Why I Suck at Lent

Yesterday most people went to church and gathered around with family for a brunch, lunch, or dinner. This time with family is a beautiful thing, but the reason we come together on this Sunday is an even more beautiful thing. Easter Sunday celebrates Christ’s resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead and came back. Nothing that I can say will ever be enough to capture the beauty of Easter.

This year I decided to learn more about this season and participate or “observe” Lent. The Catholic Church is known for participating in Lent. I grew up with little to no Catholic knowledge so Lent has always been a mysterious thing. I decided to do some research on the reasons for Lent and came up with some interesting information. I wanted to be informed before I gave something up. I wanted to grow and learn more about Christ through these 40 days, not just avoid something to help my diet.

I learned that we celebrate Lent for many reasons. One story I read in Matthew 4 provided some explanation for a 40 day fast. Matthew 4:1-2 says:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

It goes on to tell about how Jesus uses the word of God to resist Satan until the devil left Jesus alone. Pretty powerful stuff. We live in a world of unrelenting temptation and think we have it tough. Jesus did not eat for 40 days and was offered food by the devil. HE SAID NO. He said:

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test…… You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Matthew 4:7&10

Jesus literally lived the perfect life of no sin because he was sent by God. He walked the same earth we walk on but the difference is he said no.

So where am I going with this? I decided to give up all sweets for Lent and every time I would crave a sweet, I would say a verse or sing a Jesus song in my head to draw me closer to him. That lasted for a little less than a month and then it all went downhill. First it was ice cream, then I thought that I already messed up so I might as well keep eating sweets. And then I eventually gave up giving up sweets. I was pretty disappointed in myself. I knew Jesus didn’t hate me because I sucked at Lent this year, but I thought that if I went the entire forty days without eating sweets, I would become stronger in my faith.

I was wrong. We do not need Lent to become stronger in our faith or to become closer to Christ. It is a wonderful spiritual exercise to grow but we can become closer to Jesus every day whether we are giving stuff up or not. God is so much bigger than fasting. Christianity is not about Lent. It is about Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after dying on a cross for our sins. That is what Christianity is about.

I learned so much about the power of Jesus and I feel like I grew closer to God as I struggled through those long 20 days (being dramatic). I suck at Lent because I am not perfect. But the good news for me, and you, is that Jesus is. Jesus is perfect. His love is perfect. His father is perfect. He died so we could live. Jesus, you’re the real MVP. You rock.

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Pray About Everything?

One year ago, I was not a person of prayer. I loved Jesus but I did not spend a lot of time in prayer. Then I went on a trip to Panama City called Beach Reach. There, I heavily relied on prayer and learned the true wonders and powers that praying can provide. This year I returned to Beach Reach with a whole new attitude. Prayer was not only helpful but necessary. I again watched God work wonders through prayer during my spring break in PCB.  But recently, I have been unable to gather my thoughts and put them into words. I have a scattered brain with a lot of good stuff going on up there. So when something so complex and intimate as prayer is on my mind, I struggle to translate those thoughts into something comprehensible.

I have started wondering if my petty prayers were worth taking to a God of such hugeness. By petty prayers, I mean praying for a good grade on a test or for my team to win a game. In Panama City we prayed for huge things because God is capable of anything. But when it comes to the smaller prayers I just don’t feel as holy when I pray for good grades. To me, God is so much bigger than wins and losses in life. I wrestle with the idea that my A on a test may or may not further God’s kingdom. I am not sure if anyone has ever felt the same way or if I am even making sense but this topic has been on my heart a lot lately. The good news is, I think I have come to some sort of an answer for myself and I feel obligated to share.

Most people know Philippians 4:6 “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.” Some versions use the words “Do not be anxious”. This initially tripped me up because for whatever reason, I feel guilty about praying for things that are not spiritual. So I went through a phase where I did not talk to God about any of what I consider the petty stuff. Then I realized that I am stupid. God wants us to come to him about everything. Because as soon as I stop going to God, I start to take matters into my own hands. I cannot do it alone, and you can’t either.

Anytime I worry or am anxious, that is bringing me away from God. I put more effort into worrying than I do praying. That is why Philippians 4:6 makes so much sense to me now. My greatest anxiety in life comes from school. I put unnecessary pressure on myself and it can really mess me up. That anxiety is a result of me trying to live life by myself. What I understand about God is that everything we do should be in the glory of his son. I think sometimes we can get in a pattern of selfish prayer and that we are just looking out for our wants and needs. I want a high GPA, I need my team to win (so we don’t run), etc. An easy fix to this is to ask God for these things so we can glorify him. Our response to God’s response should be glory no matter what. If I fail I can use that to make God’s name known. Now don’t get me wrong, I am still trying to figure this all out, I am definitely not the first one to thank God for losing a game. The cool thing about all of this is that no matter how we pray, we are still God’s children and he loves us so so much.

I still feel like my head is a jumbled mess, but I hope that this makes sense. Long story short, prayer is powerful and God is here to listen.

Jesus loves ya!
Sami

 

Our Problem With Mental Illness

“The bad psychological matter is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.” C.S. Lewis

Last semester, I changed my major to human services, addictions, and counseling. Through this change, I have been completely submerged into the topic of mental illness. I have recently learned the ins and outs of some of the most common mental illnesses that are plaguing millions of people today. It has easily been the most interesting and heart wrenching learning experience of my life, and I have many more years of learning to go. But you do not have to be in psychology classes to know about the mental health issue that our nation is currently going through. The overwhelmingly negative stigma about mental illness afflicts this country.

Not too long ago, a post from Huffington Post popped up on my Facebook feed about mental health. The title of this post was: “What If We Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?”  This  brought up a really great discussion point. Many people who do not suffer from a mental illness tend to think that diseases of the brain are easy to fix. If you have ever studied the brain, you quickly come to realize that they are not. The way we treat individuals with mental illness needs to change.

The prevalence of mental illness is incredibly high. One in four Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental illness. Chances are you are going to interact with someone who has a mental illness at least once a week. Heck, you might even have a friend or family member that deals with a mental health disorder. Now that we’ve established the fact that you will talk to someone on the daily, it is important to establish how we can help change the negative stigma that surrounds these illnesses.

43% of people believe that people bring mental health disorders on themselves. Again, if you have ever studied the brain, you will know that this is not true. Mental illnesses can be caused by a variety of things such as chemical imbalances, brain abnormalities, and genetic predispositions. It is dangerous territory to blame the individual for their mental illness. In the Huffington Post article, blaming someone for depression is like blaming someone for having the flu. You don’t do it. Period.

Another issue that I have seen a lot of is mental illness and the church. As soon as I started this post, a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder posted an article on Relevant Magazine named “4 Misconceptions about Mental Illness and Faith”. Some Christians feel uncomfortable talking about mental illness because they feel weak or less of a Christian because of what they are dealing with. 34% of individuals consider mental health disorders to be caused by sinful behavior. This statistic only increases the negative attitude that churchgoers everywhere have. We need to change our mind about mental illness. Jesus died on the Cross-, not to remove pain, but to give us a kind of hope to deal with the pain. Anybody with a mental illness, Christian or not, needs to remember this. It is also important to know that God’s miracle healing can come in the form of medication or psychotherapy.

It doesn’t matter what the statistics say or what Americans think about mental illness. We have a lot of issues with lack of treatment options, not knowing the cause of specific disorders, and no known cures for any of these illnesses. But for us, there is not much we can do about that unless we go into neuroscience. For us, we can fix another problem. Our problem with mental illness is the way we treat those with mental illnesses. We need to treat them with empathy, not disapproval and most importantly with love and not hostility. No matter what you believe about mental illness, the least you can do is show some compassion. Hey, that’s what Jesus did.

Jesus loves people with mental illnesses and he loves you too!
Sami

The Hot Chocolate Awards

As we are forced to endure these cold winter months with red cheeks, runny noses, and plenty of falling hazards on sidewalks, many people are searching for a warm refuge. If you live in the Cincinnati area, you are in luck. There are probably over 20 coffee shops in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area (not including corporate coffee shops). My roommate’s obsession with latte art has become my obsession with finding the best hot chocolate around. We frequent plenty of awesome coffee shops that are within 20 minutes of NKU. Even though I don’t like coffee or anything with caffeine in it for that matter, I love seeing the wide variety of family owned coffee shops that fill up the streets of Cincinnati.

I picked five of my favorite coffee stops around the area and ranked them not only on their hot chocolate, but also the environment and artistic display of their drinks. So without further adieu, drumroll please for the best hot chocolate in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area….

*Note: Don’t make my opinion of the coffee shops below, your opinion. Try them out yourself and make your own opinion!*

5. Starbucks: This is the only corporate coffee shop on the list. I had to put it on the list because it is the most convenient. A Starbucks is a Starbucks wherever you go. The environment is good for studying, but it obviously lacks the family feel.The peppermint hot chocolate is a winter classic that never fails to warm me up.

4. Cavu Coffee: Cavu is actually located in West Chester which is a great option for Mason people. The environment here was not your typical cozy coffee shop ambiance, but more of a modern-chic coffee shop. It is a pretty cool coffee shop located in a suburb. I actually ordered a shot of espresso and a cup of hot chocolate when I went to Cavu. So I believe the hot chocolate tasted a lot better than usual because it was contrasted with the harsh, bitter taste of pure espresso.

3. Coffee Emporium: I really love this place. It’s huge, providing a lot of seating options for bigger study groups. The menu is also huge, with plenty of drink options as well as breakfast and lunch options. The people working at Coffee Emporium are awesome and helpful, I really enjoy them. The hot chocolate was pretty good, nothing super special. Coffee Emporium would however take home the award for best chicken salad sandwich, hands down. 

2. Roh’s Street Cafe: I have only been here once but I hope to return soon and more frequently. This is a great coffee shop for college students because of its location in Cincinnati. It also offers a large amount of seating and has a very warm, coffee shop feeling. The hot chocolate was actually fabulous. For the most part, hot chocolate tastes pretty similar, but Roh’s Street’s hot chocolate was pretty darn good, not to mention they used the foam on top to make latte art (a major plus in my book).

1. Carabello: I may be a little biased putting Carabello at number one, but they deserve this most coveted award. This is hands down the best atmosphere I have experienced at a coffee shop. The people are awesome and the money goes to great places. My only complaint is the size, but no worries….they are expanding, and I could not be more excited. The hot chocolate was delicious, the art was on point, and they added their delicious caramel on the side. I mean look at this beauty:

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I love Carabello and everything they are about. They are located in Covington so I suggest you go check them out and try their hot chocolate (I’ve heard their lattes are pretty bomb too).

And that wraps up the first hot chocolate awards. I am by no means any expert but I have had a lot of hot chocolate in my day. I truly appreciate all of the coffee shops on the list. I strongly recommend that you try each and every one. Please feel free to look into each coffee shop a little more. You can find every one of these shops on Facebook!

Jesus loves coffee shops and as always, he loves you too!
Sami

Fixing Brokenness

I love Cincinnati. Many of you will nod your heads in agreement. Cincinnatians all know and love the view of our precious skyline when driving over the bridge. We all love the unpredictability of our beloved sports teams. There’s something about the way we eat our chili that brings us together. All of these characteristics stick out in my mind and make me smile.

We all know those people who put on a bold front with a courageous smile, but deep down they are hurting, they are broken. Cincinnati is one of those people.

We’re quick to travel the world and help other people living in poverty. When the truth is, that poverty is right in front of us.

After hearing my pastor talk awhile back, I came to the upsetting realization that the beautiful skyline is just a mask of the devastating statistics coming out of our city. Statistics like: our children are ranked the 2nd poorest group of children in the nation. Over the summer, when not given school meals, these children are facing a 1 BILLION calorie deficit. A person cannot walk out of a Reds’ game without seeing at least 5 people asking for money.  Poverty is a problem in Cincinnati. There’s no way around that fact. Contributing to the poverty is the drug problem. The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area is the epicenter of the heroin epidemic in America. When did we let it get this bad? How? Cincinnati is ranked the 9th unhappiest city in the United States. I am not trying to be a Debby-Downer and make anyone feel bad about the condition of Cincinnati. Because despite all of these issues, I still love this city and you do too. That is our solution to these issues. Love. Sacrificial, hardcore love.

Many people are spending large amounts of time and money to find solutions to these problems. Poverty, heroin, and depression are not quick fixes. These problems do not warrant an easy solution. While I don’t have any profound solutions or insights, I do have love.

Not all of us understand the concept of love. It’s not about making people feel good. Love is not a business deal. It’s not “I give you this and you give me that.” It’s giving up what you want and expecting nothing in return. Love is sacrificial. God sent His one and only son because He loved us. That is the ultimate sacrificial love.

We can build government housing, open 10 more soup kitchens, provide more rehab centers, but without love, the heart is still poor. Love is something everyone can do. Love the people. Love the city. Love our God. That’s my solution.

I love Cincinnati.

And Jesus loves you!
Sami

Everyone Needs An International Friend (or three)

Many colleges have a plethora of international students, most of which are studying abroad. There are so many opportunities to interact with individuals who hail from different nations. NKU is not an exception. I have five international students in my religion class. The BCM has an event every week for international students. I have so many awesome opportunities in front of me to befriend an international. But until these past couple of weeks, I have been “too busy” to make a new friend. I didn’t have any interest in reaching out to these individuals. It took an in-your-face kind of opportunity.

That opportunity landed three wonderful international students at my home for Thanksgiving. Yining is from China and she is studying at NKU for only a semester. Ayoung is from South Korea and she is studying the entire year at NKU. Mutlaq is from Saudi Arabia and he has been studying at NKU the past two years and will be graduating in December.

I learned from my incredible time with my new friends that everyone needs some international friendships in their lives. They brought so much happiness into my home on Thanksgiving and they will bring much more happiness in our lives as the years go on. These friendships will last even after they go home to their respective countries.

Besides gaining joy from my friends, I learned a lot about what it’s like to have international friends.
They are extremely grateful for friends. While at my home, they repeatedly expressed their gratitude and thankfulness for my family. They were very appreciative of everything we did for them and they made sure to thank us multiple times. We talked about future hang-outs even though we do not have much time in the States together. They long for American friends, in the same sense that we should for international friends.
They teach us new things. It is pretty obvious that we have a vast amount of differences in our cultures,  giving an excellent opportunity to learn about their lives at home. I learned so much about their holiday seasons, their families, and so many other new cultural norms. It really is fun to hear how other countries go about their lives because while there are so many differences, there are also a lot of similarities. It opened my eyes to the world around me and made me more aware of what’s going on.
On the flip side, we teach them new things. They had their first Thanksgiving meal with us, that right there is a learning experience. Pumpkin pie, stuffing, vegetable casseroles, and sweet potatoes were all new foods for them. The turkey was even a new idea. They learned what Thanksgiving was about in America, family and friends, old and new.

In the end, it is a beautiful thing to have new friends. And it is even more beautiful to have friends from around the world. They have so much to offer for us and we have so much to offer them. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to host them this Thanksgiving. Yining, Ayoung, and Mutlaq are blessings in my life who brought me and my family tons of smiles and laughs. I would love for everyone to get to experience what I did. I would not have said this a couple weeks ago, but I truly believe that everyone needs an international friend.

 

 

Glorious Reminders

September 1st was my last post. That is a little over two months ago. WordPress has changed its website since the last time I posted. So many other things have happened in the past two months. I kept thinking of possible blog ideas but then never got to the computer. Soccer season took over my life. Not just soccer season, but my job, being on leadership team, and of course staying caught up with schoolwork all took over. For whatever reason, I decided to fill my precious free time with anything and everything. Boss asks me to work? I’ll do it. Leadership meeting? Can’t miss that. New Bible study starting? Why not. SAAC meeting? I volunteer. The list goes on and on. On top of all that, our team turned into traveling rockstars without the rockstar part. We were in a different city every weekend. I would wake up in a hotel not knowing where I was or what day it was. We ended up missing around 15 days of classes because of travel. (On the plus side, we have collectively become professional airport navigators.) I have been so busy, I hardly have time to have extended phone conversations with my mother. I had to use my walks to class to talk to her. And I have also been in an endless game of phone tag with my best friend. Being busy somehow kept me happy.

With all that being said, I am sad it’s over. This season was pretty cool. Our team was the bomb this year. There is no other way to put it. We didn’t win every game, but we won more than we lost and that’s better than we’ve ever done. We were the very first NKU team to make it to the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. We were then the very first team to make it to the semifinals. It was a year of firsts. Things went pretty well for the team. I loved traveling to Florida three times this fall just to play soccer (and so did my parents). I loved it even more because my teammates are fun people and travel trips are always the best. I loved every minute of being a part of this team. Maybe not all the running, but definitely everything else.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.15.52 PMWith all the fun and games (literally) I learned so much this year. Although I had a tough time with injuries, black eyes, and broken face masks, I learned just as much when life was going great. I could go on about how I suffered my 5th and 6th concussions in one season . Or how at one point in the season, I was in a boot for an injury and a sling for another at the same exact time. We could also talk about how I broke two face masks and had two black eyes all in the span of a week. I could go into painful details about all of those events but the details don’t matter, what matters is what God showed me during those times. I don’t have an inspirational “God kept me so positive throughout all of this” story because that didn’t happen to me. I wasn’t positive, I was angry and frustrated. Fortunately, God loved me even when I was mad. Why? Because everything God does is for His glory. So everything we do should be for His glory. When things were going bad, I looked to God and got some comfort. Then things started going well and everything was looking up. So I kept looking up, to Him. God has a funny way of showing his sovereignty and sometimes I don’t always see it. But this season I eventually did. I saw it every day in the new friendships I created on the team, or in the adorable kids that I got to work with for my job, or when my professors were so willing to help me when I was behind. We all have the opportunity to glorify God in our friendships, our sports, classes, or jobs and God reminded me of that every day. I am thankful for those holy reminders.

So where am I going with all of this? I am not so sure. I am still praying for some direction from God. I haven’t learned an earth shattering lesson yet. But that’s the cool thing about God. If He always gives us all the answers, what is the point in having faith?

Anyways…
Jesus love you so much!
Sami