Be Careful Little Fingers What You Type

In Sunday school, we sang a song that went like this:

O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see

The other verses went on to say “O be careful little ears what you hear” and “Little hands what you do” and so on. It’s a simple message, but one we sometimes forget the older we get.

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Photo Credit: Simon Hattinga Verschure

This past Sunday, our youth director dredged up old photos of me he found on Facebook–none that were overly embarrassing or risque, but definitely ones I had kind of forgotten are still floating around on there. It got me thinking about the amount of content we leave behind on the Internet these days. Fortunately my Xanga, which I had essentially treated like an online diary, no longer exists for public consumption. Even now I can read old posts I had published on there and pinpoint exactly who I was writing about, despite the lack of actual names. What was I thinking I wonder as I read them.

There are interesting parts of being able to look back on our old posts and photos–while I’m horrified at some of what I wrote on my Xanga, I’m also occasionally impressed that high school Brianna was thinking so deeply about certain topics. It’s a little bit weird but a little bit fun and fascinating to have an online record of years of my life, and while there is some content I’d probably un-post, most of it I’d let live on. The photos and random thoughts that flitted through my head (and were somehow deemed Facebook worthy) may not represent who I am anymore, but they represented who I was at that time.

But I also wonder if we might be wise to heed the words of the song, and “O be careful little fingers what you type.” It’s easy for me to quickly send tweets or Facebook updates on the fly, without fully thinking through what I might be unintentionally saying underneath the words or how my message might come across to other people. What I mean and what other people read will not always be the same. Not only that, but many things we post on the Internet that don’t really need to be posted. They may not be outrightly cruel or inappropriate, but they’re also not making the world a better place.

It’s a grey land as to what kind of content “makes the world a better place,” to be sure. Many of my tweets revolve around food and are, to me at least, somewhat amusing. Is the chance of bringing a slight smile to someone’s face worth the tweet? Mostly I say yes.

But I know there have been times when I’ve posted as an outlet for frustration or anger, and in hindsight, the Internet was probably not the best place for those words. As an adult, I’m annoyed at myself for even writing this post–shouldn’t the reminder to “Be careful little fingers what you type” be constrained to the world of children and teenagers? Except I know that it can’t be. I’m not going to quit using the Internet, but since I’m not, I have to be aware of how I use the Internet and try to do so wisely and in a way that benefits others.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you stay mindful of what you post online?

I’m Afraid of the Holy Spirit

In the religious tradition I grew up in, the Holy Spirit was by far the least talked about member of the Trinity.  When he was referenced, it was in ways like, “Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and actions today,” or “Listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.” And let’s be real–my life has been steeped in the Bible and Jesus and prayer and all that, but I still don’t truly understand what any of those phrases about the Holy Spirit are actually supposed to mean and how they’re supposed to change the way I live. As a concept, I understand that the Holy Spirit should be as much a part of my life as God the Father and Jesus are because of the complicated three-in-oneness of the Trinity, but on a life level, I do not understand it.

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Photo Credit: Dominik Lange

For most of my life, I was fine with mostly ignoring the Holy Spirit. As I’ve learned more about the different streams of Christianity though, I’ve discovered just how much many Christians decidedly do not ignore the Holy Spirit, and this is where things get complicated. I don’t think my way, of ignoring the Holy Spirit, is a good or healthy way of not understanding him. The way some Christians interact with the Holy Spirit is so dramatically different than I grew up with though that I don’t quite know what to do with it.

When people talk about speaking in tongues, it’s like I don’t have a category for where to process it, the same way I don’t know what to do with faith healers making people stand up out of their wheelchairs and ridding people’s bodies of cancer. I believe some people who speak in tongues and heal people truly love Jesus and are performing those acts in genuine, God-fearing ways, but I also believe that some people abuse and warp those seemingly good gifts. Even less extreme examples, such as people saying they made a certain decision because they heard the Holy Spirit talking to them, are outside of my own personal experience and make me pause. What does “heard the Holy Spirit” actually sound or feel like? And how do they tell the difference between the Spirit and their own thoughts?

It’s not that I don’t believe the Holy Spirit can and does work in these ways–I do. But if the Holy Spirit hasn’t worked in those ways in my life, does it mean I’m doing something wrong? Admittedly I think I am missing something about the Holy Spirit, in the way I live out my faith and also possibly in the way I believe in and think about the Holy Spirit, but I also wonder if the way I’ll experience him will just be different than those.

Perhaps the logical thing to do would be to set out on a religious quest to learn all I can about the Holy Spirit, with the hope that learning would lead to experience. There’s value there, and I am making steps in that direction–but it’s with trepidation. I’ve grown rather comfortable not really understanding the Holy Spirit, and I’m a little afraid at what I might discover, because I don’t think I’ll end up in the same comfortable place I’ve been in. Change is scary, and I suspect the Holy Spirit may have work to do in my life that I don’t want to admit to. When I pray, I’d rather avoid leaving time for silence to listen to the Spirit, because who knows what I might hear? It’s so much easier to ignore uncomfortable parts of our faith than to face them head on.

My time for ignoring the Holy Spirit needs to be up, though. It never should have existed to the extent that it has, and I need to learn a better way to understand all three persons of God. I just don’t know what it’s going to look like.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has helped in your understanding of the Holy Spirit?

Why My College Debt is Worth It

My college education cost a lot of money. Not as much as many people’s, certainly, but much more than others. I’ve been out for four years, and while I’ve whittled away at my loans significantly, I still have a ways to go.

Yet for the stress and hassle my loans cause me, I’m coming to a point where I don’t really regret them. I recently attended a fundraising dinner for my alma mater, and listening to the president of the college recount the happenings there filled me such a deep sense of gratefulness. It was not the cheapest college I could have chosen, but it was absolutely the right one for me–I don’t think I’ve ever truly doubted that.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User khrawlings, Creative Commons

For four years I was taught by intelligent professors who cared about me as a student and a person, and I can clearly point to specific, lasting, important ways they shaped who I was, and am still, becoming. The friendships I formed in those dorms and classrooms and hallways taught me so much about who I am as a person, helped me to see more broadly, made me both laugh and cry. Both in the classroom and out, my faith was reshaped, challenged, and forced to take deeper root.

The whole experience, so much more than can be encompassed by classes or friendships or student activities, was deeply, incredibly formational. There is no other word I can think of that sums up my experience quite so well.

It’s not too much to say that the me I am today would be so much less if I hadn’t gone there. Any college I did or didn’t go to would have changed me, certainly, but none in the same way this one did–and it was the way I needed.

I sit in the fortunate, and somewhat unusual, place of having been consistently employed since I graduated from college, and to a level that has always allowed me to pay my bills–so I realize I write from a different space than many. But my side of the story, the one of having debt but learning to not regret it, is still a valid one. If I could have gone to college without accumulating debt, of course I would have chosen that option. Since it wasn’t one for me, I’m okay with the choices I made, even as I continue to pay for them (literally) in the coming years. Paying off  loans has also forced me to be a better steward of my finances than I would have to otherwise, and there’s value in that responsibility.

It’s tempting to think of all the things I could have spent that money on: a nicer car, books, somewhere to live, travel, non-Aldi food, and on and on. Those things are lovely in their own ways, but I don’t think lacking them has significantly lowered the quality of my life in any way. All of them are nice, but they’re things I’d be privileged to have or do–they were never guaranteed for me, nor are they absolute necessities. My education falls into the same space, really. It’s a privilege, not a guaranteed right, and it’s okay that it took sacrifices to get there. While it was not a necessity in a broad sense, it was undeniable beneficial in getting me to where I am today–not just in terms of a job (though having a degree did help there), but in terms of me as a person.

 

On clear, crisp spring nights, I still miss being at my college so much it nearly hurts. Those were the nights we stayed up far too late laughing on the lawn, laying in the grass even as the dew settled in. The memories will continue to fade over time, I’m sure, but I don’t think those will ever completely disappear. Were they worth the actual dollars I spent for my college experience? I’ve given up trying to determine that. Personal formation can’t be translated into cold hard cash.

 
Would I tell every graduating high schooler to sign on for a mound of college debt? No. But loans were my necessary means, and I’ve made peace with them.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s.

The Art of Being a Friend

Everybody wants to have friends. In order to have friends though, of course it means that someone must be a friend. This is all very logical, but the being a friend side doesn’t seem to get talked about as much as the having a friend part. Being a friend takes hard work and intentionality, commitment and dedication, love and laughter. If it sounds like I’m confusing friendship with marriage, it’s because, particularly as a single person, I take friendship very seriously. Some friendships are only meant to be for a short season, but I truly believe that others can–and should–last years and years, and maybe ever forever.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User penelope waits, Creative Commons

I’m not going to write a “How To Be a Good Friend” guide. First of all, I don’t think it’s that easy, and second, I have been (and I’m sure at times will continue to be) a really sucky friend. Maybe someday I’ll have it more figured out, but for now, I will simply offer these few observations about friendship.

  • There is no one right, perfect way to be a friend. People are wired differently, and therefore require different things from their friends. At the same time, different people are able to offer their friends different things. Some are good listeners, others are willing to give much-needed challenges, and others are bringing laughter when it’s needed. The way I’m a friend to Person A has to be different than the way I’m a friend to Person B, because they’re not the same.
  • Know when to lean in and when to lean back. This is something I’ve only recently been realizing, and I do not excel at it. The reality is that pretty much all of my friends have many wonderful people in their lives, and there will be phases where what they need most isn’t something I’m the best at offering. When that’s the case, I need to know it’s okay to lean back from that friendship for a while–not to walk away and abandon it completely, but to give space for others to give what I cannot. Being someone who feels deeply for other people and also has a natural inclination to want to fix things, leaning back feels very counterintuitive to me. Leaning in is important too, though. Even when life is messy and complicated and hard, my friends need to know I won’t shy away from that stuff even if it’s difficult to be in that space with them.
  • Shut up. This works in two ways: First, knowing how to stop talking and to instead listen well. There’s a difference between listening, merely letting a friend’s words hit my ears, and listening well, paying attention to what’s behind the words and to my friend themselves. Second, shutting up means knowing there are some stories that belong to my friends and are not mine to tell. Secrets obviously fall into this camp, but there is other information that, while maybe not a secret, isn’t mine to tell anyone else. Part of being a friend means being trustworthy without having to be asked to be so.

Friendship isn’t math or science. It can’t be reduced to stagnant formulas; it has to be allowed to breath, change, and take new shapes as time and circumstances dictate. So if we want to have good friends, we must also be willing to commit to being a good friend.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you strive to be a good friend?

When Your Goals Are Stupid

Writing doesn’t always come easily to me, as I’m sure any writer would say. Sometimes words pour out of me, and others, they are absolutely stuck. To be good or even decent at anything takes dedication and hard work though, so I often try to write anyway, even when it’s painful.

But lately I’ve been telling myself I have to write a new blog post, and then staring at a blank document and wandering over to Facebook and Pinterest and staring some more, all without having much of anything to really say. So I end up wasting loads of time attempting to write a post about essentially nothing, and sometimes end up scrapping the whole thing anyway.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Simply Vicki, Creative Commons

Why do I do all this? Just because I told myself I had to.

And really, how stupid is that?

What was the goal behind my goal of having to write a new blog post? Simply to write. So why do I feel the need to put all the pressure on myself of writing in such a specific way with such a specific outcome in mind? I enjoy sharing my work on this blog, but to my knowledge, no one has suffered severe distress when I don’t post for a while (much as I might like to think my writing, or lack thereof, has that much power in people’s lives).

Not that perusing Facebook and Pinterest is the best way to spend my time, but it’s making me considering all those things we tell ourselves we have to do. Goals are good and can be incredibly helpful, but when they’re arbitrary and only end up causing us more stress, I wonder if we’re missing the point. Specific goals have broader goals as their basis, and if we’re not careful, we can become so focused on achieving the specific goal that we lose sight of the broader goal behind it. Running 3 miles is a great goal, but the goal behind it is to be fit; if we fixate so much on our failure to run 3 miles one day, we lose sight that we may still be achieving our broader goal. When our goals become a source of stress instead of a source of motivation, it’s time to reevaluate.

Which is exactly why this post is going up today, not last week or even yesterday. It wasn’t ready yet. My goal of posting for the sake of posting was stupid, and the other words I tried to type didn’t have a purpose except for being words on a page. All along, I was accomplishing my ultimate goal anyway–I was still writing, just in other spaces.

Do you have any stupid goals that are distracting you from seeing what your real goals are?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

When Holy Week Gets Complicated

When faith is still a bit out of sorts, things like Holy Week can be complicated.

The story itself isn’t so complicated, in theory–Jesus rides into town on a donkey on Palm Sunday, he has his last supper with his disciples on Thursday and then is betrayed by one of his own, Friday he dies, Sunday he rises. There are complexities and nuances in there, of course, but those are the bare minimum details.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User ArturoYee, Creative Commons

Why did he do all this, though? Who really killed Jesus–the Romans, or God himself by allowing this to (or making it?) happen? Did Jesus actually go to hell? How is salvation accomplished? In what order does salvation occur?

And if I haven’t fully figured out my answers to these questions, but instead can see how people arrive at different conclusions and appreciate those differences, does it make me a bad Jesus follower?

Not exactly the questions most people discuss over Easter dinner.

But every year, Holy Week invites us to experience the story of Jesus and ponder what he means to our lives. They’re all good, valid, complicated questions worthy of studying and discussing and revisiting time and time again. Yet, if I let myself get lost in them, I’ll miss the things I am sure of–or at least as reasonably sure as I can be.

 

I believe in Jesus.

I believe he was God and human, that he lived on earth, that he died but didn’t stay that way.

I believe that somewhere in that process, salvation was accomplished.

Salvation to set me free from the messy sinfulness of humanity I was born into, and that allows me to live for a purpose much greater than myself.

 

I believe much more than that, but for now, those three things. The whys whos hows and whats will always be there, and I can’t–and won’t–ignore them; but these three things I believe ground me. Everything else comes flows out of, and comes back to, these three. And mainly, Jesus.

Not that I follow him well every day, or even ever for that matter. But I believe in him with all of me that can, and I’ll keep coming back to that.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does Holy Week get complicated for you?

Faith Lessons in the Dark

As part of the launch of her new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman is hosting a synchroblog sharing stories of faith in the dark. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have a sense that much of it will resonate with me. This is my contribution to the collection of stories, and you can read others here.

In life and in faith, there are different kinds of darkness.

Some is sudden, all-consuming, like the flicking of a switch.

Some is gradual, gentle, like the fading from day to night.

Nearly all darkness is confusing.

When what was once so easy to see becomes murky and unclear, it can be tempting to become angry at the dark.

 

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Photo Credit: Flickr User heyFilbert, Creative Commons

For a longer time than I can keep track of anymore, and a much longer time than I would have expected, I have been in the shadows of faith. Not always, not completely, but often. I’ve never been able to pin its coming on any one specific instance or circumstance, it just arrived, all on its own, uninvited. But sometimes even uninvited house guests have their merit, and while I am not yet to the point of being able to say I’m truly thankful for the darkness, I am beginning to develop a hesitant appreciation for it.

It turns out there are more people in the dark than I thought, and being there myself has made me seek them out in ways I wouldn’t have before. Having questions, not feeling like God is there, struggling to understand why God does and doesn’t behave in certain ways–there are, and have been, many people who have been in the same place of wondering and wandering. Though I grew up in a Christianity-saturated environment, these weren’t topics that were wrestled with often. Since I didn’t struggle with them in any sort of significant way for most of my life, the absence of those conversations didn’t bother me. Darkness feels a little less lonely when there are others in it though. It’s not that I would wish darkness on other people, but if they’re in it too, it’s better to know we are not alone. Blogs and books, like Addie’s and many others, are a gift for the darkness.

As valuable as reading about people in the darkness can be, experiencing it is something different. Defining the darkness of faith is a tricky business, because it looks so different for different people. For me, the darkness has made me realize much of faith is not black or white but myriad shades of grey; it’s made me more okay with uncertainty, and helped me make room for other’s uncertainty as well. I still believe most of what I used to believe, but I cling a little more loosely to some of it. There has been a lot of value in being forced to reexamine how I approach my faith. Not “feeling” God has frustrated me, but has also made me realize that, like all relationships, there will be seasons in my relationship with God. During some I’ll feel close to him, during some I’ll feel farther away, and neither of those are objectively a result of me “succeeding” or “failing” at doing faith well. For all the good that reading the Bible and praying are, they are not magic ingredients to a faith I’ll always feel. True faith doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps the most valuable thing of all that I’ve found in the darkness is that God is enough. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, even when I’m sick of trying so hard and feeling nothing, God is still enough. Enoughness is who he is, part of his very essence and being. Always and ever, he is enough.

I forget that daily. Almost always, really. I want more of him and from him than I may ever get, but it’s because I already have enough of him for all that I need. Even in the dark.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What faith lessons have you learned in the darkness?

Saying Yes to Jesus (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every few weeks, I write a post for my church’s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on that week’s sermon. In this week’s, I ponder what it really means to say yes to Jesus–which doesn’t always mean selling all our stuff and becoming a missionary, but that’s how I’ve often felt.
Saying Yes to Jesus
When I hear stories of people selling all their stuff and moving to another country to become missionaries, I want to like them. I really do. I want to be able to applaud their sacrifice, their willingness to give up all they’ve known, their dedication to following Jesus even though it seems so extreme. Except most of the time when I hear those stories, I get kind of annoyed at these other people’s piety, and then feel kind of ashamed that I’ve never done anything so extreme for Jesus. Almost every time I’ve gone to another country, it’s been for a vacation, not to serve Jesus.

There are two rather different stories of Jesus calling his first disciples. In the book of Matthew, it takes all of two verses (Matthew 4:18-20):

 

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

The book of Luke records things differently, and I appreciate the perspective it offers. Instead of instantaneously dropping everything to follow Jesus, Luke 5 shows that it takes a bit for Simon Peter to come around to the idea.
Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

Everyone Needs a Someone

Along with millions of others, I’ve been captivated by the social media project Humans of New York. Photographer Brandon Stanton photographs random people he encounters throughout New York City, and, given the phenomenal success, he’s gone on trips to other parts of the world as well. 

All of his photos and stories are as unique as the people in them, yet I’ve noticed a commonality: In many of the posts people find to be inspiring, there is a Someone. Whether it’s a supportive teacher, a loving significant other, or a kind stranger who showed up at the right time, many of the people Stanton photographs have been deeply influenced and changed by someone taking an interest in them. Usually not taking an interest in a passing, fleeting way, but a deep, passionate care for who they are as a human being.

Everyone needs a Someone.

We don’t all need the same kinds of Someones, or for the same reasons or at the same times, but we all need those people–or at the very least, that person–who sees the real us when others do not. I truly believe there would be a lot less ugly, painful messiness in the world if everyone paid more attention to the people around them, because humans were not meant to navigate this hazardous journey of life completely alone. It’s not that people can fully save us; they can’t. But they can certainly help us. They can see the good in us when we’ve lost the ability to see it for ourselves, they can challenge us to be braver and kinder and better than we think we can, and can help direct us back when we’ve lost our way.

We need other people.

It can be a vulnerable, scary, intimidating thing to admit we need other people. We’re often told we can succeed all on our own, and to some level we can, but there will always come a time we simply can’t anymore. So we need someone else to step in for us. And that’s more than okay. It can be absolutely beautiful.

Some of us, and I count myself among them, are ridiculously fortunate to have a whole host of Someones–good, loving, caring people who watch out for us. Others don’t have that luxury. So not only does everyone need a Someone, we have the opportunity to be a Someone, too. One of my recent favorites from Humans of New York is this one.

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Photo and Quote Credit: Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York, http://www.humansofnewyork.com

“Both my parents were in prison while I was growing up. I’ve been in prison for 90% of my life, mainly for drugs. When I got out in 2014, there was this old lawyer in the Bronx who took an interest in me. His name was Ramon Jimenez. He’s kind of like a community activist. I don’t know why he cared so much, but he sat down with me and tried to map out my life. When I tried to start selling drugs again, Ramon came out and stood on the corner with me for three days straight. Here’s this 72 year old dude, shadowing me wherever I go, screaming at anyone who tried to walk up to me: ‘I’m calling the cops!’ I was so mad. But after three days I gave it up.”

It’s one of those stories I wish we had more of–who is this Ramon guy, really? How did he get connected with the man in the photograph? Why did he care so much?

As much as I’d like to know that information, it’s almost superfluous to the story. Ramon cared. He showed up. He became a Someone to this man who needed one.

That’s all we really need.

It’s okay to need a Someone, and it’s possible to be one. We don’t all need to be superheroes, but we can be a Someone.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you had a Someone in your life?

Single and (trying to be) Unashamed

“So what is everybody’s family like?”

There are few statements that strike trepidation into the heart of a single person faster. It was a well-meaning question, and a fitting one given the situation, but I was glad someone else answered before I had to go. Trying to keep things light, I started out, “I am me,” and said a few other things about myself before gratefully letting someone else talk about their 2.5 kids and house with the white picket fence. Talking about my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews wasn’t the kind of family they were asking about, and I found myself almost ashamed to not have a better answer to that question.

Except I shouldn’t feel ashamed of it.

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Even though I’m pretty sure I’d prefer to not be single, it is a fact of my life. But in certain circles, particularly in the ones I tend to roll in, marriage and kids are part of what people are supposed to do, and anyone who hasn’t reached those “milestones” is often looked at with pity and seen as perhaps a wee bit of a failure.

It’s not a failure to be single though.

Some people actively choose it, and for those of us who don’t feel as though we’ve ever actively chosen to be single but continue to find ourselves that way, it is simply our current state of being. It might always be our current state of being, or it might just be the stage we’re in right now.

A relationship or lack thereof doesn’t define who we are as human beings or dictate our worth, even though it sometimes feels that way.

 

There’s a piece of me that hates writing this post.

Especially this time of year, singleness is written and talked about a lot. My blog archives show I write about being single almost every February, and I’m fully aware that writing about singleness can come across as whiney, repetitive, and even entitled.

It should be the most obvious thing in the world that relationship status does not equal worth, but when I’m sitting in a room full of married people, that can be difficult to remember. They didn’t do something especially right and get “rewarded” with marriage, and I didn’t do something especially wrong and get “punished” with singleness. However much it might feel that way to me at times, it is not true.

 

So I keep writing about singleness because I need a reminder that it’s not bad, it does not define me, and I do not need to feel ashamed when people ask about my family and I tell them about my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and friends who are so close they feel like family. A single person’s definition of family might look different than a married person’s, and that’s okay. Our value is not derived from the people who may or may not be around us, at this time of year or any other. 

And I’ll keep writing about it in the hope that I’ll finally, fully, truly believe it, once and for all.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you’re single, how do you answer questions about your family?