Category Archives: St. Louis

these four walls.

I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by the books, shoes, and birthday cards that represent my memories over the past two years. Slowly, all of these things are beginning to move into boxes that will be stored at my parent’s house, suitcases that will travel with me to Washington, DC, or bags to be donated. My room is emptying, and the walls are becoming bare.

It’s all slowly slipping away; life as I know it is slipping away, and I’m going with it.

I’m making to do list’s that seem never ending of tasks both big and small that need to be completed Before. Before what? Before the After I don’t even know how to imagine. I’m crossing items off my list, but I don’t know how to quantify the things that really matter. Instead, I focus on the things that I can: haircuts and health insurance, bills and boxes. I focus on this room, on somehow finding order through folding, sorting, and brushing away dust.

I look around at this tiny bedroom full of furniture borrowed from relatives and purchased at thrift stores, and I think how strange it is that this physical space can symbolize so much to me.

In the beginning, this room was freedom, blessed independence that I paid for on my own. I was proud of it, and I was proud of myself for learning how to fight my own battles.

The room quickly got messy, which was comforting at first, but later exhausting as clutter and unending noise dragged me down. I worked to make it neat with freshly laundered sheets, organized papers, and shoes lined up in a row, but I was just seeking perfection I’d never find.

Later, there were nights when this room was too much space, as pictures on the walls reminded me of the distance from those I love. I felt lost in it all; I didn’t know how to bear the weight of it on my own.

Then, there were the days when this room was desperately, never enough room to grow. It seemed to shrink each time I stepped inside. I couldn’t find space to breathe or to give myself a break. Simultaneously, my twin bed felt too big to be alone in and too small to contain my dreams.

If these walls could talk, they wouldn’t have any particularly exciting or scandalous stories to tell, but they could tell my story. It’s a story I think is common for most individuals in their early twenties: feeling like you’re playing a pretend adult, navigating the professional world and the confusing ideas of networking and “business casual attire”, long phone calls with friends who live too far away, hitting the snooze button again and again, inner wrestlings with self-doubt through scribbled journal entries, and going to sleep with a smile on your face because of small victory. This room has been witness to all that and more; it’s seen laughter, tears, doubts, prayers, and many questions.

Oh, the questions. I’m still working my way through those, as I sort through my possessions. Somehow I need to figure out what stays behind, what goes away, and what comes along into the After. I’m slowly disassembling this life, and I sort the pieces as I go, wondering where they’ll fit next and where I’ll fit next.

This room has meant so much, and these four walls have summed up this stage of my life, but they can’t come with me. I’m slipping away; I’m leaving them to start something new far away from all that’s familiar.

I still don’t know exactly what that new life will look like, but that’s okay right now. One of the lessons of this room has been accepting that I need to follow my path even when I can’t imagine what’s next. But, I do hope this next room has space for a bed bigger than a twin. I may not feel like an adult quite yet, but I think I’m ready for that.

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like a sailboat.

Oftentimes, I do my best thinking in transit. Being stuck in an airport, bus, train, or car for any amount of time gives me the space I need to sort things through in my mind. Being bound to neither here or there gives me the freedom to let some of those restrictions slide away. What I’m left with is a clearer version of myself.

And in the coming and the going, I leave one place and set of people for another. There’s always something to miss, no matter where you are. But the in between gives me something just as necessary. Statistics say that we receive just as much happiness from the preparation and anticipation of a vacation as from the trip itself, which I wholeheartedly believe. But I also gain something from the walking in between.

This morning finds me on a bus headed from Chicago back home to St. Louis. I’ve taken this bus a number of times over the past few years. There will always be something about weekend travel with a cheap bus ticket in my pocket and just a backpack to my name. It’s freeing and wonderful and a breath of fresh air.

These past few years have shown me how restless I am if I stay in one place for too long. I need movement. I need something new and something to look forward to. Mostly, I need to remember who I am distinct from any geographical location. Because sometimes the road feels like home.

But oftentimes, it’s the people that are home.

This weekend was stumbling off the Megabus and around downtown Chicago at 7am with bleary eyes. It was seeing the morning light glint off the river and onto the skyline. It was remembering the first time I saw this city as a 9 year old, completely in awe. It was the moment in high school when I fell in love with it and thought I might want to make it my own. It was college when I felt disenchanted and that love slipped away.

Finally, it was being back for the first time in 3 years and feeling a little of that initial thrill all over again. It was walking almost 10 miles to track the marathon and learning to see a new side of the city. It was the wind tying knots in my hair and beat up Toms with a new level of wear on them.

Mostly, it was being with Cristina again after 14 months apart and confirming that friendship is about who we are together and how much we care, not about where we are. And that is a feeling I don’t know how to explain. If you have felt it, you know what I mean. It was continuing to literally walk and run to meet each other where we are.

Being 24 has been a strange mixture between craving comfort and adventure. I simultaneously feel the urge to pack up my things and to stay put forever. I’m feeling more and more called to make a change, to do something different. It may not not be a huge thing, but it’s needed. I really feel called to pursue what I am passionate about and to figure out what work I really enjoy. There’s so much tension between the passion and the practical, but I am learning to seek that balance.

More and more, I’m starting to realize that life is about getting out of my own way. The struggle is to embrace who I already am, rather than fight it. And boy, do I spend a lot of time fighting. (Which is a shame because there are so many things in this world worth fighting for, but being yourself is about is simply about embracing.)

And on days like today, the line “I’ve been lost and I’ve been found, but mostly I’ve been waiting” rings more true than ever before, so I’ll continue to ponder what’s next as I watch the road roll along outside my window.

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.

standing still.

I feel it it again, that ache deep in my bones, the toll that time and distance take on a person.

Maybe it’s about control or maybe it’s about transition. For once, it’s not me but the things around me, the people I cherish, who are moving to new cities, getting engaged, starting new jobs, moving into new apartments, or all of the above.

Maybe it’s about knowing that no matter what I do, I cannot have everything. That’s obvious, but, at the same time, maybe it’s not, like when my greedy hands desperately keep clinging to things that I cannot keep.

This will be the first August in six years where I haven’t moved. I’ll wake up on September 1st with the same job, in the same city, living in the same apartment. For once, there’s not so much change for me, at least on the surface, but I always feel a lot of changes in this heart and mind of mine.

Staying the same during this time of transition for so many others makes me wonder about myself. I wonder about how much longer I’ll stay. When is the end of this part of the story for me?

After the upheaval of JVC and my first real year of working and trying to juggle this thing called adulthood by myself, I can’t deny that part of me feels a little relieved to be staying in the same place. After so much change, and still in the midst of change, it feels good to have some routine.

While I don’t ever want to be too settled, I also know that some routine is a really good thing, and a really good thing for me. Sometimes I feel as if everyone encourages you in your 20’s to not put down roots, to not settle into anything, to not have any sort of attachments, but frankly, while that’s good for awhile, it’s not good long term, at least not for me.

For me, self care has come to mean occasionally realizing that I need to take it easy. I need a little bit of familiarity right now. I don’t need to throw myself into change every August just for the sake of change. You change when it’s the right time for you, not because it’s the right time for everyone else. Forge your own path, follow your own heart, not someone else’s timeline or rules.

Because sometimes, pushing yourself doesn’t help you. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break and recognize that what you are already juggling is more than enough at the moment, that you don’t need to go around seeking out more just for the sake of seeking out more.

Our culture has this cult of busyness, where it’s a badge of honor to be busy, but that’s not healthy. You don’t need to do and be more everyday. Today you are you, and you are more than enough already. Be content where you are, learn to live in and love and master what you have already been entrusted with.

And sometimes we pick the hard thing just to pick the hard thing, which also isn’t quite right. Pick the right thing; sometimes that’s the difficult thing, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s wrong to stretch yourself in strange directions, when you can put your talents and gifts to better use in a different place.

And for me, for now, that means I’m staying here… and that’s the right choice for me.

Because how do you ever figure out where you want to go if you don’t ever stay in one place for awhile? Maybe that’s what the next year is about for me.

Maybe when next August comes, I’ll still stay. Or maybe I’ll be ready to leave, to change, to move. Or maybe it will be time sooner. It’s hard to say, but I know that I will know when it’s time.

on loneliness.

So, here’s some honesty for y’all:

I have spent a lot of time this past year being lonely.

That is hard to admit because loneliness oftentimes feels like a code word for weakness. And who wants to seem weak? No one.

But I believe there is great beauty in weakness, in vulnerability, in admitting your struggles.

I worry about what others think of me too often, and I worry about how admitting how lonely I feel will make me appear. But it’s not like I don’t have anyone. If anything, I’m proof of the fact that even having wonderful people in your life does not mean that you are exempt from these feelings. Everyone feels lonely sometimes.

Being lonely also seems strange when I think about how many people I have in my life. Part of the reason I moved back to St. Louis was because this is the place in the world where my family and friends are centered. Most of my family (immediate and extended) is less than two hours away. My parents are an hour away. Other family members are less than 15 minutes away.

I have wonderful friends in St. Louis from college, from studying abroad, and other places. I have wonderful co-workers and live with two great roommates. I volunteer, I am involved in my church, and I leave my apartment to socialize, I swear.

But the fact of the matter is all of these things–all of these people–still aren’t enough.

There are still moments where I feel achingly lonelyFor awhile I tried to pin it on simply missing community, but it’s more than that. I felt this way in college, in Rome, in Boston, and still now. Some of it is likely due to my personality’s disposition towards melancholy, but I think it goes beyond that.

Sometimes we just feel lonely, whether’s a moment or a season of our lives. But I think it’s most important to remember, that even when we feel lonely, there are plenty of other people out there who are in the same boat. It’s normal, and it’s unavoidable–and that’s okay. In fact, it pushes us to seek out true connection even more than it would have otherwise.

twenty-four.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin these days when it comes to writing. My life isn’t as easy to compartmentalize since JVC is over, but I had a birthday about a month and a half ago, and here’s a few thoughts on the first few months of being twenty-four.

The thing about having a birthday so close to the beginning of a new year is that I just finished reflecting on the ending of a calendar year, so I’m usually not too inclined to do much thinking about what my birthday means.

But I’ve already made a lot of progress on my goals/resolutions for 2013: I became a Big Sister, visited Boston again, joined a bunch of fitness classes at the gym, and made a few recipes from my ever-growing list. I still need to get a library card, but that will happen soon. Anyway, that’s a to do list, not a resolution.

More broadly, some friends and I have proclaimed this year to be “No Shame 2013”

Take that for what it is, I want this year to be about loving myself, about wearing what I want, when I want to, even if it’s being overdressed, or wandering around in yet another flannel shirt. I will wear red lipstick even when it’s a little bit over the top. I will goto the gym because it’s fun and it makes me feel better about myself and I’m trying to care about my health in the most holistic way.

No shame for my choices, past, present, and future. No shame for who I am. No shame about what I do.

I want to continue this journey of focusing on figuring out what I want and doing what I love.

My dad has been talking to me about knowing what I want since I was a kid, I have a letter saved that he wrote when I was 9 just on this topic. I spent most of high school and college being pretty indecisive about what I wanted. But deep down, I think I’ve always known, it’s just hard to name it and claim it sometimes.

I’ve also really started the process of discernment again. After JVC, my thought process just went something along these lines: find a job in St. Louis so I can move out of my parent’s house. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a job working for a organization that I believe in doing work I find meaningful, that also gives me paychecks and health insurance and all of that good stuff. I managed to find an apartment and roommates in a neighborhood I love. Settling into all of that has taken some time, but I’m finally there, and now I can begin to really think about the ever present question of “what’s next?”

Those are a lot of big questions that I’m only beginning to sort out, but here’s just a few more concrete things that have summed up these first weeks of being 24:

Tea every morning at work.
Spending too much money at Trader Joe’s.
Tights and boots and pining for spring.
Nights at zumba and yoga classes.
Working too many Saturdays and loving my job all the same.
Spending afternoons with my little sister.
Trying to strike this strange balance between college-JVC-professional life.
Painting my nails a new color every week just because I can.
A new (to me) car.
Bills and budgets and savings.
Boston and birthdays and Mardi Gras and reunions and celebrations with my favorite people.
Lots of brunching.
The longest hair I have EVER had.
Journal entries every night about where I see God in my life.

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.