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.

copy-of-merry-christmas

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?

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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.

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?

The Fail-Proof Way to Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas

Christmastime comes loaded with pressure. Pressure to host the perfect party, pressure to bake eight different kinds of cookies and then package them prettily, pressure to make Instagram-worthy memories with the people you love. And then, for Christians, there’s the pressure to keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas.

Except no one actually has the fail-proof way to do that.

Reading the Christmas story and Advent devotionals, going to church, and praying are all ways to help keep Christ in Christmas, but even those can fail. Or maybe I’m just a particularly bad Christian. But I suspect I’m not the only one who has found that even the best of intentions to keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus’ birth sometimes don’t turn out the way we want them to.

Because here’s the thing: At the end of the day, we’re still human. We can try try try to keep Jesus at the heart of Christmas, but our intentions will always go askew.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Husmann, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Husmann, Creative Commons

Being human is the recipe for mixed-up intentions.

Which, when we let it, can lead to a lot of guilt. We beat ourselves up over getting excited about presents and looking forward to Christmas dinner, worry that our Christmas parties don’t reflect our Christian faith enough, and fret over singing along to songs about Santa. And, weaved among it all, we subtly fear our celebrations of Jesus’ birth aren’t good enough. We haven’t tried hard enough to bring him glory and to keep the focus on him through it all.

Occasionally it seems tempting to just quit trying to focus on Jesus, and instead throw up our hands, succumb to greedily wanting all the presents ever and yell at our family when they mess up the Christmas ham.

Or, we could realize there is no “fail-proof Christian way” to celebrate Christmas. As with many of the practices of Christianity, there’s not a perfect way to approach Christmas with completely pure intentions. I don’t think we need to take down the tree, return the presents, and give away all our food in order to keep Christ in Christmas.

Our outward actions this time of year may look much the same as the rest of the world, but our reasons for doing them can be drastically different. Perhaps it is in the doing of these actions that our intentions get purified.

Maybe, when we undertake these activities with the knowledge that God rejoices in our celebrations, we can do them in good faith that he knows our why of doing them. We can give—and receive—material gifts realizing that we haven’t earned any of it, and that we’d never, in all our strivings for good intentions, be able to earn the gift Christmas is really about. We can celebrate Christmas in assurance that we serve a God who is not out to make us earn our standing with him, but, because of Jesus, he sees us as good and clean anyway.

A God who loves us, Christmas parties, presents, mixed-up intentions and all.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you handle the pressure to keep Christ in Christmas?

Advent Longing

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sung “O Holy Night,” or heard it on the radio or overhead in the mall. The words are ones I know so well that I rarely even think about them as I sing.

But this year, they are striking me anew. As someone who loves the Christmas season and all its festive cheer, but also reveres the holy anticipation of Advent, I wondered if maybe this time of year would be what I’ve been looking for lately–that elusive “God feeling.” Because despite the commercialism that is so easy to get swept up in, there is still something sacred about this season.

Photo Credit: Flickr User ItzaFineDay, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User ItzaFineDay, Creative Commons

I can’t say that God has showed up in a boisterous, ruckus fashion, clanging his way back into my life with shouts of “I’m here! I’ve been here! Can’t you see me?” In still, small ways though, I have been noticing–and appreciating–his goodness, and the words of “O Holy Night” so beautifully express my, and the world’s, longing for more.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This year especially, it seems like the world is weary, on edge, waiting for all to be made right–and the song speaks to that as well. Because Jesus wasn’t born just to be a King and a Savior, though he’s those things too. He’s something much closer.

In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger…

Even in the midst of the messes of our lives and of this world, at this time of year, I’m reminded of why this faith I hold so imperfectly, sometimes bewilderingly, but dearly–matters. I’m reminded why Jesus matters. He matters because he brings hope to weariness and brokenness and trials. Because he is making all things new, and reminding me afresh of the truth and beauty of these words.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are there any Christmas carols that are striking you anew lately?

5 Tips for Interacting with Single People at Holiday Parties

The holidays are approaching, and single people everywhere are likely cringing as they steel themselves for the awkward moments ahead. Holiday gatherings often involve seating charts, seeing people you haven’t seen in some time, a random assortment of games, and who knows what else–many of which can create uncomfortable situations for single folks. While not all single people are like me and would prefer to not be, here’s a few handy-dandy tips that may make holiday gatherings go more smoothly for all involved.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

1) First, and perhaps most importantly, being single should not be seen as weird or unusual (even though it may be, particularly in some environments). This can be hard to believe, but it’s true: Single people roam among us. They are not mythical beings like unicorns, though they may be as awesome as unicorns. Being single is fine. Treat it as normal, because it is.

2) The person-you-formerly-knew-as-single may not be single anymore, or they may still be single. If their relationship status has changed, and you’re at the level of relationship with this person that you need to know about it, they’ll let you know. There’s really not a good reason to ask. It can very easily bring up hurt that doesn’t need to be touched on at holiday gatherings. I’ll go out on a limb here and say the same goes for asking people if they’re going to have/are expecting kids. If you need to know, they’ll let you know. (A few specific comments that are better left unsaid to single people can be found here.)

3) Single people may not be able to join in your conversations about house maintenance, the really great B&B you stayed at over the summer, or the new spa with a great couples’ massage that you can’t wait to try. It doesn’t mean those topics have to be completely avoided, just used in moderation. Typically it’s good social protocol to try to include all the people at the table/in your conversation circle/sitting in your living room in the conversation. (Which also means, single people, don’t spend the whole night talking about the string of cool people you’re meeting on Tinder/at the bookstore/in the artisan cheese aisle.)

4) Odd numbers are the new rage. Who needs even numbers to make your seating chart or team game strategy work out perfectly? You definitely don’t! You’re way cooler than that. So don’t huff over having to squeeze a 9th chair around the table or pick games that can only be played in pairs and then squeal over how it works out perfectly “Except for…” While you may be tempted to go to the other extreme and just not invite your single friends in case they might feel awkward, invite them anyway–give them the power to decide whether or not they’ll feel out of place.

5) Just because you know two single people does not mean they’re going to get married. Now, some single people (present company included), aren’t appalled at the idea of being set up with your spouse’s former roommate, but I’d wager most single people are open to this idea only if you actually think the two single people involved have some things in common and could potentially have an at least non-brain-numbingly-boring time on a date. If you don’t know either of the single people very well, it’s likely best to not even bring up the topic. I’ll also take this time to refer back to number 1 and emphasize that being single is fine. Even if it’s not someone’s preferred state, it’s still fine.

Let me wrap up by saying the burden is not all on couples. Fellow single people, I know holiday gatherings can be rough–to be honest, I often let the potential awkwardness rob me of some of the enjoyment I could be having. And that’s not cool either. So lighten up a bit, take in the twinkling lights and Christmas carols, and try to enjoy the people you’re with, even if you’d rather have someone special by your side.

And let’s all have happy holidays.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What tips would you add?

I Don’t Want to Disappoint God This Christmas

“Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

“Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christians like to throw around these phrases. Maybe for some they’re helpful–a small corrective when thoughts of a perfectly decorated tree and Instagrammable treats become consuming.

For me though, they are often laced with guilt.

Photo Credit: Flickr User shimelle, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User shimelle, Creative Commons

I know at Christmastime I’m supposed to keep the focus on Jesus, to be reminded of the gift of his presence and to look forward in eager expectation to the time when he will return. For the past few years I’ve read a daily Advent devotional, I make a point to read the Christmas story from the different gospels, I attend church eagerly both in the weeks leading up to Christmas and on the day (or day before), and usually even give money or a gift to some worthy cause.

Yet as I do these different things, it doesn’t feel like enough. I know I’m supposed to keep the focus on Jesus, to be reminded of the gift of his presence and to look forward in eager expectation to the time when he will return, but I struggle to connect that with the earthly reality of the Christmas season.

My fear is that if I enjoy the family, friends, laughter, singing, food, and presents a little bit too much, I’m going to disappoint God.

Deep down, I know this isn’t how it works. I don’t believe in a God who stands by waiting for me to mess up so he can frown over me as I scramble to do better next time.

But sometimes we fling around the “Jesus is the reason for the seasons” so much that I get scared of messing it up, and what might happen if I do focus a bit too much on the family, friends, laughter, singing, food, and presents.

 

Except I’m beginning to be reminded of an important truth: the God who gave his Son as a Savior is the same one who gave family, friends, laughter, singing, food, and presents.

God gives good gifts to his children because he loves us and wants us to enjoy them.

It’s not to say that we should let them become the focus of Christmas. It’s excellent to read the Christmas story and go to church. This time of year is one of the only times I truly ponder how amazing it is that Jesus came as a human, and how his first coming is a reminder to also look forward in eager expectation to the time when he will return and make all things new.

But it’s time to be done with thinking I might disappoint God this Christmas while I enjoy being with my family or delight in the glee on the faces of my nieces and nephews or even as I appreciate the gifts I’m given. While they’re not the sole reason we celebrate Christmas, they are good.

And I think God delights in that goodness too.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever felt pressured by the reminders that “Jesus is the reason for the season?”

Toddler Jesus

In addition to this blog, I also contribute to my church’s  blog about every other week. Since this one isn’t based on the sermon, it seemed fitting to share it here as well.

 

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. Sometimes I forget he was human, that he walked around and talked to people and ate food and all the physical, tangible activities that come with being human. Nativities and storybooks portray Jesus as a serene infant held in his mother’s arms, or the more accurate ones might show him as a toddler when the wise men paid their visit.

While these pictures present a snippet of truth, as I imagine Jesus did snuggle with his mom sometimes, I think they only portray a portion of it. 

Because Jesus was human. 100%, sippy-cup-toting, clapping, shrieking, tantrum-throwing, nose-wiping-on-Mary toddler human. 

Keep reading

Grown-Up Christmas

I put up a Christmas tree by myself yesterday.

In years past, I’ve put up small trees–in my dorm room, apartment, or parents’ basement, and I’ve always loved helping my mom decorate their house for Christmas.

But this felt different. I put the stand together, carefully screwed the base of the tree in place so it wouldn’t move, fitted each section together, strung the lights (twice, actually, cause the first time didn’t look very good), then hung my set of Target clearance section plastic ornaments. I was pleased with how it turned out.treeIn ways it was nice to decorate by myself. I went at my own pace, picked whatever Christmas music I wanted to listen to, and got to decide which ornaments went where, occasionally rearranging them multiple times (I just moved a couple more after writing that sentence).

It felt a little weird though. There’s something about Christmas trees, and the season in general, that speak of home and family and warmth and coziness. I really like my current living situation, but I can’t let myself forget that it’s temporary. This is the only Christmas season that tree will spend in this living room, and it’s the only one I’ll spend living here as well.

As comfortable as I sometimes feel in this stage of life, yesterday was a reminder that things can still be a little weird here. This whole holiday season, starting next week with Thanksgiving and stretching through New Year’s, is going to be a new kind of experience for me.

I’ve always had weird work hours through the holidays, and now I’ll be working almost completely regular ones (though I’m taking a few days off).

I’ve always gone home to my parents’ house or already been living there for most of the month of December, and now I’ll only be there for a few days around Thanksgiving and a few more around Christmas (and even then, it’s mostly because my roommate would likely be gone and I can’t bear the thought of waking up in an empty house on a holiday).

I’ve always looked at the new year as the start of a new semester, and now, it will be just a new date on my emails at work.

Considering how notoriously bad at change I am, I’m not dreading these changes as much as I thought I might. It is different though, and I’m grappling with the realization that this is what adulthood looks like. Or at least my own version of it, for right now. Decorating a tree by myself, working nearly regular hours, only spending a few days here and there at my parents house. A grown-up Christmas, I suppose.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How did you deal with the changes adulthood brings about, especially when it comes to holidays?

The Anticipation of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve.

I’m 22, I have a college degree; by quite a few standards I am now an “adult.”

And I still get antsy on this day.

This year I know several of my presents, because I helped pick them out, so my excitement isn’t primarily over gifts like it might have been when I was younger. I’m looking forward to giving some gifts, particularly to my nieces and nephew, and I can’t wait to see their happy little faces. In ways, these are things worth looking forward to.

But my anticipation shouldn’t be entirely about gifts or food or presents. Because tomorrow, we get to celebrate Christmas. 

We get to celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a tiny, wrinkly baby. Incarnation.

Coming to us, his people, in a way we can understand and relate to. Jesus skinned his knees and had hangnails and calloused feet and maybe dandruff and body odor. These are things we know firsthand, because we’ve experienced them too.

And Jesus, God himself, lived on this same earth we walk on.

So it is fitting that I get antsy to celebrate that.

Christmas is more than a day though. This year I’m trying to not put the actual day of Christmas on a pedestal. It’s only 24 hours, and whatever picture of a perfect Christmas I have in my head will not come entirely true. And that’s ok, because Christmas is more than about celebrating a specific day. My anticipation is directed towards more than tomorrow.

Last year around Christmas, I wrote in Advent: Found:

This is the part of Advent I think I had been missing though: the waiting doesn’t end on Christmas. The eager anticipation of that day is a taste of what I should be anticipating each and every day as I wait for Christ to come again…What happened in a stable as foreshadowing of who will come again…What we already have, but not yet in full.

Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a state of being. Of being in continual hopeful expectation and longing for the day when Christ will return.

And that is something worth getting antsy about.

Merry Christmas, and til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you celebrate Christmas? How can you keep it as a reminder that Jesus will come again?