Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs

Silly Love Songs

“Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know” (McCartney, verse 1). Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. It represents something beautiful: love. Love seems difficult to define and to obtain. Sometimes it acts like an emotion, while other times it’s a choice or even a fated destiny. Love can even take different forms linguistically, being defined as either a verb or a noun. Personally, I think that love can have different meanings to different people at different times. In fact, one of the attributes of love I am fondest of is this sort of graceful, catch-all nature it seems to have.

Valentine’s Day has come to be known especially for its representation of romantic love. I’ve always thought that a romantic kind of love was magical. Once upon a time, I was a little girl swooning over Disney princesses as they danced with their princes. Now, I’m an adult with a heart that bursts with excitement as I watch the people around me fall in love, get married, have children, and grow in love day by day. I definitely want to get married someday. I think of marriage as a friendship you’ll never lose and a chosen partnership for life. You choose a person and that person chooses you. Comedian Ray Romano described his own marriage this way: “You wake up—she’s there. You come back from work—she’s there. You fall asleep—she’s there. You eat dinner—she’s there. You know? I mean, I know that sounds like a bad thing. But it’s not” (Raymond, episode 9).

real-heart-hands

Love can also take a much simpler form than a lifelong partnership with a husband or wife. Love can be found in a single act taken by one person on behalf of another. For an example, the week or so surrounding finals last semester was a rough time for me. During my Sunday morning church service that week, I was all but exhausted mentally and physically. An older married couple who are members of my church came to see me after the service to tell me that I’d been on their minds lately and ask if there was any way they could pray with me. Their coming to me and asking to pray communicated so much love to me in that moment; it was exactly what I needed, and it reminded me of God’s everlasting love for me.

Sometimes love is in the thought that one person expends for another. It really can be the thought that counts when it comes to love. In recent years, my siblings and I have begun exchanging little Christmas gifts. It’s my idea because I like buying ridiculous things for my brother and sister. My sister outdid me last year, though, when it came to thoughtfulness. She told me a week before Christmas that she’d picked out my gift and that it was not what I’d asked for. Naturally, I was worried and even a little annoyed. After all, my sister likes to think things through her own convoluted mental processes. She has even told me on several occasions that she cannot predict what I’ll say, do, or want in any given circumstance. On Christmas Day, she presented me with a radio adaptor that would let me play music from my phone through my car’s radio. She remembered that I didn’t have an auxiliary plug in my car and that my grandmother had gotten a Wow Hits 2007 CD stuck in the player years before she gave it to me. She took the time to think about what I really wanted and gave me a stellar gift I still use to this day. When I opened it and realized what she’d done, I felt remembered, considered, and loved.

Love is multi-faceted, easily felt, and always better in excess than in lack. Valentine’s Day gives me an extra reason to celebrate the love of all the wonderful people around me. Love, in all its forms and with all its facets, is a trait to be cherished. It is more than silly love songs; it is the very core of Jesus Himself.

Written by Becca

McCartney, Paul. “Silly Love Songs.” Wings at the Speed of Sound, Capitol, 1976. “The Lone Barone.”

Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, performance by Ray Romano, season 3, episode 9, 1998.

Image credits: Header image, Heart-shaped Hands

Mending Failing Friendships

To put things plainly, friendships are hard. While friendships with little difference of opinion can be fruitful, those with many differences are incredible character builders. At times, it may feel like a friendship isn’t worth your time and only brings stress, but through communication, patience, and putting pride to the side, a friendship can turn a corner and prove to be worth the effort.

It is important to have people to turn to in times of trial, but when the people chosen to be a source of comfort turn into a source of hostility, ending the friendship seems to be the logical thing to do. However, cutting all ties with people we are friends with can be more detrimental than staying in that toxic relationship and trying to resolve things.

Recently, the girls in my friend group, myself included, have been experiencing a strain in our friendship. I will not mention names or events that have occurred, but I will say it has led to avoidance, awkwardness, anger, sadness, and bitterness.

One of the girls and I decided to talk to our RA about the things we have been dealing with and discuss whether or not we should discontinue being friends with the other girls or not. She encouraged us through a quote: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” She said to talk about ideas or ways to resolve the situation instead of talking about the other girls. Talking about what the girls did wrong is merely gossip. It only spurs on the harboring of bitterness. We decided the best way to smooth everything out is to have an open conversation with our RA as a mediator.

There are many obligations demanding our attention: busy schedules, academics, work, volunteer responsibilities, etc., so it can be hard to find time to put aside for spending quality time with friends. Yet, quality time is so important in keeping the lines of communication open. It is important to recognize that sometimes the problem in a relationship can be personal pride. When trying to decide if a friendship is worth the time to fix, we have to not only look at what the other person has done to make us feel a certain way but also discern how we got to that point in the first place.

As a Christian, I am called to love. In the Bible, 1 John 4:20 states, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” If I don’t show at least some effort in understanding how the other person in the relationship feels, then I am being prideful, and for me, pride leads to anger. I struggle with anger. And, when I feel neglected by people, I shut them out and push the idea of repairing the friendship to the side. However, when I do this, it just causes me pain because I lost what could have been a valuable friendship.

Not trying to repair a broken friendship and, instead, removing a person from our lives causes us to have unresolved problems in our past friendships that haunt us and affect us negatively on an unconscious level. Fixing a friendship is usually worth the time and effort. Communication and expressing yourself are essential in cultivating a great relationship, and human relationships are really the foundation of our civilization and a true source of happiness.

Written by Cheyanne

Image credit: http://ih2.redbubble.net/image.4389569.4144/flat,550×550,075,f.u2.jpg

Giving Up Chocolate is Hard to Do

Easter weekend in the South is always quite an affair. Any proper Southern girl debuts her brand spankin’ new Easter dress, a product of long hours spent online shopping or perusing what the local mall has to offer. As for guys, well, they usually break out the bowties and button-downs in varying shades of pastels. Easter in the South means chocolate (and lots of it – we ain’t ashamed), flowers, Facebook feeds clogged with “Happy Easter!” [insert flower and bunny emojis] or “Easter Sunday with the fam” photos, He is Risen yard signs, and color EVERYWHERE. It’s become quite the cultural event, especially for college students. One hallmark of Easter season is when friends start talking about what they are going to give up for Lent. This is a fairly common occurrence across denominations, even though it originated as part of the Catholic celebration of Easter. For those that genuinely choose to participate in a Lent fast, social media, chocolate, or caffeine are often the targets of this time of “sacrifice.” Some college girls see Lent as the perfect excuse to begin their annual diet.

However, the real reason for Lent is to further one’s relationship with God by attempting to understand, albeit in a minute way, His sacrifice for mankind. Lent mirrors Christ’s fasting during temptation and is a picture of how much He gave up for you and me.  Lent is usually a period of 40 days leading up to Easter; scripturally, 40 day periods served as preparation for something to come.  Noah and his family were on the ark for 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days, and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

So what does this have to do with me?

What sacrifices did I make this past Lent season, or can I make in the future, to be a better person? Maybe you’re not into the whole “God” thing. Maybe you find the resurrection of Christ hard to believe.  That’s a certainly understandable and valid viewpoint; nevertheless, one man’s sacrifice for the lives of many ought to inspire me to live in a selfless manner, regardless of my personal religious beliefs (or the lack thereof).  What can I give up to grow as a person, whether I’m catholic, protestant, or couldn’t care less about either one of those lifestyles?

That said, what does this have to do with Southern, college student me?

As I pondered the idea of giving up something for Lent, all the options that came to mind certainly made me cringe a little on the inside. Netflix. Nutella, breakfast of champions. Chick-Fil-A. Starbucks. Social media *GASP*. (Actually, if we’re going to be truthful, it was more like a giant wave of consternation slapping me right in the face. But I digress.) However, I think I was missing the point. Lent and Easter weren’t meant to make life miserable for a period of 40 days so I can remember how miserable Christ must have been. They were meant to remind us that because of Jesus’ incredible, painful, sacrifice, we don’t have to live devoid of hope and purpose and joy. He gave His life so that we don’t have to spend our lives in constant sacrifice, trying to earn acceptance from God or somebody else. Easter and Lent are celebrations of that freedom. So when I give up something as insignificant as collegiate comfort food (as difficult as that may be), I can be reminded of and rejoice in God’s great sacrifice for me. And that, my friends, is the point of Lent – experiencing the joy of His selfless love. This Easter, may you grow into a new and better person, and may you know just how much you are loved.

Ephesians 3:14-19: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Written by Carilee

Image credit: http://33.media.tumblr.com/9c287218bb914102e7123fd93d382c00/tumblr_inline_nhw02v7Jkc1rdcziq.png

Valentine’s Day For the Rest of Us

Valentine’s Day is a day of love. It’s easy to think about a day dedicated to the celebration of love and mostly focus on the love we have for our significant others (or lack thereof). On the other hand, the love we have for every wonderful person we know, not to mention the love we have for God, is not to be ignored. With that said, Valentine’s Day is a great time to refocus attention on relational priorities and show love to the people in our lives.

As Christians, we are called to love God first and foremost (Luke 10:25-28). As each year of our lives stretches on, we experience amazing, spectacular, awesome days that make us want to literally jump for joy; we also experience terrible, horrifically awful days that make us want to crawl into a deep, dark hole and wait for the sun to show itself again. God made us to have emotions, and it’s truly amazing that we get to experience a whole range of them, but the truth is that it’s our responsibility to train our hearts to have the joy and peace of the Lord even in the midst of emotional storms (Proverbs 7:1-3; Nehemiah 8:9; Psalm 28:6-7; Philippians 4:10-13). It’s important that we remember this and continue to worship and show our love for God, especially when our lives get rough. We can do this by setting aside time to pray, worship, or dig deep into His word. He knows His children, so it’s not like He’ll forget we love Him if we go a day without reading the Bible, but this quiet time is important for us to have so that we can remind our hearts of His glorious goodness through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:3).

The second commandment God gives to His children is to love others (Luke 10:28). We’re meant to love our friends, our enemies, ourselves, and even strangers. That’s a pretty broad group of people, but the ways we can love them are generally the same: we can reach out to them, in big ways or small, and steadily build relationships with them. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to show our love to the people around us. We can spend the day hanging out with friends (especially if none of us happen to be in romantic relationships), make a nice card as a gesture of peace for someone we’re not on good terms with, or even do some volunteer work to help out some perfect strangers. If we do happen to be spending Valentine’s Day with our darling, we could set aside a few minutes to lift up friends and family in prayer.

Of course, Valentine’s Day is most often associated with the idea of spending quality time with our significant others. On this fourteenth of February if we don’t find ourselves dating or married to anyone, let’s not worry. Any favor we have with anyone comes from God, and He has led the right people to us. If we do have a very special someone, however, that’s great! A little (or even a lot) of romance never hurt anyone. Dedicating a special date to our better halves can be a spectacular way to show them some love. When part of a couple, the important thing to remember about Valentine’s Day is that displays of love are definitely not supposed to be limited to this one day. Though it’s fantastic to use Valentine’s Day to remind our dearests how great we think they are, let’s keep in mind that we can show our love for them all year. Our actions speak louder than our words, so let’s be sure that the love in our hearts rings clearly through everything we do (1 John 3:18).

Valentine’s Day is a super great time to remember the love we have for others and to practice acting it out. Whether we have a Valentine or not, a day especially intended to show all the awesome people around us that we love them is a pretty amazing excuse for a holiday. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Written by: Becca

Image credit: http://weheartit.com/entry/group/40555924

Seeking Happiness in Him

This past summer, I was given an extraordinary opportunity to visit one of my favorite places in the world: Juarez, Mexico. Some of you are probably wondering how I could possibly find Juarez appealing, and that’s okay. Juarez, according to most news articles, is one of the deadliest cities in Mexico; however, I am writing this to tell you differently.

When I was in the fourth grade, my church took a mission trip to Juarez. It was my first trip out of the country and only the second mission trip that my family had ever taken, so we were ecstatic to see what the Lord had in store for us. As a child, I got in the habit of thinking that everybody had the same lifestyle as me. While my family juarezhad never been rich, we had always had food on our table and a roof over our heads, which were necessities that I had assumed everyone possessed. I thought that I knew everything about the world around me; however, my perspective on life drastically changed the moment I stepped foot on Juarez soil.

After sliding out of the church van, I looked around in awe of my surroundings. Surrounding “La Missíon,” the Christ-centered community center that we were doing construction on, was a trench that overflowed with waste and debris. On the other side of the trench was a giant hill, lined with small houses made of adobe and brick. To a fourth grader, these houses hardly seemed fit to use as storage units, let alone homes. Little did I know, these were the most luxurious houses in the neighborhood. While the owners of these “houses” were blessed with somewhat sturdy foundations, durable walls, and reliable roofs, thousands of their neighbors made use with whatever cardboard, trash, and plastic tarps that they could find. Their living situations were worse than anything I had ever seen, yet many of the people in Juarez possessed more joy than any of my friends or family at home.

This concept overwhelmed me at the time. How could these people, who have little to nothing, be so content? How could they find enough joy to sing as they walk miles without shoes to find water? Where did this spirit come from? Finally, after re-visiting Juarez for several years in a row, I have found the answer to these questions.

boysThe abundance of love and life that overflows from the heart of Juarez is capable only of coming from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Their happiness does not come from worldly possessions but by the promises made to them by God, our Father.

So my question for you today is this: Are you happy?

Today’s society seeks happiness through success. Often times, we find ourselves thinking things like, “If I could just get that new IPhone, Mustang, or Michael Kors watch, my life would be so much better.” The more we have, the happier we are, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

While owning these items may cause us temporary happiness, they will never be able to bring complete satisfaction. In fact, there is nothing on this world that has the power to truly satisfy, except for Jesus Christ.

So today, I encourage you to take a look at your life from a different perspective. Be grateful for the little things: running water, nourishment, and literacy are possessions that we take for granted way too often. Enjoy the blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon you, but remember to seek ultimate happiness in Him.

Written by Haley

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21