Sunday, January 3, 2016

In 2016: Simplify

I have written this post in my head a dozen times now...in the shower, trying to fall asleep at night, driving home the day after Christmas with sick kids. Every time it starts and ends a little differently, but the essence is this: Simplify. This word has been rising up in my heart for months, maybe years now. Simplify. Focus. Be Present. 


In May of 2014 I joined the world in owning an iPhone. Framed as a Mother's Day gift, it was a practical purchase aimed at assisting me in running my online Etsy business, helping me keep up with this growing blog, and allowing me to train for the half-marathon I was planning to run later that summer. A year and a half later, I can say that in many ways my iPhone has done all those things, and perhaps even well. I completed the half marathon as well as a triathlon, I have paid our mortgage most months through my business and I have published a book birthed from this blog and the community surrounding it. 

But I quickly learned that my iPhone did one other thing best of all: It beckoned my attention 24 hours a day, creating stress and a lack of focus in life.

I realize it's probably not fair to shift so much blame onto an inanimate object. I mean, it's just a tiny electronic device, right?! And so I have tried to establish better boundaries, drawing wisdom and motivation from Safford's book, Hands Free Mama. I can own the fact that it is ultimately my relationship with my iPhone and the boundaries (or lack thereof) that I enforce with it that are the real issue. And yet, for me, owning an iPhone has been a stress-inducing, distraction-creating, presence-sapping existence. It has been like having a large, flashing To Do box always at my side, incessantly waiting to be checked. And being a list-maker and a list-checker, I am drawn constantly to the need to check - check my email one more time, check my blog comments one more time, check my social media feed one more time. 

And so I check. And then I feel guilty for being "sucked in" to this distraction yet again. I ask my kids to wait while I send a quick email, hush little mouths in order to post a photo to social media. I try to keep my business and blogging and social media plates all spinning at all times, and frankly, I do it pretty well. But there is a cost, and for me it is the health of my soul. Because I cannot seem to find a boundary that allows me to own this device and remain present in life. 


If this whole journey into telling my story has taught me anything, it is to offer myself and others far more grace and flexibility than any hard, fast rule could ever allow. And so, as I head into 2016, eager to find simplicity and presence in my days, I am not setting any New Year's Resolutions, I am simply setting my iPhone down. I am walking away from this blog for a season, signing off of social media for a time. I am turning off the flashing To Do box, maybe even leaving it at home for a day. Not as a hard, fast rule; not as a strict, forever boundary, but as a means to creating distance between myself and the distractions that are keeping me from peace and presence. I am simplifying.

Telling my story here at NBrynn has really given me back my life. It has brought me back to myself and allowed me to journey through so many hard seasons and difficult emotions that I would never have been able to do without the written word. I will forever be thankful for the platform of this sacred space in allowing me to tell my story. May you find such a sacred space in your life, and may we meet someday, face-to-face.



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Sunday, December 13, 2015

From Fundamentalism to Fuller Faith


I've been snail-mailing with a relative lately - good 'ole fashioned letter writing. We've been talking about our faith journeys, spanning nearly a century, and all the ups and downs and wonderings and wanderings involved in so many years of trying to understand the Divine. In a recent letter, I found myself writing this: "The truth is, if I had to summarize the past five years of my spiritual journey, I would say I have gone from fundamentalism to fuller faith."

At first I felt silly saying this. "Fuller faith" hardly seems like an accurate description of someone who stopped attending church, walked away from traditional religion and gave free reign to all questioning and exploration a few years ago. Someone who swung open the door on "acceptable books" and started reading veraciously from all traditions. Someone who now honors mystery as holy and sacred; questioning as a supremely spiritual act. 


It's true, faith has been a messy, constantly moving target for me in recent years. And yet, the more I think about this little saying that flowed up from my heart, out through my pen - from fundamentalism to fuller faith - the more I resonate with it. In my book, One Slender Thread, I have a chapter titled, "The Fundamentals" and there I write this:
At the ripe old age of twelve, I began to fret constantly about the eternal state of my soul. Having heard almost weekly for the former decade of my life about heaven and hell, those "in" and those "out," I was growing increasingly uncomfortable about not knowing for sure that I was "in." One night, attending an evening revival service with my best friend and her family, I listened attentively to the yellow-haired, charismatic preacher. I listened to words I had heard many times before, but for the first time, it seemed my cognitive maturity had finally caught up and the words started to make sense. I was a sinner, born depraved and with an evil nature. I would live and die in this state: sinful, flawed, stained in the sight of the perfect God who made me, forever banished from His presence - unless I confessed that all these things about me were true and that Jesus was my only escape. Unless I prayed, with sincerity, that Jesus come live in my heart, cleanse me of my sinful nature, and help me live a life pleasing to God. Then I would be allowed in heaven and God would welcome me as his child. Then God's grand love would fill my heart and make me good. Then I could call Him Father.

I walked down the aisle when the yellow-haired preacher asked if anyone wasn't sure where they would go when they died; when the yellow-haired preacher asked if anyone needed someone to save them from their sins and present them as perfect before God; when the yellow-haired preacher asked if anyone wanted to invite Jesus into their hearts and start a life in the Love of God. I walked down the aisle of that old Methodist church, with it's creaky wooden floors and crimson pews in neat rows, tears streaming down my face, cheeks burning with tween emotions. I walked down the aisle, desperate to guarantee, once and for all, that I was “in.” Desperate to be made good. Desperate for a loving Father. 
Immediately, I started attending youth group every week and followed a reading plan to get through the Bible in a year. I was passionate, excited, committed - what we called “on fire for God.” I spent the next several years doing everything in my power to “fan the flame” - attending weekend conferences, leading Bible studies, showing up at church every time the doors were open. My skirts got longer and my shirts looser, I threw out all my old CDs and replaced them with Barlow Girls and Jars of Clay. I kissed dating goodbye, went on missions trips and attended See You at the Pole. I did prayer walks around my high school, tried to memorize all the right answers and share them with my friends, organized church potlucks and parades. I sat in the front row and took notes throughout the sermon each Sunday. 
After my senior year of high school, I moved to Texas for a yearlong Christian leadership experience. During my first week, I was handed an enormous, dark green book called, How Now Shall We Live, a book explaining all the ins-and-outs of a Christian worldview, which I studied diligently and thoroughly. I learned why Buddhism was flawed, why evolution was wrong, why only those who believed in “Biblical Christianity” were right and therefore going to heaven. I soon was convinced that there was in fact an answer to every question, and that I was on the winning team that knew them all.

Rachel Held Evans describes my decade as a Christian perfectly when she writes in her book, Faith Unraveled: “I used to be a fundamentalist. Not the Teletubby-hating, apocalypse-ready, Jerry Falwell type of fundamentalist, but the kind who thinks that God is pretty much figured out already, that he's done telling us anything new. I was fundamentalist in the sense that I thought salvation means having the right opinions about God and that fighting the good fight of faith requires defending those opinions at all costs. I was a fundamentalist because my security and self-worth and sense of purpose in life were all wrapped up in getting God right - in believing the right things about him, saying the right things about him, and convincing others to embrace the right things about him, too." 

See, all those years that I was "fanning the flame" of my faith, I was also running from insecurity, hiding in certain answers, trying to control a scary, broken world with my religion. I wanted to belong, to be whole, to be right, and I found a system of Christianity that told me I could be all those things, no questions asked. But there are questions worth asking and there's a wholeness that all the hiding never allowed me to discover. 

Today, I am much more willing to acknowledge mystery. I'm willing to say I don't have it all figured out, that I am still learning and growing and discovering all the time. And saying that I have gone from fundamentalism to fuller faith resonates as truth... 
Because I used to see God as a Finite Father that only embraced those who prayed certain prayers and read certain books, but now I see a God that is limitless in His love.  
I used to believe that truth was limited to one ancient text, and more than that, to one way of interpreting that ancient text. Today, I see that the Creator has hidden truth in all of creation, in each one of us. 
I used to say that Love was ultimate, but I lived in a world that cast constant judgement on those that were "out," those that were "other." Today, I honor the humanity of all people and embrace the "other" in my own home.
Yes, it's true. My faith has changed a lot. And for that, I thank God everyday. 










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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Little Peanut Baby Shower

Somehow, amidst all the Christmas hustle and bustle, we managed to sneak in this adorable Little Peanut baby shower last weekend! DimplePrints created all the beautiful printables in pinks and greys, which made my job of executing a fabulous event so much easier. We added some pink and grey lanterns, lots of adorable desserts and my latest favorite dessert table addition: A ribbon banner! Take a look.




For dessert, I asked two fabulous local bakers to create some custom pieces for us. One made peanut butter & jelly cupcakes and another made sugar cookies that matched the printables perfectly! We also served kettle corn and caramel corn in decorative cups, GF cookies to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions, and of course, a million Nutter Butters! 



With DimplePrints' adorable Little Peanut printable set, I was able to easily coordinate decor throughout the party. We used custom water bottle wraps, napkin rings, center piece signs, food labels, cupcake toppers, and of course, a "Little Peanut" pennant banner. Here's a few more pictures!


Last but not least, we sent every guest home with their own little bag of Little Peanuts (circus peanuts in pink, white, yellow and orange), and tied them all shut with DimplePrints coordinating favor tags!


Hope you found a little inspiration for your next celebration today! Spread the word.




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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Much for which to give thanks...



It has been a very busy few weeks around here, as I am sure all of you can relate! Preparing for the holidays, helping friends through major transitions, work, school, house-keeping. But in it all, I know there is so very much for which to give thanks. And sometimes, stopping long enough to name those things, is the best gift I can give to myself and to my family. Will you pause with me for a moment and give name to all that we are grateful for?

True friends and chances to serve
Healthy children, one doctor visit a year
Local vegetables and nearby orchards
The privilege of sharing my story: One Slender Thread
This blog and all of you
Grace for ongoing growth
Life's many celebrations
Generous, enjoyable in-laws
Books, books, books
Bubble baths in the evening
Date nights with my love
Annual family photos, memories and laughs
Pink morning skies
Cuddles on the couch
Moments of being fully present
Old friends and new
Traditions and a warm home to enjoy them in


From our family to yours, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!





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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower

How fun is this baby shower?! Not only does it honor the little life growing within Mama-to-be, but it celebrates the best season of the year: Fall! 

I couldn't have been more excited when my sister-in-law asked me to help with this
Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower. My first step is always finding the perfect printable package to help define the event colors and style. We quickly landed on DP Designs adorable orange, green and blue plaid set (available here!), which provided us with the "Lil Pumpkin" banner we used behind the dessert table, cupcake toppers, cupcake wraps, food labels, favor tags, signs, water bottle wraps, napkin rings and LOTS, lots more!
Here's a full-on of the final dessert table. Some of my favorite features include the orange lantern pumpkins, the white pumpkin with baby's name scripted on it and the matching ribbon banner draped across the front (have I mentioned I'm currently obsessed with making these ribbon banners - they're so easy and always add an adorable touch?!).

For this event, we went with several custom desserts, which made the dessert table that much more amazing! Two amazing local bakers provided us with Lil Pumpkin sugar cookies designed to match the printable set, pumpkin oreo pops and cupcakes that were out-of-this-world. The flavors? Chocolate cupcakes with blue whipped cream filling and chocolate ganache on top AND Pumpkin cupcakes with maple whipped cream filling and cream cheese frosting on top. YUM!



Another special touch I added: A custom scripted Lil Pumpkin pumpkin along with a welcome arrangement by the front door. 


This Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower was so much fun to work! I hope you got some inspiration here today for your next celebration!




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Thursday, November 12, 2015

False Expectations & Failed Attempts

A couple weeks ago, our family adventured south for our first multi-night camping trip. We had dreamed up this adventure with dear friends who live in Florida, an exhausting 18 hour drive away. A plan unfolded last summer to meet halfway in the Great Smokey Mountains and camp for a few days in order to ease the driving burden of a visit for both sides. 

Up until this point, our family had only ever camped for a single night on land owned by family near our Ohio home. In venturing south, to the foot of the Smokey Mountains, we envisioned great expanses of wilderness, brightly colored Fall forests and a sense of solitude during our stay. Indeed, for the last two hours of our drive, our car was animated with awe at the beauty of the surrounding landscape. 



At 2:00 in the afternoon, our family pulled into the Cherokee, North Carolina KOA, and quickly realized our expectations had been all wrong. Since we hadn't been the ones to book the campsites, we had somehow neglected to educate ourselves about what a typical KOA entails and what sort of camping we were getting ourselves involved in. 
Rather than great expanses of wilderness, we found our tiny site along the edge of a large barbwire fence, lining the main road we had just driven off.  
Rather than brightly colored Fall forests, we found a campsite with one tree strategically placed on either side to mark where our space started and stopped.  
Rather than a sense of solitude, we found ourselves just feet from the large parking lot and enormous office/store/pool house where hundreds of RV's would come and go in the coming days. 
I wish I had been with it enough to think of snapping a few photos to show you - it would have provided a good laugh for us all. But my husband and I were completely dumbfounded. We froze, mouths agape, starring at our tiny plot of pavement and barbwire. 

Finally, my husband broke the silence, "We just drove eight hours, through gorgeous countrysides, to camp here?! I'm getting back in the car." 

That's all I needed. "Unbelievable! How is this camping?! There are two trees! TWO TREES! We have more nature in our suburban backyard! How are the kids going to sleep with traffic rushing past all night?! @*#<{>*@&!!!"

As my husband and I were busy losing our minds with disappointment, our kids were gleefully exploring the area. Happy to be out of the car, they found those horrible two trees more than sufficient, each claiming one as their own personal climber. Eventually they wandered back and heard our fury.

My son was the first to chime in, "Mom. Dad. Stop complaining. We're on VACATION!" 

Then our daughter, "Yeah! We just drove all that way and now you want to leave. We have to stay and see the Webster's!"

Again, my husband and I stopped in our tracks, this time rightfully rebuked by our own children. True, this campsite was far from the wilderness adventure we had expected, and true, the on-street tent placement could make for a rough night's sleep. But here we were, and our three and four-year-old were showing us something we had yet to see: This was our adventure. 


Our friends arrived around dinnertime, and the kids joyfully reunited and picked up where they had left off several months earlier: playing, laughing, enjoying the moment. My husband and I, too, relaxed into our situation, setting up camp, preparing dinner. Before long, we had forgotten about our frustration and had moved on from our disappointment, focused instead on the gift of each moment with these dear friends. 

Because in the end, life is too short to spend fuming over false expectations or failed attempts. Life is in the moments, even when those moments deal us something different than we had hoped for. Whether it's a block of pavement at the end of an 8 hour scenic drive, or a day of crying, cranky kids despite our most heroic efforts at love and patience, or a bad medical report after months of praying - sometimes our only choice is to look the cards we have been dealt directly in the face and say, "This is our adventure. Let's make the most of it."  This mess, this madness, this magic, this moment. 
This is our adventure.  
This is our life.  
And maybe even this is grace disguised. 











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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hear Me ROAR

I'm driving in the car this weekend, crazily running errands and answering phone calls, making mental lists and checking texts at every stoplight, when I first hear it: A faint, but growing ROAR. I am almost too caught up in life's frenzied motion to give it a second thought, but something in my gut pauses and listens for a moment. Something in me stands at attention, and there it is again, welling up all around me now: ROARIt only takes a quick scan of my week to realize the source: This is the ROAR of courageous, resilient, powerful women.

This week, I look around and am overcome by the strength of the women surrounding me. In the small circle of friends I hold closest, just this week...

One has battled her way through lawyers and realtors and courts in order to provide a home for her family.  
One has stayed up late at night and disciplined herself in study for medical school in order to show her children the powerful example of being true to your gifts.
One has stood beside the bed of her chronically ill five-year-old, and with a kiss on the forehead, given her daughter strength and peace to face a liver transplant. 

Watching these amazing women navigate life's many obstacles and opportunities with strength and grace and courage has been eye-opening. It has brought me to my knees in grateful humility for the lives I have a privilege of being a part of. It has created a lump in my throat and a deep joy in my heart. Do you hear the ROAR? 

Other dear friends are adding to the ROAR by starting businesses to provide for their families and to serve other mamas. Others have taken on the honorable task of educating their own children, and still others have offered their time and love in caring and educating children not their own. Others have stepped out of their comfort zone to engage with political leaders and to fight with every honorable weapon at hand in order to welcome an orphan into their home, as their own, forever.

And I stand, aware and in awe of the ROAR all around me. Astounded by the show of strength and courage in the lives that I get to call "Friend." I am stronger and wiser and far better because of each one. And so...

To Crystal, the Tenacious, may your strength and truth shape your own and influence many others.
To Rachel, the Wise, may your insight and intellect be a gift to heal many, and may your inquiries never cease. 
To Whitney, the Brave, may your vulnerability ever be your strength, and may your courage be a light for many others. 

And to all of you: Today may you look around and see the strength surrounding you, and may that strength give you the courage to do the impossible. 





The ones I get to call FRIEND!
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