I love coffee. Pots and pots and pots worth of coffee. My naturopath says it's a problem, but the lure of it's rich, sweet aroma, cozy warmth and daily ritual is what gets me out of bed. So when I suggested to my sister that she, too, fast from something and she said coffee, I nearly fainted. B b b b b b b uutttttttt but, HOW! and WHY?!?!?! "You have fun with that" I texted back, followed by three tauntingly steaming coffee emojis.
However, when Smile Brilliant got in touch with me and asked if I'd be interested in trying out their product, I looked at my teeth in the mirror and cracked a slight smirk. These pearly whites weren't pearly anymore. Matter of fact, they were FAR from it. Worse than I thought. Years of two plus cups of coffee a day had done their damage, and I could use a good ole pageant girl teeth bleaching. So I said yes and ripped open that whitening kit. GIVE IT TO ME.
The entire process is super simple (well, for the most part. Not reading the directions thoroughly I ruined my first attempt at creating a tray mold, thankfully they prepare for eager teeth whiteners like me and send extra). I molded my chompers, wiped the drool from my face, and easily mailed them off for shaping.
Once I received the clear tray (perfectly shaped to my teeth!) I was super pumped to start whitening. I will be honest: ever since I was a kid I have had these giant white calcium spots on my two front teeth (like, square in the middle) that I used to be self conscious about. When I first started whitening these spots were glaringly obvious, like they had been when I whitened in the past, and almost made me want to stop. However with a little googling I found out that if you keep going the blindingly white-ness of calcium deposits will disappear and, eventually the rest of your teeth will get so dang white that it will blend. Well, this was enough motivation for me so I kept going, eager to dissolve all these coffee traces.
Like they'd say in an infomercial, in as little as a few days my teeth were gleaming white. One time I did leave the trays in for a long time (you can keep them in from 15 minutes to 3 hours) and afterward felt like Ross Gellar with that freshly bleached glow, lol. They come with a desensitizing paste too, which I DEFINITELY needed, otherwise one swift breeze and I was on my knees writhing in pain! There are other teeth whitening things on the market, but I really like how this comes with a custom tray because, unlike the strips that just whiten the front portions of your teeth, the tray covers your entire mouth. Now, sure, you probably don't need your back molars all white and shiny, but if you're a semi weirdo like me you feel odd just whitening part of your teeth. DO THEM ALL I say! It's like an actual dentist whitening program at home, but way less costly.
I am real pumped Smile Brilliant hooked a sister up because, although they did send me the kit for my honest opinion + review I really love it and am happy to have it as a staple in my beauty cabinet. I will totally order more, especially since our Christmas gift to each other was a Ninja coffee maker...
Everyone from church kept asking me "so, are you going to do the New Year Fast?". "Yes yessssss I would begrudgingly respond, I just don't know what I'm going to fast from, God hasn't told me yet."
"Maybe social media!" they would nearly always exclaim.
"Meh. I don't know, I'm sure there is something else God wants me to ditch for two weeks. Plus, I've got a business to run! I can't avoid Facebook for that long, what if I get a LEAD? I'll pray about it..." I would respond, with truly NO intentions of committing a legit prayer session to the matter, I just wanted my friends to get off my back for crying out loud. Misery loves company DON'T YOU ROPE ME INTO THIS ONE, TOO! But then I did pray about it. And, like He almost always does, God responded.
"What oh WHAT should I fast, God? Food? I'd love to come outta this thing skinny. Or Social Media? But you KNOW I have a business to run. Please don't say go liquid please don't say go liquid...."
"You know what" he whispered to my heart as I pulled out of the Target parking lot.
Yep. I got it. Done deal. Right then the day before the church wide fast was set to begin He kindly helped me uncover the three things I was immediately convicted to ditch for two weeks: Social Media, Television and unnecessary spending. I then promptly went home and bought all the things I had in my Amazon and Sephora shopping carts.
Day 1 was turning out to be a breeze. I read my devotionals, spent the day cleaning, rotating my listening pleasures between Hillsong worship music and the Magnolia Story and honed in on what I should focus my prayers on during the upcoming days. It was glorious -- until 11:45pm when it wasn't. Days 2-3 were restful recovering zones for the grueling emotional toil I let the enemy (a less "you're a crazy person" sounding name for the devil, I suppose) wreak havoc on day one. DAY ONE, where my fingers battled the phantom motions of mindlessly scrolling my phone for the Facebook and instagram apps without my brain being cognisant. I'd even find myself typing out the Facebook website and once my profile popped up I'd scream "AH! HOW DID I GET HERE?!?!?!" and quickly close it out as if someone was watching.
Eventually I got used to being out of the loop and relished the additional time I had. I listened to three and half audible books as I edited client photos. I called my friends and chatted during my lunch break. I read more of the bible in the evenings and printed iPhone photos. I caught up with friends in person because I genuinely wanted to know what they were doing in their lives. I even felt the urge to BLOG. BLOGGGGGGGGGG, the bain of most photographer's existence these days. Suddenly I had all this time to do things and the energy and desire to do them. One time I even gave into the CNN news click bait that Kim Kardashian spoke out about her robbery and when I saw the television promo was disgusted. Me! DISGUSTED at the flawless face of Kim Kardashian! WHAT IS THIS MAGIC?!?! Quickly I learned, it ain't magic, honey, it's the Holy Spirit, and He can do that and a WHOLE lot more if I just give Him my time and attention and, well, heart to do the working on.
Some things didn't change. I still fought the urge to curl up and watch a movie with Marshall in the evenings and stood in the Target aisle for 10 minutes contemplating wether or not to buy a $19.99 Sugar Paper planner when all I came for was squash and milk. But lots of things did change. I asked the cashier to take the planner off of my bill (VICTORY!), I spent time studying the gospels and journaling all the wild and incredible things I was hearing so much more clearly from the Lord, and I my trips to the restroom were much, much shorter.
God began to reveal to me that by giving up the desires of my flesh and these three things, I would in turn get so much more from him. I learned that, if I'm not careful (which, when AM I?) social media has significant influence over my decisions, from how to spend my days, where to take my business and even what to buy. Instagram makes me spend MONAYYYYYY. (If I was a great marketer I would totally use that to my business advantage, but homey don't play dat). Television isn't as influential, but it had been a waste of time. Evenings that could be spent around a bonfire with friends, spending quality time with my husband or making house chores enjoyable teamwork were more often consisted of searching for a movie on Netflix or binge watching a television series. And, well, my money. If you follow me on Instagram Stories (oh you KNOW I'll be back at that!) you'll know Whole Foods buffet is my jam. But now I was praying about so many things, lots of them rooted in 'financial freedom', and how could I trust God with my finances if I myself wasn't being a good steward, something God had been harping on me for years "Your middle name isn't Stuart for nothing" He once said to me REAL loud)? I needed a heart change, that was clear. So, thankfully, He did it. God put the lock down on me so much so that it was literally PAINFUL when I went back to target and dropped $19.99 on that Sugar Paper agenda once the fast was complete (because I really could use it. Let's be for real, didn't you see that one coming?). Most of all, I cut my dependency on perceived validation in the form of Instagram comments, likes and conversation and instead made efforts to learn to get all I needed to fill the void of loneliness/doubt/worth/anxiety/love from my Creator -- not the internet. Like, legit.
The truth is, I went into the fast reluctant. Wondering if I would make it through and if my photography would suffer from the lack of activity. But I wasn't on social media and my business didn't explode. Matter of fact, I love my own work again and feel rejuvenated with a mind full of room for natural creativity, not ideas or resentment sparked by others. You don't have to be led by the church to fast, and you don't have to be in church or even believe in anything to fast from social media. Once you make the decision to temporary step away or disciplined act of setting strict boundaries, you can clearly see the effects it can have on us and how freeing it is to live without it's influence!
In the words of pastor Mike Kai I am "exiting different than I left", I will not go back to the old condition and am thoroughly excited to see all the promises and 'big picture' come to fruition in our future, promises ignited through the fast. Life is so much sweeter when I just commit more time to listening to God and tune out all the rest. After all, He created this earth, and me! Why in the world wouldn't I trust him with my dreams? Sometimes I just think I can do better, but better than God? BETTER THAN GOD, ASHLEY. pshhhht. I'm walking out of that fast with prayer and praise, seeing things from a different perspective.
I stayed up late, knowing we had big sunrise plans for the morning, trying diligently to write you a note. How on earth I could take all the intense, fire-igniting emotion I was bursting with for you and compound them into a single letter, I had no idea, but I was determined to try. So while you not so quietly slept, I opened my heart and wrote, taking breaks to pause and listen to the way your breath escaped between your lips, observing your frequent tiny movements as you dreamt and smiled at the dogs warmly curled up around you.
Seven years ago on January 7th we nervously waltzed into that Justice of the Peace Office and shakily exchanged vows, popping cheap champagne and tostino's pizza rolls in celebration before I had to wake up early and drive 3 hours back to work the next morning. Once engaged and facing your upcoming deployment, your parents urged us to make our marriage official. "But we JUST got engaged" I would panic. "And I want a wedding! A NICE wedding, with a dress and everything!". Knowing friends and family had performed simple ceremonies that rarely resulted in the later large celebrations they had originally hoped for, I thought I wanted to wait. Not to marry you, we had already been together four years, I knew YOU were the one, but wait to have an actual wedding day. "We are already going to get married" you reasoned, and your parents had valid financial points. So I trusted your logic, followed my gut and we did it, just as long as you swore not to tell anybody. And you didn't. Until 5 years later. ;)
I will never forget being nervous, standing up there in my "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" and then looking across toward you, hair spiked, looking nice, and noticing through the slight tremble of your hand that you were nervous, too. Your excitement and shakiness made me feel more at ease as I thought "we are in this together".
From studying abroad, moves to different homes, fights about the stupidest stuff in the world, joining the military, deployment, Napa, Thailand, all over Europe, then transitioning out of the Army, our ten years together has been nothing short of an adventure. I can't help but laugh at the obvious hand God has taken in our marriage (I mean, he brought me back to Hawai'i for crying out loud, when I literally CRIED OUT LOUD that I didn't WANT to come back -- I wanted EUROPE!), while you may be injured he provided a way for you to comfortably shift from the Army to the next phase in your life, answered a specific prayer list for a charming little home by the beach with a legit cool breeze, and sent us on to celebrate our most recent anniversary in, you guessed it, Europe! Just when we thought our trips together couldn't get any better, the Eiffel tower sparkled right outside our window and I nearly pinched myself.
All these years of maritial "bliss" and it still feels like the first. I love your strong, handsome face, sparkly green eyes, bomb eyebrows, 10 year old movie quotes and rap songs quickly turned sentences even MORE this seventh year of marriage. While most people are refreshed after short breaks away from their significant other, we are quite literally better when we're together. I simply can NOT get enough of you, Marshall Brett Woods! I know my note won't ever do it justice, but I seriously love you to the moon and back. People joke that the "seven year itch" sets in on marriage right around this time, and I am so happy to simply be scratching your consistently itchy back. "Scratch me", he always says, extending his forearm in my general direction.
We may travel the world, both together and apart, and while I have no idea where the future may take us, it really doesn't matter. Wherever we are or what we do, today or ever, I am happy just being alongside you. "Twenty years from today I'll be with you, with nothing more to see..."
How in the world is it possible to live in Paradise, a tropical city filled with warm breezes that you don't ever foresee yourself wanting to leave (that, mind you, you had a straight up hissy FIT about moving to in the first place that your husband reminds you of often) yet still yearn to live in another locale? MULTIPLE places, in fact.
Unless you're romantically straddling the border like the scene in that Nicholas Sparks movie where Mandy Moore is dying or something, you can't be in two cities in once, but somehow my heart always is. It has never left Europe ever since I studied abroad in France 10 years ago, has trickled over to Thailand where I feel strangely comfortable, has found a home in Hawai'i, and still considers Charlotte, North Carolina "where I'm from", although I'm not. You know that saying you "leave a piece of your heart everywhere you go?", well it's painfully real for me. I have to remind myself to appreciate the places I have seen, the constant tug at my heart to adventure more and the future of what I am yet to see, all while fighting against the folly of discontent.
A scripture I stumbled upon while cozy on a train that was quickly gliding us through the snow covered alps of Switzerland in December, I couldn't relate any more and was clueless that this desire was even a folly. I've always known I have always wanted to see more, experience the perfect day and push to see touch and eat everything around me in a city, even to the point of carelessly exhausting others. Here I was in Europe, a place filled to the brim with inspiring colors, endless cuisine and eye catching fashion and I still WANTED MORE. MORE MORE MORE. What on earth.
While I realize this seed planted deep within me pushing me to go out into the world is one that is good and from God, I also needed to recognize the potential danger in being discontent in the moments where my mission is here at home. While I am sure my true home is scattered in cities and apartments and villages all across the world, I have to find content in the days spent rolling up my sleeves and working hard in lieu of exploration and dream of the next moment abroad, not simply wait on it.
All this talking, I think I may wind up a legit missionary. Uh oh. I said it. Also, I am excited about blogging again, if you couldn't already tell. Welcome to my online diary! You'll hear it here first as my thoughts unfold, in legit real time. #sorrynotsorry
Standing in front of my tiny yet jammed packed closet I held the vintage sequin jacket up for comparison "..but is this too much?" I contemplated. I mean it IS New Year's, and that's what sequins are for. You know, being a touch over the top.
Concerns of being "too much" were nothing new to me, I've heard it all my life. Too LOUD. Too talkative. Too much make-up. Too dressed up. Too ambitious. Too eager to lead. Too controlling. Filled to the brim with TOO MANY DREAMS. So naturally the sand would meet the sea and the voices of others quickly collided into my own until I started questioning moments frequently, those both seemingly insignificant and others impactful. Most days sure I was being too much of whatever and should let so-in-so take the reigns. Own the spotlight. Lead the way. I would even ask others for their input on my TOO MUCHNESS. I'd leave it to someone else to be centerstage, but not me. I yearned to be valued, so I decidedly would sit back and groom myself, diving into achievement and perfectionism, only allowing the "too [talkative] [leading] [knowledgable]" side of myself come out when deemed 1000% necessary. And this was not often. Unless it was a case of a fashion dilemma. Or a pair of iridescent hologram ottomans which are, in fact, perfect and couldn't be too much even if you added a 4 foot shimmery bow and pom pom trim. Those things are a Christmas miracle. Photos soon.
"Make room for others." It's this kind of ridiculous self-sacrifice that has me turning down an offer of help when I'm clearly struggling to carry a million things, or that has heaven knows why caused me to turn down a gracious tip without even thinking (twice!). "Make yourself small" the unconscious tug would direct me. Or mostly, as Hayley Morgan so perfectly put it in her book Wild and Free, that "living at my full capacity would make....[insert other people] insecure about their abilities. I shouldn't be too big or make [other people] feel too small. "
This, along with the desire for a change of pace and urge to do work things my way, has left me quiet in several forefronts of my life. In blogging, in case you haven't noticed. In posting online, which, let's be for real, I could do without forever so no regrats* there. And ultimately in sharing testimonies and the GOOD NEWS OF THE LORD! Yes, I said that loud and proud and with quite the twang.* But just days before a social media fast (yes, I am on a fast but still blogging. A sistah gotta make some loopholes) I prayed for a "word for the year" and, as He often does the Lord answered loud and clear.
"SPEAK" He said. Actually I said, but I didn't come up with it. He did. And then I cried. Cried because I knew what speak meant. Not just be a speaker, but one day that will probably come too because, well as you've learned I TALK "TOO MUCH", but to share and testify. Again. You gotta say that in your head like a southern baptist preacher. TES-ti-FY! I've had a break to get my thoughts together, take a breath and now it is time to press forward, perfect or not. To just put fingers to keys, feet to streets and GO.
I slipped on the sequin jacket, topped it with a not-so-understated gigantic necklace and headed out the door. Too much is just enough for me. And in the wise words of Pitbull, "Thinking that the sky was the limit
'Til I figured out there was footprints on the moon
Now I'm like get out the way... move!"
*hope you caught that
*hope you heard that.
Presented to her was a large box, pristinely wrapped in celebration of her birthday. Carefully tucked away inside was a photo of the island. Not just any island...O'ahu. Clay had successfully surprised his adventure loving wife with her first trip to Hawaii, a place he himself had been itching to get back to.
So they hopped on a plane in Indiana, just the two of them (and her slew of cameras, duh), booked the luxurious hotel featured on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and promptly had an umbrella in their drink (or in Alexis' case, an ice cream cone). Prepped for Hawai'i with endless loops of Hawai'i 5-0, Alexis of Life By Lex Photography new she wanted to take advantage of the lush landscape around Turtle Bay and took their turn being in front of the camera for a change.
Alexis and Clay, our short and sweet session was not enough time to spend with you guys, I could have spent the week together! The sparkle in your eye, excitement in your voice and passion for spending quality time with one another was dazzling to witness. I am so happy I got to document snippets of your travels together, here's to a lifetime filled with wanderlust. xo
Check out the recent feature on Wedding Chicks here!
Event Coordinator: Smells Like Peonies Events Calligraphy: Sarah Pearl Studio Jewelry: Lindsay Marie Design Ring: Trumpet + Horn Florals: Passion Roots Tableware: Maison De Ware Dress: Love + Lace Hawai'i Ribbons + Runners: Adorn Company Make-up + Hair: Mariah Melanie Cake: A Cake Life Ring Box: The Mrs. Box Venue: Dillingham Ranch Furniture: Roam Rentals Hawai'i