The Real Way to Create Community (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. Lately I’ve been thinking about church again–why I go, what the purpose is, how participants in a church go about enfolding everyone into the life of the church–so today, I’m writing at YALT about community.

The Real Way to Create Community

Evoking images of shared meals and laughing people, community is a popular word in Christian circles. While not the sole intent of a church, creating a sense of community among their members is a mission most churches value, because strong Christian 2015-07-22 20.49.48-1community is certainly good, and even biblical. The how to create community is where things get complicated though. Countless books and blogs posts have been written, all offering various tactics and strategies, but I think the real way to create community cannot be distilled into an easy formula.

I think the way to create community is to embrace the awkward.

Keep reading at the YALT blog.

Inside Out and the Permission to Feel

Recently I saw the movie Inside Out, which features 11-year-old Riley (and her family) as they move across the country. Her personified emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger navigate Riley through her days, but everything goes awry soon after the move–leaving Riley irritable and wishing to return to a time when life seemed to make sense.

For many reasons, it is a wonderful film–entertaining, clever, and more moving than I even anticipated. Weaved in among all the other positive qualities, I also found it strangely freeing. 

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Feelings and emotions are tricky things. It can be hard to show them at times, hard to know if it’s safe, if it’s wise, if it’s acceptable to be vulnerable enough with people to show them how we’re really feeling. At its core, one of the most important messages of Inside Out is that feelings are okay. Big feelings even, the startling kind that make us take a step back and try to figure out where they’re even coming from.

Riley moved across the country, and I moved a few mere miles, but having feelings about moving is not bad or something to be ashamed of. Moving is a change, and changes can make us feel happy or scared or excited or mad or any combination of any or all of those, plus about a bazillion other emotions–but we don’t need to be afraid of them.

Keeping feelings in indefinitely, trying to pretend they don’t exist, helps no one.

Admittedly, I probably have a few more feelings than the average person, but I’m beginning to be more okay with that. It’s part of how I interpret and process the world around me.

Granted, there are different ways of expressing feelings–some good and healthy, and others are destructive and unhelpful. Learning to express our emotions, in the right ways and in the right spaces and to the right people, is incredibly important. Inside Out was a poignant reminder of the necessity of acknowledging our feelings and working through them, instead of ignoring or running away from them. It’s not easy, simple work, because emotions are complex and shifty things–but it is good and needed work.

Maybe Inside Out will free others to feel their feelings too. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are healthy ways you’ve found to express your emotions?

A Change of Faith

Some people are thrown into Strange Spaces of faith because of a major crisis, perhaps an illness or a death, or maybe some large question that has barged into their life and refuses to go away. These, I understand, can absolutely see why they send people into a tailspin of doubt and anger and questioning.

I have no excuse for my entry into a strange faith space, no major tragedy or question begging to be answered before I can move on to somewhere new.

Whatever the reason though, I’m beginning to think it’s needed. Socrates is credited with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wonder too if the unexamined faith is not worth having.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella's Dad, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella’s Dad, Creative Commons

It feels as though I have been taking my faith and examining it from every angle, holding it up to see each side and nuance. Not so that I can ultimately set it down and walk away, but so that I can come to know and embrace it more fully.

There are big questions to ask, of why I hold this faith and what it means for how I order my everyday life, how I approach the world and all the complexities that come with simply being human. There are questions of how I read the Bible, what place I give it in my life, what Christian community means and what it looks like on a very practical level. How do I make decisions, big or small? How do I treat people, and is it reflective of what I believe about the love of Christ? How do I answer the big questions of why we exist and what the purpose of life is?

So many people have attempted to answer these questions and will continue to do so, and I can’t help thinking that no one has or ever will get all of these faith matters completely right. Which is a jarring thought, given what I had subconsciously believed for much of my faith life. Because what if there is no one perfectly correct way to follow Jesus?

I’m becoming more okay with that thought, what it looks like for other people’s lives as well as my own. There are core pieces I haven’t given up, nor do I think I’ll ever. But even those must be revisited, reexamined, if only to reaffirm where I stand. So much though, more than I would once have ever thought, I’m learning to hold loosely. Different really can be okay.

A reshaping of faith is not an entirely enjoyable process. It can be uncomfortable, convicting, and confusing.  Examining often comes with reshaping, discovering pieces may not fit at all anymore or may fit in a different way. Yet, despite my issues with prayer and the Bible, my questions of the practicalities of how to follow Jesus (and what does that phrase even really mean?), I have never seriously considered completely walking away from my faith.

For all the confusion it sometimes causes me, there is something to this Christian story, something to this God and this Jesus, that keep pulling me back. To grace, to mercy, to forgiveness, to a love so big I will never understand even a fraction of it.

There is no other story I would rather wrestle with.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Thoughts On Moving (Again)

I am packing books, taking down wall decorations, and loading boxes, for the third summer in a row. In a few weeks, I am moving again.

Some people are good at moving, enjoy it even—maybe not so much the physical act of getting all of their belongings from one place to another—but they relish the idea of a new place, whether it be the same general area they started in or a whole new city, state, or country.

These people are what I have come to think of as “Bird People.” Winged, easily moving from one place to another.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Broo_Am (Andy B), Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Broo_Am (Andy B), Creative Commons

I think I am a tree.

Meant to be rooted, deeply, though with branches spreading wide.

We Tree People don’t do so well with the Moving. Every time, it’s not simply a matter of putting physical objects into boxes and vehicles and transporting them to a location; it’s disentangling my complicated feelings about this transient phase of life I’m in, why I’m in it, how I’m pretty sure I’d prefer to not be in it exactly as I am, but not really knowing how to solve it—or even if I’m supposed to solve it, because maybe I’m just supposed to live it.

Moving is a messy business for Tree People. Even if the roots haven’t had years and years to grow, they’ve started. And each move is a transplant.

Sometimes I wish I were a Bird Person. It would make this moving easier, even exciting, instead of so laborious and weighty. But I suppose there are complexities with that way of life that I cannot see from my view.

It takes me a while to settle in a new house, to hang my decorations on the wall and begin to make the mental shift to know what I mean when I tell someone “I’m going home.”

As many times as I’ve now tried, defining home is still tricky. I’m always trying to conjure up this feeling of home, one that’s not tied to the people I’m with because that is constantly changing as well, but to define it in a way that fits me and where I’m at. Home, for me, is a word I want to evoke feelings of warmth, comfort, and coziness, but I’m not quite there.

I’m still figuring out what to do with these roots of mine.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are you a Bird Person, or a Tree Person?

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?