Five Fun Things To Do In New Jersey and New York

I was tempted to title this blog post, “The Top Five Things To Do in New Jersey and New York,” because I thought it would be a little catchier, but it’s a pretty big claim to say that something is one of the top things to do. So, I settled for a little less flashy, but more truthful title.

Last week we had spring break (a little early to quite deserve the title “spring,” in my opinion). My parents came to visit for the break to take a little vacation to the East Coast and to see where I live. Here are five of the things we did while they were here:

  1. Walk along the Jersey Shore

It’s definitely the off-season at the shore, but that worked out really well for us because we had almost the whole beach to ourselves. It wasn’t warm enough to sit on the beach or swim in the ocean, but we had a good time walking along the beach, picking up shells and enjoying the sunny day. It was quiet and peaceful in a place where it is normally busy, noisy, and expensive. We ate dinner at a little seafood market and restaurant that I would highly recommend: Shore Fresh Seafood. It’s a tiny little place that is mainly a fish market (we got to watch them filleting salmon and putting out scallops while we wait), so the seafood was so fresh and delicious!

And a bonus: you don’t have to pay for a beach pass in February!

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  1. See a Broadway Play

We saw the play “American in Paris” and I would highly recommend seeing it (or another Broadway show) if you visit New York City. There are really no words that can do justice to a theatrical performance, so I’m just going to post the video trailer so you can get a little glimpse. All I can say is that it was true work of art that included amazing dancing, innovative projected scenery, incredible music, and a charming story. And if you can’t get to New York City anytime soon, check out the movie that the play is based on. I haven’t seen it, but if it’s anything like the play, it’s definitely worth watching.

  1. Hike at the Delaware Water Gap

This was my favorite part of our trip last week. I have been hearing about the Delaware Water Gap since I first moved to New Jersey and have wanted to go hiking there for a long time. It was really nice to get outside and be away from the city for a day. It was a challenging hike with a great view at the top. Pictures say more than words, though, so here are a few:

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  1. Ride a Ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

I wend to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty when I came to the East Coast for a school trip in High School. It’s something that I would highly recommend, though, especially if you have family that immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. There are a lot good exhibits about immigration before, during, and after the time of Ellis Island. It was amazing to see how people traveled here with very little to create a new life for themselves. It made me a lot more grateful for the family members who made the sacrifice to leave their homes and come to this country.

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  1. Visit Thomas Edison’s Laboratories

On the last day of my parents’ visit, we went to the little-known gem of West Orange, NJ. Thomas Edison had a laboratory in West Orange where he developed and manufactured many inventions that led to many things that we know today. One of his biggest inventions was the phonograph, which was the first device to record sound and play it back. It sounds simple, but think about how much of our world today is based on the ability to record sound. In his laboratories you can see the library, storeroom, machine shops, recording studio, moving picture film studio, photography studio, and many other rooms and building that made his inventions and the manufacturing of those inventions possible. If you’re in the area, I definitely suggest checking the museum out!

 

 

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New Year, New Goals

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Things got pretty hectic in December with the end of semester and Christmas break, and it’s nice to get back into a consistent routine. I’m not one to set new year’s resolutions, but there is something about a new year that is a fresh start and I’m making a few goals for myself. To help myself get back into a routine and maintain balance in my life, I’ve set three goals for the new semester. I’m hoping these will help me stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually balanced and heathy this year.

 

1. 10,000 steps

I’ve never been good at consistently working out or exercising. I like active things, but I’m not one to love going to the gym or going for a run. I get discouraged when I set unattainable goals that aren’t realistic to me. This year, I decided to try a new approach to exercising. My dad had a fit bit that he wasn’t using because he can now track his steps on his iPhone. He is letting me use it and it has already made me more active.

I love having a goal for my steps instead of a goal for exercising because it means that everything I do to move counts. Walking to work at a coffee shop counts. Doing jumping jacks in my apartment counts. Going to a spin class at the gym counts. The other great thing is that every day is a new day and I don’t have to worry about if I worked out yesterday or if I am planning to work out tomorrow. Each day is a new day with a fresh goal.

I’ve had the fitbit for 5 days so far and I’ve made it to 10,000 steps each day, so I’m on track so far!

2. Ideal Week

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 3.05.35 PM Earlier this year I listened to a Michael Hyatt podcast with a few of my coworkers about creating an Ideal Week to manage your time (if you want to listen to it, click here). I’ve never had a job before that required me to manage my own time as much as I do now. When I was a teacher, most of my day was spent teaching classes that started and ended at predetermined time. I didn’t have long stretches of time that I had to plan myself and use to get a large quantity of tasks done. In this job, there is a lot of freedom with my schedule, but that is challenging for me because I have to make my own schedule.

I am much more affective with a structure, so creating an ideal week is super helpful in keeping me on track each day. It helps me be proactive rather than reactive. I made an ideal week plan at the beginning of last semester, but I hadn’t really been here long enough to know what works. Now, I’m making adjustments based on how much time I need for things and what didn’t work last semester. It’s my goal to find an ideal week that works for me and follow that as much as possible to use my time well.

If you’d like to learn more about creating an ideal week, check out these two posts from Michael Hyatt:

How to Create More Margin in Your Life

How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week

And this one from Nancy Ray:

Organization in Time by Nancy Ray

3. Prayer

Breaks are always a tough time for prayer for me because I struggle to take time each day to myself when I could be hanging out with my family. As I begin the new year I want to make sure that I take time for intentional, quiet prayer each day. I’ve been using Blessed is She to read the daily readings and a reflection the last couple days. I’m also getting back into journaling, too. My ideal week is helping me make sure I take time for prayer everyday because I have a set-aside time for prayer everyday.

Now that I’ve shared my goals with you, I’d love to hear from you! What are your goals for this upcoming month, semester, or year? What habits or areas would you like to maintain or grow in this year?

Photo Friday: A Look From Above

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I love flying. I love seeing the earth from above and trying to guess what is below based on little clues like bodies of water, the color of the vegetation, and major roads. It is a change in perspective that makes me think about how big our world is and how many people are out there trying to make a life out of what they have been given. Last weekend I got to fly home to Minnesota for Thanksgiving break and I took this picture of Minnesota as I was flying back. I think that the view from the plane looks even cooler with the snow. I had a wonderful trip home and it is crazy to think that I’ll be back there in just two weeks for Christmas break. So, this photo was a goodbye to Minnesota, but it won’t be long before I see this place again!

The First Week of Advent

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It’s hard to believe that Advent is here already, but this past Sunday was the first Sunday of this season of preparation. Even the weather has been tricking me into thinking that it isn’t that late in the year. Up until last week, it has been sunny and 60 degrees in New Jersey and that makes it hard to believe that it is almost the holiday season.

Advent, the season of preparing for Christ’s birth, is a season that is overlooked by most of our world. We are so excited to celebrate Christmas (whether religiously or secularly) that we skip straight to the holiday. Even in November, stores are decorating their windows, people are putting up Christmas trees, and Christmas music is playing on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these things, and the last thing I want to do is to be a scrooge about Christmas. The desire to celebrate the holiday that marks Christ’s birth is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. The problem is that in our excitement about Christmas, we skip over Advent and the period of waiting where we prepare for the Christ Child to enter this world.

The Catholic Church sees Advent as an important season of preparation and waiting: “The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries.When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 522a,524a). This season not only prepares us to celebrate the feast of Christ’s historical birth, but also his presence in our world today and his second coming in the future. It is a season that prepares us for Him in the past, present, and future.

Prior to Christ’s birth, the world waited thousands of years for His coming. After his birth, the world has waited thousands of years for Him to come again. We only have to wait four weeks to celebrate his coming, and yet we still want to skip straight to His birth. I am challenging myself this year to enter into the season of Advent as an important time of preparation and waiting. I don’t like waiting, but the Lord builds it into our lives for a reason. Waiting stretches us and prepares us for the good things that are coming

Advent started this past Sunday. As it begins, I want to share some ways to enter into the season. Some of these I have done myself and some I have seen others do.

Scripture

Advent is a perfect season to dive into scripture. There are so many parts of scripture that talk about waiting, especially about waiting for Christ. There are a lot of good books and resources out there to guide you through reading scripture. This year, I am doing a bible study through an app and website called She Reads Truth. They have done several Advent scripture studies (which are available on their app or website) and this year’s study (called Advent: Born Is The King) is specifically about how people in the Old Testament waited for Christ. I highly recommend any of their studies and Advent is the perfect season to commit to reading more scripture. Also, their is a very similar site, called He Reads Truth, with the same Advent study.

Another way to read scripture is to read the Catholic Church’s daily readings. You can find this readings on the USCCB website. I like to read the daily readings with a reflection, and I love the blog Blessed is She. I also used the book In Conversation with God last Advent and it has wonderful and thought-provoking reflections.

From shereadstruth.org.

From shereadstruth.org.

Prayer

Advent is a great season for extra prayer. Not only should we prepare our homes and lives for the Lord, we also need to prepare our hearts for his coming. One great resource for this is the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of prayers that are said each morning, day, evening, and night by Priests and Religious all over the world. These prayers include psalms and readings for each day and time of day. You can buy a book with all the prayers, or you can use this site to read them. If you’d like to read more about these prayers, here is a more in-depth explanation.

Another good book for prayer is Jesus Calling. It is a book with daily reflections for the whole year, but it would be a perfect resource for prayer during the Advent season too. In fact, you can download the reflections for all the days of advent from the publisher’s website here. You have to submit your email address, but once you do that, you will be sent a link where you can download the Advent days of Jesus Calling.

Decoration

I love Christmas decorating. It is one of my favorite times of the year when the boxes come out of the basement and the house becomes festive with lights, greenery, and ornaments. But, sometimes we decorate for Christmas before we event think about Advent. Try decorating for Advent this year, before you get carried away for Christmas. Use the colors purple, navy blue, and rose to remind yourself that you are still in a time of waiting. Advent wreaths are also great reminders of the season of waiting. In fact, they are the perfect decoration for waiting because you have to slowly light the candles, one each week, until all four candles are lit. Advent wreaths are easy to make, all you need is four candles. You can add branches, a wreath or other decorations, but don’t worry about making it fancy. Another Advent-specific decoration is the Jesse Tree. I’ve never made one of these myself, but I think they are a great way to reflect on biblical history while waiting for our Savior. Each day, you add one ornament that is a symbol of a story or event in the Old Testament. All of these stories relate to the coming of Christ and remind us that the world waited for Christ just as we are waiting to celebrate Christmas.

So, in this first week of Advent take a moment to reflect. Are you celebrating Christmas or Advent now? How can you embrace this season of waiting and preparation? How can you prepare your heart for the coming of our savior?

God Bless!

A Weekend Away

As I was starting today’s blog post, I saw that I had an unpublished draft saved. I thought I had posted this in September, but apparently not. So, in the spirit of “it’s better late than never,” here it is:

September 22

As I turned on to the road marked Dead End and my phone, propped up as a GPS, flashed “No Service,” I rolled down the windows and took a deep breath of the fresh brisk air. The landscape, other than the steeply rolling hills, reminded me of the woods of Minnesota, with tall hardwood trees and glimpses of a river on one side of the road. I, and a car packed with camping gear, another missionary, two students, and enough groceries for twenty people, pulled into the driveway of a tiny cabin. We had made it to our destination. As we piled out of the car after three hours of being on the road, we admired the adorable cabin and beautiful river across the road. It was refreshing to be out of the city and away from civilization, even if it was for less than 48 hours.

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Last weekend we took about 20 women to go camping on the Delaware River in New York. It was a great weekend of getting off campus, getting to know some of the freshmen students, hanging out with some of the older students, and taking a break. It is amazing how much more you can connect with other people when the distractions of homework, cell phones (we had no cell service), work, and computers are gone. Together, we played Yahtzee, sat by the river, made dinner over a fire, went hiking, and spent undistracted time together.

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I really appreciated this opportunity to build relationships with students. It was weird to start the year as a missionary and not know any of the students. I have been a part of the SPO chapter at the University of Minnesota for the past six years, so it is weird to work for SPO but not know any of the students very well. This weekend was very helpful to get to know the students better. I left feeling more rested and more connected to the community. I’d say that was a successful weekend!

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A Glimpse into Household

It’s that time of year again. Although most of the country would say it is too early to think about finding a new home for next September, college students around the country are beginning the search for next school year’s housing. Whether it is a dorm, house, or apartment, students are learning to negotiate roommates, leases, and landlords. And for Saint Paul’s Outreach, this means the beginning of household recruitment.

SPO offers a unique housing opportunity for college students. This housing program, called Household, is an intentional living situation where students can grow in their faith through shared meals, group prayer, in-depth small groups, and Christian community. It is a way for students to push themselves to live out their faith, not only in a small group or at a campus ministry event, but in their whole life. I could go on and on describing household, but the program is more than I could describe in this short blog post. So, let’s hear about it straight from two of the New Jersey Household members.

An Extra Family

Halie Burns is living in the Women’s house for the second year. She is a junior at Seton Hall University. She is a Student Missionary (student leader) for SPO and leads a small group of freshman women. Here is her experience of living in Household:

I started getting involved with SPO my freshman year of college. I was in a small group and went to activities. I learned about the Men’s and Women’s households through those things. I noticed these women said Morning Prayer together, ate dinner together, had fun together, and called each other on to be more active in their faith. These women cared about each other and were practically a family. After witnessing how they lived out their lives I started to notice how I was struggling in mine. I only prayed to God if I needed something and was forced to go to weekly Mass with my family. I never really wanted to go to Mass before; if I have a choice between sleeping and anything else, I usually pick sleep. I didn’t think about how being forced to go to Mass, because I was tired, meant I thought sleep was more important than God. These women however, woke up early multiple days a week just to pray. They enjoyed going to Church; in fact, some of them went multiple times each week.

Living in Household has been one of the greatest blessings God has given me. He gave me this extra family and through them he has given me a piece of himself.

These women were so joyful and loving and so devoted to God. I wanted to be just like them; they instantly became my role models. These little tastes of Household I experienced had captured my heart. It made me realize that I wanted to be a part of a community that loved God and loved me. This love is of a different sort than family love. Your family is biologically programmed to love you; these people choose to love you.

Well, suffice to say I ended up joining household, for the past two years.

The women I have lived with and currently live with are sisters to me; I love all of them so much. They are there for me through thick and thin. They were there for me last semester when my Dad lost his job and they are here for me this semester as my Mom is preparing for surgery next month. These women honestly care about my life and my well-being.

Sure, life hasn’t all of a sudden become a fairy tale because I joined Household. Daily prayer is still a struggle, but my sisters call me on. They ask me to join them in prayer and they push me to pray on my own. Now I even enjoy going to Mass and when I get the chance, I sometimes go to daily Mass. I’ve realized that Mass isn’t a burden put on me, but it’s a time of peace and joy that has a designated spot in my calendar each week. It’s a time to come before God in honor and love.

Living in Household has been one of the greatest blessings God has given me. He gave me this extra family and through them he has given me a piece of himself.

Off the Charts Community

John Trask lives in the Men’s House at Seton Hall and this is his first year in household. He is a sophomore and, like Halie, is a Student Missionary and small group leader. He lived in Boland Hall last year and got involved in SPO by connecting with the Missionaries in Residence (SPO Mission Leaders that live in the dorms). Here is his testimony about his experience in household:

When I came to college last year, I was looking for a close community where I could be heavily involved and enjoy doing so. I came in contact with Saint Paul’s Outreach, and now I’m living in the SPONJ Men’s House, where the community is off the charts.

We [the men living in Household] see each other a lot, sometimes when we don’t want to, or when we would rather be sleeping instead of waking up early on Monday morning, but we always end up enjoying our time with each other, and that, to me, is what community is about. Community is living with, growing, and laughing with one another.

However, living in the Men’s House is not the easy living situation that all the pictures on Facebook may paint it to be. It can be very challenging, and sometimes downright hard. We are constantly growing, whether in prayer, in our outreach, or with each other. In all of this constant growth, you get very close with all of the men in the house. One of the men I’ve grown close with is my roommate. We stay up late at night and talk about our days, things we are dealing with, or sometimes just laugh, for about two hours longer than we should. This time to talk has allowed me to continue to grow in places where I might have stood firm and been stubborn in my ways.

This house and these men are the things I look forward to every day. When I’m at school I’m excited to come home and spend time with them. I know I can come to them with anything, and they will support me when I need them.

For all of its growth and challenges though, the Men’s house has housed some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Whether it is one of the guys sleepwalking and putting his roommate’s pants on during the night or breaking out into a session of dancing while cooking dinner on Mondays or Thursdays, I find myself laughing almost all day. This house and these men are the things I look forward to every day. When I’m at school I’m excited to come home and spend time with them. I know I can come to them with anything, and they will support me when I need them.

In three short months I have come to see that the community I saw last year [in the dorms] was only the surface, and I am excited to see how the rest of the year plays out.

 

 

A Women’s Retreat

Women's Retreat

Women praying during morning prayer at the Fall Women Leaders’ Retreat.

Last weekend SPO and FOCUS hosted retreats for our student leaders. We had separate Men’s and Women’s retreats and both events were very fruitful for both the students and the leaders. The women headed to Camp Vacamas, a retreat center and summer camp west of Seton Hall for a weekend of prayer, small groups, worship, talks, and social time. Although many women had a challenging time coming on the retreat (a lot of women had big tests, papers, or projects next week), the women that did make it were blessed with peace and a great weekend of growing in following the Lord.

As part of the retreat, I gave a talk on fears that can keep women from growing in their relationship with the Lord. I presented the women with six questions to ask themselves about their own fears and things that hold them back in their faith. We met in small groups throughout the weekend to continue talking about the things that keep us from God. Many of the women were challenged by these questions and reflected on ways that fighting the lies that they believe because of these fears can help them grow in their faith. The vulnerability and trust that the women had with one another was incredible and will help them throughout the year as they continue to share their faith journeys.

I really enjoyed helping plan, run, and talk at the retreat. It was one of the most rewarding and life-giving things I have done so far in my ministry work. Throughout the weekend, I imagined what it would be like to run retreats all the time. Towards the end of the retreat, though, I had a realization: the important part of this retreat is not the retreat itself, it is the community and continued growth. The reason that the retreat is so beneficial is because it is a jumping off point for the rest of the year of spiritual growth. The small group that I met with during the retreat is the same small group that I will be meeting with throughout the year. The entire group of women will continue to pray with and for each other as they meet throughout the year. This was not just a one-and-done retreat. This was not just a summer camp or a yearly event, this was one more way to push the women further in their spiritual life and love of Christ, as they continue to grow throughout college. What a blessing it is for me to have a part in that journey, and a journey it is, not just a weekend-long retreat.

There are more pictures to come when I get them from the student photographers. This is the only one I took on my phone. I’ll post them as soon as I get them!