brigitte kathleen

rediscovering my heart


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Time for Transparency

Recently, a wise woman and dear friend got a saying stuck in my head: “Transparency breeds freedom.” It wasn’t until I chose freedom over being trapped in a cloud of “I’m doing my best to look perfect” that I actually understood what that meant.

Let me explain.

For the last 20 years of my life, since my adolescence, I have been focused on being “the person with the coolest story.” I’ve gone out of my way to make sure I was always the one who did things unconventionally. I went to college for a zillion years. I have fourteen trillion dollars in student loan debt. I was going to get a PhD. I went to Kenya for $214.00. I always, always wanted to have big, booming, exciting stories to tell, so I put myself in a position to do things that were worth telling whether it was the thing I should be doing or not. Nothing had rung truer to that sentiment than this past year.

In December of 2013, I had graduated from seminary with a M.A. and just started a new job as the Director of Faith Formation and Youth & Family Ministry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church. It was my first full time ministry position, and a job that I actually was qualified to do, and would be good at. Not all recent grads can say that. The things is, when I left seminary, I left with over $150k in student loans, and I knew my new job wasn’t going to be able to pay the bills. So my first instinct was to go back to school. My dad had recently graduated with a D.B.A. and my mom was looking at a Ph.D. program, so I thought, “Ok… I’ll go to school for psychology just to give myself something extra to do, and that way I an continue to defer my loans because if I defer them long enough, they’ll disappear, right?” Not right. More on that in a later post.

So I started school again, wanting to prove to myself that I could be better than I had been before. Proving that I had a new direction, that I was ready to keep opening doors, seeing what God had behind each one for me. And hey, if anything, it would leave me with a really impressive story to tell at dinner parties of how I worked full time, went to school full time, blah, blah, blah full time. If my goal was to impress, I’d definitely be on my way.

Shortly after I started school again, my grandpa was diagnosed with ALS which would take him from us just 3 short months after, and my attention was being spread in a thousand different directions. I ended up withdrawing from or failing all of my classes that semester, and promising myself that I could do better. After grandpa died, I started anti-depressants, and suddenly I felt my brain just flip. I was still grieving, but I was determined to make my grandpa proud by making sure I did the best I could at everything I did.

The problem was that I didn’t want to be doing some of the things I was doing… namely school. All I had time for in my life was school and work. And I only liked one of the two. But I was determined to be impressive, so I soldiered on. Fall semester ’14, I ended up with a B-, a C, and an A-. Not my best, but considering my year, I gave myself a break and decided that spring would be mine. I would dominate. In the words of my boss, I’d be a “warrior f***ing ninja.”

Then spring semester came… and to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what spring semester was like. I, honest to God, couldn’t tell you what classes I took or what my grades were. Does it get any more unengaged than that? “Ok, fine,” I thought. I’m GOING TO DO THIS, and I’m going to do it WELL. So summer semester rolled around, and I was ready, finally ready to take this school thing by the horns and do it and own it.

I’ll give you two guesses as to what happened. Well, the semester started out strong. I had a flexible work schedule that allowed me to work a half day every Thursday, and I got to “escape” by going to class for 9 hours every Thursday night. I took a class from one of my favorite professors ever, and I was finally going to tackle (and do well in) statistics. I had this really steady momentum all through June, and most of July. And then I stopped. Like a stubborn dog on a walk who won’t go anywhere anymore, I stopped. I stopped partly because I had work stuff every Thursday for three weeks in a row. But between that, a huge project going on at work, and the inability to find any joy in stretching myself this thin anymore, I just stopped.

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During this period of “stop,” I was doing a lot of praying and discerning. Did I want to stay at my job? Did I want to move on? Where would I move on to? Did I want to regroup, and try to start my own business again like I’d planned to do after grad school? Did I want to just throw in the towel completely and move to New York? I had a lot of self-rediscovery time in front of me, but it didn’t take long for me to figure out what was going on.

My boss, since the day I first told him about all my lofty plans, had always tried to tell me that I was a drifter, unwilling to commit, and had a strong refusal to close any door in case something better ever came through one that was still open. I always shrugged him off like he didn’t know what he was talking about because whatever he said, I had big, lofty dreams and I was going to chase them, by God. The funny thing is (and I’ll deny it if you tell him), he was right the whole time. I have spent so much of my life looking for the “What’s next?” “Can I do better?” But the reality is that I never gave the “what I’m doing now” a chance to be the place I’m supposed to be.

A lot of you know that I recently took up running and am training for a marathon this coming October. Shortly after I ran my first Half Marathon in June, I came across five extremely poignant and earth-shattering words.

RUN THE MILE YOU’RE IN.

When you’re running a race– let’s say it’s 13.1 miles– and you start thinking about mile 7 before you realize you haven’t even finished mile 1 yet, your brain isn’t in mile 1. Your brain isn’t with you. Your brain is making up scenarios about what mile 7 might be like. The danger in that is that you need your brain in mile 1. Your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees are all still at mile 1. Your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees need your HEAD to be there too. If you’re head isn’t at mile 1, then your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees are going to get tired, and run out of energy.

My head was 5 years ahead of me. I kept thinking about these goals and dreams I had without giving any energy to the life I had right in front of me. I kept planning for mile 7 when I needed to be focused on mile 1. For people who are dreamers, focusing on the mile you’re in can be a challenge, and no one is telling you to stop dreaming. But you have to be present. Because if you’re not present, you’re not going to be able to take the steps you need to into the future. You won’t get to mile 7 unless you run miles 1-6 first.

So, I’m looking at my story now. I can tell you that I’ve decided not to continue with school. In fact, I decided to email all of my professors yesterday informing them that I wouldn’t be finishing and accepting whatever grade my current work had earned me. The last day of the semester would have been today. I will fail out of this semester. But that’s the consequence of focusing too much on different miles of different races than the mile I’m in right now.

Right now, I’m the Director of Faith Formation and Youth & Family Ministry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church. I’m in the middle of a huge initiative to increase our children’s programs by 10 times our current registration. I’m in it. I’m all here. I’m a “warrior f***ing ninja” who is being the best Director of Faith Formation I can be because this is the mile I’m in right now.

When you’re running a race, it’s nice because the miles are the same length whether you’re on mile 4 or 14. In life, it’s not that easy. So when I get to my next mile, I’ll let you know. Until then, I’ll be over here, just running the mile I’m in, and running it as hard as I can.

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Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

For the last four days, I’ve been listening to Sara Bareilles’ new live album. Sara Bareilles, in her own right, is a magnificent artist. She has talent and is obviously inspired. I rarely run into a song that I want to skip, but I think one of the best tracks she’s ever recorded comes at the end of the album. She covers “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” originally recorded and performed by Elton John.

Obviously, this song was written for a very specific purpose- It’s sort of as if he’s denouncing the limelight he’s been thrown into. But I read something much deeper into the lyrics of this song, and it is in that deeper meaning that I find a message for me. Now, I’m not famous. I don’t live a life of charm and sophistication that comes with today’s celebrity status. I don’t know what it’s like to long for a simpler way of life because, as it turns out, I’m somewhat hoping for a life that looks more like that than the status quo type I’m faced with now.

I love to dream big. I think about what life could be like- what I want life to be life. What I love about abut this piece of me is that I’m never afraid to deny something is possible. I’m never afraid to count anything out until I have seen that it isn’t a possibility. To me, the whole world is still a possibility. That’s what makes the message I hear from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” even more powerful.

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plow

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

When I listen to these lyrics, it’s obvious that the message is particular to the storyteller, but when I meditate on them, the message is for me. And for you. And for our mothers. And our grandparents. The older we get, the more afraid we are to dream. The Baby Boomers, especially the women, were given a pretty specific portrait of what life should look like. That, my friend, is the beauty that lies in the poetry of this song.

My favorite part, if you couldn’t guess, is the last line of the chorus: “I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road.” Automatically, I start to define what it is that’s holding me back from dreaming bigger. What’s causing me to stay on the road that makes most sense? Why do I deserve that? Why don’t I want to allow myself to imagine life beyond the “this”? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to after all these years of wanting to create my own picture of what life could look like: Other people are going to try and decide what my life should look like- They’re going to try to pave me a wonderful yellow brick road. Society gives us its expectations, and we’re supposed to follow in line. This isn’t bad. This is a gift that is passed down to us through generations as standards and expectations begin to change. But I’m not afraid to ask, “What else is there?”

I love to look at the leaders of today from technology moguls to presidents to celebrities and look at how they were able to be so successful. Steve Jobs: College drop out. Hillary Clinton: Women’s activist, and laywer. Ellen DeGeneres: Openly gay, comedian, advocate for social justice of every kind. Each of these people lived and dreamed beyond the roads that had been paved for them. They weren’t comfortable conforming to a picture that they had been told was “normal.” They each want or wanted something beyond the normal. They didn’t care about the popular opinion- they cared about living a life worthy of a story.

If you know anything about me, you know that I rarely do things according to the standards already set. My first bachelor’s degree took me six years because I embraced opportunities that arose to meet me. I’m going back to get another bachelor’s degree- after I’ve already earned a master’s degree. I could live a quiet, safe life in Minnesota, but I know there’s something for me in New York. I do these things because I love having a story to tell. My story is the most important thing I have in my hands. I’ve been given a pen and an empty journal and told to “Go!” And let me tell you, if I wrote a story based on what was waiting for me on my safe path, it would still be a story worth telling. But when I think about the story possibilities that lie on the roads less traveled, those are stories I WANT to be telling.

So what now? What do we do with this arbitrary road that we’re on? How do we begin to dream outside of that?

1. Name and claim.
Know what your yellow brick road looks like. Know what your status quo is. Know what society’s expectations are of you. That’s what’s magical about this- mine is different than yours is different than your brother’s is different than your mother’s. Everyone’s roads are different, but everyone’s roads exist. Once you can name and claim it, you know what to look for.

2. It’s your book. You write the story, other people write the Forward.
Sure, there are people you need to think about. You can’t go through life having no regard for anyone else’s well being. The people who love you have invested in you. But at the same time, the people who love you want you to succeed and see you do amazing things. Let them rejoice in seeing you accomplish things they’ve helped equip you to do. Your story is yours. This is not a co-author situation. But let other people write the Forward. Let them be a piece of how the story came to be. Don’t go to law school because your dad wants you to- Go to law school because your dad always believed you could. Don’t not move to New York because your grandma doesn’t want you to- Move to New York because your grandma helped give you the tools to succeed and be happy there.

3. Write it down.
The one thing I’ve become accustomed to is always having a notebook with me. This is because ideas, inspiration, and creativity can strike at any moment. If I don’t write it down, I will forget. Write it down when you think “Wow, I’d be great at that.” Write it down when you think, “I wonder how much it would cost to go back to school?” Write it down when you think, “I wonder what the cost of living is in that town?” If you never write it down, you never give yourself a chance to dream beyond your current reality, and ideas stay ideas. Writing it down makes it real. Writing it down means you have a phsycial connection to your ambiguous thoughts.

Living and dreaming beyond the yellow brick road is possible for anyone who wants to dream there. Not everyone wants that, and that’s ok. But knowing that there is life on a different path is the first step to finding it. You are created as a creative creature. Whatever source of inspiration or power you believe in, that power has given you the right to creativity. Use it. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. Don’t be afraid to recognize that your future might lie beyond the yellow brick road.

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The If-I-Had-A-Bucket-List

I’ve never really thought about having a bucket list. I haven’t seen the movie. But I’ve always been a dreamer, goal-maker, and an adventurer. A bucket list has just never been a must-do for me, and I think it’s because I’m afraid a dying and feeling like I’ve left things unfinished. I’d rather be ready to depart this life with a list of all the things I’ve done instead of a list with things that still need to be crossed off. I’d rather die thankful for what I did instead of sad for the things I haven’t. I’d rather pass on being thankful instead of regretful.

BUT. That doesn’t mean I have things I would put on a bucket list. So, here they are. The If-I-Had-A-Bucket-List.

-Move to New York

-Learn how to golf

-Own stock

-Record a Christmas CD and call it “Brigie4Shizzie Sings Your Favorite Christmastime Jams”

-Write a book

-Do a TEDTalk

-Own a leadership development consulting firm

-Go back to Africa. Spend some more time in Kenya, but also travel to Egypt and South Africa, as well.

-Spend a month touring Europe

-Get my PhD

-Pay off my student loans

-Date someone with an accent

-Own a lake house

When and if all of these things happen, I’ll be sure to remember how blessed I am to have lived a life full enough to have completed my If-I-Had-A-Bucket-List. When and if all of these things don’t happen, I have a Things-I-Did list that continues to grow and surprise me every single day.


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An Open Letter to Jon Acuff and #StartEXP Participants

Dear STARTers,

Where do I even begin? First of all, Jon Acuff, thank you for the courage you’ve shown over the past few months, taking on this experiment and getting us involved in something great! So many great relationships have been born. So many inside jokes, so many hashtags… It’s  been a whirlwind three months of constant phone charging, and fear punching.  Jon, because of what you started, I went to Nashville for the first time (and saw some naked statues). Jon, because of your powerful words of encouragement, I wrote a Time Magazine article that described what I pictured my life being like in a way I never thought before. Jon, because of your dream, I made 200 new friends. And though we are very different, there’s an incredible amount of magic going on in that #StartSingles group that no one can really explain. Jon, thank you for involving your 2,000+ new friends on this journey you began. It’s been a joy to see it transform, grow, and morph it something no one expected.

Now, for all you #STARTers. I’ve never seen a more tenacious, determined, faithful, dedicated, loyal, supportive group of people in my entire life. And I don’t mean just the ones who post the most, or ninja-like the most, or were a part of FrankenSTART. I mean everyone. To see how each person contributed was truly amazing. I’ll be 100% honest, at the beginning of the second round, I went on a trip out of the country, and I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things when I returned. I lost touch of the main group and spent most of my time in the #StartSingles group, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t pop my head in every now and again to see what kinds of great things were being brewed up in there.  Thank you for being a constant shining light.

But now what? Yesterday, the #StartEXP as we once knew it came to an end. I see there’s a new group called “Dreamers and Builders,” and bravo for taking the initiative to keep the community alive. But… I want you to start thinking about life in terms of chapters, or seasons. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Jon’s exit from the Dave Ramsey group. We don’t know the reason, and Jon doesn’t owe us one, but it’s obvious that his season there was over. Just like the season for the #StartEXP is now over, and has transformed.

But here’s what I want to challenge you with.

I don’t think Jon’s intent was for us to become dependent on him or this community for a feeling of purpose or contribution. I think community is really important, but I’ve noticed how some of us react when something changes- like yesterday, or like when Jon announced his resignation. People seem to get easily flustered. But you know what, guys? Jon is not the source of your power. Jon was simply someone who gave you the keys to unlock what you already had! If Jon completely disappeared from this, you would still go on being brilliant, and creative, and powerful.

I’m not saying the season for change starts now, but I want you think about what happens next. In Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, he talks about how in order for things to change and become new, some things need to end. This is very similar to the idea of death and resurrection. Eventually, death will come to everything we know as #StartEXP, and it’ll be in our hands to move forward embracing the resurrection of something new and exciting. For Christians, I believe that is where we’ll see the Holy Spirit’s action start up again. When we allow death to bring in resurrection, we are offering an opportunity for new birth. If you don’t believe in the Holy Spirit, think about it in this way- a gardener must prune back roses in a bush that might be beautiful, but not necessarily buds that help the entire plant reach is fullest, brightest, and most beautiful potential.

Change is usually difficult. And some of us are not ready for that change to happen to the #StartEXP yet. But I can tell you that change is coming, and eventually we’ll have to embrace the pain of death so that we can allow our brilliance, our creativity, and our mind power bring to life something new and exciting.

Jon is just a guy who had an idea. All of us had our own ideas also, or we wouldn’t have replied to the tweet/post/every other social media medium out there that Jon uses. Jon is not the one supporting you. Even your fellow #STARTers aren’t supporting you. You are using your own mind, your own ideas, your own ideation to create and discover. Don’t let go of that. Don’t forget about the magic you had before you met Jon.

I have the utmost respect for all of you, and I’m excited to see what awesome things you continue to do.

Love,

Brigitte K. Leininger

#STARTAlum

P.S. #allthethings


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If Jesus Didn’t Think Peter was an Idiot, You’re Probably in the Clear, too.

I’m writing to you from the midst of this journey, so don’t be surprised if I come back with a rebuttal or “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I was right!” in a couple of weeks. Right now, my life is in a season of change. Everything in my life can be boiled down to seasons: Seasons of good, seasons of bad. Seasons of life, seasons of death. Seasons of growth, seasons of transformation, or seasons that are completely stagnant.
Many of my more recent seasons have been seasons of waiting. I’ve basically been living an Advent life for the last six years- constantly waiting and preparing for what happens next, and I think I’ve finally reached the time when the “what comes next” is actually coming next! It’s not coming without a price, though. With any and every season change comes the inevitable death of the season before it. When we change from Winter to Spring, the cold and the snow die with the come of the warm and the sun. When the Autumn comes, with it comes a death of the life that the Summer brought us in new life through the creation that has bloomed. The death is necessary because it brings to us a birth of something new (which might be confusing because Winter actually kills things, but the winter is born- a time for snow, holidays…. you get it, right?). Change is almost always painful because we are being forced to let go of something that we’ve become so familiar with, but change brings joy because we’re able to look at a birth of possibilities as we move into the future.

I’ll be honest with you- I’m ready for the change that I know is coming, even though I don’t know what it is. In the last 12 months, I’ve finished and turned in a Master’s thesis, graduated from grad school, have looked endlessly for jobs, moved into a three-bedroom house by myself, ended a very special and close friendship, sparked almost a hundred new friendships, traveled overseas, experienced the death of a grandpa, had another grandpa go through open heart surgery, experienced a number of personal trials within my family, traveled all over the country, and spent a week in Germany. This year has been non-stop emotional instability. It’s been exhausting, at at times, seemingly impossible.

My current situation could be the end of this time that feels like it has little-to-no foundation. It could be the beginning of something huge. And on the other hand, it could be all for nothing. I’m in the middle of a very turbulent hiring process for a job I never thought I’d get right out of grad school. I’m so excited for it, but every other day, there is a new development that changes how the process is playing out. I’ve waited and waited…. and waited some more. Last night, I came to the conclusion that God is doing one of two things: Telling me to move on or press on. It’s amazing how the message for those two VERY different messages can be so similar. And what do I do now? How do I know which message God is trying to send me? At what point do I need to trust myself to make a decision that’s worthy of the faithfulness God has shown me? As much as people like to preach “Let go, and let God,” the material and tangible decision is ultimately left in our hands. As much as my Type-A, control freak loves having that control, the faithful servant who wants to chase God’s will is terrified.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hang out with some senior high students which was so much fun. I invited them to ask me any questions they wanted to ask me about anything. So, after we got the superhero questions out of the way (my favorite being: Batman: Hero, or Superhero?), one of the boys began asking me questions about the bible. He asked me pretty basic “What’s your favorite ________?” questions, which were fun to answer because who really takes the time to think about that stuff, especially in Seminary when you’re having information shoved down your throat faster than you can swallow? But the one that caught me off guard the most was, “Who’s you’re favorite disciple or apostle?” This was a question I’d honestly never thought about. My go-to would have been “Mary Magdalene, obviously,” for the ‘girl factor,’ but I actually sat and thought about it. And I eventually decided on choosing Peter.

Good ol’ Peter. He get’s a bad rap, you know? He’s our overzealous, outspoken, try-to-hard, knucklehead. I, for the record, think he’s incredibly charming. He’s the most like me of anyone in the Bible. When I think of my current season of change and wanting to allow God to guide me through it, and the internal battle between Type-A and Faithful Servant, Peter’s attempt at water-walking is where I land in an attempt to illustrate it.
Matthew 14:22-33 is where I find my humanity buried in the mess of laws, grace, stories, allegories, and poetry of the Bible. Peter, being the hot-shot he is, begs Jesus to call him out onto the water with him, to which Jesus kindly obliges. Peter thinks he’s got it, and I can only imagine this scene- Peter’s walking on the water, thinking, “Oh, for crying out loud… I’m walking on water! …….. OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, I’M WALKING ON WATER!!” When he takes his focus off of Jesus who is there to help him with this feat he’s decided to jump into- when he decides to depend on his own strength, it’s over for him. Yet, Jesus doesn’t call him out and tell him to go back because there’s no hope. Jesus doesn’t tell him to get back into the boat where he can play it safe. Jesus simply confronts Peter’s  lack of faith, reaches out his hand, and continues to accompany Peter on his watery journey.

Peter’s “season change” was his transition of faith in what Jesus could do with and for him. But it didn’t come without becoming overwhelmed. It didn’t come without struggle. It didn’t come without what could have been a very literal death. And Jesus had two options: He could have stood there and said, “You fool…. I didn’t tell you to get out of the boat. Go back or die…. *mumble* idiot *mumble*” Or he could have taken option B- He stood there, accepting Peter’s zealous decision to hop on out of the boat and he he started to sink, reach his hand out and not let him be overwhelmed by the waves. Changing seasons come with hard decisions. Hard decisions are sometimes followed with remorse. When we start to regret or be remorseful about the decisions we make during times of change, we lose focus on the hand that Jesus is extending to us. When we focus on anything other than the hope of something bigger, we get swallowed up in the waves so much easier. It takes strength to get out of the boat, but it takes perseverance to keep going.

Earlier, I said that the two messages I could be getting from God right now are , “Move on!” or “Press on!” And when it comes down to it, whatever we do, we’re pressing on through whatever season we’re in at the moment. Ultimately, giving up is never going to be an option, because giving up means you’ve let the waves overcome you. Giving up means you’ve forgotten about the hand that’s reaching out to you saying, “Why don’t you trust me?” You don’t need to give up. You need to see his hand keeping you from the waves and urging you to press on.


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7 Things To Tell Yourself When You’re Hurting

Thought Catalog

1. I am going to face it.

Don’t run away from it. Don’t treat it like it’s not there, like it has never happened — this will only prolong the period of suffering, and delay the healing. Talk about it, not avoid it. Things only get nastier when you try to sweep them under the carpet. Face that bitch right in the face. If it’s gonna hurt, it will. But after that, it will be fine. It will get better.

2. This pain is necessary for growth.

You tell yourself that it is NOT all bad and no good — that something good CAN come out of it. That through pain you become stronger and better as a person. That going through tough things and shit situations are part and parcel of life. People can break your heart, but it is up to you whether to seal it up on…

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Before Someone Loves You, You Must Love Yourself

Thought Catalog

Someone is going to touch your hand in a dark movie theater where a scary movie is playing but you can’t remember a single thing that happened in the story because you are too busy concentrating on your own breath and how close this person is to your body. They are going to reach out and touch you and it is going to feel like a thousand needles pushing into your skin at once, the kind of pain which is as much a thrill as it is an object of fear. You are going to forget how to breathe, how to look normal, how to pretend to be the person you were only a few seconds ago. And it will be good, but it won’t be love.

I dated a guy for a time who was very nice. We’re used to the descriptor “nice” as having become almost a euphemism…

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