Faith Rising

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Nearly a month ago, I embarked on one of the most incredible adventures of my life. After a sixteen hour flight and countless movies, we arrived in the “Rainbow Nation.” Outside the airport, I was embraced by the African air and any form of jet lag, exhaustion, or hunger disappeared. Beyond experiencing the rich cultural traditions and fantastical adventures, I was most excited to raise awareness about human trafficking through 8 Days film. Along with my fellow cast and crew members, I had the opportunity to visit three magnificent cities: Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town.

Over the course of two weeks, we hosted three different premieres, ventured on safaris, played with lion cubs and cheetahs, visited majestic Table Mountain, attended an authentic braai (South African barbecue), and bonded with local street artists. However, the most memorable event took place in a small church on the outskirts of Cape Town. Empty and conflicted, I entered the building without any high expectations.

The moment worship began, I was overcome by feelings of immense gratitude and elation. As the singers belted words of praise and thanksgiving, I experienced God’s love in a whole new way. Tears flowed uncontrollably, and I felt myself let go for the first time in months. Instead of trusting in God, I had allowed fear to steal the hope and joy from my life.

During the sermon, the pastor emphasized that our God is the King of Kings (and Queens.) Through his eyes, we are better than royalty. Each and every one of us was created for a specific purpose. God loves his children with a deep, unconditional love. More than anything else, he yearns to bring us closer to Him.

When the service ended, I felt refreshed by the words of encouragement. I decided that a new chapter of my life had officially begun. Although I had recently faced disappointment and heartache, I recognized that God is always faithful. On the last day of my South African journey, I gained something more valuable than gold. I rediscovered the chance to fulfill my purpose and achieve true happiness. I may never fully understand why specific doors close, but I choose to “live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

As I reflect on my journey throughout South Africa, Zechariah 10: 1-4 comes to mind. “Ask the Lord for rain in the spring, for he makes the storm clouds. And he will send showers of rain so every field becomes a lush pasture.” YOU have the power to ask God for guidance and blessing. Scripture does not state that God simply sustains the fields. Instead, He enables them to flourish through an abundance of blessing. Trust Him with the deepest desires of your heart and watch as they come to pass.

Whether you realize it or not, God desires to touch your soul. Open your heart to Him, and you will witness “showers of rain” in the pastures of your own life.

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Love Always,

Nicole Smolen

Twitter and Instagram: @nicolesmolen

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Fad or Fact?

In this day and age, it is challenging to find food that satisfies cravings and nourishes the body. Many food companies use misleading labels, such as “FAT FREE” or “ALL NATURAL,” to deceive consumers. Consequently, it is essential to uncover the lies with dedicated research.

During the past several weeks, I have explored various “diets”: paleo, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. Instead of starving the body or exercising to death, it is important to maintain a balance. This led me to experiment with the gluten and dairy free lifestyle. Not unlike most people, my first reaction was “Gluten and dairy free?! Talk about extreme… Besides, it’s just another fad.” However, there are serious benefits that can ensure a healthy body and mind.

Many scientists argue that modern wheat is a product of genetic research and has many adverse effects on human health. Most of the wheat produced today has been milled into white flour, which contains an excess of gluten and few essential vitamins or nutrients; in effect, sharp increases in blood sugar may lead to diabetes along with other chronic diseases. Additionally, dairy is a highly controversial topic in the food world. Prior to the agricultural revolution, humans refrained from drinking milk beyond infancy. Furthermore, humans are the only species that consumes milk during adulthood, as well as milk from another animal. While dairy can be quite nutritious, excessive amounts can cause digestive discomfort and skin issues.

As a perfectionist, I tend to lean towards extremes. Although discipline is essential to success, it is important to enjoy the journey. Thankfully, numerous grocery stores currently offer delicious gluten and dairy free alternatives. Even if food labels say “GLUTEN FREE” or “DAIRY FREE,” it is necessary to be mindful and investigate possible frauds. Some of the tastiest gluten and dairy free options include BARE Fruit Apple Chips, Earth Balance Vegan Aged White Cheddar Popcorn, and KIND Healthy Grains Bars!

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Interested in more gluten and dairy alternatives? I urge you to roam the vast landscape of PINTEREST. I have found dozens of incredibly easy recipes that offer taste and health benefits. If you want to get creative in the kitchen, you must try a couple of my favorite recipes:

1. GF/DF BANANA BREAD: 

I made this for my family and it was gone in two days! It is the BEST banana bread…quite possibly EVER.

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Find the recipe @

http://brunchatsaks.blogspot.com/2011/09/fall-recipe-banana-bread-gluten-free.html

2. 5 INGREDIENT GF/DF PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES:

I am addicted to peanut butter, and these cookies were no exception! 

PBCookies

Find the recipe @

http://mycrazygoodlife.com/five-ingredient-peanut-butter-cookie-recipe/

While there are positives to the gluten and dairy free “diets,” they fail to benefit every individual. The key to a healthy lifestyle is to discover what works for you. I hope you enjoy the advice, recipes, and encouragement!

Love Always,

Nicole Smolen

Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest: @nicolesmolen

Credit Cards. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

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Credit cards. They seem to be ubiquitous in today’s culture. I found myself using my credit card the other day to buy coffee at a gas station for $1.29. It slid through the machine with ease. I was struck with how easy it was to use a piece of plastic to charge such a small, meaningless purchase that only a few years ago would have required cash. But I think the ease makes us forget how important credit cards really are.

That’s why I want to check in quickly with you ladies to make sure we are all on the same page with credit cards. We get ads in the mail to sign up for them. We get denied because our income is not high enough (i.e., we are poor students who don’t have an income). How do we navigate credit cards? I’m here to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What’s bad about credit cards. Credit cards can make people feel like they have an endless amount of money. People often charge on credit cards with the mindset that they can just pay it back later. This is a dangerous mindset to have.

What’s great about credit cards. Credit cards help you build credit at a young age. Why do you want to build credit? Having good credit is really important for the big steps later in life. Do you want that cute dream home that you can decorate a la all the pins you have pinned on Pinterest? You need good credit. Need to buy a car, but don’t have the money and thus need a loan? Having good credit will help you get better interest rates on loans that you will likely need in the future.

I have friends who swear off credit cards, telling me they would rather not deal with the drama of having one. I actually encourage my friends to get a credit card, or even two credit cards. Don’t feel like you shouldn’t get a credit card. You need to start building good credit, and credit cards are a great way to do that. You just need to be careful when using your credit card.

But what does building credit mean anyway?

Credit Scores. Your credit score is a number between 300-850 that lets creditors know how high of a risk it is to lend you money. You want to start building your credit score so that you can have as high of a credit score as possible.

What goes into a credit score you ask?

35 percent of the score is based on your payment history. That means you need to make sure you are paying your bills on time each month. I encourage you to set up automatic bill payments online so that you don’t have to think about paying your credit card bill by a certain date each month. Did you accidentally pay your bill late this month? Call your credit card company and explain it to them. Chances are they will forgive you for the late payment, which means it won’t be reported back to the credit agencies. Believe me, I have done this on more than one occasion before I enrolled in automatic bill payment.

30 percent of the score is based on outstanding debt. Here is why you want to consider opening up more than one credit card. The more cards you have at their limits, the lower your score will be. Therefore, you should try to keep the charges on your credit cards at 25% or less of your credit limit. That means that it is actually better to have a couple of credit cards from which you spread your charges, rather than charging everything to one credit card. Remember the golden rule though: never charge more to credit cards than you can pay at that moment.

15 percent of the score is based on the length of time you’ve had credit. That’s why it is important for you to start building your credit now.

The remaining 20 percent is based on a few other factors. This includes inquiries in to your credit. Thus, every time you open a credit card your credit may take a small dip in the short term. This is why you don’t want to open too many credit cards, especially not all at once.

Let me give you a few pointers so that you can skillfully navigate your credit cards.

  1. Never spend money on your credit card that you cannot pay off. This is perhaps the most hard and fast rule that I live by when it concerns credit cards. There are extremely few instances in life where it is a good idea to charge more on your credit card that your bank account will allow. Make a point of never putting anything on a credit card that you can’t pay at that instant.
  2. Check your charges each month. I have a reminder in my phone each month to check my online credit card statements. It is important to check the charges you are making each month to ensure that no fraud is occurring. My parents had some random company that was charging them $15 each month for a subscription that they did not want, that had been occurring for over a year before it was discovered. Make sure that all of the charges each month are your own. This is also a great way to make yourself look at how much you are spending each month. I constantly find myself shocked at the amount of money I spend on food that I have bought out. This helps you keep your charges in perspective.
  3. Get your credit score each year. You can get your credit score for free once a year. There are a lot of websites who will give you your credit score for free each year (just Google it), just make sure you cancel any free trial subscription that you sign up for before you have to pay monthly charges. It is good to get your score each year so that you know what you are dealing with and where you credit score is.

That’s it for now! Let me know if you want more credit card tips, including which credit card offers are the best deals etc.

Finding Peace & Serenity

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{Today’s article is from the lovely Reyna.}

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to know the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is; not as I would have it; trusting that you will make things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.” 

I’m sure you’ve heard this prayer before, and if you haven’t its a life changing prayer. It’s a prayer that has become my prayer for the past 3 years. If you are anything like me, I like to control my circumstances in my life. When I try and control everything, my life starts crumbling down and it feels really hard. You may be saying “Reyna, I don’t trust him because every time I let go I feel as his plan is to suffocate me with my problems and my addictions.” The truth is he’s not doing that, there is a real enemy out there and we are also given free will. That’s why it’s important to know his word.

John 10:10

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When you start worshiping and praying, I challenge you to face your palms up, open them freely and face them to the heavens. Tell God,  your will be down on earth as it is in heaven. Allow God to bless you fully. When you close your palms tightly your not allowing him to bless you and help you. When you are keeping them closed, you are telling him you are still in control.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dealing with some life issues that are out of my control. Issues that only God can heal, and restore. Only He can move these big mountains! I don’t know, maybe you are reading this blog and you’re dealing with family issues and you’re waiting for God to intervene and restore what has been broken. Maybe you haven’t had a close relationship with your parents due to a family members addiction, denial, or mistakes. Or maybe you’re dealing with a broken heart because your dad or mom left you when you were a child. Maybe you’re mad because you grew up being taken advantage of, sexually abused, cheated on or bullied. Or  maybe your loved one is locked up in jail for a mistake they once made. Maybe you say “none of these are my issues Reyna,  I just feel empty and hopeless”. I just listed a lot of maybes, it doesn’t matter what maybe category you fall in. Im here to tell you that you’re so LOVED, BEAUTIFUL, NEVER ALONE, and Jesus Christ can help you!  There is no need to give up, there is HOPE!

Deuteronomy 31:6

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

If you’re like me, and need an actual physical touch to know that you’re loved, allow the spirt that lives within you to fill in that empty space in your heart. Allow him to fill you with his presence.  Be still and feel him alive and active in your life.

What I’ve learned is I’m only as lonely as I chose to be. Building community has to be intentional. You have to make the time to meet others, you have to be open to the people God wants to put into your life. God wants to bless you with friends, but if you have your palms closed, your not allowing yourself to receive his blessings for your life.

Whenever I go through my dark moments I tend to be an introvert and stay home, and have a pity party. “Nobody loves me, nobody cares, I’ll always be this way, nobody well ever understand”.  The truth is all of this is a lie. The lies in my head have tried to convince me that I’m alone, and that nobody can relate to me. Due to the hurts in my past, I have dealt with tons of trust issues, and telling myself “everyone will hurt me”  is something I hear in my thoughts often. I’ve  also told myself  “I’m to broken for anyone else to understand me and love me”. Again, these are all lies from the enemy!

God wants you to be in peace, to trust him.  If you surrender to his will,  he will bless you abundantly. Only he can control and change our circumstances. There are things that we cannot change, and we have to learn to accept that. He says live one day at a time, so you can experience my presence. Trusting in him that he will make all things right if we fully surrender to his will. I know it’s not easy, and sometimes you may experince so much pain and confusion. What I can tell you is that when you do find yourself experiencing such pain ask yourself , am I holding onto something I should be letting go of?  Good news is there is so much freedom  in just opening up your palms and asking God to help you. Allowing God to do the work, is so peaceful!

Lastly, have grace for yourself and others. Ask God for forgiveness, forgive yourself and others. Be patient, God doesn’t function in time, he functions in  holy seasons. Never give up! Rest in his love and peace.  Do yourself a favor and stop causing more pain to yourself, allow God to move those impossible mountains! He has a great plan for your life.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

 

Love,

Reyna Elizabeth Morris

What is meditation for a Christian?

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 {Today’s article is from our teacher on health, wellness, and faith…Rachel Zeskind! Enjoy!}

MEDITATION IS BIBLICAL!

May my meditation be sweet to Him; as for me, I will rejoice in the Lord. -Psalm 104:34 (AMP)

If prayer is talking to God, then meditation could be called ‘listening to God’. Another way I like to describe meditation is ‘marinating’ on something. Those of you who cook may have an understanding of this, especially when it comes to grilling steaks (for any vegetarians…I am not sorry, it’s an effective example so please try to relate in)…

Say you are grilling a steak, most people will marinate the meat or let it sit submerged in something for a predetermined period of time in order that the meat will soak up as much of the marinade as possible (for flavor). Fully marinating and submerging meat in the marinade causes an environment where the meat can fully soak in the marinade into every part of the meat…even all the way into the center. Why? So the steak can become, be transformed into the best and most flavorful version of itself.

Do you get the analogy? Sweet!

When we meditate we are marinating in the Holy Spirit, in our relationship with God and on God’s word allowing His Spirit to fully soak into every part of us…so that it truly merges with our flesh and becomes one. That gives us flavor!

What biblical meditation IS NOT is these new age practices that are common in self relaxation, hypnosis, yoga, ‘guided meditation’ or a focus on ‘love and light’. Those are NOT biblical meditation and can open the door of your heart and mind up to all kinds of funky adventures. Stick to biblical meditation.

Read what the bible says about meditation and see what Jesus did, He was our example. He would go out and pray all night, part of prayer was talking and some was listening. He meditated on the word of God day and night, which is what the bible tells us to do.

Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. – Psalm 119:97

May my meditation be sweet to Him; as for me, I will rejoice in the Lord. – Psalm 104:34

I have better understanding and deeper insight than all my teachers, because Your testimonies are my meditation. – Psalm 119:99

I will meditate on Your precepts and have respect to Your ways (the paths of life marked by Your law). – Psalm 119:15

The scriptures also show us that we can meditate (and do) on the wrong things, the wrong ways.

Why DO the nations assemble with commotion (uproar and confusion of voices), and why do the people imagine (meditate on and devise) and empty scheme? – Psalm 2:1

For more information on wellness for believers, check out my book ‘Wellness For Christians’ by clicking HERE.

Love,
Rachel Zeskind

MySpace to Marriage

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I am a sucker for romantic movies, “The Bachelor,” and “The Bachelorette.” I love seeing all of the amazing dates they get to go on, and the incredible places they get to visit. I have always been a hopeless romantic and probably always will be.

I always wanted my own romantic story. I wanted the Lord to bring me a man that would sweep me off of my feet, just like in the movies. I didn’t know if it would happen to me, but I knew that the Lord could do the impossible, and that He was the greatest Romantic of all, even though I had never experienced that firsthand…YET.

My mom and I used to pray together everyday for my future husband. I used to daydream about what he would look like, would he be taller than me (ha! I greatly wanted that), would he love Jesus as much I did, and how would we meet?! These thoughts continuously ran through my head. Even though I could never figure out the Lord, I still tried! 😉

The days seemed like years, and the years like decades as I waited for him. I had to endure COUNTLESS lonely nights. It was a continuous battle to fight off the jealous thoughts that invaded my mind when I saw others in love. I questioned the Lord many times, asking Him if I had done anything wrong, and pleaded with Him to “just answer my prayer.” This “desire of my heart ” was in full bloom. Why was it going unanswered?! I had chosen to remain pure not only before the Lord, but for my future man. I wanted my relationship/marriage to bring Him glory, so why the delay?

The devil tried to persuade me often that my standards were too high. He tried to convince me that I would NOT find a Christian man, that I thought was appealing. Let’s be honest. We WANT to find our spouse attractive! I got very discouraged. I saw no glimmer of hope. As I looked around, I didn’t see anyone that was “marriage material.” I started to loose hope that there was a young man out there just for me.

When I least expected it, the Lord brought him to me and in the most bizarre way. If you haven’t heard of MySpace, well, it was big back in the day. I was on my friend’s page and saw this guy named Matthew. He had commented on her page and he immediately caught my attention. I saw his pic and my heart skipped a few beats.

After I did some investigating on HIS page, I saw that he was a Christian. I knew that some people just threw that out there. I didn’t know if he had a personal walk with the Lord Jesus, but I wanted to find out! I yelled for my mom to come in the room and filled her in on this young man that had caught my eye. I told her that I hoped he wrote me. She laughed. She knew my imagination has always ran wild. I mean, why would he write me?! haha Even though it sounded crazy, it did not stop me from hoping that he would! 🙂

Well, long story short, he DID write me! I noticed in my inbox a new message, and come to find out, it was HIM! I about fainted. I couldn’t believe it and started screaming, “MOM, you are NOT going to believe this!”

He had written me because he wanted to know if I was this girl that he had talked to on AOL before. My Myspace name was Model4Christ and so was this girls instant message name. I told him I was not that girl, but one message led to another, and then to a few phone calls, and then to our blind date! Don’t worry, I wrote my friend to see if he was “real.” He was. Apparently, they had shot Abercrombie together. She said he was a very nice guy, a gentleman. That was like music to my ears. I couldn’t wait to meet him! (I will go in detail in future posts about our first date, and all that, because I don’t want to make this too long and wear you out! 😉  )

The Lord did bring me a man that I thought didn’t exist. He brought me someone who COMPLIMENTS me so perfectly. I do not ever say complete because you are complete in the Lord and in NO ONE else! I love Matthew with all of my heart. All of those lonely, sleepless nights were swallowed up with joy because of him. All of the pain turned into beauty because I let the Lord be the writer of my love story. I not only kept myself for him, but he did the same for me!! You don’t hear that too often these days of guys waiting until marriage (or girls for that matter). We were able to give that special gift just to each other.

I am so glad that I didn’t get hasty and go off and choose someone for myself. I am so elated that Jesus gave me the strength to wait, and in so doing, he brought me the man of my dreams! He wants to do the same for YOU! Will you let him write your love story?! Will you let Him be the driver, so He can take you on the most exciting adventure. Trust me on this, He does NOT disappoint!

Raise the standard,

Shannon 🙂

http://www.twitter.com/shannonstewart1

http://www.shannonstewartmodel.com

IG: ShannonStewartRatliff

http://www.facebook.com/modelshannonstewart

(photo credit:Tec Petaja)

 

 

Stress is Not Sustainable

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I was sitting in an airport lounge, heading off on a quick trip with my family. I had just finished my first year of law school. The dreaded year, filled with months of cold calls in class every day, endless reading each evening, and a high level of anxiety for the one exam that would decide your entire grade for the class, which by the way, strongly determined your future legal career. Prior to that, I had taken on the stress of trying to choose the right law school to attend. Before that, it was months of studying long hours after work for the LSAT, striving to get a good score in order to get into a good law school.

Now here I was, first year of law school under my belt. I had always thought this would be some type of ending point. Sure, of course there would more work and more to do; but I figured, no I assured myself, that ending my first year of law school would mean ending this period of heightened stress.

And yet, here I was sitting in the airport lounge and I was still stressed. I had just begun at a law firm as a summer associate. Not just any old law firm, a highly prestigious law firm, a position that as a first year law student I was very fortunate to receive. I, however, was focused more on the stressful aspect of it. That the vast majority of my colleagues around me, who I would be compared to, were a year further than me in school, which obviously meant a year wiser, which obviously meant they would be more successful at the job.

I had to turn my first assignment in the following Monday, and I was anxious. I was going to have to explain the basic elements of an area of law to a partner who wrote the leading treatise on that area, and which I knew absolutely nothing about. It felt absurd to me, and yet here I was, looking down the barrel of a gun and experiencing the all too familiar feeling of stress overcome me. You know, heart pounding, stomach fluttering, and a brain whose suddenly singular focus was the fact that it couldn’t do the task set before it.

My dad turned to me and said something to me that I will never forget.

“Julie, this level of stress is not sustainable.”

The statement hit me in a profound way. Feeling consistently stressed was no way to live.  I realized that having a full plate and striving for excellence was always going to be a part of my life. There was no way of getting around that if I wanted to continue following the path I was on. But what I could change was how I reacted to it.

Stress is not sustainable. Anxiety is not good for our bodies, it is not good for our souls. It also pains God, because it is us implying that we don’t trust that God has our backs. A favorite, gut-check quote of mine from Francis Chan:

“Worry implies that we don’t quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.”

So how can we overcome the stress, anxiety, and worry and trust that God has our backs?

Stop. Whenever you start to feel stressed, anxious, or worried, I want you to stop. Whatever it is you are thinking, whatever it is you are doing, just stop. In the moment this is usually exactly what you do not want to do because there is in fact so much to do, but it is exactly what you need to do. Close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Now do it again. Now pray and give the situation to God. Turn on your favorite song and sit and just listen to it, continuing to focus on your breathing. Cutting off the anxious feelings when they begin will go a long way in overcoming your stress.

Actively Change Your Thoughts. You can choose your thoughts, and you can choose how you react to things. So actively choose to react positively. For so long I reacted to stress by anxiously focusing on all I had to do and the possibilities of failure. I have learned not to focus on the possibilities of failure, but to focus on the possibilities of success.

Have a long to do list? Tell yourself that you will finish it, but that if you don’t, it’s ok. Worried about a situation in your life? Tell yourself that God has your back and it will work out. Change the thoughts you choose to let into your heart. This isn’t easy. It will take discipline and focus to continually change your thoughts in times of stress to ones of positivity. This is certainly a work in progress on my end. But changing your thought life will dramatically change your response to stress.

Recognize stress for what it is, and actively choose to not allow it to have a role in your life. Stress is not a sustainable lifestyle. Challenges will come, but we can choose how we react to them.

Hope this encourages you today!

Love,

Julie