On Making Hoboken Feel Like Home

My first 4th of July in NYC, the weekend I moved to Hoboken.

Nick and me at Maxwell Pier on my first 4th of July in Hoboken.

This summer marks my fourth year living in Hoboken.

It is hard to believe I’ve been here over 1460 days already. This is the longest I have lived in one area since my high school days. I used to hate change, but after half of my life being filled with it, it has become harder to settle in somewhere and embrace a place as home. My tendency is to always look towards the horizon and wonder what is next. This year, people we love who have been here since the beginning of my time in Hoboken are beginning to move. God is calling them elsewhere. After years of always leaving, it is strange to be the one who stays.

Four years ago, I quit the best job I’ve ever had and left a community I loved dearly to move here for the same reasons most people move to the New York City area: I had big dreams and wanted to chase them. I wanted to pursue my own glory. (Oh, and also because I fell in love!)

I have had a love/hate relationship with New York. She is wildly exciting, but she is also ruthless and exhausting.

Being a part of a different kind of faith community during this time has pushed me to consider bigger questions. What if God doesn’t care about how I get my paycheck? What if His dream for me is to build relationships, be the best kind of friend, and make an impact in my community? What if my living in Hoboken has nothing to do with me at all, but instead how God wants to work through me?

God has used living here to shatter my heart, expose my brokenness, and increase my reliance on Him. Through both my marriage and everyday experiences, God has exposed the ugliness and self-centeredness of my pride. While I was making progress with this realization, my trip to Uganda highlighted it even further. In the middle of a Hillsong United concert last fall about a month after I returned from Africa, God interrupted my worship experience in a powerful way. As we sang:

“Break my heart / for what breaks yours / everything I am / for Your kingdom’s cause / as I walk from earth to eternity”

I broke down and began to weep as I wrestled with God and the state of my heart and wrote these words:

It’s easier to love people in Uganda because the risk of rejection and humiliation is so much less. It’s easier because they are so open to the gospel. They recognize their brokenness, their need for Jesus, their need for hope, the need for all things to be made new. It’s harder to love New York because it is my every day reality. I have to live with the consequences of rejection, of being an alien in my own town.

I want to love bigger, to love boldly, to throw off others’ expectations and run after things that matter.

I’m getting to the point where nothing else matters but the gospel. I want to spend every day being a part of putting what’s broken back together. I want to be a part of Gods renewing work and crazy love full time, not in my free time, not on the weekends. But I don’t know what that looks like yet.

I think God used Bob to invite me to Africa to help me get a better grasp on His utter vastness. He is present here in New York City and in Gulu, Uganda. He is not different, He remains the same. He loves me, and He loves you, and he loves the women of the Restore Safe House and the children of Restore Leadership Academy. The difference lies is our availability and willingness to let him in. In this part of the United States, most of us lack for nothing. We push down our demons, we stifle our need for community and our need for help.

The truth is we share are more alike than we are different.

It is becoming clear to me that there are certain lies I have believed that have been coloring my experience of living in this area. The stereotype of New York City is that everyone here is has come for the pursuit of money, power, and fame. People will stab each other in the back and trample each other in order to get to the top. What I’m finally realizing is that while there may be plenty who are like that, most of the people I have met are actually not like that at all. My Dinner Group reminds me of this as we meet together week after week and share our joys and struggles. Meeting up with other Hoboken Bloggers reminds me of this as we share ideas and a common passion for writing and local business.

I am not alone here. There are others like me, who hope for and are pursuing similar things – to create, connect with others, and make the world a better place.

Slowly but surely, my heart is changing. Though the process is sometimes painful, I know it will be worth it. I am still learning what it looks like to live this out – to embrace that maybe God brought me here for His purposes and not my own, to put others before myself, to chase my dreams in a way that honors God, to truly love the city in where I have been planted. I am so curious to know what life will look like in another four years. I want to have my prayers and questions answered, but most of all I want to look back and know that I was successful in loving those around me in ways both big and small.

What makes your current city feel (or not feel) like home? How do you see yourself making a difference in your community?

Posted in career, church, city life, community, expectations, faith, goals, Hoboken, Knoxville, lessons learned, live your dreams, NYC, Uganda Vision Trip | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Things Friday: 7.18.14

Five things I’ve been loving lately…

Governor’s Island

Hammock Grove bliss.

Hammock Grove bliss.

I was first inspired to travel to Governor’s Island because of an art exhibit three years ago, and I have loved visiting ever since. I took a trip with some girl friends from college a couple of weekends ago and since experiencing the 30 additional renovated acres, I’m not even more in love. What’s the draw? Wide open space, historical buildings, local art and pop-up shops, food trucks, and my favorite – a hammock grove! It’s well worth the trip, and the ferry is free on weekends beginning at 10 AM.


Image Source: @banded2gether instagram (click for link)

Image Source: @banded2gether instagram (click for link)

My friend Danielle tipped me off about BANDED, a no-slip headband company that gives back to a non-profit supporting children in Uganda. I am usually not a headband girl due to the usually guaranteed headaches they inflict, but I’m intrigued by their comfort claims, cute designs, and I LOVE the cause! I haven’t placed an order yet (darn clothing budget) but I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these.

The Enneagram

Some "light" vacation reading.

Some “light” vacation reading.

I heard about the personality test a few years ago while I was living in Knoxville, but The Relevant Podcast crew recently got into it pretty heavily and sparked my interest. I ordered a copy of The Wisdom of the Enneagram and am having a hard time putting it down. I love exploring the inner workings of humans, so diving into a book about our childhood wounds and how they shape our adult identities is right up my alley.

The Lady & Sons

Exploring Savannah's Market Square

Exploring Savannah’s Market Square

Nick and I were on family vacation last week in Hilton Head, South Carolina and knew we had to visit Savannah, Georgia again since we were only an hour away! Nick’s mom suggested Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Sons. As a New Yorker, I’m always slightly skeptical about Food Network chefs and the hype that surrounds them. But I have to say that with this one, the hype and $18 buffet price tag was worth it. I’m the granddaughter of some seriously good southern cooks and Paula’s recipes were impressive!


Their debut album Diamonds kept us company on the long 14 hour (thanks I-95 traffic) drive from New Jersey to Hilton Head. If you’re a fan of The Lone Bellow or The Civil Wars, you’ll enjoy this Nashville-based duo!

What have you been enjoying this week?

Posted in five things friday, music, shopping, social justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What Lifelong Grieving Looks Like

Will Simmons Family 1985

My Daddy Will, Mom, and me in 1985

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” 

― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Say what you will, but I loved the book-to-screen adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars.

I think I might love it more than the book. Some declare it nothing more than another sappy story about star-crossed teen lovers, but it is far more than that. The central characters, Gus and Hazel, hold opposing views on what it looks like to like to have lived and die well, and these arguments require readers to examine their own beliefs about the meaning of life. John Greene’s novel communicates universal truths about love and loss, regardless of age. I loved TFiOS for its beauty and truth, and perhaps most for the honest portrayal of what happens to the love ones left behind.

I am one of those left behind.

My dad has been gone for twenty-four years now. I did not attend his funeral. I had just turned five. My mom knew it would be hard to get a highly active and fidgety five-year old to sit still and feign mourning. There wasn’t exactly a playbook for this. Most children’s introduction to death is with flushing a fish or putting down a dog, not burying their father. So instead of attending the formalized funeral, we held our own memorial service, led by one of my dad’s best friends where he explained death and heaven and hope of life everlasting to me and my tiny peers.

But what happens after?

What happens after the memorial, after the family and friends have gone home and the meals have stopped being served? What happens in the years and decades afterward? What I didn’t realize is how these eight months of my life when I was four years old, culminating with my father’s death would shape me. No one explains to a five-year old little girl that she will feel like an important part of her identity is missing for the rest of her life. Or that she might try to fill it with friendships and boys and love but that nothing will fill it or make it go away.

With every new milestone, I find myself missing a man I only knew for five years. I wonder what advice he would have given me, what sports I might have attempted, and how I might have been different if he had been around to help raise me. Losing my Daddy colored my entire existence.

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

So what does lifelong grieving look like? For me…

Grieving looks like always wondering if your memories are your own or if they are merely implants of stories you have heard so many times, they feel as if they have become yours.

Grieving looks like sitting on a swing set alone, talking to God, wondering what heaven is like, and hoping that somehow by proxy, your Daddy is listening too.

Grieving looks like composing a memoir-style piece during a college writing course, knowing the ending is terrible, but having no idea how to end it, because you do not understand the impact the event has had – until you have actually lived the years yet to come.

Grieving looks like being utterly terrified of being abandoned and hanging on too tight to every serious dating relationship you enter from the time you are sixteen until you meet the man you will marry.

Grieving looks like watching a documentary on a bereavement camp for kids during your engagement at twenty-four years old, wondering what it will feel like to walk down the aisle without your birth father, and crying so hard you are positive you are scaring your fiancé.

Grieving looks like swelling with pride and brimming with tears at your little sister’s wedding when your Uncles marvel at how much she reminds them of their late brother.

Grieving looks like wondering if your future children will have any of your Daddy’s features, and what it will be like to explain to them they already have a Grandpa in heaven.

“Long after your friends and acquaintances have stopped paying attention, after they have forgotten to ask how you are and pray for you and hold your hand, you are still in a place of ebbing sadness. Mourning plateaus gradually…”
– Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

Our culture is uncomfortable with grieving. We tend to do it badly, and confine it to a distinct amount of time, then expect people to move on. Contrary to the popular adage, time does not heal all wounds. Losses need to be processed – through counseling and relating in community. This is why art that embraces loss and stories like The Fault in Our Stars feel like gifts in this lifelong process. They provide a space to stop and reflect and relate.

I am so continually grateful for the beautiful life that I have been given, but grieving is a part of life too – one that should be given its due.

We need reminding that we are not alone in our pain, to wrestle with hard questions about what is to come, and to reminisce and hear the stories again and again. All of our little infinities will end and stars will fade out at some point, and what’s left will be the tales of how we lived and the ones we loved.

What did you think of the TFiOs story? If you have lost someone, what helps you through the lifelong grieving process?

Posted in cancer, Daddy Will, lessons learned, love, relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

How to Fight for Your Fit


Over the past two years I’ve received messages from readers asking, “How did you lose the weight?”

I shared the start of my weight-loss journey with you, but since weight loss hasn’t been a focus on the blog, I haven’t formally checked in much along the way. At this point, I have lost 16 pounds in total, about 2 dress sizes, and am feeling back to “normal” and confident in my own skin. My ultimate goal is to lose 10 more to get back to my pre-Hoboken weight but I’m no longer being aggressive about it. As I am sure you well know, there is no magic formula, only hard work, but here are some important truths I have embraced in the last 22 months:

Set achievable goals.

When I decided to make a conscious effort to live a healthier life, I was outside my healthy BMI. My body was carrying more weight than it ever had on its 5’6″ frame. My clothes no longer fit. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable. I was frustrated. I had tried upping my physical activity level alone, but my habit of over-eating seemed to render my efforts useless. I used Weight Watchers to kick-start my weight loss over a three-month period and lost 10 pounds, but ever since I have simply held myself to the goal of working out (mostly by running) 30 minutes a day, three times a week. While it would be wonderful to do that seven days a week, that goal is not realistic with my lifestyle. It’s amazing how even moving from a mostly sedentary lifestyle to moving 60-90 minutes per week has made a tangible difference.

Discipline is everything.

One of the crucial keys to my success in elevating my exercise level to three times as much as before has been using the Red X method. The theory is to keep the chain of red X’s going as long as possible without breaking it. While I don’t have a goal to exercise every day, as silly as it might seem, as a visual person, this has really worked for me. I keep a calendar on my fridge (tacky alert!) and I cross off the day each day I exercise with a red X. It helps me keep on track with exercising 2-3 times a week and every month I try to up (or at least match) my total days exercised from the month before.

Eat mindfully.

I am absolutely guilty of not paying full attention to what I eat. I notoriously eat when I’m bored, to self-soothe or reward, or because I’m in a social setting and it’s simply there. Eating mindfully means fighting this pattern and actually considering what I’m putting in my mouth. I try to eat in a balanced way, anchoring meals with protein and adding carbs or fats in moderation. I still haven’t found counting calories to be a successful method for me. Instead I’ve cut back on excesses in my diet such as bread carbs, even though I was used to eating a sandwich for lunch almost every day of my life. These days you’ll find me happily eating salads of every variety for my mid-day meal. Eating mindfully requires me to remember I am greater than my desires, and that I can choose healthy options instead of whatever my taste buds (and emotions) demand.

You are stronger than you think.

Perhaps the most important realization has been how much I limited myself, and how much that pesky negative inner voice has always told me I shouldn’t try because I’ll probably fail. I have run more, and harder and faster than I ever have before and now find myself excited about the next challenge. I am trying to learn to appreciate and care for the body I was given. I think about how I want my future children to be proud of what their bodies are capable of, and lead by example in this. I want them to know at the core that they are beautiful and their bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, built for incredible possibilities.

Give yourself grace.

You will sometimes fail. You will eat crappy food and not exercise and feel like you ruined all of your progress. You will be tempted to send yourself in a downward spiral of shame. You may gain a few pounds back and then lose them again. Don’t listen to those voices that tell you it’s all over! A few bad food choices or a week off from exercise doesn’t have to be the end of the road. Commit to picking up where you left off the next meal or next day, and you can get back into your healthy routines.

What motivates you to get or stay fit? What methods have helped you live a healthier lifestyle?

Posted in fitness, goals, healthy living | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

5 Tips for Finding Your Perfect Wedding Photographer

Lenzi Kiss the BrideOur first kiss as a married couple, photo by Hoffer Photography

Good photography is important and worth the splurge.

Your wedding day is such a momentous occasion that should hire someone you can trust to capture the details to look back on and relive for years to come. When planning my wedding, photography was very near the top of my list of priorities. Yes, like any other craft, artistic photography shot by an experienced team costs a good amount of money. But how do you find that person in the first place? Here is how I found mine:

Adams-Bech-Wedding-IsabelMarchAdams Wedding, photo by Isabel March Photography

1. Follow photography blogs

I started following photography blogs in college. As the life stages of my peers progressed, this quickly turned into engagement and wedding photography. I was following these photo blogs for a good four years by the time I got engaged, so I was extremely well-informed and a dedicated fan of many, but none bigger than Hoffer Photography. Within a week of getting engaged, I contacted Tony Hoffer to see if he was available to shoot for us! Since we had a somewhat flexible timeline, I even pushed our wedding back to January of 2013 to make sure we could book the Hoffers.

Dean Wedding Texture PhotoDean Wedding, photo by Texture Photographics

2. Determine your style

What aesthetic are you drawn towards? Do you like your colors bold and bright or soft and muted? Are you all about wide-angle shots in amazing environments or intimate portraits? Is photojournalistic storytelling and capturing moments more important to you or shooting the magazine-worthy details? These are all extremely important to consider, and things you will determine the more you do your research.

Shelly-Wedding-Kelly-Dean-PhotoShelly Wedding, Kelly Dean Photography

3. Find the right chemistry

Like any relationship, the one between you, your significant other, and your photographer is important. I met multiple prospective photographers in person to get a feel for who they were, how we would work together, and to see not just the highlights of their work (which are showcased on blogs) but also completed albums to get an idea of a wedding from start to finish. This is the time to ask questions, find common ground. Is it important to you that your photographer feels like a friend? Or is a strictly business relationship all you require? You want to feel enabled to entrust your big day to this person!

Most times, engagement sessions comes as part of the wedding package, but if it comes as an add-on and you are able, I highly recommend doing it! This provides you and the photographer to have fun and get to know each other. If you connect and feel comfortable, it will translate into your photos. It is extremely risky to show up on your big day and expect a stranger you just met to know what is important to you and provide perfect pictures.

Lenzi-452Our first dance, photo by Hoffer Photography

4. Communicate clearly

Do your best to let your photographers know in advance what is important to you. Provide them with a timeline of your day, and make sure you build in enough time for them to accomplish what you want. The wedding day flies by, and if you haven’t adequately prepared in advance, you will find that you aren’t able to get the shots you want. I am a huge advocate of doing a First Look before the wedding, but if you don’t want to see your fiancé before the ceremony, be sure to block in a significant amount of time for bride and groom portraits after, in addition to family photos. The best wedding photographers are artists at heart, and you should feel confident to relax and trust them to get great shots. However, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for a shot you have in mind!

Shelly-Wedding-2-Kelly-Dean-PhotoShelly Wedding, Kelly Dean Photography

5. Look at the big picture

What do you want to do with these photos after you have them? Are they going in an heirloom album? Being sent as gifts to parents? Do you want them printed on canvas to hang on your wall? You should choose your photographer with these things in mind. Your investment is one you should enjoy for years to come in creative ways, worth more than just sharing in Facebook albums!

How did you find your wedding photographer? What made it a great or challenging experience? What do you think is the most important thing to consider for wedding photography?

PS. After you’ve chosen your photographer, here’s How to Get Great Engagement Photos.
PPS. Here are 5 of my favorite photographers.

Posted in engagement, photography, wedding | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things Friday: 6.20.14


Five things I’ve been loving lately…


Confession: While I love the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, living in New York has pushed me further and further into becoming an online shopper. My lifestyle has just been too busy to shop for clothing like I used to. I’ve also tried to cut back on the number of items I buy, and instead aim to spend a little more on classic, quality pieces that will last. (For an entire site dedicated to this idea, check out Brooklyn-based blog ‘The Refined Woman.) Enter StitchFix. A friend of mine clued me in to them. (Thanks Trinity!) StitchFix is a subscription-based styling company located in San Fran. They pick five items based upon your style profile and any specifics you have requested. I love the element of surprise, trying something new each month, and being given suggestions on how to style the pieces with existing pieces in your wardrobe. To give it a try yourself, click here for my referral code.

DevaCurl ‘Set It Free’

Curly girls who struggle with frizz during these humid summer months, listen up! This product is my best friend June through August. A little bit goes a long way. I use it in conjuction with my other DevaCurl products – first No Poo, then One Condition, then Arc AnGEL, and top it off with Set It Free. It comes in a spray bottle and feels slightly waxy to the touch. I generally spray it on my hands, smooth it over the crown of my head, and scrunch. You can buy it here or find it in your local salon that caters to curly hair. Be sure to buy it from a trusted retailer, otherwise you may end up with a knock-off!

Pier 13

Last summer, I vowed to go to Pier 13 at least three times. This summer, I’ve been spending every possible Sunday afternoon with there with friends. Between the delicious food trucks, view, and companionship, it’s been absolutely delightful to embrace “Sunday Funday” (otherwise known as Sabbath ;)), relax and be.

Caffè Bene

Over the past year, we seem to be witnessing a coffee shop explosion in Hoboken! This is kind of a dream come true for this coffee-loving writer. Between Choc-O-Pain (which is more café than coffee shop), Bwé Kafe, Hoboken Hot House, Black Rail Coffee, and now Caffé Bene, it is wonderful to have local options! Disclaimer: Caffé Bene is an international chain, and I prefer to support the local guys, but its proximity to the PATH train makes it a great choice for anyone wanting to have a morning coffee date or post-work non-alcoholic option. And it seems to be the largest meeting space as far as coffee shops go, which is definitely a plus in this town.

Reflections on Lodge Life

In Shauna Niequest’s recent post, Loved, Known, Welcome, Enough, she reflects on her week away with Bob Goff and friends at Malibu Young Life Camp. Shauna’s post speaks so pointedly to the way Bob embodies hospitality. After traveling to Uganda with Bob and his incredible organization last fall, I truly feel like a part of the family. What a gift it is to be able to make people worldwide feel like they’ve come home. I’ve loved scrolling through #lodgefamily on Twitter and Instagram to see who else was there and what they learned.

What have you been enjoying this week?

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Five Things Friday: 5.23.14

Five things I’ve been loving lately…

Something local


Hoboken has a new coffee shop – Black Rail Coffee! I discovered this new spot while scrolling through #Hoboken tags on twitter and since I happened to pass by 800 Jackson street this week, I had to try their cold brewed coffee. Setting up shop right next to the 9th street light rail station seems an ingenious move to cater to commuters.

Something healthy

skinnytaste.com{image source}

I have loved this “Skinny Green Monster” smoothie recipe from Skinny Taste for a while, but the arrival of spring has made me crave it on the regular. I like to add a generous amount of ice cubes (about 15) to thicken it up, and lately I’ve been using PB2 as my peanut butter alternative.

Something lovely

Emily Eddington is a former broadcast journalist turned full-time makeup enthusiast, and I love her YouTube recommendations and tutorials! She has been my primary teacher when it comes to learning makeup application. Watching Emily has allowed me to learn enough to feel confident even to do my sister’s bridal makeup at her wedding! This week she was given a preview of Maybelline’s new eyeshadow palette, ‘The Nudes.’ It seems like a great alternative for those who are budget-conscious and wouldn’t spend the money on a higher-end option like Urban Decay’s Naked palettes. Make sure to watch #2 on the playlist to see her review.

Something melodious

Coldplay released a new album, Ghost Stories, this week! I wasn’t a big fan of the last album, but my husband says that if you were a fan of Coldplay during the Parachutes days, you’ll love the new album. It is a beautiful break up album, the kind that you can lie in the dark listening to for hours, drinking in the beauty and the pain.

Something wise

http://sarahbessey.com{image source}

Sarah Bessey’s essay ‘Chasing A Dream in the Midst and the Afters‘ so encourages me after writing what I did about vocation and motherhood last week. I feel very much like Sarah does, that God has called me to write, that this is very much a part of what I was born to do. I may not be following all the modern rules of how to write successfully, but what I am doing matters anyway. Sarah’s words this week are such a good reminder to obey the call and see what happens next.

What have you been enjoying this week?

Posted in babies, beauty, career, five things friday, healthy living, Hoboken, music, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments