I Lie at Church

One Sunday as I sang along to the song on the screen, I realized I might not entirely mean what I was singing.

My wealth is in the cross *
There’s nothing more I want
Than just to know His love
My heart is set on Christ

Or another song, one I haven’t sang quite as recently:

You’re all I want **
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near

You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace

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Photo by Bill Hamway on Unsplash

Do I intend to mean those words? Yes. Except most days, to say “There’s nothing more I want than just to know God’s love” would be a big lie. I want that, sure, but it’s one on a list of many wants, and while I know what the order of those desires should be, it rarely actually looks that way. As I go through my regular days, if I thought about, “What do I want most in this moment?” my answers would often be very small, immediate things. A hot piece of pizza, a kind reply to a difficult email I had to send, some hazelnut coffee left in the pot in the kitchen at work. Digging a bit deeper, I might also want a friend to reply to my text, a nice guy to notice me, my dad’s recovery from surgery to be going well.

Should God be all I ever want? Absolutely. Should he be the only thing I think I truly need? Yes. But I also feel like I need friends and a house and food, and while on some level those are needs, they aren’t deep-level needs like I’m supposed to need God.

And then, maybe, after those are out of the way, I’d remember to articulate my desire for God to be enough in my life. But I’d still want all of those other things.

Should I stop singing these kinds of songs until I can mean the words with 100% truth?

I don’t really think so. As godly and noble as the writers of songs might be, not even they could mean the words they write every single moment of every single day, yet they still go ahead and write them anyway. When we sing worship songs or read psalms as our prayers, I think God knows our heart behind them even if we struggle with fully meaning what the words are saying.

It’s helpful for me to think of singing these kinds of songs as both a proclamation and a prayer. There are glimmers of moments where I truly do believe God is all I really want, but also, I sing those words as a desperate plea for God to continue conforming my wayward desires to look like his. The hope is that day by day, month by month, year by year, the times God truly is all I want will only ever increase, until maybe, someday, it’s more true than not true. I’ll never perfect it in this lifetime–I’m far too full of human-ness for that to be possible–but the hope of the Christian life is that we continually become better than we were the day before.

So I’ll keep singing the worship songs with gusto, even if I don’t feel like I fully believe or mean every single word as fully as I should. Because while I may not be at that place today, maybe someday I will be.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

*Read more: Hillsong – Crowns Lyrics | MetroLyrics
**Read more: Kutless – Draw Me Close Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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Easter and Our Unanswered Questions (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

It’s been a while. Again. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.

But for now, I shared some thoughts at my church’s blog about Easter and what resurrection looks like in our own lives.

 

Easter and Our Unanswered Questions 

Will I ever get better?

Why did my little sister have to die?

Which college should I choose?

Why do so many other people get to have happy marriages?

When will I finally get a job?

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Photo Credit: Marko Horvat

We all come to God with questions. Some of them are big and will seemingly never be answered in this lifetime; some are seemingly smaller, yet frustrating all the same. It’s tempting to approach Easter with its flowers and candy and Easter eggs and simply say, “Jesus rose from the dead! All is well!” And in a cosmic sense, Jesus’ resurrection makes that statement true, but in our day-to-day lives it often doesn’t seem that way.

 

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

A Very Good, Very Single Life

It’s a new year, I turn 27 at the end of the month, and I am (still) single. Just as I have been at the beginning of every other year, and heading into every other birthday.

When I was in high school I attended a wedding of people who were 25 or 26, and I remember thinking, “I’ll definitely be married before then.” In the community I grew up in and still live in, marrying young is normal, almost expected even. Younger versions of me were foolish and prideful in many ways, but this–my assumptions about how a relationship would factor into my life–has proven to be the most glaring example.

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Photo Credit: WEB AGENCY

A while back I read a post by the blogger Leigh Kramer that’s made me reconsider how I approach my life. She wrote, “I began dreaming about what my ideal single life would look like. Taking a future husband out of the equation entirely: what would a happy, whole life look like for me? What would need to be in place for me to feel I’m living my best life?”

Planning out my days and weeks on my Google Calendar has become essential to me, but even the phrase “life plan” nearly makes me ill. I like small bits of time to be planned ahead, but not big expanses of time. Yet as I considered Leigh’s post, I realized I’ve always been resistant to the idea of envisioning or planning for my long-term future in terms of being single. Months ahead, maybe even a year, sure–but to think much beyond that felt like giving up hope of things ever changing. Except when I look at my life, as good and full as it is, but very much lacking any reasonable prospects of marriage in the near future, I have to wonder if it’s more damaging for me to not think of my future in terms of being single. It’s all I’ve ever known, and it might be all I’ll ever know.

I’d be lying if I said that even typing those words wasn’t painful.

But it could be true. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure, or less than, or unworthy. It just means I’m single, and might always be. I can’t plan on my life becoming something it very well might not.

So how do I accept that, or at least as well as I can? How do I continue building a good, full life, even though it’s not the kind of good or the kind of full I imagined?

There are some obvious ones for me–despite my at-times complicated relationship with it, faith is always my utmost priority, even when I don’t do a great job of actually making it a priority. I know I’ll have no business getting married if being with him doesn’t make us both able to better love, serve, and glorify God because we are together than we would if we were apart. A tall order, but an important one.

Then there’s the people. I may not have a someONE, but I do have a lot of someoneS. The ones I share DNA with, and the ones I don’t but who have no less significance in my life just because we don’t find each other on a family tree.

Those two are easy, and while the order of the someones might have to shift a bit should a someone come along, they’d both still be there. But they don’t comprise a whole life. They might be priorities, but there’s a lot of living to do in all the other time.

I have no concrete answers for this yet. Will I learn to be okay if things don’t ever turn out the way I had hoped and imagined and prayed they would? How will I not just get through life, but fully embrace it for what it is?

What does a very good, very single life look like for me?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What does your vision of the good single life look like?

Why I Take Christmas Card Photos with My Goldfish

Most Christmas cards have pretty winter scenes or photos of adorable children.

Mine look like this.

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This wasn’t exactly the plan, of course. If someone had asked me when I was a teenager what I thought my Christmas card would look like when I was 26, my answer would not have been “A picture of me and my goldfish in front of my artificial hand-me-down Christmas tree, of course.”

Yet, here I am. Year four of Goldfish Christmas Cards, which I think means I’m allowed to call it a tradition now. I don’t even remember where I initially got the idea, but my original goal was mostly for my own amusement. Even still, that’s a large part of the reason I do it–if I didn’t have fun with it, I’d stop.

At the same time, it’s come to mean a bit more to me. I decided I’m over the idea that only couples or families are allowed to have photo Christmas cards. I fully realize I’m not as cute as my young nieces and nephews who grace their families’ cards, but I like thinking of creative ideas for poses and pun-tastic phrases and sharing them with my family and friends. Though I try not to, I sometimes use being single as a reason for why I’m not a “real adult yet,” and I didn’t want to let my singleness be an excuse for not participating in the strange but lovely tradition of exchanging Christmas cards.

Is it a “normal” Christmas card? No. Is it how I thought my Christmas cards would look, or even how I want mine to look for the rest of my life? No. Is it an accurate reflection of where I’m at in life right now? Yup. I live by myself in the house I bought, and the only other creature who resides here permanently is my goldfish. So instead of a “2016 Update” letter included in a card with a typical winter or Christmas setting, this feels particularly fitting this year.

So from our bowl to yours, til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you’re single, do you send Christmas cards?

When It Seems Like God Lied (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. We just started this year’s Christmas series, and I suspect I will be taking away a lot from it. The first message was on God’s promises and how they often don’t look like we expect them to.

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Francis

When It Seems Like God Lied

There are many promises throughout the Bible.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

In our best moments, these verses likely come as a source of deep comfort. When we’re in the middle of difficult times though, having these verses offered as solutions to our problems can be frustrating or even annoying. Does losing a job seem like a plan to prosper us? Do illnesses, failed classes, divorces, cruel bosses, or financial ruin seem like giving us a hope and a future? There are times when God’s promises feel more like lies than truth.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

Looking Back for Thankfulness

Last year at this time, I was not feeling overly thankful. A variety of situations, most of them entirely out of my control, had spiraled me into a place of frustration and discontent. Looking back at my journal from that time, the resounding theme was, “I don’t know what to do.” Getting out of that place required difficult and what proved to be wise yet un-fun decisions, combined with the simple but irritating solution of time.

 

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Photo Credit: Andy Chilton

Comparing our past with our present can be a dangerous game, because things don’t always turn out to be greener on the other side, and while memory lane is a nice place to visit, it’s an impossible place to live. This year though, looking back is giving me a fresh perspective on my reasons to be thankful. It’s both a general and specific thankfulness–I’m thankful life is going better than it was last fall, though much of that isn’t my own doing so much as the circumstances around me happen to different. And specifically, I am so thankful to have a place of my own to call home, a place I chose, I bought, and that I will get to decide when and if I move out of it. After the past few years of moving frequently, it feels like an immense gift to know next fall, unless something really goes haywire, I will still be living in the same place. It’s beginning to feel like real home, and to know I get to continue to build that sense there is deeply, profoundly comforting.

While much of my thankfulness stems from an upturn in life circumstances, there is a spiritual component to it as well. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ve felt an uneasy distance and strangeness in my faith. Though I’ve come to see it as a natural part of being in any sort of long-term relationship, I’ve never welcomed it or been particularly at peace with it. Maybe the season is beginning to change in my relationship with God, or maybe I’ve grown used to this place enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it doesn’t concern me like it used to. It’s not a giving up, walking-away-from-faith kind of change. Instead it’s a peace, however still unsettled, with not fully understanding how the ebb and flow of a relationship with an unseen God works.

None of this is permanent, none of it is guaranteed to be the same (or even better) next year, and there are still plans and hopes I have for life that haven’t shown as much of a glimmer of turning out like I thought they would. Those things don’t go away, but I can choose to not let them detract from this, here, this place and time where I am thankful for what is instead of so caught up in what could be. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has looking back made you thankful for?

My Accidental Blogging Break

At the beginning of 2016, I told myself I’d post a new blog post every week. Looking at my 2016 posting calendar, that’s absolutely laughable now. First I missed a week here and there, but I vowed to cut myself some slack–every ten days or so still kinda counted, right? Plus, I bought a condo, making my spring and early summer very busy.

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Photo Credit: Florian Klauer

Then fall hit, and “busy” took on a new meaning. Over the course of ten days, I went on three separate trips and slept in six different states. Throw in a couple more trips, a load of other work and life busyness, and I felt like I could barely breathe for it all. For some people it would be completely normal, but for me, it was much, much more than I’m used to. As I’ve come to understand myself better, I know I need space, room for simply breathing and calmly experiencing my life, instead of a frenetic pace. I’ve become more comfortable with saying no to give myself the space I need, and generally my current phase of life allows me a nice balance, but this fall it felt like I completely lost it. Even a calendar full of wonderful, fun things can get wearisome at some point.

All the while, I had this simmering guilt in the back of my head over not writing new blogs posts. I was still writing in other places and I was still thinking of ideas to write about, but when I thought about actually writing a new post in the snatches of spare time I had, it stressed me out so much that I ignored it. I thought back to my post in April, “When Your Goals Are Stupid,” and realized I needed to take my own advice: When our goals become a source of stress instead of a source of motivation, it’s time to reevaluate.

So I let it go. This blog wasn’t going anywhere, and I needed space much more than I needed to continue spewing words onto these pages. As much as I enjoy writing here, it was humbling to realize my decision to pause for a while likely had no effect on anyone else’s life. It’s a delicate balance, to hold that reality while also believing it’s not pointless to write because, occasionally, my words do bump into someone else’s life in what I hope are helpful, good ways–and also, I simply like writing here, which has a value of its own. Life has calmed down a teensy bit now, and it is nice to share here again. But objectively speaking, the world does not need this little blog.

 
I have no intention of shutting down this space. The beauty of this accidental break from blogging, though, is how it helped me put this back into perspective. Writing and sharing those words is something I think I’ll always enjoy, but it too can go through different seasons, and that is okay. I’m hopeful I’ll begin writing here more regularly again, but if not, I’ve remembered the world spins madly on all the same.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Has an accidental break from something you enjoy ever taught you anything?

Good Christian Guilt

Following Jesus is, in theory, quite simple. Except for all the times that it’s not.

Growing up in a Christian environment has been both a deep gift and a multilayered complexity. When kids are taught about what it means to follow Jesus, it’s essentially boiled down to the good characteristics people who call themselves Christians should have. None of this is, at its core, a bad thing–nuance has to be introduced at some point, but most kids wouldn’t have the capacity for it at young ages. At some point though, all the “shoulds” of following Jesus start to get complicated.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Volker Stetter, Creative Commons

Recently, a new group was starting up at my church. They were going to read and discuss a book I own and have been meaning to read for quite some time. As I thought about my fall though, I realized adding one more activity, even one as good as reading a book that would likely challenge and inspire me, would not be wise for me right now. And as I realized that, I had a twinge of guilt over not being able to participate.

Fortunately, I later came to my senses about how absurd it is to feel guilty about not being able to join another group at church.

But there are other areas of the Christian life where I have, and do, feel guilt, and it is these complicated spaces that I struggle with. For example, I believe there’s nothing humans can do to earn God’s grace in all its various forms–whether it’s the grace that saves us, the grace that loves us, the grace that holds us–all of it is, and must be, completely free. Otherwise it wouldn’t be grace at all.

However, I also believe that if I say I follow Jesus, that should manifest itself in my life in daily, tangible ways. The way I treat people, the way I do (or don’t) use my resources of time and money, the way I make decisions, and all the other pieces that make up a life–all of those should be absolutely saturated with and informed by my faith. All over the place in the Bible there are mentions of serving others, of gathering in community with fellow believers, of praying, and so many other good actions that demonstrate thankfulness for what God has done in our lives and our desire to share that with others. None of these actions, on their own, have the power to save. But we’re supposed to do them, as long as our intentions are right.

And therein lies the difficulty. It’s easy to say things about living in God’s love and letting our actions be an outflow of that, but it gets very messy in the conflicting motivations of life in the real world. Where do we find the balance between living from a place of knowing we can never earn God’s love, yet following his words about praying and serving and being generous and all the other wonderful actions the Bible tells us to take part in? Is signing up for a service project because my friends did still a good action? Is giving to a good cause still good if it’s out of guilt because you haven’t given to anything else that month? Is it even possible to be a “good Christian?”

A simple definition of guilt from Dictionary.com is, “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong,etc., whether real or imagined.” Even the definition gets complicated though–the feeling of guilt doesn’t always correlate to an actual offense, but there are times when guilt is a legitimate, even necessary response. When I know I’ve done something wrong, I should feel a sense of remorse about it. That doesn’t mean I have to forever dwell in that feeling of guilt, but allowing myself to feel it allows the severity of my actions to sink in, hopefully so that I’ll learn from them. 

Yet I don’t think we’re supposed to live in a constant state of feeling guilty about all the things we could, or even should, be doing for God. That level of guilt would be crippling. It would be too far to say that doing things out of guilt negates the good of those actions, but it does forget the true purpose of those actions. None of it is supposed to be about us and how we feel, and all of it is supposed to to be a response to God.

Again though, “a response to God” is one of those Christian-y phrases that sounds really nice but is crazy difficult, arguably impossible, to truly implement. But I’m beginning to hope that God honors the process. Our motivations may always be a little off-kilter and with a few blemishes, but God already knows that. Since the beginning of time he’s been using imperfect people and their mixed-up motivations to accomplish his work, and I have to trust he’ll continue to do so–even through me.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you live in the tension between guilt and grace?

College Students Need Your Church (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. Even though I’ve been out of school for several years, this season always makes me a bit nostalgic. There’s an energy to college campuses that’s unlike anything else, and there’s a piece of me that still misses it. It can also be an intense and overwhelming time of life, so I think churches have great opportunities here.

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Photo Credit: Loic Djim

College Students Need Your Church

Over the next few weeks, colleges will be filling back up with students. Particularly for churches geographically close to colleges or universities, this brings a host of unique opportunities–not in a “Millennials are leaving the church oh no what do we do about it” sense, but because all churches are able to be a blessing to college students in some way. How each church does that will vary greatly, and it should–not all churches are the same, so they shouldn’t use the same formula. There are many unique ways churches can use their resources, be they space, finances, time, or something else, to support students.

As cliche as it may be, it’s often true that college students love free food (or at least, this former college student sure did). There are many ways churches can meet this need. Maybe it’s church-wide potlucks that get special promotion to college students so they know they’re welcome whether or not they provide a dish to pass. Maybe it’s a college-specific ministry that has a Pizza and Movie Night once a month. Maybe it’s supper clubs that meet at people’s houses and provide college students with a chance to get off campus and eat a homecooked meal.

Keep reading at the YALT blog.

3 Reasons the Olympics Rock

I’ve never been into sports. Even as a kid when nearly everyone at my school was playing at least one of the school sports, I was not–nor did I particularly mind that I wasn’t. But every two years or so, for a couple of weeks I become obsessed with sports. Wish-I-had-cancelled-all-nonessential-activities-for-the-entire-duration level obsessed. There is something about the Olympics that captivates me in a way unlike anything else.

 

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Photo Credit: Agberto Guimaraes

First of all, there’s the togetherness of the Olympics. So many countries and people groups represented, all united around the common goal of pursuing sports–whether it’s participating themselves or watching. International competitions happen on a regular basis, but for the Olympics, everyone pulls out all the stops. TV networks dedicate days and days of programming to it, fans come from nearly all the countries in the world (having never attended the Olympics, I can’t personally vouch for this, but I imagine it’s likely to be true), and an entire city gets taken over by it. Even for those people who don’t travel to be a part of the event, we feel a part of something as we watch on our screens, discuss it over lunch, and gasp over it via social media. For both the lovers and the haters of the Olympics, there is a kind of bond, a unity all its own.

Second, there’s the dedication. I consider myself to be a fairly loyal person, and I’m dedicated to certain things, but I cannot even fathom dedicating my entire life and livelihood to a sport like many athletes do. While there’s a piece of me that thinks they’re a little over the top about the whole thing, there’s another piece of me that deeply admires the kind of dedication it takes to focus so much time, energy, and physical strength on one activity the way Olympians do. Training years for perhaps a 10-second run requires a single-minded focus I would do well to carry into aspects of my own life.

Third, there’s the sheer thrill. Swimming gets at this the most for me–the races won and lost with mere hundredths of a second making the difference, or sometimes even dead ties–but other sports certainly have it too. The nail-biting anxiety of waiting to see how the other athletes will perform and how the judges will award certain elements of a routine, the unadulterated joy on the face of an unexpected champion, the beauty of athletes so in control of their bodies in a way that seems almost impossible. There’s also the magnificent complexity of an event as large as the Olympics actually taking place–all the coordination, the travel, the scheduling it takes to pull off such a feat.

There are downsides to all of this too, of course. Togetherness, dedication, and thrill all have their flip sides of discord, addiction, disaster, and more, all of which run rampant at the Olympics. Steroids, corruption, violence, cheating, overly inflated egos–the list could go on and on. Yet I don’t think it would be possible to have an event like the Olympics that’s completely free of all these unfortunate realities, and their existence doesn’t outweigh the many positive attributes.

 
So for the next week, unless I have a prior commitment, I can likely be found on my couch, watching the Olympics. Yes, I will cheer too loudly at athletes who are on another continent, I will talk too emphatically about people I’ve never met but feel as though as I know, and yes, I will cry over the inspirational stories and the underdog athletes no one thought would win. And in two years, I will do it all again.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you like about the Olympics?