Singleness and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

A while back, my pastor preached a message on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. I didn’t realize I kind of don’t like those guys until that moment. As they told King Nebuchadnezzar they refused to worship an image, they said a phrase I’ve read before but hadn’t fully processed.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV. Emphasis mine.)

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Photo by Marko Horvat on Unsplash

But even if he does not.

It would have been bold, and perhaps would have sent a stronger message, if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had simply told the king their God would save them. Instead, they proclaimed that God is able, he would deliver them, and they also acknowledged they did not fully know what deliverance would look like. I can only assume they desired to live to tell the story, but they were still willing to trust God even before they knew the outcome.

Those words “But even if he does not” paint a picture of a kind of faith I don’t know how to have. It’s a faith to be admired, to aspire to, but it’s also the kind of faith that has the ability to make me feel like a failure. In the areas of my life, most specifically the area of singleness, where nothing seems to be worked out and I don’t know if or when it will or in what way, I desperately want to be able to have a “But even if he does not” kind of faith.

But it’s also the kind of faith that can drop me to my knees, unable to breathe for the realness and rawness of the ache of the unanswereds and unknowns.

Because one of my frustrations with being single is the expansive uncertainty inherent in it. I may have already met the guy I’ll one day marry, or I might meet him in two days or two years, or I may never meet the right guy at the right time and I will spend the rest of my life single, only ever wanting and hoping for things to be different.

I have no way of knowing.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t know what their outcome would be either, yet they found a way to trust God anyway.

God’s goodness, his trustworthiness, his lovingness do not depend on him doing what I want him to do. He is all of those things and so much more, always and forever, independent of my wishes or the actions he does or doesn’t take in my life. His goodness doesn’t depend on whether or not he brings me a husband.

Those are such easy words to type, and seem laughably simple–of course God’s intrinsic nature doesn’t change based on whether or not I get married. My ability to trust in his goodness sometimes seems to though.

A “But even if he does not” kind of faith fully recognizes God’s ability to grant me what I desire, while simultaneously recognizing and not shying away from the truth that God’s will may not match up with my own.

And if that is the case, I am the one who has to change, not him.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does your ability to trust in God’s goodness sometimes hinge on whether or not he’s acting as you’d like him to?

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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

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?

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?

When Someone’s Faith is Drowning (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. Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to have faith and to keep faith, and also the flipside of that–what it looks like when faith fades or ceases to exist altogether. How do, and should, churches and faith communities respond to that?

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Photo Credit: Stephen Di Donato

When Someone’s Faith is Drowning

It’s not a secret that young adults are leaving the church and, in many cases, leaving faith as well. Yet the numbers only show the big picture, not the stories of the individuals whose lives have, for whatever reason, changed from being one where faith is a central component to one where faith is, if existent, merely a side project. And I can’t help thinking that those stories, of faith slowly fading, or of wrestling with pain, or of doubt creeping in and taking over, don’t happen overnight. So where are the people reaching out to the real, living, breathing people who are experiencing these realities?

I once heard a story of someone being at a pier where people were jumping into the water. Suddenly, the screams of delight ceased as people began to notice a young woman struggling in the water. Shouts came from the pier, encouraging the woman to swim harder, to keep kicking, that she was getting close to the ladder. Someone dove in to help her and they both climbed out of the water to safety, but in those tense moments before that person jumped in, the noise was all directed at the woman in distress. Meanwhile, in the water itself, silence reigned.

Keep reading at the YALT Momentum blog.

Christian Baggage

Growing up in a Christian community is simultaneously a wonderful gift and an odd kind of difficulty. I don’t know what it is to not know about God, to not go through the practices of prayer and devotions and church, to not be taught all the stories of the Bible alongside English and math and science. For me, they were all commonplace, the usual, simply the way of life. There is certainly a grace in my kind of upbringing, even while recognizing other’s experiences have graces all their own.

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Photo Credit: Mayra Carreno

At the same time, approaching Christian faith as a school subject taught me to read the Bible in an academic way, poring over it for answers to fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice questions and essay topics. There is much value in the ability to read the Bible closely and study it thoroughly, but there’s also a subtle danger. For as much as the Bible is to be studied, it also meant to be experienced and lived. Aspects of my schooling tried to incorporate that crucial element, but there is only so much that can be done in a school setting and with students who are there, primarily, not through their own choosing but through their parents’. Only recently have I begun to notice the baggage I carry with me as a result of growing up in such settings. It’s not any weightier or more profound kind of baggage than many other people who grew up very differently than I did carry, but it exists all the same.

In my current phase of life, this plays itself out in the ways of faith formation I am and am not drawn to. The kind of writing that ties up difficult sections of the Bible with neat little bows and a “The Bible said it, that’s the end” mentality makes me break out in hives. There are so many ways to interpret the Bible, and I am increasingly less confident that there is one way that is the only way. Certain kinds of Bible studies, the ones that require lots of fill-in-the-blanks and copying down answers straight from a Bible passage, make me want to run away. I filled out many Bible worksheets as a child, and while I absolutely believe they have value and can be a helpful guide, they are the exact opposite for me at this point. Any idea that memorizing Bible verses or working down a “spirituality checklist” is a magical gateway to getting closer to God makes me nauseous. Knowing the Bible is so important, but there are other ways of knowing it that better meet me where I’m at today.

As I’ve been noticing some of the Christian baggage I carry, it’s tempting to feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be looking for any way to work on my relationship with God, through any means? On some level that’s true, and I want to be faithful to the practices that help facilitate that possibility, recognizing some form of these are vital to the Christian life. But I’m also a firm believer in the idea that we experience seasons in all areas of life, be they physical, emotional, spiritual, or anything else. Being taught the Bible as though it was another school subject was good for me in many ways, but just because it was good for me then doesn’t mean it’s good for me right now–or that it won’t be good for me again at some point down the road.

What to do with baggage is a complicated question. For now, I think it’s enough to begin to see my baggage for what it is and to recognize the ways it does and will continue to shape the way I approach my faith, while also appreciating that other’s journeys look different than mine. And to know that my own trek is, in many ways, just beginning.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you dealt with any baggage from the faith background you were or weren’t raised in?

That Time I Bought a Condo

At the beginning of this year, I picked one word I was supposed to focus on, one word to to provide a sort of framing and direction for the year. I attended an event at my church where we painted or decorated little canvases showcasing our word, meant to be a reminder we could hang somewhere we’d see it often so we would look for it and be aware of the way that theme was playing out in our lives. For the first few weeks, I did look back at it often and tried to seek it out in my daily life, but I never found a great place to put that little canvas in my room. After a while, I mostly forgot about it. It sat on my desk, more and more layers of papers and receipts and random paraphernalia collecting on top of it.

Until, finally, I unearthed it. I hadn’t forgotten my word, not in a large sense, but I had forgotten to let it soak into my everyday–which is a bit funny, considering my word is dwell. When I chose it, I wrote:All at once a command, a reminder, and a promise. It feels gentle though, and kind. Something I can manage.”

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And while in one sense it felt manageable, in another sense it felt so very, very far off. The spiritual component, of seeking to do more dwelling with God while also more fully internalizing the mysterious beauty of him already dwelling in me, seemed doable. That was a space I had been before, and while it had been a while, I could see there being a path back. In the physical sense though, I had no idea what dwell would mean for me in 2016. As a young, unmarried adult, housing had been complicated for years and there seemed to be no end to that in sight. Since graduating from high school, I hadn’t lived in the same place for longer than 14 months. For someone who often struggles with change and doesn’t do well with uncertainty, it had become incredibly taxing. To dwell in a physical sense seemed nearly impossible.

Yet, when I finally found my little canvas again, I did so with a sigh of deep, deep gratefulness. Because I found it when I was starting to pack to move into a place of my condo, a condo I bought, a home that will be mine for the next while and hopefully won’t cease to be mine until I decide otherwise. A place where I am throwing away the boxes because I likely won’t need them again in a year, a place where I am thinking of affixing shelves to walls instead of decorations hung up with poster putty. For the first time, I changed my permanent address to something other than my parent’s house. I’ve been in my new place for a few weeks now, and it is slowly beginning to feel real, to feel like mine.

It also feels like such an immense gift.

Through the whole process of looking at condos, making an offer, getting finances squared away once my offer had been accepted, having the inspection done, and waiting to hear that everything had gone as it was supposed to, I kept expecting something to go wrong. Being the largest decision of my life, and one I both had and got to make completely on my own, I prayed furiously through the whole process, begging God for something to go wrong if this was not supposed to be my place. People talk about the excitement of buying a house, but they rarely talk about the sheer terror that accompanies it. But everything fell into place. I signed a stack of papers, and suddenly, I owned a condo.

Dwell had come true in the way I least expected it to.

Now, my little dwell canvas lives on my fridge (I have a fridge) in my kitchen (I have a kitchen) in my condo (I have a condo). 2016 is far from over, and that word may take on depths of more meaning in the coming months. But already, it’s a reminder to not only look forward to what is to come, but also to know that God is at work even when we forget he is.  

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you have a one word for 2016, how have you seen it shape your year so far?

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need (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’re in a message series about layovers in life, and I especially appreciated the reminder this week that while God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want him to, he does answer them how we need him to.

 

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need

There’s a worship song we sing pretty regularly at Encounter that I struggle with at times. Called “Always,” it includes these words:

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

 
One Sunday after singing it, I remarked to a friend that I wasn’t sure I bought it. At that point in my life, it seemed as though God was either moving really, really slowly, or perhaps not at all. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God was there, but it was difficult to see how and where he was working. When we’re in a layover season in life, a time of uncertainty, disappointment, loss, heartbreak, change, or any number of other things that seem to keep us from moving from one place to the next, it can feel like “He will not delay” is a bit of a lie.

 

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

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?

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?