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 even 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 good at 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?

3 Things from 2015 I’m Taking Into 2016

For several years now, I’ve written in a notebook almost every single day. Many times it’s an account of what I did that day along with thoughts and feelings about those events. Other times they’re deep spiritual thoughts, or frustration over a relationship that feels difficult, or angst over a life situation. Bits and pieces of my life, recounted on some sheets of paper bound together.2016

Looking back at this past year, it’s tempting for me to get stuck in the past few months, which haven’t been the easiest time of my life. Except to let those be the ones to color my perception of the entire year would be inaccurate, and, in a way, unfair. As I looked back through my daily writings from 2015, I saw difficulty, certainly—sadness over changing relationships, frustration over uncertainty, dismay over things gone awry—but I also saw so many moments of delight, good memories made, and perhaps most importantly, how even the unexpected pieces of life can have positive aspects to them. As I head into 2016, while there are things from 2015 I am glad to leave behind me, there are at least three I’d like to take with me as well.

  • The people we surround ourselves with have incredible power to shape our lives, in ways good, bad, ugly, and otherwise. This past year has brought new people into my life and added new depth, and sometimes complexity, to many of my existing relationships. For the most part, I’ve managed to find truly wonderful people that add so much to my life. As much as I’d love to cling to all these good people and keep them in my lives for as long as possible, I also recognize there’s a measure of impossibility to that, so I have to simply be grateful for the time we do have in each other’s lives. I don’t think I will ever be good at this part, but I am trying to be better at the thankfulness part.
  • Asking for help is hard, but okay. Just as people are in our lives to add joy, richness, and knowledge, they are also available to lend support. I like to think of myself a somewhat self-sufficient person, and I never want my family or friends to feel like I’m using them or don’t appreciate them, so asking for help does not come naturally to me. No one is capable of going through life completely on their own, all the time though, so sometimes the wisest thing we can do is know when it’s time to ask for help. This is something I’m only just beginning to see, and it will take me into 2016 and likely far beyond to fully grasp its importance.
  • “Never” and “Always” statements are quite often dangerous. To say we’ll always do this or never do that is often a refusal to acknowledge change. Life happens, often in very unpredictable ways. Sometimes rules have to be rewritten based on new information. We usually can’t see the future when we make a decision, so we make the best decision we can in that moment, with the information we have, and sometimes that decision lands us in a spot that we couldn’t have known about before. There are moral “always” and “nevers” I think are good to cling to, but many others that need to be tossed.

If it wasn’t for my habit of writing every day, I’m not sure I’d be able to sort through the haze of these past few months to identify these tangible takeaways that have threaded themselves through the entire year. While 2015 Brianna may not have enjoyed every moment of it, 2016 Brianna can learn from these insights and take them into the new year and beyond.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What have you learned in 2015 that you’ll take into 2016?

Celebrate All the Love

Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and, as I expected, it’s bringing up some Feelings for me. But, along with the usual tinges of sadness that my life has not turned out quite the way I had planned, there’s something new this year.

I’m kind of irritated with the way “love” gets pigeonholed, made out to be just one certain thing.

Because while romantic love is a fine thing to celebrate, this time of year it gets put on a pedestal as being The Best Thing, The Ultimate Thing, The One True Thing. And it’s just not.

There are so many kinds of love.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Greencolander, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Greencolander, Creative Commons

I still haven’t found the words to adequately express my love for my nieces and nephews. They bring so much wonder, so much light, so much joy to our family. Yet the love I feel for them is a different kind of love than I feel even for my parents, who raised me and my two older siblings so well and demonstrate the beauty of a love that lasts because it’s worked at. And my siblings and their spouses–a kind of love that has endured years of pestering and teasing as the baby of the family. Then there’s the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all claiming and bestowing a unique kind of love. It’s surrounded me, even when I have not appreciated or recognized it, from even before the day I was born.

Beyond the love that blood ties together, there are the friends, the fellow churchgoers, the co-workers–people who, now that I no longer live with family, get the majority of my days in some form or another. I think I’ve finally reached the point that I can say with a bit of confidence that at least some of my friendships will be around for the long haul. Friends that (annoyingly) push me to be better, friends that make me laugh, friends that make me sit up and take stock of the type of person I’m becoming and whether it’s who I really want to be.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

So this Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to not be blind. I may not have the exact kind of love I had hoped to find by this point, but my life is far from loveless.

In fact, if I had to pick just one–either romantic love or the myriad kinds in my life as it is right now–I’d take the kind of love I have. It is varied and frustrating and vibrant and maddening. It is real. It is alive. It is worthy to be noticed, to be celebrated. 

So I’ll celebrate all the love.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What kinds of love can you celebrate?

People Are My Drug

I’m a people person.

A communicator, a people-gatherer.

 

Every personality test I take affirms these qualities about me, and I see it play out in my life in a myriad of ways.

On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my Extrovert number is usually towards the very top of the scale.

I like being a people person. I like connecting with people and helping connect them with others. I like to get to know people and like for them to get to know me.

 

There’s a dark side to this way I’m wired though, one I’m discovering more and more of: People are my drug.

I need people. On some level, we all do.

 

But when the people are not there, because they can’t be or don’t want to be, I can find myself clamoring and gasping and clawing for people in dangerous, unhealthy ways.

It’s an ugly little truth I’m uncovering.

When I don’t feel like my life is as “people-ful” as I would like to be, it’s easy for me to become needyTo see people as a tool to use to meet my own needs for connection and communication and companionship.

To miss the fact that they are people too.

 

I will always defend the idea and importance of community and relationships. But I can’t let my desire, my inner-wired need for these things, to drown out the fact that the people I am in community and relationship with have their own needs too. And sometimes what they need is not me, may not be people at all.

 

If I were a better Christian, this would be the part when I start waxing philosophical about how God is all I really need. But I’m not, so I won’t. As much as yes, I do need God, God has made me to need people too. Not in the way that I sometimes think I need them, as though they are a drug and I need my fix, but in that I need them because God often works through people to help me see him.

We’re all made to need people a little bit, just not in the way I sometimes do.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever found yourself needing people?

A Different Kind of Thankful

Family.

Friends.

A house to live in.

Food to eat.

A car to drive.

A job to work at.

My church.

A laptop and phone.

The finances to cover what I need and some of what I want.

Books to read.

Warm blankets and a soft bed.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve noticed I often view thankfulness in terms of “things.” It’s good for me to be thankful for these, as many people in the world lack what has become so commonplace to me. But what I rarely remember to be thankful for are the moments that make up my life, from the big ones that have made me sit up and take notice of what’s going on around me, to small ones I’ve seen become something bigger later on, to the ordinary ones that simply compose my days.

My thanksgiving often narrows in on the small details of the picture, but fails to be thankful for the whole scene. “Family” and “friends” make my thankful list each year, but I usually only think in terms of the people, not in terms of the relationships–which are what I really mean to represent when I list the people. I forget to thank God for the pieces of my story I’ve seen come together, sometimes in surprising ways–or even in ways I didn’t want, but have learned to see the value of.

This past summer as I cleaned and packed up my room at my parents’ house, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I found countless reminders of the relationships that have added so much to my life and to me as a person, from notes of encouragement to photos to ticket stubs. It is so cliche to say, “I don’t know where I would be without these people,” but I truly don’t know where I would be without these people and the relationships that have given me so much.

So while it is good and fitting for me to be thankful for my family, my friends, my job, my church, my car, this year my thankfulness feels much bigger–it is not for the details, but for the whole scene.

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are some of the big picture things you’re thankful for?

Love is Hard (A Post from the Past)

About a year ago I posted this piece I wrote for a class I was in at the time. Tonight in one of the Bible studies I’ve been attending, we talked about how it is sometimes difficult to accept God’s love. Instead of trying to rewrite what I’ve already written, it makes the most sense to re-post this piece, “Love is Hard.”

 

“God’s love will never change us if we don’t accept it.” ~Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

My belief in God has been ingrained into me. For this I am thankful, but it doesn’t make believing certain truths any easier.

The truth of his love, for instance.

On a semi-regular basis I find myself wondering how a God so big, who knows so much and knows me so well, could possibly love me. How, despite my constant failings and forgetfulness of his faithfulness, he is always there loving me and welcoming me back.

It’s not as though I try to convince myself otherwise. I don’t have a running commentary in my head saying, “You fool, how could God possibly love you, amidst all your mess and distractedness and temper tantrums?” There are days when the thought crosses my mind, but in general I do better than that. It’s just that believing God loves me unwaveringly, to my very core, forever and ever with no amen…it sounds absurd.

There comes a terrifying problem if I can somehow allow myself to allow God’s love to encompass my entire being. To feel and begin to understand a love that strong shouldn’t, and arguably can’t, leave me the same way that I am. If God has seen fit to love me so much, how dare I think I should do anything but love others? What room do gossip, doubt, worry, fear, and envy have in the life of one who is loved beyond all reason?

Blame would come in handy at this point. Some sort of defective doctrine in the churches or Christian schools I have attended, maybe a Bible study gone awry, that somehow gave me this drop of doubt that God might not love me as fully the Bible seems to suggest. Unfortunately, there is no place to lay blame. These organizations and events I have been a part of have done nothing but drive into me, “God loves you, God loves you, God loves you. Always and always.”

As far as back story goes, mine is fortunately trauma free. No broken home or abuse. Only the typical tales of middle and high school drama, of feeling left out and not knowing who I was. Nothing large enough to point a figure at, hand over the blame of my feeling unloved to.

My family, once again, provides no scapegoat. As the daughter of two parents who have been together for nearly thirty years, sister of two siblings who are each happily married, aunt to three of some of the most precious children you may ever meet, and granddaughter, cousin, and niece to an extended family that all claim and practice Christianity, they have left me no wounds large enough to notice. Although my parents and I butted heads when they refused to let me stay up past 9, or see a PG-13 movie at the age of 12, it was all rooted in love. Love that tucked me in as a child, woke me up for church as a teenager, and that welcomes me and my dirty laundry home on weekends.

Tales of my friendships run a slightly different course. Here I could perhaps drop off some of the blame of my love-doubting, as friends whose words of love fell flat as they wandered away. But although there are scars that remain from such episodes, there are too many nights of laughter, deep talks, baking, movie watching, and pure love for me to feel comfortable blaming it on this. Friends have left, it’s true, but enough have stayed. Enough have allowed their shirts to be my tissue, their ears to be my sounding block, their arms to be my blanket, that I can’t dump blame on those few that have wounded me.

Where, then, does my inability to deeply believe God’s love come from? Not from my circumstances, not from people. Maybe from the brokenness that can be seen the world over, but that feels too easy. Original sin shouldn’t be left entirely to blame for my love-doubt.

Perhaps it boils down to the sheer fact that being loved is hard. There is an element of fear in allowing myself to be loved completely by God. If I am loved that much, I must be better than I think I am. I must be capable of being a better person tomorrow than I am today.

Because God’s love is too much to leave me the same. Although I have experienced human love, it is only a fraction of what it is like to be loved by God. His love never ends, never fails, is all-knowing yet all-encompassing. It has the power to rebuild, change, and shape me into a better version of me than I ever thought possible.

And a love that strong…it has the power to save, but it also has the power to crush. William Blake said we must “Learn to bear the beams of love.” A love so amazing, so divine, that it has the power to change everything I know.

Perhaps, most frightening of all, me.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Deleting Home

According to my cell phone, as of today I don’t have a home. A home number, anyway.

My parents finally decided to get rid of their land line and go completely cellular. Though I live with them, I rarely used the home phone, so its lack of existence doesn’t affect me greatly in a physical sense.

Deleting “Home” from my cell phone sure felt strange though.

“Home” is not a number in my cell phone; I know that.

Nor is it a house, apartment, igloo, or any other structure.

 

At this stage in my life, I don’t know exactly how to define the concept of “home.” Yes, I live with my parents, and compared to many in the same situation, we get along quite well. In conversation, I still refer to it as “home,” but I don’t always feel like I believe it.

 

Singing about the idea of home seems to be a popular choice for musicians. Without much work, I thought of 3 songs by different artists, all entitled “Home.”

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”:

Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is whenever I’m with you
Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is when I’m alone with you

I love the song, but their definition of “home,” as being with you significant other, doesn’t  apply to me at this point. Michael Buble’s song Home seems to imply much the same thing, and though I think these definitions of home are valid, they’re not valid for me right now.

If “home” is defined so narrowly as being with a significant other, I know a lot of people who are “homeless.” But I don’t that’s the only way it can, or should, be defined.

Maybe Philip Phillips’ Home gets the closest of any of these three songs:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Maybe all these songs are onto a similar thread–though traditionally I think of home as a location or structure, it’s more about who you’re with, and what you make of where you are. Maybe home is a feeling, not a state of location.

In that sense, home isn’t external, but internal. I knew “home” wasn’t the number in my cell phone, but neither is it the house I’m sitting in. Pieces of it can be found in my family, pieces of it in my friends, spread over the country and globe though they are, pieces of it can be found in my church, my coworkers, and community as a whole.

Maybe home is what you make it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How would you define “home”? Has it changed over time?

 

Me and Maslow: Thoughts of a Recent College Graduate

Perhaps you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Depending on the source you find it from, the specifics named under each category may change, but the main headings are typically consistent.

The idea is that the bottom level–physiological needs–are the most basic, and it is only after these are met that one can begin to focus on the needs in the next level up. Physiological and safety needs are more physical, where the upper three are more internally focused.

I’ve had numerous conversations lately about ol’ Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Many people I know have recently graduated from college or will soon be doing so, and most of us feel like our pyramids are…a little lacking in some areas.

My most basic needs are met: having moved back home with my parents, I have a bed, a roof over my head, and a well-stocked fridge and cupboards to raid. Starting the end of this month I will be working at least 20 hours a week, so I’ll have at least a little financial income. Physiologically and safety-wise, I’m doing okay.

After those two levels though, things get messy. Many of my friendships are in a weird spot, needing to adjust to new locations and stages of life. Honestly, I don’t know how or if some of them will survive, which pains me. It does not shock me; I knew moving on from college meant things would change. But knowing that this was coming doesn’t keep me from mourning good things, and maybe wishing they could be different. On the same level of the pyramid, I find myself having graduated from college without so much as a possible mate anywhere on the horizon. I’ve bemoaned this before (over here), and though it feels a little raw to admit it…it’s still something I would like to happen, but that hasn’t yet.

From where I sit, perched above level two but somewhere in the middle of level three…those top 2 levels seem kind of a far stretch up. Not unattainable, but a little ways away given my current state. I’m still adjusting to my status as a non-student, learning to face the realities of adulthood from the sheltered dwelling of my parent’s house, and everything feels in flux. Though in general I consider myself a fairly happy, well-adjusted, confident individual, I’m just not solid enough in my place in level 3 to concentrate too much on levels 4 and 5.

However, I have a much bigger picture to look at than simply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Sure, it’s fairly logical reasoning that basic needs must be met before higher-order ones can be fulfilled, but I’m not (or at least I shouldn’t be) looking to fulfill those things on my own. Though right now I don’t really know what it is, God does have some sort of plan for me, even in this weird land of in-between. There is a purpose to this bit of floundering I’m doing, if for no other reason than to prepare me for whatever will come next.

Having done hardly anything of measurable productivity since graduating, I’m not feeling very accomplished or fulfilled…but my fulfillment shouldn’t be coming from things do anyway. I fall into that thinking often, but that’s not how things should be.

So if Maslow were to take a look at my life, he’d say I’ve got a ways to go. When I look at my life lately, I say I’ve got a ways to go. And really, I do. I’m only twenty-two, after all…hopefully I’ve got lots more life to live, much more to do and see. But maybe God’s trying to say, “Hey, Maslow’s missing the mark here. Because say where you are is exactly where you’re supposed to be, and I’ve got you. You’re okay.”

And his okay should be enough.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Pre-Thankfulness

My calendar says I don’t have to be thankful til Thursday, but I guess I’m feeling a little ahead of the times. Or the holiday, in this case. Canadians were thankful in October, so by their standards I’m behind the times. I suppose I’m just on my own time.

For me, thankfulness didn’t arrive just today. I’ve been feeling quite blessed lately, and thankfulness often seems to accompany that. It’s not just the big things I’ve been appreciating, and it’s not just the little things either. There’s all sorts of big and little and medium things that are all worth being thankful for, and although I know there’s a lot I should be thankful for that I don’t always do a good job of, I am learning.

There are some repeats that show up on my list of things I’m thankful for every year. God, and the gift of his son Jesus, who’s sacrifice covers all my sin, is kind of a biggy. The biggest, really. And it’s cliche, and people think you don’t mean it when you say you’re thankful for God, but I think it’s more true for me than ever this year. He has taught me so much in the past year, and it is only through his grace that I continue to muddle through each day and on to the next. Lately I’ve been noticing him so much more than I have at other times, and the big and small ways in which he’s at work. My mind has been blown by the things he is doing, and I am so, so thankful that he is opening my eyes to it.

Redemption is one of the biggest things I’ve been noticing. Because this life is messy, and things get broken and screwed up, but God is bigger than the broken. He is able to, and has been, renewing things I had thought were lost. So for redemption, renewal, and repair, I am oh-so-thankful.

Family shows up on my list each year too. It doesn’t make it any less true, and if anything, with the changes my family has undergone with marriages and births in the past few years, it makes it more true that I can honestly put it on my list each year. There are 2 new people in my family since last Thanksgiving, a nephew and a niece, and they already add so much to our family. Things will continue to change in my family in the coming years, but I am confident that I will still be able to genuinely put it on my list year after year. For that confidence alone there is thankfulness, because I know many do not have that.

Friends keep making my list, too. Since last Thanksgiving I think I have learned a ton about friendship, so yet again I find myself saying that it feels more true this year than in years past. Family I’m stuck with, but friends–I am not necessarily stuck with them, and they are not necessarily stuck with me, so the ones that have stuck with me are something to be thankful for. Old friendships that have gotten better, new friendships that hold promise of years to come, and all the “middle-aged” ones that have so much good going on–I am so very, very thankful. Being a friend and having friends is not always an easy thing, and I am grateful that there are those that have seen fit to stick around even when I mess up terribly.

Those are the big ones, I suppose. I could add so many more to this list though. Kuyper College, for one. The academics are good, sure, but more than that I have found incredible community there. I have found fun, and acceptance, and laughter, and love, and GOD through the people there. I have been given many opportunities that I would not have had elsewhere, and I am so, so thankful for my time there.

There’s a lot of things that are perhaps slightly less dramatic, but I am no less thankful for them. Music, and the way it adds so much to my life. My car. Socks. Warm blankets. (Especially important seeing as we still haven’t turned the heat on in our apartment.)

Books. Movies. Ice cream. Cell phones. Hair. Laptops. Lotion. Indoor plumbing. Sunshine. Bacon. Color. Hope. Coffee.

WORDS. I LOVE WORDS. Seriously. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t discovered my love of words.

This post could go on for an incredibly long time, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Moral of the story: I’m feeling pretty thankful these days, and not just because on Thursday I’m supposed to.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~