Happy Independence Day!

As the days of summer seem to get hotter and longer, I can’t help but feel excited when the 4th of July comes around. With fireworks, hot dogs, pool parties, and all the fun-in-the-sun you can imagine, it feels like the climax of summer. It’s the time when even banks are closed, families gather around the barbeque, and everyone seems to wind down with a glass of ice-cold lemonade. July 4th is a special holiday beloved by every American.

Most of us know July 4th, 1776 as the day America declared her independence from Britain. With that said, here are a few fun facts you might not know about one of America’s favorite days of the year.

  • To start, July 4th wasn’t deemed a federal holiday until 1870–about 100 years after America declared independence.
  • Americans consume about 155 million hot dogs on the 4th of July, and we spend about $167.5 million on watermelon.
  • Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th president, was actually born on July 4th. Imagine sharing your birthday with your country!
  • America’s tradition of fireworks can be traced back to our first Independence Day in 1777 when we fired 13 cannons to represent the 13 colonies.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the Declaration of Independence was formally declared on July 2nd, which was the day John Adams believed to be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” Turns out, he was a couple of days off, but was nonetheless accurate in the day’s description! July 4th was the date that Congress approved the final text of the Declaration of Independence.

All fun facts aside, it is important for us to always remember those who fought before us. Our freedom to celebrate the 4th isn’t entirely free but is constantly paid for by our faithful, hard-working military. This 4th of July (or 2nd—whichever you choose), take a moment to shake a soldier’s hand and say thank you or whisper a prayer for those in the line of duty. It is because of them we get to enjoy our beloved holiday, and thanks to them, we are able to call America home.

Written by Camille (NEW: Click on author’s name for more information about him or her!)

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Memorial Day

It is finally summer time! You no longer have to worry about assignments, tests, or deadlines. Woohoo! A few days after summertime officially begins, your family plans a barbecue and swim party for Memorial Day. You are excited to see your friends and family, but you have some unanswered questions. What is this holiday’s meaning? Is it simply about gathering together on a summer day to relax and celebrate? Is it just a day that the mail does not run? Or, is it a day that has a much greater significance? If you read to the end of this blog, you will no longer have any questions about Memorial Day and its significance.

Everybody can probably recite a few facts about the Civil War that they learned in middle school; however, it was much more than just a few statistics to the people who lived through its trauma. Thousands of young men and a few women valiantly left their families to embark on a journey full of fear, pain, misery, and death. Although some made it out of the war, many were not as fortunate. Mothers and fathers wept over the deaths of their children, who sacrificed their lives for what they believed.

In a time of despair and grieving, Americans united and honored the young individuals who selflessly gave their lives in the Civil War. Throughout the nation, people paid their respects by placing flowers and other objects on the graves of those who died in the war. Because this was occurring in different places around the United States, the exact location where Memorial Day began is unknown. Despite the anonymity, the government declared Waterloo, New York, as the first official city where Memorial Day was recognized because of the festivities held there in honor of the people who perished.

Interestingly, this holiday was originally referred to as Decoration Day because many people would place different decorations on the soldiers’ graves to honor them. Regardless of the name, Memorial Day was designed to take a day out of the year to honor the men and women who perished fighting for what they believed in. Each town might have different traditions for celebrating the holiday, but every festivity boils down to honor and respect. Although this holiday started in honor of those who perished in the Civil War, it eventually became known as a celebration of life for all the people who died fighting in a war.

In 1971, Memorial Day was recognized as a national holiday when governmental offices close to recognize those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Throughout time, this holiday lost its true meaning. Many suggest it is due to the extended weekend. Perhaps it is because we have become desensitized to the true pain death causes. Whatever the case might be, it is something we can change. Fascinatingly, Congress asked that everything stop at three o’clock for only a minute on Memorial Day in remembrance of the true meaning of this holiday. In the midst of the barbecues and summer festivities, take a moment of silence with the rest of the nation on the last Monday in May to recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I will take a moment of silence this Memorial Day. Will you?

John 15:13 states, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (New Living Translation). 

Written by Trisha (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Created to Enjoy

Peeking out from behind closed petals, the sparkling sky catches my attention. I sway back and forth in excitement as the soft morning breeze caresses my petals. Soaking up the morning dew, I prepare for the beautiful day ahead.

To my delight, several bright, polka-dotted ladies begin to crawl across my stem, hoping to snack on some aphids before the heat of the day. If I could only get those pesky bugs to leave me alone! So rude – always eating holes through my beautiful, waxy leaves! A vibrant green, my littlest leaves droop in relief as the prestigious ladies finish their aphid breakfast. Grateful, I stand up straight and tall, stretching out my stems, hoping to provide the ladies easy passage back to their underground hideout. Unfortunately, I have to practically grow new roots to keep from squirming as those ticklish little feet travel back down my stalk!

Looking up, I sigh in wonder as the morning sun begins to peek over the mountaintop. Bright pink and orange hues dance behind the majestic mountains, anxiously awaiting their morning debut. As dawn turns into day, my little meadow slowly comes to life once again.

I release a few withered petals as several delicate butterflies resume their morning migration. Enticed by my beautiful scent, the butterflies pause to sample my sticky nectar, leaving behind pollen from other flower friends near and far. As the flutterers continue on their journey, I bask in the sun’s gentle rays: warming, loving, life-giving. Early morning chills dissipate as I stretch my head toward the sky. My sole desire in life is to share my beauty with all those around. What joy is found in the life of a flower!

As I continue warming in the sunshine, a human pushing a curious machine comes into view. My petals and leaves perk in excitement at the rare sighting. Perhaps he has come to bask in my beauty! Closer and closer he pushes the machine and louder and louder the noises become. As I wait in anticipation, early excitement turns to profound horror. Though the sun continues to shine, I feel frozen from shock. Completely helpless, I watch as flower families fall all around. Closer, closer, closer the giant machine approaches. Louder, louder, louder, the cutting noises intensify.

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I shrivel in despair as my beautiful petals sink into the dirt. Instead of enjoying, cherishing, and sharing, the mower breaks, takes, and devastates. If only mankind could understand, I am simply here to help them comprehend that the beauties of earth are for them to enjoy, so on this Earth Day, be grateful, and do not destroy.

Written by Leah (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Who is Barabbas?

Most of us are familiar with the story of Barabbas. We know that Pontius Pilate offered the angry mob a choice: the release of a well-known criminal or the release of a humble teacher. We also know that the crowd overwhelmingly chose the release of Barabbas and demanded the brutal execution of Jesus. However, we might miss the point of the whole story if we see Barabbas as a random criminal.

Barabbas is mentioned in all four Gospels of the New Testament, which means that he is extremely crucial to the story and meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. Barabbas was charged with insurrection in Jerusalem, robbery, and murder. He was “a notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16). It was also customary for a Jewish prisoner to be released before the Feast of Passover every year, which is why Pilate chose to use it as a strategy to keep himself blameless.

The meaning of Barabbas’ name is key to understanding how and what the authors of the Gospels were trying to convey to their readers. According to Hebrew Streams, Barabbas means “the son of [his] father.” They had to choose between the twisted version of man (Barabbas) and the perfect image of what man ought to be (Jesus), which made the choice spiritually-charged almost immediately because of this fact.

When we read about this story, we might be quick to point out the depravity of the world and the sinfulness of the mob. However, we fail to realize that we are talking about ourselves here. Dead in our trespasses and guilty of breaking God’s laws, we are deserving of His wrath, but a blameless sacrifice to take our place was provided by Him instead—drawing one of the most beautiful biblical parallels with the story of Abraham and his son Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-18. In this story, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and when He saw his obedience, he provided a lamb to be sacrificed instead. Christ’s work on the cross carries the same message and the same story.

Dead in our trespasses and guilty of breaking God’s laws, we are deserving of His wrath, but a blameless sacrifice to take our place was provided by Him instead—drawing one of the most beautiful biblical parallels with the story of Abraham and his son Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-18.

Though we ought to rejoice in Christ’s resurrection, Jesus wished his followers to remember this time of sorrow. At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks of His body and blood as a sacrifice for our sins and commands us to partake in the same communion as we remember Him (Luke 22:19). The Apostle Paul eloquently elaborates on this as well by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

While many indulge in colorful eggs and delicious sweets, Scripture admonishes us to proclaim His death continually, for by it we are made alive. Our hearts ought to break at the cost of our sin, yet mend with thankfulness for the power of His resurrection. The story of Barabbas illustrates this truth wonderfully. The historicity of Barabbas and the meaning of his name are important to the interpretation and understanding of the text; however, he finds his true identity in all of us. We have all sinned and broken God’s laws. We are Barabbas.

Written by Kenean (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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What St. Patrick’s Journey Teaches Us About Adversity

Before writing this blog, my knowledge of St. Patrick’s Day read thus: it’s on March 17th,  something Ireland, and if you don’t wear green, you will be assaulted. If you live in America, I assume your knowledge of the holiday is about the same as mine. However, after doing some digging of my own, I have come to understand that Saint Patrick had to endure a fair share of hardships. Looking at his complete timeline, I now realize just how significant each one of his tribulations was to the cultivation of his impact and the legacy we see today. So, in the spirit of knowledge and cultural awareness, let’s take a look at the adversities of St. Patrick and what they teach us about our own struggles.

Saint Patrick (full name Maewyn Succat) was born in Britain near the end of the 4th century (386 AD). There is little information regarding his childhood, but when he was sixteen, he was enslaved by Irish pirates. He was then forced to tend sheep in Ireland as a slave for six years. As he became more accustomed to the Irish language and practices, Patrick began to grow in his faith. He started to pray daily and began to see his captivity as a test from God. One night, he heard a voice telling him to escape and return to his homeland. This led him to board a boat with a group of sailors venturing to Britain, and he was reunited with his family after being lost at sea for approximately a month. After escaping imprisonment, Patrick received a vision of the Irish people reaching out to him and was inspired to bring the Gospel to the citizens of Ireland. Although the people didn’t embrace him upon his initial return, Saint Patrick went on to become the most influential Christian figure in the history of Ireland, converting and baptizing individuals across the nation. He continued working with, and establishing, churches throughout Ireland until his death towards the end of the 5th century (between 461-93 AD).

As you can see, Saint Patrick endured a lot during his lifetime, but his faith carried him through such hardships. He possessed a mindset that didn’t allow him to give up when things seemed impossible to overcome. But, of course, I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “don’t give up!” a million times in a variety of different environments. Every adult is aware of the importance of perseverance and developing a strong work ethic. The question is this: how? How can I build a mindset that helps me push through rough times? How can I look at adversity in a new light that helps me move past it? How do I not give up?

For starters, I would suggest ridding yourself of the preconceived notion that adversity has to be a bad thing. The words “adversity” and “hardship” can often come to our minds with negative connotations, which makes us want to avoid them. However, hardships can be viewed in ways that are less negative. For example, Saint Patrick viewed his enslavement as a test of his faith from God. Of course, the word “test” might also have a negative connotation for many people, but Saint Patrick understood that all good things come from God. With this in mind, he was able to view his adversity in a different way.

This transitions nicely into the next question people may have: how can I view my adversity in a truly positive light? As previously mentioned, understanding God’s goodness can certainly help us see our struggles positively. The Bible also specifically lays out how adversity leads to goodness in Romans: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). If we begin to view our tribulations more as opportunities for character development and less as burdens we have to carry, it is more likely that we will have greater hope and energy when approaching such trials. When our hopes are high, we can garner the strength and energy to tackle whatever may be in front of us.

This leads us to the last, and certainly most important, question: where do I find hope? Saint Patrick makes the source of his hope very clear in his confession, written shortly before he died: “thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently [offer] my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord” (“The Confession of Saint Patrick”, par. 34). Because Saint Patrick put his hope in Christ, he had a renewed sense of energy when approaching adversity; he even began to view adversity more positively, which drove him to not give up when his tasks seemed impossible to overcome.

So, today as we’re pinching our friends and showing off our horrendous Irish accents, I hope this holiday can serve as a reminder of where our hope comes from. Even in our most troubled times, God is constant. We just have to remember to look up and know He’s there. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Written by Ryan (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Presidents are People Too

President’s Day is a holiday dedicated to all of the U.S. presidents, both past and present. It is a day where Americans can reflect upon and remember the actions of historic presidents like George Washington as well as the more recent presidents who were elected during our lifetime. This day gives us reason to recall the incredible feats of President Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union throughout the turmoil of the American Civil War, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided the U.S. during economic depression and world war. Also, this day allows us to commemorate the tragedies of past presidents like the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas during the presidential motorcade. Most Americans are aware of the well-known presidents and their claims to fame. However, presidents are people, too, and they have lived through some interesting periods in American history. Behind every presidential figure lies a trove of fascinating facts about their lives.

We believe that the man or woman elected as president cannot be some average Joe off the street. Although one must certainly be qualified to be president, all of the men elected to office have had their shortcomings. Thomas Jefferson—founding father, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and 3rd president of the U.S.—gravely feared public speaking. In fact, during his entire presidency, he only delivered two speeches. He is not the only president with a phobia. Ulysses S. Grant, the acclaimed general of the Civil War and 18th president of the U.S., could not bear the sight of blood. Yet, he led the Union army to victory in the bloodiest war the United States has ever experienced. Unlike Jefferson and Grant, whose concerns are understandable, other presidents had irrational fears. For example, the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, was afraid of electricity. Since it had just been invented, Harrison often refused to flip light switches in the White House, believing he would be electrocuted if he did. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who led the U.S. through World War II, was deeply superstitious. It was common for him to refuse to dine with thirteen people or travel on the thirteenth day of the month as a safety precaution. Like any other person, presidents have fears and concerns that contradict the heroic persona we often think we see them in.

Some of the presidents were incredibly rugged men who lived during periods that we have no experience in. Many of them grew up on the frontier where the wilderness spread for miles and unknown people resided. They developed tough characteristics that they carried with them into their presidency for both their benefit and downfall. The 7th president, Andrew Jackson, is commonly known as the presidential bad-boy of American history and for good reason. Throughout his life, he fought in one-hundred duels (which were legal in his day). Duels were serious ordeals; many famous Americans of that period were involved and sometimes killed in these confrontations. Jackson was shot twice during his tenure as a dueler, once taking a bullet in the chest and another in the arm. Along with Old Hickory (Jackson’s nickname), Abe Lincoln was also a tough guy. Lincoln had a talent in wrestling, winning nearly three-hundred matches during his day. His towering frame gave him the advantage in wrestling matches, making him a formidable opponent to all who challenged him. Both of these presidents were the types of people you did not want to mess with unless you had a good reason.

Throughout history, presidents have had a lasting impact on the United States. Martin Van Buren, 8th president of the U.S., impacted the language we speak today in a very unique way. During his election campaign in 1840, he went by the nickname: Old Kinderhook. In order to create a snappier way of saying this mouthful of a nickname, people referred to him as “OK.” His supporters would lug around signs with the initials on it and, little did they know, we still use “OK” to this day. In fact, it is one of the prominent words in our everyday language.

As humans, we all possess interesting facts about our lives. Every president, from the most prominent to the nearly forgotten, has a fascinating side to his life story. Though we create presidents to be larger-than-life figures, they are people, too, with mistakes, fears, desires, and stories.

Written by Jack

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Works Cited:

Hapsis, Emmanuel. “Weird Facts You Never Knew about the U.S. Presidents.” KQED, Feb. 2016. https://www.kqed.org/pop/20516/weird-facts-you-never-knew-about-the-u-s-presidents.

History.com Editors. “Presidents Day 2019.” History.com, Aug 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/presidents-day.

Treat Yo’self: Great Valentine’s Tips for One

“If you’re sad about being alone on Valentine’s Day, just remember that nobody loves you on any other day of the year either,” a snarky Facebook meme reads. After a hearty laugh, I sank down into my onesie pajamas considering my Valentine’s Day plans. I immediately thought of me and other celebrators buying flowers, chocolate, overbearing cologne, and doing all of the other materialistic things we would normally do for our Valentines. Between the beep-beep-beep of the cash register in my head and my desire not to indulge in this year’s cliché festivities, I stumbled upon an idea: treat yourself this treat yoself 1Valentine’s Day. Obviously, it is better to give than to receive, and we can all agree that it’s important to show love to others. However, many of us dedicate the entire day to showing everyone but ourselves such affection. It’s time we claim this day as one to cherish those we love, most importantly ourselves.

Tip One: Go to Work

I’ll admit, this option isn’t the most fun, but consider it: many V-day celebrators do their bests to take off work or get off early for the special day as romantic gestures are often prohibited in professional settings. Therefore, you would have at least a couple of hours to peaceably avoid the holiday. Secondly, your job will keep your mind occupied on your task and help you to momentarily forget about the hoopla as you work. Finally, if you find yourself still sore over the matter, at least you’ve earned some cash to do a little retail therapy.

Tip Two: Pamper Yourself

Nothing says “I love me” like a little self-care. Give your skin a sweet treat with a DIY strawberry sugar scrub. Simply mix 1 cup cane sugar, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, ¾sugar scrub cup of coconut oil, and 1 table spoon of vanilla extract. Whip yourself up some delicious treats like these Valentines Brownie Truffles. You can also buy face masks, chocolate, flowers, and anything else that you feel would make the day awesome for you. The point is to make yourself feel good – mind, body, and soul.

Tip Three: Go Out

Just because you don’t have a special someone, it doesn’t mean you must stay in the house on Valentine’s Day. Take yourself out to a restaurant and choose a small table, or a seat at the bar, if dining alone is intimidating. You can also go to a spa, concert, or even anti-Valentine’s Day events.

Tip Four: Celebrate Love in General

Who says you have to be alone on Valentine’s Day? If we celebrate love in a general sense and not just a romantic one, we can be easily reminded of all the ways we could enjoy this special day. Go out with friends for bowling or a movie. Have a stay-cation with your favorite furry feline or precious pooch. Have a family game night or go out to eat together. Do something you enjoy with and for those you love, especially you. Treat yo’self!

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Written by Ashley

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