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!

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

ADOPTION UPDATE: we are presenting!

adoption Loren and I have so much happening all at once, I am thankful that God is bigger than both of us.

Tuesday morning we woke up to an email from our consultant letting us know of a potential situation [expectant mama looking for adoptive parents]. I stayed seated while he heated his burrito and I read the email word for word out loud with so much excitement and hope, I couldn't even pretend to contain it. My heart was beating so fast. Loren was smiling. We knew we wanted to present [have the attorney show the expectant mama our family profile book as an option].

This expectant mama is expected to deliver sometime this winter, anytime between December and February. Why is the due period so spread out?, you may ask.. let's just say she is carrying a double load. A "double load" has been on our hearts for years, and only became heavier when we officially began the adoption journey.

We asked to be presented, prayed that we would trust whatever He allows or doesn't, and waited for the email back. Our consultant let us know that "Yes! We get to present! This Thursday." TOMORROW. If she chooses us, we need another $4000-5000 dollars (half of the total fee is due up front). I have been working on finding some quick loans to access in the case that we need to, but we are really hoping not to use loans yet. We are more than confident that if God has chosen these two babies to be ours to raise and to parent and to kiss and to lose so much sleep over, that He will provide the funds. He will work through you, your family, our family, our friends, He will use a village. It will take a village. Please people, be our village, we are going to need it.

So what do you say? Will you purchase a puzzle piece? One for each family member?

This puzzle will be hanging in a double sided glass frame in our nursery, displaying all of your so important and necessary names!

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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!

home is where the heart is

The Tunnel: days following a miscarriage

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

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“I’m so sorry to tell you …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and hugs,

Chelsea

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

Adoption + Puzzle Update [vol. 7]

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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

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

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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

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

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

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

I am an adult.

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

adoption puzzle fundraiser

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

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

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

adoption nursery

adoption nursery

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

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

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

adoption nursery

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

How it works:

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

1 puzzle piece = $25 

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

-OR-

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

-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.

[Empty womb] Empty Arms, pt 2

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

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

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

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

 

[Empty Arms Part 2] Written Spring, 2015

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

empty arms pregnancy loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

baby announcement

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

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

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spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empty womb.

Empty arms. 

Broken heart.

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

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

pregnancy loss

pregnancy loss awareness month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the louvre

- - - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empty womb [& Empty arms pt 1]

empty arms october pregnancy loss awareness october pregnancy infant loss awareness

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

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

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

marriage

[Part One: Empty Womb] Written March  2015

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

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

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

season after season

season after season

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

So I swallowed and took yet another step forward. 

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

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

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

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

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

season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

Midnight thoughts with a Sleepless Me [adoption]

pancakes at midnight midnight thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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