It was the darkened summer of 2011 and my life was a wreck. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, I was driving a combine for 12 hours a day, and most of that time was spent crying and screaming at the small glass windows that surrounded me as I watched row after row of wheat be consumed and spit out.
Adultery was running rampant in my parent’s 19 year young marriage, I was sleeping in my car and in the church’s youth room as well as my mom’s real estate office when she didn’t know, and a two year relationship with my boyfriend was not fulfilling my wildest dreams. We had been talking about marriage for nearly a year now, planning for 2014 after we both graduated from college and began working in the hospital. That was our plan.
Once we were married, then we could pray together. Once we were married, then he would call me beautiful. Once we were married, then he would be the man I was always dreaming of. Promises made, week after week, as I sobbed and begged him to be who he was not. I was expecting him to be my identity, to give me more value than he was, to tell me I was worthwhile. Worthy. Looking back, I feel terrible for the guy and all of that pressure I put on him.
July was coming to a close and August was nearing. I was heading into this scary thing of two entire weeks of camp on the Oregon Coast, without my boyfriend whom I was sure I would marry. I wrote him a long letter and left it in his black truck, letting him know that I thought we should not talk at all while I was serving at camp for the two weeks. That we should take that time to really pray about this dysfunctional thing we called a relationship, reevaluate if it is what Jesus would have for us. This was a big step for my needy broken self, but I know that Jesus was right there giving me strength and courage.
While at camp I sat on a specific dune and I cried. A lot. Because I knew what was coming: the undoing of myself and everything I knew.
Jesus was doing some reconstruction inside of my soul. He was refining me like fire refines a diamond and it burned like fire does, but I knew it would produce something more beautiful than before. I sat on that dune and let the tears fall into the sand freely as I prayed and listened to His heart for me.
Repeatedly, I felt Jesus whisper to my heart, “My sweet and precious daughter. I have so much for you. So much more than what you are clinging so tightly to. If only you would lay down your clenched hands and open them in surrender. If only you would pursue what I have for you. Yes…you will live a blessed life serving me if you marry this man. You will arrive at Heaven one day, stand before me, and I will welcome you as my good and faithful servant. But. But if you chase what I have for you…if you lay down your need to control and listen to the identity I have for you, you will be so much more blessed than you could ever imagine.”
My friends. Day after day, Jesus met me on that dune and whispered those sweet words to my dry and slumping soul.
I shared with my youth pastor and my boyfriends best friend that I was indeed going to chase Jesus and end the relationship after camp. Please, please check in on him. I pleaded. Of course they would.
Week one of camp: finished.
Here is where some people shake their heads and some people scoff and some people believe the worst of me. But at this point, I don’t even care.
Week two: begin August 14, 2011.
Day two of camp hits and I am ready to go home. My cabin of girls is overwhelming and snobby, there is so much sass and I am so tired from the summer that I am surviving, that I do not know what to do. I am at an actual loss. Monday of this week I am about to leave…my little sister has been kicked out of our house, without her car keys, and is walking around our small home town in the dark. It was 2 am and I need to rescue her. I tell the director of the camp that I need to go home. We sit across from one another inside of the empty cafeteria with Hawaiian decorations streamed across the room, gearing up for dinner. He listens to my sob story about how I am working 12 hour combine days and also have a night shift as a caregiver and also am sleeping in random places like a friends RV and my little Tercel of a car and a friends couch and my church. He tells me to quit one of my jobs, to stay at camp, and to move in…he just had this college kid living with him all summer long, an intern, and his room is still put together by book cases. I can stay there, he says.
He talks me into staying at camp, and so I do. That night at dinner I make the most awkward eye contact with this tall skinny dude that is wearing a Boise Bible College t-shirt, surrounded by a bunch of already-too-smelly middle school boys. He is wearing these worn out corduroy pants with the butt pockets so thinned out I was embarrassed for him. I break the eye contact that seemed to linger for far too long and I stare straight ahead down the line towards the dinner that I have been eating every summer for the last ten years. Camp Winema Food. Mm. [aka: constipation overload].
Tuesday passes and I am learning that this tall skinny dude with the bulky glasses and the BBC shirts has a major staring problem, as well as a lack in any pants that are good. Still wearing those corduroys I see.
During the 7 am staff meeting, the director asks for a volunteer to help out with one of the classes and my half asleep brain raises my hand. Who knew it could signal such activity on such little sleep? I show up to the class and low and behold, it is this tall skinny dude with the chunky glasses, teaching a class on spreading the Word of God across the world. I catch myself just watching him teach the kids about Jesus and how even we can spread the Good News of Jesus. I think I drooled. Even we can be disciple makers. Even we. We are valuable and needed and worthwhile, and Jesus wants to use us. It is in this small classroom in the south side of the building that my heart skips a few beats when his eyes meet mine again. His name is Loren. A name I don’t believe I’ll ever forget.
Thursday a group of three counselors are sitting in the basketball courts of this Camp Winema and I walk over. Loren is one of them and I cannot even begin to remember who the other two were. So nervously I asked, “So what do you wanna do with your life?” I could not tell you for the life of me what the other two said, but Loren pointed around camp and said, “This.” Confused, I asked, “Camp?” And he responded with, “No, youth ministry. I wanna tell people, students, about Jesus.” It was in those moments, and I am not bending or twisting anything, my heart literally said to my brain, “I want to marry this man.” And it was immediately following that bold idea that I said out loud, “Well I’ve got to go!” And I walked off into no man’s land.
The thought freaked me out. But intrigued me too. I still needed to get my butt home to break up with my current boyfriend. And then I needed at least 3 years to heal from such a break up, such a transition. And Jesus said He would bless me far more than I can imagine; that would mean being single. Not jumping into another relationship. Maybe I will see this guy again at camp next year. The process of thoughts were overwhelming.
Since I was at middle school camp, I did this thing where I acted like I too was in middle school. I texted the director and asked him if he thought Loren could think I was cute. I did this because apparently Loren was the college kid that lived with him, so he of all people would know if Loren would maybe think I’m cute. This was risky, friends. The director showed Loren this text who responded with a vigorous head nod and smile.
Saturday morning, I baptized Emma. First baptism I was honored to be a part of. After the baptisms finished some other leaders including Loren were standing around in a circle. Basically we were told to exchange numbers and everyone deserted the circle except for us. I was embarrassed ten fold until I saw Loren pulling his phone out of his pocket. Quite flabbergasted, I asked, “Wait, you want my number for reals?” Duh. Yes he does. So I gave him my number and tried not to be too child like in my giddy state of glee and he gave me the most awkward side hug ever. I believe he literally asked, “Christian side hug?” I didn’t know where to put my arm – in between his back and backpack or just around his backpack? He was an entire foot taller than I and this is proving to be more awkward than I thought.
A few minutes later someone literally said to me, “You’re going to marry Loren Brenner.” And I quickly freaked out and said, “Not for like 5 years. You’re not allowed to say that! Don’t say that until tomorrow.”
So I drove my butt all the way home. I broke up with boyfriend. I met my two friends at sushi and told them, “I met my husband at camp.”
– – –
I prayed for months to Jesus to not let me enter a relationship unless it would be glorifying to Him. I wanted that more than I wanted anything at this point. The whole dysfunctional relationship thing made me confident I did not want to date anyone until I knew I would marry them.
And I knew. I was scared to know, though.
Loren and I started writing letters to one another back and forth, sharing our very first memories as children, all the way until that point. Except for relationships…we didn’t share with each other about past dating scenes. Not yet. Just family and friends and school and church and grace and Jesus and all of that. Stories upon stories and lessons upon lessons. I could go on and on about our dating scene because it was so dang fun. We officially dated long distance from October 1, 2011 until May 11, 2012, when he proposed to me in Boise, ID before he graduated from college that evening. [Big day].
August 11, 2012 we tied the knot. Less than one year of knowing each other. And ladies and gents, I have never made a better decision. Except duh, loving Jesus.
– – –
I am not one to shout about formulas and strategies to get God to do what you want. This could look like one of those things, but I don’t believe it is. I honestly believe He works through all things, and He worked through these things. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that He can work through any and ever thing. And that He did and continues to do in our not-so-perfect life. He did some major heart surgery and healing over this heart of mine in a much different way than I would have had. Or dreamed of.
And already: my life has been ten times more blessed than I would have ever dreamed.
So, this is Natalie and she is beautiful.