Sunday, January 19, 2014

Best of Beauty 2013





















The "best of beauty tag" has been floating around YouTube as the new year is here. The tag looks back at the best beauty products of the past year. My amazing friend Emily and I decided to collaborate and do the tag together! We are going to answer the questions together by looking at my favorite drugstore products of the year, and Emily's favorite high end products of the year!

Primer

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: Rimmel's Fix and Perfect 002 ( $6 )





















The fix and perfect is by far my favorite drugstore primer. It is a white creamy primer that goes on clear. It fills in pores and leaves your skin matte! I don't wear primer often (because I'm not prone to oily skin) but when I do, I'm always grabbing for this one.

Emily's High End Pick: Benefit PoreFessional ( $30 )















I am honestly not a big fan of primer. They usually break me out and I really don't like the texture. I only use primer when I am going to a special event or being photographed frequently. This one however, does not break me out but I imagine that may be because I use it so infrequently. 

Foundation

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: L'Oreal True Match Lumi + Olay total effects CC cream ( $13 + $20)





















I've been loving the Lumi foundation all year long, but recently wanted to try out Olay's CC cream (they have TWO cc creams...the one with the twists in it is also nice but very sheer and most people hate it...I like it for when I'm going out and need SPF) I LOVE the cc cream that is "a moisturizer with touch of foundation" it's pigmented like a foundation in my opinion BUT it only comes in one shade and there it is a tad dark for me...so I decided to add in my favorite lighter Lumi foundation and I found the perfect match!


Emily's High End Pick: It! Cosmetics CC cream (high coverage, acts like a foundation.) ( $38)





















I have recently stopped breaking out (thank God!) but now have those pesky red marks. So I need the coverage of a foundation but also the "color correcting" properties of a CC cream. It is also cruelty free and paraben free which I greatly appreciate!

Concealer

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: Sonia Kashuk "Hidden Agenda 02" ( $10 )




















This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE concealer! I have a lot of hyper pigmentation and this cream concealer covers every imperfection. It includes (from top left to bottom right) a darker colored concealer, a powder, a light concealer color, and a green color. As you can see I use the lighter concealer color and have hit pan. I sometimes mix it with the darker color in the summer to match me. I never use the green or the powder but will repurchase a million times over just for that lighter concealer color.

Emily's High End Pick: MAC Studio Finish for face and MAC ProLongWear for under eye (not pictured).  ( $18 + $19 )






















MAC cosmetics is a brand that sometimes, you just cannot get away from. Their products are high quality (minus testing on animals! :( ) and highly pigmented, made well to do its job. Also, it is very important (unless you want creases around your eyes like Miley Cyrus in her Wrecking ball video) to identify that some concealer are made specifically for face or undereye! A face concealer with cake, cause creasing and dry out the eye area making you look tired and aged. I didn't know this for a long time and I wish I had!

Powder

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: e.l.f high definition translucent powder ( $6 )





















I love this finely milled translucent setting powder. I always gravitate towards translucent as opposed to colored powders and this one is perfect! Does the job and leaves my skin and foundation looking natural!

Emily's High End Pick: Alima Pure Finishing Powder in 'Keiko' ( $20 )





















When I purchased my first mineralized skin finish, I was thinking "why did it take me so long to find this product?!" It's amazing pigmentation makes it almost a powdered foundation without being drying or cakey. However, when I started to use more cruelty free and better quality ingredients in my makeup, I discovered Alima Pure and I will never go back! It has all the qualities of MAC but made with only three ingredients (and cruelty free of course!)

Bronzer

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: NYC bronzer in "Sunny" ( $3 )


















My go to bronzer. I love bronzers, but this is the one I use most frequently. I love to use it to warm up the face! The color is gorgeous and subtle and totally matte. And for about 3 bucks, it's a STEAL.

Emily's High End Pick: Tarte "Park Ave Princess" ( $29 )




















Bronzer is also another product that I use scarcely but I like this one! It has just the right amount of shimmer and bronze. I use it to warm up my face rather than contouring because of the shimmer. 

Blush

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: e.l.f.'s "Pink Passion" and "Luminoso" by Milani ( $3  +  $8 )


The photo on the top is the e.l.f. blush in "Pink Passion". It looks scary in the packaging - hot pink! But it is SO beautiful on the cheeks. A perfect "just came in from playing out in the cold" kind of flush to the cheeks. I also find it to be very, very similar in color to "Doll Face" from Tarte when it's on the cheeks. 

The Milani blush "Luminoso" is a favorite among beauty gurus and I agree! It is THE PERFECT natural peach color. If you want a beautiful natural "no make up make up" kind of look, get this blush!

Emily's High End Pick: "Hot Mama" by The Balm and Tarte's "Dollface" ( $20 + $26 )










































I most frequently use Hot Mama because it doubles as a highlighter, if a product saves me a step and time, I'm a fan! It reminds me of NARS blush in Orgasm but a little bit cheaper. Tarte's Dollface blush is the perfect pink and buildable which I really like!

Highlighter

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: e.l.f. baked blush in "Peachy Cheeky" ( $3 )
















I hardly ever use a highlighter so this is actually the only one I own...and it isn't even really a highlighter. It's an e.l.f. baked blush, but it's super light and frosty and I have used it a few times as a highlight. It's beautiful and very shimmery!

Emily's High End Pick: Bare Essentials Mineral Powder in "Jade" ( $24 )





















Bare Essentials came out with this product before they were sold to another cosmetics company and they made in jumbo size! I am not sure if they still carry this shade but it is perfect for me. Pink, silver or too much gold in a highlighter washes me out. This highlighter has a green hue, hence the name Jade and is perfect for my skin tone.


Eye Shadow

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: Wet'n'wild "Walking on Egg Shells ( $ 3 )





















I rarely wear anything but mascara on my eyes but when I do I keep it natural looking and this palette is PERFECT. Wet'n'Wild eyeshadows are super pigmented and beautiful silky quality.


Emily's High End Pick: Urban Decay Naked 2 ( $52 )

















Need I say more? Perfect all neutral colors (12!) I have only bought one eyeshadow since I bought this palette and that is because I don't need anymore, this has everything! 

Mascara

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: Maybeline Falsies ( $ 7 )



















This year I found the falsies flared and I LOVE IT. It has a smooth formula that lengthens and separates my lashes nicely. Be warned that this mascara is very wet and takes a minute to dry, but I don't mind that at all :)

Emily's High End Pick: Alima Pure Mascara ( $24 )

















This mascara was like a rare gem that I discovered! I had been looking for a natural mascara and used to love Dr. Hauschka but it would run like crazy. This mascara does run a little but by the end of the day but I consider it worth it for the quality of ingredients. 


Lip Balm/Chapstick

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain in "Honey" ( $9 )

















I found this lip balm stain in the latter half of the year but it quickly turned into my go to lip products. The color is gorgeous - very "my lips but better" which is perfect for the kind of looks I like to put together. The balm is smooth and the stain lasts a good while!

Emily's High End Pick: Weleda Everon Lipbalm ( $ 6 )

















Last year, I had an awful reaction to a toothpaste that made my lips really dry and cracked. This was a savior for my lips. I would put it on overnight and wake up with my lips feeling smooth and hydrated.  There is a very light buttery scent that enjoy and I appreciate the all natural ingredients! 

Skin Care

Amanda's Drugstore Pick: While I was pregnant I stopped using most skin care products because I was conscious of what I was using on my skin that could be absorbed into my body, so I only used water and once or twice a week I used an Alba marine enzyme scrub that I loved! Since the baby has been born I also fell in love with african black soap and use that pretty much exclusively the last half of the year and currently use it! And the best part about it, is that it's fair trade. (And though you have to order it online, it has a drugstore price at $10 for a nice sized bottle!)





















Emily's High End Pick: I would try to explain my skin type in a general format but the fact is, is my skin is not general. In fact, it may be exception and not in the kind. Before I went to college, I never washed my face, moisturized, did nothing and maybe got a pimple a YEAR. However, when I went to college, I realized quickly that my skin reacted strongly to stress, gluten, soy and dairy. Long story short, I break out in an almost instant when any of those things are present so I consider my skin type dry, sensitive, and prone to breakouts. Through years (almost 3) I have found some things that work for me as well as a balanced diet free of my triggers. All by Simply Divine "You Can't Zit Here!", Rosewater Toner, and Skincredible serum (acts as a moisturizer for me as well.) For extra exfoliation, I use the "Dr. Sponge" which is a sponge made of Konjac-mannan which is a plant fiber made to naturally exfoliate and nourish the skin. It is incredible, effective and gentle.






Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reflections on Communion - My Baby

Communion is special to me. I have always felt so connected to the gospel story when I receive that sacred sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.

So it was fitting that the week I found out I was pregnant, it was communion Sunday. I was filled with emotion as I received that communion. The body and blood of Christ, this very special eucharist meal, was nourishing this body - my body. It was giving me life, and in turn, it was being passed to my child. I see communion in very physical terms. It is deeply spiritual, but it is also physical for me. So as my body ingested communion that day, I cried, knowing that as this food literally sustains me, it helps my body grow this precious life. I was able to pass that beautiful gift of communion onto my son before he even left my body. I continued to receive communion throughout my pregnancy and it was a cherished time for me. 

Last Sunday was the first Sunday Henry was outside of my womb and in Church on a communion Sunday. I held him close. This moment was special to me. I knew it was special for my husband as well, and he asked to hold him as we walked up to receive the sacraments, but I selfishly shook my head. "I want him this time." I whispered. He can hold him during communion any other time, but this first one - this one is special for me. It was the first time he was really here with us, receiving communion as a family. We had shared that together, just the two of us, for so long and now he would  get to expeiece it with the Church. We walked up and after I received each element, the pastor put her hand on my sweet baby's head and said "Henry, this is the body of Christ broken for you," and the intern next to her proclaimed "Henry, this is the blood of Christ shed for you." It was a beautiful moment I will always hold dear to my heart.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Moments

Last year I participated in One Word 365 in picking one word for the year. Last year my word was "Generous"Their website (oneword365.com) says it best:

"Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.
It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your word will shape you and your year. It will guide your decisions and help you grow. Discover the big impact one word can make. One word. 365 days. A changed life."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last few months of last year, as my sweet son has come into our lives, I have been bombarded with the word "moment". Live in the moment. Cherish this moment. This moment won't last forever. Last year it took a while for me to pick my "one word" but this year the word seemed to pick me. 

My sweet baby boy is now almost 10 weeks old as I write this. In those first few weeks of his life I was utterly exhausted (No surprise right? Sleep deprivation is the inevitable christening of parenthood). Those midnight feedings...oh God...they were hell to me. Saying that I love sleeping is an understatement. I freaking LOVE to sleep. I use to tell people I'd be totally happy if I could sleep all the time and just dream about the real world. My bed was my happy place. I love sleep. And my son had other plans. Henry nursed every single hour for the first 3 weeks of his life. And the next few weeks it was every hour and a half. And then every 2 hours, and finally at almost 10 weeks old, he has stretched his feedings out to every 3 hours. If you would have told me a year ago that I would REJOICE over only having to wake up every 3 hours I would have laughed at you. I knew a new baby would wake up to fed at night...but...I had no idea it was like THIS. I am beyond elated right now that (for now) my son wakes up at 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30. But this is not what I want to write about.


In those early days of nursing every hour, I was angry.  I was angry at my baby. I was so desperate for sleep that after feeding at 1:00am, when 2:00 would roll around and he would be screaming, I would get so close to his face and I would shush and shush and shush and say "Please go to sleep, please go to sleep. I just want to sleep" over and over. Wes would often "rescue" me and without a word, just take him out of my arms and leave the room. Motherhood is hard. Sometimes we do things and think things we wish we didn't. And I am sad that I wasted so much time trying to shush my boy. 


I have followed Megan Tietz over at SortaCrunchy for several years now, and picked up her book "Spirit-Led Parenting" when I found out I was pregnant. During those tough first weeks I opened up her book and read the chapter on sleep. The words that Megan and co-author Laura wrote spoke straight to my heart.




"In truth, our roles as parents do not end in late evening and pick up again when the sun rises. The way we parent our children at night is just as crucial to their development as the way we parent in the day time hours." 
"...could I possibly conceive of the idea that these moments alone in the dark and quiet at night were a gift from [God]?...Rather than viewing these little interruptions at night as exhausting drudgery and empty sacrifice, perhaps I could use them as pockets of solitude and prayer and scripture meditation...The nights that once held heartache now held the promise of peace and the comfort of communion with [God]." 
"...these new baby days (and nights) do not last forever, and there is more rest just around the corner... and there is a part of you that will someday miss sitting in your cozy recliner in the nighttime stillness with a baby snuggled up in your arms...you may find yourself drawing your little one just a bit closer to you in that big chair, thanking God for the gift of that moment."

I began to challenge myself in those awful midnight feedings. Instead of dreading them - being on Facebook while I nursed my baby, trying to pass the time quickly, I began to stop and pray. Staring at his sweet face, noticing that his eyelashes are growing. Seeing a milk-drunk sleep smile as he unlatches. Thanking God for this beautiful boy, thanking God for this moment that I have with him. I will never have this moment, right here, ever again. In this little routine of midnight feedings, with just one small change in my thinking, I have actually begun to enjoy these times. And so now those moments I use to hate have become moments I love and hold dear to my heart. 


I have a song that I sing to Henry almost every day. It's a song from the 70's that my sister found when I was pregnant. "This song is for Henry!" she told me as she showed me this video. And it is. The words are simple and sweet: "If I had words to make a day for you, I'd sing you a morning golden and new. I would make this day last for all time, give you a night deep in moonshine" The whole song repeats this refrain. I've been singing this song to him since before he was born, and it is the perfect reminder to me to cherish these moments. 


Warning: this song is epically 70's. I sing it to him in a much more acoustic and folksy way ;)

So for this year I want to focus on the moments. Not only to be present in the sweet and easy day time moments but to cherish the ones I don't even yet realize are moments I won't want to forget (like the way he may wake up crying, but I'm the one who knows exactly how to comfort my child and make him feel so loved).  


So my one word is MOMENTS. And I don't want to miss a single one. 


Henry after nursing in the middle of the night.





Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Henry Wayne - Our Birth Story

This is my birth story. A sacred journey. A hard and laborious journey. A joyous journey. Our story.

To start at the beginning, we had decided pretty early on in the pregnancy to use midwives and have the baby at the Princeton/Plainsboro hospital. Throughout the pregnancy and going to our prenatal visits and birthing classes, we fell in love with our midwife group. They were 4 wonderful women whose only goal was to care for you and empower you to do whatever you wanted to and to help educate you in those decisions. They were all so warm and caring and made us both feel so comfortable.

I was pretty flexible in what I wanted for the labor and delivery: I knew I wanted to try to have the baby unmedicated, but I was also not opposed to an epidural if I felt I needed one. For that reason, Wes and I discussed creating a code word, that only he and I knew, that meant "I'm not joking around, I want an epidural." and we asked in our written birth plan that no nurses offer it to me - I would let them know if I wanted one. Our code word was "Barry Bonds" cause…you know…he cheated by taking steroids… ;)

I went to sleep friday night Oct. 25th smiling at Wes. I said to him "Our baby is coming soon!" (as I had lost the mucus plug 2 days earlier) but I had no idea it would be early that next morning. A few nights before I went into labor I remember pondering the impending birth. I felt an incredible sense of peace and calmness about labor and delivery. "Maybe I'm just naive," I kept telling Wes "But I don't feel scared or nervous about this. I just feel so much peace around me."

At 3:00am I woke to my water breaking. I rushed to the bathroom and yelled "Wes! I'm pretty sure my water just broke!!" "It did?!" He said half asleep. I got our midwife group on the phone and Ursula was on call at that time. "Do you have contractions?" she asked. "Not yet." "Well, try to get a few hours of sleep and call back when your contractions start. You need your energy!"

I got about an hour of sleep before my contractions started at 4:00am. They were very mild at that point so I nudged Wes "Hey…my contractions started…but go back to sleep." (I knew I needed him to have energy to help me when they started getting difficult.) I rested but timed my contractions for 2 hours before waking Wes up. At that point the contractions were still very manageable but I needed help timing them. They were roughly 8 minutes a part lasting for 45 seconds and as the time went on became very inconsistent. 5 minutes a part, 8 minutes a part, 10 minutes a part, 6…ect. We were told by our midwives throughout the pregnancy to wait until the contractions were 5 minutes a part lasting for a minute for 2 hours before coming into the hospital - they are big advocates that you are most comfortable in your home so to stay there as long as possible if you want a natural birth.

Soon after my 6:00am contractions, I tried laboring in different rooms and in different positions but eventually found my sweet spot: I labored a good 8 hours in our master bathroom. I stacked all our pillows up and leaned over it with my arms crossed to lay my head on, and was on my knees. We called it my "birthing fort".

The Birthing Fort

At each contraction, I swayed back and forth and instinctually made tonal sounds to get through the contractions (Wes said later that he considered recording the sounds because he said "they sounded pretty" and later, after my boy was born, I whispered to him "I sang you out") with each contraction getting stronger I would tell myself that each one would bring me closer to my baby. It was actually quite amazing, because at times I could actually feel my baby wiggle and move into position. We were doing this together. It is such a beautiful miracle that my body and my baby know what to do. I just had to trust both.

Wes was a phenomenal partner for me during labor, and I have never felt closer to him. He would sweetly guide me through each contraction. At this point from about 10:30am - 12:00pm the contractions were 5 minutes a part lasting for a minute so he knew as he was keeping track of them what the time frame would be. He would gently tell me at the 30 second mark "Okay, you are half way done, you can do this," and as it neared the minute mark he would say "You are almost done. Do you feel it trailing off? It's fading away now…" Our rhythm and routine of getting through these contractions made it easy to cope, even though the pain was increasing. Around 12:00pm the contractions started to become inconsistent again ranging from 3 minutes a part to 8 minutes a part but mostly 5 minutes a part so I had Wes call our midwife (Carolyn was now the midwife on call) and told her the timing of the contractions and that we were thinking about heading to the hospital because the pain was increasing to where it was almost unbearable. "Well…" she said "If your goal is an unmedicated birth I'd really like her to stay there longer…until they are 3 minutes a part consistently. Why don't you try getting into your bath and see if that helps."

I had heard over and over again that for the first birth, you should expect to labor for 24 hours, and I had known several recent births that went 30+ hours. I kept thinking to myself "If I get to the hospital and I am only a few centimeters dilated, I really want an epidural" if only for endurance sake. I was coping well, but at that point I had only been in labor for 9 hours. I couldn't imagine twice or three times as long.

I wasn't particularly happy about hearing that she wanted me to stay home longer, as the pain was increasing, but Wes drew me a bath as I worked through a few more contractions. I got into the tub and after a few minutes the next contraction came…and I NEEDED TO PUSH. I actually had to stop my body from pushing because it instinctually starting bearing down. "Uhhh Wes…I think I have to push." Wide eyed he said "DON'T DO THAT!" I had another contraction with same feeling of needing to push. Wes called the midwife and told her about my urge to push. "Why don't you just come on down then." she said. As I started to get out of the bath I said our code word. "Wes, I'm Barry Bondsing it right now. If she checks me and I'm only 4 centimeters, I want an epidural." "Ok…" Wes said. Though he says now he didn't believe me. I had labored through contractions for 9 hours peacefully at home, and we were now headed off to the hospital.

Yeah…Barry Bonds….

At 1:00pm we arrived. After some difficulties getting registered in at the hospital, finally at 1:30pm my midwife arrived. She had me lay on the hospital bed to check my dilation. "Amanda..." she said, "You are fully dilated" My eyes got big. "I am?!" "Yep, you are 10cm, station 2 and I feel your baby. You don't have to breathe through your contractions anymore. You can push any time you want." I was able to push when I wanted, as many times as my body felt like it needed to, and hold it as long as my body wanted to. The midwife trusted my body, and so did I.

Carolyn, our midwife, was so wonderful! Her words were so encouraging, telling me that each push was moving my baby closer. She would shout "beautiful!" at my pushes, and it made me feel like I was so powerful!

My baby and I worked together, and I pushed for an hour before my sweet boy was born at 2:48pm. 11 hours after my contractions started. They put him immediately on me, skin to skin. I had my eyes closed as I pushed that last push, so for a minute after they laid him on me I still had them closed, just feeling him in my arms. I opened them and saw those sweet eyes looking up at me. "Hi, baby." I whispered to him over and over again. I also kept looking at Wes and saying "I did it!" it utter disbelief. Henry barely cried when he came out, he really just grunted and whimpered, which he still does now at 5 week old. I was able to have Henry on my chest for 45 minutes, and many of the newborn procedures were done while I held him.

My birth was such a beautiful experience. I knew I wanted to try to have him naturally, but in the back of my head I was never sure of myself. But I did it. We did it. All three of us. My birth has changed me in ways I still can't articulate. I felt empowered and confident. I was able to let go of the fear of child birth, and see that it is the best pain I could ever go through. It was perfect. And it was the best day of my life.



My sweet boy


Henry Wayne Ellis 7lbs 10oz 19.75in

The day we were released from the hospital




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Child

If you don't already know,. I am pregnant. And being pregnant, for me, is one of the best things I've ever been able to experience. As hard as pregnancy can be (and mine has had some rough patches so far) there is more joy and wonder than anything. And I would endure it forever for this baby.

I asked a friend of mine who was over due at the time, what it was like. "It's like waiting to see the face of your best friend." And being 25 weeks pregnant, I feel the same. This child has become a part of me. He is a friend I have yet to meet. I don't know anything about him, but I love him more than I have loved anything in this world. How can that even happen?! I have never seen him, and yet I would give my life for him.

My child,
I love you.
Before you have done anything.
Before your ups and downs
and before mine.
I love you.
Nothing could ever take it away,
because it was here before you even began.
I love you,
My child. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Be Generous

Last year I followed Megan over at SortaCrunchy pick "one word" to guide her year instead of a traditional new years resolution. She is doing it again this year with the word "serve", and so is my friend Alyssa over at All Things Beautiful picking the word "seek".


If you haven't heard of picking a word for 2013  but want to, you still have time! It's actually something that quite a few people are doing. And by now you might have given up on those resolutions you made a month ago anyway, so join with me! It's a wonderful way to focus on one positive thing you want to be this year. Their website (oneword365.com) says it best:

"Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.
It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your word will shape you and your year. It will guide your decisions and help you grow. Discover the big impact one word can make.
One word. 365 days. A changed life."


Now look, I know it's February, but I spent most of December and January thinking about what word I wanted to use and nothing felt right! Then all of the sudden it came like a gentle whisper:  "Be generous".



I desperately want to be more generous, but it's going to have to be a conscious decision each day. I know this is a problem area for me, as I hold so tightly to money. Money sucks, okay?! It comes with anxiety and depression. People often judge you on how you spend your money.  I KNOW it's hard for me, and I tend to beat myself up saying "Stop being so controlling." and "Stop being so consumed with money." But I think I need to stop telling myself what NOT to do, and start saying the positive:  "Be generous". It's so much more freeing to see the beauty of what can be, rather than the ugly of what has been done.

I just don't want money to rule me anymore. I want to see a need and feel freedom in faith that if I meet the need of someone else, I will still be taken care of too. I guess that's what it comes down to. I'm afraid I won't be taken care of. I've put my own well being over someone else, without faith that God won't let me fall.

What would my life look like if I just stopped being so afraid?

I'm not saying be frivolous with money. No, we still need to be responsible adults! But what would it look like if we started actually budgeting and allowed a "generous" fund? Putting aside a fraction a month and seeing where it takes us.

Now, when I say I want to be generous, I'm not just talking monetarily, but that's a big one for me. I want to be generous by being intentional. Being generous with my time when I notice my neighbor is having a bad day and just needs to talk. Generous with my food, by making a meal for a friend whose having a hard week. I just want to have a giving heart. An open heart. A seeking heart.

I use to pray a prayer almost every day in high school that went like this:

"Open my eyes, my ears and my heart to the needs of those around me, and may I meet those needs as best as I can. "

What if I started praying this again each day when I woke up? Would it change the way I saw the events of my day? Probably! I can't see how it would make it worse. When we center ourselves each day and point ourselves in a certain direction, it will subconsciously guide us. Our hearts will be more aware of the opportunities to carry out what we want to do and be.

Trust me, this is not easy! I've literally had to say to myself "Be more generous" in situations where I would normally clutch tightly to my wallet or my watch. But I want to try. I want to try to be generous this year. Will you join me in this journey?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Going Forward

1) Pray the "needs" prayer when I wake up in the morning. "Open my eyes, my ears and my heart to the needs of those around me, and may I meet those needs as best as I can. "

2) Write the word "generous" all over my house! As many reminders as possible (Mirror, fridge, door).

3) Start budgeting in envelopes, Dave Ramsey style, and have an envelope titled "be generous."

4) Listen to the prayer requests at church each Sunday and pick one that I feel drawn to and imagine how it would look to be generous in that situation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting Involved With Church Ministry

We just starting attending a church here in New Jersey a couple of months ago. We had tried several churches since we moved here in August, but they just didn't feel right. We would leave each church saying "Eh...that was good, but something is missing." They weren't bad churches, in fact many were wonderful, thriving churches! But we just kept feeling like there was somewhere else we needed to try. That is until we set foot in Kingston United Methodist Church. The style of liturgy reminded us of home, and there was such a welcoming atmosphere. After the service we both looked at each other in the car and said "Alight. That was really great!" We decided that day to visit KUMC every other week and try a new church in between, but that didn't happen because the second time we visited I knew I didn't want to miss another Sunday.

(As a side note let me just say this: I sound a bit giddy about this church, and I do have wonderful things to say about it, but look, no church is perfect and neither is this one. But the difference is that this is a church we want to struggle alongside with.)

We attended regularly for a couple of months and then quickly started getting involved. We both joined the Christmas Choir, read scripture and I was recruited to help with an alternative gift project for the holiday season. As soon as we began to volunteer, we started feeling more and more "at home". We started making connections with people - the same people we had been quietly sitting alongside during that one hour on Sunday morning. I started to know their names and their hearts. Getting involved helps foster community with people you wouldn't normally be around.

I want to write about this because it is deeply important for me to see people get involved with a church they like, ASAP. I'm pretty passionate about it. Once you've reached that point where you've gone several times and you KNOW that this is where you want to be - DO SOMETHING. I say this because I've personally been involved in ministry at every church I've been at. I see the difference it makes in my life and in the lives of those around me when we reach outside that comfort zone for just a moment, to find our place in the church, bringing God's kingdom close like a kiss.

Of course you can also do wonderful work outside a church community, but there is something so special about sharing life and passions with those you are sharing a space with every week. Becoming involved with the ministries of the church can keep us from being church "consumers". It can help us see that yes, going on Sunday can be nourishing to the soul...but what if it isn't all that nourishing one week. What if it's really boring!? What if the music sucks?! When you have allowed yourself to become a part of something bigger than yourself, you will begin to see the church less as something to obtain or to consume, but more as a place where you are challenged and encouraged to reach outward. It feels good to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

There are SO MANY ways to be a part of a church. Generally the "bigger" ministries are listed on a bulletin each week, or on the church website (usually these include children's, youth, young adult, adult and choir ministries). But these are not the only ways to get involved! Whatever your passion is, THERE IS A PLACE FOR YOU. Getting involved with a ministry can help you find and strengthen those passions. As I started to volunteer at KUMC, the pastor came up to me and thanked me, saying that the skills and talents I had were not his. I was able to bless the church in a unique way. Being a part of the church has made me feel good to be me - the me that I was created to be. It has made me feel confident and caring, loving and kind. You need to know this: you are valuable to the church. Whatever your passion is, however you are being intrinsically you, is needed. It's a place you can be exactly who you are and a place you SHOULD be exactly who you are.

That is the bottom line - this is why you should get involved: we need you. Not for free volunteer labor, but we need YOU. Everything you are. Your passions are unique, your talents, everything you are, good and bad, are exactly what is missing in our ministries. You are precious. You are valuable. You are beautiful. You are loved. Our lives are missing something valuable when you are not sharing life and love with us.

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Going Forward:

- Talk to your pastor to see what ministries are available at your church. Take time to pray over them and see where you feel most lead.

- If you aren't sure of your passions, try taking a strengths test. If you enjoy personality tests as much as I do, this is just a fun way to see what your gifts might be! (Note that none of these will outright tell you that you should volunteer in youth ministry, or with the choir, or behind the scenes doing office work. It's just a guide to see your strengths from a different perspective)

  • This link here is for a general strengths aptitude test. For example, my results were "Optimism", "Faith" and "Focus".
  • This link here is for a spiritual gifts test. (It says "take our test for free" in the grey box in the left corner) For example, my results were "Mercy", "Faith" and "Discernment".
  • This link here is geared more towards teenagers and is very short and a bit more narrowed in the questions. My results were "Encouragement", "Giving" and "Hospitality".
-  Dream big! All passions can be used in the church, even if they seem small. Take a look at your passions for art, crafts, sewing, finance, cooking, board games, reading, writing, music, or dance - and dream about how they can by used to bring God's Kingdom to earth.