I'm learning to find Him in the mess that is motherhood and marriage. The mess is beautiful much of the time, but it is still a mess. It is still chaotic and hard and challenging. It is still messy. A beautiful, imperfect mess.Read More
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
For the longest time, I was so confused by my entire self. Growing up, I was labeled an extravert. I accepted it and moved on, certain that that is what I am and how I have been made. But as I have gotten older and grown more into myself, I have found myself wondering if that was a big fat lie. I used to go to movies by myself and a few of my friends wondered if I was depressed or crazy, when in reality, I simply wanted to see a movie and didn't think to invite anyone.
I love people. I love humans. I love people. So when in a group of people, my heart aches to show people that by talking with them. I ask questions or answer theirs, I engage in conversations and do my best to let whoever is in front of me that they are worth my time.
And then I am drained and ready for a three year nap.
If given the opportunity, I would jump to be paid to read and write for the rest of my life. In a cabin in the woods? Pick me, pick me! [But there is this mission I am so committed to..] I decided I would place myself in the category I created "Confused Introvert" long ago. I was certain this was the place for me, because don't we just need labels and categories? It makes life so much easier [scofff]. My friends are convinced I am an extravert, so I let them believe what they want. Bliss.
My sister-in-law sent me one of those little freebie online tests to take, so duh, I took it in between editing two sessions of photos. LOW AND BEHOLD. I am no longer a confused introvert! My test results made my heart happy. I am a ISFJ-A whatever that even means, I already forgot what the letters stand for, and this is a snippet of what the authorities said:
"Naturally social, an odd quality for Introverts, ISFJs utilize excellent memories not to retain data and trivia, but to remember people, and details about their lives. ... ISFJs' ability to connect with others on an intimate level is unrivaled among Introverts... Oftentimes they don't actually enjoy managing others, but this can be one of their greatest strengths.."
My life has been forever altered and I feel so cured of my confusion. Obviously these people are professionals because they stated to me nearly all that I believe of myself. I think that you must go and take this test. Emily and I read up on each other's because, well, we are true friends that love knowing one another better. She is a gem.
So here it is! The personality test. It takes a good 10 minutes. Will you tell me what you are in the comments?!
HAVE A HAPPY TUESDAY.
When you pick up children and swing them around and around to make their giggles squeeze out of their smiles, my heart swoons and pauses and gives thanks. When you dance around, moving and flailing in ways that people would normally be too embarrassed to, I melt. When you live and love without abandon, relentlessly pursuing ways to value others, I am inspired. When you choose to sacrifice comfort and money in order to chase Jesus and His crazy calling, I yearn to be more like you. When you laugh in the face of trial, when your heart is light in the chaos of unknown circumstances, when you are hopeful when all seems lost... I praise Jesus for the spirit He has placed inside of you. Your spirit is free and honest, light and appealing.
My dear, my knees go limp when you run around with middle and high school students, telling them they are worth your time, by spending so much of your life with them, planning so many events for them, desiring to make space for them to encounter Jesus. My heart is bowed to its knees before Jesus when I witness you waking up at 6 am to take one of your guys to coffee before he needs to be at school, or when you go to the middle school talent shows, or when you stay up late in the evening on the phone with a student whose parents marriage is crumbling before his eyes.
Oh my heart, you have taught me so much in these four short years that I have loved you.
The way you laugh in the face of trial. The way you find light and joy in the midst of darkness. The way you focus on the good, the beauty, the goodness of Jesus, rather than the hard things that life throws at this world.
Above all, you have taught me to remember Jesus. To remember Him and know Him and find Him and love Him, because He makes life worth living.
Thank you for teaching me good things. Worthwhile things. Life changing things.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I am pausing my birth business (Doula + Birth Photography) and my Brenner Birth Care website is expiring soon. SO I thought I would save this hit-of-a-post and share it with you too!
It is my complete honor to introduce to you Josie Corliss. She is...one of the most hilarious human beings I have ever known. Also, she is wonderful at this thing called getting pregnant. She discovered that even though you have a vasectomy scheduled...you can still actually get pregnant. Free tip for ya. I on the other hand, have never been pregnant and have no way of possibly understanding what it is like to be at week 35 and wish your baby would just walk itself out of your body while asleep...she on the other (now we have two other hands...3 hands) hand has plenty of experience with this. So I asked her to share. You're welcome.
The Last Month of Pregnancy…or as I refer to it…The Last Billion Years Before Your Baby is Born…
There is, in my opinion, a very specific design to the last month of pregnancy. Having now been to the end of pregnancy four times I am convinced of this. That design is to make you miserable. You thought pregnancy wasn’t that great before? It’s about to get even more un-greater (yes I’m aware that’s not a word). This is on purpose. You are about to face one of the most mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging moments of your life (delivering a child through yourself), and the best way to make you ready? Make you so miserable that you will literally beg for it to happen to you.
Here’s a little bit what the last month of pregnancy is like:
Sleep: You can no longer sleep. Any sleeping you may be able to get is achieved through a pile of pillows bigger than a mountain and most likely involving a couch or recliner. You had heard from all your friends about how babies never sleep. Why did no one say anything about the last month of pregnancy? You were counting on this time to stay caught up on sleep to be ready to care for your infant. What gives? Training my friend, training. As mentioned before I am about to have my FOURTH child. What this means is I haven’t slept well since 2006. I was (maybe still am) a person that loves sleep. I am here to tell you, if this is your first child, that this last month is the beginning of a very long period of time when you long for sleep like you long for the weekend on Mondays.
Eating: Remember how eating used to be easy? Now most likely you get either heartburn or acid reflux just looking at tomato sauce. Or any other food that is flavorful in any way shape or form. What little sleep you may have been able to get will quickly disappear with a poorly timed slice of pizza. You are alternately starving or full after what feels like one bite. If it wasn’t for the starving part you are pretty sure you would just give up eating.
Dressing: Putting your underwear and pants on becomes some Cirque du Soleil-esq contortion act. Sometimes requiring more than one try. And shoes? Don’t even try to wear shoes that require a tie or a buckle, it’s not worth it.
Feeling the baby: Those cute little fluttery kicks you felt in the early part of pregnancy, take a sudden turn in the last month. It begins to feel like something out of the movie Alien and you are convinced your baby is in fact going to claw its way out of your belly.
Cleaning: It seems that every.single.blessed. house chore requires you to bend down. With your increased back pain and stretchy front ligament burn, these chores begin to sound like some form of torture. Once again though you are going to get a help from that design because you will suddenly be compelled to clean every nook and cranny of your house that you swear you’ve never even seen before. You will be on your hands and knees scrubbing your kitchen floor which suddenly can’t get clean enough with a mop. You will pay for this, and most likely regret it sometime in the next hour to day when you suddenly feel as if you have done 400 jumping jacks followed by a 10 mile run. Your waddle becomes extremely pronounced to where even the grocery store checkout lady looks at you sympathetically.
Speaking of grocery store checkers…somewhere in your last trimester random strangers will start saying things like “Oh looks like you will have that baby soon!” with increasing frequency and fervor. If you are like me, you start getting these comments about month seven, nowhere close to your actual due date, so by the time you’ve made it to two or three weeks away from your due date you have heard these comments approximately 700 times and have given up on the perfect witty comeback you were hoping would come to you in month seven.
All these things, one at a time, really aren’t that big of a deal. Together though they build and work together to make you feel willing to Google every possible wives tale about how to naturally induce at home hoping to get that baby out SOON. Here’s the deal though: remember that design? These things are here to push you to be absolutely ready to endure labor. Mostly because you are pretty sure labor doesn’t last forever. You may change your mind in labor, but at this point you are sure it seems like a short period of time. Getting though that last month of pregnancy is hard, but it’s supposed to be. You are embarking on one of the hardest journeys in life. Parenting requires so much selflessness, this last month that you spend being uncomfortable in your body almost every moment, will be your last few moments before you spend the next lifetime being uncomfortable in your heart, trying to balance the struggle of parenthood. This process begins the transition you will endure in more mental ways than physical when you do have that baby and while YOUR body is no longer keeping you from sleeping or eating what you want, your baby will. It’s painful in a new and different way. If this is your first time around let me give you some advice. Don’t be in a hurry. Easier said than done I well know, but seriously you are about to find out what hard really is.
Instead of Googling every symptom you are having, that you are sure means you will be or are currently in labor, take a nap. Go to the movie. Take a long, really long, shower. Get a pedicure. Read a book, oh for goodness sake read several books! Go out to a really quiet restaurant and eat your meal slower than you ever have, I mean I know at this point you can only eat about five bites, but take those five bites really.really.slow. Take a walk and appreciate the sounds of nature, pretty soon you’ll be taking those walks to the sound of a baby increasingly getting fussier and making you regret your decision to spend thirty minutes getting ready for a ten minute walk.
It’s okay to not love these moments. It’s okay to wish you weren’t pregnant anymore. However, try to be patient, try to understand that what your body is enduring is by design. Those aches and pains and Braxton Hicks are your body preparing, getting ready to do the most miraculous thing it ever has. You probably won’t enjoy it, but be present with it and let it change you in the ways it was designed to do.
So badly, I want to kiss little toes, blow raspberries on chubby bellies, smooch thunder thighs, and pour orange juice into my coffee as creamer because, well oops, I'm a tired zombie. I know, we are young and we have years and we have all of this life ahead of us, and please stop telling me 18 things to do before we have kids...my heart is called to Wifery and Momma, and that is that.
For me, saying those six words is scary. To write them is terrifying. To admit them is horrifying.
There was a day when I didn't think I would want to be a mom, for fear of messing them up so bad that I would have to pay for counseling rather than a college education.
I fear the day I wake up and realize I have been a busy-mother, filling our family's life up with so many things that we cannot see clearly or think clearly or live clearly. That our purpose and mission shifts from a pure heart to a busy heart ending in bitterness. I do not want to wake up and realize I have created more monsters of busyness, that I have perpetuated the machine of false-satisfaction.
I want to pull myself out of that machine. I'm tired of passing out my time like Halloween candy.
Loren is nearly 25, I am just 23. We ourselves are babies in the grand scheme of life, but time isn't slowing. Ghandi said that there is more to life than merely increasing its speed. But as we stepped our little lives into this big journey of adoption, I see that I have increased our life's speed ten fold. That I have taken on job after job (I counted and I have 6 part time jobs, SIX), filling every inch of my calendar with tasks and to do's and meetings and lists and things and things. Our society and culture perpetuates the deceit that the busier we are, the more important we are. The more stress we can handle, the better character we must have. The more responsibilities on our shoulders, the better the world is.
I call its bluff.
That is just as much deceit as the false notion that money is happiness.
Busyness is not success.
Busyness is not importance.
Monday, Loren and I drove to Newport. We set aside Mondays as our "Sabbath," our day off, nearly three years ago. But one of the part time jobs I have taken on has been stealing hours on Mondays. AKA: I have allowed it to. So we skipped town and said, "SORRY, we're not home. Out of service." Our drive to the beach was quiet, without many words spoken. My mind was prayerful and processing, trying to figure out what I have done to our life.
How do I keep getting caught in this cycle? Why am I so addicted to DOING? Why do I still believe I have to earn my salvation, my status (whatever that is...I'm a college-drop out, an ex-CNA that barely used her license, a house cleaner, an apartment dweller, a crazy plant lady)?
The instant we are filled, our first impulse is to be useful, to be kind, to give something away (Sabbath, Wayne Muller). But the moment we empty that fullness, pour it out unto others, and do not decide to fill ourselves back up..we cling to ourself, we hoard our love and our kindness, we frantically attempt to hold onto anything we can grasp. When we are running on empty, we become bitter and exhausted.
Bitter and exhausted and always fighting for more time is not who I want to be; its not the kind of mom I want to be, its not the kind of wife I want to be, its not the kind of human Jesus calls me to be.
So as Loren and I continue to take steps through this journey we all call life, we have decided to keep talking about this. To keep trying to cut ourselves from the addiction-machine-of-busyness, no matter how painful it is. Relearning to say no, to pray before accepting heavy responsibilities, to cutting back on stress. We must not feel guilty or shameful for spending an evening at home, without someone over. Or for saying "no."
I don't want to be someone who is so busy that she is deceived about her importance. [Embarrassing].
I don't want to be someone who checks her email instead of simply sitting with her husband, her family.
I don't want to be someone whose home is never clean because she is never there to tend to it.
I don't want to pretend that I am more important than I am. That the world will stop if I say "no." That my worth is derived from how full my calendar is.
I want to be a woman of peace, joy, freedom. To me, those women are the most beautiful, life-giving, Jesus-like women. I crave to live freely, laugh more than every now and then, to spend time in my home creating a safe place for others. My hope is to build new life-giving habits before our family tangibly grows from 2 to 3 or 4; I know we can't possibly have it altogether by that time, but can we have goals? I crave to give of my heart out of abundance, not emptiness, not out of bitter-exhaustion. To give of myself from being filled up by Him; in the quiet intimate moments of the morning light and through the afternoon slump of the day.
This isn't news, nothing we haven't known. Can we figure out how to dance this dance of life? How to work, pay the bills, live without busyness, and yet still be generous with who we are and our time and our gifts and our hearts, giving of who we are? How can we live life with a margin?
I am convinced we must make our way back to the true Sabbath. Sabbath isn't just one day off...but time set apart multiple times a week, daily, maybe for a few moments or for an entire day. Resting our hearts and entire self into His hands. Filling our selves up full of Him.
Rest was a precious ointment to Jesus, is a gift from Him. He made disciples, healed, taught and spent time with people...but just as often He sent people away, disappeared without warning, dismissed those in need without explanation, retreated to a place of rest and prayer. [See: Matthew 14:23, Luke 5:15-16, Mark 1:32-33, 35-36].
Jesus didn't wait for work to be finished or for everyone to be cared for. He paused in the middle of work and retreated to pray, to rest, to be filled by his Father. Jesus's wisdom wasn't muddied with busyness.
I want to learn from Jesus. I am certain we will find rest for our souls in Him.
I remember sitting on my bed on 28th street when I lived with my now sister-in-law and talking with Loren on the phone about adopting. We were in the simple phase of dating long distance and talking about our potential future and we both agreed that we would adopt a few babies to raise and love and learn from; we would build our family via adoption. We knew we weren't the saviors in the matter.
Since the day we said "I DO" in front of 200+ people almost three years ago, the conversation of adoption has continued and grown and become something so much more than a conversation - it is our current reality. We are so many things right now from thrilled to nervous to anxious to bouncing up and down to selling everything we don't "need" to scared to praying on our knees...all in the last 30 seconds. As we called our immediate family members over the last week to let them know that THIS IS HAPPENING, a few of them were brave and courageous and asked us really good questions.
Questions that you may have and that we will lay out flatly and plainly and as honest as possible right here for you. Because we know its often uncomfortable to ask, and when we don't ask what we want to know, we let our minds run and assume things that are often so far from the truth. That being said, I will answer some frequently asked questions at the very bottom of this post for those of you who want to know our deepest and not so dark secrets.
In January we began scouring the internet for the million and one ways we could go about this journey of adoption. THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT ROUTES. But we landed on one and we are excited to take you along for the journey!
May 11, 2015 we hired Susan. Susan is an adoption consultant through Christian Adoption Consultants. She has already been well worth the investment and we are barely two weeks into the official process. Susan is very important to this journey and you will most likely see her name here and there throughout the process. She is our guide, our advocate, our cheerleader, and our legal-master. AKA, she assures us that we are not doing anything illegal on accident and she assures that we are taking all of the right steps, as well as noting any precautions or major risks. Susan is a gift.
We have chosen to go the route of US Domestic Infant Adoption. This means that the baby we have the privilege of raising will be born somewhere in the United States and will be 6 months or under. This route will cost us around and up to $35,000. Yes. The cost of 3 really nice cars. And it will be so worth it. Fees regarding adoption are big and real, but we are not purchasing a child, we are paying legal fees just as you pay fees via a hospital/midwife if adding biologically.
There are a multitude of grants that are specific towards adoption which we will be applying for as soon as our home study is finished. Speaking of our home study, that is the very first big step! That process has officially begun and it is many things frightening and nerve wracking and exciting. We have sold so much of our random things that are unnecessary, clearing out our second bedroom (which is our actual nursery), and reorganized all of our storage! Talk about refreshing.
YOU GUYS. We need your help! And your neighbors help and your great aunt's help and your cousin's help. This is a miraculous thing we are joining God in, walking this road of adoption, and we cannot do it alone. We need you, you are important to this Team. We are kicking off our fundraising with what we call The Puzzle Fundraiser. It is personally a favorite idea I have ever seen, mainly because your name will be plastered all over our puzzle for us to remember forever.
You are the pieces of this puzzle!
And we need every single piece to make this puzzle complete. As you purchase pieces of the puzzles, you are integrating yourselves deeper into our story than we could ever understand. You are leaving marks on our history and family, building yourself into our baby's life.
We ordered this 720 piece puzzle of a photo I took in Austria and a favorite lyric that is from a song that is our heart's anthem during this process; this will be hung in our nursery. We are "selling" each piece for $25. Your name will be written on the back of each piece that you purchase (how cool would it be if there was an entire corner with your name on it?!) and once the puzzle is complete, we will put it in a double sided glass frame to showcase all of the people who made this adoption possible.
We know this is HUGE and giant and asking a lot. But we thought why not kick off this fundraiser with big goals and trusting in His ultimate provision?
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
Donate via check. Email us at email@example.com and we will send your our address to mail in a check.
3) Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized. We will build the puzzle as you donate the pieces.
Lord willing, when we finish this puzzle, we will be just over half way funded. Anyway you support us matters and counts.
QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED
Q: Are you adopting internationally or domestically?
A: Domestic infant adoption is the route we have chosen! We are pursuing this through Christian Adoption Consultants.
Q: Girl or boy?
A: We are wondering the same thing and dreaming of both! Maybe one of each? #winkyface
Q: Are you sure you don't want to go through the state? It's free.
A: Yes. We have done extensive research and are choosing this route. It is quicker and smoother, less risk in having a child taken out of our home once placed, and there is a greater chance of receiving a newborn - honestly, mainly because of selfish reasons.
Q: Is your only reason for adopting because of infertility?
A: No. Since we were dating we have dreamed of adopting. When we began our marriage, though we knew the possibility that my body would be a struggling one to conceive and carry life, we still believe that one day it will. And if it doesn't, that is a separate issue for us. Adoption is not a second option, or our back up, it is simply part of the journey we have hoped for. It hurts our hearts to know that this has been and may be some people's perception. We wish we could go out for coffee with each one of you and share our sheer excitement.
Q: Are you giving up on having biological children?
A: Absolutely not. We still hope to create Baby Brenners with our DNA. But like we said, adoption is not a second option, it is becoming a part of our life. Both biological and adopted children are our desires an will be "our own real children."
Q: Do you have a bunch of money saved up? Are you worried you won't have enough?
A: No we do not have a bunch of money saved up - we had the exact amount down to the penny to hire a consultant. From there, we sold a lot of unnecessary things in our home to apply for the home study; the amount for that was exact. Everything so far has been down to the exact penny provided for, no more and no less. So no, we are not worried that we won't be provided for -- God is bigger and clearly leading this.
Q: Are you too young for this? Why not wait a few years?
A: We have one life to live and we are not promised how many days are given to us. We are confident in our love for Christ as the foundation of our marriage and family. We believe we have a healthy marriage (joke's on us if we dont) despite how incredibly messed up we are. We both desire children, we both want to grow our family, we both feel called to step into this, no matter how unknowledgeable we are in parenting. You can't possibly be ready to parent, so let's just go for it. We have peace.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and join us in this journey! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email us.
Sweaty and heaving air in and out of my lungs, I write this update while sitting on a nearly empty bus to Paris. Its raining, which I currently love because I am not getting soaked. We nearly missed this bus; lets just say we probably gave many people the idea that Americans are idiots that run back and forth through an entirely large train station- oops. But I did stand in front of this large bus with my hands in the air as it drove down the street; we now sit safely on our bus. It was like a movie - I could star in some crazy dangerous movie. The passengers include Loren, one lady, and myself on a bus that seats 40. We sat somewhere near the middle, more towards the front. I plan to start and finish Paper Towns by John Green on this silent six hour trip.
Brenner blood : a certain type of blood that runs thick in veins and straight through hearts. It is undeniable and gives permission such as emailing perfectly seeming strangers and making them into dear friends with memories made. Brenner blood, the more I familiarize with it, is wholly generous and completely hospitable. All of the Brenners that I meet are those beautiful things.
Our time in Berlin was short but long lasting in memory. Loren and his cousin Stephan met for the first real memorable time in 12 years - the last time they glanced at each other was briefly across the yard at a huge Brenner reunion in San Jose. Stephan gave us the first story of his home as our space; the hospitality in Germany is top notch, friends. I have learned so much.
Stephan rented us bikes for the two days and gave us a bike tour of All The Important Things, including one of the bunkers used in WWII. It happened to also be Mai Fest (May Day) so we celebrated the night into May with 50,000+ other people.
Part of the Berlin Wall.
One of the (precisely) 3 prayers that I lit a candle for in the old churches that offered such moments.
Standing in the middle of the Holocaust memorial which consisted of a multitude of large cement stone blocks varying in size.
Pommes at the Brandenburg Gate
An old train station that was bombed during WWII.
This little square of bean bag chairs and bookshelves is the memorial for where the books were burned
Check Point Charlie
There stands the last of the oldest German traffic lights over yonder!
We stepped off the train and into platform 5 of Duisburg unsure what face we were looking for.
Loren's dad (Ralph) has a cousin living in north western Germany, Moers, and we connected with the family via the great World Wide Web. We slowly walked towards the stairwell leading to the underground breezeway, hoping we would somehow recognize a human we had never met or laid eyes on. We weren't even Facebook friends. But Brenner blood runs thick with love.
Suddenly through a mass of travelers, submerges a quick woman, smiling and obviously recognizing us. Embracing us in the warmest and most sincere hug ever, she kissed our cheeks and I thought, "This must be Andrea. I like Andrea."
Moers is a small town similar to the size of Corvallis. Andrea and Franz have lived here all of their life, currently raising two beautiful kids (Christopher, 18 and Anika, 12). This family is nothing short of a gift. Their hospitality exceeds many I have experienced and their hearts are inviting. Just as quickly as they welcomed us into their home, they welcomed us into their hearts. They even read up on this blog here and purchased me gluten/dairy free bread! The love is for real, folks. What an honor to claim such people as family.
Andrea and Franz decided to take us the 18 minute drive to Venlo, Netherlands. They said, "it's not everyday you can take a day trip to the Netherlands for their pommes and shopping!" Down the autobahn we went, entering a fourth foreign country (the third unplanned), ready to devour pommes. They were some dang good pommes.
Also, we went to the best shopping store ever; I got 3 scarves, shoes, a purse, socks and Loren got 3 shirts and a sweater...all for just $35. So obviously next time I want a cheap shopping trip, I will head to the Netherlands. Their coffee is also ridiculously low priced. On our way back to Moers, Germany, we stopped to meet more family. Loren's Opa's brother, aka Ralph's uncle, among other wonderful humans who share their blood. The barrier of language hardly held us at bay; with Loren's broken German and a few of their broken English and a whole lot of smiles and hand movements, we communicated. It was a unique moment for me as I watched generations of Brenners meet and talk and share stories of loved ones. I couldn't help but think how blessed I am to now be a Brenner.
Brenner blood runs thick and apparently there are tons of them spread throughout Germany.
Here's something crazy: this man Edmund was in a coma for 10 days, his heart stopped beating for something like 14 minutes, declared dead. The doctors shocked him with those iron-like equipments and now, 2 months later, he walks around no problem. Amazing. He said that while he was out of commission, he was walking around and asked God, "Where am I?" And God said, "Time to go back."
Our time in Moers will forever be cherished. We do hope to return. (Also, Franz and Andrea, if you are reading this, be sure to let Annika and Chris know they should come stay with us).
It is difficult to recap quickly what life beholds, yeah?
Did you know that in Germany the traffic lights blink red to yellow then to green? And white asparagus is huge and widely known here, also tastes nothing like green asparagus. Interesting, I know.
Revoir mes, petits amis!
We strolled the last few streets in the Czech Republic and I noticed her ferociously scrubbing the bottom of a building wall. Painted creamy white, nearly egg shell, I wondered why she was even trying to remove the paint that was stained into her building.
The only sensible way to remove it was to cover it up with fresh paint, bandage it, pretend it did not exist.
Berlin drowns in graffiti.
At first glance, graffiti ruins the beauty of what was meant to be seen. It demolishes the designer's plan, frustrates the one who believes he is in control. Graffiti leaves its mark, the maker's mark, claiming itself to be remembered for as long as it is visible.
Sometimes the marks of graffiti remain visible for an entire lifetime. Sometimes it is impossible to forget and completely demolish the mark.
Graffiti, no matter how ugly or offensive (or beautiful and lovely), is built into the stone. We cannot fully and completely remove graffitin art. We can paint new coats on top, bandaging the thing we deemed as unworthy to be seen, but soon enough, more graffiti will replace the fresh coat of pure paint.
Graffiti is inevitable it seems.
Even on a wall so rich in history, so important to a country.
Graffiti on the walls of our lives are disguised as vandalism. We cannot remove the graffiti, the unwanted art being painted so violently or silently, that is being etched into the stone walls of our lives. No matter how gravely we despise the graffiti, no matter how unplanned and unwanted, the story is being painted upon us and we have little say in what it looks like.
We do not craft the way of our own journey, no matter how severely we feel entitled to.
Though we do not choose the color or image of the paint plastered into the parable that we live, we do have the freedom of response.
Some respond with fresh coats of paint, attempting to bandage and cover up the ugly and unwanted. Others ignore the graffiti completely, pretending it does not exist; while others add to the graffiti, numbing ugly with ugly, pain with pain. Some embrace the paint as art, the damage deemed as refinement, and make something beautiful of it.
Not always does one jump to seeing the beauty in the art of graffiti, the graffiti grafted into the glimpses of life, disguised as vandalism but residing as grace. It takes practice and discipline to honestly and immediately see pain as grace, graffiti as art.
I will not pretend that I see all of the graffiti etched into my journey as beautiful art; not yet anyways. I accept that one day, [some day, whether near or far], I may look back at the scribbles and doodles and irrevocable incisions imprinted into my heart and see beauty. I may marvel at what once ripped me to pieces and broke me in half. And then in half again. But I am not yet at that place of beautiful brokenness, charming wholeness.
That place of constant delightful goodness is freeing and light, joyful and attainable. I know because I once resided there so carelessly, so freely, so easily and naturally. Confidence assures me that we will be there again someday. Fear tells me I should pretend I already am. Integrity begs for honesty.
So for now, I will walk the road and peek into the puddles to see reflections of the sky so blue and clouds so silky, soaking in the small gifts that I am able to honestly see, while the walls covered in graffiti escort me to the next chapter. I believe at the end of the chapter [or maybe not until the end of the story], I will come to the end of myself. And at the end of myself is the opening of the hands, which leads to surrender. Surrender ushers in grace.
The graffiti walls lead us to grace. Somehow and somewhere, there is always grace in the graffiti.
Life isn't all cappuccinos (that are even Natalie-friendly) and pretty buildings that make you swoon. But Europe is. Rothenburg ob der Tauber proved itself worthy of the title One Of The Most German Cities Ever. All of its buildings were basically original and perfectly German. The place was a dream, our stay was wonderful.
This trip has been a gift of slow paced thinking. No work, no meetings, no rushing, no real to do's or to dont's, no editing photos, no cleaning the toilet or laundromatting. I love my life at home, very much so. It is nothing short of blessed; but having a break is also nice. The only rushing is to trains or buses, but that's fun, adventure like.
I have asked Loren almost everyday if he would still like my face if I got a hoop in my lip. His reaction remains the same: unenthused. So then I inquire about dreads, something I have always loved, and his reaction is the same. Guess I will remain dreadlock-lipring-free. Having my husband see me as cute is important to me, obviously.
We visited another church while in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This church is over 800 years old, or something crazy like that. To say that these old churches silence my soul and calm my spirit is an understatement. The stone statues of Jesus and Mary and His disciples always bring my heart to its knees in awe. I cannot help but stare up at them, as though I owe them something. I am thankful for the reverence that is welcomed, the deep thinking that is inevitably stirred, the honest experience of His calming peace and presence, letting me know that He is here. To be candid, I have been having a hard time recognizing that as Reality. I'm not worried or doubtful, just honest and stubborn on this Life Road. And I have this confidence that He can handle it when we are honestly seeking; that He welcomes honest hearts of wrestling if it means close knitted souls in the end. Being in these ancient buildings makes it easier for me to see He is here, because His fingerprints are everywhere. For centuries, He has been here, loving us so patiently and freely. These ancient churches make me feel small and insignificant, remind me that I am but a vapor, and yet He sees me.
Can you imagine sitting here every Sunday to worship? It totally happens - and the organ is played.
The thing about traveling is that you leave to do lists and loved ones at home to pause life and see the world, but your heart and past come with you. And if you cling too tightly to your past, you have no room for your present. My mind has slowed and I've finally given myself permission to begin processing Certain Present Things again. Allowing myself to feel what I numbed for the two weeks leading up to this trip. Yes, this trip is full of amazing buildings and peaceful walks and dreamy towns and thick accents and romance and so much bread to covet...but it also contains a process of grief. Bittersweet. And it is certainly nice to have space and a little time to do so.
It is confusing to be on such an amazing adventure and have this weight of lostness clawing at me, residing as a monster where my heart and stomach should be. I battle feeling downright soul-ugly, but then He reminds me that I'm okay, I am His.
We're walking through severe loss on a road that feels quite lonely; I am a foreigner in a land with people I do not know and I almost feel free to express to myself what I truly feel. I didn't realize how caged I am. Caged inside of my own Self.
Yesterday morning we made some sweet potatoes, eggs, avocado and tomatoes for breakfast, jumped on a train and headed to somewhere busy. I grabbed us some McDonald's cappuccinos and met Loren by the bus - our schedule was changed and we had two nights to spare before heading to Berlin, so we got on a four hour bus ride to Prague, Czeck Republic.
Germany is beautiful. Graffiti is everywhere, but I barely notice it in comparison to the unique buildings and cobblestone roads. The people here are generally quiet and seem to be good at enjoying present life. They seem present. Aware. Almost always soaking in whatever scenery is before them. The part of Germany we have been in this week (southern) has a lot of little villages hidden in nooks of forestry, with rivers or creeks running through them. Water is my favorite.
There are castles in many of the towns.
God and I have been having honest conversations. He is shifting things around in me, changing chunks of my soul, rearranging my thinking. My priorities are slowly and slightly shifting and it's scary, because change is not comfortable, but it feels right in my heart.
Aside from a certain continual ache within my being that I will not pretend doesn't exist, this birthday was by far the most memorable. Loren took me to Cafe L for fruit and cappuccino, then on a dreamy paddle boat ride down the river in Tubingen. We sat and we peddled and we laughed and we smiled and we chatted and we enjoyed the peaceful calm.
Loren got us another Air B & B in for the night in a little village named Buhl. The 25 minute bus ride was beautiful; we drove through country fields of horses and green grass and yellow flowers and farm homes. Pulling into the village center we asked the first man we saw if he knew where a street was; he quickly pointed his finger and we were on our way. It wasn't long before the majestic castle shouted, "here, here, your host home is here!" Our eyes locked with sheet joy and we took a few more steps forward before Jurgen stepped around a tall square bush and exclaimed, "You must be Loren!" (Except it sounded like Loraine, which was wonderful). His English was nearly perfect, lacking a heavy German accent. Jurgen was jolly.
The front yard was pure bliss and I wondered what the inside of this gigantic German home looked like. I wanted to adopt these friendly people as my aunt and uncle. And this village as my own. So the room and everything about it was perfect:
Jurgen encouraged us to try the German restaurant down the cobblestone walk, around the corner, and through the gate. So we did and we ate the best pommes. Among other yummies things.
In the morning, the birds and sun greeted us equally as wonderfully. Monika made us breakfast which we devoured happily.
Saturday we sprinted to our bus which was wonderful because I haven't ran in way too long. (So about that marathon training..) Grabbed some cappuccinos and boarded trains to the very northwest part of the Austrian alps.
We first stopped in a small island village on Lake Constinence, Lindau. This town was cuter than cute. When walking out on this ledge to the lookout, one view was of the snowy alps and the other of a gorgeous town.
Next we entered Bregenz where the gandala awaited to take us up to the alps. From the top of the mountain you can see Switzerland and Germany (and Austria) and the curvature of the earth.
This morning we worshiped with a bunch of Germans. This church is over 800 years old.
We said tschuss tschuss to Tubingen today, which means we also had to say goodbye to our dear friend Tony.
After a four hour train ride, our Air B&B host picked us up at the station and dropped us off down in the village center. We were now in the village that I have been most looking forward to - Rothenburg. This town was the little place my good old cousin Walt Disney based Pinocchio off of. It ALSO was where parts of the Deathly Hallows was created. HARRY POTTER, PEOPLE!
I thought Buhl captured my heart...but this town, this town has stolen my heart forevermore.
It's 12:30 am and I am exhausted. Thanks for checking in and following along on our great adventure! Be praying for us, for our hearts to be close to Him and one another - that as we travel, we would continue to be selfless and caring for one another.
If you have any questions, fire away in the comments! I will do my best to answer them within a reasonable amount of time.
It's my birthday! Today we celebrate the day my strong momma literally pushed me from the dark and into this world, the light. I feel extra loved today as we sit in Cafe L while sipping a [caffeine free, dairy free - don't judge me] cappuccino at a long wooden table with sun warming me.
Last night Tony [long time friend], Max [German student, Tony's roommate], Loren, and I sipped Spanish wine and toasted Happy Birthday, Gubertstag, at midnight -- apparently you celebrate into your birthday here. I found myself sitting among 3 amazing men while they sang to celebrate me in two different languages, and the appreciation was real. I won't soon forget this birthday.
So much has happened since Saturday the 18th at 6 am. We traveled a good long while...the hours calculated, I am unsure. The flight from Seattle to Frankfurt was 10 hours and sometime during those hours we gained half a day and were 9 hours ahead. When we landed at 11 am, my watch read 2 am.
We made our merry way to the baggage claim, brushed our whites pearly, and set off for what we thought were simple directions to our first stay [Vilma, Air B&B]. Vilma has been writing in German and sticking those words straight through English translator; this is all good and cherries until google translates walk [street] names or tram stops into English. Exhausted and ready to sleep for years, we didn't think to take notice. By the grace of God we got off at the correct tram stop. As we released tourist-like semblance, an African refugee woman took us under her wings and stepped in as godmother. "Your host lives on a cemetery?" She asks bewildered. "No, no, she simply put the German through google translation and that is what it came out as. Do you know a street named 'Forest Dig?'" Shaking her head, she was clearly flabbergasted and wonderfully delightful. As we slowly paced our way, Loren mentioned something about us being foreigners. That is when she lulled the now legendary, "Oh child, we are all foreigners."
When we found Vilma's home, it was similar to finding gold while panning in the river. She welcomed us with open arms and warm hugs; it was as though we were old friends visiting from ages past. Immediately we were encouraged to remove our shoes and step into her slippers. It's the German way, we learned.
Our stay with Vilma in Frankfurt was perfect for our jet lag recovery. We went on long walks through the nearby parks, which were full of pigeons, trees, flowers and benches. I could see myself living there very easily as I fell in love with the simple neighborhood, welcoming to families and a quiet lifestyle.
Our room at Vilma's was on the third (of 4) small floors of her home; windows big, inviting sun, fresh tulips, and birds showing off their gifts of music. She invited us to sit on her back patio in the garden area and sip [carbonated] lemon water. When Vilma sent us off on our cheery way, Shem quickly put together an amber heart necklace, which I later learned is a huge act of kindness and love in the Lithuanian culture [where Vilma grew up].
Tuesday we traveled to Tony [one of Loren's best friends] who currently lives in Tubingen. This town is pure romance for us tourists. Cobble stone roads, old cracked buildings, absolutely breathtaking. It reminded me of Brugges, Belgium. We explored the Tubingen castle, an ancient monastery in a near by village, and old town.
Tony invited us to join him for his worship night Tuesday, put on by his student group, Unterwegs, which means "along the way." Their office is great - in the basement is where worship was held, but they also watch movies and have a kitchenette down there. The main floor is open for students to hang out and use their wifi, sip coffee or tea. Upstairs is the office. So much light through the windows! We also joined Tony last night [Wednesday] for Cafe English at one of the pubs. Basically, it's an event Unterwegs hosts to invite students to - it's a time to practice their English and learn about American culture through games likes scategories or trivia. Our table had 4 German students, all studying American Studies. It was an odd moment to realize that their entire degrees are based off of and learning about our American and English culture. Are we that interesting?
Tubingen's mark platz.
I met a new friend, Jasmin [pronounced Yaz-mean]! She contacted me via this lovely space of mine awhile ago and lives in Tubingen. Jasmin is wonderful and beautiful and all things lovely. She even loves Jesus! It's wonderful meeting people face to face. Turns out, she sees our friend Tony nearly everyday. This world, so small. Our God, so big.
Sadly for me, I won't be posting this on my actual birthday. I forgot my phone in Frankfurt which has been a mixture of not mattering at all and yet a hassle at times, since it carries vital information and some fun photos of travels. I also forgot my USB card reader. Therefore, I ordered one on amazon because amazon owns the world and it should be arriving tomorrow, along with my phone, in the mail! What what.
Loren is about to take me on some boats....I know, so romantic, but I want to add in some first impressions I wrote down along the way. Impressions are just that: impressions that are subject to change.
Ready? First impressions:
1. Everyone we have asked for help from has been welcoming and kind; though not all of them have been able to help because of language barriers, we did not leave their presence with sour tastes.
2. Germany loves fresh flowers! There are flower stands everywhere, along with fresh fruit. It's refreshing. In nearly every home we have been in or seen, there have been fresh tulips. Even in the windows, there are masses of flowers. I love the flowers and fresh fruit stands.
3. We walk way too fast. We noticed that we are just going going going, while everyone around us seemed to be taking it slow, strolling to their destination and enjoying their time walking.
4. Take your shoes off right when you walk in a home and leave them by the door.
5. LACE. All the lace. I loooooove this part - in nearly every window there are no blinds, but only lace or sheer fabric. It is elegant and quaint and I plan to bring some home as a souvenir for our home. Because why not.
6. A lot more people smoke than we are used to, which is fine, just an observation. also, you can smoke in restaurants if you're sitting outside. Same with alcohol - there is no brown bag law.
7. America is so far the only country I've been to that has toilet seat covers - not Germany, England, Belgium, France, Canada, Mexico. We are really worried about our butt skin and not the environment.
8. There are never paper towels to dry your hands...just odd blowers that disguise themselves as long metal sticks that are attached to the facet.
9. The public restrooms toilet paper isn't locked up...they trust us.
11.The sleeping patterns are as follows: bed time - 1 am to 2 am, wake up - 9 am to 10 am.
I adore my husband and am so honored to be a foreigner with him. He has been practicing his German for awhile now and is doing a superb job of getting us around as well as making sure I eat non-poisonous foods. Well!
Off to boats on the river and new exploring. My soul is full.
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.
Since the dawn of our precious union, Loren and I have been saving for two colossal dreams: adoption and a trip to Germany. We fundraise most of our income to be employed at Corvallis Church, so the money supporting us each month is precious and very much not ours, but His. That is something that I have learned time after time: it is not mine, so why would I worry, and why would I be careless with it? The money is His and so am I, and He cares more for me more than nickels and dimes.
Each month we have done our best to set aside $10-20 towards each of those substantial desires. With our first tax return, we eagerly put 3/4 of it into a savings account with the hope to save enough over the years to travel our little butts to Germany on our 10th year anniversary - that was the goal, though we knew it could be ripped out from under us at any moment. We weren't entitled to this ambition, we weren't clinging to it for dear life as if we owned it, we simply saved with the hope to make it there someday, but also knowing the reality that it may need to be used towards something greater.
You guys. Some way, some how, some reason, a couple in our family decided to generously gift us with the remaining balance to send us on our merry way to the grand land of Germany. This year, this month, THIS WEEK. Seven years earlier than we would have been able to. My mind freezes flabbergasted at the phenomenon that I am flying to Europe for the second time - this time with my beloved husband. This year of 2015 has handed me grief, knocking me to my knees which I will later unravel...but what a treasure to uncover rest and unfold adventure in a country that I have never been to? Plus, I will get to greet new faces with bright white teeth, nothing but warm smiles, because, hello, LANGUAGE BARRIER.
The tickets for this trip were booked last fall, thank you family. We placed it in the back of our minds and planned to plot the trip when the time was near. Like a June-bug on a windshield, April 1 hit and someone said, "Hey aren't you going to Germany soon?" At that point we thought, "WE NEED TO PLAN THIS THING!" As we began to prepare to leave, a deep and unwelcome sense of guilt and shame began to settle in. This sense of shame had been nagging at the back of my heart whenever I thought of this trip, but now it was unfurling itself ten fold with the approaching trip. Who am I to think that we can go to Germany so young in our marriage? Who are we to just up and leave our church community for a few weeks? What will people think of us? Are we so spoiled that we get to go to Germany? We do not deserve this. We could be giving this money to the poor. GUILT GUILT GUILT GUILT SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME. One day it dawned on me: whether I choose to carry this unnecessary shame with me or not, I am going to Germany. It would be a shame to not fully enjoy the trip, because I am allowing the sin of fear to creep in. And who says that God isn't in Germany, who says that pastors and ministry leaders aren't allowed real vacations?
Oh unnecessary lies that crop up and attempt to steal, kill, and destroy.
Three days remain, full of meetings and to do's and appointments and bible studies and precious people that I adore, before we step onto a plane for 10 hours. At the end of that 10 hours we will set foot in Frankfurt, Germany and our adventure will fully begin. We will meet family members, visit friends, and stay a few nights here and there in Air B&B's. I will turn 23, TWO-THREE, such a baby I feel and yet at the same time how am I 23 and married for 3 years? We will ride bikes and snap photos and write and rest and refresh and reset. We will see Him in Europe, in His people across the ocean, in His creation that is radiantly glorious, shouting His Name.
bis später, meine freunde
Not only are the dishes scattered on every available surface, but they are covered in crusty chunks of food that is going to be a real pain to pick off. Chunks that won't simply fall off with the heat of water hitting their existence...chunks of food that are actually super glued with sauce to the plate. The croc-pot has been "soaking" in
hot cold water for the last four days, waiting for my attention. The dishwasher's green light has been lit up since Sunday, signaling that the clean dishes await their homes in our too-small of cupboards. The trash resides in the middle of the kitchen, filling an Amazon box that once held $20 boots (because my 3 year hand me downs had holes in them...correct I do not purchase a new pair with each season). The brown rings in the toilet? I see them and I have decided they won't jump out as a dragon to kill anyone. Don't mind the piles of books and loose papers and randomness. Yes, you do actually see a pop-sickle stick licked almost clean on the carpet. No, we don't even have children. And exercising! Who even has the energy to wake up at 5 am to go on a run anymore? And then there is blogging....blogging is time consuming and scary and big and sometimes feels like, "Why am I even trying to write? Does this matter? People are better than me. People have cooler lives than me with cooler stories and much more AWESOMENESS. Whine whine whine, inadequacy inadequacy inadequacy. "
To read more of this post, head on over to A Beautiful Exchange Blog.
When I purchased your wedding band three short years ago, I requested them to etch a few words into the white gold that you would wear for the rest of your life. As I wrote the words I so carefully picked out to place into the ring, the lady across the cold glass counter stared at me. She asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes." I replied plainly. "Yes, of course I am sure!"
[Let's get wrinkly]
were the words I paid to engrave into that white gold ring.
Wrinkly is not simply a goal, but a thrilling and frightening dream. A dream that seems so far and yet too near. A supreme dream that seems simple and almost easy, but discretely daunting and serious, extremely. You see my dear, I am honored to grow old with you, to be on your team. I hear that there are hard years, smoother years, sick years and healthy years. I see there is pain and I have seen there is joy - some we have experienced, deeply and unfortunately, but the key part of the beauty is the word, "we." Together. We have many years before us. We are such babies and I cannot imagine with the good Lord Jesus has in store for us.
Sometimes while I am getting my face ready to greet the day, you join me in the tiny space we call our bathroom. You pull me in close, your arms tight around me, and you place your head near my neck so that we are cheek to cheek. We stare into each others eyes through the mirror that coexists as our toothbrush cabinet. And we smile. We sit in that place of togetherness because our hearts reside there, safely. Tucked into the other. Often while we are doing this thing of sticking close and staring at the togetherness, I do my best to soak in the skin that currently protects our bodies - it is soft and smooth, nearly wrinkle-free. There are minor blemishes. I know that too soon, I will stare into that mirror and wonder when those wrinkles arrived. I know that too soon, we will be cheek to cheek and our wrinkles may be overlapping. I will do my best to be okay with this. Because with you, I am growing old.
And those wrinkles will be a trophy proclaiming, "We fought for our marriage. We worked hard and we are where we are, together. We had hard conversations and honestly painful days. We chose one another over self, day after day, we chose love even when we felt far from it. We denied our desires to flirt with others, to see what it would be like to be with someone else. We saw the big picture, instead of just what was before us. We walked through valleys and darkness...and through it all He held us together holding hands. And these wrinkles are our trophy."
I have agreed, vowed, that marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. I am understanding that life is fragile, even but a vapor - over these last few months, we have learned that so much deeper. I want to learn these painfully difficult lessons with you nearest to my heart, you holding my hand [wrinkle-free or not], you pulling me close to remind me that you are here and not going anywhere.
I will not imagine growing old and wrinkly with anyone but you.
I look forward to swallowing our vitamins every morning with each other as a life long routine. You making coffee ever so carefully; me making eggs ever so scrambly. I dare to say we may never live by the world's term of grandly, but I will gladly live plainly by your side, growing old. Even wrinkly.
With a heart loving yours,
This letter is part of The Letter Link-Up. They are written to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment with the chance to shed light on your heart.
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.
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.
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.
It is that specific day that we celebrate and honor the vows we made to one another. The vows that were spoken only two and a half short years ago, but were made with such certainty, such high hopes, such excitement. When we spoke those vows into motion, I knew that we would face times of trial and struggle and tension...I knew that a great marriage wasn't easily achieved, that it takes years and decades of building life together, of navigating this journey of life as one. I knew that we would have adventures and surprises and discover more of who Jesus is, together. But I did not know what exactly those adventures, surprises, or trials and tensions would exist to be. And that was [and is] part of the great adventure. That was part of the excitement: we had a world of uncertainties and a wide open road of LIFE to pursue together.
Me and you [a brand new family unit] creating and forming a legacy.
I cherish you, may I tell you a few reasons why?
Right now I am watching you piece together a board game for us to play and your excitement for this game is so adorable to me. I adore you - you are adore-able. I fall for the way you squish your lips up real fat for me to kiss them while squinting your eyes. Your vision for not only making stronger students, but stronger families grips my heart and makes it soft. The way you talk about sweet Brenden, when your eyes light up about Jeremy and Kyle and Jake and all the other guys you believe in...it makes my heart swell with pride to be married to you. Our raw conversations that stir up pain as we walk through trial also bring me hope because you are true and honest and vulnerable; and in those rare moments I feel like the luckiest woman alive: you trust me with your heart. I hold dear the way you cannot lie or keep a secret to save your life, your lips quiver with the truth you are trying to conceal, and I know that you are inches away from busting into laughter. Your laughter is loud and often obnoxious; you can hear it from the other building. But it was one of those things I noticed that first week we met - I noticed that you laugh loudly and without shame, your joy radiates from your entire being, ricocheting from you onto anyone around you. It invites us into a place of freedom-joy, a place of light-heartedness.
What I have been discovering myself treasuring is when you interrupt my attempt to get ready for the day. You walk right up to me and you hug me so tight that I cannot move. You're asking me to stop all that I am doing, to pause my routine and see you, hug you, be close to you. You invite me into this place of togetherness for just a few moments. Though sometimes I squirm and the words of hurry and late and work slip from my mouth with slight irritation...I need you to pause life to hug me, to embrace me, to pull me close to you and let me know that this is important. Me and you, together, is worth being a little later than I planned. You are worth it. Our marriage is worth it.
I used to push back and say I wouldn't be too mushy and annoying and overly gushy-lovey-dovey to you online...but here I am. I always told myself I wouldn't call myself your Valentine - but why? That is what I am. And I am proud to be yours; being married to you is my highest honor.
I still find myself staring at you in disbelief that I have you for life; that I am safe and covered by a covenant that we made before 200 people. Though we have not experienced decades together, I still cherish you. I am thankful to live life with you, to learn with you, to be humbled with you, to grow into beautiful humans together. I do not want us to take this for granted, this thing of marriage and companionship and life-together. I vow to continue pursuing you and searching for ways to serve you.
I love you, Loren Brenner.
Forever your Valentine & unashamed to claim it, Natalie
Day one of what I foresee as a powerful week is coming to a close and my mouth is craving some bacon and eggs. I felt a little saliva being produced as I typed that. [Our church is doing a corporate week of prayer & fasting]. But this is about more than denying my self my favorite foods; I also decided to deny myself the social medias I am addicted to: Facebook, Instagram, and I threw Twitter in there because why not. We also decided to skip watching any movies this week - our late night movies to wind down will be replaced with reading and praying. I share these things because I am excited. I am hopeful. I am refreshed. I want to invite you to do this same thing: deny yourself something that you are addicted to; spend that time praying and reading your Bible and seeking the heart of Jesus. Jesus is enough...He satisfies.
Today I spent a lot of time praying over our marriage, looking back, looking ahead, and asking questions. It's our day off so we ventured into the beautiful hills of Corvallis and hiked through the Lewisburg Saddle. Holding hands, we prayed, we chatted, we walked in silence. AND I LOVED IT. We spent some time sharing a few different ways we could serve one another, better than we have been. And for this, I am thankful. We each hold this unique position that no one else in the world has the privilege of: being one another's spouse. We get to know the other more than any other human, we get to serve the other in unique and powerful ways, we get to build up and cherish one another more than any other human being that walks this earth. Today I needed that reminder, and that is what I was given.
The THING that is shouting most into my heart is the need to keep our marriage sacred. In order to do this, we must set down our screens. Our phones, our computers, our TV. When we look into the screen, we lose sight of the very real presence that exists around us. We forget real life. When we exit the screen, our brains are still so caught up in whatever was on the screen and we don't know what to talk about. We allow our brains to go into a world that isn't one another, isn't right here and right now, and our hearts grow numb. Our hearts callous. This is no new thing. This is something I've known, but am feeling urgency to address.
It is also ironic that this very thing you're reading is promoting the thing I am fighting to be addicted to: SCREEN TIME.
When driving, walking, sitting together, I want to choose conversation. I want to keep marriage sacred. Existing soul to soul. Denying the temptation to forsake one another, by picking up a screen. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek talks a lot about the current generation and how we are dopamine-driven -- that we are addicted to the dopamine hormone hits we receive from the world of Facebook. The moment dullness sets into our present reality, we go to the dopamine-driven world of social media. We forsake the present, the people, the lives before us. Even our spouses. Even my spouse. I forsake my marriage and the importance of Loren when I continuously pick up my phone instead of exist with him. With these actions, I am saying, "Sorry, you're not enough, Facebook is."
EMBARRASSING, YEAH? But raw honest truth.
When I think of keeping my marriage sacred, I think of a couple I very much cherish - Kent and Diana. They have an added room to their home; the conservatory. It has windows surrounding its entirety and a glass ceiling. Light comes in from all angles. It's my favorite place. Ever. It's no wonder they spend time in that precious space holding hands, sipping tea, praying, enjoying breakfast. They do not have screens glued to their very hands. They sit together and remain fully present. The other day I asked Diana what they spend their time talking about. She laughed and exclaimed, "Oh Golly! Well...everything!" Because they are not driven by the dopamine hits of social media or sending emails or texting this one person this piece of information that their life depends on, they are driven by conversation with one another. They knit their hearts so closely together, stitch by stitch, word by word. Sharing life.
Do I think we need to build a conservatory off of our apartment? Yes. But do I believe that is the answer to stitching two souls closer? No. I am convinced it is because they remain fully present; their hearts towards Christ. They cultivate a deeper friendship than many I've witnessed. I desire this deep friendship, this sacred marriage. I crave to keep my marriage protected, pointed towards Jesus, centered around Him.
In order to do that, I must rid myself of this addiction to the screen.
How do you keep your marriage sacred? Do you find it embarrassing to admit that you are addicted to the screen?
It did usher in something; like the clear crisp mornings we have been enjoying this January, your job transition has cleared up our foggy attempt at serving humans after you already spent a full day pouring yourself into dangerous and troubled youth...and it cleared up the weight you feel resting upon your heart. Cleared up as in made known - your calling to serve Corvallis Church was affirmed. As your hours transitioned from the Farm Home to serving this church, it dawned on me that we are a really good team. It became a new time of serving others, inviting in more people, meeting with more beautiful and amazing humans, but forgetting to see one another face to face. Our hearts were not being stitched closer as they once were; we were easily irritated with one another, and that bothered me. It hit me: we must spend sacred time together, just me and you and Jesus, or we will forget we are married and simply exist as a team. It's so easy to live side by side, working together and pouring ourselves out...all the while forgetting to stand soul to soul and see the most important human before our very eyes, forsaking intimacy.
Working together is beautiful and I have no words to explain what an honor it is. It is a rare gift that I don't want to take lightly and it knits us together in unique ways. I cannot imagine spending my time doing anything else right now - sitting side by side with you, praying with a couple or a hurting student or planning youth events and talking about ways others can see Jesus is my favorite thing. I mean that with all that I am. But like the bone chilling crisp air, I was reminded to my core how important time with you is. Time not in front of a screen or planning the next best thing. I want to set my cell phone down while we are together and in the car so I'm not distracted.
I crave to spend time face to face, soul to soul; playing games or praying or going on runs or taking walks or dreaming up life or sitting across from one another at a coffee shop...without our computers or books or a list of to-do's. It can be difficult to justify this as good time spent, when it seems we are together so often. But the sticky thing is, we are together with many others, often forsaking those vulnerable and intimacy building moments that are so necessary. So my dear, let us spend time together. Let us go on a date and spend a night away and play games together. Let us protect our marriage.
I'm convinced marriage is more fragile than we can comprehend and I don't want to forsake it. A fragile entity that must be handled with care, vulnerability, humility, integrity. It is a precious gift we should not neglect. So let us continue to chase Him together; let's be married and keep falling in love with one another by choice and out of that may our ministry and life overflow.
Besides. I like who you are. I like your humor and your heart and the crazy way your mind contains vast amounts of random knowledge. I like your smile and your crazy bearded face. I love that you
chuckle crack yourself up; I also love that you think I'm funny. I love your heart for people and your desire to reveal Christ in a selfless way. I like you. I want to be with you, I want to know you and be known by you.
With a heart craving yours,
We have decided to stay in Corvallis, cozy in our city, on Christmas Day. This year, we are skipping the I5 Corridor, the emotional roller coaster that Big Days bring and beginning something new, something I hope will be beautiful.
Or so I thought that was the answer.
Pastor Gerry preached about my internal struggle with Big Days and Big Seasons - the fight for balance; it's like Pastors are real humans and know what it's like to be a human... I believe that explains their speaking straight to our hardened, broken hearts.
Last year Christmas Day, we drove up and down the I5 corridor, hitting 3 houses full of family and flew out of town the following morning at 6 am. Exhaustion? I'm sure we all felt it in some form. Don't get me wrong: I love every single member that I have the privilege of calling family. I love them immensely. Some are loud, some are reserved, most are crazy, all are loving and thoughtful, more generous than I would ever ask. They're flesh and blood, these bonds last forever. But cruising around the state in 24 hours visiting dozens of beloved human beings accompanies a lot of emotions. So Loren and I decided that we would stay home this year on Christmas Day, celebrating family throughout the month. I was sure this would remove any roller coaster of feelings; but emotions are bound to have their way in this girl.
Why not bounce from one extreme to the next? We are determined to figure this Christmas thing out. The entire month of December has become a Christmas celebration; it's been warming. We spent two days in a beautiful cabin on the river with my dad's side of the family. We made ginger bread houses and everyone ate prime rib (I, of course enjoyed white turkey). We soaked in heat by the fire, took a family photo or two, and enjoyed the presence of one another more fully than I have ever experienced. Loren and I chatted with my Aunt & Uncle all about running and marathons and trails and crazy adventures. It was what Loren would say, groovy.
But the reality that we live in a broken world; that most of our family have not experienced the very real freedom found in Jesus; that my family is not whole but is split up into fragments...the fact that bitterness remains and broken hearts have hardened; these realities still exist.
We spent last Sunday with my mom and family. We spent time with a cousin, aunt, grandparents - our hope was to celebrate Christmas with as many beloved family members as possible, but not all in one day.
What will we do on Christmas Day? We will probably wake up between 4 and 6 am like the previous two years, wiping sleep from our eyes so quickly you would think there was bacon. This time around I plan to remember to purchase breakfasty foods before we wake up Christmas morning. Why not cozy up under grandma's quilt, sipping warm beverages, and watch a couple Christmas movies while cookies bake and cards are made to share with Park Place residents? Park Place is the assisted living community I spent two years working for. Park Place is home to many people who don't remember me, my memory has been lost in their diseased brain with Alzheimer's. But I remember them so clearly. I remember their stories, their hearts, their characters. I remember how many cream packets were dumped into Eleanor's coffee and to heat Lorraine's shower up past the temperature for boiling. I remember the sweetness of some who have passed and the bitterness of others who still live on, feeling trapped in their weak bodies. Most are simply existing and I wonder what their thoughts hold all the days long. Park Place holds a special place in my heart and we are blessed to take some simple treats and cards. Maybe we will carry this sort of tradition on and into the years of raising babies into children and children into adults. Our extended family is large in number, a multitude of hearts - we have plenty of members to visit throughout the entire month of December. SO why not share some of His love on Christmas with those who don't have many, if any, members to call family?
Initially, I thought this would cure all of my Big Emotions that Big Seasons bring. I thought balance would be found by skipping out on the normal chaos of Christmas Day. Though we do hope to make this more of a tradition, family throughout the month, the brokenness still remains. The pain and the hurt and the exposure to vulnerability still remains. Our brokenness still screams, our hearts are at risk, and this world needs saving. Spreading out Christmas, going from one extreme to the next, won't heal these hearts. Won't bandage these wounds. Won't restore broken families. Won't create balance.
But this season and every season, the same Truth prevails; the same Truth offers freedom. The Truth that God is with us, in the lack of balance. Emmanuel. The Truth that in Him we find freedom from anxiety, unforgiveness, and entitlement; the fight for balance. He is with us in our broken hearted spirits, He is rooting us on into His arms of safety, He is beckoning us as we scramble to spend way too much money, and He is restoring these broken hearts one stitch at a time. And that, that is beautiful. This life is beautiful.
What are you doing for Christmas?
PS: to any family reading this: I love you; I'm honored to know you, let alone call you family. It is my heart that gets all stirred up inside...thinking of how deeply I love you. Thinking of the brokenness that surrounds you and the daily battles you fight. You amaze me, family. Truly, you bring me awe. I have watched some of you face horrors untold; some of us have faced giants together. They are memories that last forever and tend to surface during these months. You are strong