That Book Won’t Fix You

I got mad at Shauna Niequist once.

I read her book Bittersweet, and I expected it to fix me.

I was so broken, so hurting, so full of bitterness and pain and I didn’t know what to do with any of it.

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And this book called Bittersweet, with its subtitle of “Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way,” seemed to be just what I needed. I needed help with all those things.

Yet it did not fix me.

For rational people, this makes sense. They’re words on a page–ink arranged into letters and letters into words and words into sentences–and on their own, they hold no power. But I’m not always a rational person, and I looked to that book for healing like small children look to Band-Aids. To not find it there left me disappointed, saddened, and yes–a little mad.

But of course, it is not a book’s job to fix me.

It would be lovely if they could, though. The problem is, when I find something in myself I know is a little broken, a little jagged-edged, a little not quite right, I want something tangible I can do to make it better, and I want it quickly.

I want to read those pages and feel the edges of my hurt begin to close.

The only real way to fixing is through living, though.

Not that books are bad or that they can’t help in the healing process. It is so, so good to know we are not alone, to find that other people have sat where we have sat and had a hard time getting up too, to see the ways we may begin to put ourselves back together.

In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about her miscarriage and the longing and the sadness of What Might Have Been. While I don’t know the particulars of that kind of grief, I think we all know what it feels like to have things not turn out the way we had hoped, for whatever reason those hopes might have been taken away from us or never given in the first place.

But for today, for a minute, it’s not all right. I understand that God is sovereign, that bodies are fragile and fallible. I understand that grief mellows over time, and that guarantees aren’t part of human life, as much as we’d like them to be. But on this day…I’m crying just a little for what might have been. (page 110)

Those words don’t fix the pain of what might have been, but I’m becoming more okay with that.

Since that time I got mad at Shauna Niequist, I’ve learned I can read and take the stories and words for the gifts they have to offer, without expecting them to hold everything. As much as I’d like them to, these two-dimensional words will not, cannot, mend the very three-dimensional reality of my actual life.

They can help me know I’m not alone, they may point me in a direction that can bring healing—but they cannot heal by themselves. No book can handle that much pressure.

Instead, as I’m learning with many areas of life, sometimes the only way out is through.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have books helped you?

When Grace Doesn’t Seem Like Grace

Christians like to talk about grace. We extol its virtues, and love a story of the kind of radical grace that turns lives full of darkness and despair to ones full of light and hope. We like dramatic, flashy grace, the kind we can quickly point to and say, “Yes, there–that is grace at work.”IMG_8580

I want my grace to be big, so noisy I can’t escape or ignore it. Grace doesn’t always look like that though. That’s not how it’s showing up for me these days. Instead, I am perpetually at risk of not seeing it at all, or perhaps even choosing to not see it.

Because sometimes grace shows up in small, nearly imperceptible ways, edging its way gently along the cracks of our lives so that we hardly notice its presence. It doesn’t sing or shout. It does its work quietly, holding us together, knitting us up not with stitches, but with slow, quiet, patient healing, bringing our battered edges back together.

Sometimes grace leaps, and sometimes it plods along, diligently doing its work.

Sometimes grace simply looks like holding us where we are, not letting us be pushed or swayed, but not doing much pushing or swaying of its own, either.

This indistinct grace has a beauty to it, a kind not appreciated often enough. The stories of big grace don’t happen for everyone, but the slow, small grace does.

We just have to remember to look for it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Where have you seen small grace at work?

(Un)Happily Single (and everywhere in between)

When I try to explain how I feel about being single, I feel like I often come across wildly inarticulate, hemming and hawing for what seems like an appropriate answer for that person in that situation. The truth is, I often don’t how exactly how I feel about being single–or that I feel so many things about it, I could fill a book.

Photo Credit: Flickr User DGriebeling, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User DGriebeling, Creative Commons

 

If there were a spectrum, with “Happily Single” and “Absolutely Miserably Single” as the two extremes, that’s where I live. Not parked at some stationary point along the spectrum, but literally on it. Every point, at various times, sometimes flying back and forth between the two extremes (and everywhere in between) with dizzying speed–no joke, sometimes in a matter of seconds.

I’m at an event having a great time with my friends, and I’m thinking “Yea, this is awesome! I don’t have to check in with anyone if I end up staying late, my friends are the best, this is the life!” And then I’ll spot a couple doing an average couple-y thing–laughing together at a story, looking for the other across a crowded room, an arm casually around a shoulder–and suddenly I’m lost in “I want that too.”

It probably shouldn’t cause that reaction, I know. Singleness is not a new state for me, and my fight for contentment has been going on for eons–but it’s not one I think I’ll ever completely win when it comes to being single. Being truly content with being single seems perennially just out of reach. Which gets exhausting.

There’s an element of it I think is true no matter what stage of life we’re in–there will always be something we want but can’t have, or don’t have in full the way we’d like–but the particular lonely longing that can come with being single feels especially poignant. As I’ve said before, it was much easier to come up with “5 Reasons Being Single Sucks” than it was to come up with “5 Reasons Being Single Rocks.”

At the same time, overall, my life is quite good. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life, relationships full of support and love and fun and joy, and I never want to minimize those. They are so important, so life-giving for me. It’s freeing to not have to compare schedules with the same person all the time, to be able to do what I went and when I want. My time is my own–which, although I realize can mean I spend it selfishly (and I certainly do at times), it means I can give my time more easily as well.

This is where I live, holding all these complex thoughts and feelings about being single, trying to not idealize (or idolize) marriage, while simultaneously recognizing it is not inherently wrong for me to want to not be single. Even this post can’t adequately summarize all of the swirling, contradictory thoughts I have about it. On any given day (or hour, really), I might feel any, all, or none of the above about being single–and maybe that’s unusual.

So if you’re single, will you tell me–how do you feel about it?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

You Can’t Screw Up God’s Will (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

For the past few weeks, my pastor has been preaching on finding God’s will. While it’s a topic that’s important at any stage of life, it feels particularly relevant in these young adults years. I’m a regular contributor my church‘s Midweek Encounter blog that offers reflections on Sunday’s message, and this series seems especially fitting to share here.

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You Can’t Screw Up God’s Will

Every time I hear a sermon or read an article or book about finding God’s will, I hope that this will be the one that makes it clear for me once and for all. Yet even as we after hearing about the importance of knowing God’s word, of surrounding ourselves with people who will give us godly advice, and learning how to seek God’s perspective on things, the decisions we face in our everyday lives can still seem cloudy. Which job should I take, or should I go back to school? Is this the right school for my child or would they do better at that one? Should I stay in Grand Rapids or move somewhere else? If we apply all the good tactics Pastor Dirk has been talking about for the past few weeks, we can still be looking at these decisions with concern that we’ll make the wrong choice.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

The Best Thing I Did While Traveling

Three years ago at this time, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland. Before that, I had visited London and, very briefly, Oxford. As international travel goes, it was a short trip, but it was also wonderful. I didn’t go all the touristy things the guidebooks say to, but I did spend a lot of time walking around the cities, and had the fortune of meeting people from the cities who showed me a side I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

 

It’s cliche to say, but the trip really was life changing. I couldn’t be more grateful for having gone on it.

And while I took pictures (literally hundreds), what I’ve found to be even more valuable as I think back to my trip is a small black notebook I carried with me wherever I went. My phone didn’t work overseas, so I was devoid of my usual instant distraction. I found myself soaking in much more than I do on a regular day at home, which was partly due to being in another country, but also due to having set a goal for myself of filling that black notebook by the time I got home. I didn’t quite make it, but I did fill a lot of it.

It was not a perfect trip–at one point, I got sick and threw up into a plastic bag in a London tube station as a train load of people was getting off, and proceeded to spend the rest of that day in bed at the hostel–and there were other more standard traveling hiccups. But while I wouldn’t have taken pictures of those moments, I’m glad I wrote them down. At one point, I wrote:

I think it’s good that I waited so long to do this, too–with my affinity for writing that I’ve only somewhat recently truly realized, I feel like I’m able to appreciate things twice–the first time I’m more aware, because I’m already thinking about how I’m going to recount it in writing later. Graphically speaking, it’s like I get to regurgitate things onto paper later, in the best way possible.

Looking through the photos help me see one dimension of my trip, but reading that notebook fills in so much more. I don’t get to just see the sights, I get to read how I felt as I wandered around Edinburgh Castle, how quickly I fell in love with the oldness of the cities and how every building seems to tell a story, and remember the pride I felt when I successfully navigated my way through London all by myself. They are moments and memories no picture could contain in quite the same way.

I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to travel abroad again, but when I do, I’ll definitely be aiming to fill another little black notebook.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What’s the best thing you did while traveling?

The Only Way Out is Through

For some time now, I’ve been in a Strange Space when it comes to God and faith.

It’s not the type of thing you notice the day it begins, that you take note of in a journal. “Today, I entered a weird wilderness-type space in terms of my relationship with God.”

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

It just kind of…happens. And then, one day, you realize you’ve been there for A While.

Throughout this While in this strange space, I’ve been on alert for other people who have been in similar situations, trying to figure out how they got out. A sense of wandering, of wilderness, of disconnect from God and faith does not seem to be uncommon–I’ve read books, blogs, and stories of people who seem to have felt the way I do.

The one thing all of those lacked, though, is an easy answer.
I’m beginning to wonder if this wandering lostness I feel is a case of the children’s rhyme “Going on a Bear Hunt.”

Going on a bear hunt, gonna catch a big one, here’s the river…can’t go over it, can’t go under it, have to go through it.

Of those options, “through” is not the one I’d pick.

And yet, it seems to be the answer: There are no easy answers. Reading the Bible, praying, going to church, being involved in Christian community–these are all good, but they’re not a magic fix to where I am. If they were, I wouldn’t still be here. Instead, the way out is to move through, not to pretend I don’t get frustrated with God for his seeming silence and the way that reading the Bible and praying don’t “work” like they’re supposed to. No. I have to move through the wondering, the questions, the frustrations.

As I do, it’s not with the guarantee that the answers actually exist in the form I’d like them to. Like I can’t pinpoint a day I entered the “wilderness of faith,”  I don’t think I’ll be able to pinpoint the day I’ll move out of it–if I move out of it. Because as much as I believe there are seasons of faith just like there are seasons in the weather, God never promised to be who I want him to be and to show up when and where I want him to and to fit my picture of what he’s supposed to be.

He’s God. That’s kind of the point.

So maybe my “out” will only ever be like more “through.” Maybe I’ll continue to learn what faith looks like when it doesn’t look like what you thought you knew.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you carried on through wilderness times of faith?

Spiritual Friendship: An Interview with Welsey Hill (From the YALT Blog)

I’m a monthly contributor for the blog of the Young Adult Leadership Taskforce (YALT), which is a ministry of the denomination I’ve grown up in and still consider myself, though perhaps somewhat loosely, a part of. In my latest post there, I interview Wesley Hill on what I think is a very important but often overlooked topic–friendship. While Wesley writes from his perspective as a celibate gay Christian, I think it’s a topic and a conversation that anyone can benefit from. AND, if you comment on the post at the YALT blog, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a copy of his book.

Spiritual Friendship: An Interview with Wesley Hill

I recently interviewed Wesley Hill on his new book, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. He draws from Scripture and church tradition to show that friendship can be so much more than watching Netflix and eating pizza with people, but can instead be committed, deep, enriching relationships. The implications are profound for all people, regardless of relationship status. It is a needed reminder that the love in friendship is genuine and important, particularly for Christians who truly mean it when they say they desire close-knit communities. Spiritual Friendship

1.  How does spiritual friendship differ from other friendship? Should we aspire for all of our friendships to fall into this category?

Not necessarily. I like acquaintances and casual friendships as much as the next person. Certain friends you may meet once a month at the sports bar to watch a game together, and that’s great. But with certain friends, making a commitment to one another, to help nurture each other’s love of God and neighbor, can be an important step. It shifts friendship into the category of spiritual brother- or sisterhood. “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” Scripture says, and that’s something to treasure and nurture when it happens.

Keep reading at the YALT Momentum blog.

All Groan Up (Or, Why I Read)

One of the many reasons I read is to find myself.

It sounds counterintuitive, to read about other people in other places doing other things, to learn about me. But it’s one of the things I find most powerful about writing. I can be reading a blog post by a mother of small children, or a fiction book set in 1743, or a memoir-esque book by a guy and say, “Me too.”

It’s one of the reasons I write here: I believe in the power of the “Me too” moments. All Groan UP

Recently, I received an advance copy of the latest book by Paul Angone, whose book 101 Secrets for Your Twenties I also reviewed. As I read All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job, I felt like I was being given permission to feel all of the things I feel about being in my twenties. While the level of uncertainty in my life is not nearly what it was soon after I graduated from college, I still wrestle with feeling like I don’t have everything figured out, with wanting to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, and with trying to make peace with where I am instead of continually longing for where I’m not.

Paul’s specific experiences of being a twentysomething vary from mine, but even those I can learn from. All Groan Up is a refreshing reminder that being a twentysomething doesn’t have to be quite so lonely or quite so scary.

All of this fits in so well with the thread behind this blog: The Art of Becoming. As Paul writes in All Groan Up:

  Yet becoming an adult is not a onetime thing. You grow into growing up, each season bringing with it things you’re going to have to secretly Google to figure out how to do.

I know we have this yearning to “arrive.” To make it. We want to unpack our bags. Paint the house the color we want. Tear down a few needless walls and build a huge custom desk that will never leave the room.

However, every time we think we’ve made it, we look out the window to see a U-Haul truck waiting to take us to the next town.

But maybe not making it is a gift. If you’ve arrived, why bother still exploring?

There are things I still don’t love about the idea of never truly arriving, but I think there’s truth in it. And when I let myself, I can see there’s goodness there as well. All Groan Up was a great reminder of that, and a great reminder of why I keep reading–and keep writing.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What have you read that’s made you say, “Me too?”

Jesus Loves Me, But Do I Love Him?

How do you love a guy you don’t really know?

I’ve read the Bible, I’ve studied theology, I’ve facilitated Bible studies, I’ve listened to sermons, and I’ve read books. Yet do all of those amount to really “knowing” Jesus?

More than that, do they amount to loving him?

Photo Credit: Flickr User rachel_titiriga, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User rachel_titiriga, Creative Commons

The intangibility of the Christian faith is something I have often struggled with. I want to see my prayers, I want to hug a tangible person-Jesus, I want to hear his replies to me.

But that’s just now how this Christianity thing works.

So I find myself eating instead of praying, writing down my prayers in hopes that those ones will maybe stick, eating cake while reading the Bible in an attempt to remember its goodness–because all of those have a physicality, an immediacy about them.

“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” is a phrase that’s sometimes used to describe Christianity. Except all of my other relationships are with people I at least sometimes see in real life, or at the very least communicate with here and there.

Not that love is supposed to be immediate, or can be seen with the human eye. But the reality is, I say I love Jesus, but I don’t really know what that means. It sounds good. It’s what good little Christians are supposed to say.

Yet how do you love someone you don’t sit down across the table from and eat dinner with, or text to see if he wants to hang out on Friday night? Jesus loves me, but do I really and truly love him?

In my relationships with friends and family, I (somewhat, and very imperfectly) know how to love them. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages outlines 5 different ways people give and receive love–words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch–which I’ve found to be helpful when I think about how to care about my friends and family.

Jesus does not have a love language we can discern, though. Or maybe he has all of them, since he is love. Whichever it is, all of the ways of expressing love have a limit when it comes to how they apply to my relationship with Jesus. I can tell him he’s great, I can do things that please him, I can give him gifts (sort of?), I can spend time with him (again, sort of, but since we can’t hang out on a Friday night, this is a tricky one for me to figure out), and…well, if someone figures out how to give Jesus hugs, please let me know.

So what does a love with an invisible person, a deity, look like? In concrete, tangible ways? 

What do you think? (Really, I want to know.)

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

I <3 Doubting Thomas (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every other week, I write a post for my church‘s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on Sunday’s message. With this past Sunday being Easter, it seemed a fitting reflection to share here as well.

I <3 Doubting Thomas

I’ve always felt kind of bad for “Doubting Thomas.” We don’t get many stories about him, and the one we do get is not very flattering. He gets picked on a bit, and you can almost hear the taunts.

Doubting Thomas

“There goes Thomas, not believing what he can’t see…again.

“Oh Thomas, how could you NOT BELIEVE that a guy came back to life after he died? Pffft, get it together, Thomas.”

Sure, Thomas followed Jesus for several years and saw him perform all kinds of signs and wonders, but Jesus was dead now—how could he perform a miracle after he’s dead?

So I guess I feel bad for Thomas because I am him.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.