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?

5 Tips for Interacting with Single People at Holiday Parties

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

Photo Credit: Flickr User Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let’s all have happy holidays.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What tips would you add?

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?

Things That Don’t Belong on Pedestals: Holidays

(This is the second post about Things That Don’t Belong on Pedestals. The first, on relationships, can be found here.)

A few weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, and in a couple weeks we will celebrate Christmas. Soon after there will be New Year’s, then spring brings Easter, summer the Fourth of July, and a few other smaller holidays sprinkled in there as well.

I really like holidays. I look forward to them, anticipate them, even check websites that countdown to them. And in the process, I sometimes expect too much out of them, and end up putting holidays on a pedestal.

My family's Christmas tree from last year

My family’s Christmas tree from last year

Traditionally, the day after Christmas is one of my least favorite days of the year. As a kid it wasn’t so bad; it was a great day to play with all the new toys, and if we were lucky, Mom and Dad were both home from work. Yet as I got older and looked forward to Christmas more, the letdown of the day after became all the more pointed. For weeks, even months, I had looked forward to Christmas day, and all of a sudden, in a flurry of family and food and wrapping paper, it was over.

Now, I’m even more aware of how quickly the actual holiday goes by. As I’m trying to value the true meaning of Christmas, and be intentional about experiencing Advent as a season of waiting, I have to realize that the 24 hours that are labeled “Christmas” are…just that. 24 hours. No more, no less, than any other day. The same goes for all the other holidays we celebrate throughout the year–we give them a label of holiday and expect them to be perfect, when in reality, they won’t.

One year I had the stomach flu on Christmas. Not how I wanted to spend my day, but it was one of the only times as a child I got to watch the Santa Claus parade on TV. For years I seemed to get a cold on every major holiday, and that came true again a few weeks ago on Thanksgiving. Because although I put so much weight on holidays, expecting them to be perfect and live up to my every perfect wish…they are a day. Things may go wrong, things may go right, but the clock will still move at the same pace it does every other day of the year.

Not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating holidays; I’m still very much looking forward to Christmas. But for me to expect them to be perfect, idyllic, postcard-worthy scenes–that’s not accurate, nor does it help me enjoy them. A better way to look at them might be to appreciate holidays for what they are, but accept that all will not go as planned, and embrace the chaos as it does or doesn’t come.

Because holidays don’t belong on pedestals.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you ever expect too much out of holidays? How does that affect the way you do or do not enjoy them?

Thankfulness, Little Things, And Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a really smart guy. He wrote about a lot of topics pertaining to the Christian life, including thankfulness, which is the “in” thing this time of year. Here are some of his words, taken from a 40 Day Devotional I’m receiving via email. (Check it out here. Emphasis mine)

Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for the little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think that we should not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be seeking the great gifts. Then we complain that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experiences that God has given to other Christians, and we consider these complaints to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not so small!) gifts we receive daily. How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God’s hand?

As people answer the question “What are you thankful for?” there are some answers that come up repeatedly. Tangible things, like family, friends, job, house, car. Intangibles, like grace, salvation, love. While important and true, these answers only skim the surface. As Bonhoeffer suggests, we forget to give thanks for the small.

A comprehensive list of things I’m thankful for would include all of the ones listed above: family, friends, job, house, car, grace, salvation, love. But it would include so many more.

  • Church. I am so incredibly blessed to be a part of a church that has shown me glimpses of what true church should be.
  • Laptop. For about a month and a half this year, I didn’t have one, and it gave me a renewed appreciation for having one. Considering how much I like to write, having  laptop is important for me, and I’m so thankful to have one to type these words on.
  • Travel. In May I got to go on a trip to London, Oxford, and Edinburgh, and it was amazing. It was by far the biggest adventure I’ve gone on so far, and not only did I have a lot of fun, I learned a lot about myself.
  • Education. Had I not gone to college, and specifically Kuyper College, I’d be a very different person in a very different place in life. I’m so thankful for the head, heart, and hands knowledge I gained in my time there.
  • Facebook. It sounds silly, but it allows me to keep in touch with a of friends I wouldn’t communicate with otherwise, either due to distance or other reasons, and I really appreciate it as a communication tool. One of my jobs is also in social media, so I appreciate it on a work level as well.
  • Words. I’m so thankful God gave words as a way of expressing ourselves. I don’t know what I’d do without them–both the ones I write myself, and the good, truthful ones I read of others.

Some of those aren’t quite-so-little, so on a smaller scale, I’m also thankful for:

  • Colors.
  • Blankets.
  • Coffee.
  • Indoor plumbing.
  • Pens.
  • My goldfish.
  • Ice cream.
  • You, for taking the time to read this.

What are some of the little (or big) things you’re thankful for that you might sometimes forget to thank God for?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~