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?

Spiritual Friendship: An Interview with Welsey Hill (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. In my latest post there, I interview Wesley Hill on what I think is a very important but often overlooked topic–friendship. While Wesley writes from his perspective as a celibate gay Christian, I think it’s a topic and a conversation that anyone can benefit from. AND, if you comment on the post at the YALT blog, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a copy of his book.

Spiritual Friendship: An Interview with Wesley Hill

I recently interviewed Wesley Hill on his new book, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. He draws from Scripture and church tradition to show that friendship can be so much more than watching Netflix and eating pizza with people, but can instead be committed, deep, enriching relationships. The implications are profound for all people, regardless of relationship status. It is a needed reminder that the love in friendship is genuine and important, particularly for Christians who truly mean it when they say they desire close-knit communities. Spiritual Friendship

1.  How does spiritual friendship differ from other friendship? Should we aspire for all of our friendships to fall into this category?

Not necessarily. I like acquaintances and casual friendships as much as the next person. Certain friends you may meet once a month at the sports bar to watch a game together, and that’s great. But with certain friends, making a commitment to one another, to help nurture each other’s love of God and neighbor, can be an important step. It shifts friendship into the category of spiritual brother- or sisterhood. “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” Scripture says, and that’s something to treasure and nurture when it happens.

Keep reading at the YALT Momentum blog.

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?