmly and rationally, with no sense of compassion, sadness or softness. I cannot begin to describe the intense feeling that completely overtook me after that. My body is aborting him? I am losing my baby? Why? What did I do wrong? I was shaking. Partially due to being cold in that backless hospital gown but more so the sobs that came as my heart shattered into a

We were told that 1 out of 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage; especially the first confirmed pregnancy a woman bears, then we were sent on our way. The pain I felt not only physically from the cramps but emotionally I can never express. “I am so sorry…” was all I could utter to my fiancée as we sobbed together that night.

I remember holding it because I didn’t want to see the reality the blood produced and I remember when I flushed my innocent baby. I knew it was him and not just another clump. I could feel it. A mothers’ intuition.

Guilt and shame clothed themselves on me like dirty rags after that. I couldn’t enjoy myself. It was wrong to feel happy when my baby was dead. I had killed him with my worry. It was my fault he never saw sunshine or got to experience rain on his face. It was my fault I never got to feel him kick or hear his heartbeat. I caused this… These words the Enemy spoke over me 24/7 in the months that came after that. When my 21st birthday came that December I choked down every drink as best as I could. How dare I consume this! If he was still here I wouldn’t be able to. It was a slap in my face that he was gone and I was empty.

Everyone told me I did nothing wrong, that it was just what happens, that our baby was alive and well in heaven and I would meet him someday. I felt supported and comforted by people trying to help but if I am honest there was nothing comforting about these truths. It was just another reminder that he wasn’t here.

I wish I could give some sort of sage advice to those of you who are seeing friends or family members walk through this type of loss but, I can’t, since I have fallen speechless as I have been in your shoes, watching dear friends and family members grieve. Even going through it myself I too have only been able to say sentences that begin with that horrid “at least he didn’t…” statement and no matter how many times I say “I am so sorry for your loss” I know it is of little help.

What I can tell you though is that prayer is the only weapon we have to help our loved ones when unexplainable loss has occurred. Guilt and shame are wretched tyrants who attack when we are low and cause fear that we will never be whole, never be okay and never not be a failure, but Gods word says in 2nd Timothy 1:7 “He does not give me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of sound mind.” So pray over your friends and family. Encourage her that it isn’t her fault. That her baby was appointed and created by the Lord of All, just for her in that time and when his life had fulfilled Gods purpose he was called to come home just as we are at.

I wish I could take away the pain you feel, dear sister. Know you are not alone in feeling like it was by something you did to cause this turn of events. You did everything right by loving your child from day 1. You did everything right as your baby’s protector and nurturer. You did it, Mommy. Now rest in your Fathers’ arms of healing and put your faith in His love letter to you. Psalms 139 is His comfort to you right now! The Enemy is allowed no ground in your heart to sow seeds of guilt and shame, so attack him back with the Shield of Faith! Stand as your child’s protecting mother and declare that your baby’s life had a purpose and a reason. He/She is not a waste! Your son or daughter is an angel, given to you from a loving God who knew that is exactly what you needed in the time you had him or her. Celebrate your baby’s life, speak of him or her. Mention his or her name out loud in honor since their lives had just as much meaning as those who live 100 years!

The Lord healed my heart of the hurt and delivered me of guilt and shames chains. I know my baby is at peace, so I am at peace. I know my baby is dearly loved by his maker so I allow myself to be dearly loved by his maker. I know my baby was conceived for a purpose so I will live my life with purpose. My baby is my angel and I will praise the Lord for his days here on earth even if it was just one week. One beautiful, splendid, marvelous, miraculous and most lovely week I

Psalms 103: 2-4 "Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul, And do not forget any of His benefits; Who forgives all your sins, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you [lavishly] with loving kindness and tender mercy."

My name is Holly Strasheim and I am a daughter of a King, wife to a man after Gods own heart and a mother to two children. One very active baby boy named Jaxon and one very loved baby in heaven. It was nice to meet you!

If I Could: a letter to those walking through miscarriage

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I didn't know until March of this year. I didn't have a reason to know. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

Meet my friend, Josie. She is wife to Danny and momma to many. She loves netflix and is one of the best friends you could ever ask for. She is honest and she is true. They have lost two babies through miscarriage. Be blessed as she shares her heart through a letter titled, If I Could.

pregnancy loss awareness

My very dearest friend, I was crushed to hear your news:

I lost the baby.

I never would want anyone to face what you are going through now and will continue to go through for some time. I have been there. To be 100% honest I had forgotten some of the things I went through in the midst of my loss. Time has done a lot of healing to that wound, but I was amazed at the vividness of remembrance of the pain as you described to me your pain, so it will probably always be there with you, but changed and morphed hopefully into a less constant drip of a wound.

If I could I would run ahead of you and silence all those who will say things to you that make your heart squeeze and flip. You know they love you. You know they mean well. They honestly just don’t know. They have no idea what to say and feel they must say something. We know they don’t need to, but they will. If I could I would run ahead and whisper in their ear “Just say ‘I’m sorry and I love you’ and nothing else”.

If I could I would take away the pain you feel when you see other pregnant women and babies. Then it wouldn’t be necessary to also take away the guilt that comes immediately after this pain. The guilt is worse than the pain when the woman is a friend, or a sister or a relative. I would take it away so you never felt terrible about the person you are becoming on the inside. The twist of envy and sadness. If I could I would take it away if for no other reason than because people won’t understand it, and it will hurt them, but there is no control over it no matter how much you wish there was.

pregnancy loss awareness

If I could I would wipe away that date from the calendar. That due date. The one that was supposed to bring you all the joy but instead it brings all the hurt. I would just take that date right out of the week, the month and even the year. Even 9 years later mine echoes in my mind. If I could I’d save you from that.

If I could I would take away that anxiety of the next two pink or blue lines. I would fill you only with joy over the prospect of seeing those positive results. I would make that joy grow and bloom and overflow you, pushing out the anxiety of even breathing lest it trigger round two of your worst nightmare.

If I could I would tell all those around you that this process takes time. Much more time than you or anyone else wants it to. That somedays you will be fine and others not so much. That no amount of pushing you to “get over it” will in fact make you get over it. I’m not sure there is a getting totally over it. You may have other babies, and as those babies grow you will think of the ones that are not growing. You will think of them less, but they will be with you always. If I could I would help people understand that, because to be honest, most won’t.

If I could I would tell you how the father of this baby will handle this. Maybe he will not be affected as much as you, which at times will sting. Maybe he will be deeply affected but not willing to accept that or own it, that also might sting. You have to give him Grace, it wasn’t his body but it was his baby. He may not understand how you grieve because it is so different than how he does.

If I could I would be there to stroke your hair and hold you while you suffer the loss of something so precious. I would tell you to not be so hard on yourself. I would tell you to let yourself feel those feelings because bottling them will just lead to an explosion later. I would say it’s okay to be angry, but don’t let it grow into bitterness. It’s okay to be sad, but ask for Peace from the only One who gives Peace that passes understanding.

Here is what I can do. I can tell you that I know that pain. I have walked this road. I can tell you that for me the fact that I get to share in your pain makes me feel a sense that my pain is helping us both, and while that is not the reason for the pain it can be the good part of it. I can tell you that experiencing pain can make us much stronger, but it requires you to lean on The Bearer of our Burdens and to look for ways to express your gratitude to Him even while in the throes. For me this pain has lessened, became distant.

I don’t know what your story will be, but I will be here to hear it whenever you need.

[Empty womb] Empty Arms, pt 2

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

The first two weeks/posts, I will be sharing parts of our own story and why this is so important to us. From there, you will have the honor of hearing from a few others.

[I am about to share with you a most precious and personal story that I possess. Why I would do such a vulnerable and risky thing is because I know there are many sufferers, many victims of this, many grievers and mourners, and momma's with empty arms and broken hearts. And they, we, tend to remain silent. For a number of extremely valid reasons, we silently suffer, isolated. There is this thing within me that drives me to share my brokenness, my precious stories that are my actual heart, and point you towards He who loves and He who cares and He who sees it all. Feels it all. Weeps and mourns and grieves right next to me. Right next to you. So please, if this is for you, read it. Soak it in. Know you are not alone. If this is for a friend or a loved one...pass it along. Please. During the fresh time of raw grief, I read a few posts over and over and over again. Because there were not many that hit the home of my heart. I pray that this would hit the home of many hurting hearts.]

 

[Empty Arms Part 2] Written Spring, 2015

The moment those two pink lines appeared was one of those forever-changed moments.  They were faint, but they were there...on five different tests. It was a moment that moved mountains of doubt and sadness in my heart, a moment that ushered in delight unexplainable, that signaled for the sirens of smiles to consume my entire body. Can your whole self smile? Because that is what I experienced. It was as though the Hoover Dam had been ripped to shreds and the river of life and hope and reality and dreams and visions of little toes and squishy cheeks and big blue eyes was flooding my whole being.

empty arms pregnancy loss

Loren and I cried tears of laughter and smiled the biggest smiles we have ever smiled. That speaks volumes if you witnessed us at our wedding. We jumped around and we danced and Loren put is ear up to my womb - we celebrated. Baby Brenner has been created - we had been waiting for what seemed decades. This was life to celebrate.

Patiently, we had done our best to withhold rearranging our second bedroom until the pink lines emerged or until we were in the thick of adoption. We had nearly moved two times hoping to welcome Baby Brenner (BB), but decided against it both times, "Let's just wait until the two pink lines emerge. Then we will make a decision about moving." A year into this "trying" thing, we stopped scheming up potential names. It hurt too deeply to discover names only to meet a newborn claiming it. We halted planning for the future, because the future was foreign and we knew we needed to live now. Presently. And presently held no promise of a BB. But when those two pink lines arrived... Immediately, dreams were dangerously and relentlessly unleashed. The desires of our souls were close, just 36 weeks away. It was more than a dream, it was reality: we would be adding a third to our small family tree. 

I would swell fat with life, stretching wide and growing round, I couldn't wait to not see my toes. To need Loren to tie my shoes.

Plans began to unfold. Coffee and lunch and dinner dates planned with various family members and close friends. A list of who to tell first and how was formed. Gifts for loved ones were purchased and made, we were ready to share this precious life in special ways with all who love us. With all we love. We knew this little BB was already doused in a divine love, a love immeasurable. 

Let's unleash love for him, we thought. He is worth it. 

When we shared the enthralling news with my in-laws, more clear tears of salty love were shed. Tight hugs and warm embraces, ecstasy indescribable. BB would meet us in October/November at some time.

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Courses of action were immediately claimed: we had yet to spend Christmas in Eagle with the in-laws. Why not this year? Bring that bundle of baby with us. A two month young at Christmas! Game plans for our home were sketched out: shelves, storage, make room for BB. My mother in law bought me a beautiful dress, one with a stretchy waistband. I looked forward to wearing it this summer when we saw them again in July; my stomach will be swelled big, round, and beautiful. I would feel fat, but Loren would see me as radiant. Because I was carrying our child. Our so wanted and so loved and so precious child.

We were coming into spring and the flowers were blooming life and all was joyful, hopeful, lively. Promising. Expectant.

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When the clots of blood fell into the toilet, I felt my heart drop right with the red so bright. I stared into the bowl of contaminated water. Life froze, my heart stopped, and I experienced the heaviest emptiness possible to [wo]mankind. This can't be happening. I swallowed and begged, "Jesus, no. Jesus you are the author of life. Jesus you heal and you are good and you want this life more than I do. Jesus, make your name famous and keep this life living in my broken body. That's miraculous." 

Slowly, I strolled to the living room and laid by the heater. Surely, if I lay down, BB cannot leave my body. Surely, if I am warm but not too warm, he will remain cozy in my womb. Surely, if I think happy thoughts and send oxytocin coursing through my veins, he will experience my bottomless love. Surely, if I drink plenty of water and no sugar or caffeine or anything bad, he will know how much I care and cling to my womb. Surely, Lord, you wouldn't take my child, my so wanted and waited for child. 

When I told Loren I believed we were losing this life that had drastically altered ours, he wouldn't believe it. It was unfathomable. He said no and he searched and scoured google for stories of Hope. Stories of bleeding and life surviving the blood flood. Though many moms and dads wrote their victory stories for the world to see, I knew I was empty. I experienced it when I flushed my baby down the toilet to forever reside in the sewer with feces and vomit and urine. 

Before the blood tests that would unravel our hearts to sheer brokenness, I said to my beloved husband, "If we lose this Baby, I need you to go there with me. I am going to grieve and be honest and I need you with me. I cannot do this alone."  As if I were crazy, he said, "Of course I will be there with you. This is horrible."

It was a Sunday in March when the confirmation of death was given. It was that March Sunday that our life was, once again, forever changed by our little BB.  It was that March Sunday that I knew deeper than my heart that I would feel this void until I reach Heaven. 

Never have I conceived such sorrow, such desolation, such loss. Never has my womb felt so empty, so barren. November, my arms will be empty when they should be fuller than ever before. 

Empty womb.

Empty arms. 

Broken heart.

The weeks that followed were the most painful of my small existence. My chest, my actual heart, ached. Snapped in half, part of it had been flushed down the toilet. It was raw and wounded, gaping open and obviously broken. I had always been warned by doctors that miscarriage was a high probability for me, but never had I any clue as to the deep ripping of my heart that it would entail. People don't talk much about miscarriage, about pregnancy loss, about the death of their very alive baby, and when they do it feels sterile. It is protected - I was protected. I had no idea the penetrating pain of this specific loss. 

My husband and I grieved deeply together that first two weeks. We laid in bed a lot and our tears ran together, knitting our hearts more into one. We named our Baby, we ordered a custom made garden stone, I planted an entire flower bed in his honor. Our friends Ben and Bethany gifted us with a snuggly bear I will never lose, neck jeweled with a B and a dove, and a big bouquet of flowers. We were not going to pretend that this Baby did not exist. He altered our forever. The sobs echoed through life and I was heavy and empty all at once. 

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pregnancy loss awareness month

   My ultra sound appointment remained so Dr Card could be sure there was "no tissue left." The CNA that weighed me as she has for three years now looked at me with sad eyes, "I was so excited that you were finally pregnant.. I'm so sorry." Words like, "chemical pregnancy," and "spontaneous abortion" were used. They made me feel bad, dirty, stupid, useless, barren

"We can continue fertility treatments after your second cycle begins." As if it were no big deal, as if there was nothing to mourn; no Red Sea to walk through. Just try again. Simple as that. 

But when I dared to glance into the future of this year, what once held promise and life and hope and chubby cheeks to gobble and little toes and fingers to count and poopy diapers and sleepless nights and stupid quarrels because of exhaustion...was now replaced with an irrevocable darkness. All I could see was a dark night of my soul, as I trudge through waves of grief and loss. The loss of my first baby. How could I try to get pregnant again? How could I risk losing another? And yet, at the same confusing time, I wanted so badly to conceive again. I wanted that hope and that promise. I wanted full arms at the end of 9 painful months of swelling and stretching and marking my body with scars of love. 

The blender of desires were confusing.  They still are. The loss of life with such potential is painful. Life that had not yet run its course, did not even have a chance: lost from my womb, our arms. Forever.

I thought other's pregnancy jokes were painful before...

I thought when people said, "Are you sure you want kids?" after wrestling theirs was hurtful before..

I didn't even notice, before, when people said, "well, at least all my kids are alive" as a funny joke that they made it through the day..

I thought seeing all-things-pregnancy and baby related was painful before...now the mere existence of my people and their plumpness and their fertility and their healthy alive babies and even my own self crumbled me to bits of fragmented pieces of flesh. It is an ugly place that I am in; I am that person that people avoid, for fear of hurting. I am broken. More broken than I ever have been. Never have I been so incredibly aware of how human, how fickle, how desperately in need of Grace I am. I thought I understood loss, but I now understand suffering and grief and agony on such deeper levels...and I know there are much deeper levels that I selfishly hope to never experience. 

There are zero words to explain the depth of despair our hearts are traveling through while attempting to understand the ridiculous shift that is occurring while all of our hopes and expectations for that life is dropping out from beneath anything stable. It's an experience and loss that we will never make sense of, it is tragic and drastic and totally unfair.

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- - - -

Since writing this post in the fresh weeks of losing that so precious and so wanted baby through pregnancy loss, I can say that while walking through the raw ugliness of it, I knew Jesus was with me right there, catching each tear. I knew that He would heal me over time, but I wasn't about to rush it or force it, though at times, I was frustrated at how slow the healing process felt. When people would say, "You will be whole again," I would either think or say, "But right now I'm not, and I think thats okay." I think thats okay to say and acknowledge, believing that one day we will be whole again. It's okay to not be whole, to be broken and sad, to grieve loss.

I can tell you that people who tried giving us formulas and ways to "get through it" really just ticked me off and I had to distance myself from them.  I can tell you that the few people who validated our loss and our grief and our pain and the roller coaster of ugly and beauty and mourning and confusing joy amidst that brokenness, those were the people I kept close. Those who didn't expect me to resemble something I wasnt, those who didn't attempt to mold me into something I wasnt, those who loved me just as I was and brought me meals and precious memory gifts and shed tears with me, I needed those people. Those are very dear friends.

I can also tell you that I nearly punched the multiple people who said, "at least you got pregnant." Instead of violence my heart sank to below my toes and into the earth's crust, reminding me how very little I am but even more how very little that baby's life meant to others.

Please, if you have someone walking through this loss, just sit and listen and validate and hug and pray out loud with them and then shhhh. Pray for peace but also ask God why for them, because they're trying to face that question in an honest way without being condemned. He will not condemn the honest questions of our heart.

Loren and I went to Europe for 3 weeks the end of April and into May. That trip was timed perfectly. Though I had envisioned myself rounding wide while adventuring the trains and trams and hills and streets of Europe, I was still blessed to get away from our normal routine and breathe. I felt that for the first time, I could exist how I was: broken and accepted. I felt that no one had parameters and measuring sticks for me, merely because I knew no one there. It was refreshing.

I had three friends who already have their hands full with two to four kids who blessed me immensely through this process, constantly reminding me to be gentle with myself, constantly reminding me that it is okay to grieve the loss, that it has only been This Many Weeks or This Many Months and it may take a lot longer than I want. They would ask me how I was doing, they would ask me about our little BB, acknowledging that he was real and valid. They validate our baby's life and therefore our loss, and for that I am forever thankful.

It wasn't until the very last day of August and the very first week of September that my heart was able to loosen its grip a little bit and breathe, thinking mainly of our adopted baby wherever he/she/they are. There is no timeline for grief. There is no formula or strategy. I cannot express this enough.

I believe that Jesus is with us while we grieve, grieving and mourning right along side us, about this broken world that is full of death and loss and sickness. The things that God did not initially intend for. I believe that He is with me when I am grieving like a train wreck and when I am grieving beautifully, whatever that even means.

I hope and I pray that you find refuge in Him. Even if that means laying in bed, letting His warm presence wrap around your fragmented self. I haven't been able to say this all year, but right now in this moment, I can say it in full confidence: He is good. And it's okay if you can't say that right now, just know that I am believing it for you in the meantime.

Empty womb [& Empty arms pt 1]

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I didn't know until March of this year. I didn't have a reason to know. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.

The first two weeks/posts, I will be sharing parts of our own story and why this is so important to us. From there, you will have the honor of hearing from a few others.

[I am about to share with you a most precious and personal story that I possess. Why I would do such a vulnerable and risky thing is because I know there are many sufferers, many victims of this, many grievers and mourners, and momma's with empty arms and broken hearts. And they, we, tend to remain silent. For a number of extremely valid reasons, we silently suffer, isolated. There is this thing within me that drives me to share my brokenness, my precious stories that are my actual heart, and point you towards He who loves and He who cares and He who sees it all. Feels it all. Weeps and mourns and grieves right next to me. Right next to you. So please, if this is for you, read it. Soak it in. Know you are not alone. If this is for a friend or a loved one...pass it along. Please. During the fresh time of raw grief, I read a few posts over and over and over again. Because there were not many that hit the home of my heart. I pray that this would hit the home of many hurting hearts.]

marriage

[Part One: Empty Womb] Written March  2015

My dear husband and I have been dreaming of growing our family in numbers since before we were married. We talked about it over skype and in letters, bringing babies into this world ourself to raise and to parent, and also adopting a few. Before marriage, I was honestly a little wary of being a Momma - what if I hurt those precious and innocent lives, without realizing it? But as we wed and our hearts and bodies entwined into one, a growing desire to create something together that only we could create grew within this soul of mine. My heart was more fertile than my womb will ever be. We knew it would be difficult, impossible some said. But over the years I have had many women share victorious stories of their endometriosis, their radiated ovaries (seriously, why is this my story?), their Protein S Deficiencies and their Factor V Leiden. None of these women had all of these issues combined as I do...but I know that God is bigger.

Months (calculated by cycles) turned into a year and then two, and negative pregnancy tests remained negative, as I tossed them into the trash cycle after cycle.  So many tests purchased and pitched, as I blinked back stinging tears and again submitted my deep desires to tell my beloved husband he was finally a dad.

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most people and six months in some circumstances. So however long this lasts, however long this waiting tests my patience, we have been launched into this category being placed under the title by professionals: infertile. For now or forever? We will see. There is no on or off switch, it's a medical diagnosis; but we do believe that all babies are miracles.

season after season

season after season

Friends and cousins and sisters and non-friends and church people and strangers were all receiving this gift of plumpness, planned and unplanned, of little lives healthily growing within their very own bodies. I watched and died to my self over and over and over again. I reminded myself, "This is not about you. The world does not revolve around you. Jesus is near and He feels your anguish. He will use this pain of infertility, this barren brokenness. Let your Hope be bigger, Hope for His presence and will above all."

So I swallowed and took yet another step forward. 

Fighting dangerous jealousy for those who carried a life inside of their womb was a struggle I wasn't willing to forfeit. That doesn't mean it was easy. Envy was nothing near the heart of God and deeper than my desire to carry a child, to mother miracles, was a desire to pursue His way. His will. His heart. His goodness. I knew that, no matter how painful it was to die to myself, His way was best. His way, in the end, was most freeing and beautiful and whole and pure and peaceful. I clung, and continue to cling, to that Truth. But it hurts a lot of the time.

I am a part of a few infertility support groups...but I am the minority in the sense that I fight the urge to bash and criticize and despise those who have the gift, the blessing, of pregnancy and motherhood. I fall into this temptation in my heart, but I do my best to swallow that pride and see them with clear eyes of love. When getting pregnant is talked about as though it is so easy that it is even maddening, (maybe you feel you have 2 too many children), there is a tendency for The Infertile and The Waiting to loathe you. It feels like you're shoving it in our face how terribly broken our bodies seem to be.

Part of my denying myself and choosing to love those who I could have so easily hated was becoming a birth servant. A Doula and Birth Photographer. This has been the most humbling and often times humiliating journey in my small life. But in serving those women who I wanted to be jealous of, I found myself running to Him. Sprinting to Him because He was the only source of safety, hope, joy, protection. I found myself understanding Paul (a biblical author) on a more intense level when he says, "When I am weak, then I am strong." Or when Jesus talks about denying our self completely.

I did not want to become obsessed with infertility; I did not want to let it define me and rule me and become me. I want(ed) my primary identity to be that of a follower of Jesus Christ. Not a wife struggling with infertility, so please pity me. I did not and still do not want this to become all that we talk about in our marriage - our goal is not pregnancy and babies, our goal is Jesus. But this is becoming a major part of our story and there is no denying the pain that is deepening the caverns of my soul

Last fall multiple of My People were able to announce that they were expecting #2 or #3. Bless. In the time we have been trying our best for Baby Brenner 1, our friends have made and brought into the world 2 or 3. In the quiet and isolation of my bedroom, I broke in half and in half again until there was nothing left. Tears were shed and I believe will forever remain on the floor of this apartment dwelling. This suffering and isolation burned through my bones. My husband recommended that we finally go see a fertility specialist. It was time to own up that this is our journey, these are our cards, and we don't get to accidentally get pregnant and be surprised and shocked.

season

The first doctor appointment was in October. Oh the prayers and the submission and the ache to please the Lord! I fasted to be sure I was not sinning in this decision to pursue family growth; my heart ached to be in line with His. December 2014 was the beginning of  fertility treatments. (We began fertility drugs that wreck you up, in addition to but not limited to:  drastic diet changes, exercising regularly, acupuncture, supplements, OPKs, temping and the list goes on).  A drug that gives me hot flashes and hunger like a menopausal woman; a drug that increased the intensity of my nightmares; a drug that made me lose sleep, but by golly it was a first step into making me ovulate good eggs. I did my best to keep this in my daily conversations with Jesus but to also not let it rule those conversations. My heart was to continue submitting this desire and doing what we could, but trust Him all the same that no matter what, He is good

January arrived. More pregnancy announcements. And another cycle ended for me with a negative pregnancy test. But joy was real and I knew that Jesus has good things in store, whether that be on earth or mainly in Heaven. I knew that He is present and that this was not my entire life. I still had my jobs - my Doula work, my photography, my church leader position, house cleaning. I was still a home maker and a neighbor and a youth leader. I was still me: a young wife pursing wholeness despite the brokenness. As I began my second round of the fertility treatments mid January, I prayed to Jesus as I always do. "Take this painful cup; but not my will...yours."

Loren and I then began researching adoption again and what that would look like for us to pursue sooner rather than later. We searched up and down the scope of the internet and we landed on Christian Adoption Consultants. Our hearts were being transformed and hope was rising, but we were also hopeful with this January cycle of treatments. Maybe we could have two babies in one year, we joked and giggled at the crazy possibilities. We thought, hey we aren't getting pregnant as quickly as we thought we would, and we know that we have always wanted to adopt, so why not begin the process of finding one of our babies through adoption?

About two weeks into this cycle I couldn't hold myself together anymore - I sobbed big tears of honest grief and pain and isolation. "Every time I go to text or call a friend about how lonely this life of not conceiving is, I can't. Because they don't understand. They are either pregnant and/or chasing their little ones. They don't get it. They just tell me 'my time will come.'  This is so lonely. I am so alone."

The agony of that night was real and I will never forget it; I wept so freely into loving arms and they held me and prayed over me and begged Jesus nearer. Monday rolled around and for the first time in two weeks I felt the spark of hope. Something within said, "You can do this. You have Him and He is near and He is strength. That doesn't mean this doesnt hurt and is not lonely, but it does mean that He is always here and that this will be used for His glory. This will be used to further His Kingdom."

I began talking with a consultant through CAC, Susan, who was walking us through what it would look like to work with them in pursuing our baby through adoption. We were scheming of ways to rally our community around us to help us grow our family, to love outside of our bloodline. It was thrilling, exciting, adventurous. It wasn't going to numb or bandage the pain of the present infertility, but it would bring us closer to growing our family and loving like we never had before. We told our friends Ben & Bethany, we told Mike and Heather, Kathleen and Brett, Jesse and Daniel. We had plans to tell our family this exciting step.

We agreed: if we are at least six months into this thing of adoption and we get the two pink lines, we will continue both. We are answering the call to adopt and we will not ignore it. Pregnancy is not our goal, so why would we stop our adoption? I still hoped and believed that one day I would carry a life in my womb just as much as I began carrying a life in my heart.

I wrote this post that week - the Lord had been working into my heart the song lyric, "Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul." Those words aren't easy. They aren't arrogant. They are not about me - those words are humbling and submissive and whole and difficult and agonizing. They are difficult but they are my anthem cry. I began nesting like crazy that week. Hormones were surging and I was cleaning and selling so many things in our small home. I began ridding of junk and garbage and seeing what hoarders we are. I began carefully plotting how we could make room for a baby, a baby adopted and ours to love until death do us part. Dreams and envisions I have been holding off on letting loose because of many reasons. But as I nested and cleaned and had more energy than I had in months..a fleeting thought that frequently passed through, sparked my heart, "Maybe I'm pregnant." 

But no, I quickly pushed it away because I know too well the deep disappointment that comes with the negative pregnancy test. With the one line staring at you so loudly. With the bright blood that says, "I'M HERE AND YOU'RE NOT PREGNANT, MUAHAHAHA." I pep talked myself, "Do not get your hopes wrapped around those two little lines." Nesting can happen with a surge of excitement for adoption, I was sure. Could it be both?

A particular Monday was cycle day 28 for me. If you know anything about (in)fertility things, it is that you know your cycle like you know the back of your hand, freckles and wrinkles, creases and all.

CD 28, 12 DPO. That day had arrived. I thought I was brave, I was definitely nervous, and I whipped out one of those First Responses. The visit of the flow normally greets me in the evening (sorry to any males reading this) but I knew that the first pee of the day was the most concentrated (again, sorry not sorry). As I peed into that clear plastic cup and dipped that small little litmus like test into my very own urine, I prayed a familiar, "Jesus, we see Loren's parents this week..and it would be QUITE the visit to finally be able to tell them they can expect a grandchild. You can work miracles Jesus. Let this be our year. But Jesus, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul."

To be continued.

Midnight thoughts with a Sleepless Me [adoption]

pancakes at midnight midnight thoughts

Sometimes you just need to get out of bed and make pancakes at midnight and have a small bowl of blueberries as a side.

My brain is on over drive this year. Or has it always been? Maybe we are all simply made that way: on overdrive. Or possibly we were not at all made in that way, but this culture has created us to be driven over board. Our brains foggy because we have so many things to think about, so many ways to live right, so many chores and tasks and jobs, so many people to please, so many boundaries to set and undo..

So I got out of bed, made some pancakes topped with peanut butter with a side of berries so round and blue and decided to put fingertips to keyboard.

I can't stop thinking about this One Girl, "M". She lives in a state other than our own and she is carrying precious cargo within her very own body. I first heard of her mid-July, from another friend whom I cherish more every time I chat with her. When we first heard of her situation, we prayed against abortion...we prayed life and life and life abundant and more life. We had already been presented to two birth moms without any luck of being chosen, but trusting that God knows what He is doing and where He is placing His children.

It was before July 22 that "M" knew our Friends had Oregonian Friends looking to adopt a baby. We were excited and hopeful, but knew it was an unlikely match. She is young and young moms have a higher rate of failed adoptions; nothing like a good ounce of investing your heart knowing it could be broken all over again with yet another loss.

An entire month later we receive a small update about our precious girl "M" who we have added to our prayer list of birth moms. Our Friends asked us what adoption might look like, so we shared specifics of what our hope for an open adoption could be like. Attending doctor's visits, taking Birth Mom & family to lunch, maybe buy some maternity clothes, pay for counseling; after the baby is born: texts, photos, FB page set up just for the two families, visits as able, etc. It wouldn't have to be a forever goodbye, but rather a continual hello. I looked up a local attorney for "M" that would work well with our attorney; don't believe it was ever passed along because she wasn't ready yet, but we were wanting to do anything to help.

Our Friends accepted our inquiry of, "If I send you the link, will you send 'M' our online family profile book to at least look at?" They said yes. She did. This was around August 22. A couple days later, "M" posted a cute little ultra sound photo to her Facebook page [Facebook stalking, I am creeeeeepy], letting the world know that she is 14 weeks pregnant and she cannot wait. At this point, my heart slumped only slightly, seeing the even more unlikeliness of this match. But also trusting that Jesus knows what He is doing with His precious babies. I just hope we all listen to His heart.

Again, I submitted my heart to prayer, I lifted my hands, and I knew God was bigger. I know that He has hand picked children for us.

Just this week I was notified that "M" is still completely undecided. She isn't sure that she can parent her baby but she doesn't want to say goodbye forever. She loves this little human growing inside of her. I do too. We asked if we could send a letter and a hard copy of our family profile. She said yes. We let her know in our letter that we are more than available for an in-person interview (we would be up there within a day!), a skype or phone or Facebook interview. Whatever would make her feel comfortable to even think about trusting us to adopt, parent, raise, and treasure her precious baby. The hard copy of the book arrives Monday - so the letter and book won't be sent out until next week. I cannot help but wonder, is this our baby? Is this our birth family? Is our baby's gender going to be revealed this week? Will we have this really cool story about our Friends knowing her and connecting us to forever love one another and the same baby?

I was certain we would be a family of 3 in 2015. First, when we began pursuing Christian Adoption Consultants in January/February of this year; we read that their average hire-to-placement time is 9-18 months. We thought and we prayed and we fearfully hoped, "That could be this year!" We told a few really important people in our lives that we were doing this, and had plans to tell the rest, we were going to adopt this year, we are pursuing family growth. And then in February/March when I was pregnant, it was a big DUH that this year would most definitely be the year we became a family of 3. 2015 the Brenners grow from 2 to 3. It was already in the ink press, ready to be typed out and sent out for the world, headline news of my life. I really felt like Jesus was letting me know, this is the year. And then suddenly it wasn't.

At least to my knowledge. It is still possible, but highly unlikely.

I have no idea what our life will look like by the end of 2015. No. IDEA.

But what I am learning is that adoption is out of my control. Whoever said that pursuing adoption was taking our life into our own control has never walked the road of adoption. They have no idea what they are saying. We are not in control. But that is a good place to be in: forced to trust Him no matter what, with all of the intricate little details. It is in the complete trust and submission that our hearts are able to rest. Truly rest, calm and surrendered, bowed before His throne, knowing with all that we are that He is good. He has good plans for us, even if they are through painful trials and difficult circumstances and seemingly-impossible scenarios and all of the million and one scenarios. He is so good.

When life and circumstances are undependable, He proves dependable. When life reveals itself unsteady and not so sure, He proves steady and sure and trustworthy. When life falls between my fingertips, all of my plans and sure promises and hopes, He is all I have left to cling to.

I am going to finish this glass of OJ and this pancake bite and attempt to sleep, trusting that He is holding all of the pieces together.

To support our adoption, purchase a piece of our puzzle HERE.

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

 

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

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

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

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

- - - - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To financially support our adoption, click here.

Joy unkissed by grief

adoption is beautiful, brenner adoption The other day a super extraordinary thing happened to me: I experienced a constant and gentle joy, a pure joy that existed throughout the entire day, not touched, unkissed, by grief. I was heading to visit a friend after work and before youth group; she is a new momma, baby fresh from the womb. No sign of grief washed over me, no hint of anxiety or fear or tight-chest-edness while I drove. No sadness. No despair. Only a freeing sense of joy. Only joy.

This pure-joy-unkissed-by-grief has become a rarity for me this year. This year has been the year of tears. Tears of joy and grief all in one complex thing that makes up a Me. Grief has made me awkward. It has made me unsure of myself, wanting to claw out of my very own skin. How do I feel beautiful when the body I live in is broken and breaking? I find my way back to His word and His promises and I know they are true, no matter how ugly and broken I feel.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

As I parked my car in her driveway, I inhaled waiting for the sting of grief, waiting for the stabbing thought "I should be nearing my labor and delivery, over 30 weeks round, preparing to meet our little BB," waiting for the icky ugly feeling that now always accompanies the deep joy I have for the people I love most. It didn't come. It didn't threaten the joy that I have been asking and fighting for. While I sat in the most precious nursery of all time, she fed her baby girl and rocked in the cushy chair and my heart was full. Full of all-the-good-things. Full of pure joy, unkissed by grief.

It is a lovely feeling, this thing of pure joy without the ugliness that grief never fails to bring to my heart. I write this post carefully, with hesitation even, because I know that in the next moment I may be right back in the place of ugly grief begging for glimpses of grace. The place of fighting for pure joy, the heart aching for freedom and laughter and light heartedness. But I also write this post because I want to share how beautiful it is to experience those moments, moments that may become a day, maybe stringing into a week...moments of joy unkissed by grief. I want to bask in those moments and days, allowing my heart to soften and soak them in, rather than harden and protect itself out of fear for the next moment of stabbing grief.

I want to do more than set my life on default to survive, to merely exist and get through. That's more than I could have said three days ago in honesty; sometimes I feel defeated and wonder if jaded is easier. But today I don't want to live numb to life, jaded and apathetic; I don't want to give in to wounded-ness and stop chasing Jesus-joy. What relief to taste the sweetness again. I am a whole-hearted believer in sorrow often becoming a part of someone, moving in as a permanent resident, but I also believe that it can thin out over the years, stinging differently than when it was fresh. I believe that we do not have to merely exist and get through life as a giant wound for years on end. Though believe me, this year I have felt like a gaping wound. I know that gratitude and thanksgiving don't come naturally; but I believe that those rare brave humans who search for good and true and beautiful things, even in the minute and mundane, who thank Jesus for those little precious things, are those who unravel the secret of joy in the pain. I am not there, always finding the joy amidst the grief, but sometimes I do. And most of the time I am quiet about it, timid, carefully and silently seeking Him out in the little things.

This week I have not been able to stop thinking about our little baby. Not the baby we lost, but the baby we are waiting for...the baby we are planning and preparing for through this tragically-beautiful thing of adoption, the baby God is moving mountains for, the baby that will join two families into one. His/her mama has been on my mind a lot this week, too, as I go throughout my days working and spending time with people. I cannot help but wonder where she is, what she is doing, how old she is, is she married? What ethnicity is she? What ethnicity is our baby? What about gender? Is our baby 6 months in the womb or 6 days? Has our baby been created yet?

We made tamales Monday and friends...it brought me so much joy. I could be a Mexican-baby-momma. I can do this! If our baby carries a culture that tamales are a thing, count me in. I will make those. Next month we are trying an Indian dish and then an African American dish.

brenner adoption, adoption is beautiful

As I watched my dear friend snuggle and feed her precious newborn, my heart was full and I wanted so badly in the most purest, most-non-jealous way to be holding our baby right there with her. The baby that has cracked our hearts wide open for this life of adoption. I want to snuggle and smooch and kiss and love and count his or her toes. The longing is pure and light and lovely and it has been unkissed by grief for a running of nearly two days. Two days. My secret strategy? I have none. No one said the magic words to snap me out of it for a brief day, there was no magic prayer or chant or billboard or thing. I have chosen to walk honestly and search for Him, even if timidly and quietly, unnoticeably, but hunt for Him and His graces. 

Something in the deepest parts of me knows that our baby and his/her momma needs us to be praying for them. It is quite possible and likely that is why their presence on my heart has weighed so heavily this week. Loren and I have been praying for our baby and his/her birth family since January; every night we spend time praying over them. But I wonder if I am being called to pray for them constantly, perpetually, ongoingly..they are not leaving my heart or my thoughts and I can't wait to be able to look back and see why. I cant wait to meet them and ask what was going on during this time that my heart would be so heavy for them.

This joy? This joy is different than the joy that Natalie Brenner is usually "known" for. This joy isn't jumpy and crazy but calm and gentle and very present. It is light. I don't know that I will wake up tomorrow with joy unkissed by grief. For months I was not sure if I would ever again experience joy without kisses of grief. But right now today I am accepting the joy, unkissed by grief, and I am counting it an immense reason to be grateful.

Thank you, Jesus, for your good gifts of grace. Teach me to see them in the mundane and every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw this in our adoption FB group as well:

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

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

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

adoption