on the beauty of brokenness.

During JVC, I met with a spiritual director once a month.  My spiritual director had also been a JV, and as I questioned where I was headed post-JVC, she shared pieces of her own journey with me. She talked about moving home again, trying to figure things out, and said that doing so was ultimately a time of healing because her JVC year had left her so broken.

At the time, I didn’t quite get it. “Broken?” Yes, there was that day I cried in the bathroom at work and many more where I felt completely overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t have characterized my emotional state as broken. That word didn’t seem to quite fit.

Then, the last month of JVC happened, and I have rarely been so overwhelmed by emotions (and as a self-proclaimed emotional person, that’s saying a lot). By the time I stepped on a plane to leave Boston, I felt like my heart had been ripped out, put through a wringer, and stepped on a few times for good measure.

That first week back in Missouri, I was quiet a lot, as I scribbled down memories in my journal and unpacked my suitcases. I realized that the epiphany I was secretly hoping for regarding my life’s direction wasn’t going to happen; I wasn’t going to wake up and magically know what I was supposed to do next. I felt lost, afraid, and even though I was now surrounded by the people I had spent the past year missing, just a little bit lonely.

The physical distance from Boston, my community, and Casserly House allowed me to take stock of my year as a JV in a new way. During the year, I don’t know if I ever fully admitted to myself how hard JVC was. But back in my comfortable home, suddenly I realized that, even though I loved JVC, it was easily the most difficult thing I have ever done. I grew so much during JVC, and I began to see that growth as a result of pain and hurt and… brokenness

Finally, I understood what my spiritual director had been saying. I realized how broken I was–and how broken I still am. My heart aches for the tragedies and injustices I witnessed, for the relationships I left in Boston, and the times I got burned when I allowed myself to be vulnerable.

Slowly, I have begun the process of healing, and I have started to make peace with myself about the past year of JVC–all that transpired, my own failings and shortcomings, and the lessons I’m still learning.

While my heart needed this time to recover, I also believe that there is still value in brokenness and in the beauty of vulnerability in my life now as an FJV. The reality of brokenness is just as important because it is a way for me to continue to live out the four values I now treasure so dearly.

By staying broken, I continue to hold dear the people and stories that affected me so deeply during JVC and those that continue to affect me. I remember the injustices, the prejudice, the shame, and the pain. I remember what poverty looked like, sounded like, felt like on emotional, spiritual, and physical levels. I  I remember the story, not just the statistic. Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”  Maybe the purpose of JVC was not just to break me, but also to show me that I’m supposed to stay broken… because that’s the only way I am able to love and embrace this tragic, messy world for what it is.

In the words of Pedro Arrupe, SJ, “Falling in love with God… determines what will break your heart.” Last year, I fell in love with the face of Christ in the the “dear neighbor” at Casserly House, in my community members, and in the kindness of strangers who welcomed me in a strange city. Some of those relationships broke my heart, but what are we called to be if not “bread broken for others”?

I don’t want to stop caring, to leave my heart guarded and aloof instead of raw and open, to close my eyes to what I see around me. As I continue to embrace my own brokenness, I trust in the words of Henri Nouwen that “the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

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