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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Jesus Loves Me, But Do I Love Him?

How do you love a guy you don’t really know?

I’ve read the Bible, I’ve studied theology, I’ve facilitated Bible studies, I’ve listened to sermons, and I’ve read books. Yet do all of those amount to really “knowing” Jesus?

More than that, do they amount to loving him?

Photo Credit: Flickr User rachel_titiriga, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User rachel_titiriga, Creative Commons

The intangibility of the Christian faith is something I have often struggled with. I want to see my prayers, I want to hug a tangible person-Jesus, I want to hear his replies to me.

But that’s just now how this Christianity thing works.

So I find myself eating instead of praying, writing down my prayers in hopes that those ones will maybe stick, eating cake while reading the Bible in an attempt to remember its goodness–because all of those have a physicality, an immediacy about them.

“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” is a phrase that’s sometimes used to describe Christianity. Except all of my other relationships are with people I at least sometimes see in real life, or at the very least communicate with here and there.

Not that love is supposed to be immediate, or can be seen with the human eye. But the reality is, I say I love Jesus, but I don’t really know what that means. It sounds good. It’s what good little Christians are supposed to say.

Yet how do you love someone you don’t sit down across the table from and eat dinner with, or text to see if he wants to hang out on Friday night? Jesus loves me, but do I really and truly love him?

In my relationships with friends and family, I (somewhat, and very imperfectly) know how to love them. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages outlines 5 different ways people give and receive love–words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch–which I’ve found to be helpful when I think about how to care about my friends and family.

Jesus does not have a love language we can discern, though. Or maybe he has all of them, since he is love. Whichever it is, all of the ways of expressing love have a limit when it comes to how they apply to my relationship with Jesus. I can tell him he’s great, I can do things that please him, I can give him gifts (sort of?), I can spend time with him (again, sort of, but since we can’t hang out on a Friday night, this is a tricky one for me to figure out), and…well, if someone figures out how to give Jesus hugs, please let me know.

So what does a love with an invisible person, a deity, look like? In concrete, tangible ways? 

What do you think? (Really, I want to know.)

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

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?

Auntie Love

Much has been written about a mother’s love, which is as it should be—moms are important people.

But motherly love is not one I know of firsthand, not at this point in my life.

Auntie love, however, is something I do know a bit about.

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My oldest niece will be six in January. I’m sure I drove my college floormates nuts when she was born, talking about her incessantly and posting pictures in the hallway. But it was all so new and exciting, this little human who, though she wasn’t mine, still shared an unbreakable connection with me—her mom is my sister, after all.

With her arrival in the world, I had a new label: Aunt Brianna.

Now, I have two more nieces and two nephews, and am frequently known as simply Aunt B. (It’s become apparent that my parents did not take my future nieces and nephews into consideration when selecting my name, as three syllables are a bit tricky for small children to manage.) Photos of them are litter my phone, computer, and social media accounts, and I eagerly look forward to their hugs and kisses.

It’s hard, though, to write about the particularity of auntie love. I’m sure my love for my nieces and nephews has things in common with their parents’ love for them, but at the same time, it’s like comparing a flashlight to the sun—similar, sort of, but wildly different at the same time.

I want to be the best aunt that I can to my nieces and nephews, but I don’t even entirely know what that means or looks like. Do we ever though, in any relationship, I wonder? Maybe it’s about being the best we can in that moment, even if it looks a little bit different every time. For me, right now, it means showing up when I can, it means reading books and giving hugs, and making sure to say I love you each and every time when we say goodbye, so hopefully they’ll always know it. In 5 years, it might look different, and maybe that’s okay too.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What does aunt or uncle love look like for you?

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?

A Valentine’s Day Plea

Photo Credit: Flickr User Sister72, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Sister72, Creative Commons

This week includes Valentine’s Day, and as I have been for every other Valentine’s Day in my life, I am single. Most days I’m okay with it.

But I’d be lying if I said I don’t have times of wishing my life had gone differently, and around a holiday devoted to love and romance it becomes more poignant.

“Valentine’s Day is just a commercial racket to get people to pay exorbitant amounts of money for roses and chocolate. It’s not about real love.”

“Singleness is a gift. Be content and appreciate it.”

“Let Jesus be your boyfriend–he’s all you need.”

There are bits of truth in these statements (and bits of fallacy too).

 

But here is my truth, the one I live in right now:

I get a little jealous when I see people buying giant bouquets and stuffed animals proclaiming, “I love you beary much.”

It would be nice to have a special someone to share those “2 for 1” Valentine’s Day specials with.

I’d gladly get over the embarrassment of an obnoxious singing card.

I wish I had that one person I could count on to be on my side, who would give me a hug when I am sad and tell me things will be okay.

I wish for adventures in learning what it looks like to live in such a way that we serve God more fully together than we could apart.

 
I know the kind of love I want is not all teddy bears and flowery scents and candlelit dinners, but that doesn’t change my desire for it. I don’t think desiring to get married is wrong.

 

There have been, and will continue to be, times when I’ll get this all wrong.
When my desire to get married may cloud my view of the goodness of today.
When my loneliness may skew my perception of the ultimate purpose of Christian marriage.
When my plan for my life is not going as I had hoped, and in bitterness I shake my fist at the sky and defiantly ask God “Why?”

 
That day is not today.

Today, I don’t need reminders that God has a plan for every part of my life.

Today, I don’t need reminders that marriage is really, really hard sometimes.

Today, I don’t need reminders that the view of love I’ve read about and seen in movies is not an accurate portrayal.

Today, I feel a little sad.
Today, I feel a little lonely.
Today, I feel a little jealous.

And I ask of you, the world at large, please don’t tell me how to feel.

Not just me, but everyone around you.

Please don’t tell them to turn their frown upside down.

Please don’t negate their feelings of sadness or loneliness.

Please don’t remind them of things they have heard over and and over again with sayings that minimize honest feelings.

Feelings can go astray. I can become misguided, disillusioned, and make unwise choices when it comes to romantic relationships or a lack thereof. There may be a time I need someone to step in if my actions are out of line with what I believe and who I am supposed to be.

But please don’t tell me how to feel.

And I will try to do the same for you.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Has anyone tried to tell you how to feel about your relationship status?

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!~

More Than A Mess

Yesterday I declared that I’m a mess, and it’s true. Most areas of my life are in some form of disarray or uncertainty, and freak outs and meltdowns have become fairly common.

However, I’m much more than a mess.

Not because of anything I do, however.

My own capabilities qualify me primarily, and perhaps only, to be a mess right now.

But I’m not. I don’t walk around continually crying or ranting about how I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I can truthfully say that most (though not all) of the time, I’m fairly content in each moment; only sometimes do all my doubts and uncertainties reduce me to freak out or meltdown mode.

The only way I can credit this is to grace. Only through God’s grace am I able to maintain some sort of perspective on my life, some sort of healthy hope in the future and whatever may come.

Because God doesn’t look at me and see a mess.

He looks at me with love, compassion, and caring.

He sees someone who matters.

He sees a life ripe with potential.

He sees plans for loveliness.

He sees a child who belongs to him.

 

He sees much better things in me than I see in myself.

I can proclaim my mess, be honest about it, and share the reality of it with others. But I am not stuck in my mess. I am much more than my mess.

And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~