Love Requires Faith

Love Requires Faith

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

love requires faith
Valentine’s Day.

Blech.

As a single person, I often have that visceral reaction to said holiday in February. Sometimes I wonder why I react that way. Sure, it’s often a reminder of what I don’t have, the gratuitous PDA, the boxes of chocolate with mystery centers that no one actually likes, the crushed expectations, and so on. But if I’m honest, sometimes it’s the idea of a relationship itself that triggers the rejection response.

You see, I hate risk. I don’t like roller coasters because of the out-of-control feeling. I don’t even like the game Risk because I hate staking my success on shaky odds. CERTAINTY. That’s what I’m about. But lots of things in life aren’t certain, and relationships are one of them. Frankly, as much as I say I feel lonely sometimes, when it comes down to it, being alone feels easier—or at least safer—than letting someone in. Granted, in dating relationships there are measures to keep yourself safe from physical and emotional abuse, but in any relationship there will ALWAYS be risk that you cannot control, and it’s that inherent risk in a relationship that makes me shy away.

Thus, I’ve come to realize that love—relationship—connection—requires faith in a few ways.

1. Faith in the value of connection.

The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV), “substance” meaning the “reality,” “the material part” (King James Dictionary). So faith is the concrete action that aligns with a belief in something greater than self. Faith in a relationship context is being willing to step into a place of uncertainty, because it’s in that space that a relationship has the opportunity to grow. Connection is the purpose of our existence, and we must risk pain with the belief that caring for someone is worthwhile, no matter the outcome. That belief helps us have the courage to step into that place of uncertainty.

In one of the first conversations of a recent relationship, I was fighting the tidal wave of fear that made me want to run for the hills when the thought came, “You can’t learn what you need to learn by yourself.” I can’t figure things out on my own and then step into the perfect relationship—it doesn’t work that way. We cultivate connection by moving forward in relationships with people and working on issues that come up in the process.

2. Faith in the power of my process.

I told the boy I liked him…and then immediately panicked. I can’t do this. I need more time. How do I know if I can trust him? The uncertainty and vulnerability of that first step was almost too much for me to handle. In those panicky moments I had to get curious about why I was reacting that way, and it led me to recognize the source as some deep-seated pain that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. I was grateful for loving friends that talked me out of running away and helped me feel my way through the pain to address the core issue. Getting at the root of those problems that block connection requires faith that facing the pain will get you where you want to be.

3. Faith in constant sources.

The ability to exercise faith is certainly influenced by the character of the person in whom you place your faith. I find that my faith in God, He who never turns away, gives me the foundation I need to be able to exercise my faith in relationships with other people. The strength of my relationship with Him determines how much I am able to stay open and vulnerable to other people, because if I base my worth and security off my inherent worth as His child, I can weather the storms of relationships with less perfect beings.

And so I move forward. I’m still scared sometimes, but if I value connection, believe that my process will work, and trust in a higher power, then this is what I have to do. If I want my life to be rich and full of meaning, I have to take a chance on people, because it’s only then that I can experience the exquisite sweetness of connection that comes from two people taking a chance on each other.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

Finding Meaning in the Mundane

Finding Meaning in the Mundane

By Erin Facer, FaithCounts.com Contributor

mundaneEver wished you could speed through certain phases of your life? As a kid, I often imagined this possibility. I pictured using a gigantic TV remote to fast forward through the parts of life that were boring, stressful, frightening or mundane and skip ahead to “the good stuff.” Looking back, I’m grateful I didn’t have access to such a remote. My life would have consisted entirely of Christmas mornings and birthday parties; there is so much I would have missed!

Although now I can admit that wielding a gigantic TV remote might not be the best way to approach life, I sometimes catch myself drooling over the exciting lives depicted on social media or in movies, forgetting the fact that these are merely highlight reels, lives that have been distilled into a thick concentration of thrill.

It’s not real life.

Real life is made up of brushing your teeth, running late for work, and washing dishes over and over again. Real life is t-ball practices, long grocery lines and sitting at a desk from nine to five. Much of real life can be pretty monotonous. But in spending all our time wishing and waiting for the thrills and trying to evade the monotony, we attempt to fast forward through real life and begin to view the daily grind with contempt. Faith, however, provides a better perspective. With faith we find meaning in and even celebrate the humdrum of daily living.

Ironically faith, or belief in the unseen, is all about vision. Faith allows us to “see” what normally goes unnoticed. In this case, faith can help us see inglorious monotony with gratitude.

Stop Taking Life for Granted

A few years ago my family took a trip to France. While visiting a small town outside Paris, we drove past a beautiful but non-famous chateau. I was in awe. Looking around, however, I realized that no one on the streets seemed to care. They were all busy carrying their groceries, listening to their iPods, and considering their unpaid bills. For those who lived in the town, this was just another monotonous day. Incredulous, I began shouting, “You live next to a castle! Don’t you care? You’re missing it!”

I wonder if God ever feels the same way about us. Are we seeing life’s chateau? Or are we missing it?

Develop an Alternative Perspective on Growth

Sometimes things feel monotonous because we cannot see progress. We seem to be metaphorically punching a wall over and over without noticeable effect. Perhaps it’s our perspective that needs an update. A change in perspective allows us to recognize that even if the wall is not coming down, our arms are getting stronger.

See How Far You’ve Come

Even grand adventures like swimming the English Channel or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro require repetitive steps. We call this diligence, persistence and tenacity. Grand vistas and epic photo ops are exciting because they are the culmination of previous perseverance. Faith reminds us that each forward step matters. There is a majestic vista ahead of us.

By choosing to view our lives through the lens of faith, we can choose to believe that our small, simple, albeit mundane, actions matter. Rather than distract ourselves from life’s monotony, we can remember that each moment is a gift, given by God for a reason. There is always something to learn, appreciate, work at and celebrate. Why would we want to skip to the good stuff? It’s all good stuff!

Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Contact her at facererin@gmail.com

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

dealing-with-lossI’m going into my third Christmas after my mother’s passing from cancer. Sometimes I ask myself if I really know how to “deal with” these things called loss and grief very well. If “dealing with” loss during the holiday season means coping with my grief in a healthy, proactive way, the answer to that question sometimes is, “Yes,” but often is, “Not really.”

I’m grateful for the principles I’ve learned in the last three years from friends, family members, and helping professionals about living with grief and loss, especially during the holidays. I’ve come to realize that putting these principles into effect is a practice—a daily effort over time that has peaks and valleys, but ultimately moves upward.

Principle 1: It isn’t possible to shut out grief during the holidays. You have to make a place for it.

I feel like articles like this tend to promote band-aid solutions to “feel better” during difficult times. The truth is, the pain of separation from those we love will never go away during this life, and sometimes it just hurts. I’ve realized that over the past few years I’ve often run away from my pain or tried to shut it out. However, stifled pain doesn’t go away—it just builds up until it comes out, often at inconvenient times and places.

One of the best pieces of counsel I received from a friend whose father passed away was to create space for grief. Build time into your life to go to that place where you allow yourself to feel that pain, and it won’t pop up and surprise you as much. This can take the form of counseling appointments, rituals like a special candlelight vigil, or an evening in to write about your feelings. Creating this space is always important, but especially at high-emotion times such as the holidays.

Principle 2: Be willing to be present with circumstances as they are and create new traditions.

Tied up in grief is pain of separation and pain of unmet expectations. The separation I can’t control, but I can adjust my expectations of how holidays should go based on my present circumstances.

My kind stepmom and I recently had a conversation about allowing things to be as they are instead of clinging to expectations of how things used to be. I went home for Thanksgiving this year and had a much better experience. I let go of some of my expectations that things would be the same as they were before my mom’s passing as well as my assumption that my family should take the initiative in making sure I had a good time.

For Christmas, my goal is to create new traditions for myself to honor my mother and help myself have a positive experience. My friend who lost her dad said that her family always hangs a special ornament in her father’s honor on Christmas Eve. That idea rang true to me—instead of holding our pain inside, we honor the past while making our loved ones a part of our holiday celebrations moving forward.

Principle 3: Be kind to yourself and reach out for support from those you trust.

During the holidays, some days are going to be painful—perhaps for the rest of my life. Some days I do well, writing about my feelings and reaching out to friends for support, and some days I binge-watch Jane Austen movies and cry in my room. I’m learning how to honor my grief as part of my story without letting my pain drive everything I do. I’m practicing, and my process is okay. Having a friend who can hold space for me without judging, whom I can reach out to day or night, has been invaluable in my healing process, and for anyone going through a similar situation I would wish the same.

Looking forward

So how will the holidays go this year for me? Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing after a particularly emotionally trying episode, I say, “I’m good.” And I mean it. Growing, refining processes are not always fun and often painful, but they are good. They make me kinder, softer, and more compassionate to others and to myself. They give me the opportunity to come to know myself and come to know God. For me as a Christian, that is what Christmas is all about—hope in Christ and His power to overcome all things.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

Stressed? How Faith Can Help

Stressed? How Faith Can Help

stress

When’s the last time you heard—or perhaps thought—the phrase “I’m so stressed out!” For me, it was my nine-year-old daughter wandering into my office, slumping into a chair and declaring that her concerns about the upcoming school year were overwhelming. Now keep in mind that this was a sunny day during summer vacation, but the worries associated with a new classroom, new teacher, and the possibility of new friendships were taking over what could have been a day spent doing what she enjoyed.

I don’t blame my daughter; she comes from a long line of worriers, mostly on my side of the family (thanks Dad!) But my family isn’t alone. In fact, in 2011 the American Psychological Association declared that chronic stress was becoming a public health crisis.

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find countless studies and news reports detailing who’s feeling stressed and why. Some of the most common “stressors” are fairly consistent: health, finances, jobs and relationships. What’s really dizzying, however, is that being stressed about one or more of these areas actually can make them worse; for instance, worrying about one’s health can take a toll on one’s health.

The reality is that stress and worry are all a part of this thing we call life. But there are a number of ways to lessen its burden—including exercising faith. Here are four reasons why:

1. Faith brings comfort and insight.

Prayer, meditation, readings or focused thought on a higher power can calm our minds and bring comfort to our hearts in times of stress. As part of that process, showing gratitude for what we have been given, expressing our needs and reviewing how we got through previous difficulties can help us feel less alone and provide ideas of how to best move forward.

2. Faith strengthens relationships.

Turning to friends and family members in times of crisis can build positive relationships as we learn to rely on and help each other. We often feel better able to cope knowing there is someone who “has our back.” Even getting out in the community to serve others as a show of faith can help us feel more connected to others and less burdened by our own concerns.

3. Faith brings healing.

Believing our lives have purpose can help us heal from the physical and emotional impacts of stress. Some studies indicate meditation, for example, can lower the risk of heart disease. Forgiving the failings of others or our shortcomings as part of faithful expression also allows us to let go of pain we may still be experiencing.

4. Faith fosters action.

Having faith in what is to come can help drive us to take much-needed steps in our lives. It can spur us to make changes, such as better eating or exercise habits, to improve our physical health. It can encourage us to improve our networking skills or even change jobs when workplace stress is at a zenith. It can even motivate us to slow our frenetic pace place greater emphasis on our families, on showing gratitude or reconnecting with nature.

As for my daughter, a review of her successes in past years, making a list of what she can do to start this year off right, a few hugs and a quick prayer put many of her worries to rest. And while adult problems may be a little harder to solve or take a big longer to work through, the same principles of applying faith to whatever stress you may be experiencing still applies—and yes, a warm hug always helps too.

Three Ways Remembrance Can Change Your Life

Three Ways Remembrance Can Change Your Life

remembrance

It seems I forget things all the time. Names go in one ear and out the other—I’ve learned to just swallow my pride and ask for the third time if I have to. Depending on how much I have on my mind, I forget items like my keys, phone, and clothes in the laundry. In those instances, forgetting is often inconvenient (sometimes a LOT inconvenient), but there are other things, if forgotten, that bring greater consequences.

Forgetting (or neglecting) family and friends can lead to damaged relationships and isolation. Forgetting the lessons of the past and where we came from can lead to unnecessary mistakes and the loss of a sense of identity and belonging.

Forgetting the blessings we have can bring a sense of emptiness, discontent, and despair.

The antidote to these things?

Remembrance.

The following are three of the ways remembrance has changed my life.

1. Remembering can bring comfort and closeness with those we love.

My mom passed away from cancer two and a half years ago. Shortly after her passing, I was lying in bed, tears running down my face. How was I going to live the rest of my life without her? The world seemed so empty. Then, into my mind came this thought, as if it were my mother’s voice: “When you’re having a hard time, remember how much I love you.” The remembrance of my mother’s love has sustained me through many more lonely nights. In addition, when I feel alone, I’m often forgetting the support network of people who know and love me. It’s not always easy to reach out for help, but when I do, it’s healing, and I feel a greater sense of connection to the people I love.

Action Item: In moments of difficulty, think of someone who could use a kind word and send them a short text telling them how much they mean to you. Sometimes when I’m struggling, a text is all I have the emotional strength for, but this simple gesture uplifts and connects both people involved.

2. Remembering the past can give us strength to move forward.

I have the tendency to feel sorry for myself at times, particularly in regards to being single and/or not knowing what to do with my life. On one lonely day I was flipping through a family history when I came across the story of my sixth-great grandmother, Mary Fielding. She did many difficult things, much of the time without the support of a husband. After emigrating from England to the United States, she was widowed twice, crossed a thousand miles of prairie with her children, made a new life in a new place, and lived to be over a hundred years old. Strength and inspiration comes from knowing that someone who is part of your heritage pressed forward and overcame difficult obstacles. In moments of weakness, I can reflect on Mary’s story, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.

Action Item: Find a story from the life of a family member or another person who inspires you. Read it often, especially when you’re feeling discouraged.

3. Remembering our blessings can help us be happy now and have hope for the future.

I used to think that when people said, “Be grateful,” it was just code for, “Stop whining.” I hated that. Over time, I’ve learned that cultivating gratitude isn’t minimizing difficulties and painting a falsely cheerful picture of the world. I’ve found that sometimes the most helpful way for me to practice gratitude is in specific “even though” statements: “Even though I miss my mother horribly right now, I’m grateful for the close relationships I’ve developed with my extended family because of this loss.” That way I acknowledge the pain, but am mindful of the good things that have come in the midst of it and can have faith in good things to come in the future.

Action Item: When you’re feeling negative or critical, flip the switch by saying or writing three “even though” statements with things you’re really, truly grateful for that day.

Remembrance seems simple, but is a principle of real power. As I’ve remembered the people who love me, what I’m grateful for, and lessons from the past, I have hope—the confidence that ultimately, everything is going to be okay.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

Let Gratitude Be Your Superpower

Let Gratitude Be Your Superpower

By Linda Clyde, Faith Counts Contributor

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Sometimes Gratitude Shows Up Late

Like anyone, I’ve had times in my life when it was hard to be grateful: like the eight or nine months as a poor newlywed living in an ancient camping trailer, in a blustery RV park, surrounded by sand—nearly every morning we woke up with sand in our teeth; or the time I sat helpless in the hospital next to my concussed 11-year-old after she suffered a terrible accident at recess; or when I went through a faith crisis and began to deeply question my religious beliefs. Gratitude doesn’t always come easy; in my case it has shown up months and even years later.

Gratitude Can Take You Places

Life has its lean times, physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. But by remembering that the lean times are opportunities for learning, growth, and development, it becomes easier to feel grateful.

Gratitude can also be an incredible tool for life, if you’re able to keep pride from getting in the way. Gratitude is a launching pad for future growth. For example, if you lost your job, would you spend time being angry at the company or person that let you go, or would you focus on being grateful for what you learned during your employment? The first approach is a solid dead end; but the second approach can really lead somewhere.

The Superpower of Gratitude

We’ve all been around thankless, pessimistic folks. It’s hard to walk away from an encounter with an ungrateful person without feeling a subtle emptiness, like they’ve taken something from you. But if ingratitude and thanklessness leaves us feeling empty and closed off, we can be sure that gratitude and a thankful heart are their shining, glorious opposites. Consider the following:

  • Gratitude is attractive. People, who express gratitude for the simple things, like majestic sunsets or their love and appreciation for others are emotionally and spiritually attractive and they’re just plain nice to be around.
  • Gratitude strengthens faith. Being grateful has a way of opening up your heart and mind to the goodness surrounding you. It’s a positive, optimistic force that helps you believe that things will always work out for the best. Trusting that there’s a higher power out there that wishes only to bless you and strengthen you, can go a long way in building faith that lasts.
  • Gratitude is disarming. When someone is angry, expressing gratitude and appreciation for them can take the edge off of their anger, validate their feelings, and help them calm down.
  • Gratitude can serve as a reset button. When you’re hung up on the challenges and injustices of life, gratitude can help you refocus on what’s really important.
  • Gratitude gets easier. Like anything, finding things to be grateful for can become second nature when you practice.
  • Gratitude makes you more receptive to goodness. A focus on gratitude can help you suddenly appreciate things you haven’t noticed before: your best friend’s contagious smile, the happy wag of your dog’s tail, a refreshing rainstorm—anything! Goodness is everywhere.
  • Gratitude helps others see the bright side too. Your optimistic example of pointing out goodness can go a long way for everyone in your circles. Don’t hold back; talk about what makes you laugh, all the things you like, or just good things that happened to you throughout the day. You’re sure to lift someone and make them smile.

Better Late Than Never

I now look back with gratitude for the sand in my teeth because the love of my life was right there with me—and he had sand in his teeth too. I look at my happy, healthy daughter and my heart thrills that she’s still with me, and leading a normal life. Each week I attend my local congregation and I’m thankful for the wonderful gift of being able to choose what I believe. Over time I’ve learned that there’s something special to cherish in every moment and that learning to be grateful is a lot like having an emotional superpower.

Linda Clyde is passionate about faith and the power it has to brighten lives. She’s a wife, mother, writer, beautician, and above all, a believer. Contact her at colossalthought@gmail.com

5 Lessons Gandhi Teaches Us About Humanity

5 Lessons Gandhi Teaches Us About Humanity

By Cheri Peacock, Faith Counts Contributor

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Born in India in the late 19th century, Mohandas Gandhi, known as ‘Mahatma’ (or ‘Great Soul’) is known for his civil rights leadership. He was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Although he was killed in 1948, his years of civil disobedience to promote peace have influenced countless other leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

What can Gandhi teach us?

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Gandhi fervently believed in humanity. He trusted and had faith that there were good people in the world. In light of recent terrorist attacks, it has been hard to see that goodness (and much of it) still exists in the world today. But, it does! There is still hope. Gandhi’s words are poignant and true. Though there may be a ‘few drops’ in the ocean that are dirty, the entire ocean does not become dirty.

“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

When you look in the mirror in the morning, what is the first thing you think? If you are standing in a check-out line at the grocery store, what comes to mind as you see the polished figures on magazine covers? If you are faced with sickness, disability, or failure, what do you think about yourself? What are you becoming because of these thoughts? When we immerse ourselves with positive thinking, we will become positive ourselves. If we think that we might fail, we probably will. What we think, we become. Think GOOD thoughts. Think more of yourself. You are doing better than you think.

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

We might feel like our actions are insignificant. It may seem that what we are doing is of no value. Maybe we tell ourselves, “There’s too much bad in the world. It will never change.” Instead of focusing on changing the world, focus on changing yourself. Set goals for how you can improve. If you could change any bad habit, what would it be? Work on remaking yourself first.

“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.”

Again, with recent devastating events happening in the world it is imperative to look outside of ourselves. When tragedies happen, we unite. We show compassion and love. Pure religion is giving service and being sympathetic to those of different backgrounds, religions, and orientation. Today, try to understand what someone else (a coworker, a neighbor, a family member) might be going through—walk a mile in their shoes. When you ask how they are doing, really listen and seek understanding.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Have the faith to forgive others. Forgiveness does not make you weak; it is a strength. As you forgive others, you will feel an added measure of power. Forgiveness enables us to move forward with life, in spite of defeat or hurt. As we exercise the faith to forgive others, we will be more at peace in our own lives. Is there someone that you need to forgive who has wronged you? How can you move forward?

Gandhi taught us to never lose faith in humanity, to watch our thoughts, to remake ourselves, empathize with others, and learn to forgive. Gandhi was a wise man whose life lessons far extend past the 79 years he spent spreading messages of peace, acceptance and love on Earth.

Cheri Peacock Hendricks is a graduate of SUU who loves running on trails, baking and social media.

Moving Past Betrayal

Moving Past Betrayal

By Nicole Priest, FaithCounts.com Contributor

Have you ever felt betrayed? Whether you’ve felt betrayed by a friend, a family member, or perhaps even God, it probably has left you feeling angry, hurt, and alone.

moving past betrayal

Two years ago I was presented with an offer to work overseas in Switzerland. I had secretly desired to work in Europe for quite some time and I prayed it was what God wanted for me as well. At thirty-two years old, with mounds of material possessions and a life pretty well established, narrowing everything that defined me to two oversized pieces of luggage was both a frightening and adventurous undertaking.

I began weeding through my belongings as if I would never return; selling the things I could obtain any monetary value for and gifting the remaining material memories to close friends and family. Although the job had a one-year contract attached to it, I felt deeply as I boarded the plane to Geneva, Switzerland, that I would never again be returning as a resident of the United States.

After nearly two weeks as an expatriate in Switzerland my life rapidly came crumbling down and I quickly found myself lost, alone, and broke. The job was nothing near what was promised, which left me in a foreign country without a visa or income. Skyping friends and family 6,000 miles away didn’t seem to bring the answers or peace I needed. I felt like a failure. And for what? To turn right back around and return to the life I was living, except this time, with nothing.

My pride got the best of me. I had to stick things out. I needed to figure out for myself why I was in this country. Unfortunately the only one who knew that answer was the same one who guided me there in the first place, God. I had felt incredibly betrayed by God, which left me feeling resentful and refusing to ask for help.

Frustrated I found myself on my knees begging for an answer. Why was I here? What did I need to learn? How would I make ends meet? Why did I have so much confidence to move to the other side of the world only to have my life fall apart?

It wasn’t in that exact moment that the answers came. In fact, I spent almost five months feeling like I was treading water without any direction, illegally overstayed my visa and miraculously lived in the most expensive country in the world with $600.00 USD to my name with only the tiniest bit of faith carrying me through.

When we are in the midst of trials we may not realize how strong our faith truly is and more importantly how strong we can become with the help of God. Boarding a plane back to the United States I jotted down a list of lessons learned during my time in Switzerland:

  • If you give up just because things are hard, you run away from problems rather than towards them and miss out on the learning experience.
  • Sometimes you make mistakes and you need to accept criticism and grow.
  • Following the guidance of the Holy Ghost doesn’t necessarily mean that things work out as you have planned, rather as God has planned for you.
  • Faith means walking blindly knowing you’re doing the Lord’s will, even if you’re not exactly sure what that is.
  • God’s abilities are far greater than the human mind can comprehend and it is easy to doubt the guidance you receive when it does not seem feasible.
  • You can’t be mad at God when you pray about something, receive guidance to do specific things, and the outcome doesn’t match up to your expectations.
  • If you jump ship as soon as things get hard, you miss out on the blessings.

When you feel betrayed it’s easy to lose hope and faith, in yourself, in the promptings you have whole-heartedly trusted, and in your ability to hear and follow God. Although at times it may not be easy to maintain a hopeful perspective, I’ve found that when I look to the source of my negative thoughts and remind myself that God loves me and wants me to experience happiness, I can muster up the faith and courage to press on to brighter horizons.

What Two Singing Gigs Taught Me about Faith and Friendship

What Two Singing Gigs Taught Me about Faith and Friendship

By Celesta Rimington, FaithCounts.com Contributor
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Photo Credit: Hill Street Studios/Blend/Offset.com

For most of high school, I didn’t usually think too much about the different faiths of my peers. We saw each other at school every day, connected through common interests like sports or marching band, choir or theater. Some of us prayed together before a big game or a competition (not sanctioned by the school, of course, just friends sharing enthusiasm and faith as we worked toward a common goal). But that was essentially it. I rarely discussed differing beliefs and faith with my friends in high school, although I knew many of us attended different religious services. I’m not sure why it never came up.

This lack of awareness, or ignorance, of the spirituality around me changed with one performance—a service my choir director requested of the audition-only choir in my high school. Near the holidays, our director arranged for our group to perform in various venues across the city—the Officer’s Club at the Air Force Base, schools, care centers, and churches. All of these performances brought a warm sense of holiday giving to my teenaged soul, but one experience resonated with me more than the others.

One evening, we’d been asked to sing for the service at a local church. I’d been to churches other than my own before, but this was the first time I saw matters of faith in a new light. The building was small, the congregation friendly and welcoming. The words spoken and the manner of worship has faded into irretrievable memory, but I realized something that night that forever changed me. My commitment to my faith was no different than theirs. Some of the beliefs we had were similar. Some were fundamentally different. The transformative moment for me was when a friendly gentleman, his face crinkled with age, shook my hand and thanked me for the beautiful music we had shared and for the feeling it brought into the meeting. We locked eyes, and a peaceful understanding passed between us. It spoke to my heart in a gentle whisper that told me we both loved God, and that made us part of a larger community—the community of God’s children. In that moment, the concept of service became a wider brush in my mind. Despite differences in our beliefs, the offer of my time and talents had actually supported this man in his own faith. And I had arrived that night to simply sing with my choir.

A while later, I mentioned to the guy I was dating that I’d been asked to sing a solo for my own church congregation and I was searching for a song. He immediately set about to help me find the perfect music. I was a little surprised by his enthusiasm. I attributed it to his natural tendency to be the supportive boyfriend—he was a really good guy—but then, I noticed something else. He had religious music he liked, and he was eager to share it. It meant something special to him. What a delightful discovery! He introduced me to a Christian a cappella group I’d never heard before. I loved it! I bought their music and listened to it in my car. I paid special attention to the songs he said were his favorites, and I understood why he liked them so much. We never sat down and talked in great length about religious doctrine (this was high school and life took us different directions), but from this experience, I learned how simple and equally profound it can be to support the faith of another.

I came to notice the faith and belief of others as opportunities to connect. Despite differences, there is always some common ground. Often, we have more in common than not. I knew my religious friends and acquaintances loved God, whomever they believed God to be. And although our manners of prayer and worship might have been different, they communicated with the God they loved, as I did. I learned that love is the bridge that spans over all murky waters of contention. It reaches across all gulfs of misunderstanding.

Around this same time, one of my best friends came to school one Monday morning and told me her teachers at church had spent the better part of the Sunday service telling her why my church was not Christian. In the spirit of genuine friendship, she asked me to share my view and my beliefs. She said, “I thought it would be good to just ask you, since you know best what you believe.” I was fortunate to have such a friend. Although I don’t remember the specifics of that conversation, I’ll never forget the feeling. She supported me in my faith, and listened to me with a willingness to understand. We learned the language of each other’s religions and respected each other’s standards of moral living. I knew from her willingness to ask me directly and to listen to my answer that she loved me, and even more importantly, she loved the God I worship.

And that realization—the common ground, the love, the mutual respect—was the lesson I needed.

Can Faith Help You Find Love?

Can Faith Help You Find Love?

The surprising role of faith in finding love

faith-finds-love

Photo Credit: Marryam Lum/Offset.com

All right, “surprising” may be an exaggeration, but many relationship experts feel that faith is key to finding love. Faith helps you have confidence that you can find love. It leads you to ideas and people who can help. It’s so important that Kailen Rosenberg writes, “Even if you don’t believe in God, have faith that you will meet the right person.”

So how does faith help?

Faith gives you courage

Finding love may require you to remain vulnerable and to risk being rejected—more than once. But faith reminds you that love is worth it. Faith gives you the courage to move forward.

In a recent news article entitled, “Love, marriage and the single woman stuck writing about it,” Candice Madsen shares that people she talked with stressed how love develops after you make a commitment. So holding back to avoid being hurt may also keep you from the love you hope to find.

Debi Berndt reminds us, “You may not get exactly what you want when you want it, but that doesn’t mean that all your dreams aren’t coming true. You just haven’t lived into that future with your ideal partner yet.”

Faith provides help

Marcia Wieder, author of several books about achieving your dreams, writes, “I trust and believe in myself, but there is something bigger, better and more delicious available and sometimes, my need to be overly independent can compromise that.”

A couple I know dated just twice. Two years later, the woman found herself often thinking about the man. She asked friends for advice, and they recommended that she contact him through social media. The couple began dating again and were soon married. She said, “Having confidence in being guided is key. I knew the promptings throughout the whole experience were not my own feelings. I felt something pushing me.”

Faith helps you grow

Faith can help you find ways to be happy now. Ideas may come to you about interests to develop or wounds to heal. Debi Berndt wrote about her own experience finding love, “Looking back now I can see that every experience during that time exposed a part of me that I needed to heal and by going through those pseudo-relationships I learned to love myself a little more.”

In the meantime, while you look for love, don’t put life or happiness on hold. Have faith that you are loveable and loved even if finding your true love is still somewhere in the future.

Holidays Are about People, Not Things

Holidays Are about People, Not Things

By Karen R. Trifiletti, FaithCounts.com Contributor

I remember one holiday ten years ago, thinking “I’ll keep this simple and faith-focused.” Then I thought of the flute and the violin and the sewing machine and the new guinea pig that my children would love—along with a raft of stuff that was unnecessary and over-much.

I could feel the pull between wanting to offer love-laden gifts, fueling my girls’ talents—and over-indulging. How easy the world slips in, and holidays, or “holy days” are tainted by too many things. That year—though we had a warm time and felt and shared our love and God’s in many ways—I still wanted to take visqueen and duct tape and put it over the need-to-get-stuff basket forever.

holidays-about-people-not-things

Image Copyright Tim Pannell / Mint Images / Offset.com

I don’t think I’m alone. Many of us have had long lists of shopping items for holiday meals, lists of gifts for some holidays, spent time looking for inexpensive flights and special deals, the right décor, or known the overwhelming feeling of holiday craziness.

Certain stress, though, is self-inflicted and often revealing. It happens when we place things over people, stretch beyond our means or worry that our means are never enough, or strive to people-please rather than to genuinely serve or meet a need (see 2 Corinthians 3:5). What we crave most is connection, not things. Holidays are about people—not stuff. So it’s good to remind ourselves and “renew our minds” about what matters and what does not (see Romans 12). As we do, we will seek less to fill our minds and stockings with things that do not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2).

Here are 5 ideas that have spurred me on to focus more on people, not things, during the holidays—gems from my own and others’ experiences.

1. Slow down 

C.S. Lewis reminds us that “the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” And Kissinger said, teasing about over-planning, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” We laugh. We relate. Sometimes we slip into a gear that is too high for too long. Psalms 31:14-15 reminds us of another pace, a pace set as we count on faith, trust in and rely on the Lord and look to Him in our plans to bless others and build lives, not just to create pandemonium: “I trusted in You, O Lord. You are my God. My times are in your hands.” With God in mind and allowing Him control, we may be less inclined to micromanage everything and to overdo to satisfy others rather than glorify Him through serving others.

2. Embrace imperfect

Sometimes we have rigid expectations that straight-jacket us, like Tigger in Pooh Party who loses joy as he fusses to over-orchestrate it. We can become so focused on “the schedule” and what we’re doing next (How will I get the turkey done at the same time as the casserole or the chairs out before the next set of guests arrive?) that we miss the party or are locked out by our emotional absence or sense of distraction. It can happen to all of us—but being aware and being present; allowing others to help; allowing messes in our tidy home; having children get in the kitchen and create a traditional family recipe; and making memories, can enable a closeness and focus on each other, rather than on externals and performances.

3. Think of the gifts you remember most

For me, it was the CD that my daughter and her friends created from a simple set of Christmas lyrics I’d written, or a piece of used furniture my son-in-law personally painted for me. Another was a small special notebook that another daughter wrote in each night for months, penning a thought from her day, and then wrapping and sharing it with me. That 3×5 notebook holds a kept place in my heart and my nightstand. Additionally, some of my fondest memories include sitting around the fire or lit-up-tree talking or playing word or picture games with family, reminiscing, having late night snacks and sitting around in our PJs.

Reflecting on the memories that have meant the most to you and that have reflected faith, hope, and love can light up your life during the holidays and can help you deflect the messages of the media and the commercialism around the holidays. We’re either impacted by the Word, which moves us to lift and stirs our faith, or by the world, which strives to weigh us down and dilute our faith by pushing our fleeting want button.

4. Give purposeful and time-centered gifts

When the holiday involves gifting, reconsider giving things that can influence a person’s character, forward their life purpose and gifts, and not that satisfy yourself or eliminate old gifts in your recycle stash. People can feel the spirit behind our giving. A subscription to an interest magazine, tickets to a special event that will be long-remembered, setting up a time to have dinner together or providing a certificate for teaching your loved one or friend a skill you have, can personalize a gift and replace the last-minute desperate search for that tawdry plastic-laden gizmo that doesn’t fit on the kitchen counter or in the cabinet anyway. Gift-giving doesn’t need to take on a life of its own—it exists to reflect our love and the love of the Source of all love.

A Cornell psychologist and consumer researcher, Thomas Gilovich, says that new things are exciting to us at first, but then the novelty soon wanes. So rather than buying the latest model car, or newest tech gadget, he suggests we know more happiness spending money on experiences like attending concerts, engaging in in-or-outdoor recreational activities, conversation, developing a new skill, or sight-seeing. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. He adds: “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” Giving experiences is a way to invest in the future of your relationship with someone. Consider ways you can do so this holiday season.

5. Consider the less fortunate

For those who love giving, considering the less fortunate is a daily affair. Yet the holidays provide additional opportunities to render special service to those who might be lonely or disadvantaged. As KidsHealth.org records,

A group of friends in a Vermont snowboard squad like to go to their local homeless shelter and give the homeless a day to remember. They begin preparing at the start of the snow season by asking people who come to the mountain to bring old winter gear like jackets, boots, gloves, and hats. Then the group visits the shelter to distribute the gear — along with a little extra. Says Jay, 18, one of the organizers, “‘We tell them, ‘Now you guys are coming with us and we’re going to teach you how to ski or snowboard all day for free.’” It’s awesome to know that we are able to take their minds off the stress in their lives for one day.

Observe and seek out your own ways of serving and giving to those who need comfort, strength, or relief consistently, including during the holiday season. It helps to match your gifts and talents with a need in your community. You can also choose a fund to donate to as a gift to those in need.

Serving others diminishes our own need to want more ourselves. Happiness expert and University of Illinois psychology professor, Ed Diener, said, “Materialism can lead to chronic feelings of dissatisfaction. It is open-ended and goes on forever—we can always want more, which is usually not true of others goals such as friendship.”

Perhaps each of these ideas can help us engage a different mindset in relationship to giving, material things, holidays, and happiness. One spiritual leader says it succinctly: True happiness comes only by making others happy.” With that in mind, and our hearts full of abundance and gratitude for the gifts of life and hope given us by our Creator, we can reach out to serve with real holiday spirit.

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5 Ways to Share Your Faith this Holiday Season

5 Ways to Share Your Faith this Holiday Season

By Maddie Wiley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

share faith

The holidays are all about giving thanks and sharing—sharing a plate of cookies with a neighbor, sharing your home for a turkey dinner and even sharing your faith with those around you. Sharing what you believe with your friends, neighbors and even family can often feel awkward. After all, you don’t want to preach, just share what’s important to you. Here are five ways to share your faith more easily this holiday season.

1. Let people know what you are thankful for

Whether it’s during a football game or around the dinner table, find opportunities to share what you are thankful for. Tell your loved ones how grateful you are to have them and for everything they do for you. Being thankful is not only an outward expression of faith, but it will also help you be more aware of the blessings in your life.

2. Share inspirational and faith-related stories on social media

Use your social media influence to share your beliefs by “reposting” faith-related stories or even tweeting about your own faith experiences. You can also use social media to express what you are grateful for and to inspire others to do the same. Keep these short and personal to you. Don’t tell others what they need to feel or know, just share your own experiences.

3. Invite friends and family to attend worship services with you

Inviting your loved ones to your worship events may seem intimidating, but if there is a special musical event or holiday worship service coming up then that could be the perfect time. Make sure they feel comfortable attending and make it clear that you are inviting them so they can enjoy uplifting activities during the holidays, not to convince them to follow your faith.

4. Display your faith through your actions

One of the best ways to share your beliefs is through your actions. When you are kind and caring to others, everyone can feel and see your inner faith. Look for big and small service activities to set a good example for your friends and family. Suggesting and then organizing a trip with friends to the local food bank, shelter, park clean-up, etc. is a great way to share the feelings true service brings.

5. Ask your loved ones about their beliefs

The best way to get comfortable with sharing your faith with friends and family is to ask about their faith first. You can better understand people when you understand their beliefs. By learning about your loved ones’ faith you will be able to find some things you may have in common and you will be able to talk more openly about faith in the future.

Sharing what you believe is not always easy but you can have a great influence on others when you do. “The more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy

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Have Faith in the Little Things

Have Faith in the Little Things

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how young, love is made of little things, and little things make all the difference.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” -John Wooden

Faith is an ingredient of love just as patience is an ingredient of faith. All three take time and are made of lots of little things.

Have faith in the little things … they often make the biggest difference.

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4 Tips to Let Go of Grudges for Good

4 Tips to Let Go of Grudges for Good

By Rachel Coleman, FaithCounts.com Contributor

grudge hero

Those of us that have to interact with other human beings (so, pretty much all of us) know that people aren’t perfect. They can be rude, insensitive, or downright mean. Sometimes, people hurt us in unimaginable ways. But carrying around resentment and bitterness towards others can weigh us down. Holding grudges keeps us stuck and keeps light and happiness from entering our hearts. Here are four tips to let go of grudges so we can enjoy the present.

Tip One: Let go of your identity as the “victim.”

Sometimes we have trouble letting go of the past because we continue to think of ourselves as the person who has been wronged and the other person as the offender — long after the offense has occurred. The problem with this way of thinking is it puts the responsibility of our situation in someone else’s hands. We are powerless. When we stop thinking of ourselves as victims, we can focus on controlling our reactions to our circumstances. That’s empowering.

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tip Two: Recognize that forgiveness is not the same as trust.

Often, we resist letting go of a grudge because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness doesn’t mean being friendly with the person who hurt us, or reconciling an unhealthy relationship. It doesn’t mean we ignore repeated offenses or put ourselves in situations where we will be abused or disrespected again and again. Forgiveness does mean putting aside the need to seek revenge and the wish that the past had been different. Forgiveness is having faith that a higher power will make things right. Forgiveness is shifting the burden of vengeance from ourselves to the same higher power who understands — and loves — all of our hearts. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” —Paul Boese

Tip Three: Give yourself some love.

Another reason we have a hard time letting go of grudges is we focus our attention on the offender rather than on the actual pain of our experience. The moment we were offended was probably terrible. We may have felt embarrassed, terrified, unheard, unwanted, or unimportant. We hold on to the grudge and focus our anger on the wrongdoer to protect ourselves from negative emotions. But the grudge acts like a plug in our hearts, keeping pain in and keeping peace out. The key to pulling the plug on grudges is to give ourselves the love and comfort we didn’t get earlier. If that love is hard to come by, we can rely on our faith. Our faith allows us to tell our higher power about the exact nature of our suffering and then trust that soothing peace and comfort will follow. Our faith invites the love and compassion into our hearts that we need to heal our pain and truly let go.

“At the heart of all anger, all grudges, and all resentment, you’ll always find a fear that hopes to stay anonymous.” – Donald L. Hicks

Tip Four: Remember we don’t have to do it alone.

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor who wrote and spoke often about the healing power of forgiveness. After speaking once in Munich, a former Nazi guard approached her, hoping for her forgiveness. She was paralyzed, unable to extend her hand — until she realized she didn’t have to create a feeling of good will for this man all on her own. “In that moment,” she later wrote, “something miraculous happened. A current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me…. I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”

With faith, we can tap into a universal source of love, healing, and forgiveness that already exists, instead of trying to create those feelings on our own.

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Bridging Faith Across Generations

Bridging Faith Across Generations

bridging faith sof

How are you sharing your faith with your family?

 

By Jenny Campbell, FaithCounts.com Contributor

“I don’t know if there’s anything more important than to pass along our faith to our kids,” says California youth minister Eric Upton. He expressed his worry that the middle-schoolers under his care won’t have the spiritual foundation to maintain their faith through adulthood. This worry extends to his own children, the oldest of which is 4-years-old.

Well over half of parents in the United States believe that passing on religious faith to their children is important, with a third saying it is one of the most important things parents can pass on. But the religious landscape in America is changing. A 2012 Pew research study found that the percentage of Americans who identify with no religious faith is on the rise, especially among young adults.

Where does this leave parents and youth leaders who are anxious to instill a strong sense of faith to those under their charge? The answer may have less to do with what parents believe and more to do with how they believe.

Teach by Example

Growing up in a religious home, Hindu American and social activist Padma Kuppa remembers the strong faith formations given to her by her parents. “My father was exemplary of what it means to learn and understand one’s own faith….My mother was exemplary in her devotion and her ritual.” Her parents inspired her own parenting style. “Because I learned by example I thought it was good to parent by example.”

Teaching by example is a vital part of passing on faith traditions. A comprehensive national study of religiosity in young adults found that 82% of religiously active adults had parents who had attended church services, talked about faith outside of church and themselves attached a great importance to religion. It’s a connection that is “nearly deterministic” according to the lead of the study.

An important part of being an example, according to Upton, is having a firm grounding in the faith yourself. “We have to have a faith worth passing on….We have to sit and be willing to ask the difficult questions and evaluate our own faith.”

Long-time religious scholar and researcher Vern Bengtson, who has been studying cross-generational spirituality for 35 years, said that one of the biggest findings of his research was that parents who were not consistent in their faith could not give children strong “religious role models to emulate.” To sum it up: “Don’t just send your children to church, bring them!”

Kuppa echoed this feeling. She needed to know “how to explain to my children what it means to be Hindu. It’s critical to understand it for myself.” She says to understand her own faith she must be exposed to ideas from a variety of faith traditions. “Oftentimes when you are exposed to another faith you wonder how my spiritual path would explain that or deal with that….When I interact with others they ask questions that make me go back to my own scriptures, that I’d not seen or poked at with those questions in my mind.”

Encourage Faithful Questioning

Bengtson’s research found that this type of tolerance and flexibility was actually helpful in passing along faith. A “hard-nosed” approach that dictated beliefs and discouraged experimentation did not work as well as one that let the child find their own version of faith. “It’s a degree of tolerance you don’t always associate with more fundamentalist religious groups, but it does seem that a closed-fisted approach is not nearly as effective as a more lenient approach.”

Kuppa is comfortable with her children finding their own path. “It’s really important that my children are free.”

Upton admits he struggles with the idea that his children may not grow to share his belief in Jesus Christ. “As a dad, it would break my heart.” Still, he accepts that he cannot force his children to follow in his faith footsteps. “I want them to have a faith that is unique to them and their relationship and journey. If I pass along everything I have exactly as I have it, then it won’t be theirs.” As they grow, he will continue to encourage his children to do research and ask their own questions.

Though the task can seem more difficult and the landscape more dangerous than ever before, both Upton and Kuppa are not daunted. “Faith isn’t going away,” Kuppa says. “Faith has been there for centuries, whether this prophet or that prophet, and it’s important that we have more people who are coming forward with wisdom to share.” For Upton, his faith and belief are the greatest portion of himself. “No one is going to stop me from passing the greatest piece of me to the people I have the greatest love for.”

What are some ways you’ve passed on your faith traditions to your children? How did your parents influence your faith?

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3 Ways to Share Your Faith on Social Media

By Linda Clyde, FaithCounts.com Contributor

Your Faith Can Make a Difference

Does sharing faith on social media seem scary? When you think about sharing your faith, do certain “friends” flash before your mind’s eye that you think might mock or try to disprove your beliefs? It could happen, but if you’re worried about that, you might miss the fact that your faith has the potential to lift all within your sphere of influence. There may be one, or a hundred people out there who need to lean on your faith today. Trust that your faith can make a difference.

Not sure how to share? Sharing faith on social media is easy—and when you know how, it’s far from scary. Here are 3 insights to jump-start your faith sharing.

share-hope-social-media

Hey, I Found Hope—Want Some?

What gives you hope? Flowers in spring? Rainbows? Newborns? Hope is an indicator of faith—that you believe in something—and faith at its best is simple, inspiring and universal—something that carries with it the potential to touch and lift everyone. By sharing hope, you are also sharing your belief that there’s something out there to look forward to and to draw strength from. Everyone needs hope. So, when you find some, please, share it.

social-media-fills-bucket

Wow—That Filled My Bucket!

What fills your bucket will probably fill mine too. Faith of all kinds lifts and buoys the human spirit. People need to believe in something that inspires them to become more than they thought they could be. When you encounter or experience something that takes your faith from empty to overflowing, sit your bucket out there in cyberspace so our buckets can catch your overflow.

believe-in-you-social-media-2

I Believe in You and I Believe in Me Too

Express faith in others. What’s more motivating than knowing someone believes in you? If you know someone who’s about to tackle something challenging, whether it be chemo or a triathlon, let them know you believe in them. Your expressions of faith on social media can be the spark that inspires others to also reach out in support.

Sharing faith in yourself may feel taboo, but sharing with others the fact that you’re setting and accomplishing personal goals is not shameful, especially when you do it with humility. Allow your faith in yourself to inspire and promote faith in others.

Share, Share, Share

A recap: Share what gives you hope. Share your overflow. Share your faith in others.

What would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments!

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Around the Table: How Sharing Food is an Act of Faith and Love

Around the Table: How Sharing Food is an Act of Faith and Love

By Anna Delamerced, FaithCounts.com Contributor

I look outside the window, and there he is, sitting on the ground. His blue winter hat adds a pop of color to a cloudy day in the middle of March. Though I’m a few feet away, I notice his eyes; eyes I’m sure were once vibrant but now look like pools of gray. He holds a cup in his hand, asking for money as people walk by, not daring to glance at him.

“Your toastie is here,” the barista says as she puts down a plate of a grilled bacon-and-cheese sandwich.

“Thank you,” I nod. The mouthwatering smell knocks me out of my reverie and compels me to return to the task at hand.

I am sitting in a Costa Coffee cafe, one of the many in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a study abroad student, my designated ‘chill’ days are spent weaving in and out of tea shops, writing in my journal, and catching up on my reading (or at least trying to).

My mother commends my nerves of steel, nerves shaped by my years of competitive chess (yup, it’s a thing) and spelling bee endeavors (when the bright lights of ESPN are casting down on you and thousands of people across America are waiting for you to misspell a word on national TV, courage is forged on that stage). But in the few weeks leading up to my departure from my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, I felt heart palpitations on a whole new level.

  1. Traveling to another country, across oceans, thousands of miles away from the comforts of my house, can be scary.
  2. I did not know anyone in Edinburgh. All I had was one email contact (referred to me by my brother’s friend’s mother) and one Facebook contact referred to me by a Brown University classmate. But no real friend waiting to greet me at the airport.
  3. I even remember writing in my journal consistently every day for three days, “I am scared.” I desperately wanted to make friends, find a church community, establish a ‘homebase’ in a foreign land. We were not made to feel lonely.

And so, I used what any twenty-first-century young lady would do.

Google.

For me, Google was a Godsend. The first week I was in Edinburgh, I typed in the search bar, “Christian churches in Edinburgh.” Surprisingly, a lot popped up, so I clicked on each link and searched around and learned more about each church.

I was a stranger, and they welcomed me. (Image via Anna Delamerced)

I was a stranger, and they welcomed me. (Image via Anna Delamerced)

One of those was King’s Church. After clicking around on its website a bit more, I believed it to be a Biblically-sound church whose people seek to love God and love others. “There would be free lunches for students!” the website also said. As a student on a budget (the dollar ain’t strong against the mighty pound), I thought to myself, “I need to eat after church, right?… Might as well try it out…” I decided to see for myself.

And so, one crisp January morning, I woke up with the rain cascading down on my window, left my flat (apartment for us Americans) at 10:00 a.m., and thirty minutes later, after the wind inverted my umbrella, after getting lost and having to ask an elderly Scottish man “do you know where Viewforth Road is?” arrived at the front steps of King’s Church.

Immediately, several greeters welcomed me. Names were exchanged, explanations given as to where I was from (“Ohio, but if you don’t know where that is, that’s okay, I attend university near Boston”) and what I was doing in Edinburgh (studying abroad for one semester), and teas and plenty of biscuits were offered to me.

One of the welcome members and I bonded over our study of medicine, over being students in our third year of “uni” (university), over the fact that despite the morning’s torrential waters, here we were, in the entrance of the church, excited to worship the same God.

Ironically enough, no lunch was served that Sunday, because it turns out it was the first service since all the students returned to uni from winter break. But there was a little gathering in the foyer afterwards (with more tea and biscuits), and immediately the leader of the student ministry approached me. Luke was his name and he immediately connected me with full-time students, especially the students who were small group leaders. That Sunday, I felt love in a way I hadn’t before. I was a stranger, and they welcomed me.

Faith, food, and fellowship. (Abena Boakyewa-Ansah)

Faith, food, and fellowship. (Image via Abena Boakyewa-Ansah)

Over the course of these past two months, I have come to know this love more deeply. The people I have met in Edinburgh have fed me, cooked Filipino soup for me, even baked homemade cheesecake for me. They have walked me home in the dark when I was just starting out and didn’t know the difference between Marchmont Road and the Meadows. They have made me laugh with their (attempts at) rap and dance skills. They have cooked lunches for all the students every Sunday. They have propped open the doors to their flats and let me spend a few hours every Tuesday eating dinner, sharing stories (both the embarrassing and the profound), reading the Word, discussing and asking each other questions, and singing to God together. They have encouraged me to see life with an eternal perspective. They have prayed with me and for me. They have inspired me to live a life of love.

They didn’t have to do any of that. They didn’t have to bother with an American study abroad student whom they knew they may not see ever again after the semester ends. They didn’t have to spend their money or their time or their lives with me. They didn’t have to share their food, or their love, with me.

But they did.

Sharing is an act of faith and an act of love.

Where does this kind of love come from?

We love because He first loved us.

I am content to know that there exists a God who already loves us so much, and I see and witness and feel his love through people. And God’s love — unconditional, freely given, undeserved, everlasting — is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Love is stepping out of your comfort zone. Love is laying down your life for another person. Love is giving your time and energy and resources to a friend, not to seek to get anything out of it, but because love overflows out of you. Love comes from God.

And so, here I was, sitting in Costa, with a choice in front of me.

Too often I have chosen the wrong decision whenever I encounter a homeless person. I have walked by. No, I confess I have hurried by, looking down at the ground. I have not dropped even fifty pence into his cup.

I realized my mistake.

I might not ever meet this homeless man again, and I don’t know how much a sandwich can impact a person…

But it didn’t hurt to try to share some kindness, to try to carry on the love, the very love I have been given.

I walked up to the counter, bought a sandwich, and ran across the street to stretch out my hand, and meet him.

How 50 incredible moms strengthened their families

How 50 incredible moms strengthened their families

Last week we asked you to complete the sentence, “My mom has strengthened my faith by…” We loved reading through all of your responses. Don’t forget to wish your mom “Happy Mother’s Day” and thank her for helping you become the person you are today.

 

Jill – My mom always asks us, “Have you prayed about it?” when we share something we’re struggling to understand or overcome. The tone here is critical, hers is always one of love and wanting us to find answers as well as building confidence in us. Such a humble and good woman.

Katie M. – ALWAYS reminding me who I am and what I have the wonderful potential to become. She’s always there for me.

Rae Jean S. – She’s strengthened my faith cause she’s ALWAYS been strong with her faith and has never wavered in front of me and my brothers and sisters. She’s been such a great example for us to follow! Even when my father died in 2010, she’s stayed strong. In fact, she’s been so much more determined to do what is right. She’s amazing and I love her!

Kay Lee E. – Staying true to the church and always teaching us about the gospel and the things that are right. :)

My mom has strengthened my faith by teaching me how to pray

Katie H. – Teaching me how to pray!

Vichhaka – Enduring child abuse, surviving genocide, and loving her children unconditionally.

Anissa T. – My mom has strengthened me by telling me to give whatever I am going through to God. My mom has been my rock because I am doing chemotherapy because I had stage four colon cancer, but they got it all so to keep it from coming back I am doing six months of treatment, two treatments a month. My mom has been there for every treatment and telling me I can do it because I am a fighter. This is how my mom strengthens me with the help of the Lord.

Kira H. – Taking me to church since birth!

Juanita T. – By EXAMPLE, by showing her faith and love in God!

Zaneta F. – My mom is a fighter and she’s strong. She taught us to be respectful, strong, to have dignity and integrity. Also to understand that WE ARE JUST AS GOOD AS OTHERS.

Briley S. – Everything and trusting in the Lord.

Kimberly L. – Taking me to church every Sunday.

My mom has strengthened my faith by always being there for me and raising me to be close to God

B-Smoove BC – Always being there for me and raising me to be close to God.

Moody Blues Alaska – Never leaving me and not [being] upset with me.

Cara V. Always reminding me two wrongs do not make a right. She also repeatedly said, “you don’t answer for what the other person does, just what you do.”

Carol R. Living her life for the Lord. Trusting him in all things. Everything she taught us was prefaced with, “the Bible says.” She was amazing!

Trish S. – Being with me for about 6 months during my illness!! She is sooooooo AMAZING!!! GOD has Blessed her with determination!! SHE GIVES ME GREAT REASONS TO BE FAITHFUL!! SHE IS A STRONG WOMAN STILL @ ALMOST 70!!! I LOVE YOU MOM!!!!!

Amy H. – Mum took all 8 of her rebellious kids to church and encouraged and stood by an inactive husband for 11 years, with no support. She never gave up.

Rodney B. – Living her Faith!!

My mom has strengthened my faith by living her faith each and every day

Sue K. – Living her faith each and every day.

Cindy L. – My mom & I went to church & Sunday school when I was in grade school. My mother also helped with vacation bible school every summer. She was a very loving, giving, & helpful person.

Monique H. – Being the strongest woman I know to survive 3 deaths of the closest people to her heart and still keeping the rest of us together….love u soooo much.

Jacqueline R. – Teaching me that JESUS LOVES ME NO MATTER WHAT!

Rocio C. – Introducing me to my hope, my Love, my Savior Jesus Christ.

Avril G. – She always said I must trust God first. To be truthful, honest, kind and be respectful of others. Love each other.

Tomika A. – Teaching me the word of God at home and taking me to church!

My mom has strengthened my faith by being a strong woman no matter what life throws at her

Trina W. – Being a strong woman no matter what life throws at her she made it!

Tim M. – Her example.

Gloria S. – By watching her life in good times and bad and how she always told me just pray and put your faith in the Lord, he will see you through!

Alisha M. – She raised all 7 of her children in church and always said, “when all else fails, pray.”

Carol A. – Living her faith.

Gloria M. – Being strong amidst many surgeries, broken bones, men that didn’t treat her well, fighting to stay alive, knowing that GOD still has a purpose for her life! She is an inspiration to me and I Love her with All my Heart.

My mom has strengthened my faith by teaching me to treat all people the way you want to be treated

Diann E. – Teaching me to treat all people the way you want to be treated because you don’t know who are God’s Angels.

Wanda S. – Going to church every single week, through even the hardest times. Oh, and daily living what she believes…..

Polly E. – Teaching us from the start about Jesus Christ and praying with us kids. She taught us never to blame God when things aren’t going good or when tragedy strikes. She taught us to pray and trust he who loves us.

Melinda B. – Living her faith.

Travis M. – Teaching me the word of God and raising me up to believe in Christ, the burial and resurrection of his son.

Patricia B. – My mother was a Christian and loved her family the way Jesus loved. She took us to church and encouraged us to live for Jesus. Love you mom for teaching me God’s ways.

Tamala J. – Always being a good mother, keeping a roof over my head, giving me lights to see, and keeping me from [being] around jealous[y], envy, and evil people.

My mom has strengthened my faith by raising us up to have morals

Donna G. – Bringing us up to have morals, to have respect, not only for ourselves, but for others. By having these things instilled in us while growing up, our faith was strengthened accordingly. I cannot count the blessings I have had during my lifetime. I am truly grateful.

Joe T. – Being! If you knew my momma, you would say “enough said!”

Kayla J. – Teaching me to pray to our kind loving Father in Heaven.

Robert R. – In every way – even after death!!! I remember all she taught me!!

Deborah J. – By being strong.

Judith W. – She always called on the Lord.

Patsie B. – She taught me patience, and to be strong in faith; that you may not see it NOW, but God is working it out. So true!

My mom has strengthened my faith by following her faith with conviction and grace

Kathy O. – Following her faith with conviction and grace!!

Ann R. – Living [her faith] and encouraging it for me.

Dorothy A. – Teaching and loving me.

Jessica H. – By showing me her [faith].

Leanna D. – Acting out a strong relationship with the Lord daily ????

Tanya P. – Reminding me to count my blessings in the midst of struggles and showing me how to find peace in the midst.

 

How has YOUR mom helped strengthen your faith? Tell us in the comments!

How 50 incredible moms strengthened their families

You believe what? A guide to better interfaith friendships and conversations

You believe what? A guide to better interfaith friendships and conversations

You believe what? A guide to better interfaith friendships and conversations

Taking the awkward silence out of interfaith friendships, one conversation at a time.

Every day you come into contact with people of different faiths—someone at the grocery store, your doctor, an office mate. Even your best friend might belong to another religious denomination and go to a church across town.

Having meaningful conversations about faith with others—even a good friend—can be tricky when you don’t share the same beliefs. There’s the potential for each of you to feel misunderstood, hurt, or offended. So what do you do? Avoid talking about faith? No! Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll discover that interfaith conversations can be inspiring and uplifting.

Friendship first. Let your friend know you value your friendship first above what they believe. Show genuine care for them and their perspective. Love is key.

Show respect. Respect your friend’s beliefs, even if they are unfamiliar or don’t make sense to you. Avoid joking about their religious clothing, leaders, or traditions. How would you feel if someone said the same things about what you believe? Everyone deserves respect, and so do you.

Be curious. Ask questions with an attitude of genuinely wanting to know more. Don’t just try to convert them to your point of view. Have an open mind. If you’re open to new ideas, you can find common ground in unexpected places.

Stay true to your faith. Talk about your beliefs. Don’t be afraid to share something about who you are and what you believe. In times when you might be tempted to compromise your values, give a brief explanation about your faith and your true friends will actually respect you for standing up for your beliefs.

Listen. If you feel like your friend has said something insensitive, take a minute to listen to their point of view and collect your thoughts before you react. Try not to jump into the conversation and immediately get defensive of what you believe. Saying something hastily or out of anger can damage an otherwise great relationship. Sincere listening and understanding can go a long way.

Interfaith friendships can be extremely rewarding. Through respectful conversations with people of faith, you’ll get the chance to consider life from other perspectives. You may find that you have a lot more in common than you think, and you’ll avoid a lot of awkward silences in the process.

You believe what? A guide to better interfaith friendships and conversations

 

 

 

 

Discover More

Three Clergymen, Three Faiths, One Friendship

Your Interfaith Friends Aren’t Projects

Curiosity May Be Hard on Cats, But It’s Great for Interfaith Friendships

The Secret Ingredient to Great Relationships

The Secret Ingredient to Great Relationships

This time of year, reminders of romantic love are everywhere. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates fill grocery store shelves. Maybe you hear Adele on the radio and become a bit misty-eyed about a break-up.

The Secret Ingredient to Great Relationships

But many kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, fill our lives year round. Healthy relationships are a vital element of our well-being. Although having good relationships you can count on isn’t always easy, it is definitely worth the effort.

One secret ingredient to add to your relationships is faith.

relationships-faith-self

Faith in Yourself

We’ve all heard the adage, to love others you need to love yourself first. Loving yourself can admittedly be hard, but having faith in yourself can make it a little easier. When you believe in yourself you develop confidence. As your confidence increases so does your ability to connect meaningfully with others.

Having faith in you is a good habit that you can carry into all kinds of relationships.

relationships-faith-god

Faith in God

Believing in God can also enhance your relationships. Knowing that you have worth in God’s eyes lifts your self-esteem. Your value is not based on what someone’s opinion of you might be for that day. When you don’t look to others to validate and accept you, you are freer to love and appreciate others.

“The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together.” -Pope Francis

Believing that others have worth in God’s eyes has the potential to improve your relationship with them, too. It is easier to treat someone kindly when you start to recognize their true worth. Their concerns start to matter to you because you see them in a fresh way.

relationships-faith-others

Faith in Others

Even when you recognize someone’s worth, they can still disappoint you or let you down. That’s when faith in others matters. Faith has the potential to improve communication and soften judgments. Giving people a break and trusting in their good intentions can make a huge difference in how you perceive and act toward them.

Try to set aside criticism each day and look for the good in the other person. What is she getting right? Appreciate the effort the other person puts forth, even if it falls short.

relationships-faith-relationship

Faith in a Relationship

Connecting to someone, even someone you know really well, takes faith. It takes faith to start dating someone. Sometimes it even takes faith to believe you can have another relationship after one ends.

Withdrawing into yourself can be a natural reaction to not trusting others or being caught up in your own problems. Consciously trying to look outside of yourself and connect with others can be challenging, but it becomes easier with practice and as you start to see the benefits. Reach out and discover what someone else has to offer.

relationships-faith-future

Faith in the Future

Having faith in someone, yourself, or a situation takes patience. Whether your relationship with your sibling could use a little TLC or if you’re (sometimes impatiently) waiting for your Mr. or Mrs. Right, sometimes it seems like things might never change. You may even want to give up. Don’t! Good things are ahead if you will just hold on a little longer.

Reaching out in faith to God can offer great hope for the future. Pope Francis wrote, “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us.”

Love takes a lot of faith, time, and effort. Life is much richer with it than without it. Go ahead, have a little faith. You might be surprised.

The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations. -Pope Francis

Want to read more?

Faith as a Relationship

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2013/01/faith-as-a-relationship/

5 ways faith strengthens family

http://familyshare.com/faith/5-ways-faith-strengthens-family

The Light of Faith, Pope Francis

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html