I Am Still Not My Title

Recently I celebrated my 3-year anniversary at my full-time, big kid job. It’s been a good fit–I like most of what I do most of the time, which I think is probably pretty typical. There are days when I’m completely energized and would confidently answer yes, I love my job, and there are other days that are frustrating and make me want to walk out the door.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User jeffwilcox, Creative Commons

Not long after I started my job, I wrote about not wanting to become my title. It’s an easy thing to do, and I get the sense that it’s even more prevalent in the United States than in other places. Recently I met some new people and internally kicked myself when one of the first questions out of my mouth was, “So what do you do?” Some people do define themselves by their job, but I think we can do so much better than that. At least I want to.

My job is a thing that I do. Yes, it takes up a good chunk of my waking hours during the week, occasionally spills over into nights and weekends or sends me across the country, but I hope it’s not the most interesting thing about me–even though it is often the first and easiest thing to talk about in certain settings. There’s a reason I don’t write specifically about what I do in this space or mention it on certain forms of social media; as much as I like what I do, it does not define me. And I hope that never changes. As I wrote several years ago:

I want to approach it as a shirt, one I wear proudly and well when the time is right, but not as skin. This job, this title, any job, any title, does not define who I am as a being.

It’s good to be passionate about our work, and I feel fortunate to have a job that aligns well with areas I’m gifted in and even with my beliefs. I’m also aware that I likely won’t have this job forever, either because I choose to move somewhere else or because of changes at my workplace. If or when that happens, it will be a major adjustment and I will probably go through some mourning, but I don’t want to feel like I’m leaving behind a piece of my identity as well as leaving behind a job.

For the past three years, I feel like I’ve done pretty well with not letting my job define me. It’s not always easy though. There are times when it’s nice to have a job to help give me a certain level of status, but I always feel a little icky when I think that way–it’s a societal norm to assign ourselves worth and value because of our jobs, but I don’t want to be that way. And when I do it to myself, it’s far too easy to do it to other people as well, either for good or for bad.

The next time I meet new people, I want to do better than asking “So what do you do?” I’m not sure what that looks like though. If you have any great ideas of how to start conversations without asking about what people do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What questions do you ask people when you first meet them?

Doubt is Not a Bad Guy

The other day as I was driving, I happened to be listening to a Christian radio station. I have a hard time not nitpicking Christian music as it is, and this lyric jumped out at me:

I don’t wanna ever doubt You

It’s a noble goal in theory, but in the face of real life, real problems, real heartache, it immediately struck me as unrealistic.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Barbara Walsh Photography, Creative Commons

No matter how well we strive to follow Jesus, there will always be moments of doubt–maybe not doubting his existence, though that’s certainly a possibility–but doubting his plan, doubting his goodness, doubting how things play out in our lives and in the lives of those around us. I don’t think we’ll ever fully escape those kinds of doubts.

And, I’d argue, that’s not a bad thing. There are times when we learn more through doubting than we would in any other way.

Wrestling with doubt can be holy.

It can also be treacherous, which is why it gets portrayed as the Bad Guy. If doubt causes us to only seek out people and places that tell us our doubts are all valid and everything we’ve believed is a lie, it’s problematic. That kind of doubt is only enforcing what we may already want to hear. Perhaps even more dangerous is the kind of doubt that does nothing at all. Instead of doing the slow, hard work of confronting doubt and examining it from every angle, ignoring it moves us nowhere. It’s a grand stalemate, a lazy kind of doubt that’s afraid of finding any sort of answer, because those answers may be uncomfortable.

But doubt can also spur us to action. It can force us to reexamine, rethink, and possibly even renew what be believe. There is value in exploring how other people have dealt with similar doubts, no matter what conclusion they reached–there is good to be learned in seeing their process, in seeing echoes of ourselves reflected in other people’s stories. It doesn’t mean that our process or destination will end up looking the same, but there can be comfort in the commonalities.

 
This may not be a popular opinion in Christianity. There are no guarantees when we set out on a journey to examine our doubt, because doubt is messy and complicated and painful. But saying it’s always bad only makes us afraid of something any Christ-follower will encounter at points along the path. Presenting doubt as the objective Bad Guy makes people hesitant to talk about it, and can leave people feeling as though they are the only ones who have ever struggled with it. When doubt is presented as a likely part of the faith journey instead of an aberration, we create space to talk about it honestly in community, instead of struggling through alone. Talking about it doesn’t mean we, or our faith, will come out unscathed–there is far too much mystery in God and faith and grace for me to understand how two people’s seemingly similar paths can have such dramatically different outcomes–but it may mean we won’t come out alone.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you encountered good in doubt?

Being a Sympathetic String

I love music, but I don’t pretend to know a ton about it. Recently, I saw William Close and the Earth Harp Collective perform, where I learned about sympathetic strings. As he stretches the strings out over the performance space, there are some strings he’ll never actually play.

They’re not tuned to particular notes, they’re just there. 

Yet, as I watched the strings above me, not being tuned and not being actually played doesn’t mean sympathetic strings are inactive or unimportant. As he plays, the sympathetic strings vibrate and bounce nearly as much as the strings he’s actually playing.

Wikipedia states, “They are typically not played directly by the performer (except occasionally as an effect), only indirectly through the tones that are played on the main strings, based on the principle of sympathetic resonance…Sympathetic strings are used to enhance the sound of an instrument.”

 

I love that they’re called sympathetic strings. I love the idea that they sit alongside the strings making the music, and though they don’t *technically* have an action of their own to perform, they add something to the mix. Without them, the music wouldn’t be quite as lovely, quite as touching, quite as powerful.

When it comes to the people I care about, I want to be a sympathetic string. Sympathy itself is a tricky business–I don’t want to pity people, which is where sympathy can often lead–but I do want to feel for them, to understand what they are going through as best as I’m able. I can’t physically or emotionally take on the joys and difficulties of my family and friends, but I can be alongside it, listening, adding resonance to their lives by simply showing up and being there.

This isn’t easy for me. My natural tendency is to want to fix things, to put Band-Aids on them so they don’t hurt anymore. I have yet to come across a situation someone is going through where I actually have the capability to fix it, though. Sometimes I can take some level of action–sympathetic strings do move in response to the other stringers, after all– but lives are messy, especially other people’s lives.There aren’t wands to magic things all better. We make better sympathetic strings than Band-Aids.

I can’t fix; I can show up.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How can you be a sympathetic string for those around you?

Faith Beyond Feeling

“If God feels distant, guess who moved?”

It’s a saying that gets tossed around in Christian circles sometimes, and honestly, I’ve likely even said it myself at some point. Lately though, I’ve been pondering it, and am beginning to see it for what it is: A lie.

If Christianity made total sense, then yes, reading the Bible, praying, going to church, being in a Bible study, and volunteering would likely guarantee we always felt God’s presence.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User ZoeLouisePhotography, Creative Commons

Except Christianity often doesn’t make sense. It’s not a religion of checklists (though it may be treated and presented that way at times), making sure we tick all the right boxes so God hands us our Perfect Little Lives. There’s much more mystery and ambiguity to it than that. I love God, I want to know him better and follow him well, so I try to read the Bible and pray and serve him in various ways, but a lot of the time I’m pretty bad at all of those. And then he seems to go missing for a while, and the ways I used to feel him, though they weren’t big and flashy, don’t work like they used to. Even though I’m still doing “all the right things.”

Which means, I’ve been told, that I’m the one who moved…like I somehow messed up, and God is punishing me by not letting me feel his presence anymore.

I don’t think it really works like that though.

As someone who interprets the world largely based on feelings, I want to feel God’s presence as a real, tangible work in my life. He works that way sometimes, but not always. So I don’t think I’ve moved and God is holding back from me because of that; I think I’m finding my way to a faith beyond feeling.

A kind of faith that trusts God is there, that he is who he says he is, that he will do what he has said he will, even when my present reality may not bear the witness of it like I had hoped it would. It’s a kind of faith that knows there are seasons, some where God makes himself known through feelings, and some where God makes himself known in the complicated, uncomfortable way of simply being held by his grace.

There’s an easiness of “If God feels distant, guess who moved?” which is probably why we say it. We are sometimes, perhaps even often, the ones who wander away from God. I don’t think God ever really wanders away from us though–that seems to go against his very nature, of one who is love, who is always there fighting for us. He does seem to use unorthodox methods for getting our attention, so maybe it’s more that he lets it seem like there’s distance.

I’m not sure how this all works. I’ll never claim to understand the complexities of God.

But I don’t think we need to feel like we’ve failed when God seems distant. Do we always have to put the blame somewhere, either on ourselves or on God? Or can distance sometimes just be…a thing that feels true right now, even if we ultimately know that it’s not? And maybe it’s a way to a different kind of faith, a faith beyond the need to always feel it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you make sense of it when God feels distant?

One Word 365

The only time a New Year’s resolution has ever “stuck” for me is the year I resolved to write every single day–that one has turned into a habit I’ve continued for over five years. Most of the time, resolutions seem too overwhelming to commit to. There are certainly changes I could stand to make in my life, but trying to figure out this Adulthood and Personhood thing feels like quite enough most of the time.

This year though, my church did a One Word event for women. I was familiar with the concept of one word, as I’ve seen many tweets and blog posts about it over the past few years, and the concept intrigued me. As explained by the #OneWord365 website, the idea is thus:

Choose just one word.

One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.

It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your one word will shape not only your year, but also you. It will become the compass that directs your decisions and guides your steps.

Discover the big impact one word can make.

The complication then becomes, of course, choosing a word.

When I asked People of the Internet for guidance on how to select my word, one of the first responses was, “Just pray about it.” In theory, that sounds great–except my difficulty with prayer is well documented. I did pray about it, and heard…nothing. God doesn’t work like that for me, at least not right now and not in my recent history.

So after a while I just picked two words that felt fitting, and over time, neither felt right anymore–except a new word came to mind, bringing in aspects of each of the original ones.

 

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All at once a command, a reminder, and a promise. It feels gentle though, and kind. Something I can manage. I can’t even think of it with proper capitalization, because there’s something about that capital “D” that feels too harsh for it. So dwell.

That’s my word.

Initially, I took it mostly for myself–a reminder to dwell, to simply sit, be with, and enjoy God–but it’s actually a two-sided reminder. Over and over again in the Bible, God is dwelling with his people. They remain in him, and he remains with them.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. ~Psalm 90:1

Spending time with God is not something I have excelled of lately, but this year, I hope to relearn what it means to dwell with God. Whether I “succeed” at doing so or not, I can be continually reminded that God is already with me. I have not, and can not, drive him away with how much or little time I spend with him. His affection for me is not conditional on me dwelling with him, for he already dwells in me. And oh, do I need that reminder.

As much as dwell is a spiritual reminder, there’s also a physical component to the word. For several years, housing has been a complicated issue for me, and it continues to be so. While I hope 2016 will hold a longer-term solution to that, the reality is that I don’t know. In the meantime though, I can seek to be content and grateful for wherever I am physically dwelling, even if it’s not what I would term to be ideal. There is action in the word dwell too though, so my contentment doesn’t have to be the idle kind–I can, and will be, actively working towards something new.

 

Having never picked One Word before, I have no idea what to expect. It’s a little exciting and a little scary. Maybe this One Word won’t seem to come into play much at all, or maybe it will suddenly pop up everywhere and color everything.

 

dwell

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Did you pick a word for 2016? Will you tell me about it?

3 Things from 2015 I’m Taking Into 2016

For several years now, I’ve written in a notebook almost every single day. Many times it’s an account of what I did that day along with thoughts and feelings about those events. Other times they’re deep spiritual thoughts, or frustration over a relationship that feels difficult, or angst over a life situation. Bits and pieces of my life, recounted on some sheets of paper bound together.2016

Looking back at this past year, it’s tempting for me to get stuck in the past few months, which haven’t been the easiest time of my life. Except to let those be the ones to color my perception of the entire year would be inaccurate, and, in a way, unfair. As I looked back through my daily writings from 2015, I saw difficulty, certainly—sadness over changing relationships, frustration over uncertainty, dismay over things gone awry—but I also saw so many moments of delight, good memories made, and perhaps most importantly, how even the unexpected pieces of life can have positive aspects to them. As I head into 2016, while there are things from 2015 I am glad to leave behind me, there are at least three I’d like to take with me as well.

  • The people we surround ourselves with have incredible power to shape our lives, in ways good, bad, ugly, and otherwise. This past year has brought new people into my life and added new depth, and sometimes complexity, to many of my existing relationships. For the most part, I’ve managed to find truly wonderful people that add so much to my life. As much as I’d love to cling to all these good people and keep them in my lives for as long as possible, I also recognize there’s a measure of impossibility to that, so I have to simply be grateful for the time we do have in each other’s lives. I don’t think I will ever be good at this part, but I am trying to be better at the thankfulness part.
  • Asking for help is hard, but okay. Just as people are in our lives to add joy, richness, and knowledge, they are also available to lend support. I like to think of myself a somewhat self-sufficient person, and I never want my family or friends to feel like I’m using them or don’t appreciate them, so asking for help does not come naturally to me. No one is capable of going through life completely on their own, all the time though, so sometimes the wisest thing we can do is know when it’s time to ask for help. This is something I’m only just beginning to see, and it will take me into 2016 and likely far beyond to fully grasp its importance.
  • “Never” and “Always” statements are quite often dangerous. To say we’ll always do this or never do that is often a refusal to acknowledge change. Life happens, often in very unpredictable ways. Sometimes rules have to be rewritten based on new information. We usually can’t see the future when we make a decision, so we make the best decision we can in that moment, with the information we have, and sometimes that decision lands us in a spot that we couldn’t have known about before. There are moral “always” and “nevers” I think are good to cling to, but many others that need to be tossed.

If it wasn’t for my habit of writing every day, I’m not sure I’d be able to sort through the haze of these past few months to identify these tangible takeaways that have threaded themselves through the entire year. While 2015 Brianna may not have enjoyed every moment of it, 2016 Brianna can learn from these insights and take them into the new year and beyond.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What have you learned in 2015 that you’ll take into 2016?

All Shall Be Well

Christmas is always advertised as a joyous occasion, and in many ways, it usually is. But there’s an underlying sadness to Christmas, a darkness that is evident in the brokenness and confusion and hurt so prevalent in our world. For as much as the birth of Christ is something to celebrate, there is so much more we are waiting for. I believe wholeheartedly that life with Jesus is better, but better is not perfect. Life with Jesus is good, but not always the kind of good I want it to be, and certainly not an easy, uncomplicated kind of good.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Markus Grossalber, Creative Commons

There are about a zillion versions of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel out there, but my favorite acknowledge the true somber nature of the words. As we sang it in church this morning, this verse in particular stuck out to me:

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I don’t know the history behind the song, but it seems to me as though it’s written both to Israel in a historical sense–the people written about in the Old Testament, who heard prophecies foretelling of a Messiah–and also to Israel in a broad sense, encapsulating all those who have come to find themselves as part of the Christian story. This verse is where we live.  We know there is a reason to rejoice–Jesus has come!–but there is still much longing, waiting, yearning; for he will he come again to put things right. Gloomy clouds of night, death’s dark shadows–even if we haven’t known these things personally, we see them all around us, and we know them to not be the way things are supposed to be.

Seeing this tension has always been part of the point of this season, but I finally feel like I’m beginning to understand it a little bit. Life is hard, and it will always be some kind of hard, because there is something fundamentally broken about it, the kind of broken we will never be able to truly fix. We live in the complicated time of the now-and-not-yet; knowing Jesus has come, yes, but the world and our lives are far from perfect, even with Jesus as part of them.

“Come, Lord Jesus” are words that get thrown around almost haphazardly at times, but this time of year, and this year in particular, they feel more poignant than ever before. The world feels more fractured than usual, or maybe I’ve just finally started to pay more attention to it. It is weighty.

There is reason to rejoice though, for Jesus has come once and there are beautiful, lovely people working to set things to right in small ways every day. And the end of the story has yet to be told.

In the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Watch for the Light

As much as I love Christmas, I feel like I often miss it.

I put up the tree, go to the parties, give (and receive) the gifts, sing the carols, read the Bible story. None of these activities are bad, but they don’t fully encapsulate why I’m supposed to be celebrating Christmas.

This year I’m not putting up my regular full-size tree due to Complicated Reasons, and though the first time I put up my tree by myself I nearly had an existential crisis, I’ve now grown to enjoy my solo little ritual.  Putting up a couple of small trees didn’t pack quite the same punch, and I’m mourning my big tree a bit. It feels like I’m already starting at a deficit of Christmas Spirit.

On top of that, life has simply felt more messy than usual lately. I keep thinking I’ll get this Adulthood thing figured out one of these days, which keeps on very much not happening.

Plus there’s the sorting and the waiting and the I don’t know-ness of faith in general, and suddenly Christmas is carrying a lot of weight.

~~~

Last week, Addie Zierman wrote about the idea of an Advent Junk Journal. It’s a ragtag collection of whatever paper-like materials that happen to be around, all bound together. And there, in those messy, imperfect pages, is the space to notice. It’s not the pressure of reading chapters and chapters of the Bible each day, or praying a certain number of minutes, or any other obligations besides to see where God already is. Which is, right now, something I need reminders to do.

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He’s there, I believe that, but I’m not always paying attention for it.

As Addie explains it:

There are a thousand ways to encounter God, to experience the hard beauty of Advent, and what I’ve discovered is that more than spending hours reading and praying and journaling — it’s just catching one minute. Capturing one small incandescent bit of beauty falling like a snowflake. To jot it down before it disappears.

~~~

In college, one of my professors gifted me the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It has become one of my most beloved parts of this season–I eagerly await November 24, when the readings begin. Not all of the readings strike me, but some leave me nearly in tears, underlining and starring and scribbling in the margins year after year. The other day, I wrote “My life in 2015” next to a line from a Henri Nouwen essay.

For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.

He gets me.

~~~

And that book title.

Watch for the Light.

It’s what I’m trying so very hard to do this year. I wrote it on the front of my Advent junk journal, stealing the book’s title as the subtitle for my own scribbled words. It is both a gentle reminder as well as a command. Do this I’m telling myself.

The same professor who gifted me the book is the one who introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book, assigning the seemingly simple act of paying attention to our own lives.

No one is giving me a grade these days, but I’m giving myself the same assignment this Advent: Pay attention. 

Each day, I’ll write at least one thing I noticed. Today it was lyrics to a pop song I heard on the radio on my drive home from work, because I’m in love with the idea of common grace and that glimmers of God hide in all things that are true and lovely and beautiful. Yesterday it was lines from a reflection in a Bible app. They’re written on receipts, cupcake wrappers, scraps of paper loosely held together with a length of plastic cord. Everything about my journal is mismatched and motley, which feels like a pretty good metaphor for life.

But I’m committing to this seemingly small act these next few weeks: Watch for the light.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How are you watching for the light this Advent?

Singleness and the Myth of Scarcity

The simplest concepts can be the hardest to truly grasp. In her book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey writes about the idea of scarcity*, how the fear of not having enough can drive us to do terrible things. Scrabbling for enough for ourselves puts others down, and hurts us at the same time, even if we can’t see it.

So to say, “There isn’t scarcity. There is more than enough in Christ” seems at the same time so simple and yet so revolutionary.

But the Kingdom of God is more than enough. It is an act of faith to live with the narrative of abundance instead of the fear of scarcity. ~Out of Sorts, p. 227

Photo Credit: Flickr User jescapunk, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User jescapunk, Creative Commons

There is no scarcity.

Scarcity thinking pops up most often in my life in regards to singleness. It’s an ugly little truth that when I see engagement announcements and wedding photos on Facebook, the thought often crosses my mind that there’s one less guy who could end up with me. Which is true, of course, so in a sense there’s something valid in that thought, but it goes much deeper than one less eligible guy.

It’s about wanting to be married, but it’s also about the lie I still sometimes believe that tells me the only way to a good life, a blessed life, a life truly full of happiness and joy, is to be married.

Which it’s not, but it’s hard to not want something good even if it might not be what’s best, at least right now.

Scarcity tells me God is using up all the good lives on the married people. 

As I look at that typed out, it seems like such a ridiculous statement. Of course he’s not using up all the good lives on the married people.

It can feel that way though, because feelings aren’t always in the sense-making business. When I look around me and see the happy couples and the happy families, it is so hard to not feel like God is withholding very good things from me. Which, in turn, makes me ask serious questions about him.

Is he good? Does he care? Is he listening?

My head answer is yes, but my heart answer is sometimes no.

So lately, I’ve been reminding myself:

There is no scarcity.

God’s goodness does not depend on whether or not I get married. His love and goodness and his essential nature of being for me is not reflected in the state of my love life (or lack thereof).

There is no scarcity. Not only in this aspect of my life, but in all of them. In the real Kingdom of God, the one not based on my feelings of frustration and sadness and desire for this good thing of marriage, there is no shortage of good lives. Good lives aren’t based on things, whether relationships or money or houses or cars.

A good life in the kingdom of God is based on what he has to offer, and he will never run out of the good things. Infinite love, infinite joy, infinite peace, infinite mercy, infinite grace–there is so much more than enough of all of these, for all of time, for all people. 

Getting what I want in life, or not getting it, is not a reflection of God’s essential character. He is enough, no matter what my fleeting feelings may tell me.

With God, there is no scarcity.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Is there an area of life where you most often fall into scarcity thinking?

*It should be noted that Sarah references Walter Brueggemann’s work on the “liturgy of abundance” versus the “myth of scarcity.” Specifically, she mentions his book Journey to the Common Good.

Waiting on the New Thing

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about Looking for the New Things. Isaiah 43:18-19 seemed to be everywhere I looked, which wasn’t too surprising, as it’s often a favorite at the dawn of a new year. It stuck around for a couple of months, and then I stopped noticing it, but didn’t forget about it. When life went awry, which it has, is, and will continue to at various points, I went back there. I asked a talented friend to make me a nicer piece of wall art to hang in my room, and even bought a frame to make it look official.

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I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

I clung to that verse like it was a life raft. In ways, I suppose it was. Is.

And I waited, and prayed, and waited. And more of the same, likely with some impatient feet-stomping to show God I meant business this time.

So much waiting. Many stories of faith could be summarized with that one word.

Waiting.

In the past month or so, Isaiah 43:18-19 again seems to be everywhere I look–so much so that when I read a book or blog and the writer said, “There’s a verse that means so much to me…” I’ve started expecting it to be Isaiah 43:18-19. And lately, it usually has been.

It’s made me roll my eyes and mutter under my breath “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

But it’s also forced me to notice it.

For all the waiting I have done and am doing, I don’t feel like I’ve noticed any “new things” in the way I thought I would. There’s been nothing big enough that demands me to see it and exclaim, “Yes! That’s it! The new way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert!”

A way (or a path, I imagine) or a river seems like it should be pretty noticeable. But I haven’t gotten those.

Maybe, though, the reappearance of this is A thing. Not the thing, or a major thing, but A thing.

Over and over, being I’m reminded to have hope, and to see.

As I wrote earlier this year:

I love the boldness of BeholdIt is booming, rich, inviting–see here, look, pay attention. You don’t want to miss this.

I don’t know what that “new thing” might look like, though I certainly have my list of suggestions for God–but my biggest hope is that I have the eyes to recognize the newness even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

This particular year is much closer to its end than its start, but this promise, this hope of new things doesn’t end simply because the year does. Sometimes the waiting time is much longer than we’d like to be, but we still have reason to hope.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you seen God doing new things? Or are you still waiting?