January 6th, 2012

Finding Hope in a Hopeless Place
By: Gaby Santizo

Romans 8:24-25 "For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

I can't believe how fast time has flown, we are now in 2012 ... it seems as if just yesterday I was 19, but we know that is not true. :) Yesterday a friend of mine asked me about my blogging and the fact that I hadn't blogged recently. She was right, I have had so much on my mind but hadn't had the chance to write because of all my school work, aren't I glad that I did today though. My last semester towards my bachelors approaches, in approximately one week I will be done with my semester culminating my bachelors degree, Hallelujah! It is a dream come true. It is my reality. For so long I battled about completing this degree, for whatever "non-justifiable" reason I found, in other words making excuses. Truth is, we all encounter times in our lives where we have these dreams, these future goals and plans that seem so far away to us. So far at a distance, that we are to afraid to believe in them because, they are barely visible. It is almost as if these dreams will never happen, and then boom, next thing you know it your dream has become a reality. Now, I ask myself, how exactly did this transition from dream to reality occur for me?

For so long I doubted my ability to achieve this goal. I have to admit at some point I didn't even want it anymore, only because I figured I was better not having it. But in the pit of my being, there was a small, very small chunk, that I was unaware of, that still believed in me and wanted it. I had my fair share of bloopers in my life as we all do, but they are simply lessons learned. I faced some hardships and so many changes in my life that simply made it easy for me to say, "this is too tough, I must quit". I am so glad that I didn't. I thought to myself, I am better off not wanting more for now because I will not manage it. I was wrong and right at the same time. I tell you why, although that time in my life didn't necessarily feel equipped to do it, it was really up to me to make that effort to want it enough to commit to the responsibility.

Looking back, today, I realize these past two years have not been any easier but what was different? Believe me, I had plenty of "good" reasons to say, perhaps this is not my time, or I must simply leave it for later but, I didn't. I was determined to continue. Today as I examine my life, I realize that my efforts were not ineffective they paid off. My emotions weren't always in my favor, staying focused was so difficult and I found myself contemplating complacency in my life, but I stayed determined, I didn't give up.

There is a song from Rihanna that has been flooding the radio, I have to admit I am kind of hooked on it. The title of the song is "We Found Love in a Hopeless Place", what does this have to do with what I was saying earlier, you ask. See, here is the thing. I find that sometimes , this is the truth in our own world we are hopeless because of the troubles we face. According to the thesaurus, hopeless is - "bad, beyond recall, cynical, dejected, demoralized, despairing, desperate, despondent, disconsolate, discouraging, downhearted, fatal, helpless, ill-fated, impossible, impracticable, in despair, incurable, irredeemable, irreparable, past hope, pointless, sad, shot down, sinister, sunk, threatening". Sometimes we can't seem to grapple hope in such a hopeless world not to mention love in a loveless world. There have been times that I have lost hope for myself, for my own life, and for my dreams, but we must not give up on hope. As much as I wanted in the past to give up on my dreams, I am glad I didn't. Here I am almost 12 years later about to finish my degree. It took me twelve years, but I never gave up. I lost hope many times but never gave up. The same applies to any current dreams we may have. I know that it is better to give up and say it will never happen. I will never be happy, I will never achieve my dreams but this isn't true. Don't ever give up. Even I have to remind myself this. We forget how we made it to our goals once we achieve them, but glad I was able to take this moment to reflect and remember what I had to go through in life in order to get here. There were many obstacles but I am grateful because I was always given the strength to continue believing. Believe in love, find hope in a hopeless place



December 2nd, 2011

As I Sleep
By: Sophie Jones 

I can recall as a young child sharing a room w/my sister. My brother was lucky enough to have his own room. My sister and I had bunk beds and I enjoyed the view from up top. The apartment was very big and my parents bedroom seemed worlds apart from my bedroom and so when it was bedtime I often wondered if Pop would hear me scream if some one happened to get in and want to steal me. Would he hear me crying if I were having a bad dream and I needed someone to wake me up and reassure me "its only a dream, you're safe and I'm here". Oh sure, my sister was right in the bunk below me, but I didn't want her...I wanted my Dad. My Dad had an amazing gift of soothing my fears and assuring me that he wouldn't let anything bad happen to me.

What I learned later on in life, was that my wonderful Dad practically never slept. My Dad was a factory worker in Bklyn ( I say that w/so much pride...because he was a hard worker and provided for a family of 5). He would get up every day..EVERY DAY at 5 am, made himself breakfast, listened to 1010 wins, packed a snack and off he went. He went off chipper and grateful that he could provide for his family and he NEVER seemed tired. See, what Dad would do was take a nap here and there after he got home from work...but once I went to bed, Dad would sleep in stages and then he would get up and walk around...and I can remember him opening the door just to peek in on us. When he would do this, I'd ask (really scared) "who's there?" and he would answer (in a soft, calming voice) "its me, your father" and I'd go, "OK.." and go right back to sleep.

This routine continued until I eventually moved out the house...every single night my father was patrolling that big apartment and checking in on the children that slept. Now there were those nights when I really had to go to the bathroom...but the darkness was overwhelming..and I waited patiently for my father to quietly open the door and I'd say, "pa, will you take me to the bathroom?" and he'd say.."come down" and I'd run down w/a full bladder and hang on tight to his big hands. My hands almost seemed to disappear into his and when we walked to the bathroom, it didn't seem as dark, the walk didn't seem as long and I didn't seem as tired and sleepy. So I'd handle my bathroom business, thinking "how am I going to make it back to my room alone?" because in my mind, Pop went back to bed. I'd finish up and peek out and guess who was standing right by the door waiting to walk me back to my room - my Dad! He'd walk me right back, leading the way and fighting those invisible monsters and vampires (depending on which horror movie I had watched that night) and would lead me back to my room and I'd climb back up and immediately go back to sleep. I don't know what Pop did after that but I'm almost sure it was never to sleep a full 8 hrs...because he knew he had rooms to check and children that needed reassuring that he was there...watching...policing.

Sometimes, I wasn't sure if he had come by to check and I'd yell out a "Pa" and immediately he appeared...because he was sitting in a chair right by my door gazing out the window...waiting and watching. Not sure for what or whom...but he was ready!

Little did I know that my earthly Dad would be the super example of what my Heavenly Father is like. The Psalmist says in Psalms 121: "the One who watches over Israel never sleeps nor slumbers"...

My God NEVER sleeps, NEVER slumbers and NEVER lets me stumble in the darkness. And those days that I absolutely must walk through the "valley of the Shadow of Death" I absolutely don't have to fear...because when I put my hand into His, His hand is big and reassuring that my hand and my fear disappear into His hands. The darkness doesn't seems as dark, the walk doesn't seem as long and I'm not as scared or tired. Oh..and when I give a quick yell to my Heavenly Father...he absolutely shows up proving to me that He's close by and hears EVERY single cry of mine.

My Dad, Frank Valles, Pa, as we all endearingly called him was an amazing and loving Father...but my Heavenly eternally loving and even more amazing and an ever present help in my time of need...I'm glad he calls me His own.


November 9th, 2011

Beauty for Ashes…

One of my favorite Disney fairy tales has always been “Cinderella.” The classic story of rags to riches – a normal girl, called ugly by her step-mother but with her beautiful heart wooed the Prince, married him and lived happily ever after. This story gave us the idea that anything is possible and that our circumstances don’t always have to stay the same. Cinderella’s whole life changed for the better and no matter what she had gone through, it was all worth it because one day she would meet the love of her life and her rags would be exchanged for riches!

For those of us who know the story of Cinderella, we know that she wasn’t very beautiful on the outside until her fairy Godmother gave her a dress, shoes, and a new hairdo… this was always my favorite part of the story because I loved dress-up like any other girl – but what is emphasized before this point (and even afterwards) is that Cinderella had an inner beauty unlike any maiden in the kingdom… she had a beautiful heart. I’m sure that the Prince was accustomed to meeting beautiful women, he must have danced with dozens of women at that ball – but only Cinderella enticed him and he couldn’t rest until he found her again. It was her beautiful appearance that made him notice her, but it was her kind words, her meek spirit, and her good heart that made him search an entire kingdom for her.
In the original story, Cinderella always had ashes on her face and clothes, because she slept on a mat next to the fireplace. These ashes made her ugly and stained her clothes to a point beyond repair (or so she thought). In biblical times, ashes represented mourning… as the deceased were cremated and their families were only left with ashes after the ceremony. Cinderella’s birth mother had passed away, so it can be said that her ashes almost symbolized the pain she was feeling because of the loss of her mother. Through our painful experiences, and when we are hurt in life, we almost always pass through it … time goes by and we move on with our lives and whatever the pain is, is burned away… but are we left with ashes?

Isaiah 61:3 says- “the Lord will provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Yesterday, the sermon at church was about the purification of our hearts and how God wants for us to examine our hearts for impurities. It’s very easy to allow our hearts to become stained … especially when we have been hurt- you see, when we are mistreated and our hearts are caused to suffer, we are wounded in our Spirits and these wounds can lead to feelings of resentment, wrath, depression, hate, low self-worth, and insecurity. I for one am so tired of being hurt by others… I have found that when examining my own heart, I am still wounded and scarred by circumstances where others have mistreated me… so how do we find that place of cleansing our hearts of these impurities and making them beautiful again? What would have happened if Cinderella held on to all her pain and never forgave her wicked step-mother and step-sisters? Could her heart have been that beautiful for the Prince to fall so in love with her?
The only way that Cinderella was able to achieve her happiness, is when she got up, cleaned off her ashes and made a decision to go to that ball.!! It’s not always easy to clean away ashes, and Cinderella could not do this on her own – she had the help of her Fairy Godmother … and we don’t have to clean away our ashes alone either, we have Jesus!!! And it is only through his strength that we can overcome and be victorious. Many times, I am not sure that I will be able to clean out my heart and let go of the hurt I have been caused… but I know that when I am weak, my GOD is strong and he will complete his good work in me.

2 Corinthians 12: 9 says- “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me”

Cinderella was determined to not let the wounds of her past hold her back from being happily ever after… and because of her good heart – Cinderella’s misfortune was exchanged for a life of happiness, love and prosperity. She was given strength instead of fear, gladness instead of mourning, peace instead of despair … and she was given Beauty for Ashes.


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