Tuesday, August 12, 2014

LOVE Week Part 2

One of the organizations that I fell in love with over LOVE Week was Emeritus at South Park.  This is a home for people with Alzheimer's and Memory Loss.  My beloved Dzaidzia has Alzheimer's and it kills me that I can't see him more.  It has been an emotional journey for all of my family watching him move from my aunt's house to his new assisted living home.  Since I'm not able to be there with him, I felt a connection to this home after I heard there were events there.  

  This is my Dziadzia :) 

I was able to lead two events here.  The first one was Baby Therapy.  We had about 12 kids ages 3 and under and were able to go and visit all of the residents.  There was one lady, Francis, who I was told never really engages with anyone let alone talks to anyone.  Well, when there are babies there, things were different.  She was asking them questions, playing with them and singing.  The staff there was amazed at how well she responded.  We got to all get together and sing with them, children and adults love to sing.  

Tuesday we got to paint pictures at Emeritus.  We had no idea how many artists we had in our volunteers and the people that live there!  We were able to have enough volunteers that everyone had a volunteer with them.  People painted together, shared stories, we celebrated a birthday, and just had fun.  

It was here that I met Micaela and her mom, Michelle.  They drove down all the way from Ohio to be a part of LOVE Week.  They discovered Elevation about two years ago and have been watching it on the Network for that long.  This spring Micaela and her dad came down to Charlotte to go to a race and visit our Blakeney campus.  While here, she met a VIP volunteer and they started talking about LOVE Week.  That volunteer offered to let her and her mom stay at her house for LOVE Week if they wanted to come down for it.  So, they came and served at multiple events every day.  

Our events here were simple, they didn't require a lot of planning or resources, however they impacted people profoundly.  They allowed these precious people to experience happiness and interact with others, it allowed parents to serve with their children and teach them the importance of serving others, and it allowed me to be there for someone else's grandfather who can't be there as much as they want to be.  

As you can see, he's still quite spunky. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

LOVE Week Part 1

This year Brian and I were able to both be off for the majority of LOVE Week.  This is an initiative through our church, Elevation, where we serve around 60,000 hours of community service throughout Charlotte for an entire week. We got to serve with our eGroups, friends, eTeams and most importantly, as a couple, the entire 9 days at over 25 different events. We were able to lead events that ranged from serving meals at a men's shelter to taking babies to visit residents at a memory loss home and painting barrels for food collections to cleaning counseling rooms at a pregnancy resource center.  We met incredible people, filled my gas tank 3 different times, got up way earlier than I am used to, learned our way around Uptown Charlotte, shared lots of laughter and tears and so much more.

Of course there are so many different stories to share about this amazing week we got to be a part of again. Part of the reason I wanted to write them down is so that I never forget them and don't take things for granted.  So for the next few days I'll share some of our experiences.

The Men's Shelter of Charlotte

It just so happened that earlier this year, I heard that our church needed a liaison for this organization.  I knew how good Brian would be at this role and he had talked about serving at a shelter with his dad when he was younger, so I threw his name out there to be our representative.  Well, he doesn't really like when I sign him up to do things before asking him, so there was a little procrastination there when it came to planning the events for LOVE Week.  However, when the week started, Brian was invested heart and soul.

Our first morning there, I was next to a girl from our church and a man walked out in an old tank top, saw us and said he had to go change because we were there.  We laughed and didn't think much of it.  He came back a few minutes later with a button down shirt on.  I commented that he looked nice and he said the church he goes to teaches him to honor those that are honoring him so that was why he changed.  We asked where he attends church and he asked if we have ever heard of Elevation.

We also got to meet Joe.  Joe has an infectious personality and has never met a stranger.  He wanted to know all of our names and was genuinely interested in getting to know all of us.  Joe also volunteers at our Elevation Uptown location on the production team.  On Sundays, he gets up at 3:30 am to walk about an hour to church so that he can be there and ready to serve by 5:30.  He walks in the rain, snow, darkness, nothing will stop him from missing church.  That first day we met him, he wanted to start serving in LOVE Week right away.  So he left the shelter and walked to the library where he registered for 3 events a day to serve at.  Here was this man who literally had almost nothing, but was joy-filled and wanting to serve others.
At the end of LOVE Week, our worship team had a concert and live recording at Time Warner Cable Arena.  He mentioned he wanted to go, but wasn't sure if he'd be able to due to curfew at the shelter.  We were able to help get him and a few other guys tickets, bus passes and great seats for that night.  Brian and I sat a section behind him during the concert and were able to see him worship freely.  It put into perspective for me how sometimes I don't want to worship because of something petty, or I just don't feel like it, or because I haven't received a blessing I thought I would have had by now.  Here was a man who wasn't afraid or ashamed to worship.  He has so much less than me by worldly standards, but so much more than me by godly standards.

Brian and I were able to serve here for 9 days in a row.  We were able to serve with our worship team, campus pastors, other staff memeber, people who were new to our church, people who have been coming for years, friends, eGroup members and so many others.  It was a huge part of us for that week and we honestly can't wait to serve there again, although I'm not too keen on those 4am wake up calls :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Perfect For You

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not: but remember that what you now have was once among the things you hoped for." 

                                                              My Perfect Match

You ever have those days where you wish you social media never existed?  Where everytime you log onto Facebook, the first ten posts are people celebrating what you wish you had?   Or you see people making great announcements on Twitter?  Well, today (actually all of February) has been one of those days (months) for me.  No exageration here, every day I have looked at my Facebook account this month, someone else has found out they are pregnant and someone else has just had a baby.  And by someone, I mean lots of people.  Literally, every. single. day. it seems like I've had a constant reminder that I am not pregnant, or we do not have children yet.

Last week Brian knew I was feeling this way.  We both deal with this reality in our own way and help the other one with it.  Brian told me to go read a blog post that our pastor, Steven Furtick, had recently made called "Perfect For You".  The post starts out by saying, "Everyone desires to be in God’s will. But God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will might not look the way you think it should."  How true is this?  The life I had invisioned for myself is vastly different from where I am today.  However, I would not change what I had today at all.

If I had the life I had dreamed of, by now I'd have 2 kids and a house.  Brian wouldn't be about to finish school and embarking on a new and exciting career.  I wouldn't have the great job that I have now.  We would not be living in North Carolina.  We would not be able to travel as easily and go see our families and friends.  We wouldn't have the things that God knows we needed, we would have only had the things that I thought were right for us. 

"God’s will doesn’t have to be perfect to me to be perfect for me."  That's another part of the blog.  I don't know when we'll have children, where Brian will be working, when we will get our first home.  But I do know that the man He chose for me is perfect for me.  The friends He placed in our lives are perfect for us.  The families we were placed into are perfect for us.  The lives we have now, are perfect for us.  If I had done what I wanted to do, I wouldn't be where I am today.  Who knows where I'd be.  What I do know is that life's pretty darn good right now, and the best is still on it's way. 

Here's a link to our pastor's blog

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

Lately I've been addicted to Pinterest.  I've been on the hunt for new recipes, crafts to make and ideas for our future home among many other things.  While searching for a new recipe, I came across the site for Better Homes and Gardens and some of their casserole dishes.  This one definitely intrigued me!  I did make a few changes to it, but I'll include the link to the original recipe at the bottom.  Hope you enjoy this meal as much as we did! 

4 skinless, boneless, chicken breast halves
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
Salt and ground black pepper
tablespoons grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
16 ounces penne pasta
2 teaspoons minced garlic
tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups skim milk
2 1/2 cups of a mix of shredded cheddar, mozzarella and colby jack cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese 
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. In a large skillet cook chicken, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper in hot oil over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink. Remove chicken from skillet; set aside.  **We used grapeseed oil that my friend, Teresa, sells from Wildtree. It's a great company that sells all natural food, containing no additives, preservatives, MSG or food dyes. We've used a lot more of their products and have always liked them.**

2. In a large pot cook pasta according to package directions until just tender. Drain and return pasta to pot.

3. In the same skillet you prepared the chicken in, cook garlic in 3 tablespoons hot butter over medium heat until tender. Stir in flour until well combined then add milk. Cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly; reduce heat. Add the shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is almost melted. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add sauce and chicken to cooked pasta in pot; stir to coat.
Spray a casserole dish with non stick cooking spray and spoon mixture into the dish.

4.  In a small bowl stir together bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and 3 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle crumb mixture over pasta mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until crumb mixture is golden and edges are bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

We prepared roasted broccoli with the dish and sliced tomatoes.  Brian said it was a hit and took it for lunch at school today. Here is the link to the original recipe

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We're Finally Home

Brian and I have grown up with the understanding that your home is where your church is. While growing up, both of our families chose where to live in Atlanta based on the churches we were called to attend. Our faith and being active in church has always been a huge part of our lives.

After moving here in May 2010, we started going to a church that was about an hour away from us. The services were good and it was connected to our church back in Atlanta. However, with his school and work schedule, it wasn't a great fit. So after about 6 months, we switched churches and tried out on about 5 minutes from our house. This church was good, but we still felt like something was missing.

Three weeks ago, Brian said he'd like to go to a service of a church we had both heard about in the Charlotte area. We hadn't heard a lot about them, just about their name. So, we did some research online and decided to try it out the next day.

After the first song, I felt like we were home. The people were so welcoming, the music was incredible and the sermon was unforgettable. We both still remember the verses that the pastor spoke about. On our car ride home, we were both so excited! We couldn't stop talking about the sermon, the people, the music, the church's involvement in the community, the married couples group we had just signed up for.

Brian then told me that he had been thinking that after he finishes school he was thinking we should move back to Atlanta. He said that was because we had not been able to find a church here we felt called to go to and that was too important not to have here. However, after leaving that service and learning about that church, he knew God was telling us to stay here and get involved here.

Since our first time going, we've joined a Bible study group, volunteered in Love Week (where over 50,000 hours were served in Charlotte to local organizations that needed assistance) and have taken friends there with us. More are coming the next time we go. We have to miss this weekend because we will be out of town and we are bummed about that.

While the other churches are all wonderful churches and we have friends that go to both, this was the right church for us. That's what I think is important; to find the church that has the same values you do, that challenges and encourages you to grow in your walk with God and one where you can get plugged into and become a part of it.

After searching for almost 20 months, it feels so comforting to know we have a church here we can call home.

Our New Church

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Missing Busia

My Busia(grandma in Polish) passed away last week. She had 83 years of life here on Earth and now is up in Heaven watching over all of us. She lived those years gloriously. Living through World War II, meeting the love of her life, my Dziadzia(grandpa in Polish), raising 6 beautiful girls, watching them get married and start families of their own. She was a wife, a mother, a Busia, a great grandmother, an aunt, a sister, a mother-in-law, a best friend, a confidant, and a follower of Christ.

She was fiercely devoted to her family. She lived for us. All of my cousins have great Busia stories. From sneaking fruit roll ups out of her pantry, to sleep overs at Busia and Dziadzia's house. To Easter egg hunts and helping her in her beautiful gardens. My brother and I used to go there after school and wait for my parents to pick us up. It was a treat. We'd get to watch the Disney Channel and Busia would cook dinner for us lots of times. She was a marvelous cook.

She loved her faith. I always remember Busia praying. Saying the Rosary, praying a novena, talking to us about church. For my wedding she gave me a Rosary. She gave all of her granddaughters rosaries before we got married. My Uncle Den spoke about how she learned to turn her worries into prayers. What a lesson she taught us all.

She was glamorous. My cousin, Anna, and I were talking about how she reminded us of a movie star when we were little. She had a makeup desk in her old house. It had tons of eyeliners, eye shadows, makeup brushes, perfumes, you name it, Busia had it. Busia always had a new outfit for a fancy occasion. I remember when she picked out her dress for our wedding. She was so excited about it. She had more jewelry than anyone I know. She was always so put together.

She loved to celebrate. Every holiday, birthday and anniversary she would send a card to everyone to celebrate their special day. Family get togethers were no small fete in our family. Christmas Eve often had 60+ people to celebrate together. We'd sing Christmas carols in English and Polish, eat wonderful Polish food and really focus on the meaning of Christmas. Holidays were always special with Busia around.

Busia instilled in all of us what a family really is. Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking my Dziadzia for a walk in the gym. We talked about Busia and their life most of the time. He told me how he misses every single thing about her. How when he saw her for the first time it was love at first site. How she was his dancing partner for life. And how proud she would have been that our entire family came together to celebrate her life and her new life in Heaven. He said she always had a way of bringing our family together. She always will be able to bring our family together. Even through the tough times.

She still manages to bring us all together, from near and far to laugh, cry, eat and celebrate life. Busia will be remembered for years to come. So, even though Busia isn't here in the physical sense, her love, laughter, devotion and spirit will live on in the Jess family. After all, her and Dziadzia created it, and like the priest said, we are The Polish Kennedy's.

Monday, September 13, 2010

School Days

So, the day has finally arrived for my Chimi to start school at Nascar Technical Institute!!! This is the main reason we moved here, so we are super excited for it. God has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams for this move here.

Orientation was last week and Brian is already way ahead of the game. He was the only one dressed well, he was on time and ready to learn. First week of classes started today. Which means, a 5:30am wake up call, ugh. Luckily my husband is a trooper and takes everything in stride. His schedule is crazy, wake up at 5:30, leave by 6:05, classes start at 6:30 and end at 12:45 then he goes to work from 4-10:30.

It's going to be hard and stressful on our marriage. However, it will make us prioritize what is truly important and make the most of our time together.

So, I am sitting here writing this and waiting for my little school boy to come home and tell me all about it in person. Of course I've gotten updates throughout the day and he says it was great. I'm thankful for all the calls, emails and prayers for this huge step in our lives.

Just a flash back of a fun picture I found, here is Brian in school in 1988 and starting today (he'll probably get embarassed by this, but I think he looks super cute in both pictures!). And yes, the goggles are a part of his uniform :)

Aside from school starting, we had a great weekend. All new furniture for our living room, and our sweet friend, April, was able to fly into Charlotte for all of Sunday to spend a day with us. We had a great lunch together and I just enjoyed some good quality girl time with one of my dear friends. It was wonderful to see her and I miss her dearly!