Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflections on "The Passion of the Christ"

Last night, I watched Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ" with some friends after praying the Stations of the Cross. I'd seen this movie twice before, although it had been 3 or 4 years since my last viewing of it. When I watched it last night, it moved me deeply ~ I think it touched me more profoundly, more powerfully than ever before. I came to new realizations and deeper understandings of some things, such as the Eucharist, which I won't elaborate on right now, as I'm still processing them in my heart. But bottom line, last night this movie impacted me to the core.

I recommend that you watch "The Passion" this Lenten season ~ and when you do so, really watch it. Let the significance of Christ's passion and death seep into your soul. Recognize the extraordinary way in which God Himself took on the punishment of your sins. Find hope in the fact that by His death, you have life. Let the bloody reality of Christ's sufferings move you ~ and they will.

Pray through the movie as you watch it. I was squeezing my rosary through the whole thing, as well as frequently talking to Jesus and Mary.

Pray after you watch the movie. When we finished, my roommate and I immediately went to the adoration chapel to pray. Then this morning, I went to Mass, confession, and adoration again. If you are moved as much as I was, you'll crave nothing but prayer and the sacraments for a little while.

Lent is a season of penance and of meditating on Christ's passion as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection at Easter. Watching "The Passion of the Christ" is a great way to enter into deep, heartfelt reflection on His passion and death.

Just to warn you, it will be an emotionally draining experience, and I know some people will have a harder time with it than others. But watch the movie anyways, humbly and prayerfully. It will move you in deep, powerful ways.

I'll leave you with a poem I wrote after my first time watching "The Passion," back in 2010. Forgive the somewhat childish sound of this poem ~ it is from five years ago! While the movie touched me in different ways this time around, the ways in which it moved me back when I wrote this poem are certainly still relevant and important.

It Should Have Been Me
Written by Stephanie in March 2010
God sent you here, Jesus
To die for our sin.
This you did willingly,
To God’s will you gave in.
You did not deserve it—
To suffer and die.
The one up on that cross
Should have been I.
All the blood that you shed
Should have been mine.
The scourging, the thorn crown—
They should have been mine.
To think how you suffered
And endured such torment—
I know that that should have
Been my punishment.
You did nothing evil;
It was I who sinned.
Like a dog you were treated
To die as you did.
I thank you for dying
For me on the cross,
So that I might be saved
From paying that cost.
Have a blessed Lent!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

{Midweek Musings} 2.25.15


Listening: to Birdy's album "Fire Within." I love, love, love her voice and her songs.

Reading: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics for my philosophy class. The human good is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. Deep stuff, right? I love it.

Wearing: a black and white tribal-ish printed sundress, a black cardigan, and black, bejeweled sandals.

Eating/drinking: I just finished a smoothie with strawberry, orange, pineapple, and mango. It was quite yummy and refreshing.

Feeling: like it's Friday. For real, today feels like Friday. But alas, it's only Wednesday...

Creating: a heart-shaped photo collage on the wall of my dorm room. Actually, I just finished it last night ~ I'm quite proud of it!

Planning: how I'm going to tackle all the catch-up work I need to get done before the start of spring break next Friday. About that!....

Striving: to be a more disciplined student. That's one of my Lenten resolutions, if you will. I'm trying to grow in self-discipline, especially when it comes to school, in hopes that my discipline will extend to other areas of my life as well.

How's your week going so far?

Happy Wednesday, friends!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

{D.R. Mission Trip} Part 3: Fun with the Kids

Hello everyone! Thanks for reading my series on my mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I hope you're enjoying it so far! Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them!

Each day after working around the compound, we girls were free to go outside and play with all the kids. Usually, the kids had also just finished a day of work, either having spent the day doing chores or attending school. Despite the long day they had just finished, their energy was endless when we went out to play with them!

The NPH kids really spent the majority of their free time playing outside. Only occasionally did some of the older kids stay cooped up inside watching movies. For the most part, these kids preferred running around and playing games outdoors ~ and they were always eager for us to join them.

Outside on the grounds they had a basketball court, a volleyball net, picnic tables, seesaws, and play structures available for use, along with dozens of basketballs, volleyballs, soccer balls, and other toys. Sometimes we would play big group games of volleyball or kickball, which kids (older and younger) as well as volunteers participated in.  Those were always great games because they are easy and fun, they could get large numbers of kids involved, and the only communication needed was cheering and high-fives.

Monkey-in-the-middle and catch were popular games among some of younger school-aged kids. On several different occasions, a friend and I spent a good couple hours playing such games with a small group of just one to three kids. I think the relatively undivided attention in these cases made those few kids feel special.

A favorite pastime among all the age groups was dancing ~ and let me tell you, all of those kids had some moves! Our first full day with them happened to be the twelve-year anniversary of NPH Dominican Republic, and to celebrate, they threw a big party that lasted the whole day. And a large portion of the day was spent dancing! They blasted a combination of Spanish and English songs over loud speakers while the kids danced away, and we happily joined in. It was quite a fun day, especially for the kids.

For as much fun as we all had with these precious children, sometimes I couldn't help but be pained by the language barrier. The only Spanish I know consists of whatever I retained from the one semester of beginner Spanish I took a year or so ago. And the majority of the NPH kids didn't know any English (although some of the older kids knew some basics).

I was able to tell the kids my name, my age, that I liked something, and other basic information in Spanish. I could ask them how they were doing, where someone or something was, and some other basic questions. But beyond these simple, conversational phrases, I was pretty much unable to converse with the kids. There were so many times when I wanted to say or ask them something, but I couldn't. Thankfully, two girls in our group were fluent Spanish speakers, and they frequently acted as translators, which helped the rest of us immensely! However, I still found myself wishing that I could hold a real conversation with the kids, and get to know them more personally.

Even with the language barrier though, we girls and the kids were still able to communicate ~ in a different, more special way. We conversed and got to know each other in an unspoken language. Despite the fact that I spoke hardly any Spanish and the kids barely knew English, I was still able to play games with them, dance with them, give them piggyback rides. They could grab me by the hand and show me something, and I could smile and clap in response. I could sit at the table with them and we could enjoy lunch together.

All of these human interactions don't always require spoken communication. They can be shared and understood by people of any tongue. The fact that the kids and I couldn't communicate verbally didn't always matter. Laughter, smiling, and play really are universal languages. With them, it's possible to exchange love and joy with people regardless of what language you speak.

This unspoken communication allowed us to connect with these beautiful children and create joyful memories with them that I won't soon forget.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

{D.R. Mission Trip} Part 2: Self-sacrifice

Each day of our mission trip, we girls would get up, after a long, restful night's sleep, for breakfast at 8am. Then by 9am, we would disperse, heading off to various jobs, ready to put in a hard day's work around the compound at NPH.

some of the NPH kids
My group was spending the week with Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (or NPH), an amazing organization with locations throughout South and Central America that provides homes for underprivileged children. Most kids who are taken in by NPH have lost one or both of their parents, and come from hard financial situations. At NPH, children are raised in a solid, wholesome, loving environment: they live in houses, go to school, do chores, attend Mass, and play outside. They have live-in "tias" in each house who serve as the mother of the house. Many long-term volunteers, who stay for 1-2 years, and short-term volunteers like my group come to play with and serve them. NPH kids really are well taken care of, and my group was so pleased to work with such a wonderful organization.

Our work around the compound each day usually consisted of odd jobs that the NPH workers needed help with, such as organizing the storage area, sorting beans in the kitchen, and painting garbage cans. I, along with several others in my group, spent my work days helping on the farm. We would work hard from 9am until noon, then have a couple hours to eat lunch and rest, and then head back out for another couple hours of work.

Our various farm jobs included planting rows of vegetables, weeding the gardens (which resulted in several fire ant bites for many of us...darn things), scrubbing the greenhouse, and picking up trash scattered around the fields. One day we moved a large pile of compost about 10 feet over from its original spot (in order to keep the compost moving) ~ all that shoveling and wheelbarrow-pushing definitely had us all sore the next day!

the silhouette of NPH's chapel at sunset
By the end of each work day, which usually came around 3 or 4pm, we were always sweaty, caked in dirt, and pretty well exhausted. The farm work was physically taxing, what with all the shoveling, squatting, bending, and pushing of wheelbarrows piled high with compost. Not to mention the sunny, 80-some degree conditions we were working in.

There were times during the work day when, as I heaved one wheelbarrow-full of dirt after another, I feared I had no strength or energy left. I was hot. I was sore. My arms were giving out. I just wanted to be done, to go take a shower, to lay down and cool off.

But in the middle of one of those work days, a thought struck me: no one said mission trips are supposed to be fun.

There I was, sulking inside, wishing I could stop doing all this tedious, tiring work and just go relax. But that wasn't the point of my being there, was it?

The point of my being there was to work. To give of myself, my time, my energy, my heart. The point was for me to serve those at NPH, not for them to serve me. I wasn't on vacation. I was on a mission trip. And again, no one said mission trips are supposed to be "fun."

But that doesn't mean mission trips aren't fulfilling. In fact, mission work is extraordinarily satisfying, but in a different way ~ a deeper, less fleeting way. It fulfills and satisfies you deep in your soul, in a way that only self-sacrifice can.

So while the hard work may have robbed me of all my energy, and while I may not have felt like doing it, I had to keep in mind the purpose of my trip. I had to push past my discomforts and remember that I was there doing this work for the children, for the organization, for God.

Forgetting yourself and working solely for the good of others, hard as it is to do, is the beautiful, sacrificial purpose of mission work.

And that is what makes it worthwhile.

To be continued in Dominican Republic Mission Trip, Part 3 //

Sunday, February 8, 2015

{D.R. Mission Trip} Part 1: Surrendering

On January 4, 2015, I cut my Christmas break a week short to travel to a foreign country to do something I'd never done: mission work.

overlooking the water + the Dominican Republic
I bid home goodbye after a short and sweet two-week stay, and flew back down to my college in Florida. There I caught a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport, along with 11 other girls, at 4:00am on January 5. After a quick flight, we landed, eagerness in our eyes, in the sunny Dominican Republic.

My mind wandered as I looked out the window before we exited the airplane, and as we soaked in our first taste of the country's culture in the airport. I wondered what the place would be like, how fun the kids would be, what kind of experiences were in store for us. I didn't fully know what to expect. And for me, that was kind of scary and kind of exciting at the same time.

Now, to let you in on a secret: I was panicking before this trip. I'll be the first to admit it. And I was panicking mainly about getting sick. Several weeks before the trip, we were all vaccinated for typhoid, and we also had the option of receiving malaria medication (which I did not take). We were also given brochures that informed us of the risks and details of some horrible viruses that are transmitted either by mosquitoes, or from person to person ~ viruses that cause you to fall terribly, miserably ill for weeks.

These brochures listed proactive recommendations that would reduce the risk of catching such viruses, all of which I frantically followed. I bought all unscented body care products ~ I even purchased baby shampoo + body wash because it was the only fragrance free stuff I could find. I packed my suitcase full of jeans, neutral-colored capris, and dark t-shirts to wear in a place that would be 90 degrees and sunny every day. I stocked up on vitamin C drops and other immune system boosters to (obsessively) take while I was still home and while on the trip. All because I was paranoid that I would get sick there.

Not only was I worried about mosquitoes and viruses, I also was not ready to leave home quite yet. Being the homebody that I am, and given that, before Christmas break, I'd only been home for 4 days in 4 months (I came home once that semester, for my quick Thanksgiving break), it was hard for me to leave after only two weeks. My precious time at home with my dear family and friends was being cut short by an entire week because of this trip. My heartache over having to leave so soon, combined with my paranoia about sickness, culminated in a breakdown the night before my departure.

Several days before my trip, I had texted my dear roommate, relaying to her my anxieties and asking for prayers. And being the inspiring person that she is, she texted me back with this message (which I hope she doesn't mind my sharing on here):

"Now now, don't panic. You are on a mission trip. Don't you think God will protect his brave little missionary to the orphans? You are going to have the time of your life, I promise! Mission trips are always so life-changing. The devil always tries to scare us and make us dread them beforehand, at least in my experience. But I will definitely pray for you, dear."

She was absolutely right. I think the devil definitely was trying to get me before I left ~ trying to make me dread the trip, or not want to go, or even to drop out at the last minute. He knew I was about to go serve God and His children in an extraordinary way, and he wanted to stop it.

our guest house at NPH Dominican Republic
Back when I applied for this mission trip, I actually applied for multiple trips in different countries and at different times. I recall that I didn't care too much about how I ranked my preferences on the application. I just knew I felt called to go on a mission trip, so I narrowed it down to four options and let God do the deciding. I had no idea which trip I would be picked for, or if I would even be selected at all. I just left it up to God ~ I would be good with whatever He decided.

And He chose me for this trip ~ in the Dominican Republic, over Christmas break, working with children. And He chose me for this trip for a reason. I reflected on this thought, as well as my roommate's words to me, before going to bed on our first night in the D.R. And then, I let go. I decided to just trust in God and His plan, and to surrender everything to him ~ even the possibility of getting sick. I decided be brave and to make the most of the trip, leaving my anxieties in God's hands.

I resisted the devil's attempts to sabotage my spirits and my outlook. I "let go and let God," so that I could soak up every ounce of what He had in store for this trip (even if it included catching a virus). Surrendering to God like that was, and always is, a hard thing for me to do. But I made my best effort.

And guess what? There wasn't a mosquito to be found the whole trip long.

To be continued in D.R. Mission Trip, Part 2 // 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Hello friends! Welcome to my new blog!

Some of you maybe remember me and my high school blogging endeavors with the blog, "Random Reflections of a Young Writer." If so: hello again! For those of you who are new or never knew of my old blog: hi and welcome!

It's been quite a while since I blogged (2.5 years or so). But in recent months, especially after becoming an avid reader of several lovely blogs (please check out my list of recommended blogs!), I've been inspired to reenter the blogosphere. So after a few weeks of pondering and planning, I'm ready to launch my new blog!

Rather than totally starting from scratch, I decided to revamp my old blog and use it as the foundation for a new one. I saved my favorite posts from "Random Reflections" (they are all available in my blog archive), cleaned up and redesigned everything, and called my new blog "Vita Bellissima," which is Latin for "most beautiful life."

I hope to fill this blog with my reflections, musings, life snippets, and experiences, for the purposes of: sharing my life and heart with others; keeping friends and family up to date on my life happenings; and spreading God's love and joy to others. My blog posts will mostly revolve around these themes:
~  God: I'd love to share some of the ways God has worked or is working in my life; things He's taught me over recent months and years; and my joys and struggles on this earthly journey to Him.
~  Life: I hope to share some of my thoughts, reflections, and ideas on life in general, including the hard stuff and the fun stuff. Anything from practical tips, to fun topics like movies, to (hopefully) uplifting reflections on real-life hardships and issues.
~ Adventure: As a wannabe world traveler, I'd love to make travel a big theme on my blog. I hope to write about my handful of past travel adventures, and share others with you as they happen.

Really I'm open to writing on any range of topics under those broad categories, so we'll see what I come up with as I go! More than anything, my goal is to share my real self and my real life with you, in hopes of spreading joy and love to those who read my blog.

a photo from my mission trip
For my first posts, I plan to write a series of posts on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic that I went on in January. So keep a look out for that in the coming days and weeks! In the meantime, please check out my about page and other places around the blog!

I hope you'll join me on this new blogging adventure!

God bless you,

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