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.

Happy 4th Birthday!

Four years ago today, I started blogging here.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Shyn Darkly, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Shyn Darkly, Creative Commons

Those first few posts aren’t exactly masterpieces, and at times I’ve been tempted to take them down. But I’ve realized they’re part of a story, the story I’m telling with my life and with all of the words collected here over the past few years. Those posts, and all the other “subpar” ones I’ve published and will publish, are part of something bigger. I’ve catalogued much of my journey of graduating, my continuing joys and frustrations of singleness, the ups and downs of faith, and so much more. Blogging often feels as much for me as it does for anyone else, which I suppose is kind of a good thing.

There have been, and will continue to be, times when I consider quitting. Objectively speaking, there’s really no “outcome” of these words I continue to throw into cyberspace. In my better moments, though, I’m reminded that sometimes the value is in the doing. Which is why I’m still here, typing, deleting, typing again, publishing. Four years down, who knows how many to come.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Reading the Bible Doesn’t Work

This Lent, I’ve been doing a reading plan through Bible Gateway that will take me through all of the New Testament by Easter. So far I’ve been quite good about it—there have been a couple days when I missed all or some of the chapters, but I’ve always gone back and caught up.

I’m over halfway through the plan now, and yet, I don’t really feel like it’s doing anything.

.

.

Sure, sometimes when I read it I’m not fully engaged and am reading the words merely to say I’ve read them, but there are times when I really am paying close attention. In an effort to keep me from being able to skim so easily, I’m reading The Message, instead of my usual NIV or ESV. There have been moments when certain verses or phrases stick out to me a bit, but certainly no lightning bolts. Not that I necessarily expected one, but it sure would be nice.

I’ve tried not reading the Bible at all for a while, I’ve tried eating something I enjoy while I read it as a reminder of its goodness, and now I’m trying a fairly regimented approach to reading it.

And none of it seems to be “working.” Whatever “working” exactly means when it’s applied to Bible reading.

If it’s supposed to break God’s seeming silence, it’s certainly not working the way I’d like it to.

I can’t pinpoint when I wandered into this weird space of not really knowing what’s going on with God. It’s been some time now though, and while I’ve seen glimpses of him here and there, mostly I have not.

God is there—I’m as certain of it as I think I can be (which is to say, not 100%, but enough to continue believing and living like it)—but it kind of seems like he’s not.

In the midst of all of it, I’m continuing to look for the lessons here. And I’m coming to realize it’s not in my right to DEMAND more of God. It’s what I want to do, and oh how I wish he’d give in to my foot-stomping wails for him to appear, but that is not how he operates. Or at least, it’s not how he has to.

He doesn’t have to do anything.

I’ve realized I’m still not tempted to walk away from this faith thing—that’s never really been a serious consideration in my mind, even here, in this strange space. I think this is me learning that inherent in the idea of “faith” is the idea keeping after it, whether or not the feelings are there.  

So where does that leave me?

If the ways I’ve seen and felt God at work in my life turn out to be all I ever get, for the rest of my breathing days, is it enough?

I can’t say with absolutely certainty, because life may be long and messy and painful, but I think it might be.

If reading the Bible never starts feeling like it’s “working” again, if my problems with prayer persist, if God never shows up in a pillar of fire, is it enough?

I hope so.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you do when reading the Bible doesn’t seem to be “working?”

25 Lessons in 25 Years

I recently turned 25. It’s not a ton of years, but it doesn’t feel like nothing, either. I’ve done some stuff. Gone some places. Learned some things. For this post, 25 things, to be exact.

25 Lessons

  1. Know what you’re about. What is the central, driving force of your life—not just for this moment, but for this season and beyond?
  2. Love what’s in front of you. As Mumford and Sons sing, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Life doesn’t come with a fast forward button or a rewind, so be where you are and find the goodness in it.
  3. Things that are not fun while you’re living them (throwing up into a plastic bag at a London Tube station, for example) can make great stories later.
  4. Learn to let go.
  5. But also learn how to hold on fiercely, even when it hurts.
  6. Learning to tell the difference between the previous two is so, so important. And sometimes really hard.
  7. Good music can soothe your soul. Also brownies.
  8. Life can be as exciting—or boring—as you make it be.
  9. Read. Fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s books—read it all. Read what you’ll love, read what you’ll hate, and everything in between. Read books, Facebook posts, magazine articles, tweets. You will travel, you will learn, you will cry, you will laugh. Read.
  10. As much as possible, don’t burn bridges. People may reappear in your life many times over, and you never know when it might happen or in what way.
  11. God is big, and good, and wildly confusing sometimes. Stop trying to completely figure him out. You won’t.
  12. But don’t stop chasing God. Yes, he’s confusing, but so much more than that, he is loving and good and in the end, worth it all.
  13. Don’t buy the cheapest plunger at the store. You will regret it.
  14. Write it down. Whatever “it” is. Thoughts, feelings, actions, hopes, dreams. Words will sort your brain out in ways you didn’t think possible, show you where you’ve been and sometimes clarify where you should go.
  15. Find the good people. They are out there, and they will color and shape your world in extraordinary ways.
  16. Eat well. Have some cake, a steak, the queso you love. Not as often as you might want, but not never.
  17. Stop trying to control everything. It won’t ever work the way you want it to. Ultimately, God has it. You may not like the way it looks, or the timing, or the exact way it all happens, but he can be trusted.
  18. Determine whose opinion matters. Most people’s opinion doesn’t. But for those ones, the good people, the people who love you and care for you and truly want what’s best for you—listen to them. Sometimes you cannot see clearly what’s right in front of you.
  19. Both figuratively and literally, life is too short to read crappy books.
  20. Make room in your life for the best things, even if it means getting rid of good things.
  21. Yes, it’s true you only live once, but don’t be a moron about it. Only living once is not an excuse to live recklessly with no thought of the future. It’s probable you have more days ahead of you, so make sure you can use those ones well also. Not just today.
  22. Love comes in many forms. Appreciate them all.
  23. Show up, both physically and metaphorically.
  24. Never stop learning. Learn about yourself—take personality tests that put into words things you’ve felt but couldn’t explain, be open to what other people observe about you, don’t be quite so scared to change. Soak in knowledge about any and everything, wherever you may find it.
  25. When faced with the choice between getting a good night’s sleep and going on adventures, pick the adventures. “I remember the day I was really well-rested” is not a story.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What lessons would you add?

Let’s Talk About Booze (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. This time I’m writing about alcohol, which is a topic I’ve thought a lot about but have yet to explore in written form in any public space. It’s a complex topic, and I’ve to hear your thoughts in the comments on the YALT blog.

Let’s Talk About Booze

In the Christian Reformed church I grew up in, alcohol wasn’t really ever talked about. Most of the adults I knew didn’t drink (or at least not that I saw), so over time, I was left to develop my own thoughts about alcohol and the place it would or wouldn’t have in my life. Considering I facilitate a Bible study I named “Women & Wine,” where I landed–at least for my current phase of life–is clear.

And yet, I think it’s a conversation that has been missing in many church communities. I don’t think the question is whether Christians should talk about alcohol, but how and why we should talk about it. By not talking about it, we miss out on asking the deeper questions of how and why we choose not to or to engage in particular behaviors. By talking about it, we open ourselves up to be continually contemplating how we are able to best emulate Jesus, and how that plays out in very practical terms in our everyday lives.

Keep reading at the YALT Momentum blog.

Learning to Receive

Some people are good at receiving.

Others are not so good.

It wasn’t something I had given much thought to, until I started giving away grocery carts.

At Aldi, where I do most of my food shopping, the carts are stored all linked together. The process works like this:

Photo Credit: Flickr User Portal Abras, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Portal Abras, Creative Commons

  1. Place quarter in slot.
  2. Get cart.
  3. Shop
  4. Return cart.
  5. Get quarter back.

The first time I gave my cart away, it was sheer laziness. Someone was arriving as I was finishing loading groceries in my car, so I asked if they wanted a cart. Now, it’s become habit to give away my cart—not because I’m an exceedingly good person (I’m not), but because it’s proved to be a simple way to show kindness. And, in the process, I’m learning what it means to receive.

People typically react in one of two ways when I ask them if they want a cart and turn down their offer of a quarter. They either thank me and carry on with their day, or they try to force me to take their quarter—sometimes offering it two or three times. “Are you sure?” they say.

It’s a quarter, I find myself nearly saying. Even then, some will assure me, “I’ll be sure to pass it on!”

I think it shows a fundamental difference: Some people are good at receiving, saying thanks, and moving on. Others feel they must do something in return, as though they owe now owe a debt, even if it’s a quarter.

Now there’s something to be said for passing along a kindness or taking action as a response to a gift, but if we always live in a state of furiously trying to repay whatever good gifts we’ve been given, it can get exhausting. And it’s impossible, really.

The beauty of a true gift is that it shouldn’t need to be repaid.

Gratefulness and thanks are always appropriate, but repayment isn’t needed.

As I’ve thought about all of this and how it pertains to relationships, both with humans and with God, I’ve realized how not-awesome I actually am at receiving. In the back of my head, I’m often thinking about how I can “repay” a person when they give me a gift, whether it’s a physical gift or gifts of presence, attentiveness, love. Which is really not a great way to live. What if, instead, people give gifts simply because they like me? Not because they expect anything in return?

And what if it’s the same with God? What if he’s given me so many good things—love, grace, mercy, family, friends—not because he’s trying to get something from me, but just because he likes me? Because he loves me?

I can still serve God and give him glory and praise, but I don’t need to do so out of obligation, out of a sense that I am trying to repay what he has given me. Those things are gifts, really and truly freely given. No guilt, no obligation, no payment required.

It’s one of those things I’ve known in my head for a long time, but am still trying to figure out what it means for my heart. Outwardly, I may still serve in all the same ways I always have, but my internal reasons can be completely different. My responses can come out of thankfulness, not a furious need to earn what’s already been given to me.

If I let it, a gift can be just that–a gift.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How are you at receiving?

Celebrate All the Love

Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and, as I expected, it’s bringing up some Feelings for me. But, along with the usual tinges of sadness that my life has not turned out quite the way I had planned, there’s something new this year.

I’m kind of irritated with the way “love” gets pigeonholed, made out to be just one certain thing.

Because while romantic love is a fine thing to celebrate, this time of year it gets put on a pedestal as being The Best Thing, The Ultimate Thing, The One True Thing. And it’s just not.

There are so many kinds of love.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Greencolander, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Greencolander, Creative Commons

I still haven’t found the words to adequately express my love for my nieces and nephews. They bring so much wonder, so much light, so much joy to our family. Yet the love I feel for them is a different kind of love than I feel even for my parents, who raised me and my two older siblings so well and demonstrate the beauty of a love that lasts because it’s worked at. And my siblings and their spouses–a kind of love that has endured years of pestering and teasing as the baby of the family. Then there’s the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all claiming and bestowing a unique kind of love. It’s surrounded me, even when I have not appreciated or recognized it, from even before the day I was born.

Beyond the love that blood ties together, there are the friends, the fellow churchgoers, the co-workers–people who, now that I no longer live with family, get the majority of my days in some form or another. I think I’ve finally reached the point that I can say with a bit of confidence that at least some of my friendships will be around for the long haul. Friends that (annoyingly) push me to be better, friends that make me laugh, friends that make me sit up and take stock of the type of person I’m becoming and whether it’s who I really want to be.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

So this Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to not be blind. I may not have the exact kind of love I had hoped to find by this point, but my life is far from loveless.

In fact, if I had to pick just one–either romantic love or the myriad kinds in my life as it is right now–I’d take the kind of love I have. It is varied and frustrating and vibrant and maddening. It is real. It is alive. It is worthy to be noticed, to be celebrated. 

So I’ll celebrate all the love.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What kinds of love can you celebrate?

Introducing: A New Title

For some time now, the title of this blog hasn’t fit quite right. The “recent” in “Musings of a Recent College Graduate” is less and less true every day, and my posts about such topics have grown scarce. There are still tensions I wrestle with, like missing the college world and being unsure of how I feel about this whole “working 40 hours a week” thing, but they look different than they used to. Like I have, the ways I wrestle have grown up a bit.

And so, it is finally time for a new name for this little blog. It’s not something I’ve approached lightly (considering I first wrote about this idea nearly 6 months ago), nor do I say with confidence that the name will never change again. For now though, I present:

The Art of Becoming

As I wrote back in 2013, “Becoming. There’s something hopeful about the word, like a promise of what will be, is going to be, but isn’t quite yet. Glimmers may be there, but not the whole.”

Because isn’t that what life really is? A continual process, with bits and pieces revealed here and there, but never quite the whole. Always, I am becoming. Whether it’s adjectives or titles that describe me, there is–or at least should be–some sort of change happening. It’s a process I’m only just beginning to appreciate, and one I hope I never outgrow.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~