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?

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Faith Lessons in the Dark

As part of the launch of her new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman is hosting a synchroblog sharing stories of faith in the dark. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have a sense that much of it will resonate with me. This is my contribution to the collection of stories, and you can read others here.

In life and in faith, there are different kinds of darkness.

Some is sudden, all-consuming, like the flicking of a switch.

Some is gradual, gentle, like the fading from day to night.

Nearly all darkness is confusing.

When what was once so easy to see becomes murky and unclear, it can be tempting to become angry at the dark.

 

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Photo Credit: Flickr User heyFilbert, Creative Commons

For a longer time than I can keep track of anymore, and a much longer time than I would have expected, I have been in the shadows of faith. Not always, not completely, but often. I’ve never been able to pin its coming on any one specific instance or circumstance, it just arrived, all on its own, uninvited. But sometimes even uninvited house guests have their merit, and while I am not yet to the point of being able to say I’m truly thankful for the darkness, I am beginning to develop a hesitant appreciation for it.

It turns out there are more people in the dark than I thought, and being there myself has made me seek them out in ways I wouldn’t have before. Having questions, not feeling like God is there, struggling to understand why God does and doesn’t behave in certain ways–there are, and have been, many people who have been in the same place of wondering and wandering. Though I grew up in a Christianity-saturated environment, these weren’t topics that were wrestled with often. Since I didn’t struggle with them in any sort of significant way for most of my life, the absence of those conversations didn’t bother me. Darkness feels a little less lonely when there are others in it though. It’s not that I would wish darkness on other people, but if they’re in it too, it’s better to know we are not alone. Blogs and books, like Addie’s and many others, are a gift for the darkness.

As valuable as reading about people in the darkness can be, experiencing it is something different. Defining the darkness of faith is a tricky business, because it looks so different for different people. For me, the darkness has made me realize much of faith is not black or white but myriad shades of grey; it’s made me more okay with uncertainty, and helped me make room for other’s uncertainty as well. I still believe most of what I used to believe, but I cling a little more loosely to some of it. There has been a lot of value in being forced to reexamine how I approach my faith. Not “feeling” God has frustrated me, but has also made me realize that, like all relationships, there will be seasons in my relationship with God. During some I’ll feel close to him, during some I’ll feel farther away, and neither of those are objectively a result of me “succeeding” or “failing” at doing faith well. For all the good that reading the Bible and praying are, they are not magic ingredients to a faith I’ll always feel. True faith doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps the most valuable thing of all that I’ve found in the darkness is that God is enough. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, even when I’m sick of trying so hard and feeling nothing, God is still enough. Enoughness is who he is, part of his very essence and being. Always and ever, he is enough.

I forget that daily. Almost always, really. I want more of him and from him than I may ever get, but it’s because I already have enough of him for all that I need. Even in the dark.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What faith lessons have you learned in the darkness?

Dear College Graduate

I graduated from college two years ago, and yet as I begin to see the social media chatter of those who are finishing up themselves, the emotions I was feeling at that time feel close by. Even writing this, I can feel the excitement again–but mostly, the overwhelming uncertainty. From what I know now, if I could have given myself a letter that night, here’s what I would say.

Photo Credit: Flickr User tajkd, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User tajkd, Creative Commons

Dear college graduate,

First of all, congrats! You made it! All that homework and studying and sleep lost has led up to this…a funny hat, a walk across a stage, and a pretty little piece of paper with your name on it.

Second, I’ll warn you right away: there aren’t any perfect words for a time like this. I could tell you to chase your dreams and to not let anything get you down, but those are vague, unhelpful sentiments. So let me tell you a few things I wish someone had told me.

  • There is no shame in doing the smart but un-fun thing to help you get where you need to be. For me, it meant living with my parents for over a year after I graduated. It was fine, but it felt weird to be trying to be an adult while living in my childhood bedroom. But it was what had to happen at that time. Living where you need to or taking the job you have to in order to accomplish something can be the smartest thing you’ll do.
  • Sometimes being a college graduate sucks, and it’s okay that you think it sucks. Feel what you feel. Maybe you thrive on the excitement of the unknown, or maybe uncertainty can leave you curled up in a ball, watching Netflix for hours on end. Neither of these feelings are inherently bad, they’re just different. It’s better to admit the way graduating is making you feel than try to act another way because you see someone else reacting differently. These are crazy times, and no two people will handle it in the exact same way.
  • The transition from student to…something else…is a strange one. It takes time and the willingness to be okay with one chapter of your life being over. You might think that once you find the perfect job you’ll immediately fall into the new routine with contentment and glee, and there will likely be some of that, but it’s a very big adjustment. Sometimes it’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s hard. Look for the wonderful, and be prepared for the hard.
  • The season will change. I promise you. Whether you’re in elation or despair, it will not last forever.
  • Now about that diploma. It’s nice, at first—it’s exciting to see your name there, declaring you have a “Bachelor of Science” or whatever your exact degree was. But there will come times when you will glare at that piece of paper, wondering if it was all worth it. The loans (if you have them) will come due, and you will wonder all the more. Someday you might get a job that will prove to you it was worth it, but maybe the proof won’t come in as tangible a form as a paycheck. Maybe it will be in the enduring relationships, the classes that have helped you look at the world slightly differently, the sense of accomplishment that though schoolwork does not come easily to you you graduated. “Worth it” comes in all shapes and sizes.
  • Find something to enjoy about where you are. Whether it’s extra time to devote to a hobby because you’re un- or under-employed, free food because you live with your parents, or basking in the fact that you no longer have to do homework, there is something good about wherever you’re at right now. Find it. Relish it.
  • Last, and possibly annoyingly, let me remind you that there is a plan here. You don’t always see it, you definitely don’t always feel it, but God has his hand on whatever it is you’re in right now. I’m not promising the plan will always feel like a plan or that the plan will always be good in the definition of good that you know, but it is there.

So there you have it. Welcome to the World After College. It’s a strange place here, and it might take some getting used to, but I hope you learn to enjoy it.

We’re glad you’re here.

Sincerely,

Brianna

p.s. What would you say in a letter to college graduates?

5 Reasons Being Single Sucks

Sometimes being single rocks. Other times…well, it’s less than awesome.

Here’s 5 Reasons Being Single Sucks:

1)      Weddings. And engagements.

Though joyous occasions, the act of going to a wedding or a shower can be a bit emotionally draining when you’re single. It’s not that you feel no shred of happiness for the person or couple you’re celebrating, but it can be a stark reminder of what you want but don’t yet have–and may never have. Add in the likelihood of seeing family members or friends who feel the need to ask how your love life is, and it’s a recipe for roughness. They aren’t always so bad, but the potential is there.

2)      You don’t have one specific person you can always talk to.

Personally, I’m very blessed to have a lot of wonderful friends and family I can talk to about pretty much everything, and I do my best to appreciate that about my life—but it’s not the same as always going to the same person with whatever is making me happy, frustrated, sad, excited, and any and everything else. Instead of sharing all those things with one specific person, and, in turn, being the one person someone else shares all their things with, when you’re single, you tend to spread them out among a variety of people.

3)      Sometimes it’s the little things that slap you in the face and remind you you’re single but would prefer not to be.

For me, it’s seeing couples in the grocery store, working as a team to gather everything on their list as quickly as possible, then helping each other lug it all to the car and pack it in carefully. There’s something about grocery shopping that frequently makes me feel my singleness more poignantly, but it can be brought on by almost anything–a song on the radio, sitting behind a family in church, or the odd memory that comes bubbling to the surface. Slap. The unexpected sting of singleness.

4)      Even well-meaning people can make hurtful comments.

“You’re so great, I don’t know why you’re still single.” On the surface, it’s kind of a compliment, but it can subtly unearth the lurking fear that maybe you’re really not all that great, and that’s why you’re single.

“Be thankful, singleness is a gift.” Marriage is also a gift.

“Get right with God and he’ll surprise you.” It seems to imply that all married people have perfect relationships with God, and that there must be some major sin in the life of the single person and that’s why they’re still single. Worse, it reduces God to a sort of cosmic vending machine–Insert Good Relationship With God, Receive Spouse.

(Also, I can’t resist recommending this cheeky BuzzFeed, “24 Things Single People Are Tired of Hearing.”)

5) The not knowing if being single is a season, or forever.

I’ve said that if I could know for sure that I will get married at some point in the future, I could handle it a lot better. But there are no guarantees. For me, this is one of the hardest parts of being single. Statistcally speaking, most people do get married at some point in their lifetime–but not all. I’ve never been one to handle uncertainty well, and not knowing if I’ll ever get married is one of the scariest uncertainties of all.

 

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the idea that marriage is objectively better than singleness. It’s probably telling that as I worked on this post, the reasons being single sucks came to mind a lot more quickly the reasons being single rocks. But despite the way that culture (and even moreso Christian culture) often seems to prize marriage over singleness, I don’t believe one is better than the other–even though I may sometimes think and act like it. Really, they’re just different. 

The point of this post is not to complain about being single (earlier in the week I celebrated it), but to draw attention to the fact that there are upsides and downsides of any relationship status—any phase of life, really. If they’re honest, I think most married couples would say there are things that suck about being married. They’d also say there’s things that rock. There are things that suck and things that rock about every phase, and life is about learning to live in–and appreciate–the balance.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are you single? Married? What’s your favorite part of the phase of life you’re in right now?

Full-Time Freak Out

Several big events occurred in the past week.

1) I put an event in my Google Calendar that looks like this:

Calendar

2) I updated the Behind the Words page of my blog.

3) I started a full-time job.

 

The first two wouldn’t have taken place, except the third thing did.

Since discovering the wonderfulness of Google Calendar, I’ve entered a lot of events. Some were as simple as a reminder to “Call Grandparents’ or “Go to Store.”

This was the first time I have ever put a recurring event that Ends: Never.

Whoo. Deep breaths.

At moments, it has me just this side of a freak out.

For someone whose life has been defined in semesters, school years, and summers, an event that “Never” ends is a seismic shift. If I look at my calendar a month from now, “Work” is on every day of the week, 8-4:30. It’s that way in 7 months, a year, and on. Instead of  months-long chunks of being in school or not being in school, my life is suddenly planned out, rather uniformly, for the foreseeable future.

Quite a drastic change from right after I graduated from college, when I fretted about how I would fill the large gaps of space in my calendar, or even a few months ago, when I contemplated how life felt out of control.

It’s kind of a lot to take in.

It’s also oddly amusing.

So many times I’ve said that I’m bad at change, and I’ll continue to say it. This change in schedule due to my new job, this change in mindset (‘I’m a working adult”), this change in how I view my life–in a lot of ways, it’s a change from uncertainty to certainty. Yet this step into certainty is causing nearly as much uneasiness and trepidation as the uncertainty of the last year.

After a while, I’d kind of gotten used to the uncertainty. While we may not have been friends, we were at least associates. It’s not as though having a full-time job immediately settles every aspect of my life–I still have plenty of things I can’t plan, don’t know how they’ll turn out, can’t make a timeline for. Maybe I’ll be able to have a little more appreciation for the areas I am uncertain of now that I’m more certain of one thing

Using the word “certain” is a bit presumptuous, of course–there are no guarantees in any area of life, so there is no guarantee of exactly how long I’ll be at this job. Still, it’s a lot more certain and stable than most of what I’ve done in the past few years.

None of these feelings are a result of my particular job. Though I’ve only been at it for 3.5 days, I think I’ll genuinely like it.

But I’m telling you, if you make the transition to hanging-out-and-working-some to working full time, it’s a change. Bigger than you might think. And if you work full time, maybe you’ve been there. I knew this change was coming, as I was the one who applied for the job and went to the interviews. Even before it was this job, I knew one of the next logical steps in my life would be to start working full time…but it’s different.

I’m learning what life looks like when 40 hours a week of it is spent at work.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you work? Will you tell me about your experience with it, full time, part time, or otherwise?

A Prayer for Guidance

A couple summers ago I found a book in a thrift store.

It had a red cover, with a metallic gold cross embossed on it. In small gold print, the binding read, The Book of Common Prayer. Though I had heard of it in passing, not having grown up in a church tradition that uses it, I wasn’t familiar with it.

So I bought it.

For several months it sat on my nightstand, where it was kept company by a stack of Bibles and devotional books, likely remaining unopened since my initial skim through it in the thrift store.

That fall I read Girl Meets GodLauren Winner’s memoir of her journey from Judaism to Christianity. In it she often writes of her experiences with The Book of Common Prayer, and it prompted me to open mine.

In the back, in a section simply titled “Prayers,” I found this one:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~Prayer for Guidance, The Book of Common Prayer

I wrote it in pink ink, on paper bordered by multicolored dots, and added it to the stack on my nightstand.

In the past year, as my college graduation approached, arrived, and went, the words of this prayer seemed just what I wanted to say but couldn’t precisely articulate. I have prayed it over resumes and through job interviews, for friends and family, over small decisions and life-changing ones.

I find the acknowledgement of our doubts and uncertainties a helpful one. To pretend they don’t exist helps no one. Instead, this prayer acknowledges the unknown, and prays for guidance through it. Guidance from the God who is God over uncertainty, over our doubts, over the things we do not and cannot know. The God who listens, and the God who remains.

As 2013 begins, there are unknowns I have become accustomed to, as well as new ones. Undoubtedly I will pray this same prayer again and again, in familiar ways and ones yet unseen. There will be times when I have to make a decision when I have not heard nor felt a clear-cut answer from God, and this will be my prayer and my trust.

I think that’s ultimately what faith is about: not always feeling clear answers, but trusting that God is orchestrating the path when I can’t see where my foot will land next. Trusting that his ways are higher than mine, and his guidance will land me where I’m supposed to be.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

2012: This Was The Year

2012.

This was the year I…

  • Interned at the place I’d been wanting to intern at since, oh, ever (or at least high school). And then they liked me, so they kept me part time after that. January 24 will be a year since it all began.
  • Graduated from college, with rather mixed emotions. Homework I was glad to be done with, but much of the rest of my college experience I was sad to leave behind.
  • Went on a trip. I fell in love with London, Oxford, and Edinburgh. I met some great people, saw gorgeous buildings and views, toured a castle, and had some mishaps along the way (such as throwing up in the South Kensington tube station, spending my time walking around Westminster Abbey fighting the urge to lay down on a tombstone because I felt so ill, and having nearly every single flight on my way home get cancelled or delayed). It was fun, it was fascinating, it was…illuminating.
  • Ran a 5k. Then, a few months later, I ran another 5k. For someone who has been known to say, “I only run when I’m being chased, and even then it has to be by something big enough and scary enough,” this was an accomplishment.
  • Rediscovered Twitter, and tweeted my 1000th tweet (and very nearly my 2000th).
  • Moved back home with my parents, and also shared that same house with my sister, brother-in-law, 2 young nieces, and their dog. Though it was nice to be greeted by my nieces running across the house when I got home, it was certainly…an interesting experience.
  • Graded papers (lots of them) and became even more of a grammar stickler.
  • Said “Yes” to at least 2 things I didn’t feel qualified for. Even as I continue to do them, I can’t say with total confidence I do them well all the time, or even some of the time. Perhaps it’s the way of some endeavors.
  • Posted a blog every day for a month. It was exhausting, but good.
  • Grappled with, and attempted to begin to embrace, the uncertainty that has been weaved in with nearly everything I’ve done in 2012, and will continue, in varying degrees, for the rest of my life.

And in all, and through all, God. Even when it didn’t feel like it, even when I didn’t take the time to notice, even when I doubted his plan for me and the way he is working things out in ways I cannot see. There was God, there is God, and there he will always be.

Today I found this meditation from St. Teresa of Avila in a book I’m reading. It is fitting for a year ending, for a year beginning, and for everywhere in between.

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

Happy New Year, and til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has this past year brought for you? What have you learned or done?

Shoving Strangers at Starbucks

Several hours we sat there, mere feet apart, enveloped in our own little words. She typed on her iPad, her iPhone sitting next to her, a stack of books on the chair. Our only interaction was a “Cute shoes!” she offered me as she got up to leave.

For an hour or so, she Skyped with an unseen, unheard party. Though she had headphones in, I heard every word of her side of the conversation (the tables at the Starbucks I frequent are placed quite close to each other). I don’t know the name of this Random Girl from Starbucks, but I know a lot about her.

Photo Credit: Flickr User ND Strupler, Creative Commons

I know she recently got married. She’s still in school, which I gathered both from the books on her table and from her conversation. Life is really good for her right now. She feels content, happy, and like God is telling her she’s right where she’s supposed to be right now.

 

  I wanted to shove her off her stool.

 

Because my current reality is vastly different from hers.

It’s not her fault; she seemed like quite a nice person.

But her chatter of marriage, contentment, and joy in knowing she is where she’s supposed to be right now are in glaring contrast to my singleness, restlessness, and uncertainty.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing my life to the lives of others; but that is a continual lesson, one that I’ve been failing at rather miserably in the past couple weeks.

In the 6 months since I’ve graduated, and in the months leading up to that momentous occasion, I feel as though the boat I’m in has been rocked and swayed, and, in moments, nearly capsized. From what I’ve heard from other twenty-somethings, this is not an uncommon feeling; this turbulence, uncertainty, and searching for the calm. So to sit so near to someone who looked to be about my age, and hear of her good fortune and joy…it grated on whatever already-thin, often fleeting, sense of calm I may have had that day.

I did not shove this girl I’ve never formally met off her seat at Starbucks.

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I chastised myself. “This is no way to respond to the blessing someone else is experiencing right now.”

Instead, I am working on viewing this as a reminder. I have no idea what that girl has gone through in life to get to the point she spoke of that day in Starbucks, but she is seeing this time as a gift from God. A time to rejoice and enjoy the things he has done in her life and the circumstances she has her in.

I may not be able to do exactly the same right now, but my time will come again.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Side note: I don’t make eavesdropping a frequent activity in my life, nor do I recommend it. However, in this instance, it was nearly unavoidable, seeing as she was sitting just feet away, and I actually got quite a lot of good thoughts out of the conversation. Not that that necessarily justifies it, I know.

p.s. Do you ever struggle with comparing your life to the lives of those around you? How have you learned to be content in your circumstances?

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!~

 

Disclaimer: I’m a Mess

If asked to introduce myself, it would probably go something like this:

“Hi, I’m Brianna. I graduated from college in April, and I work part time at a Christian publishing company in social media and marketing. I also work part time as a teaching assistant for 2 freshmen English classes at Kuyper College. Right now I live with my parents, I’m actively involved with my church, and I hang out with friends as often as I can. Many of my friends aren’t around right now, but I’m looking forward to them being back, and I keep pretty busy.”

Doesn’t look too bad, all typed up like that. From a cursory read through or introduction, it sounds like I have life fairly together right now.

Really though, I don’t. Browse any of my recent posts, and I hope you will quickly understand that I don’t have it together. My introductory paragraph doesn’t tell you about my uncertainty, my dislike of change, the deep ache I feel and the tears that spring to my eyes when I think about how much I miss my friends who are far way, the way I wish God had seen fit to bring a guy into my life by now, the piles of student debt I have to start paying off within the week, and my general fear and anxiety in regards to not really having any idea what I’m doing with my life.

When I introduce myself, I feel like I should be passing out little business cards.

“Disclaimer: This girl is a mess.”

I’m not trying to be self-deprecating or asking for sympathy or pity; I’m simply telling the truth. We are far too good at pretending to be put together on the outside when we are falling apart on the inside. Perfection at the human level does not exist, and the illusion of it can be so irritating; so why do we work so hard to perpetuate the myth?

Because you’re a mess too. Maybe (and I hope for your sake) not as much of one as I often feel, but there is likely at least one, even if its small, area of your life that’s a mess too.

If we all talked about it a little more, maybe we’d all begin to realize that no one is as perfect as they may initially seem. Handing out disclaimer cards declaring “I’m a mess” when meeting new people is probably not the best way to go about it, but declaring it, even if only to yourself at first, might be a place to start.

I’ll go first.

Hi, I’m Brianna, and this is my declaration: Most of my life is a mess.

How about you?

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~