Prune (the verb, not the noun)

I hear the best time to prune roses is in the early spring. (To prune is to trim a tree, shrub, or bush by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth). Most people are hesitant to make the cuts, but not my Dad. Growing up in Florida, our winters didn’t reach bone-numbing temperatures, but when a January night would threaten to drop below 30, he would cover our rose bushes with blankets to protect them. They didn’t bloom much during the winter, but he knew the beauty they were capable of, so he shielded them from the biting, cold air anyway. Then in the first signs of spring, it was time to trim. Dad would be in the rose bush, carefully examining and cutting the stems. All it takes to know where to cut is a close inspection. A healthy stem is identified by a pure, white center. Dead stem, snip. Damaged stem, snip. Any stem that crowded or crossed over the center of the bush, snip, snip, snip. The right kind of cut is essential to a healthy, flowering rose bush. Throughout the summer and early fall, the roses never ceased to bloom. But winter would inevitably arrive again like a bad memory and the roses would numbly endure, covered in faded blankets from our linen closet.

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Cell Phone Etiquette in the U.S.

As a child, my mother and father tried to teach me to have good manners. Some examples of good manners were things like saying “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, listening when my parents were talking to me, and being on time for dinner. If ever I exhibited bad manners, there would likely be a consequence. Perhaps your parents tried to teach you good manners, too.

Manners are the set of rules that a society agrees are polite and acceptable. There are manners, also called etiquette, for many types of situations: how to eat properly at a fancy dinner, how to speak politely to your grandparents, how to act on a date, and even how to use your cell phone.

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Helping Others

I had to stop and marvel at my friends from China and Japan. They worked hard ripping out walls, brick and tile in homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. They listened intently to the homeowners’ stories around the water dispenser. I thought about how much it meant to me and the Americans they were helping that people from other countries cared enough to come help.

Serving is a beautiful thing! When someone is willing to step into another person’s community, country or culture to serve them, it breaks down barriers. It replaces them with trust and hope. It also encourages those who have been helped to go and help others. It has a multiplying effect.

Not only does it help others when you serve, it helps you more than you expect. It aids you in understanding and integrating into the community you are serving. That is super valuable, especially if you are an international student!

So you want to participate in community service while in the U.S., but you might have questions…

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Eating Healthy

“Would you like fries with that?” is a common question when ordering fast food. This question is coined by McDonald’s. You may have noticed there are plenty of fast food restaurants to choose from here in the U.S. Maybe you’ve gained a few extra pounds or needed to purchase bigger pants. It’s very easy to gain weight if you don’t make good choices. The word “healthy” is a buzzword nowadays as people have varying opinions about what it means to be healthy. Whether it’s to count your calories, to go vegan or vegetarian, purchase organic or non-gmo, eat a paleo diet, and the list goes on. While you know that you shouldn’t eat fast food every day, it is helpful to think through eating and health, so that you’re not just obsessing about weight.

Food can be fuel
Like gas is to a car, so is food to the body. What we eat and drink can fuel our metabolism and either slow it down, or accelerate it and help it function the way it’s supposed to. If we put diesel in a car instead of gas, it won’t run. Similarly, if we eat processed foods and drinks that are high in sugar and lots of preservatives our body may still run, but not as easily. Read the labels on your food. If there are things in the ingredient list you or your American friend can’t pronounce, it’s best to put it back on the shelf. If you’re able to, shop at a farmer’s market, a place where you can purchase local produce and meat. Food should energize you and give you a boost.

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Peace in the Storm

Peace can be hard to find in today’s world of school, social media, friends, family and other obligations. According to a recent study, over 61% of college students reported anxiety or depression as one of their major health concerns. But you don’t need me to tell you that anxiety and depression are real issues; you’re international college students – you already know! The question is, how can we possibly find peace in such a chaotic world?

I don’t know what chaos you’re facing today but I can tell you a story about how I found peace in this chaotic world so that you who are searching might be able to find peace as well.

I was a sophomore in college and had struggled with depression my whole life. It hung over me like a dark storm cloud. I couldn’t outrun it, no matter how hard I tried – talking to friends, reaching out to parents, seeing counselors – nothing brought relief from the storm. I believed in God and that he supposedly loved me but I couldn’t help thinking:

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Love and Fool’s Gold

My dad, sister and I mined for gold in Dahlonega, Georgia when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I knew that gold existed, but in the middle of the dirt and mud, I couldn’t see it. When the gold would poke through the dirt we would jump up and down and revel in how beautiful and sparkly the pieces were, even when some were only “fool’s gold”. “Fool’s gold” is a slang term for Pyrite, a mineral that bears a striking resemblance to gold, but isn’t the real thing. My sister and I didn’t care that it wasn’t all “real gold”. The “fool’s gold” was the most beautiful thing in the dirt and muck and it was in our sifters. How incredible! What made it even more breathtaking was the sun shining and reflecting off the little jagged glints and pieces.

I believe love on this Earth between a man and a woman to be “fool’s gold”. After all, isn’t that what we are? Fools? We stumble around nearsighted and faithless, and then God shines His glory on us until we light up and sparkle. “Fool’s gold” isn’t real gold, but through similar traits, it gives us a glimpse of the real thing. Only God can give real love, the kind of love that never disappoints, knows no limits and surpasses all expectations (Romans 8:37-39). He gave this sacrifice of love, ultimately, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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