Category Archives: JVC

learning to be a cook.

Chopping vegetables will always take me back to Boston.

I spent countless Monday evenings standing at the counter in Casa Taj, removing the papery skin from onions, slicing them into horizontal rings, and dicing them into smaller pieces, tears burning my eyes. I’d peel the tough outer skin off sweet potatoes and cut them into small cubes. Bell peppers (always green because they were the cheapest) would be de-seeded and diced along with the rest. A swirl of olive oil in a pan, then I’d add the onions and bell peppers. A healthy dose of garlic and spices came after that.

I’d stir and stare off into space while the vegetables sizzled on the stove or soup simmered.

Eventually, I would move onto shredding mountains of cheddar cheese. Usually I would be checking the oven throughout, peaking in to see how whatever baked concoction I had dreamed up was coming along.

Our knives were never actually sharp enough, and no matter how much we scrubbed them, the counters never seemed quite clean (the floor was a complete lost cause). The dish drainer was always overflowing. But that kitchen felt like home.

I would have never said that I could cook before JVC.

I had long understood the beauty of baking, but that year was when I begin I understand the beauty of cooking, of putting a full, sometimes even healthy, meal on the table to enjoy with others.

I still cook mostly from scratch, but now it’s mostly just for me. I sometimes still don’t scale my quantities down, so I end up with pots of soup large enough to feed me for two weeks.

But now I love cooking. I enjoy having friends over for dinner and having excuses to try new recipes. I didn’t grow up in a family where we ate dinner together every night, but that is a ritual I now cherish.

For me, as with many things in life, sharing food goes back to the ancient idea of breaking bread, of the community that forms when we all sit around the same table. I now revel in any opportunity to share food with friends in any sort of intentional way. There’s something sacred about the table, about warm food and a real connection. I’m grateful to JVC for showing me that, and I’m grateful for my ability to (literally) bring something to the table.

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a love story of cities.

“It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with [the city]. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” -Joan Didion

There’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for the past 10 years or so–ever since I left my first year of summer camp in North Carolina–and is this question of how to be present in one place when your heart is so fully entrenched in another. How can I be present to the moment and and place in front of me while still honoring what has affected me deeply? Last year, this was a constant struggle in Boston, and this year, I am facing the same problem but in reverse this time.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve picked up this image of leaving pieces of my heart in the places that I’ve loved, that have felt like home. Some of these places are unspeakably grand and famous–St. Peter’s Square, for instance–while others are much more humble: my grandparent’s lake, my family’s farm, the football field I spent so many Friday nights at back in high school.

As happy and grateful as I am to be back in Missouri, I feel different here… I am not always as willing to make mistakes. This place is mine because I grew up here, first in my hometown for 18 years and then at college. They belong to me because of choices that were not mine to make (well, I did choose SLU, but less so). They belong to me in an effortless sort of way, my default almost. This doesn’t diminish the love that I feel for them at all, but it’s a different kind of love.

Rome was my choice. Boston was my choice. They belong to me because I made them mine. I chose them–and they choose me. I pulled out maps and took it upon myself to explore new neighborhoods. I found my favorite places and spaces not because I always knew them, but because I discovered them.

Last year, I belonged in Boston. That is a certainty in my life full of questions. And while I still have my moments where I wonder why I ever left, my heart and my head knows it was the right choice. Even though, for awhile after leaving, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

St. Louis will always have a place in my heart as the first city I ever called home, the first city I ever loved as mine. For that reason, it will always have a sense of comfort to me, the sense of “I knew you when you were just becoming who you are. My love has shaped you in a different way than any other.” They say you never get over your first love–maybe cities are that way, too.

(Also, if St. Louis is my first love, my hometown is the next store neighbor, who you grow up with. Practically speaking, they should fit you because of all of your history, but they ultimately just end up being the wrong fit, as your lives grow in different directions. While I still love that little town, it’s not where I belong anymore.)

And then came Rome. Rome was a brief, passionate love affair that I knew from the beginning would never last, but savored every moment all the same. It’s the intoxicating feeling you can’t drag yourself away from, free falling and loving every second of it. Leaving them is over-dramatic and irrational, and you almost have to be pulled away kicking and screaming because you can hardly bear the thought of life afterward. Walking away feels like something you might never get over, but after you’ve gone, you’ve left, and it’s done, you smile and treasure every moment with nothing but the fondest memories.

And Boston? I think Boston was the first city I ever learned to love in an adult–a mixture of all of the love that came before. The comfort and ease of St. Louis with a dash of the passion of Rome, and the sense of belonging that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know when I felt that for the first time. It was fast, but it wasn’t dramatic. It was just natural, effortless, matter of fact. Like, of course I’m in love with Boston, of course I fit here, hasn’t it always been that way? Boston felt real in a way that Rome never could. While leaving Boston was easily one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done, it was not like leaving Rome.

Leaving Boston was like a progression into adulthood–still very difficult, but also resigned. Because by that point, I knew that for me, it was absolutely what I needed to do. Boston taught me how to love people well, as an adult; and ultimately, that love meant learning when to walk away even when everything looks perfect, if you know in your heart of hearts that it isn’t quite right for you. And maybe it’s just a simple matter of bad timing. Or distance. Or the first love beckoning you back in the distance. Or a combination of all of the above.

I’m still trying to figure that out.

But in the meantime, here I am back in St. Louis, learning to love this city and make it mine in a way that I never could in college because so much of surroundings were chosen for me. Even though I’m still only a few minutes away from SLU’s campus, it feels different knowing that I chose this neighborhood, I chose my coffee shops (and chocolate shops) to frequent, and I can go beyond the SLU bubble (although I rarely make it beyond the South City bubble these days, let’s be honest). I’m relearning this love, and I think St. Louis and I are better together now because of the distance than we would have been otherwise.

Maybe this love can grow and develop into something completely different; I think it’s already on it’s way to doing so. While leaving St. Louis is never easy, I keep coming back again and again because somehow it finds ways to grow with me. That ability to keep growing with me? That might make it my forever.

Or maybe someday again, the timing will be right for Boston, and I’ll get to relearn Boston as an FJV. Or maybe another city will sneak it’s way onto this list; jump right in and surprise me.

I’m just learning to live in love, no matter where I am.

a letter to me.

If I could write a letter to myself, one year ago, this is what it would say. 

Dear Meg,

Right now, your next year is full of uncertainty. You will make choices over these coming months that will be difficult. You will doubt yourself and not see what the next step on the road is supposed to be. Your heart will feel like it is being ripped away from the community and life you dedicated a year to building.

You will be tempted to try and hold all of these feelings in. Don’t. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself be open. Be in the moment, and let yourself feel both the sorrow and joy of it.

When you are hurt–and you will be hurt in ways you never see coming–let yourself feel that pain, but let the pain become a gateway to growth. When your trust is betrayed, you will be hurt so much more deeply than you realize at the time. Your instinct will be to fight back, but when the time comes: choose lovechoose forgiveness. Not just in this moment, but over and over again.

In the midst of all of this confusion, you will have a moment of clarity when suddenly you know what you have to do next. You will know that your heart is beckoning you home, even though you don’t know the reasons why. Listen to it, even when it hurts. Trust this moment, even as you still can’t begin to imagine leaving Boston.For now, treasure the time you have left. Be grateful. Soon you will pine for simple Friday nights watching movies and a warm meal prepared by your community members. Home will seem eerily quiet, after a year of the commuter rail rattling your windows and the noises of your Boston neighborhood.

Saying goodbye’s will be one of the most difficult things you have ever done. Remember that this difficulty is a testament to your year and how much you gave of yourself. (And it’s okay to cry in public. Really.)

You will buy a one-way plane ticket and get on a plane to fly back to St. Louis. It will be a perfect summer day when you leave Boston, and you won’t know when you will be back again. This uncertainty will haunt you, but I promise you’ll be back sooner than you think.

You are making the right choice to leave. Coming back home is necessary for your journey. As time goes on, you realize that while home may look easier on the surface, it was actually the challenging choice.

Because know this: coming home will be difficult. You will be surrounded by those who have known you since childhood, the oldest friends and family who love you in a way no one else can, but you will also be far away from all that became familiar over the past year. You will ache and feel that distance in a way you can’t put into words.

Those who love you will push you and ask hard questions about your future, and you will need to hear them, even though you don’t want to. Keep listening. Let them love you in the ways that they know how to.They won’t always understand this most recent part of your journey. But that is okay, because the world will not understand, and you must learn to share your story regardless.

Don’t expect to heal over night. Let yourself be vulnerable when you need to be.

Applying for jobs will be miserable; it will wreck your confidence and make you humble. You will have moments when you despair of ever finding something that’s the right fit, but don’t let these feelings overwhelm you. Stay focused, and invest in reflecting about what you really want. And that feeling in the pit of your stomach? Listen to it. You know what you need to do. Sometimes it’s okay to make the impractical choice.

Because you know what? Despite your moments of doubt, it will work out. You will fall in love with a new job, a new neighborhood, and new chapter of your life. These things are in your future even though you can’t even imagine them yet. They will be exactly what you need, and you will gradually grow into them. You will still struggle, but the struggle will look different. You will look different. You need to look different.

In the year to come you will have plenty of moments where you will still wonder “what if?” That doesn’t make your choices less right. You will feel lonely in ways that you never have before. There will be rough Friday nights. Learn to sit with them, to let yourself be lonely, and to find comfort in your own company. As much as you want to click those numbers on speed dial, occasionally reach for your journal instead. Find a balance between the dependence of community and standing on your own two feet.

Pick up the pieces. Give yourself the credit you deserve at work and in life. Don’t be ashamed of any choice that you made out of a loving, healthy place. Take care of yourself: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Save your pennies for plane tickets, and don’t beat yourself up about spending too much money on groceries (that $90 a month thing isn’t really realistic for your post-JVC life). Call Mom. Listen to Papa (he’s almost always right… even about the yoga classes). Be grateful to be so close to your family–it’s a luxury many don’t have. Keep Casa Taj on speed dial. Keep your heart open to everyone you come across. Celebrate the joy of the everyday.

These next months will break your heart. They will leave you broken. That’s okay. In fact, it’s just what you need. Trust the process. You will come out better on the other side. Most importantly, trust in God who has been before you, beside you, and behind you throughout it all.

Love,
Me

P.S. You’re lactose intolerant. Buy some almond milk; you’ll feel a lot better.

boston strong.

Today I had the day off work. It started like any other day.

I ran errands, where I talked to the friendly cashier in Trader Joe’s about Boston, blissfully unaware of the tragedy that was to come.

I vaguely knew it was Marathon Monday in Boston, but I didn’t really think much of it.

I baked cupcakes for a friend to celebrate and commentate a professional milestone. When I gave them to her, several hours later, I could hardly focus on our conversation because my mind was so far away.

My roommate was the first person to alert me that something wasn’t right. “Something happened in Boston.”

“Yeah, today is the Marathon.”

“No, not that. Something not good.”

I cried.

I went to the gym, weights and deep breathes during yoga giving me a few moments of distraction, but all the while my heart continued whispering, “Boston, Boston, Boston.”

I cried again.

I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, relief coursing through my veins with each post confirming another person’s safety.

I checked Twitter: news, headlines, and messages of consolation splashed across each page.

Boston.

My beautiful, proud, resilient city.

Thank you for letting me call you home, for choosing me just as much as I chose you. I am grateful for your people that welcomed me with open arms, your streets that became familiar haunts, and today, most especially, for the afternoons I spent and treasured in Copley Square. The beauty of those moments outweighs the tragedy.

I believe in you still, Boston, and I will always love you first and foremost as home.

—–

And I woke up still in a haze today, still broken hearted.

I almost forgot how much of a Bostonian I considered myself.

But really, I don’t think this is just about Boston. This is about humanity. This is about our communities, our celebrations, and our personal milestones that we celebrate together.

Last year, I walked the streets of Boston everyday. I carried a T pass in my wallet and called the Orange Line “mine.” Every night, I fell asleep underneath a map of Boston tacked on the wall over my bed. In my early days, I’d stand on my bed, tracing streets and the routes of the T, willing myself to learn it all, wanting to soak up as much as possible.

I spent afternoons wandering around Copley Square, enjoying the farmer’s market and a good book in warm weather, checking out books from the Public Library, and buying food from Food trucks. Copely was–and will forever be–one of my favorite places in the city. But now it and that stretch of Bolyston Street means something else to people everywhere.

During my time in Boston, there was hardly a day that went by when I didn’t think about how lucky I was to live in this beautiful, strong, proud city.

Boston means something now. And it will forever mean something to me.

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.”

on community: take two.

 

I have talked a lot about the blessings of JVC, but I mean it when I say that this was the highlight; this is the best gift I received:

Community:
the love and support of these four wonderful women,
who became my Boston family, some of my best friends, and my support system. 

If I can say nothing else about last year, I can say that I walked away with four beautiful, life-giving friendships that will continue long after the official end of JVC.

What these women know, what they saw, and what they experienced with me is something that no one else will ever quite be able to understand. While others were incredibly instrumental in my year, no one was there in the same way, day in and day out.

Community is it’s own kind of love. It’s different than friendship or family or a business relationship–probably because it’s a strange mixture of all of the above. I’m still floored by the love that these women showed me. They laughed with me on my best days and took care of me on my worst. They challenged me, and as cheesy as this sounds, they also inspired me. They held me accountable, called me out on the things I didn’t want to admit, were always concerned for my well-being, and asked the hard questions.

It meant everything to know that on my worst days, when I felt like my personal life was a mess and my performance at work was terrible, I knew I would come home to my community and a meal on the table that night. Somehow that always made things better.

Another of my “defining moments” of JVC was at Orientation while we were discussing our needs for the year, and Abby said very simply that we needed each other. And we did. I couldn’t have made it through last year without community; I know that without a doubt. And I guess that’s when I realize that we still need each other, even now that we are far apart. Perhaps we need each other more than we did before–just in very different ways–because they understand the beautiful chaos of last year more than anyone else. When I get caught up in the business of my daily life, I need someone to remind me of the lessons, the challenges, and the beauty of JVC.

We had to learn to live with each other, and now I am slowly learning how to live without them. They were my hardest goodbyes, and I am counting down the days until we are reunited.

So, ladies, thank you, thank you, thank you, for the most beautiful year and experience of community that I ever could have asked for. Abby, Cristina, Kateleigh, and Maggie, I’m better off from knowing you.

 

P.S. This post is very delayed. I started writing it before I even left Boston, and somehow it took me almost six months to get around to finishing/posting it. But somehow that makes it more meaningful because I think I mean it all more now than I did even then.

and i will walk with you.

I still work at a non-profit, but I no longer work in direct service. While in many ways, I feel that this is a much better use of my gifts, I can’t deny that I miss daily being with people.

JVC is still an exercise in reminding myself that I am not in control. Because now I have to trust that the people I left behind will be alright without me. That they will be taken care of and cared about by others. That they have taught them enough to take care of themselves.

On my final day at Casserly House, one of the adult ESOL students gave me hug and told me this simple phrase that has stuck with me ever since; “We will be together in the prayer.”

And we still are together, even as I live over a thousand miles away.

Most people count themselves blessed if they have one place in this world where they feel welcomed, loved, and accepted. I have many, and I know that I will always count Casserly House among those places.

Instead of complaining about not having the people I love with me, or being far away from the city I know, or complaining about how my heart usually feels torn into pieces, I need to be grateful that I have places and people I love so dearly–and people that love me back.

I should just be happy that I have so many places that I love. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

And even though I’m so far away, I hope they know that I’m still thinking of them, praying for them, walking with them.