College Students Need Your Church (From the YALT Blog)

I’m a 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. Even though I’ve been out of school for several years, this season always makes me a bit nostalgic. There’s an energy to college campuses that’s unlike anything else, and there’s a piece of me that still misses it. It can also be an intense and overwhelming time of life, so I think churches have great opportunities here.

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Photo Credit: Loic Djim

College Students Need Your Church

Over the next few weeks, colleges will be filling back up with students. Particularly for churches geographically close to colleges or universities, this brings a host of unique opportunities–not in a “Millennials are leaving the church oh no what do we do about it” sense, but because all churches are able to be a blessing to college students in some way. How each church does that will vary greatly, and it should–not all churches are the same, so they shouldn’t use the same formula. There are many unique ways churches can use their resources, be they space, finances, time, or something else, to support students.

As cliche as it may be, it’s often true that college students love free food (or at least, this former college student sure did). There are many ways churches can meet this need. Maybe it’s church-wide potlucks that get special promotion to college students so they know they’re welcome whether or not they provide a dish to pass. Maybe it’s a college-specific ministry that has a Pizza and Movie Night once a month. Maybe it’s supper clubs that meet at people’s houses and provide college students with a chance to get off campus and eat a homecooked meal.

Keep reading at the YALT blog.

3 Reasons the Olympics Rock

I’ve never been into sports. Even as a kid when nearly everyone at my school was playing at least one of the school sports, I was not–nor did I particularly mind that I wasn’t. But every two years or so, for a couple of weeks I become obsessed with sports. Wish-I-had-cancelled-all-nonessential-activities-for-the-entire-duration level obsessed. There is something about the Olympics that captivates me in a way unlike anything else.

 

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Photo Credit: Agberto Guimaraes

First of all, there’s the togetherness of the Olympics. So many countries and people groups represented, all united around the common goal of pursuing sports–whether it’s participating themselves or watching. International competitions happen on a regular basis, but for the Olympics, everyone pulls out all the stops. TV networks dedicate days and days of programming to it, fans come from nearly all the countries in the world (having never attended the Olympics, I can’t personally vouch for this, but I imagine it’s likely to be true), and an entire city gets taken over by it. Even for those people who don’t travel to be a part of the event, we feel a part of something as we watch on our screens, discuss it over lunch, and gasp over it via social media. For both the lovers and the haters of the Olympics, there is a kind of bond, a unity all its own.

Second, there’s the dedication. I consider myself to be a fairly loyal person, and I’m dedicated to certain things, but I cannot even fathom dedicating my entire life and livelihood to a sport like many athletes do. While there’s a piece of me that thinks they’re a little over the top about the whole thing, there’s another piece of me that deeply admires the kind of dedication it takes to focus so much time, energy, and physical strength on one activity the way Olympians do. Training years for perhaps a 10-second run requires a single-minded focus I would do well to carry into aspects of my own life.

Third, there’s the sheer thrill. Swimming gets at this the most for me–the races won and lost with mere hundredths of a second making the difference, or sometimes even dead ties–but other sports certainly have it too. The nail-biting anxiety of waiting to see how the other athletes will perform and how the judges will award certain elements of a routine, the unadulterated joy on the face of an unexpected champion, the beauty of athletes so in control of their bodies in a way that seems almost impossible. There’s also the magnificent complexity of an event as large as the Olympics actually taking place–all the coordination, the travel, the scheduling it takes to pull off such a feat.

There are downsides to all of this too, of course. Togetherness, dedication, and thrill all have their flip sides of discord, addiction, disaster, and more, all of which run rampant at the Olympics. Steroids, corruption, violence, cheating, overly inflated egos–the list could go on and on. Yet I don’t think it would be possible to have an event like the Olympics that’s completely free of all these unfortunate realities, and their existence doesn’t outweigh the many positive attributes.

 
So for the next week, unless I have a prior commitment, I can likely be found on my couch, watching the Olympics. Yes, I will cheer too loudly at athletes who are on another continent, I will talk too emphatically about people I’ve never met but feel as though as I know, and yes, I will cry over the inspirational stories and the underdog athletes no one thought would win. And in two years, I will do it all again.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you like about the Olympics?

One Reason Being Single is Hard

For all its freedoms (and they are true and they are lovely), there are times when being single is not my favorite. While I’m a firm believer, though not always a good practitioner, of the idea that being alone does not have to equal being lonely, there are times when certain kinds of loneliness feel more pronounced.

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Photo Credit: Levi Price

Lately, one of the larger difficulties of being single is not having one specific person. One person to take all of my stories and troubles and joys to, and in turn, not being that person for someone else. It’s not that I have no one–many times recently I have been thinking of, and rejoicing over, the abundance of good, deep, meaningful relationships I have in my life–yet for all they bring to my life, there is a particular kind of with-ness they do, and will always, lack. It’s the with-ness of having one particular person who has vowed to keep showing up even when it’s hard, to keep hearing the same stories even when they’ve heard them all before, to keep caring about the little things that matter to me even when they’d rather watch TV.

All of these wonderful qualities are ones that can be found in family and friends, and again, it’s not that I don’t have those. But it’s too much to ask just one of those people to be my go-to for all of life’s complexities. Burdens are better when they’re shared, and I know I would become an unhealthy mess of a person if I didn’t vent and talk things through with other people.

Yet for single people, I think that sharing burdens can be more difficult than for those in a relationship–not having one constant person means we have to spread them around a bit. One friend might be our person to talk to about frustrations at work, a different friend for talking about the lows and highs of singleness, and another friend for talking about the complicated mess of trying to be an adult. There’s a beauty in this, of having enough good, solid relationships where this is even possible–but there is are unavoidable complications to it as well, and an ache of wanting to not need to remember who I talk to about which things, because there’s one person I can talk to about all of it.

Some of this might be “naive single person wishes,” and I realize that. Should I ever get married, I truly hope and intend to maintain other healthy relationships besides that one specific one. There will always be certain situations that specific people will understand better than others, because of shared history or experiences or simply because of who they are. I also realize that, along with having one person for all my stories, I would then become someone’s one person as well–there is immense weight and responsibility in that, which I hope I don’t take lightly.

Still, there are times when, and reasons why, being single is just plain hard. There’s a certain dimension of these qualities that cannot be met in the same way through family and friends, no matter how wonderful they are. I have a good life and am reasonably content much of the time, but I have no neat and tidy resolution to these thoughts. It’s simply the way things are right now, and will continue to be at times. It’s mostly okay, but it is also, deeply and truly, kind of hard.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What’s a reason being single is hard for you?

When Someone’s Faith is Drowning (From the YALT Blog)

I’m a 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. Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to have faith and to keep faith, and also the flipside of that–what it looks like when faith fades or ceases to exist altogether. How do, and should, churches and faith communities respond to that?

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Photo Credit: Stephen Di Donato

When Someone’s Faith is Drowning

It’s not a secret that young adults are leaving the church and, in many cases, leaving faith as well. Yet the numbers only show the big picture, not the stories of the individuals whose lives have, for whatever reason, changed from being one where faith is a central component to one where faith is, if existent, merely a side project. And I can’t help thinking that those stories, of faith slowly fading, or of wrestling with pain, or of doubt creeping in and taking over, don’t happen overnight. So where are the people reaching out to the real, living, breathing people who are experiencing these realities?

I once heard a story of someone being at a pier where people were jumping into the water. Suddenly, the screams of delight ceased as people began to notice a young woman struggling in the water. Shouts came from the pier, encouraging the woman to swim harder, to keep kicking, that she was getting close to the ladder. Someone dove in to help her and they both climbed out of the water to safety, but in those tense moments before that person jumped in, the noise was all directed at the woman in distress. Meanwhile, in the water itself, silence reigned.

Keep reading at the YALT Momentum blog.

Christian Baggage

Growing up in a Christian community is simultaneously a wonderful gift and an odd kind of difficulty. I don’t know what it is to not know about God, to not go through the practices of prayer and devotions and church, to not be taught all the stories of the Bible alongside English and math and science. For me, they were all commonplace, the usual, simply the way life. There is certainly a grace in my kind of upbringing, even while recognizing other’s experiences have graces all their own.

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Photo Credit: Mayra Carreno

At the same time, approaching Christian faith as a school subject taught me read the Bible in an academic way, poring over it for answers to fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice questions and essay topics. There is much value in the ability to read the Bible closely and study it thoroughly, but there’s also a subtle danger. For as much as the Bible is to be studied, it also meant to be experienced and lived. Aspects of my schooling tried to incorporate that crucial element, but there is only so much that can be done in a school setting and with students who are there, primarily, not through their own choosing but through their parents’. Only recently have I begun to notice the baggage I carry with me as a result of growing up in such settings. It’s not any weightier or more profound kind of baggage than many other people who grew up very differently than I did carry, but it exists all the same.

In my current phase of life, this plays itself out in the ways of faith formation I am and am not drawn to. The kind of writing that ties up difficult sections of the Bible with neat little bows and a “The Bible said it, that’s the end” mentality makes me break out in hives. There are so many ways to interpret the Bible, and I am increasingly less confident that there is one way that is the only way. Certain kinds of Bible studies, the ones that require lots of fill-in-the-blanks and copying down answers straight from a Bible passage, make me want to run away. I filled out many Bible worksheets as a child, and while I absolutely believe they have value and can be a helpful guide, they are the exact opposite for me at this point. Any idea that memorizing Bible verses or working down a “spirituality checklist” is a magical gateway to getting closer to God makes me nauseous. Knowing the Bible is so important, but there are other ways of knowing it that better meet me where I’m at today.

As I’ve been noticing some of the Christian baggage I carry, it’s tempting to feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be looking for any way to work on my relationship with God, through any means? On some level that’s true, and I want to be faithful to the practices that help facilitate that possibility, recognizing some form of these are vital to the Christian life. But I’m also a firm believer in the idea that we experience seasons in all areas of life, be they physical, emotional, spiritual, or anything else. Being taught the Bible as though it was another school subject was good for me in many ways, but just because it was good for me then doesn’t mean it’s good for me right now–or that it won’t be good for me again at some point down the road.

What to do with baggage is a complicated question. For now, I think it’s enough to begin to see my baggage for what it is and to recognize the ways it does and will continue to shape the way I approach my faith, while also appreciating that other’s journeys look different than mine. And to know that my own trek is, in many ways, just beginning.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you dealt with any baggage from the faith background you were or weren’t raised in?

That Time I Bought a Condo

At the beginning of this year, I picked one word I was supposed to focus on, one word to to provide a sort of framing and direction for the year. I attended an event at my church where we painted or decorated little canvases showcasing our word, meant to be a reminder we could hang somewhere we’d see it often so we would look for it and be aware of the way that theme was playing out in our lives. For the first few weeks, I did look back at it often and tried to seek it out in my daily life, but I never found a great place to put that little canvas in my room. After a while, I mostly forgot about it. It sat on my desk, more and more layers of papers and receipts and random paraphernalia collecting on top of it.

Until, finally, I unearthed it. I hadn’t forgotten my word, not in a large sense, but I had forgotten to let it soak into my everyday–which is a bit funny, considering my word is dwell. When I chose it, I wrote:All at once a command, a reminder, and a promise. It feels gentle though, and kind. Something I can manage.”

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And while in one sense it felt manageable, in another sense it felt so very, very far off. The spiritual component, of seeking to do more dwelling with God while also more fully internalizing the mysterious beauty of him already dwelling in me, seemed doable. That was a space I had been before, and while it had been a while, I could see there being a path back. In the physical sense though, I had no idea what dwell would mean for me in 2016. As a young, unmarried adult, housing had been complicated for years and there seemed to be no end to that in sight. Since graduating from high school, I hadn’t lived in the same place for longer than 14 months. For someone who often struggles with change and doesn’t do well with uncertainty, it had become incredibly taxing. To dwell in a physical sense seemed nearly impossible.

Yet, when I finally found my little canvas again, I did so with a sigh of deep, deep gratefulness. Because I found it when I was starting to pack to move into a place of my condo, a condo I bought, a home that will be mine for the next while and hopefully won’t cease to be mine until I decide otherwise. A place where I am throwing away the boxes because I likely won’t need them again in a year, a place where I am thinking of affixing shelves to walls instead of decorations hung up with poster putty. For the first time, I changed my permanent address to something other than my parent’s house. I’ve been in my new place for a few weeks now, and it is slowly beginning to feel real, to feel like mine.

It also feels like such an immense gift.

Through the whole process of looking at condos, making an offer, getting finances squared away once my offer had been accepted, having the inspection done, and waiting to hear that everything had gone as it was supposed to, I kept expecting something to go wrong. Being the largest decision of my life, and one I both had and got to make completely on my own, I prayed furiously through the whole process, begging God for something to go wrong if this was not supposed to be my place. People talk about the excitement of buying a house, but they rarely talk about the sheer terror that accompanies it. But everything fell into place. I signed a stack of papers, and suddenly, I owned a condo.

Dwell had come true in the way I least expected it to.

Now, my little dwell canvas lives on my fridge (I have a fridge) in my kitchen (I have a kitchen) in my condo (I have a condo). 2016 is far from over, and that word may take on depths of more meaning in the coming months. But already, it’s a reminder to not only look forward to what is to come, but also to know that God is at work even when we forget he is.  

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you have a one word for 2016, how have you seen it shape your year so far?

Another Tragedy? Don’t Look Away

They happen with alarming, heartbreaking frequency. Shootings. Kidnappings. Bombings. The kinds of tragedies that take over all the news outlets across the country, or even the world.

And I hate that they’ve become so commonplace that I rarely even gasp when I find out about another one. And instead of “How tragic” being my first thought, it’s, “Another one?”

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Photo Credit: Matt Popovich

Which is, of course, part of the problem. The frequency of the tragedies has made us lose our heartache over them, because how do we hold so much devastation? Our numbness makes us forget, though: To many people, this is not just another tragedy. This is the loss of a sibling, a best friend, a child, a coworker, a significant other, a barista or server or hairstylist. For so many people, they do not have the option to look away from the tragedy, because it is staring them down. A new, shattering, reality is facing them–a reality that holds an emptiness they never expected, and certainly not in such a way. No one wants their fifteen minutes of fame to come like this.

It is so tempting, so easy, to click away or change the channel or ignore the newspaper when we see yet another story. Why did it happen? What caused it? How could it have been stopped?

There are the other stories though too–the stories of the people who are living the news. They can’t click away, change the channel, ignore the newspaper. The news is simply a reminder of what they already know, because it has become their world.

For all the very real sadness we may feel, theirs is so much deeper, so much wider, so much more all-encompassing than ours, and they are not given the option to escape it like we are. They will live with it every day for the rest of their lives.

In the face of yet another shooting, it can be hard to know what to do. Saying a prayer, sending money, and attending a vigil may all be appropriate responses, but I’d suggest we also have the awful privilege and responsibility to not look away. We, who are far enough removed to have the choice to overlook what’s happening, must make the active choice to look directly at it. Listen to the stories about the people whose lives have been needlessly cut short and the people who must find a way to make sense of a senseless act and find life beyond it. Choose to see the humanity and beauty of each person involved in and affected by dark acts committed by people with a terribly warped view of how the world should work. Don’t run away from the news even though we have that choice.

Because the reality is, the news stories we read today could become part of our own stories tomorrow. It is tempting to think such things could never happen to us, but that’s exactly what every person involved in any shooting thinks. Malls, churches, movie theatres–simple places we frequent regularly, and all impossible to keep absolutely free from people who wish to do others harm.We don’t need to live in constant fear, but we can’t live in ignorance either. Should our own stories ever become marked by the kinds of tragedies that make the news, wouldn’t we want others to read the stories of the people we loved? To catch glimpses of who they really were and why they mattered? To see our world-shattering tragedy as something more than a headline?

This is a weighty duty, and at times our own lives are so full of heavy darkness that to continue looking at the rest of it would be an unspeakable burden. But for those of us who are not in that place, we must look. We must read the names, see the faces, and refuse to let it become just another tragedy. Because it’s not. It’s real people who have died, and real people who are left behind to grieve and mourn. We may not be able to take away their pain, but at the very least, we can honor it by choosing to really, truly see it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Dead Goldfish, New Condos, and Things That Matter

 

For almost four years, I’ve had a goldfish named Manasseh. I bought him a few months after I graduated from college, while I was still living at my parent’s house. A year later I would move out, and have now moved five times in just under three years. At the beginning of June though, I got possession of a condo I bought. It’s mine. After years of transition and uncertainty, I get to stay here as long as I decide I want to. It’s been an exciting, scary, and overwhelming few months as all of this came together. And, during that time, my goldfish swam around his little bowl like he always had.Fishy

Except last Saturday I woke up to discover he was swimming no longer. I had fed him right before going to bed on Friday night, the same night the last of my furniture and possessions made the move to my condo, and he had seemed fine. A few hours later, he was gone.

He was a nineteen cent goldfish who, while I’d argue he swam to the side of the bowl when I walked into the room (probably because he thought he was going to get fed), had about a three second memory and no capacity for love or any meaningful feelings–I’m not losing sight of that. But he was also the only other living creature that has been with me through all my moves, and was by far my longest living goldfish. He also became my companion on a series of Christmas cards, to not only my own amusement but, I’m told, other’s as well. So my attachment to him goes far beyond what is normal, or some might say even healthy, for a pet of his ilk. His death, coming on the tails of a busy, complicated season of life with a lot of different emotions, has been One More Thing to process.

And so, because I have learned that if a thing has value it is worth mourning, I am mourning my goldfish a bit. Not beyond what he deserved, I hope, but I won’t pretend I don’t keep feeling like I’m forgetting to feed him and then get a little jarred when I remember I don’t have to anymore. He was a fish, sure, but he was part of the ritual of my life. It’s easy to dismiss all of this, because he was a nineteen cent goldfish after all, the kind most people feed to their other pets, not keep as pets themselves. A thing’s value shouldn’t come from its price point though–he had value because he mattered to me. While I suppose this may be a bit of circular reasoning, his death is sad because I will miss him.

Yet in a strange way, the timing of his death feels perhaps a bit fitting. Now that I’m in a setting I will hopefully be for a good while, maybe my place can be my constant instead of my pet. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever had something that, while its monetary value may not have been much, had a lot of value to you?

On Being Single: What if the Problem Really is Me?

I’ve spent years internally battling the lie that being single is a sign of something “wrong” with me. Marriage isn’t a reward for especially “good” people, and singleness isn’t a punishment for the “bad” people. They’re simply different, neither one being objectively better or worse than the other. This is truth. But there’s a piece of me that doesn’t always feel as though this is true. Society still seems to celebrate couples and marriage and families much more than it celebrates single people, and on an individual basis, I’m pretty sure I’d like to get married.

But I’m not. I’m nowhere close. My life is good and full and busy, and most of the time I can truthfully say I deeply enjoy it. These words I wrote several years ago still ring true though: When you desire something and that desire is coming from a good place, all the wonderful things in your life can’t make up for what you don’t have.

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Photo Credit: Ben Rosett

It’s only natural for me to ponder why I am single. I’m fortunate to have a fairly positive sense of self-worth–I think I’m decently great, and I probably just haven’t met a guy whose particular brand of greatness aligns with mine. But inevitably there are times I wonder: What if the problem really is me? What if I’ve been missing some glaring flaw in myself all this time, and that’s why I’m single? Even with a good sense of self-worth, I also know I’m not perfect. My faith isn’t perfect, my relationships with my family and friends aren’t perfect, I’m not a perfect employee, I’m not perfectly fit, and so on. 

These aren’t uncommon things–I’d be incredibly suspicious of anyone who said they are perfect in all those areas. Exactly zero of the married people I know are perfect, and yet they managed to find a significant other. And, of course, therein lies the problem: If so many other imperfect people can find another imperfect person to hang out with for the rest of their lives, why can’t I seem to?

Am I not smart enough?

Am I not pretty enough?

Am I not outdoorsy enough?

Am I not Jesus-y enough?

Am I not _____ enough?

Rationally, I know other people’s lives aren’t mine, and everyone’s story is different and that’s a good thing. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like just a case of “we all have different lives to lead.” It feels a lot more personal than that.

So in these times when it seems like talk of dating, marriage, and weddings is popping up all over my life way more than usual, I have to remind myself of a few things. This is what I know to be true, even if it feels very untrue for a while:

  • I’m not perfect. Congratulations! Welcome to being a human. We’re all that way.
  • It’s good to identify specific areas of my life I want to work on, not because doing so will magically conjure up a significant other, but because doing so will make me a better person for life in general.
  • Marriage is not a reward, and singleness is not a punishment. It’s not a matter of being _____ enough to get married.
  • Singleness and marriage are both good. Just because I’m one right now doesn’t mean it will always be that way, and the grass is not always greener on the other side. The grass is just different.
  • There are things wrong with me, as there are with everyone, but I am not too “broken” to find a significant other. I haven’t yet, but it doesn’t mean I never will. And if I never do, I’ll make a kind of peace with that someday.

None of these are new or earth-shattering, but sometimes we all need to be reminded of simple truths. Now, will you share with me? If you’re single, how do you fight the lie that there’s something wrong with and that’s why you’re not in a relationship? If you’re not single, how can you support the single people you know?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every few weeks, I write a post for my church’s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on that week’s sermon. We’re in a message series about layovers in life, and I especially appreciated the reminder this week that while God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want him to, he does answer them how we need him to.

 

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need

There’s a worship song we sing pretty regularly at Encounter that I struggle with at times. Called “Always,” it includes these words:

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

 
One Sunday after singing it, I remarked to a friend that I wasn’t sure I bought it. At that point in my life, it seemed as though God was either moving really, really slowly, or perhaps not at all. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God was there, but it was difficult to see how and where he was working. When we’re in a layover season in life, a time of uncertainty, disappointment, loss, heartbreak, change, or any number of other things that seem to keep us from moving from one place to the next, it can feel like “He will not delay” is a bit of a lie.

 

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.