A Change of Faith

Some people are thrown into Strange Spaces of faith because of a major crisis, perhaps an illness or a death, or maybe some large question that has barged into their life and refuses to go away. These, I understand, can absolutely see why they send people into a tailspin of doubt and anger and questioning.

I have no excuse for my entry into a strange faith space, no major tragedy or question begging to be answered before I can move on to somewhere new.

Whatever the reason though, I’m beginning to think it’s needed. Socrates is credited with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wonder too if the unexamined faith is not worth having.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella's Dad, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella’s Dad, Creative Commons

It feels as though I have been taking my faith and examining it from every angle, holding it up to see each side and nuance. Not so that I can ultimately set it down and walk away, but so that I can come to know and embrace it more fully.

There are big questions to ask, of why I hold this faith and what it means for how I order my everyday life, how I approach the world and all the complexities that come with simply being human. There are questions of how I read the Bible, what place I give it in my life, what Christian community means and what it looks like on a very practical level. How do I make decisions, big or small? How do I treat people, and is it reflective of what I believe about the love of Christ? How do I answer the big questions of why we exist and what the purpose of life is?

So many people have attempted to answer these questions and will continue to do so, and I can’t help thinking that no one has or ever will get all of these faith matters completely right. Which is a jarring thought, given what I had subconsciously believed for much of my faith life. Because what if there is no one perfectly correct way to follow Jesus?

I’m becoming more okay with that thought, what it looks like for other people’s lives as well as my own. There are core pieces I haven’t given up, nor do I think I’ll ever. But even those must be revisited, reexamined, if only to reaffirm where I stand. So much though, more than I would once have ever thought, I’m learning to hold loosely. Different really can be okay.

A reshaping of faith is not an entirely enjoyable process. It can be uncomfortable, convicting, and confusing.  Examining often comes with reshaping, discovering pieces may not fit at all anymore or may fit in a different way. Yet, despite my issues with prayer and the Bible, my questions of the practicalities of how to follow Jesus (and what does that phrase even really mean?), I have never seriously considered completely walking away from my faith.

For all the confusion it sometimes causes me, there is something to this Christian story, something to this God and this Jesus, that keep pulling me back. To grace, to mercy, to forgiveness, to a love so big I will never understand even a fraction of it.

There is no other story I would rather wrestle with.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

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When Grace Doesn’t Seem Like Grace

Christians like to talk about grace. We extol its virtues, and love a story of the kind of radical grace that turns lives full of darkness and despair to ones full of light and hope. We like dramatic, flashy grace, the kind we can quickly point to and say, “Yes, there–that is grace at work.”IMG_8580

I want my grace to be big, so noisy I can’t escape or ignore it. Grace doesn’t always look like that though. That’s not how it’s showing up for me these days. Instead, I am perpetually at risk of not seeing it at all, or perhaps even choosing to not see it.

Because sometimes grace shows up in small, nearly imperceptible ways, edging its way gently along the cracks of our lives so that we hardly notice its presence. It doesn’t sing or shout. It does its work quietly, holding us together, knitting us up not with stitches, but with slow, quiet, patient healing, bringing our battered edges back together.

Sometimes grace leaps, and sometimes it plods along, diligently doing its work.

Sometimes grace simply looks like holding us where we are, not letting us be pushed or swayed, but not doing much pushing or swaying of its own, either.

This indistinct grace has a beauty to it, a kind not appreciated often enough. The stories of big grace don’t happen for everyone, but the slow, small grace does.

We just have to remember to look for it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Where have you seen small grace at work?

My Birthday Gift to Me

Birthdays are funny things. In a few hours from when I’m typing this, I will officially be 24.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Will Clayton, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Will Clayton, Creative Commons

Just because the calendar says I’m 24 doesn’t mean I feel it though. Some days I do–some days I feel much older than that, as though the sheer magnitude of what I’m thinking about and dealing with has certainly added years to my calendar. Other days, I feel as though I have so much to learn, so much to experience, that  I must certainly be years younger. But everyone gets the same number of days by the time they reach 24, we just spend them differently.

Lately I’ve been realizing how little I have figured out. It seems so foolish of me, but the truth is that I thought very little about what life after college would look like. In school I could see to graduation, and maybe a ways past that to a job, but after that it was blank. Or, to be more accurate, I had thought of it, but it looked different than my reality. In many ways, I’m still learning to give up the white dress.

Now, having been at my job for a year, I’m facing the blank, asking why I didn’t consider it much before, and looking at this upcoming year and wondering what I’m going to do with it. There’s so much I have to learn, so many places I have to go, so many different ways I could fill this year.

And the gift I really need, the one that should follow and cover and surround me through all of it, is grace.

Because I’m only 24.

I don’t even begin to have this “life” thing figured out. I don’t even begin to have this faith and Christianity thing figured out. I don’t begin to have this family and friends and loving people well thing figured out.

It doesn’t help anyone when I pretend like I do. Instead, I need to give myself the grace and the space to say, “I don’t know” and be okay with it. I want to free myself from needing to have things planned out or to know it all, because I can’t. Certainly not at this age, or any age for that matter.

24 feels old in some ways, but in a lot of ways, it doesn’t and it isn’t. There is so much of my story to be written, and I can’t fast forward or find an answer key to get me to some elusive state of “arrival.” I just need to live.

So for my birthday, I’m giving myself the grace to be what I am.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you need to give yourself this year?

The Beauty of Church

Three years ago, I walked into a church that met in a school. I heard about it in an odd manner, as the pastor had stopped into the ice cream store/coffee shop where I worked at the time, looking for my boss. He asked me a little about myself, and we chatted for a few minutes before he left his business card for me to give to my boss. The church’s website was listed on his card, so when I got home, I looked it up. A few weeks later, on the last Sunday of August, I attended for the first time.

Today, on the last Sunday of August three years later, that same church I now call “mine” celebrated a huge, momentous occasion. We had our first service in our very own building, only three years after we officially started meeting every week.

There’s an element to this that is crazy. The age of our church itself is young–only three years old–and demographically speaking, we are a very young church. We’ve seen the studies that say that Millennials are leaving Church as fast as they can run, and probably everyone who attends my church has seen that firsthand in their family and friends.

But we’ve also seen our Sunday morning services that, at times, nearly overflow with college students. The people that everybody says are leaving the church are coming to ours, but I don’t think it’s because we’re really awesome—it’s not our doing, but God’s. And we are blessed to be a part of it. I am blessed to be a part of it.

Both of our pastors and many in our congregation are Millennials—from those who never left Church, to those who left Church for a while but not God and decided to give Church another go with us, to those who never tried Church but are trying it with us—and a myriad of others in all sorts of life stages. We’re together, growing and struggling and discovering what it looks like to follow God well, no matter where we are.

And this thing that we’re doing, of buying a building and signing a mortgage and settling into a neighborhood, is risky and a little scary and a lot of exciting.

I’m not telling you it’s always easy. The nitty-gritty of running a church or getting a new building isn’t easy, and the personal work of going to church, getting to know people at church, of being church, is not easy either.

If anyone tells you that they always want to go to church, that it’s always easy for them to get involved and to feel like they belong, that church always feels happy and joyful—they’re probably lying.

Church isn’t easy.

Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes the sermons don’t seem to apply to you for weeks at a time. Sometimes you really can’t stand that one song they keep singing. Sometimes you want to sleep in on Sunday morning or skip that meeting on Wednesday. Sometimes your feelings get hurt and you feel a little lonely and left out. Sometimes you feel like it’s all a little pointless and can’t you still love God even if you don’t love hanging out with his people?

Yes, you can love God even if you don’t love hanging out with his people.

But some really, awesome, beautiful things can happen when you hang out with his people. I’m not saying they happy every day, every month, or even every year—but they do happen. And in those moments you see and feel the way that God is moving in Church and in those broken, messy people, and you count it all grace and mercy and love and you wonder how a feeling like that can possibly stay contained in your human body, because it just feels so out of this world because it is.

And that is Church. That is why my church has taken a bold, risky move by buying a building—because we believe in Church, of the power of God in and through his people to impact the lives of others, and perhaps, a neighborhood and even a city. We do what we do because our God is big and he moves in bold, risky, exciting ways. Because this is the beauty of Church.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you experienced the beauty of Church?

Being A Christian is Hard

Sometimes I expect Christianity to be easy. I expect to always want to pray, read the Bible, and go to church. But I forget how my own selfishness wants to hoard my time and effort and use it for me, on the things I want to do at the moment instead of what may be better in the long run.

A friend and I have recently begun reading through Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. It’s a classic in Christian circles, and I read it before in a class as freshman in college.

But the ugly truth I’m finding as we go through it is that while I like the idea of spiritual growth, there is part of me that is resistant to the actuality of it. I am reminded that being a Christian is hard sometimes.

Because there is no substitute for time and effort when it comes to spiritual growth. 

Day after day, I can’t skim a psalm, mutter a quick prayer, call it good for the day, then wonder why I don’t feel very close to God. All good relationships take work, and work requires time and effort.

Lest I get bogged down with the idea that actual spiritual growth is ultimately all my responsibility though, Richard Foster offers an incredibly helpful explanation of the work of a Christian.

The apostle Paul says, “he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). Paul’s analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciples–they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.

In this regard it would be proper to speak of “the path of disciplined grace.” It is “grace” because it is free; it is “disciplined” because there is something for us to do. In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes it clear that grace is free, but it is not cheap. The grace of God is unearned and unearnable, but if we ever expect to grow in grace, we must pay the price of a consciously chosen course of action which involves both individual and group life. Spiritual growth is the purpose of the Disciplines.

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, p. 7-8 (emphasis mine)

“Working” at my faith isn’t about thinking I can earn God’s grace or blessings–it’s about putting myself in the right place to be able to receive them. It’s not always easy or fun, and I have failed–and will continue to fail–at putting in the time and effort and in seeing the value of doing so. But the growth and transformation possible because of what God can and promises to do will, I hope, show me that work and effort in the Christian life does not go unreturned.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does Christianity ever seem too hard to you?

“I Love Jesus, But I Hate You.”

Two women stood a few feet away from me, paging through a book. The store had a mishmash of funny and inspiring cards, little knickknacks, and along one wall, a selection of books—most on spirituality, health, and wellness. As they paged through, one woman paused, commenting on perhaps a quote or story.

The other woman spoke, “I love Jesus, but I hate Christians.” “Yea, they’re terrible,” the first woman agreed. They both chuckled a bit and continued on with their browsing, soon moving to another section of the store.

I stood by a card rack, not overly surprised by her comment—it’s a common lament—but I had never heard it spoken out loud, at such close range, and had it sink in so much.

Because I’m a Christian. The comment was a general, broad, sweeping statement, but that day it felt personal.

 

“I love Jesus, but I hate you.”

 

I sort of get it. A lot of terrible things have been, are, and will be done in the name of Christ. Signs held proclaiming hatred, wars waged for the sake of conversion, words of cruelty spoken that bring shame—I hate those things, too. Yet people I associate myself with by proclaiming the label Christian sometimes do not hate those things, but embrace them.

So I understand her statement. Christians can seem quite the unsavory lot, though certainly not all fit that mold.

 

If I were a braver person, if I were better at listening for God in the heat of the moment, perhaps I would have spoken to her.

 

I would have liked to listen to her, to hear her stories of Christians who had hurt her, and maybe cry with her and tell her that I am so, so sorry that anyone, but especially those who claim the label of Christian, treated her that way.

And after I listened, I would have liked to apologize, for the ways and the days that I still proclaim Jesus as my Savior but act very little like him.

I would have liked to apologize for careless, graceless words thrown around out of anger or misunderstanding.

I would have liked to apologize for my tendency to squirm but stay silent when I’m in the midst of conversations that don’t reflect the heart of the God I follow.

I would have liked to apologize for lack of compassion, for lack of action, for lack of love.

I would have liked to apologize for thinking and acting like I am better than others, and failing to see the way my God sees them—as valuable, lovable, precious.

 

I would have liked to apologize for not making Christianity look more like Christ.

 

I would have liked to tell her I believe in God and a grace I don’t fully understand, one that tells me I am loved despite my inadequacies and failings, but that grace is not an excuse for me to behave and think the way I do at times.

I would have liked to tell her I understand why she hates some Christians, and that I hate some of the things Christians do in the name of Christ.

I would have liked to tell her that I think it’s awesome she loves Jesus, and that I love him too.

 

But I didn’t tell her anything of these things. Maybe next time I will.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What would you have said to her?

Living in the Tension of Grace

Lights are dim, the music quiet, almost haunting, the crowd somber and silent as they exit. “It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished” rings in people’s ears, rattling in their hearts, stirring up reminders of the harsh, careless words, white lies and withheld forgiveness that made the sacrifice, now declared finished, necessary.

Dark, heavy sin hangs in the air.

We are sent from the service knowing it is our sin, that hides in our hearts and speaks words of malice and wrinkles our noses at those in need, that called to be covered. It is a burdensome reminder, because covered it was, with Jesus’ own blood and love.

Yet in this weighty, somber time, there is a strange sense of goodness.

If I don’t acknowledge the stinking, terrible, all-encompassing mess that is my own sin, I may be tempted to think I can save myself–that somehow my own paltry attempts at “being good” will equate to salvation. It is good to be reminded of my own darkness, my desire to live my own way, as though my human power is enough to save myself.

 

But then, grace.

Beautiful, sweet, obliterating grace steps into the weighty darkness to say I don’t have to think that way, act that way, be that way. Grace says I am drawn to the dark, but have been given light. Grace says my sin, the mess I can never clean up with any amount of mops or bleach, has been more than cleaned–it is forgotten. As though the mess never existed. I am seen as spotless.

 

Remembering my sin, acknowledging I’ve tried to do it on my own and failed, seeing the ever-increasing mess I will never be able to clean…yet accepting the gift of grace, living as an expression of gratitude, knowing my mess is now and forever gone. Reconciling the two is more than my limited mind seems capable of.

So we live in the tension, brought to light more than usual in holy week services and celebrated with finality on Easter. We live in the pull between the whisperings of sin saying, “You can clean up your own mess,” and the melodious shouts of grace, saying, “Your mess has been forgotten, if only you accept it.”

It is good to remember our sin, but we remember from within the loving embrace of grace. There is sorrow for our sin, acceptance that we have and will continue to do wrong…and it pushes us back to grace. The need, the wonder, the beauty of grace.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever felt the tension between remembering sin and living in grace?

Because I Have Not Learned to Heed My Words

“Because sometimes the hardest person to grant grace to is yourself,” I wrote on Sunday.

Then I got to work on Monday, and the day did not go my way. Actually, the whole week kind of didn’t go my way.

“Overwhelmed” is the word I’ve been using most often to describe how I feel about my new job, and this week was no different. My overwhelmed-o-meter might even have gotten bumped up a notch. The amount of work I have to is probably about average, but because I’m still learning how to do a lot of it, everything takes me longer than it will in a few months or years. Emails clog my inbox, phone calls come in making requests of me that I’m not entirely sure how to handle, meetings and discussions are had about how to do things better better better…and I’m tempted to crawl under my desk and have a good cry.

Grace was the last thing I gave myself this week.

Internal pity parties? Oh yes. Wondering what right I have to sit in my office? Mmhmm. Discussions of leaving the country? Yup. (Mostly in jest…)

None of these are very grace-filled.

Considering my last post on the value I do have and my lessons in granting myself grace, I border on hypocritical.

“Hypocrite” might be a bit harsh. “In-process” may be more true, and fair.

 

Just because I write something doesn’t mean I instantly internalize it.

Just because I write something doesn’t mean I am done learning it.

Just because I write something doesn’t mean I am perfect.

 

This is what makes writing like I do, posting it here for the Internet to see, hard. I told the truth last Sunday when I wrote, “I am being reminded of all that I don’t know, and to be okay in it.”

And I’m writing the truth today when I say that sometimes I do a terrible, awful, hot-mess job of being okay with what I do not know.

These are the truths that are born when writing through something instead of writing after it. I have other stories I could tell with finished, wrapped-up, bow-tied endings where event A happened and I learned a lesson I applied to event B.

Real life is much messier than that though. It is made of tentative steps forward, backwards glances, sidesteps, trips, falls, leaps and bound, with the eventual hope of being further along than where I started.

If nothing else, my lack of grace for myself is making me more aware of the beauty in the gift of grace God grants me. It is a grace I can never earn, yet it envelops me and all my failings completely. I do a terrible, awful, hot-mess job of life sometimes, but God’s grace is so much bigger than that. It is grace that tells me I will never be good enough for it, and that is exactly the point. It is grace that is not mine to give, but to receive.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What life lessons are you learning?

Grace and the UnGoogleable

Google and I are good friends. Word definitions, timezone charts,  who’s who in that one movie–it’s all a few keyboard taps and clicks away. There are lots of things I don’t know, but with the help of Google, I can find most of it out.

About four weeks ago I started this “full-time big kid job”adventure. I’ve already learned a lot, about how to do my job and the company and life as a full-time working person. Along with the freak outs about the giant change in my life schedule, I have been coming to terms with the reality that I will not and cannot know everything immediately.

What I’m finding is that some lessons are unGoogleable.

Before this one, I had a pretty good handle on my previous job(s). While I was in school, I wasn’t expected to know everything–that was the the entire point of why I was there. Even now, I was hired with full knowledge on both sides that I was not going to step into this job and be able to do it perfectly.

So alongside the lesson of not knowing, I’m learning about grace.

Because sometimes the hardest person to grant grace to is yourself.

Grace is not an unfamiliar concept to me. It’s a word used often in Christian circles, but in those contexts it’s about the grace God has given me–undeserved, divine grace. But there are other, human-given types of grace, and I find myself needing to grant it to myself.

 
This grace says, “It’s okay to not know it all today. You are doing, you are actively trying, you are learning.”
This grace is teaching me the importance of asking questions, of admitting I don’t know it all, of giving myself space and time to process.
This grace is about learning that as I sit in meetings with people who have been in the industry for seven years, twelve years, twenty years…there is no way to Google that experience.

Yet, this same grace is teaching me I have value of my own. Experience? No, not much of that. But I have ideas. A fresh view. Skills of my own.

I am being reminded of all that I don’t know, and to be okay in it. Not to stop learning, but to relish the space it gives me to grow. To see things differently, and to approach the unGoogleable lessons with curiosity, willingness, and a heavy dose of grace for myself.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you learned to grant yourself grace?

Grace and Price Tags

Grace ended today.

Not grace as in God’s, because thankfully, that never ends.

The grace from my student loans, however…that ended today.

Having to take out loans was something I struggled a lot with; I once joked I was going to run away and join the circus instead of starting another semester of school, because I wasn’t sure I should take out the money. (None of my skills lend themselves particularly well to circus life, however, so I did end up finishing)

Perhaps one of my biggest complaints is that the systems feels broken. I paid all this money for a degree that will theoretically help me get a better job, then will spend bunches of years working the job to pay off the loans I took out to get the education I needed to get the job.

When I am tempted to begin a cycle of griping and “How will I ever pay this back?” and moaning, it is good for me to stop.

 

Look at the pictures that adorn my walls, pictures of friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise, pictures of love and fun and laughter

Flip through my journals, reminding me of the good times and bad I experienced in college that shaped me.

Scan the books that now adorn my shelves, rereading words on God and communicating and grace and words.

Skim the notes I took in class, picking up starred bits that hit me anew today and remembering professors’ quotes.

Remember the professors and staff who taught and encouraged me and invested in my life.

 

Oh.

My diploma is not made of 24 karat gold and studded with diamonds, as seems fitting considering the price tag of my education.

But when I am in despair over my loans, it is good for me to remember the things no price tag can be affixed to.

Relationships.

Life lessons.

Laughter.

Knowledge.

Community.

Love.

Faith.

 

Two weeks before graduating, I wrote an “I’ll miss you” to my college, and I’m thankful I did. It is a good reminder of the valid reasons my heart broke a little as I received my diploma, and now again as I square off with my pile of debt.

About a week ago I wrote, “I took out loans to help get me through college; I never thought they’d teach me about Jesus.” Though I would never recommend taking out loans to better understand Jesus and the concept of grace, I am reminded of the intangible takeaways from my college experience.

There are some things no price tag fits on.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~