Saturday, May 20, 2017

Risk + Change = Farm!

Hey, friends!  Natalie, here.  It's been a while since I've posted anything so I thought I'd give Andrew a break this time and share the beginning of some very exciting updates with you!  We have a lot of change happening in our lives right now and we are so excited to share it with you.  There is no way to put it all in one blog post, so be expecting more posts to come in the near future...

Hmmm...where to begin... 

God has been asking us to trust Him with some things that seem impossible, things that are far outside of our comfort zones, and take risks like never before. One of the areas He has asked us to trust Him with was moving to a farm!  

I can promise this was not ever a part of our plans but God has a funny sense of humor and is creative in the ways He orchestrates events! Allow me to explain...

About four years ago, Andrew and I took a trip out to TN to see if we thought we could see ourselves living here.  During that trip, we made a list of all the things that scared us and all the things that excited us.  We were afraid of things that were outside of our control but confident that God was asking us to move anyway.   

We've been here almost three and a half years and have never regretted it for a second.  In fact, we've fallen so in love with TN that we have enjoyed sharing all of our favorite things about it with out of town visitors.  It's no surprise that most of those visitors have fallen in love with it, as well.   My parents are some of those people.  After many visits to come see us and after seeing our hearts come so alive here, they started dreaming for themselves about moving here one day after they retire.  We would make it a regular activity to go for drives out in the country with them and dream about what they would love to have someday.  

Last fall, we happened upon a property that looked just like what they had dreamed about and talked about for so long.  So, my parents decided to buy it and rent it out for the next few years until the time comes for them to move.  Up until the very last hour of 2016, Andrew, my parents and I were painting, cleaning, and preparing the house for future renters.  Little did we know, that would end up being US!  

About a week into the new year, Andrew and I sensed God was telling us to move to the property.  We both laughed and could list 100 reasons why that was probably a TERRIBLE idea!  Some of the biggest reasons that seemed crazy were:
  • We would be moving from a house that we LOVED.  Our house was new when we moved into it and, being the germaphobe that I am, I loved that it was only our germs in our house.   
  • Our commutes to and from work would be longer and we really had no way of knowing just how much longer they would become.  
  • We had no idea what it would be like to take care of our dog without a fenced in backyard. 
  • We like "order" and "control" and we felt like we had mastered that, living in the suburbs.  
  • We know NOTHING about living in the country, much less about taking care of 72 acres!!

But God...  

Remember when I said God had a funny sense of humor?   Are you laughing yet? 

The decision to take the leap of faith and move was not made overnight.  In fact, we didn't make our final decision until the end of February.  Even then, we had decided not to actually move into the house until the second week of April so we still "had time" to change our minds.  

But, not understanding why, we still sensed God saying GO.  So, reluctantly, we started making plans to move...

Just about two weeks after making the decision to move, some of our dear friends, Jason and Amanda (you will hear much more about them in the blog posts to come), decided to take their own leap of faith and relocate their family to Tennessee!  They were hoping for a house within walking distance to a school for their kids and a house with a fenced in backyard for their dog.  As it turns out, the house we were leaving behind met all of their hopes and will be a perfect place for them to begin their new journey in TN. It was becoming a little bit more clear about why God was moving us to the farm.  

We have been here for about six weeks now and had absolutely NO CLUE how much we would love it!  

 The list of things we were so afraid of has quickly shortened and we are learning how to be farm people.  
  • We've put a lot of "sweat equity" into this house and property and made it feel like home.  I am much less afraid of germs now.  
  • Our commutes turned out to be pretty close to what they used to be, only a lot more driving on beautiful country roads and less sitting in traffic on the highways.
  • Buck (our dog) is doing amazing and is loving being a farm dog.  
  • I'm learning to let God go after my issue with "order" and "control" and finding that is a great piece of preparation to make me a better mom one day.  
  • 72 acres is a LOT of land to care for, but it's land that reminds us to take a big exhale and stop to enjoy beauty.  This land is a reminder of God's faithfulness to provide for us in amazing ways. 

As we are only six weeks into living the farm life, we have MUCH to learn still.  But, we know that God has called us here and we know that He is fathering us in all of it.  We wait in eager anticipation for the other pieces of this story that are right around the corner but we will also rest in knowing:

 The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He leads us beside still waters, he restores our souls.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Deal With Donkeys

If you have spent any time around us recently, or have seen our Facebook pages over the last few years, you are probably aware that we really like donkeys. Okay, perhaps that is a slight understatement but I hesitate to use the word "obsessed" because it just sounds weird. But then again, I am writing a blog post about donkeys so I think that ship has probably sailed.

Of the many odd questions I have been asked in my life, I truly never expected to have to answer: "So...what's the deal with donkeys?" Trust me, we are just as surprised by our love for them as everyone else is!  So in honor of the "Mule Day" events taking place this week in the nearby town of Columbia (, we figured we would at least try and tell the story of how our fascination for these loveable longears came to be, and some of the things we love about them.  (See, you thought it was just us - the Mule Day events have been going on for over 170 years!)

I can't guarantee that I can fully explain why we love donkeys in a way that will make sense after you are done reading. Most of you will probably still scratch your heads and say "Hmmm...nope, doesn't really do anything for me." And that is ok. I will never love flowers, the ocean, bees or horses the way someone else does. This world is a great big place, full of wonderful things made by an incredibly creative God who I believe speaks to us in deeply personal ways. In fact it kind of makes something you love even more special when no one else quite gets it. It becomes a kind of "love language" just between you and God. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

Back in the summer of 2014, Natalie and I were both working at the same place and commuting together.  There was a period of time where the main highway was under major construction, so we began taking some back roads to get to work. Though it took a little longer, it was such a beautiful drive that we came to look forward to it every day. On one of the side roads, we drove past a field that had a few horses, a miniature pony, and a single little brown donkey. 

What caught our attention was that this little guy was often standing off on his own looking somewhat forlorn, as if not being a horse excluded him from "the cool kids club." He had a certain wood pile that he always seemed to be standing nearby when we drove past, and something just grabbed our hearts about his expressions and the way he seemed to make such a statement without any movement or sound.

We decided to name him Leroy.  I couldn't really tell you why, but it just seemed to fit.  I don't think we ever even knew if Leroy was in fact a dude.  But we began to look forward to seeing him every day on the way to and from work.  We would get so excited when he was standing close to the fence, and we would slow down to admire him and take pictures.  Hopefully we didn't freak his owners out! 

A few weeks later on that same drive we started seeing a herd of about five grey donkeys in another yard, including a foal (that's a baby) who was so cute and fluffy!

They were always together no matter what part of the huge front lawn we saw them on, as if they truly enjoyed each other's company.  Unlike Leroy, we didn't see them every day. Some days they must have been grazing another part of the land, or perhaps put up in a stable somewhere. It became something we would hope for each time we passed by, and our hearts would soar the minute we would catch a glance of the furry family, as though we were on a safari and had just spotted a pride of lions. We would feel a little let down if we drove past and didn't see them that day - especially when one or both of us had a hard day at work. They always seemed to cheer us up just by their presence.

Our curiosity got the best of us and we started wondering why people had donkeys anyway. It's amazing what you can learn on your phone while you are driving in the country. (The passenger in the car, I mean. Safety first, people!) We learned that donkeys are often kept with livestock as guardians against coyotes and other predators! That fact alone makes them heroes.

Their ears can swivel independently 180 degrees and they have incredible hearing.

They are very strong (stronger than a horse of the same size) and very intelligent. They have amazing memories - they can recognize other donkeys they were with up to 25 years ago! (Ok we have no way of proving that one is true, but we read it on the internet so it has to be, right? We'll get back to you in about 25 years). Donkeys are also very social animals and don't like to be on their own. Even if they aren't with another donkey, they are happy to make friends with a cow or a goat.

But perhaps our favorite thing about them is how affectionate they are, and we CAN prove this one to you:

Lest I risk just sounding too much like a book report, there are some beautiful things that we have experienced simply by spending time around donkeys. They exude a calmness and an unhurried attitude that just makes you breathe a little more deeply and slow down a few clicks. They are not in a hurry for much of anything (unless you happen to approach them with carrots or apples). Donkeys are actually used as therapy animals because of these qualities!  There is a peace that we feel just by spending a couple minutes watching a donkey simply graze, swivel its ears this way and that and shoo a fly away with its wispy tail.

The truth is, we had no idea that donkeys made something in our hearts come alive until we just discovered that was the case one day!  So much of the "geography" of all of our hearts is a mystery, which is another reason we can't really explain or provide facts that correspond to the joy that these sweet creatures bring us.

Renowned author, counselor and professor Dan Allender speaks of the heart this way:

"You have a heart. And you didn't make your heart. And you didn't put the things into your heart that you love...We don't know what is in our hearts until we begin to explore our world...Your heart is like topography. It is vast and it is stunning and it is utterly beautiful...[God] created such vast and beautiful topography in your heart that you'll have to spend a lifetime opening your own heart to discover ... what do you love?"  (Intimate Mystery Conference, 2016)

The journey of uncovering what treasures in this wild and fascinating world speak uniquely to each of us is something we can often miss in the busyness and chaos of life.  It takes an intentional slowing down and a willingness to open your heart to both the pain and beauty of living.  It's something God loves to show us if we will let Him.  It is one of the ways He reminds us of His affection for us as His children.  For you it may not be donkeys, or hawks or dragonflies.  But it is there ... Have you taken time to find discover what you love?  

"A love language is cultivated, looked for, engaged in and matured over time. It’s between Him and you. And it will go unnoticed if you don’t look with the eyes of your heart."  (Morgan Snyder)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What Are You Hoping For?

I don't do New Year's resolutions.  And as someone learning to keep walking away from perfectionism, I don't even really do goals for the new year.  Oh, I used to have all kinds of categories, outlines, action steps and plans that ended up just becoming a huge yard stick with which to slap myself when I failed to execute them all time and time again.  Not that there is anything wrong with setting goals!  I just learned that the way I typically used goals was in partnership with my perfectionism to set the standard by which I often try to earn love and approval.

So these days I don't start the year with a list of goals that are up to me to achieve.  But I do take the time to consider and write down my hopes for the year.  Hoping feels risky, and the bigger my hopes are the more obvious it is that they are out of my control to "make happen."  However, having done this for a couple of years now, this has been one of the biggest ways I have watched how God has shown up in our lives in ways I never could have imagined.  Each year I feel Him leading me to hope for bigger things and asking me to grow in my ability to believe that His intentions for our lives are truly beyond what we can even imagine.

It is true that hoping opens us up to disappointment.  Along the same lines as experiencing both beauty and pain when we stop numbing our hearts (see Brene Brown's quote in the previous post), when we spend time hoping and dreaming, we acknowledge the reality that life may not work out exactly the way we are hoping it will.  We are beginning our tenth year of hoping for our hearts' desires to be parents, and the journey that this blog was started to share in the first place!  It is crazy to think that it has been a decade-long hope that has gone unfulfilled, yet God has given us the strength to continue hoping.  Along the way, there have been many times we have abandoned that hope - especially when we have been trying to carry it by ourselves without God's strength and the support of those who have chosen to walk alongside us.  Each time He has lovingly helped us to pick it back up (and really, to give it to Him where it belongs.)

We choose to keep hoping, as we do for many other things in our lives, because we believe that God is ultimately faithful and that He intends good for all of our lives.  Our hopes point us to the One in whom our ultimate hope should lie.

So what are you hoping for this year?  By the way, they don't all have to be monumental, sky-scraper hopes.  Obviously there are some, like the hope for a child, that are significant and big picture.  But I have other hopes for this year that I enjoy writing down right next to the big ones.  There are some great books I'm hoping to read this year.  I'm hoping to go bowling more often.  I hope to spend some more time making an impact in the beautiful community that God has placed us in.  And even in these smaller hopes, I want to invite Jesus in to bring His life, love and the joy that He longs to share with us in 2017.

I encourage you to spend some time hoping and dreaming, and to actually write those things down somewhere that you will revisit them throughout the year.  Ask God to partner with you in the longings of your heart, and you will be surprised when we come to another December just what has happened in your year...

 "It’s good for the heart to do some dreaming; it pulls you out of the rut, lifts your eyes to the horizon. Hope follows, like children running to the song of the ice cream truck. Desire awakens hope, and hope is really good for the soul."  (John Eldredge, "Love & War")

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How Long Is The Wait?

It's one of those questions that always makes me cringe internally when I have to ask it...  Especially, at a crowded restaurant.  Double especially when that restaurant is the Loveless Cafe, because the answer is almost always about an hour longer than I am prepared to hear.  

I think the anticipation of knowing what is on the other side of that wait (namely hot, fluffy, delicious biscuits slathered with blackberry jam) often makes the waiting harder.  But it also makes it worth it!

 There is something about just knowing how long the wait is that makes it a little more bearable.  Think about what it would be like if you walked into a busy restaurant and asked, "How long is the wait?" and the host looked at you and said, "I have no idea, but here is a buzzer and we will call your name at some point in the future when your table is ready."  Nope, not doing that!  Cereal for dinner again.

But that is what most of the waiting in our lives is like, isn't it?  We don't get a rough estimate or a buzzer that will go off when that time has elapsed.  After a few months or a few years go by, we don't get to check the list and see how many people are ahead of us before it is our turn.  It would be so much easier if Natalie and I just knew, "OK, you will only have to wait 2 more years, or 5 more years but then you will definitely have a baby."  And the anticipation of knowing the joy that will be ours when we finally welcome a child into our lives often makes the wait harder.  But it makes it worth it too...

I often struggle to wait well.  To have patience, joy and peace in the midst of it.  But I desire to grow in those places, because waiting is a reality in all of our lives.  Waiting well takes many different forms.  For us it is often releasing our expectations and demands that life look exactly the way we want it to.  It is choosing not to numb even when life is painful.  Brene Brown says, "We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions."  When we choose to numb ourselves to the pain, we also become numb to the beauty that is around us.  Much easier said than done, to be sure, but we have begun to experience the truth of this as we choose to feel the full scope of emotions and experiences in this long season of waiting.

We are also discovering that the degree to which we are waiting well is also tied to how much we are placing our hope and desires solely in this life.  During this season of Advent, we not only remember the coming of Jesus as Emmanuel - "God With Us," but we also look forward in anticipation to His coming again.  Jesus calls it the "renewal of all things" in the gospel of Matthew.  We are reminded that regardless of how much waiting, longing, pain or loss we face in this life, the day is coming soon when "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever."  (Revelation 21:4)  This is meant to be more than just a passing thought from time to time.  It is actually meant to be an incredible source of hope for us in our daily lives.  It reminds us that we are waiting for something so much richer than even our deepest hopes and dreams for our lives on earth.

I don't know what your season of waiting is.  But I know it is not easy.  Some days it feels impossible.  Maybe you are waiting for the test results or the diagnosis.  Maybe it is for a relationship, a job, financial relief, or just for a break in the clouds of unbelievably difficult circumstances.  We are waiting along with you.  The buzzer hasn't gone off yet, and in the meantime we are choosing to trust and believe before we can see that goodness is coming.  This is our prayer for all of us this Advent season:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  (Romans 15:13)

We wanted to share a song that has brought us great comfort in our waiting.  It is called "To Those Who Wait" by Bethany Dillon.  It reminds us that God is always working even when we can't see it.  She sings in the chorus:

"You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I can do."  

We encourage you to take a couple of minutes and let this song wash over you...

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Story Worth Living

We all live in the context of story.  Our lives are a story, constantly unfolding in new ways each day, and we are all continuing to try and understand just what that story is supposed to be to make sense of it.

Along those lines, we are really excited about a beautiful film that will be playing in theaters around the country for one night only:  next Thursday, May 19th.   It is called "A Story Worth Living," and though describing it is hard,  I will call it "an adventure film with deep meaning."  Set in the stunning landscape of Colorado, it follows six riders on an epic motorcycle adventure that tests them to their limits.  In addition, there is meaningful conversation about story, love, loss, shame, and many other things that make it more than just another really cool adventure film.

Check out the trailer:

You can find out where the film is playing in a theater near you by going to :

You won't want to miss this one night only event!  We will be going to the Green Hills showing, for any of you in the Nashville area.  We would love to see you there!

"You have to find a story that equals the depth of your heart" (John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Prepare: Bringing Buck Home

In our last post, we wrote about how God gave us the word Prepare as a theme for this year.  Obviously we are believing for big things in our journey to become parents, but even as we wait we are taking steps of "preparation" in some large and small ways.

One of those ways involves something we have both wanted to do for over 10 years but haven't had the right circumstances for it to become a reality.  Natalie and I both grew up with dogs and have always wanted to have some as part of our family.  For various reasons the timing just wasn't ever really right, but when we moved to Tennessee a little over two years ago we knew that adding a four-legged family member would definitely be part of this chapter.

Although we have wanted to be parents for a long time, we have also learned how to enjoy the time that we have had as a couple.  We have gone on a lot of adventures together here in our new home state, but we have also been very intentional in living a quiet and simple life.  We realize that will all change quite a bit once a baby comes into the picture, but we have tried to take advantage of the rhythm our life has had for the last number of years.

At the beginning of this year, we both felt like it was time to start looking for a furry Fockel to join our family.  After doing our homework, we found a wonderful breeder about 45 minutes from our town and last Friday we finally brought home an 8-week-old English Springer Spaniel puppy.

Meet Buck:

As we began to plan and prepare for bringing home a puppy,  we talked about what life would look like and we realized that there would be an element of disruption involved.  We would have to give up the luxury of having all our time to ourselves and the ability to pick up and go wherever we wanted without having any responsibility waiting at home.  But through the lens of "Prepare," we saw this as an opportunity to take a step in the direction of being parents, responsible to care for another and adapting our lives to new schedules and demands.

This first week has been full of joy and cuddles, sleepless nights and puddles in the house.  We have experienced the ups and downs of being worried Mom & Dad..."He just ate that!", "Why is he whining now?", "I just took him outside" and lots of "Is that normal?" moments.  It has truly been a disruption as we have new full-time supervisory jobs at home, but it has definitely been worth it.  Maybe to most people having a dog is just a regular part of life, but for us we are declaring that it is a step of faith and a step in preparing...with a lot of wonderful wet kisses included.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trust, Believe, Prepare

Today, Natalie and I have officially been Tennesseans for two years!  It would be pretty tough to summarize all that took place during our second year here, but overall 2015 was a really good year!  We continue to feel our roots deepening here as we walk with God further and further into the story He is writing with us.

We wrote back in 2014 a little about how God had spoken the word "Trust" over that year and how it was such an important compass to help us keep turning back to Him, learning to trust in so many situations that we couldn't have figured out or navigated on our own.

At the beginning of last year we again asked God to speak any words or themes He had over the coming year, and He brought us the word "Believe."  As with "Trust," we didn't really know quite what to do with it initially.  As the year unfolded though, we saw many different areas of our lives where it felt like God was asking us to believe in a new way.  One of the most significant was in the area of our infertility.  We realized that we had begun to believe that the only way for us to have a child would be through options other than getting pregnant naturally.  It's not hard to find yourself there after almost 8 years of trying, failed procedures, miscarriages and heartache.  And God wasn't holding that over our heads or condemning us for having landed there.  He is a loving, compassionate Father.  He very gently and persistently reminded us that, over time, we had let what the doctors and the tests all said become louder than what the Creator Himself says.  (He says nothing is impossible with Him!)

Toward the end of last year we considered the possibility of trying another less intense, less expensive (though less statistically successful) fertility procedure that some doctors are starting to offer.  But we felt God asking us not to.  We heard Him clearly asking, "Do you believe I could do this without a procedure?  Do you really believe?"  And as we considered our responses, we began to find that we were able to answer "Yes" much more whole-heartedly than we had been in times past.  It felt really hard and scary, but yet really hopeful!

We also still have the possibility of using a gestational carrier, an amazing and generous friend of ours who offered to carry for us right before we moved to Tennessee.  (We wrote a little about that story here) But again, though we don't sense God completely closing that door at this point, we do feel He is asking us, "Do you believe I might not need this route?  That it isn't the only way I could do this?"  Some days it feels harder than others to surrender that to Him and allow Him to lead us into deeper waters of believing for a miracle in a fresh way.  But God is always committed to the long, slow and holy process of growing us up.

This year, we heard God say the word "Prepare."  Gulp.  Umm, what does that mean, God?!  It is obviously very fresh, and we know He will show us much more as the year goes on.  But one thing was obvious to us pretty quickly:

You don't prepare for things you don't believe can or will happen...

So as we seek God this year and watch Him unpack that in our lives, we are taking some steps to prepare.  It feels risky, but it feels right.  (It feels so risky even just to share!)

As we have written before, we want to live the kind of lives that will only work out if God shows up. Thankfully for us all, it's what He loves to do...