A Non-Review Book Review of Party of One

My complicated relationship with singleness has been well documented on this blog. There is the singleness itself, and all of its complexities and emotions, but bigger than the singleness is a deep sense that life has not gone according to my plan, and I can’t figure out God’s reason for that. While this has played itself out most starkly in my life in the area of singleness, at its core, it’s a tension we all feel–all has not gone as we thought it would in our lives, and we’re not sure why. Sometimes surprises turn out better than we had hoped or dreamed, but often we feel the unplanned nature of our lives most acutely when what we wanted to be good turned out otherwise.

In her new book Party of One: Truth, Longing, and The Subtle Art of Singleness*, Joy Beth Smith writes:

It’s hard to live in this tension of desperately wanting something and never knowing when or if it will come. We need to actively cling to promises that are in Scripture: promises that God will never leave us, promises of his control in all things, promises of his goodness, promises that the trials of this world pale in comparison to the glory of what is to come. These are sure things. (page 13)

It’s tempting to think if we work hard and do all the right things we may be able to get ourselves where we want to be, and in certain situations, that may be true. But it’s certainly not always true. Then we have to face down what we really believe about God, and ask ourselves, how do we honor God well wherever we are? How do we honor God in the city we live in, the relationships (romantic or otherwise) we’re a part of, the workplace we go to–even if we didn’t expect or hope to be there?

I’m still figuring out how to do this well in my singleness. Being unmarried and childless at nearly 28 was definitely not what I expected for my life, and yet I find myself here, gainfully employed, a homeowner, deeply grateful for the wonderful family and friends I have, and trying to steward what I have been given for the glory of God–all while trying to remain deeply hopeful that someday (preferably soon) my deep desire for a husband and children will be fulfilled.

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But I have to recognize that God’s goodness doesn’t depend on whether or not that happens. As Joy Beth writes:

The success story here isn’t the girl who wants to be married, and suddenly at age forty, as she follows all the advice she’s ever been given, the stars align, she reaches a point of freakish contentment; then God deems it the right time, and suddenly she’s married, rewarded for her years of faithfulness. Success in this world is the woman who lives her whole life longing for marriage, remains single, and dies more convinced than ever that God is good, with “Glory, glory, hallelujah” as the last words on her lips. (page 155)

For me, at this point in life, it’s singleness that makes me question God’s goodness. But it may also be illness, or divorce, or childlessness, or homelessness, or so many other things. We are so quick to say “I’m blessed” when thing are working out the way we want them to, but what we often fail to recognize is that we are no less blessed when things are difficult than when they are easy. God never promised he would give us everything we’ve ever wanted simply because we want it; he’s promised to be with us whether we get those things or not.

Til next time…

~Brianna

P.s. I’ve been privileged to be a part of the launch team for Joy Beth’s book, which itself has been such a joy, and the book is as well. If you are single, you care about single people, or you’ve ever met or talked to a single person (aka, everyone), it’s a book I highly recommend.

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How Harry Potter Helps Me Understand the Bible

*Note: This post contains mild spoilers for the Harry Potter series.

One Saturday night, I watched the last Harry Potter movie. On Sunday morning, I went to church. These two activities seemingly don’t have much in common, but I was surprised by the way my viewing of Harry Potter informed the way I heard the message in church that day.

King Herod is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, though we never get a lot of background information on him. Other sources have recorded his often-brutal ways, such as killing his wife and two of his sons, and ordering a large group of people to be killed when he died so there would be what he deemed an appropriate level of mourning (his son did not carry out this wish, however). A ruler like him may have instilled fear and worry in people, never knowing what he might do next–or who might find themselves in trouble next. All of this backstory doesn’t come through in the few verses I read about him in the Bible though, so it’s easy for me to skim over it. Sure, King Herod wasn’t great, and then I’m on to the next piece of the story.

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In the Harry Potter series though, there are seven books (or eight movies) detailing the life of Harry and the back-and-forth struggle in the magical world between Harry and the other “good people” and evil Lord Voldemort and his followers. As the series goes on, the worry and fear over Voldemort’s power and sinister ways grow and grow, culminating in book seven, when all hope seems like it may be lost. Society in the magical world is in chaos, with many people on the run for fear of being caught as part of the small remaining group who opposes Voldemort and his tactics.

Comparing King Herod to Voldemort is by no means perfect, but there are certainly similarities. They were both very powerful, had morally questionable methods of getting what they wanted, and squashed those who tried to stand against them. The main difference, of course, is that one is a historical figure who we can verify actually lived in a real time and place, and one is a fictional character who lives in the world of pages and screens.

But their similarities are why stories, even made up ones, matter. At their best, they help us better understand our actual, day-to-day lives in new ways, and give us a deeper grasp of other stories we encounter, be they in the Bible, from a friend, or in a movie. When I experience a story in a long format, getting to know the various characters and their actions, I can develop a fuller understanding of who they are, why they do what they do, and what their world is really like.

When I read the Bible, there are many instances where entire years go by in the matter of a few words or verses. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what actually took place in that time frame and to put myself in the place of the people who experienced it, because I don’t have very much information. Other stories give me the words and ideas to better understand the fear or joy or despair Bible characters may have felt, even if the text doesn’t directly tell me what it was like for them. As I listened to my pastor talk about what life may have been like for people living under King Herod’s reign, I imagined the same kinds of feelings characters may have felt at the end of the Harry Potter series when Voldemort was in control, and it gave me a new and different view of the story.

While I don’t read and study stories like Harry Potter the same way I read and study the Bible, there’s a beautiful value in being able to take the kind of learning I get from one and letting it inform how I learn from another.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are the stories that have helped you understand life differently?

Singleness and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

A while back, my pastor preached a message on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. I didn’t realize I kind of don’t like those guys until that moment. As they told King Nebuchadnezzar they refused to worship an image, they said a phrase I’ve read before but hadn’t fully processed.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV. Emphasis mine.)

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Photo by Marko Horvat on Unsplash

But even if he does not.

It would have been bold, and perhaps would have sent a stronger message, if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had simply told the king their God would save them. Instead, they proclaimed that God is able, he would deliver them, and they also acknowledged they did not fully know what deliverance would look like. I can only assume they desired to live to tell the story, but they were still willing to trust God even before they knew the outcome.

Those words “But even if he does not” paint a picture of a kind of faith I don’t know how to have. It’s a faith to be admired, to aspire to, but it’s also the kind of faith that has the ability to make me feel like a failure. In the areas of my life, most specifically the area of singleness, where nothing seems to be worked out and I don’t know if or when it will or in what way, I desperately want to be able to have a “But even if he does not” kind of faith.

But it’s also the kind of faith that can drop me to my knees, unable to breathe for the realness and rawness of the ache of the unanswereds and unknowns.

Because one of my frustrations with being single is the expansive uncertainty inherent in it. I may have already met the guy I’ll one day marry, or I might meet him in two days or two years, or I may never meet the right guy at the right time and I will spend the rest of my life single, only ever wanting and hoping for things to be different.

I have no way of knowing.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t know what their outcome would be either, yet they found a way to trust God anyway.

God’s goodness, his trustworthiness, his lovingness do not depend on him doing what I want him to do. He is all of those things and so much more, always and forever, independent of my wishes or the actions he does or doesn’t take in my life. His goodness doesn’t depend on whether or not he brings me a husband.

Those are such easy words to type, and seem laughably simple–of course God’s intrinsic nature doesn’t change based on whether or not I get married. My ability to trust in his goodness sometimes seems to though.

A “But even if he does not” kind of faith fully recognizes God’s ability to grant me what I desire, while simultaneously recognizing and not shying away from the truth that God’s will may not match up with my own.

And if that is the case, I am the one who has to change, not him.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does your ability to trust in God’s goodness sometimes hinge on whether or not he’s acting as you’d like him to?

I Lie at Church

One Sunday as I sang along to the song on the screen, I realized I might not entirely mean what I was singing.

My wealth is in the cross *
There’s nothing more I want
Than just to know His love
My heart is set on Christ

Or another song, one I haven’t sang quite as recently:

You’re all I want **
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near

You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace

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Photo by Bill Hamway on Unsplash

Do I intend to mean those words? Yes. Except most days, to say “There’s nothing more I want than just to know God’s love” would be a big lie. I want that, sure, but it’s one on a list of many wants, and while I know what the order of those desires should be, it rarely actually looks that way. As I go through my regular days, if I thought about, “What do I want most in this moment?” my answers would often be very small, immediate things. A hot piece of pizza, a kind reply to a difficult email I had to send, some hazelnut coffee left in the pot in the kitchen at work. Digging a bit deeper, I might also want a friend to reply to my text, a nice guy to notice me, my dad’s recovery from surgery to be going well.

Should God be all I ever want? Absolutely. Should he be the only thing I think I truly need? Yes. But I also feel like I need friends and a house and food, and while on some level those are needs, they aren’t deep-level needs like I’m supposed to need God.

And then, maybe, after those are out of the way, I’d remember to articulate my desire for God to be enough in my life. But I’d still want all of those other things.

Should I stop singing these kinds of songs until I can mean the words with 100% truth?

I don’t really think so. As godly and noble as the writers of songs might be, not even they could mean the words they write every single moment of every single day, yet they still go ahead and write them anyway. When we sing worship songs or read psalms as our prayers, I think God knows our heart behind them even if we struggle with fully meaning what the words are saying.

It’s helpful for me to think of singing these kinds of songs as both a proclamation and a prayer. There are glimmers of moments where I truly do believe God is all I really want, but also, I sing those words as a desperate plea for God to continue conforming my wayward desires to look like his. The hope is that day by day, month by month, year by year, the times God truly is all I want will only ever increase, until maybe, someday, it’s more true than not true. I’ll never perfect it in this lifetime–I’m far too full of human-ness for that to be possible–but the hope of the Christian life is that we continually become better than we were the day before.

So I’ll keep singing the worship songs with gusto, even if I don’t feel like I fully believe or mean every single word as fully as I should. Because while I may not be at that place today, maybe someday I will be.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

*Read more: Hillsong – Crowns Lyrics | MetroLyrics
**Read more: Kutless – Draw Me Close Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Easter and Our Unanswered Questions (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

It’s been a while. Again. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.

But for now, I shared some thoughts at my church’s blog about Easter and what resurrection looks like in our own lives.

 

Easter and Our Unanswered Questions 

Will I ever get better?

Why did my little sister have to die?

Which college should I choose?

Why do so many other people get to have happy marriages?

When will I finally get a job?

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Photo Credit: Marko Horvat

We all come to God with questions. Some of them are big and will seemingly never be answered in this lifetime; some are seemingly smaller, yet frustrating all the same. It’s tempting to approach Easter with its flowers and candy and Easter eggs and simply say, “Jesus rose from the dead! All is well!” And in a cosmic sense, Jesus’ resurrection makes that statement true, but in our day-to-day lives it often doesn’t seem that way.

 

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

A Very Good, Very Single Life

It’s a new year, I turn 27 at the end of the month, and I am (still) single. Just as I have been at the beginning of every other year, and heading into every other birthday.

When I was in high school I attended a wedding of people who were 25 or 26, and I remember thinking, “I’ll definitely be married before then.” In the community I grew up in and still live in, marrying young is normal, almost expected even. Younger versions of me were foolish and prideful in many ways, but this–my assumptions about how a relationship would factor into my life–has proven to be the most glaring example.

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Photo Credit: WEB AGENCY

A while back I read a post by the blogger Leigh Kramer that’s made me reconsider how I approach my life. She wrote, “I began dreaming about what my ideal single life would look like. Taking a future husband out of the equation entirely: what would a happy, whole life look like for me? What would need to be in place for me to feel I’m living my best life?”

Planning out my days and weeks on my Google Calendar has become essential to me, but even the phrase “life plan” nearly makes me ill. I like small bits of time to be planned ahead, but not big expanses of time. Yet as I considered Leigh’s post, I realized I’ve always been resistant to the idea of envisioning or planning for my long-term future in terms of being single. Months ahead, maybe even a year, sure–but to think much beyond that felt like giving up hope of things ever changing. Except when I look at my life, as good and full as it is, but very much lacking any reasonable prospects of marriage in the near future, I have to wonder if it’s more damaging for me to not think of my future in terms of being single. It’s all I’ve ever known, and it might be all I’ll ever know.

I’d be lying if I said that even typing those words wasn’t painful.

But it could be true. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure, or less than, or unworthy. It just means I’m single, and might always be. I can’t plan on my life becoming something it very well might not.

So how do I accept that, or at least as well as I can? How do I continue building a good, full life, even though it’s not the kind of good or the kind of full I imagined?

There are some obvious ones for me–despite my at-times complicated relationship with it, faith is always my utmost priority, even when I don’t do a great job of actually making it a priority. I know I’ll have no business getting married if being with him doesn’t make us both able to better love, serve, and glorify God because we are together than we would if we were apart. A tall order, but an important one.

Then there’s the people. I may not have a someONE, but I do have a lot of someoneS. The ones I share DNA with, and the ones I don’t but who have no less significance in my life just because we don’t find each other on a family tree.

Those two are easy, and while the order of the someones might have to shift a bit should a someone come along, they’d both still be there. But they don’t comprise a whole life. They might be priorities, but there’s a lot of living to do in all the other time.

I have no concrete answers for this yet. Will I learn to be okay if things don’t ever turn out the way I had hoped and imagined and prayed they would? How will I not just get through life, but fully embrace it for what it is?

What does a very good, very single life look like for me?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What does your vision of the good single life look like?

Why I Take Christmas Card Photos with My Goldfish

Most Christmas cards have pretty winter scenes or photos of adorable children.

Mine look like this.

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This wasn’t exactly the plan, of course. If someone had asked me when I was a teenager what I thought my Christmas card would look like when I was 26, my answer would not have been “A picture of me and my goldfish in front of my artificial hand-me-down Christmas tree, of course.”

Yet, here I am. Year four of Goldfish Christmas Cards, which I think means I’m allowed to call it a tradition now. I don’t even remember where I initially got the idea, but my original goal was mostly for my own amusement. Even still, that’s a large part of the reason I do it–if I didn’t have fun with it, I’d stop.

At the same time, it’s come to mean a bit more to me. I decided I’m over the idea that only couples or families are allowed to have photo Christmas cards. I fully realize I’m not as cute as my young nieces and nephews who grace their families’ cards, but I like thinking of creative ideas for poses and pun-tastic phrases and sharing them with my family and friends. Though I try not to, I sometimes use being single as a reason for why I’m not a “real adult yet,” and I didn’t want to let my singleness be an excuse for not participating in the strange but lovely tradition of exchanging Christmas cards.

Is it a “normal” Christmas card? No. Is it how I thought my Christmas cards would look, or even how I want mine to look for the rest of my life? No. Is it an accurate reflection of where I’m at in life right now? Yup. I live by myself in the house I bought, and the only other creature who resides here permanently is my goldfish. So instead of a “2016 Update” letter included in a card with a typical winter or Christmas setting, this feels particularly fitting this year.

So from our bowl to yours, til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you’re single, do you send Christmas cards?

When It Seems Like God Lied (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 just started this year’s Christmas series, and I suspect I will be taking away a lot from it. The first message was on God’s promises and how they often don’t look like we expect them to.

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Francis

When It Seems Like God Lied

There are many promises throughout the Bible.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

In our best moments, these verses likely come as a source of deep comfort. When we’re in the middle of difficult times though, having these verses offered as solutions to our problems can be frustrating or even annoying. Does losing a job seem like a plan to prosper us? Do illnesses, failed classes, divorces, cruel bosses, or financial ruin seem like giving us a hope and a future? There are times when God’s promises feel more like lies than truth.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

Looking Back for Thankfulness

Last year at this time, I was not feeling overly thankful. A variety of situations, most of them entirely out of my control, had spiraled me into a place of frustration and discontent. Looking back at my journal from that time, the resounding theme was, “I don’t know what to do.” Getting out of that place required difficult and what proved to be wise yet un-fun decisions, combined with the simple but irritating solution of time.

 

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Photo Credit: Andy Chilton

Comparing our past with our present can be a dangerous game, because things don’t always turn out to be greener on the other side, and while memory lane is a nice place to visit, it’s an impossible place to live. This year though, looking back is giving me a fresh perspective on my reasons to be thankful. It’s both a general and specific thankfulness–I’m thankful life is going better than it was last fall, though much of that isn’t my own doing so much as the circumstances around me happen to different. And specifically, I am so thankful to have a place of my own to call home, a place I chose, I bought, and that I will get to decide when and if I move out of it. After the past few years of moving frequently, it feels like an immense gift to know next fall, unless something really goes haywire, I will still be living in the same place. It’s beginning to feel like real home, and to know I get to continue to build that sense there is deeply, profoundly comforting.

While much of my thankfulness stems from an upturn in life circumstances, there is a spiritual component to it as well. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ve felt an uneasy distance and strangeness in my faith. Though I’ve come to see it as a natural part of being in any sort of long-term relationship, I’ve never welcomed it or been particularly at peace with it. Maybe the season is beginning to change in my relationship with God, or maybe I’ve grown used to this place enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it doesn’t concern me like it used to. It’s not a giving up, walking-away-from-faith kind of change. Instead it’s a peace, however still unsettled, with not fully understanding how the ebb and flow of a relationship with an unseen God works.

None of this is permanent, none of it is guaranteed to be the same (or even better) next year, and there are still plans and hopes I have for life that haven’t shown as much of a glimmer of turning out like I thought they would. Those things don’t go away, but I can choose to not let them detract from this, here, this place and time where I am thankful for what is instead of so caught up in what could be. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has looking back made you thankful for?

My Accidental Blogging Break

At the beginning of 2016, I told myself I’d post a new blog post every week. Looking at my 2016 posting calendar, that’s absolutely laughable now. First I missed a week here and there, but I vowed to cut myself some slack–every ten days or so still kinda counted, right? Plus, I bought a condo, making my spring and early summer very busy.

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Photo Credit: Florian Klauer

Then fall hit, and “busy” took on a new meaning. Over the course of ten days, I went on three separate trips and slept in six different states. Throw in a couple more trips, a load of other work and life busyness, and I felt like I could barely breathe for it all. For some people it would be completely normal, but for me, it was much, much more than I’m used to. As I’ve come to understand myself better, I know I need space, room for simply breathing and calmly experiencing my life, instead of a frenetic pace. I’ve become more comfortable with saying no to give myself the space I need, and generally my current phase of life allows me a nice balance, but this fall it felt like I completely lost it. Even a calendar full of wonderful, fun things can get wearisome at some point.

All the while, I had this simmering guilt in the back of my head over not writing new blogs posts. I was still writing in other places and I was still thinking of ideas to write about, but when I thought about actually writing a new post in the snatches of spare time I had, it stressed me out so much that I ignored it. I thought back to my post in April, “When Your Goals Are Stupid,” and realized I needed to take my own advice: When our goals become a source of stress instead of a source of motivation, it’s time to reevaluate.

So I let it go. This blog wasn’t going anywhere, and I needed space much more than I needed to continue spewing words onto these pages. As much as I enjoy writing here, it was humbling to realize my decision to pause for a while likely had no effect on anyone else’s life. It’s a delicate balance, to hold that reality while also believing it’s not pointless to write because, occasionally, my words do bump into someone else’s life in what I hope are helpful, good ways–and also, I simply like writing here, which has a value of its own. Life has calmed down a teensy bit now, and it is nice to share here again. But objectively speaking, the world does not need this little blog.

 
I have no intention of shutting down this space. The beauty of this accidental break from blogging, though, is how it helped me put this back into perspective. Writing and sharing those words is something I think I’ll always enjoy, but it too can go through different seasons, and that is okay. I’m hopeful I’ll begin writing here more regularly again, but if not, I’ve remembered the world spins madly on all the same.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Has an accidental break from something you enjoy ever taught you anything?