Hope: birthed at the dawn of the New Year

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

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

Hope is birthed at the dawn of the New Year.

I am very much ready for 2016.

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

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

Maybe it will be #theyearofBrennerbabies. #wecravecrazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, team.

Thank you for joining us on this wild ride.

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

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

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!

If I Could: a letter to those walking through miscarriage

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

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

pregnancy loss awareness

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

I lost the baby.

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

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

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

pregnancy loss awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On Journals

on journals, journaling for husband I love journals.

Leather, pleather, plastic-covered, paper-covered, home made, store bought, etsy shopped, spiral-bound, not-spiral-bound, big, small, thick, thin, pocket, notebook...you name it, I'll write in it.

If I were out of my mind and gave you my journals to sift through, you would find: prayers, letters, day-recaps, tear stains, mascara spots, goals, dreams, secrets, victories, verses.

A lot of my [youth] girls, who are less like kids and more like young ladies, are in the stage of first-boyfriends or dreaming-of-first-boyfriends and thinking of marriage and men and all the things that 15 and 16 year old girls think about. If you know me, you know this makes my heart race and my palms sweat and my head swim with anxious thoughts and BUT WHAT IF's. I did my fair share [read: way too much] of boyfriending and kissing in High School and don't fall for the "gotta try it before you commit" thing.

For four years now I have been sharing with these girls how not-worth-it [I think] it is to date when you think you're ready at 16, how not-worth-it it is to spend your first hand holding with a boy you just met, to not let your lips fall on a guy who you just started dating in high school yesterday. I have been sharing honestly and vulnerable, but also doing my very best to hold my hands open and trust that Jesus is working through them [no matter what] just as He worked and is working through me. My heart and my hope is that I do not come across as a 100-year-old Grama that doesn't know anything [which in my mind, I now know to listen to these 100 year olds] and instead come across as someone that loves them so much that I share what I have learned over these short years of the life I have lived. And what I have learned is this: boyfriending before you leave high school isn't worth the heart ache and distraction. Even if you end up marrying the man, you are going to have to wait years...and if you are choosing to wait to enjoy the thing of sex until marriage, that is a painfully difficult long time to wait. It only gets harder, year by year, month my month, day by day. I promise.

Today I was in TJ MAX looking for a planner for Loren. We decided that if I could find one that he likes, he would start trying to use it and organize his work and meetings better, seeing it all laid out before him, rather than in the tiny glass screen that is his phone. While sifting through the precious things of journals and planners [which were all too girly for my manly husband] a woman, maybe 75, asked me what I do with journals. I said to her, "You know, last week I bought 15 journals and I picked them out so delicately. My husband is a Youth Pastor and I cherish and adore the girls, so I wrote them a little letter inviting them to use the journal specifically to pray for and write letters to their future husband. You know, to try and keep their eyes on Jesus and what He has, rather than chasing around what looks good now." Her eyes started welling with tears, something too familiar to me, so mine did too. She told me that she had lost hope for our kids these days and that this meant so much to her.  She said that she loves journaling, that writing is her thing, that she would be praying for those girls when she journals.

I am wondering if maybe journaling for our future husbands, our current husbands, and maybe even our passed husbands should be more of a norm? And maybe it is, but maybe it isn't. Maybe you have three little ones to chase around and feel overwhelmed at the thought of it. Maybe you aren't married and are nervous to let your heart go there, to hope. 

Maybe if I journaled and prayed and wrote more letters to my Future Husband when I was in high school, I would not have gotten so wrapped up in the midst of numbing one pain with another thing that didn't look like pain [boyfriending and thus, things that follow]. But it is also possible that you are not married or do not plan to ever get married, and that is just as much okay as the former. I told the girls, my girls that are not my girls, that they didn't have to use the journal for that reason, but that was why I had purchased them. I told them that there may be times where they don't want to ever get married, and that is beautifully okay, and they can spend time studying God's word and praying their hearts closer to His, becoming His beloved, regardless. But if they do choose to study what marriage looks like, what their Future Husbands character should reveal, praying for their dailyness and everything...how cool of a gift would it be to give him? How much of a treasure would it be to look back through it with him and see how God worked through your prayers? The prayers you prayed, for him?

If you are part of any sort of youth ministry, I wonder if you might pray about doing this for your girls too? Or something similar, something that fits your girls. I didn't know it was actually that cool until a flood of texts came through the next day sharing that some of them had already written letters and prayed for their Future Husband and how excited they are about them.

I love journals. We have some going for future kids.

Do you journal?

 

coffee date [tres]

the coffee date  

 

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

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

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

So. Many. Feels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the coffee date (dos)

the coffee date If we were on a coffee date, I would more than likely show you what my next tattoo is going to be. I have been thinking about it for months and asked my artist friend to draw me up a little something. He is so gifted, like those people you see on TV or read about in magazines or go to concerts..he is talented in that crazy way that boggles your mind and makes you wonder how the entirety of the world is not lined up at his door asking him to create them something beautiful and unique and amazing. This ink so black will soon be etched into my skin until death do us part; but once death do us, this ink and me, part, I will then be able to greet the honorary soul face to face. What a beautiful day that shall be.

If we were on a coffee date, I would share that I am struggling with fear. Fear was absent from my heart for 3 straight years, it seemed, and I believed I had conquered it like you conquer a spider that you step on with a shoe that you aren't wearing, because you don't want to chance it getting on your foot. And I don't mean fear of a spider itself, because I will never be away from that fear; I mean fear of actual humans and their opinions that weigh so heavy on my value itself, as though my value depends on their thoughts of me - but that's simply not true. I thought that fear was to never again touch the face of my soul, like I was immune to it,  much like I thought I was immune to shingles and chicken pox which came back to haunt me twice over already. But no, I did not conquer fear and I don't believe that is humanly possible while living on earth. If it is, I think that we should stop sipping coffee and you should tell me right this instant how the heck you stopped fear from invading you and taking over your life and your mind, stopping it from writing itself on your heart over and over again. I mean, I have a few tricks here and there that involve submitting my heart to Jesus and reminding myself who He is and who I am with Him. In those moments, when I am wrapped up tight in His pure and perfect love, like a blanket swaddling an actual baby, I am free of fear and released of the tension that it brings. I need to let Him do more swaddling.

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I have not been back from Europe even a week and yet it feels like a lifetime ago. I kid you not, did I even go or was that a dream? My biggest goal for my return, my reentry into this life I live, was to not crowd out my heart and soul and calendar with things and meetings and to do's. That I was going to spend more time with friends, building and investing in friendships, and that I was going to read more and pray more and sit in silence more and take a nap every once in awhile. But of course, the women's retreat is this weekend and lots of life is being lived and it takes more than one single thought and desire to snap yourself out of a life long engrained habit of BUSYNESS. So, I am back at it again. At trying to slow down and not clog my schedule like hair in the drain, and breathe a little bit and smell the roses. I mean really smelling the roses that are in the vase in my living room. I know, because I have certainly experienced it, that if I slow down and unclog the drain of my calendar, that God will bloom into the quiet space of my home and the shattered pieces of my heart and He will spread Himself like yeast in bread, leavening and changing me completely. Into something beautiful, because when He is involved, beauty just happens. Beauty is inevitable when God is involved.

If we were on a coffee date, I would unfold this magical truth that I have the best group of girls ever. I mean dang. They are glittery and shiny and all the things real and beautiful. They are honest and true, they are in middle and high school and I feel that if anymore of them join this thing, my heart might explode all over the place. We talk about things like Jesus and tampons and boyfriends and non-boyfriends and Bible reading and grief and loss and sadness and anger and love and joy and self image and so many things that I could list them forever in a long string of 'ands'. I would tell you that I love these girls, so much that I forfeit sleep to meet them at 6:30 or 7 am before school just to chat and wipe the sleep from our crusty swollen eyes together and read the Bible and pray but mostly just let each other know how wonderfully loved they are. I would tell you that I make time in my life for them and watch them play sports or sing songs in choir or blow into musical instruments or dance or act in theater; that they sort of have been moving into my heart for the last four years and they take up so much space in my heart, I didn't realize my heart was so big. But it has to be, if they are all in there, because they are loud and noisy and excited and full of just as many feely-feels as I am.

Here are a few of them:

 If we were on a coffee date, I would honestly share that I have come  to grips that I kind of suck at being a friend. And I desperately want to be better at it.  True friendship, I am learning, is sacred and necessary and important..it is necessary to be whole and healthy and human because humans are fickle and we forget to focus on Jesus first sometimes and true friends point you that way. Even if its blunt and painful. True friendship happens when we fall into, or rather we bend our knees, into that deeper level of ourselves and we cross over the brokenness of who we are. Like my friends Bethany and Emily who have crossed over the most broken parts of me at my worst and remained patient and gentle and thoughtful and generous and so many loving selfless things. We are so fragile if we are honest, and when we allow someone to cross over that, releasing our need to appear perfect and whole, because let's be honest, we aren't, then we allow people to prove that they won't leave us just because we are human. I've come to realize how little I believe in my friends ability to extend grace and understanding. Friendship is an opportunity to be Jesus to someone, acting out God's love in tangible ways. Like my friend Jesse - the other day I called to update her on my life because its been actual ages since I have been able to do so...and she just loved me so well and loved me with grace and patience that I don't deserve. She represented God to me and reminded me who He was and I now have a more profound sense of God's love for me. So much so that after I hung up the phone, I started crying so hard in thanksgiving for such a friend as her.

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I have a key board safe guard on my new computer and it is annoying and hard to get used to.

I would then ask you: how are you doing with your fears? Are you fearing anything or anyone? What makes you fear them? Is there a lie that you are believing about yourself? What is that lie? Can I remind you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made? That He sees you right this moment and says, "You are mine and I delight in you."

I would share with you this piece that has been etching itself into my heart, writing itself so that it becomes more obvious than the fears that tend to scream themselves at me:

"See, God has come to save me. I will trust in Him and not be afraid. The LORD GOD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation." Isaiah 12:2

Fire away, my coffee date, how are you?

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This post was adopted by me from Amber at Mr Thomas And Me.

 

the coffee date

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

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

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

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

Wish granted.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for choosing your Must, Am.

On growing old: a letter

lets get wrinky  on growing old  marriage Dear Husband,

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

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

[Let's get wrinkly]

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

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

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

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

love chocolate cherubs

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

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

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

With a heart loving yours,

Natalie

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

Dying to myself in marriage - What?

a blog post on marriage I was recently posed with this question, "How do I share a bed and a bathroom? How do I share my coffee? HOW DO I LIVE WITH A MAN?

The thing I've come back to so many times during our marriage is dying to myself. It is so easy to become pig headed and hurtful, throwing vicious words like daggers and ferocious glares like arrows. When a discussion doesn't go my way, it is often too easy to be stuck up and stubborn, prideful and rude. Thinking my way is best, my way or the highway, doofus.

[Oh the ugliness that ensues when self is in control of me, rather than Spirit]

Over and over again, I must die to myself. I must say, "Self, the world and this marriage does not revolve around you: I know, hard to swallow."

To die to self is to listen and exist where the other is at. Whether that is in joy, in trial, in happiness, in sorrow, in frustrating days and victorious days...go to where they are and be there. Be present, be with, know.

To die to self is to swallow the need to prove oneself right or correct. Is crushing someone's spirit so that you can prove you're better/smarter/cooler/more Awesome in correct-ness really worth it? Is proving yourself right to humiliate someone else satisfying?

To die to self is to ask forgiveness, to admit that you hurt the other person - and that was wrong. That was unloving. That was selfish. Sometimes it takes going into the other room and breathing deeply, asking Jesus to calm your wildly beating heart that is turning hard as stone. For me, it often means asking God to humble me, to soften that stoney heart. Which is painful at times, even humiliating. Because in those moments I am admitting that I was wrong, I am imperfect, I can be mean and cruel and unloving. I am selfish. But in those moments when we are raw and honest and broken and humiliated...then we are dying to self and ready to ask forgiveness. Ready to apologize. Ready for restoration. That is where a relationship can flourish.

dying to self marriage blog post

To die to self is to serve the other, to see them as valuable, important, human. To give 100% and expect 0. What I mean by this is that dying to self means loving unconditionally. Without conditions. Without strings attached. To serve and sacrifice without the, "Only if/because he ______." To serve unconditionally is to surpass human capability and you will need Something, Someone, greater to teach you and give you the will power to do so on a continual basis. That is where it gets hard...the continual part.

To die to self is to acknowledge that you, me, I am not in fact the most important thing for this universe.

I cannot imagine not having Jesus. Not having His guidance, example, and Spirit to strengthen me in these times of self-denial would make it impossible. He is the ultimate sacrificer, the ultimate self-denier, the ultimate giver of self. Only He can give me and you the strength we need to die to ourself and see others as more important, as valuable, as human.

If you find yourself reading this and are an unmarried being, don't disregard. This is for you too. This little reminder is for every human in every relationship.

 

the other morning's sunrise outside of our patio apartment

 

NOTE: I am not saying that you must be a doormat. I also am not talking about abusive relationships. That is completely different. I am talking about two people, committed to one another, and covenanting to sacrifice for and serve one another. Not for their own gain, but out of complete and utter selfless love.

 

When waves come crashing at your feet

a blog post about trials and Jesus Dear girls-

It has been so long since we have met on this space. The days and weeks that have passed since I last wrote to you have held so much life.

Girls. [My whole heart and desire is to show you more of Christ.] I yearn into my bones and back out through my entire existence to point you towards Him, to reveal that He is in fact the very best thing for you, and that you need Him. I don't know how else to put it: without Him, life sucks. Without the Life Source, the Hope, the Joy, the Freedom that only Jesus can give, life isn't all that it can be.

With or without Jesus, you will have trials and troubles, worries and concerns, fears and temptations. Life will still throw itself at you like a whirlwind attempting to drown the joy in your heart, forcing it to disintegrate like sand in your hands. The waves of the ocean may crash and tumble, twisting you all around, banging your precious body on the sandy bottom of the sea. The storms will still show up, tossing your hair up and around, tangling it into a mess of knots attempting to frustrate you.

Without Jesus, crumbling to bits and pieces has never felt so lonely, so desperate, so hopeless.

take heart for i have overcome

With Jesus, crumbling to bits and pieces reminds you that there is Hope for tomorrow, Hope for forever, and Joy amidst the strongest of waves. Amidst whatever waves crashing against your flesh, Jesus is more present than I could ever attempt to explain. Jesus is there and He is close and He is holding your heart. He is safe and secure, He is trustworthy, and He co-suffers with you. Jesus knows, He sees, He loves. He is patient and kind, He understands all, He believes the best for you. Jesus gives you freedom when you accept the Truth that your circumstances do not define you. The truth that when a situation stirs up your world, weighs your soul so heavy you cannot stand, Jesus still defines you as beloved, as His. Jesus gives you worth and meaning and purpose. Jesus remains.

My girls. You may or may not have waves crashing at your feet, threatening the very life you desire, attempting to steal you away into despair. But there will [more than likely] be a day when the waves are too strong for you, too scary, too big. They may not seem fair. And when those waves are threatening your joy and your hope, I pray that you cling to Jesus. I pray you remember that Jesus sees the biggest picture, is piecing together the picture for all of humanity. I pray that you see Him there and you believe that He is for you. I pray and I hope with earnest that you let Him be near you. That you accept the gift of grace and freedom that He so earnestly offers you.

I love you girls. You know that.

But He loves you more than I could ever dream to.

With so much hope,

Natalie

when waves come crashing

Friendship looks like..

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

letters from friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

picnic date at home

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

Brenners Go Camping: Alsea Falls

We began our summer tenting last weekend. Since we only had one night available, we wanted to stick around the area: Alsea Falls is only 45 minutes to an hour drive. Something so sweet about the Willamette Valley is that..it's beautiful, everywhere. We are enjoying the beauty of creation and we love the 50 shades of green and sleeping under the stars is, well, great.

We love the Pacific North West. I am falling back in love with it. Maybe for the first time, I have opened my eyes and am seeing the blessing of living where I live.

Photo taken in Wilsonville, OR

I am learning a lot of things about myself, as of late. It seems as though I am always learning about myself, but these last few weeks I have been especially introspective.

I am learning that I my roots run a lot deeper than I had wished. You know, the roots that are deeply embedded into your being because you grew up with them there? I am learning that I am a lot less awesome than I wish to be. I am a lot less easy going than I want to be and I pick up old habits that I thought I was done with. I have a lot of growing to do, that I want to pursue. While packing the car to leave home, I caught myself easily irritated and frustrated for no good reason. I was flustered and annoyed at nothing in particular and it wasn't cute or adorable or attractive or fun or light hearted. Who wants to be around that? Who wants to hang around with poison itself? It isn't a norm for me to be so easily irritated, so it was throwing me off, making me more ashamed which is not a spiral I enjoy. On our drive to Alsea I kept trying to process why I was on edge - then it hit me: every single family trip or vacation began with top notch anger and angst and lots of loud voices. I always dreaded trips. I always had to gear up and harden my heart, preparing for it. As we drove, I realized it had been engrained within me to be angry and on edge and frustrated during these times. I am learning that I have to work hard to root out old ugly habits that aren't beautiful - but I am also learning that it isn't all that complex: I simply need to yield to and submit to Jesus' good and pleasing and perfect will. Simple but difficult.

After recognizing what was happening, I  told Loren exactly what I had just concluded. I apologized and asked him to forgive me, I asked him to help me grow into more like Jesus. I asked him during those moments to remember this truth about my habit, and help me grow by being patient with me. He gladly accepted and it was so good.

I am learning that it takes a lot of humility to have a good marriage - humility to apologize for being a prickly thorn {whether I have reason or not}, humility to forgive unconditionally and not hold things over each other's head {keep no record of wrongs}. It takes humility to ask someone to be the main helper in your growth as a human being, and then allowing them to do so - it takes humility to be that person and love them by encouraging growth. The humility is more than worth it.

A handsome fire prepared by a hot husband.

5 gallon water bladder, $8

For dinner we had ribs + potatoes + zucchini. It was sort of my last hooray before giving up cheese. You could say I loaded the cheese on a mile high.

Camping, ribs

His

Hers

Let's just say we learned not to buy $6 ribs at WinCo. Too much fat + gristle for us.

We hiked and tried out the timer on our new camera, which has become one of my favorite gifts of my life on this earth.

Alsea Falls

On our hike, I got a real bad cut on the bottom of my foot. I then experienced some real marriage sacrificial love. Loren carried me for about a mile and a half. He carried me on his back, on his shoulders, cradled me like a dying woman {or baby}...it was amazing and sad and inspiring and the most loving thing. I am heavy. I am dense. I am not light weight. In fact, I could feel my body growing heavier with every step. Talk about real patient and kind love, not self-seeking. He was not rude or manipulative, he did not make me feel bad about it, he simply carried me and loved me. So. Blessed.

We roasted marshmallows and put rolos in them: too tasty to explain; you must try this.

Rolo smooshed between two rolos

Rolo Marshmallows

Did you know that Mountain Clovers are editable and they are so very tasty? Here is what they look like:

Edible plants: mountain clovers Mountain clovers Alsea, OR

Basically, Oregon and the heart of the Willamette Valley is beautiful and it is capturing my heart.

We slept in until the squirrels woke us, which I was unhappy about. They were trying to eat our trash and we are just crazy hooligans who didn't walk the 25 feet to throw it away. We made french press coffee and sipped it by the fire while soaking in Jesus' heart and praying our souls to Him and resting in His presence, in His creation.

Coffee + Bible + Camping Ephesians 3:17

I am learning every day that I am blessed beyond belief with this man. When we were first married, he had never camped in a tent. He did not like the idea of going deep into woods and forests where there is no cell service or humans or gps signal, and any chance of getting eaten. But time and time again, he offers to take me on adventures and explore the unknown and to enjoy this area God has placed us. He initiates hikes and trail running. He is patient with me as I grow up and learn to be a human. He is kind to me when I don't deserve it. He is protective. Oh so protective.

I am honored to have his love, his choice to love me, every day.

Still adventuring, Team Brenner

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Canada Adventure

I have boarded the Bolt Bus, downed a burnt Starbucks coffee, am wearing my Ted Hoes because I am basically an elderly woman, and have said goodbye to my beloved husband. Canada Adventure has begun. 20131010-080654.jpg

For the first time in our 490 some odd days of marriage, we will be apart for 7 days. We have been pretty lucky so far! I take it for granted, really.

Since the day Haley sent me a photo of the little white stick (yep, that one) with two lines that read "positive," last October, I have been aching for a Canada Adventure. Well if we are honest, since the night of her wedding when I said our first wailing (this is actually true - my head thrown back and me sobbing towards the ceiling with fat tears streaming) & agonizing goodbye.. that was when the eagerness began. But! It subsided slowly. Until she told me that Baby Nunes #1 had been created. (I remember where I was: looking at the ridiculously priced curtains in Bed Bath & Beyond. I was screaming & jumping up and down).

March arrived and Haley's sister who is also my good friend Jesse was getting married! This beautiful ceremony brought on a unitation (let the word happen) with Hales.  Yet again, I realized the dire need to be united with her in Canada: especially once Baby Oliver arrives. So the jar saving began!

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Since March, we saved enough money for me to get a passport with my new beloved name on it, buy a round trip ticket (Bolt Bus + Air <$350 roundtrip), and even a little bit of spending money to buy some maple syrup! I could never have done this without Loren. Without his encouragement, his support, his encouragement, and his sacrificial love. His sacrificial love is abnormal for our age and our short length of marriage; I am sure of it. He is so humble and always giving to me. Give give give. Because of him in addition to huge chunks of grace from God, I am currently on the Bolt Bus beginning my Canada Adventure.

Last night this hunk took me to the Cheesecake Factory for the first time. What a grace gift that was. He is such a blessing; he gives through sacrifice, more than I would have ever dared to dream.

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That place was overwhelming: loud, busy, huge, but so beautiful & completely delicious.

- - -

As we said our goodbyes, I lugged my bursting suitcase, 30 pound backpack, and honking purse onto the Bus. Can I just say that the standard size of a carry-on luggage suitcase is actually ridiculous? The amount of clothes, shoes, jackets and critical necessities one is unable to fit in there? I am going to lovely but freezing Canada and I had to find a way to fit all of this:

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Plus more, into...THIS tintsy intsy little thing:

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I know, I could hardly believe it. I am not the only one who must do this undesirable deed, but it happened as sure as the night sky shines stars.

As I head to Vancouver, BC, I am completely excited. I love adventures. Once I am downtown, I get to ride the Sky Tram over to the airport for about 45 minutes. Then I have a little more than 1 hour (if all goes smoothly) until my flight leaves from BC and heads towards good ole Edmonton! There, around 7:40 pm, I will be welcomed into the wonderful arms of Haley Nunes. My beloved best friend.

I pray that you have a friend like Haley. The kind of friend that, whether in another country or simply sharing a room with you, remains an amazing friend. A friend that would save your life, even if she met you 6 days prior..(this definitely happened in too much of a literal sense). A friend that helps you with more things than you could ask for or even THINK to ask for. A friend who is safe to be vulnerable with, who won't lead you into the temptation of slander or complaint. A friend who prays for & encourages you, and whether far or near, spurs you on to do good deeds for the glory of God. Someone who holds you accountable to the Truths you claim to believe, to the Faith you wear as your name. A friend who holds you accountable even when painful or corrective; a true and deep friendship, coursing on the purity of Jesus Christ's love. A friend who drives you closer to Jesus. A friend who does all of this...but you also do it in return.

I pray and yearn for the day when we live near one another once again: I dream of raising our kids together, teaching them the grace of God, serving our neighborhoods together. Exercising together. Being loving and respectful wives together. Serving our church family together. The prayers will never cease and the dreaming will never end.

Our God is bigger than I can dare to dream and I will continue to ask Him in boldness, to align our callings someday, for His glory. I pray you have a Haley in your life.

Cheers to Canada Adventure.

Sometimes You Need a Blanket-Fort.

IMG_5958 I don't know about you, but sometimes you just need to construct a blanket fort, make some pumpkin pie (paleo of course), and watch Balto. Don't forget the snuggling with your husband part. Some weeks are filled with so many emotions, so much mental-usage, not enough Spirit-filling-up moments, and a whole lot of being awake. And at the end of those weeks, those weeks full of weepy nights, long hours, and self-centered self pity, you just need a blanket fort. It just needs to happen. You should let it happen. Your heart can be filled through such events, if you are truly grateful to Jesus for moments as such: loosen up those tense shoulders, don't think about the mess you are about to make (I lean towards OCD clean), build that fort, eat that food, let the dishes sit, and sleep on the hard ground. Without mom and dad yelling at you to clean it up. Guess what? You can clean it up whenever you want. Which is awesome, I will tell you that much.

I encourage you to do this. Let your childlike passions and dreams come alive, the ones that mom and dad thought were annoying. Allow yourself to jump on the bed. To dance around in your under pants. To fling mashed potatoes against the wall or at your husband's face; I have never done that, but I have been tempted to for a good laugh. Just let it happen. Let your inner child break free once in awhile and relax. That's what we are anyways: a child of God.

Life will go on and you will be blessed.

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