Adoption Update: a financial conversation

adoption, waiting for you We have been in the Adoption Waiting Phase since May 11 [when we hired Susan through Christian Adoption Consultants].

I am going to invite you a little deeper into the process, into what we are talking about and praying for and looking at in the way of adoption costs.

We presented to 3 different birth moms through private attorneys, early on in our process, before even being home study ready. Had any of these brave mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $8,000 or as high as $12,000, including travel fees.

Once home study approved, we presented to two more birth moms through agencies. Had either of these two mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $38,000 and as high as $48,000, not including travel fees.

VOCAB RECAP: "presenting to a birth mom" = having an attorney or agency show your Family Profile book to an expectant mom, who has {courageously} made an adoption plan for her baby.

Since announcing our adoption in May, we have fundraised and saved about $14,000 but spent $3,000ish on the home study and agency applications, leaving us at around $11,000 in the adoption fund. Any money ever donated or put into that account from our own paychecks stays there unless spent on adoption expenses. We are extremely disciplined in that way. There is no way we would use this money as an emergency fund or for anything other than our adoption. Our adoption means too much to us and the people who are generously donating are trusting us.

I have spent countless hours applying to grants. I mean, countless. I believe we have applied to 9 adoption grants, received 3 denial letters, and are in the Waiting Phase for the other 6, praying big prayers of provision. Why they would deny us, I have no idea - except that there are so many applicants. One of them even said, "Don't bother applying if you make more than $150,000." I thought, "Oh we've got this grant in the bag! We make like 2% of that!" Wrong. Denied. Too many applicants. Not matched yet. The other day I asked our adoption facebook group who received grants and how many they applied to -- I think 3 people out of the couple hundred commented. One family received $14,000 in grants, and explained how abnormal that is. The other two explained that they each got matching grants (your fundraising through them will be matched up to a certain point) for $2500 and $8000. To say I was a little discouraged is an understatement.

I cannot tell you the amount of nervousness I have had in the last few weeks regarding our fund and its lack of growth. Don't get me wrong, we have been blown away by people's sacrifice and generosity and courage. The support we have had so far has encouraged us and completely deepened our faith in humans. Every day though, Tummy Baby and I pray for Heart Baby and we beg God, "Lord, please provide us with grants. Please, Jesus, we ask for $15,000 in grants. Or God, we pray and we ask for a private adoption. Lord, your will be done. Help me trust your provision."

I also applied to about 5 different adoption, interest free, loans. Due to our extreme lack of credit (our score is great! we just haven't had a lot of debt), we were only approved for one and it was a really low loan.

Currently, we are reading this book that I will forever recommend to anyone considering adoption. I wish we had read it before beginning the process, but that's okay! Better now than never. It is called: Adopt Without Debt. The other night I read this: "There is not one example in the Bible of God calling someone to do something and then using debt as a tool to accomplish it." I don't believe that taking out a loan for our adoption is a sin or wrong. Not even 1%. I believe that the heart behind taking a loan out to bring a baby into your home is beautiful and pure and good...not sinful or selfish or materialistic. But that quote stopped me to think, do I believe God called us to this? I do. Do I believe He can provide for us without a huge $20,000 loan? I do. Will I walk in that freedom and trust that the funds will be available when they need to be? Not always, but I am working on it one day at a time.

 A COMMITMENT: TIME TO GET TIGHT AGAIN, and I don't mean our bods.

Before our big job/life/career transition, we were operating on a very strict budget and have been pretty disciplined our entire marriage (thank you Jesus!). Since May we were putting $100/paycheck towards our adoption, plus most of my photography money. Our life was sort of thrown up and tossed around, and so was our budget. God always, always, provides whatever we need, and reminds us what is a need versus a want. Oh my, our needs are slim if we are honest. But we were less than disciplined in the last two months, and we are at that point where it is time to get tight again! Once we have Loren's first paycheck in January (and when my job gets to rolling we will re-assess) we will be able to set up a budget again. We will be going back to using only cash for spending, aside from paying bills. This adoption means so much to us and we know that it starts and continues with sacrificeOur goals for our budget beginning in 2016:

FIRST, OUR PRIORITIES AT THE BEGINNING OF JANUARY PAYCHECK: >Tithe >Bills paid >$80/month total allotment for gas for both cars >$300/month total allotment for groceries >$100/month to adoption (plus any photography sessions)

If able, we will have these additional Budget Envelope Goals as well as, and here are ways we are cutting back and beginning to save again:

>Grocery spending is going from $400-$450/month to $300/month ($75/week). Included in our grocery budget: cleaning supplies, paper goods, toiletries, etc. Back into meal planning. I will find 30 meals that we like and put them in an easy rotation system. I will re-discover my "maximum spend" list, meaning I will not pay more than $1/lb for apples.

>We have gone back and forth about getting internet. We have never had internet/netflix/tv/hulu in our marriage. I have been doing a bit of freelance writing which requires internet so I either use the hot spot our parents gave us or spend a few dollars at the coffee shop. But it adds up. So we are still debating which is more cost effective:we are leaning towards no internet. Budgeting a couple drip coffees a month, $10/month towards coffee shop internet & dates. (This is low priority and may not end up making the cut, or be lowered).

>Gifts for others envelope will go from $40/month to $5/month and I will have to become crafty. Gulp. I could also resort to not having friends?

>Eating Out will go from the current loosey goosey to being budgeted into Dates. Instead of what we had as $30/week for dates, we will go back down to $5/week for dates ($20/month). This means we get to be creative again about date night! If we want to see a movie or go to a nice restaurant, we will save the months worth of dates and compile them into one date.

>We will plant another garden this spring. We will raise 3 chickens this spring

>No clothes buying (we really only buy clothes this time of year for Christmas gifts, anyways! Or we consign)

>No more 3D Crest White toothpaste. We are going generic and coupon-savy, friends. This is the real deal. I LOVE MY TOOTHPASTE. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to brush my teeth. This was a big decision for me. (I know, pity). Generic household & baby items, here we come.

>Cloth diapers. (Please don't debate me. I hate debates. I research.) We have purchased some second hand and also have a dear love who has offered to donate theirs to us! Bless

>Tax return: if we get one this year, a percentage of this will go straight into our adoption fund as we have done with every return.

There you have it, friends. We are on the road to saving and paying for this adoption. Go ahead and feel free to ask us how we are doing with our budget and if we are being disciplined or not - accountability is always good. With everything, we are trying to remember that grace is good and covers every bit of this. We will fail and miss it. But we will pick ourselves back up again and remember the goal: bringing home our baby. So, little Baby, wherever you are: we are still waiting for you. We are making sacrifices for you and will work hard to continue putting money into your fund. If you are waiting through an agency, Lord will provide one way or another. If you are waiting through a private attorney, Lord will connect us. We love you.

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

Able to donate towards our adoption? We are still working on this puzzle! This is a photo I took in Austria and a quote that means a lot to us. We are writing names on the back of each piece that is purchased, and show casing the puzzle in our nursery in a double sided frame. That way, we can forever remember and thank Jesus for the many people who helped bring our baby home. We are over halfway finished with the puzzle! We have 403 of 720 pieces sponsored. Are you able to sponsor a piece?

How it works:

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

1 puzzle piece = $25 

2)  VenMo nataliekbrenner@gmail.com and write in the memo "Baby Brenner"

- OR -

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!

However many you decide on, stick the name(s) you want written on pieces in the memo.

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized.

This puzzle, when finished, will get us to $18,000 - about half of our adoption financial goal.

Follow along: >Instagram: @nataliekbrenner or #brenneradoptionjourney >Facebook: Natalie Brenner >THIS BLOG!

 

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:

unnamed (1)

“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

unnamed

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

IMG_8689

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:

IMG_8695

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!

-OR-

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!

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.

Adoption Update [vol. 6]

home study interview  

Our first home study interview [two days ago] was beyond encouraging. We left feeling refreshed and excited, hopeful and joy-filled. We walked away knowing that we are on the right journey, that we are here for a reason, that this is part of what God has for us right here and right now. We were reminded and confirmed that we did not make this up, this hearing His call to adopt, and that this is where He has us.

Our lovely social worker asked us about so many things. All. The. Things. And it was wonderful. She loves Jesus and was calm and gentle and kind and lovely. She is lovely. Her name is Cathy and she will be walking with us through this until our baby is in our arms and home and our adoption is finalized. Cathy said she has done over 500 home studies and only 5 have failed. She said she has worked with 700+ placements over the last 20 years. She knows what she is doing and her questions, though very invasive, felt very gentle and loving. Loren and I got to share with her what we love about one another...something I love to do. He makes it easy to love him. She encouraged us and said that birth mommas are not looking for wealth or aged, they are looking for steady and stable and healthy and loving...and that we are those things. She said that she would be shocked if we are not chosen in less than a year.

Did I mention that we are encouraged?

She asked me how we plan to pay for this adoption and we have Plan A and Plan B and Plan C and even Plan D. We have all sorts of plans and ideas and when we told her that our first puzzle fundraiser has already raised nearly $7,000 and that my photography has added some, she was joyfully shocked and gave us reason to believe that God is more in this than we can even grasp.

We are in the thick of preparing our home to be studied. I have been scrubbing base boards and doors and cupboards and all of the crevices you can find. Who knew doors could get so dirty? We invested in a rug for our living room to cover up most of the pleasant brown carpet, so that was exciting. Thank you, Ross! We got rid of four more giant boxes filled with junk we don't need, we bought a carbon monoxide alarm and updated our smoke alarms. There is a long check list that our wonderful social worker sent us; she is a gem.

September 16th she comes to inspect and assess our home for a few hours. We are praying and hoping to be "home study approved" by the end of September, applying to agencies and grants in the early weeks of October. But we are confident that ultimately, He will work it out so well and so intimately for our story which is so much bigger than just us.

279 of 700 puzzle pieces have been sponsored! It is so amazing to see the email notifications come in, letting us know that someone has purchased a puzzle piece, someone is supporting our adoption and helping us take steps closer to holding our baby. We have a lady who has decided to donate 10% of her business's profit to us until our baby is in our arms - I want to meet her someday and let her kiss our baby, because what? Talk about tears and moving of my heart.

I knew that God would use this journey to transform us and change us and bless us and teach us and mold us and humble us and all. the. things. But I didn't know the vastness and intensity of all of those things. I didn't know what to expect, and already He has blown my idea of what He would do out of the water.

We have been presented to three different mommas now. Three young mommas have flipped through our family profile book, seen our faces and a little bit of our story. Three young mommas have grown on our hearts, their names possible forever etched. We pray for our birth momma every day but we also pray for those three that we have been presented to. At times it takes a toll on my heart, loving these young women who I may never meet, wondering if they carry the baby that Loren and I will call ours, if their womb holds the life that we have been waiting and praying for. But even though those three did not choose us, I believe in confidence that Jesus is using us to pray for them, covering them with prayers and His grace. Also, He is using them to widen our hearts and knit our marriage tighter and tighter, as we come together, praying over these precious women. He is using so many of these little details to move hearts.

God is so big and so good.

Have you sponsored a puzzle piece?

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!

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized. We will build the puzzle as you donate the pieces. ALSO! 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!

Follow along: Instagram: @nataliekbrenner or #brenneradoptionjourney Facebook: Natalie Brenner THIS BLOG!

Thank you for being on our team! We see this entire world as a team...and we are honored to be on it.

home is where the heart is

home is where the heart is

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

Puzzle fundraiser update [vol. 5]

I got to wear a baby [my fifth niece] for a few hours and I loved it. However, I am going to need to invest some time into you-tubing those videos about how to wrap yourself up with a baby clinging close and how to stuff them in without panicking that you are smooshing them all wrong. That said, I am stoked to wear our baby someday, to fill my arms with fresh baby that I don't have to hand back, to kiss and smooch and pray over, to learn the curvatures of his or her face. It was sort of one of those days where I fell in love with babies all over again. Or, more in love with, I should say.

ADOPTION UPDATE: quick and simple, this is where we're at:

We are still waiting to have our in-home-study and interviews scheduled. When we hired Susan at CAC in May and finished our part of the home study paperwork in June, were banking on being home study ready by August and applying for grants and to adoption agencies, hopefully being available to present by late August.

But as the story goes, things aren't as planned, and landmark months have arrived and we have yet to schedule the home study interviews to be licensed. We do our best to make plans and have goals and then open our hands to let them run their course. Surrender, is the word. I fail at this thing of sweet surrender so often, but its a constant thing I am aware of, a constant reality I am chewing on and fighting to enter into freely and fully, all the way surrendered. But with this minor thing of paper work and home study pushed back a bit, it seems hardly difficult to surrender. It is a thing that really isn't a big deal, that will happen in time, easy to surrender. We know it is for some purpose, as all things are, no matter how (in)significant.

Our consultant Susan (from CAC) is the best and sent us a list of agencies to pray over and sift through, to decide together which states and agencies we want to apply to. She even helped us make a prioritized list, which was so helpful, because we have no idea what to look for. There are pages of documents to fill out for each of these agencies, more applications and words and histories and stories and medical and financial records to share, so much paperwork. They call us Paper-Pregnant.

We are trucking along on our puzzle! I flipped over the bottom half the other day and snapped some images of the newest names added. If you have sponsored pieces in the last month or so, your names should be there. There are also names all over the top left corner and entire border, but I need to glue them together to flip over. Also, sometimes I just look at it and my stomach flops because all thats left are the 50 shades of whites that might have some blue tint or maybe gray, and I just don't. know. what. to. do. How do we puzzle!?

If you have not yet sponsored a piece, we hope that you will think about it. The double-sided-clear frame is being made at Michaels and will showcase every one who helped kick off our adoption with this awesome fundraiser. Your name will be placed on as many pieces purchased and will be seen in the nursery and kept forever and ever, and ever and ever. One family purchased the entire border and all I can say about that is....GRACE UPON GRACE and oceans of tears and gratitude. Another person purchased part of a piece, and we were stoked to add their name to the puzzle, because hello, you are helping us bring home our baby. Grace upon grace and oceans of tears. Its a common theme in the Brenner home these days. Once this puzzle is completely purchased, we will be half way funded.

  

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.

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized. We will build the puzzle as you donate the pieces.

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

finding Him: the healing ladder

healing ladder The coffee shop isn't too full today, but rather a person here and a person there. The middle tables are emptied, no one filling them up as occupied. My side of the shop has two tables which are filled full, except they're not - my table could seat four but seats one, the other only holds two, but they are as inhabited as they will be until the current renters leave. The other side of the small room that has become a second home to me is two more tables, both with one person each, doing their own thing. Computers, devices, books.

David Crowder's voice plays and repeats through my ear buds, singing about how He loves us. About how beautiful He is, how great His affections are for me, how He loves me.

I type letters forming into words translating into sentences into my Word document, I process things that are painful to think about, but need to be put to words, need to be pulled out of my head and my heart so that they can be sorted out and understood or at least known in the small world that exists as me; emptied so that my head and heart have space for more of Him.

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy. 

The words that forever altered my life four years ago while sitting on the sand dune that stands at Winema, a camp for students to meet Jesus face to face, repeat and replay, over and over again, and my heart is weaving them in and out and in and out of itself. My heart is grabbing ahold of these words again, like an outstretched hand. Isn't it so important to be honest with where we are, what our hearts are doing and what they are processing, so that we can move forward and find healing, becoming a whole person, so we can then launch into loving others well? The whole person that we are destined to be, the wonderfilled person of glory and grace, transforming into someone so much more beautiful than we would ever have planned out for ourself? The healing ladder, becoming the whole soul we are intended to be, may take a little longer for me than it does for you, and vice versa, and I believe that is okay. I believe that we can be patient with one another.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.

I type words rapidly, processing hurts and aches and bruises that have made their home in the whole that is me, and suddenly as his words pass through the tiny cord into the ear buds, traveling through the canals of my ears, penetrating my heart, I am right back at that place where I realize just how beautiful He is, how great His affections are for me. His glory, His beauty, His love for me eclipses and overshadows and dims the afflictions that nag at the soul of me.

How He loves us, so, oh How He loves us. 

I think of those words, branded into my rib cage, forever and always inked into who I am.

And for a brief moment in time, I exist in the beautiful escape of His presence and His love, the grace that abounds amidst any afflictions that I may have.  His glory and His all-encompassing loveliness that is so full of peace and delightful beauty, His affections and care and gentle touch, they dim and becloud, they surpass any grievance that prevail.

It is when I turn my gaze towards Him, to listen to words that will direct and guide me to Him, when we choose to choose Him, choose His presence despite or rather especially because of the affliction, the damage, the infirmity; it is when we choose to choose Him that we encounter the reality of joy amidst the pain. Peace surpassing the understanding.

I am His child learning to play with the chalk all over again, finding delight in the little things, climbing one rung of the healing-ladder at a time.

elsy grace

[I could tell you]

blog post Four different draft posts have been started and ditched in the last two days. I typed words with enthusiasm, made sentences that I agreed with, and then didn't like where the post was going. Bland, bleck, blah. One was about responding to hurt in love, seeing others in the light of their very fragile and broken selves. One was a letter to "you" with a marriage that is crumbling and breaking and you have no idea if God can glue it back together. One was about waiting. Another about adoption.

I am currently at a loss for condensed words to share on this sweet space.

[I could tell you] I feel tides of transition, that I don't know what it looks like exactly, that I am trying to hold my hands open in surrender and let my heart be His, all His.

[I could tell you] our [adoption] home study paperwork was finally submitted along with our certified ten hours of education courses. That almost all of our reference letters have been sent in by lovelies, that we will soon be scheduling our in-home-interview, and therefore the intense cleaning will begin inviting more cracked finger-skin and bleached clothes and not enough fresh air.

[I could tell you] we bough a box fan. It isn't quite cutting it, but then I think about how blessed we are. How incredibly much we have. How we have a home, a bed, clothes, and so. many. things. to make us comfortable. And then the fan is suddenly more than enough.

[I could tell you] my heart for the homeless has reopened, nice and wide. That I see them again, more than I had been, and they are precious human beings. That though they have made decisions to be where they are at, though they are surely responsible for some of the misfortune handed to them, they are still just as human as you and me. And though our wallets feel tighter than ever, Jesus has reawakened my heart to give more and give freely. To be reminded that our money is His and that He asks us to feed His people. His people have names, so I do my best to ask their names and shake their hands or hug their bodies, if they're female, and ask why they are on the streets. It is always interesting to hear their stories. I feel so rich when talking to them and not in a good sort of way. Me in my clean clothes, fresh hair, and pearly teeth. I feel that my appearance puts up walls of misunderstanding, exclaiming that I think I am better than them. I don't want them to think that I think that, but maybe I do. And I really don't want to see them as less than, because I know that if anything, they have the opportunity to know Jesus far more than I do. But here I am, they and me, me and they. I have so far to go.

[I could tell you] yesterday I prayed this prayer: "Jesus open my heart wide open for your love." I wonder if I have closed myself off to Him more ways than one, out of a fickle attempt to protect myself. But if I have learned anything, it is that He protects me and I will only hurt myself by closing myself off to Him.

[I could tell you] my lunch with Allan yesterday was a blessing. That he teaches me so much about humility. The way he doesn't expect anything from anyone, the way he doesn't expect special treatment, the way he remains and resides in His presence and holds steadfast to His word. Allan teaches me so much about humility and Jesus and I can't help but wonder how I am so blessed to have him in my life.

[I could tell you] I don't know how to handle high school dating relationships delicately. I don't know how to balance grace and truth and honesty and loving gentleness. I don't know what I am doing or how to do it. But what I do know is that I want so desperately to love them, to point them to Jesus.

[I could tell you] I am learning more about waiting than I want to. That waiting patiently will not be a skill set I ever place on a resume. I would share with you this well-rehearsed verse: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31. That I so badly desire Jesus to renew my strength through waiting. I am beginning to see patience as the illusive virtue which corresponds to the dreaded condition of waiting. I read somewhere that "it is not patience when I am gloriously unaware of the waiting."

[I could tell you] my heart aches for families with marriages crumbling to pieces. Snippets of my soul begin to snap when I see human beings walking under the weight of such agony, such heaviness hurling their hearts to the pits.

[I could tell you] we wrote a letter to our potential birth mom and we closed it off with letting her know that if she chose us, we give her our word that we will do our best to raise a child she would be proud of.We told her that growing up in our family, he will be taught to dream big. That we will protect him with our lives, love him with our entire selves, and reveal to him the grace of Jesus Christ.

[I could tell you] I am falling more in love with Jesus. I am praying more, a lot more, and in those bold and courageous prayers, I find Him beckoning me to keep asking. To keep submitting. To keep dreaming big. To keep believing that He is bigger than any resources I currently have or see; He likes big dreams. Big dreams reveal my faith in Him, not in myself. Because we all know that there is no way I could do all of these big things swarming around in my head; not without Him.

"But the Lord still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them." Isaiah 30:18

I could tell you all of these things. And I guess I did. What could you tell me?