The Gift that “Grace” is

Zaqarah Grace Gahagan is my second born. She’s 4 and a half going on 12, and a pure firecracker. I remember, like it was yesterday, double and triple checking that pregnancy test.  Surely I wasn’t pregnant!! Elasia (my first born) was still nursing all. the. time.  What’s a “period” anyway?!  But after the second test I swallowed the fact – we were having ANOTHER baby.
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I felt like I was drowning in the crushing expectations of motherhood already, barely catching my breath in the mornings to charge head-long into days of the tedious demands of mothering an 8 month old. I didn’t think I was doing anything right. Anything. And here I was going to have another one.  Most of what I was feeling (which now I know was Postpartum Depression) was chemical. Things went wacky in my brain and caused me to distort reality.
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Reality: I was a pretty good first-time mom. I was tenacious with breastfeeding, even though I had to really work on that latch and Elasia had reflux. I was meticulous at filtering through all the propaganda information out there and deciding what would benefit our little family. I wasn’t a germaphobe, but kept things relatively clean and safe. Elasia seemed like she had the potential to be a happy person despite the eternal bouts of colic.
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But I didn’t see this. I would whisper prayers through tears during late night feedings, “Oh God help. Oh God help.”  Nothing theologically complicated, just the plea of a young mom whose mind had turned on her.
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Adam (my husband), who was struggling with his own expectations of what parenthood would be like versus our reality, was really amazing during this time. But that’s a whole other post in itself. He saw my deer-in-the-headlights look when we talked about this second pregnancy and did what any dreamily hot, God-fearing guy would do. He prayed. And a few days later he came to me a said something like, “Babe, I know it seems like life is crazy, but I feel like this baby is a gift. Not generically, but specifically. I feel like this baby is a reward. God sees all the details of our lives here in NYC and is telling us He’s proud of us.”
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Okay.
Thanks.
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It was a cold, hard choice to believe that. We searched and searched for the perfect name and when we found out, around 27 weeks or so, that it was a girl, we knew she would be called Zaqarah Grace – which means “God’s Gracious Reward.”
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On August 24, 2007 – from that first breath at 9:40 PM on a Friday night, she was (and continues to be) exactly that. Now, I know there are actually medical explanations for this and here’s my I’m-not-a-doctor-but-googled-it-enough-to-say-it-with-authority explanation: The post-partum hormones I experienced after Qara actually kicked my brain back in gear rather than compounding my PPD.  I felt like I snapped out of it. I had “space” for Elasia’s tantrums (as she was 17 months old then) while nursing a newborn with one hand and sweeping the floors with the other.  I still (even now) have days when I feel like a thick dark fog is threatening to swallow me, but they are so few and far between compared to what I thought was normal motherhood before Qara came.
I feel able to truly enjoy the complex creature that Elasia is. I look at her and see a phenomenal world-changing girl who kids will read about in their history books one day…probably. Instead of seeing a tornado of chaos, I (usually) see two sisters enjoying each other and discovering the world together.
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Besides the science, I can’t help but see Divine fingerprints in this. It’s like He heard my midnight cries and saw all those tears and gave me a “life-saver”: a baby who would nurse/gain weight just fine. Who would grow to be a toddler with PERFECT comedic timing and lots of hugs to spare. Who liked to smush her face on my cheek just because.  Who had an infectious belly-laugh and a spritely little nature.
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…Who would cause me to have a heart attack at LEAST once a week because of her fearlessness at the playground… who might not revolutionize nations in the same way her sister would, but will, nonetheless, with her own uniquely endearing charm.
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I was given “grace” in the form of an unexpected/unplanned baby.
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Dictionary definition says it so well – each definition seems so specific to what her birth brought into my life:
grace (grs)
n.
1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement.
3. A sense of fitness or propriety.
4. a. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
b. Mercy; clemency.
5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
6. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.
7. a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
c. An excellence or power granted by God
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I was also given grace on that Sunday morning in 1996, when my eyes were opened to the fact that, even though I was an enemy of God’s, Christ gave himself sacrificially to pay my ransom, and to give me the credit for his perfect life, even though my life was in shambles. I shook my fist at God. He reached into my rebellious heart and transformed me. I only desired things that would ruin me, yet the Monday after that transforming day, I had an inexplicable desire to learn how to talk to God and to read His word. Grace.
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Accordingly to this definition of grace above (so rich!), I’m actually given this gift daily. It’s easy to notice it in the positive: every breath, smile, giggle, sticky kiss. But it’s a present that comes in painful wrapping paper sometimes too. Every tear-streaked story I pour out to my husband at the end of a mommy “fail” day, ends up leaving me with the quiet realization that God is more committed to my children than I am and He can/will use my mistakes just as much as what I think are my “right choices” to mold them into the women He’s created them to become.  Grace.
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When I lose my way, when I don’t recognize the grace I’m given – even in the moment – I’m thankful for my curly-haired, bright-eyed little reminder. I was helpless and needed to be rescued. I thought my problem was only getting worse with an unplanned pregnancy. But it was God’s beautiful rescue plan. And it was only a shadow of his ultimate rescue plan: through death and resurrection of Christ, we can truly live.
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I’m enjoying a fast paced life with my two beauties (who are now almost 6 and 4.5), and because we are weeks away from meeting our third princess (due April 2nd), all of life seems to be revolving around preparation for our newest addition. But I still need to be reminded:  I don’t have to drown in this thing called “motherhood”. There is a gift of Grace just waiting to be unwrapped right in front of me.
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Iron Lady

Remember how amazing Meryl Streep was playing Julia Child in Julie & Julia? Well, her performance was comparable, if not MORE amazing, playing Margaret Thatcher in the recent docudrama, The Iron Lady. And that is pretty much the sole reason I recommend seeing this film. The rest of the acting was also very well done, and the story itself does get moderate applause from this movie-goer. However, if you’re not into politics or history like I am, you may find it a touch boring. That said, SEE IT for Ms. Streep’s performance. I mean, she did win the Golden Globe for Best Actress for this role.

The story is told via flashbacks from the perspective of the modern, elderly Margaret Thatcher who suffers from a bit of dementia and hallucinations. Projecting the Margaret Thatcher legacy through cinematic flashbacks didn’t thrill me at first, and didn’t leave me with the impression of having been particularly entertained, but as I reflected on it, I appreciated it. Here’s why.

Historical “fact” often includes the bias of the historian. Many people did not like Margaret Thatcher’s politics, and therefore did not like Margaret Thatcher the woman. Some described her as cold, emotionless, heartless, and having surpassed the toughness of a man. Truly, her career and policies may serve as evidence to such descriptions. “Iron Lady” is indeed her acquired nickname for a reason, and that is the legacy this film focused on. But no person is completely void of emotion. The flashback perspective allowed for the story to be told through her memory, her experience, and so there was some humanity projected into it, which I think is probably more accurate, and certainly more relatable to a broad audience.

The film sort of rushed through her entire life (well, her career, mainly), and it was primarily showing how hated she was. Sure, every politician will have her opponents, but when you’re in office for 10+ years in a democratic system, you’ve gotta be doing something right. Not only that, but this woman is incredibly inspiring, as her remarkable ascension to Prime Minister was an historical feat. The daughter of sort of a “nobody” small business owner, she was by no means handed her political career on a silver platter, and became the very first woman to lead a major Western democracy. That’s kind of a big deal. While this movie did not necessarily ignore this fact, it certainly didn’t capitalize on it either.

Admittedly, I had high hopes for a story that was a bit more inspiring, and perhaps one that might unveil more of the human side of Baroness Thatcher. But, The Iron Lady stayed true to its title, was brilliantly acted, and hopefully will be widely viewed and compel more people to research the rest of her story. That said, I still recommend seeing it, if only once.

1. Theater-worthy! See it!
2. Definitely rent it
3. Stream it on Netflix, if you must.
4. Don’t even bother

God’s Unconditional Love

A few years ago, I signed up to received a “daily meditation” emailed to me from the Henri Nouwen Society. This Society takes excerpts from Nouwen’s old books, and forms these simple, sometimes deep, yet always profound meditations. From time to time, I will share these with you all. I believe that they will encourage you, whether it be a simple truth, or a challenge to us as women! With that said, enjoy this first devotional! It came yesterday on February 5, 2012.

Henri Nouwen Society, Daily Meditation from Sunday, February 5, 2012: “What can we say about God’s love? We can say that God’s love is unconditional. God does not say, “I love you, if…” There are no ifs in God’s heart. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God’s love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. Does that mean that God does not care what we do or say? No, because God’s love wouldn’t be real if God didn’t care. To love without condition does not mean to love without concern. God desires to enter relationship with us and wants us to love God in return. Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.”

Personally, I always need a reminder that there is nothing I can do that will make God love me more. The mere fact that He came a couple thousand years ago to finish His work on the cross, tells us that there is nothing we did in the past to make Him perform that amazing act of Love for us and the entire world. Rather, He knew we were a helpless race, and that we needed to be rescued. Let us reflect today, and be grateful to the One who gives us love without condition.

Photo Credit

A Handmade Scarf Collection

It’s no secret scarves are my favorite accessory.  I would wear them year round if they didn’t make me feel like I’d overheat, but I really enjoy wearing them in the winter.  Not only do they keep me cozy, but they can instantly change an outfit. Here’s a collection of handmade scarves I’ve been admiring.

(1) Mocha & Lace by Cotton Lane (2) Crazy Cowl Chain by Craftee McGee (3) Crochet Mustard Infinity Scarf by Strawberry Country (4) Veronica Cowl by She Makes Hats (5) Infinity Scarf in Winter Gray Ooh Baby Designs (6) Goldenrod Infinity Scarf aPearantly Sew (7) Moss Green Infinity Scarf Moriah Makes (8) Red Jersey Scarf Stacy Lynn

“Let Love Rain”

Valentines day is one of my favorite holidays (I love the color scheme, hearts, chocolates, baby cupids, sparkles, gift exchanging, crafty valentines cards, and of course my husband). Many of my friends, especially the single ladies, find it to be one of the harder days of the year. The older we get the more I long for everyone I know to be in love, no matter the day.

Each new year, I find myself trying to decide what to do for a Valentines art show. I usually show my work in restaurants, coffee shops, or, as is the case this year, a flower shop.

I set out to do a mini series about lovers under umbrellas, entitled “Let Love Rain”. I painted the first half of the couple, a woman, and then sketched out a man next to her. However, as it happens, he just didn’t fit into the picture. This got me thinking about my single friends. The mini series that flowed from my paintbrush still says, “Let Love Rain,” but not just on the lovers; may love rain on my wonderful single friends as well!

This February 14th I not only want to show my husband I love him (though he will be half way across the country on Valentines day), I want to remember my four (dearest) friends who are waiting for love to rain down on their lives.

Friend 1. Waiting for Love
She wants you to know that she is worth waiting for. When the time is right she will be ready.

Friend 2. Ready for Love
She is sophisticated and beautiful, seemingly fine without having a lover, and yet she is putting herself “out there,” so to speak, and waiting for rain; looking and hoping for someone to come along beside her.

Friend 3. Rush of Love
If you have ever been in love you remember the exciting start where you could feel it coming… like wind rushing around you (the smell of rain). There is nothing like it…when you find that someone who might be the one.

Friend 4. Reflection of Love
We see our reflection in the water on the ground, and realize that the storm is over. She must move on hoping that soon “the perfect fit” will come along.

Let’s hope it rains this Valentine’s day (for everyone)

Xoxox Lydia (Lahstudios)

How to Watch Movies: Why I Will Never Be a Film Executive

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The first movie I ever cried at was The Lion King. The moment when Mufasa died was the first moment I remember putting myself into a character’s shoes, and pictured losing my dad.

Last week, I saw the Oscar-nominated film, The Descendants. Silent tears leaked out as I felt the hypothetical, unfathomable depth of sorrow, torment, and pain of losing my spouse.

Nothing has changed in these experiences, except my ability to recognize the nuances of these films.

When I was a young high-schooler I had a couple girlfriends who I spent a lot of time with. We had many sleepovers, late night talks, and watched a lot of movies together. We watched movies like One Fine Day, Singin’ in the Rain, and other Gene Kelly musicals. In other words, happy movies. I remember a conversation with them, in particular, where they said they didn’t like watching movies that made them sad. I didn’t necessarily share this same view, but could not articulate it quite yet.

Fast forward a couple years and I had been hanging out with a different group of people. This group contained my current best girlfriend and my future husband. In other words, we were kindred spirits. I was hanging out with people who, at a young age, were searching for things with deeper meaning. We were a group of young cinema lovers who watched a film almost every time we were together. They forced me to watch horror films that terrified and thrilled me at the same time. The girls made the guys watch romantic movies which lead us to some meaningful conversations about love and human relationships. At that time (like most of us), I had far fewer responsibilities than in my adult life. I would often be up alone at 2 am watching black and white films from the Golden Age of cinema on TCM. These films, along with the cinematic escapades of my friends, shaped my worldview and my psyche. I was very aware of the influence that Alfred Hitchcock had on the horror/mystery genre (or all film for that matter), or that Abbot and Costello and the Three Stooges had on comedy.

In recent years I have been studying film and am planning a career in film composing. I am a musician who writes music to tell a story and evoke emotion in the viewer. I wish I could say that after my years of study I am an expert who can look at a work with objectivity, but I cannot. I still watch movies like Letters to Juliet, which was widely considered a cheap, sappy romance, and love every minute. I watched that film twice in the theater and felt no guilt. On the other hand, I watch artsy, esoteric films like, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Brick, and Moon and completely love them as well.

Where is the line between the two?

How does my mood, location, and position in life affect my relationship to the art I consume?

These are questions I constantly ask myself. Because of my lack of equal temperament toward film, I have determined that I could never be a film executive making decisions for the market, or discerning what success means. I have not lived any part of my life yet where I can be objective toward this art form. I’m happy not being the one signing the checks and placing a monetary value on movies. I am much happier making them and enjoying them.

I freely accept and admit that my emotions dictate my love for film. I enjoy them much more because of this. Just give me a glass of chardonnay and the Notebook, and all will be right in my world.

My personal shelf of guilty-pleasure movies includes/but is not limited to:

The Jerk, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, Night at the Roxbury, Adventures in Babysitting, and The Game Plan

What’s on your list?

Burden of Love

Nothing could have prepared me for this journey. When my husband Joel got the call to take on the project it had been a dream come true. We knew God had been leading us in the direction of documentary filmmaking but we didn’t know the path would take us into a story on child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

I remember the cold, rainy day we started looking through the hours of footage. We huddled up in front of the computer with coffee and got to work, anticipation buzzing in our chests. It didn’t take long to forget the excitement, studying the faces of the girls, listening to their stories. And it did something. It broke something down inside of us that will never be repaired. A cloud crept in and settled over us. We began to feel isolated and disillusioned.

It is so easy to go on in this life without being affected by the pain and injustice that preys on the weak across the earth. It’s so easy. Working on “The Pink Room” gave me my first taste of losing my appetite for this life. My first taste of setting down my fork at dinner, unable to take another bite. Unable to get their faces out of my head. Suddenly every little girl had become those girls. My nieces, my neighbors, the little girl in the shopping cart in front of me at the grocery store. I could see them locked in a dark room, waiting for the torture and abuse that was sure to come.

I was overcome and weighted down, and I thought it was the “attack of the enemy”. Now I can see it for what it really was: truth. There is a burden that comes with truth and it’s not fun or easy to carry. The bubble gets burst and once we’ve seen, we can’t erase it. Once we’ve heard, we can’t forget. The images won’t leave me as long as I live. Because I am those girls, I am anyone who is hurting. It is natural and healthy on a spiritual level to grieve the brokenness of our fragile world.

It’s true that I have longed for the days of ignorant bliss, where my most raw revelation was finding my hamster dead in its cage. But honestly, I don’t think I would go back. I watch the blind go about their day, their concerns, and worry. I don’t want those tedious burdens anymore. Love requires sacrifice and it is a sacrifice to give my heart to the victims of injustice, to choose to remember them, to let its reality be a part of who I am.

What it has allowed me to see is beauty. We cannot ever truly appreciate beauty where there is no ugliness. We cannot genuinely savor peace where there is no unrest. We cannot fully celebrate justice where there is no injustice. We cannot ever learn what is honestly good until we have seen real evil.

I can worship our God in a way that I couldn’t before, I can praise Him and thank Him to a depth I hadn’t known existed. My perspective on everything has changed: on myself, on my faith, on the world. If I have learned anything, it is that I am not special. It could be me in that brothel. It could be my daughter. No one is immune to this fallen world. But it has ironically brought me a joy that I have never known. It has planted itself within me and it too, will never leave.

To find out more about the documentary “The Pink Room”, visit thepinkroommovie.com.

Monterey Clam Chowder

Editor’s Note: I thought it fitting for our first recipe post, during the mid-winter time, to be something warm, hearty and delicious! With that said, I would like to introduce my dear friend, Noelle. She grew up in Pacific Grove, CA, where she was surrounded by amazing sea food and clam chowder! Shortly after she and her husband moved to Portland, Oregon, Noelle started a food blog, called Portland Palates. She is so good at blogging and gives step by step instructions (with photos). Noelle recently made her 100th post! This post is particularly special because it is the food of her hometown… Monterey Clam Chowder! Below is a portion of her 100th post. To get the full recipe, you can click on the link below. Enjoy!

Everyone who grew up on the Monterey Peninsula knows about Old Fisherman’s Wharf and it’s clam chowder debate. I don’t think there’s much debate really. You should visit for yourself and decide for free! After about 11am nearly a dozen of the restaurants on the Wharf post their staff outside (giving out samples) with a large pot of “their chowder” enticing you in. It’s practically lunch to try them all.

It didn’t always used to be this way.

Old Fisherman’s Grotto used to be the only one. You know the one. Right past the candy store on the left hand side. It was my favorite part as a kid. First, there was the dancing monkey and his owner that never seemed to age. Immortal entertainment. Then as you entered the Wharf, you could smell the taffy and fudge. EVERY kid went in. And EVERY kid wanted to work there when they grew up. Then, right when you thought you’d had enough sweets there was Old Man Grotto… or one of the workers, pouring you a sampling of chowder in a styrofoam cup. It was perfectly hot, smoky, clammy, not too many potatoes, just salty enough. I remember trying to get my tongue to the very bottom of the cup, desperately getting every last drop. I learned that if I chewed off the top part of the cup (making it smaller) I could actually reach it.

It’s still no contest. They make the best. Hands down.

And guess what? I found the acclaimed recipe. I just had to try it to see if it’s what I knew as the best…

CLICK HERE for full Clam Chowder recipe!

Photo Credit

War Horse

If you’re like me, you love going to the movie theater. Buying the tickets, smelling the popcorn, finding the perfect seat in a huge theater, seeing the previews, and then the feature film on the enormous screen; it’s an event that I always look forward to. American cinema is a favorite among pastimes, and has had tremendous influence over cultural changes and trends over the past century in this great nation.
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I do a bit of acting myself, and enjoy knowing all the “behind-the-scenes” stuff.  My husband is also getting into film scoring, so music in movies is always a highlighted part of my movie-going experience. I appreciate all the work that goes into making a film, and love to see how creativity can bring a story to life and touch people so deeply…or not. As much as I thoroughly enjoy films, I also can’t help but be aware of the messages they project into our culture. They give images that tell us what is beautiful and what is not, what’s funny, what’s acceptable, what’s admirable, noble, who/what we should aspire to be like. As a Christian, I think these things are interesting to observe and important to be aware of. My movie reviews may include a few of these observations. Now you’ve been warned. =)
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First up:
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War Horse
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1. Theater-worthy! See it!
2. Definitely rent it.
3. Stream it on Netflix, if you must.
4. Don’t even bother.
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(Warning: spoiler alert)
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Directed by Steven Spielberg, this is basically an inspirational film about a beautiful thoroughbred horse (“Joey”) and a teenage boy who has a special bond with him. The horse gets sold to a soldier heading into the Great War (WWI), and subsequently wins the hearts of several compassionate souls throughout the war. The boy, however, calling Joey his “soulmate”, is determined to reclaim his horse and bring him home safe and sound. The movie takes its viewers through that journey which is just dripping with cinematic drama.
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Visually, the film reminded me a lot of Gone with the Wind. Lots of unbelievable sunsets with barren fields, war-torn soldiers and smoke-filled skies. Lots of very dramatic, even drawn out, intense scenes, romantic and tragic, really set this film apart from any other you’d normally see in theaters these days. Because of that, some loved it and thought it award-worthy. Some didn’t love it, and thought it was over-the-top, confusing, and unbelievable – like me.
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At one point, the friend who was with me watching this film leaned over and said, “Ok, so the target audience for this film is 12-year-old girls.” Not long after that, two young soldiers were being shot for cowardice, and then there was a gruesome scene where the horse was entangled in barbed wire and being basically ripped to shreds. It was devastating, horrifying, and definitely no longer a “film for 12-year-old girls”. I couldn’t figure out who the target audience was.
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Then there was the issue of the horse being portrayed as much more important than the humans. Ok, I like animals. I have a dog that I adore a little too much, and I think horses are absolutely amazing creatures put on this planet by God. That said, I was shaking my head in the scene where the dozens of wounded and dying soldiers were abandoned by the medic who decided to tend to the injured horse instead. And by the end of the film, no human character had been developed enough for us to really care about them. At one point I caught myself thinking, “Oh sad, another person bites the dust. But who cares? The horse is still alive!” What disappointed me the most, though, was that the horse wasn’t even heroic. It didn’t save anyone (unless you count its attachment to its other war horse “friend”) or help win the war. It’s more like people were giving their lives for the horse. It seemed like the value of life was a tad bit mixed up. So, to be totally honest, I wasn’t quite sure what was supposed to be particularly “inspirational” about this film. And the whole “soulmate” tie between the boy and the horse was kinda creepy in my my opinion.
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Something I did love about the film was the moment when two soldiers who were supposed to be enemies came together to help free the horse from the barbed wire. It was a particularly powerful scene. The soldiers abandoned their differences and united to save a life rather than being divided and taking lives. I also applauded the portrayal of bravery throughout the film. To not let fear determine whether or not you will fight for what you believe in is courage, a quality to be highly commended.
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Even a Cup of Cold Water

In 2011 many of us were inspired by best-selling book and hit movie, The Help. Whether it was Kathryn Stockett’s written masterpiece that captivated you or Viola Davis and Emma Stone’s brilliant portrayals of Abileen and Skeeter in the summer blockbuster, one way or another it seems like everyone loved The Help. As I reflect on the story line, I can’t seem to shake one very important quote, “Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.” This of course was the advice the publishing company gave Skeeter that inspired her to write about the way maids were treated in her community. It’s exceptional advice applicable not only to any writer but to anyone willing to make a difference in their community.

For me it forces an essential internal conversation. In the broken world we live in today, what disturbs me? What injustices speak closely to my heart? And perhaps most importantly, what am I going to do about them? As Christian women, we are called to action. It’s not enough to hear stories of struggle and see the faces of pain and simply empathize with people. We are blessed by the Father with endless gifts, talents, and resources that can help those in need, let’s use them! 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in various forms.” Can you sew? Sew cute baby clothes for the local crisis pregnancy center. Are you the queen of couponing? Help stock the shelves of your local food bank. Are you the proud owner of an amazing dog? Volunteer your time and puppy to read with underprivileged kids at a local community center. Be creative.

If you have a passion for something, it’s likely that God has given you some gift that could be a light of His love to others. Matthew 10:42 says, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Even a cup of cold water. Take time to think about what you can give to those in need in your community. Let’s share out of the overflow of our hearts with others, with the ones whose causes breed outrage in our minds the most. Because after all, while we were still sinners, dead in our transgressions, we had a Savior willing to take up our cause, willing to die on the cross for our sins. Not because we deserved it, but because of His great love. So today let’s decide to love others with our gifts and talents, because our Creator and Savior first loved us.

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