Get to Know Us! - Sandra Sayegh

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Hi! I’m Sandra.

I was born in Cairo and raised in Houston, Texas. Even though my most beautiful, memorable, and enjoyable classes during my undergraduate studies were the ones I took for my English Literature major, I ended up going to pharmacy school because I thought that was the “responsible” thing to do.

During pharmacy school, I was concerned that I was not going to find a job that aligned with my personality and my newfound dream to help people focus on preventing disease and increasing their quality of life so they can go out and do what they were created to do!

After a small series of seemingly random events, God led me to the United States Public Health Service (USPHS): the uniformed service dedicated to disease prevention, providing assistance in the wake of natural disasters, and responding to disease outbreaks both domestic and abroad.

My 7.5 years (so far!) as an officer in the USPHS has afforded me opportunities to practice pharmacy in a federal prison, warehouses, hospitals, community shelters, emergency responses, and overseas during a disease outbreak. My current position took me to the Washington D.C. metro area where I currently reside with my lovely life-companion, Munir.

I love hiking, nature, traveling, film scores, reading, salmon sashimi, Lord of the Rings, British literature, and pretty much everything from Japan (even though I’ve never been!)

Her First Love was born out of a discovered, shared need that came up in a series of conversations amongst a group of friends.

We knew in our heart of hearts that adult women needed a place to come together to grow, laugh, connect, re-connect with the Trinity, challenge each other, express themselves, uncover more of who they truly are, and gain practical and spiritual tools to live a life that is intentional, holy, and filled with Peace.

We needed it ourselves and as we invited others along the way, it became very clear that we were not alone :)!

More than anything else, HFL is important to me for its potential to help prevent unnecessary pain and heartache in the lives of women. One of the reasons I am passionate about physical disease prevention is because of my own lifelong struggle with weight and unhealthy living.

I personally know how hard it is to try to undo years of poor nutrition and abysmal self-care, and though it still can be undone, it is much easier to prevent than to treat. The same is true for emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

I want HFL to be a place where prevention and treatment can occur simultaneously. I want HFL to be a place where women can meet and be transformed by Christ in stillness and quiet, in the Word of God and the words of His servants, in the hymns of liturgical worship and the songs of praise, and in the souls of the amazing women that come together each year.

I also want HFL to be a place where we can dive deeper into the luxurious feast that is our Orthodox faith so we can taste the richness it affords us and see that the Church has given us countless ways to develop and nourish our relationship with God.

I want every woman to know that you do not have to suffer silently or journey alone. We are your family, and we are here to pray with you and cheer you on.

We want to see you flourish and spread your wings in the Love of God…and to spread that Love to everyone around you. The world greatly needs it.

Get to Know Us! - Monica Kalleeny

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Hey! I’m Monica.

I just moved to the Tampa Bay Area about 7 months ago for a new job position I was offered. Yep, I’m a pharmacist - but not too crazy about drugs. I believe hugs and bodily care are more needed than pills.

You won’t usually catch me asking about your career; I want to hear about you, your dreams, your fears, your passion, your favorite chocolate... your skin care regimen...that sorta thing :).

If I was an animal I’d probably be a butterfly; I’m a conservative free spirit, and you’ll more than likely catch me frolicking somewhere. My hair is just as unfiltered as my personality.

I’m an extrovert who totally loves the introvert life. Some say I’m a total romantic who lives in my own bubble... I prefer to call it “Faith in His promises.” And yes girllll, there is ALWAYS a reason to smile. (Thank God :)).

How did I get involved with HFL? So, we are a group of friends (each of us SO different but still so beautifully connected) who aren’t afraid to share needs. We all decided we needed and wanted some sort of something for us women and that was it.

We went all in, and God took off with it from there. Beauty of friendship - you help each other find real solutions and encourage each other to stop dilly dallying and just DO IT. 

The First year for HFL, many (Abounas included) panicked because of the name “Her First Love.” Once we had the “this-is-not-a-sappy-cry-for-marriage... but-a-need-for-our-FIRST-LOVE-and-real-connection” talk, we were ready to roll.

Only 22 people felt safe attending our first time around, but as you can see, God really has not stopped surprising us since then. I LOVE watching how beautifully His hands plan every detail so perfectly for the women attending, each retreat.  

When my life wasn’t matching up with the “standard/assumed” chronological timeline, I realized how much encouragement, support, realness, vulnerability, realignment I needed. God allowed me to start noticing the many women around me in different walks of life who may also be feeling a similar way.

Our church history is abundantly blessed with women who left lasting impacts on their communities, their families, and the church. HFL encourages me to follow their lead, to find those women, empower them and learn from them.

I HAVE SO MANY MEMORIES of HFL! But for your sake, I will only pick one.

To the women who wrote me “encouragement cards” back in 2011, I thank you. You changed my life, my outlook on myself, and deadened my desire to “Instagram” filter my talents to appear much more Grande to the public and to myself.

I may have not thanked you then, and may have even perceived your words to be just “fluff” at the time, but the repeated messages throughout the following years began to open my eyes. You taught me that our Lord is TRULY present in all the places I may think He’s not.

When I desired to be an “Esther” or a “Coptic Beyoncé” (?? really couldn’t think of any other dramatic pop culture name), or a very intellectual revolutionist, you made me see that He lies greatly in all the gifts that I may overlook completely—like my smile, or my hugs or my super child- like ways. Thank you for seeing Him in many of my insecurities and making me thankful for the gifts I always overlooked.

 Every woman attending should know that He is WITHOUT A DOUBT offering the world something through you. Allow others to point it out to you and please believe them. Then don’t stop thanking Him.

Get to Know Us! - Laura Michael

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Hey! I'm Laura. I serve at St. Demiana in Jacksonville, FL with my husband Fr. Philopateer. I blog over at Coptic Dad & Mom.

The first time I attended an HFL Retreat I went just as a cheerleader for some women from our congregation. I had my infant son with me and barely got to attend any lectures. But just from the little moments I was able to enjoy, it was super clear to me that this retreat was an absolute must for the women of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Once my son was weaned, I got on Sandra to make sure another retreat was put on because I knew how desperately I needed it. Somehow, Sandra roped me into the committee, too. It's been the biggest honor being part of what's happening here.

HFL is a sisterhood, devoid of pretense. It's about vulnerability—being real, loving each other and worshiping God.

HFL is a chance to spend some serious, devoted quiet time with God, without all the distractions and responsibilities of home. It's my battery recharging for an entire year's worth of spiritual growth. Because it's held during Lent, it's like a jump start that pushes me into a strong Holy Week.

I want every woman attending to know you will get out of HFL exactly what you put in. If you open your heart and speak to God (and listen to Him, too!) throughout the weekend, these will be the best days of 2019 so far--and fuel for the rest of the wonderful blessings to come.

I want every woman attending to know that behind the scenes your HFL committee is praying for you and loving you and planning every detail with you in mind.

Get to Know Us! - Christina Azmy

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Hi. I’m Christina!

I’m a soon-to-be (God willing! Pray for me!) Math Education Ph.D. with the dream of teaching future teachers! I was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, some of high school and college in State College, PA, and since then have lived in Raleigh, NC – for that reason, my heart is scattered across the US and the globe. 

When I attended the very first HFL, I didn’t have any idea what to expect. The care and effort and the little details that were planned felt like it was all done specifically for me – planned by God and done through the hands of the committee. I met many women who I never would have met otherwise, and as cliché as it sounds, we really felt like family by the end of the retreat.

There are three memories I have of HFL that made the most impact on me:

  • Message of Worth - When we arrived in our rooms at the very first retreat, the mirrors were covered with encouraging messages, which I didn’t even know I needed to read and believe.

  • Heaven Song - When we sing all together, it sounds like a choir that practiced for years before. This was especially true at the very first retreat, and I often still listen to those heavenly recordings.

  • Every Soul – When I brought my mom to her first HFL retreat, the following year she took off of work (something she very, very, very rarely does) in order to attend. There is not one soul that doesn’t have a need for God’s love and presence, and I am so grateful to HFL for providing that opportunity for so-often-forgotten women.

Get to Know Us! - Helena Sakla

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Hey—I’m Helena!

I’m an Industrial Engineer working for an Electrical company as a sales engineer—whatever that means! I was born in West Virginia and grew up in the Pittsburgh, PA church.

I’m a frequent traveler and adventure seeker. My most recent trip took us to South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Avid fan of Settlers of Catan, cooking, and Harry Potter (sorry, not sorry).

 I just got involved in HFL last year. I was lucky to get to know 4 of the 5 lovely women on this committee prior to the retreat. They had such an impact on me in a very short amount of time, so it was a no brainer to go and get nourishment from where they were going.

I feel HFL is so important for women as it fills a need that women don’t even know they have. It gives us all an open, honest, and welcoming platform to share experiences of pain and joy, struggle and victory, failure and growth. It was amazing to see people experience the same things as me and to hear them articulate things I’ve felt but had not known how to explain.

One of my favorite memories of HFL was being roommates with my mom! She had never been to a retreat and time together is scarce now that I’ve moved away. I really cherished my time with her and the chance to get to see her and to grow in this environment together.

 

Get to Know Us! - Sarah Ann Iskander

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Hey! I’m Sarah.

I was born and raised in Texas and have been spoiled by the sweet southern hospitality and the incredible leadership of His Grace Bishop Youssef it provided me. I then spent six years in Tallahassee, Florida earning my pharmacy degree. I am currently completing my Master's in Counseling with an emphasis on Marriage, Couple, and Family counseling.

My dream is to be an advocate for mental health awareness in our beloved church community, to be a vessel that God uses to bring healing to past individual and family wounds, and to provide education on healthy parenting strategies and family dynamics.

I am so blessed to have served on the HFL committee from its very beginning, and I have never enjoyed a service more. Truthfully, it started out of the desperate need we as a small group of women had to have a place for women to come together that was only for us where we could understand our worth and place in God's plan and the Orthodox Church. Every year the retreat brings healing to a different part of me, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

 As a woman, I always felt like I was either a little "too much" or "not enough," but I knew God had more for us in mind. I grew passionate to find out more about this plan and facilitate this growth and healing and safety in every woman willing to listen.

My absolute favorite HFL memory was the bonfire we did our very first year. We all gathered together and vulnerably shared our deepest fears and greatest hopes. There is so much power and healing in vulnerability, and it's one of the best things about HFL.

I wish every woman knew the power they have in the gifts God gave WOMEN. We have within us the ability to bring healing to a broken world. Yet too many women also feel they are "too much" or "not enough," and this simply isn't the case when we focus on our Creator, His grace, and His power. I want every woman to know she is free to BE, and her gifts are desperately needed.