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: the healing ladder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

elsy grace

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?

 

Running

running I've always loved running.

In sixth grade I was on the cross country team; I had a crush on both Jordan Buhler and Anders Wick. I couldn't decide, okay? I had a light pink backpack at that time, a knock off brand which was so uncool - it was no Jansport. After cross country practice one day, I walked home in the rain and my backpack was such poor quality that it became completely transparent and everything inside of it got wet. But it was okay, because Jordan walked me halfway home and that made me happy.

I would have continued running on the cross country team if I were allowed to do both cross country and volleyball. But because they were during the same season, the time of year when Back To School sales are strong and the leaves begin falling to the ground turning crunchy, I had to choose. I chose volleyball, year after year, because I knew I would at least run a little bit during volleyball warm ups; up and down the court. If it were an extremely athletic day, I could also run before or after volleyball practice.

After middle school ended I had to choose between track & field and softball. Again, I knew I would be running during softball; throwing a shot put and a softball was similar enough to me, so I decided to lean into the game with the balls not-so-soft and became the backup Varsity pitcher right away. Center field was my primary position, starting as a freshman. I ran when I was able, whether that was in the morning before school or work, greeting the morning sun, or in the evening beneath the shining stars. But most definitely, I did not run daily.

While Loren and I dated, we ran together and prayed aloud for life and people and things. We prayed for women who have chosen abortion, women who are in the thick of such a huge decision, for our little church community, for our future togetherness, our future babies. Two months into our marriage we and our married-friends drove down to San Fran to run the Womens Nike [Half] Marathon. The next year, Loren and I ran the Corvallis Half Marathon and the Mary's Peak 25k [which was actually 17 miles] Trail Run. A few months after that ridiculously painful and arduous run, we made the big adult decision that we wanted to do a marathon. My generous grandparents sponsored us to run the Portland Marathon 2015. [That's this year...in less than 3 months].

It's the pressing of my feet into tennis shoes, lacing them up tight like a bow on a birthday present, the stepping outside into the breeze so brisk, lungs filling up with fresh air, the moving of my body, pushing it to its limit and then some, the pounding of my feet as my heart follows suit, the clear air inviting a clear mind, an empty canvas, ready to be painted. It is as though my mind and my heart are released into reality, the reality of thanksgiving and freshness, with every step, one foot in front of the other.

Running reminds me that everything will be okay. Though my body aches and often my heart too, running allows my brain moments of rest without to do's; all I have to do is keep going. Just keep on keeping on.

My last two years of high school and freshman year of college were severely distressing; my family was facing infidelity, alcoholism, workaholism, complete destruction. Nothing new for anyone who lives in this broken world; but its pain-filled. Decisions I made during those years were not so beautiful, with my actions and my words and my intentions. I was confused, my heart chaotic, nothing made sense. But running beneath the stars late into the night, laying in the middle of the field across from the tennis courts, breathing in the crisp air burning my lungs as I cried out to Him..those nights kept me partially sane.

Running is a space for me and God and God and me and us together, chatting and existing.

Running puts me back on my swivel.

Though running has always been important to me, though it fills me up full and I have my greatest revelations and sometimes my most intimate and raw prayers, it also has always been secondary.

I could go months, nearly a year, in between runs and get up and go steady without walking for 7 to 8 miles with an 8:30 mm. Leisurely. No big deal. The half marathons were nearly easy for me; I barely needed to train. I peer into my near future with this marathon in the early stages of October and for the first time I am nervous for this race. This run. This challenge.

Running has never been so hard for me as it is now.

I've been attempting to train for this marathon and I feel blocked up, obstructed, arrested from my usual ability. My maximum milage as of recent has been 4 miles at a 9:45 mm. Sweating profusely, breathing with difficulty, my lungs burning from scar tissue, my body aching all over but especially in my back. When I finish, my muscles clam up tight, contracting and clenching together, letting me know they are done working, done stretching. They feel solid in my body, muscles of molasses.

My friend said she thinks I'm having a brain-block. That I kind of have things rattling around in there.

I cannot help but think of bible reading and praying and spending time soaking in His nearness. This lifestyle of walking with Him in the everydayness, is so important to me, so pressing and all that I want. But how it is so easy to place that second, if not last, on our priority list. Like I ditched cross country for volleyball, I often ditch reading my Bible for community life. I justify it with, well its basically the same because Jesus is all about community. Neither volleyball nor community are inherently bad or evil; they're both beautiful and good and lovely. But when I make the decision, because it is very much my decision and yours, to look away and walk away from the nook of prayer time with Him, my heart becomes starved. The Holy Spirit in me is parched, running ragged, losing its nourishment. The muscles of my core are weakened and malnourished, gasping and reaching for His presence and solitude, and I deny it. 

It is easy to go an entire week without opening the pages and unfolding what He has for us, for me and for you; when we do finally return to that place, it feels awkward and weird, scary and vulnerable. Unsafe. Which is so much a lie. After weeks of soul-malnourishment, the returning run, the returning-meeting in solitude feels off and abnormal; it feels broken. But I am convinced that habit and ritual will turn this back into beauty, into a freedom place where my heart runs towards Him.

As of recent, I have been carving out an hour of moments with Him in the nook of our nursery, the corner near the window, on the rug that is so cushy and inviting and perfect for my knees and my tears. I do my best to ignore the lie that it is scary and too vulnerable, that I will hear nothing from His heart, and instead enter that place of silence and solitude and fullness and presence. The place of holiness because He is so there. Every morning, waiting for me. When I do not enter that place of presence, I feel Him beckoning, calling, sweetly saying, "But this time means something to me too, Dear. Not just you. I need this time, too." And so I lay down my to do's and my work and the nagging of my scull and I enter into His nearness.

nursery nook

 

Soon there will be a rocking chair in this corner, inviting me to rock and to lean into Him, to lay my heart on His chest as it rises and falls with the breathing of in and out. I hope to create a space of prayer here, in this nursery nook, building a habit into this room of prayer and grace and presence. A no-phone-zone. It's not some guilt-ridden thing that needs to be engulfed in condemnation, but rather a delightful, filling-up invitation.

A place to meet Him, daily.

Our way back to the Sabbath

Camp Tadmor, Oregon The rhythm of camp/being-the-speaker's-wife is healing to the frantic pace of every day life. Camp never fails to teach me the best tempo of living healthily. When you are the speaker's wife (aka: not in charge of 10-15 little minions), there is no racing from one thing to the next - there is no hurry. I have already read one book and a half of another (a memoir of an adoptive momma); I have written words, because words are a way of life for me. I would bet money that Heaven is full of words. Beautiful, juicy, enriching words.

The house we are staying in is bigger than two of our apartments put together into one. It's cold, but its clean. Its a simple home to stay in, with few accessories and little flashy enticements, and I love it. The internet is spotty. Its on the lake and I want to never leave this beautiful place.

 

I couldn't wait for this week. I knew this week would force me to slow, to open my hands and remain open-handed, because there is time to do so. I knew this week would re-center the axel of my heart that has spun off into the world and chaos of anxiety and busyness and people pleasing. Because who doesn't want to be awesome for everyone? This is the facade I wear for myself, people. This is the facade we chase. 

Sunday night as the sun set and the minions were quiet, Loren introduced himself to the crowd of campers, so very young and moldable. The age range here is 3rd through 5th grade; not our typical crowd, but more precious than ever. Loren fits in better than I have ever seen, as he moves and flails around, fluctuating his vocal chords to craziness. The kids love him. His camp name is Greg. (Note: every one else's camp names are things like, Frog, Dandelion Field, Anemone, Rolo). My smile didn't leave my face as I observed this man I married, from the front row. It wouldn't fade and it was genuine and real. My spirit was free as we literally overlooked the entire valley, seeing across to the ocean mountains.

There was also a talent show. A talent show where a bunch of 9 year olds did gymnastics and beat boxed and break-dance (he was breaking alright, breaking his pride) and sang. One guys talent was "flexibility." Anothers was "lip singing." The lip singing talent is where I cam all undone and started crying. This little blond girl stands up there all shy, while Let It Go blares through the speakers and the crowd is standing and swaying and singing and she is pretending to sing into a mic. She starts throwing her hands in the air and getting into this beautiful song when I just start crying. These kids, so young and full of beautiful dreams and high hopes and Jesus. So much innocent faith here, so much fresh joy, so much preciousness. I felt free in His presence.

Camp tadmor, Oregon

The sunset? Don't even get me started. I was all about those sun flares.

Camp Tadmor, Oregon

I am learning that it is easier for me to live simply in the way of accessories, clothes, spending our money, nice things...but when it comes to living simply in the way of "busyness"? I must slay this idol in order to chase Him. I have to be forced to slow down. It's not a godly thing. When we traveled Europe, that hit me harder than it has before. This week, I have been reminded of that too. My heart and soul, my very being, yearns for a slower life. I am so embarrassed that most people's emails and texts and sentences to me are disclaimed with, "I know you're busy, but..." This isn't me - it can't be, it won't be. It's a lie, a face. We can't live at camp or on vacation in Europe forever; we cannot pull out of our work and mission and activities that accompany life, so how can we, I, cultivate and create a slower and simpler life? How can we rest and slow down, in the midst of the busiest society? Every time I ask myself that, I am also faced with: how do I also serve others and make disciples and love well? I believe there is a way to do both. Jesus did it.

I will keep pointing towards the Sabbath. Can the Sabbath mean more to us than one day off? Working hard all week, serving the Lord in whatever we do, and resting in Him? We must keep the Sabbath, but also access Sabbath rests multiple times a day. I mean...prayer.The ancients (the Benedictines, the monastics) honored 7 hours through prayer pauses every day. SEVEN HOURS. I think they were on to something. I think that in their prayer pauses, their minds refocused and reset, their hearts were placed back into the center, on the axel, and God was on the throne.

"Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath." Exodus 16:29

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any word, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20:8-11

I dream of creating a holy space for the Sabbath. Of serving Jesus with such clarity and dignity and resting on the 7th day. I dream of setting the day apart, preparing a special meal for dinner, lighting candles, pausing for prayer. One of our supporting families shared with me that they would spend Saturday preparing for the Sabbath. They would bake their favorite dessert in preparation for the following day; their calendar was protected; their technology was switched to off; their hearts were recentered. I want to live like that; I want to receive the gift that God has given us through the Sabbath.

Let's make our way back to a true Sabbath.

From there, from places of rested spirits and calm hearts, knowing who we are in Jesus Christ's eyes, we will change this world with love.

To Say I Love You: a letter

to say i love you a letter link up My dear husband,

It is said that women need to experience that they are known and loved, while men need to experience that they are known and respected. To respect you is to love you and to love you is to honor you. On this quest of wifery and learning to love you by respecting and honoring you, I think I may have a slight grasp on what it looks like to love you...for now.

To say I love you is to genuinely laugh at the jokes you share again and again. It is to see your humor and continuously fall for your quirky quips. It is to love your antics forevermore and remember the bliss they brought me in the beginning. This is something I have been working on, loving the one liners that I have heard for four years, and to be honest, I am falling for them again.

To say I love you is to smile at you from across the room, declaring the truth that I am yours and I approve of you. I see you and I know you and I cherish you. Sending you flashes of grins and pearly whites lets you know that I approve. I am remembering more and more to smile and grin and let you know that I have your back, that I love the words you are sharing, especially when you are preaching or teaching things about Him.

To say I love you is to support you in front of others. Friends and family and foreigners alike. It means that I don't correct you when I know  think you're wrong. It means I do not let the world know that you stretched the truth to make a story a bit funnier. And by George, I am horrible at loving you in this way. Will you give me grace to grow?

To say I love you is to put my phone down and be fully present. To give you the gift of myself and let you know that I am all ears, all eyes, all heart. My presence is something I often withhold from you, while I am busy crossing off tasks, sending emails, reading, or writing. Oh how I know I will regret these decisions if I do not slow down and tell you that I love you by giving you myself. My whole self. My attention. The gift of my presence is something I am becoming more and more aware of. Help me with patience?

To say I love you is to trust you. To trust that you will do what you say you will. To trust that you have integrity and pure motives.

To say I love you is to let you read at night before we doze off into the land of dreams. It is to compromise close snuggles every night and agree that every other night works just fine. Forgive me for the times I demand snuggles out of your warm self when you are dying to get into your long awaiting novel.

To say I love you is to notice you. Ask you about your day, inquire about your meetings and ministry, to wonder about your new gadgets and toys. To be into whatever you're into. To cherish whatever you cherish.

To say I love you is to love myself. This is a difficult one for me to understand, but you continuously tell me. It means that I surrender to the Truth [that I share with so many] and reject the lies that I am worthless, stupid, incapable. Loving you by loving myself means taking breaks, cleaning our home, baking treats, and going on runs.

To say I love you is to save our extra dimes and nickels for books that you are eager to read, but patient to wait for.

To say I love you is so many things and so much more than stating words with empty actions. Simply and mighty, these things I am learning, will change our marriage. If I choose to walk them out and pursue them...until death do us part.

To say I love you is to give you my hand in marriage; to present my heart, mind, and body as yours; to remain yours and yours alone through sickness and in health, with wealth and with poverty, for as long as we both shall live. To say I love you is to grow wrinkly with you

Help me grow in loving you.

Forever Yours,

NB

 

 

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.

 

Day 19: Building Respect Habits

Read Day 18 HEREDay 19: Be Content 25 Days of Building Respect Habits

Loren is not a huge run-in-the-woods, risk-your-life, hunting sort of man. I grew up in a small town {part of my life in a forest where cougars crossed our driveway} and we went hunting for animals bigger than us: bears, elk, deer, antelope..and of course the smaller than us birds, ducks, and rabbits. Although these weren't among my favorite things to do, I enjoyed them, and always assumed I would marry someone who would take me with him to hunt, hike, and tent camp. I grew up thinking hunting was the only way to eat meat: hunt for it, skin it, pack it & eat it.

I married an amazing man who grew up in a city and has never killed a fly. His first time tent camping was a week into our marriage. His first run through the woods he thought bears would eat him. He is nothing what I assumed {when I was 10} that I would marry and guess what's awesome?  I am 100% content with that. I love the life we are living, the life we pursue. Sometimes I catch myself in arrogance about my "experiences" - and then I am humbled by his humility and grace. I am caught up in thanksgiving that he is so much more than I ever dreamed, and that is because I didn't dream of having a man COMPLETELY SOLD OUT FOR JESUS.

Whether your man is a city man or a wild man, a practically-logically-thinking man or a charismatic-feely-sporatic man, be blessed that he is your man. Whether he is a church planter, a small town pastor, a diesel mechanic, a construction worker, or works part time, be blessed that he is by your side through the thick and the thin. Rest in the assurance that he is yours and you are his, and together you are pursuing this life together. All that other stuff: titles, positions, salary, paychecks, those are all so temporary. Be content with the friendship you are able to cultivate, the babies you have or dream of having, the safety of vulnerability with someone.

You are wonderfully made and defined by Jesus' love for you - not you nor your husband's job, paycheck, nor the apartment or mansion you live in. Be content and be blessed deeply by that.

"Do not pressure your husband to keep up with the Jonses. Take satisfaction in the lifestyle he is able to provide for you," -Jennifer

Today, as we focus on building the habit of being content, thank your husband for the life you two have. Thank him for the home you are building together and remind him that he is enough. Don't complain about things, choose joy, and

Today, pray and internalize these verses: "But godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6 "Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you."" Hebrews 13:5

Read our view of money as well as our budgeting system HERE!

Day 18: Building Respect Habits

Read Day 17 HEREDay 18: Keep the House Tidy 25 Days of Building Respect Habits

Growing up, our house always felt so cluttered and dirty. Dishes dirty all over the kitchen, cups everywhere, beer bottles, unfolded clothes all over the couch and floor, too much stuff that was unneeded everywhere... I remember the laundry room being an overwhelming mess of dirty and clean clothes, games, and STUFF. It was the "junk room" as opposed  to the junk drawer (we had many of those as well!). Looking back, I am sure this is because my mom worked so hard as a Real Estate agent and was exhausted by the time she got home so late. However! I will never forget the feeling of living in a chaotic home.

When I {officially} moved out, I became obsessed with being organized. Having only a desk and a small wardrobe to keep tidy, I did what I could. Moving into a house, I then shared a bedroom with my now-sister-in-law. There I loosened a bit about tidiness, but still highly valued it. Now as a wife, I get to fully manage this! I love keeping our home tidy and clean - it brings an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance. However, I have experienced some homes SO tidy and SO clean that it feels just the opposite: you get the dont-touch-or-ruin-anything vibe. That is the opposite of what I want. I pray that my friends with babies and children feel completely welcome in our home - that they can bring their kids and I truly don't mind if our books and VHS/DVD's are strewn everywhere.

Moral of the story is this: I highly value keeping our home clean and welcoming, but also have grown in not being OCD if something gets out of place. Really, is it that important?

I know that coming home to a clean and put-together home is a gift and that it relieves tension - it creates a love for being home.  I hope to always give that to my husband. I love what Sharaya wrote here about her mom teaching her that cleaning was loving to her dad - that as a wife, she (her mom) wanted to prepare her home for husband (her dad) to come home after a busy day at work. The kids joined in and it became a beautiful routine! I pray and hope to do that when we have kidddos.

"To the best of your abilities, try to maintain a clean and orderly home. Seek to make it a haven of rest for your entire family," -Jennifer from the original post.

Today, internalize and pray this verse: "She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness." Proverbs 31:27

 

Day 12: Building Respect Habits

(Read Day 11 HERE)Day 12: Kiss Him Goodbye 25 Days of Building Respect Habits

"I once read about a study done in Germany which found that men whose wives kissed them goodbye every morning were more successful than those who weren’t kissed. Success and respect often go hand-in-hand, so be sure to send him off right, and don’t forget to greet him with a kiss when he returns home, for good measure." -Jennifer

Loren has told me that when I smile at him and kiss him before work, it gives him strength. All is well and he can focus. (Of course he told me this through song and dance and hand motions). Ask your husband what builds him up, what gives him strength, what respects him.

Today's verse to pray and internalize is 2 Corinthians 3:12 "Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold."

Read Day 13 HERE

Day 11: Building Respect Habits

(Read Day 10 HERE)Day 11: Eyes Only For Him 25 Days of Building Respect

Jennifer said, "Don’t compare your husband unfavorably to other men, real or imaginary. It is neither fair nor respectful and will only breed trouble and discontent. Avoid watching movies or reading books that might cause you to stumble in this area, as well."

I have never had a problem with this, BUT I do fall short in reminding Loren that I only have eyes for him. Reminding him that he is wonderful in my eyes. That he is manly and inspiring and leading me towards Jesus. Oh ladies, let me tell you: whenever I remember to affirm my man in this, he BEAMS! I love to see my man beam.

Remember not to be shocked at his abilities and talents, while being confident in other mens' talents & abilities. As a rule of thumb, assume your husband knows how to do everything and when he can't do something, then be shocked. Build that man up! Let your man know your desires and eyes are for him and him alone; that you're proud to be his wife at his side.

Today's scriptures: Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you,O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else,for it determines the course of your life.

Read Day 12 HERE

20140228-203832.jpg Photo from last nights beautiful sunset!

Day 10: Building Respect Habits {Respond Physically}

(Read Day 9 HERE)Day Ten: RESPOND PHYSICALLY 25 Days of Building Respect Habits

Today is the day, ladies. Men, if you're reading, don't you dare hold this over her head, but be blessed with her heart.

I know that as a childless newlywed I have a lot to learn from life. But today, I see the high importance of this. Today, I note that physically blessing my husband is a top priority. I have learned that when we are intimate, my heart feels closer to his and he is much more serving towards me. Not that it is a if-this, then-that transaction; but his heart is softened, his muscles relaxed, and he is able to clearly think of ways to serve me.

Jennifer said: "Did you know that the way you respond (or don’t respond) to your husband’s romantic overtures has a profound effect on his self-confidence? Don’t slap him away when he tries to hug you or make excuses when he’s in the mood. Your enthusiastic cooperation and reciprocation will not only assure him of your love, but will make him feel well-respected, too."

Wives: you are beautiful. You are wonderfully made. Your husband delights in your body. I am nowhere near great at remembering this, but I do work hard to remind myself. Nothing is attractive about, "Oh but my hips. Oh but my inner thigh. Oh butt..." Loren made a rule in our home: no dissing our bodies. He gets real angry if I complain about myself. Honestly, isn't there so much more to life that we need to think about? Bless your husband by seeing the beauty he sees - and if you don't see it, bless him by trying to and shutting your mouth about it. There are some extremely curvy women who are SEX-Y! How? Because they rock what they've got. They walk in the beauty that has been given to them. Can we trust that Jesus has made us beautifully?

I beg you to read this article, written by a man. It should open your eyes and bless your marriage. Ten Things Every Husband Wishes His Wife Knew About Sex. One quote I absolutely loved was: "If your husband is working hard to avert his eyes from every other sexual source besides his wife, not viewing any porn, not checking out the girl on the billboard, etc - he has a God-given need/desire/appetite to admire his wife’s naked body."

Today I will be sure not to push Loren away when he hugs me while I am attempting to do the dishes or cook dinner. I will be sure to soak in that love and affection, noting how precious I am to his heart.

Today's verse is huge and plays in my head so frequently: 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 "The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

Read 25 Ways to Communicate Respect Read Day 11 HERE

Photo by Tim Monson