Sunday, July 14, 2013

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. 


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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

back at it.

It's been awhile.

And I have missed this.

I've struggled to find a place for blogging in my post-JVC life, just like I how I struggled to find a place for blogging during college after studying abroad in Rome.

The fact of the matter is I like blogging. As an introvert, I often feel like I communicate more clearly through writing than speaking. However, it's difficult for me to blog when the overarching theme of my life isn't wrapped up in something specific. Before it's been "Megan moves to Italy and studies abroad!" and then "Megan moves to Boston and does a year of service!" Now my life is "Megan works full time at at non-profit and lives 80 miles away from where she grew up!" See? The last one definitely isn't as exciting (although I suppose it's debatable that the first two ever were).

Frequently, I still wonder if I have anything "good" to say (I certainly always have something to say). I don't live the most exciting life, but I find the beauty in the small things, the joys and challenges. And I'm learning more about finding God in the dailiness of my life.

But honestly? Most people I know and most blogs I read and love these days are written by people in the same boat. And I think to dismiss the ordinary and the everyday as unimportant is one of the biggest traps that we fall into. Your life matters, my life matters, and the stories that we share about them most certainly matter.
“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually." --Frederick Buechner
There's great value in sharing those stories, so I'm here to talk about mine: Learning to juggle work and life in new ways. Being a twenty-something and all that entails. Generally being happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time (sorry, had to go there).

During a recent read, I stumbled across a great piece of wisdom from Ignatian discernment. Basically, it boils down to this: when we keep all of our struggles, fears, and uncertainties secret inside of us, they have a tendency to overwhelm us. When we are vulnerable and put them out into the open, we take away some of the power that they have.

I can think of so many times in my life when it's been true. There are moments when it's mildly terrifying for me to open up--and we're not talking about just to strangers. Sometime it's my best friends, my family, my roommates, or my coworkers. It's easy for me to freak myself out and get stuck in my own head. When I finally do, however, I always feel that overwhelming sense of relief, of release. For this reason, it's healthy for me to push myself to be intentional about being vulnerable and open, and I think that blogging is a good way for me to do it.

The past year has been a good one for me, but it has also had it's own challenges. I haven't always known how to address all of the joys and challenges of my present state in life through blogging, but in this spirit, I want to recommit myself to writing in this space. I don't know quite where this will take me in the future, but I'm going to follow my heart for this one. But it will be here for now at least, again.

Let's see what happens, right? 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

the last time i saw Boston.

About two months ago, I made an impromptu purchase: a plane ticket to Boston. While visiting had been on my mind since the day I left, I had planned on waiting until at least the spring to return. I figured that would give me time to save money and hopefully guarantee better weather. A quick glance at the Southwest Airlines website on a Tuesday morning changed all that, and twelve hours later, I had a plane ticket waiting in my email inbox for a trip three weeks later. What can I say? I can't pass up a good bargain.

In the few weeks leading up to my return to Boston, my mind was constantly preoccupied with how it would feel be in Boston again after six months of being away. My heart was so nervous and excited to be back that I hardly knew how to feel.

The last time I'd seen Boston was a perfect summer day almost exactly six months prior. The sky was unspeakably blue with puffy white clouds. The bright August sun shone down on me and the crowds at the Boston Common created a familiar backdrop. I was drenched in sweat, tears, and emotions, as I hugged my community members goodbye and walked from our house to the T one final time. This day still feels both like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

One thought kept coming back up in my mind as I pondered all of this: leaving Boston once was hard enough. How will I do it again? It's was tempting to think that maybe it's easier to stay away sometimes: to not go back, to not continue to forge bonds and relationships, to not continue to find reasons to be in love with Boston. 

But obviously, I went back to Boston. And how did it feel?  

It was unspeakably wonderful be reunited with so many people and places and memories that I hold dear. Because of that, there were moments twinged with regret where I questioned the decision I made last summer to leave and go back to Missouri--that split second when I just knew what I needed to do.

However, perhaps most striking is what I didn't feel. After my initial arrival (and the correlating extreme excitement), I didn't feel much of anything but a sense of normalcy, of comfort. Boston felt like second nature, like I'd woken up and six months had slipped by overnight.

Being back was walking to Casserly House in the mornings, breakfast from Dunkin' Donuts, lunch with S. Nancy and Jim, continued conversations and relationships with ESOL & After School students, falling asleep to the sound of the commuter rail rattling the windows, reversed Casa Taj water faucets, wandering around the city, picking up with Maggie, Abby, and Kateleigh exactly where we left off, continuing to watch every movie ever set in Boston, and going to mass at St. Cecelia's and making a stop into the Starbucks across the street after. It was all of the routines and memories and people I spent a year cherishing.

Maggie and Abby drove me to the airport to fly back to St. Louis, and we took a rather meandering route by the Boston Common, across the Charles River into Charlestown, over the bridge back into the city so we could see our favorite view, and then to the airport. Every speck of that city is sprinkled with memories for me, in the best possible way.

And now? Now, the last time I saw Boston was a snowy February day. The wind stung my face, and snowflakes got caught in my hair. I still left with hugs and a few stray tears, but with a new sense of who I am, what I love, and gratitude for the city that helped shape me. 

See you again soon, Beantown. Love always.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

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."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

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:


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.

Monday, December 31, 2012


2012 will be a year I always remember, and for that, I am grateful. For so long, my life after 2011—the year I would graduate from college—was just a big question mark of uncertainty. I am grateful for the year I have had that has been full of challenges, blessings, surprises, laughter, tears, and transitions.

Trying to sum 2012 up is frankly, an exhausting and impossible possibility, but I'm going to make a stab at it.

I began the year by vowing to make mistakes, among other resolutions. I wasn't successful at some of those resolutions (I definitely didn't read 52 books), but 2012 was certainly about making mistakes—lots of them. From having discipline techniques at After School at Casserly House fail miserably to setting the alarm system off at my new job on my fourth day of work, I made a lot of mistakes. From tripping over my own two feet to stumbling over my words, I was far from perfect. And I am so grateful for each of those embarrassing, painful, and awkward mistakes because they represent the chances I was brave enough to take.

As already mentioned, 2012 was overwhelmingly a year of transition: two cities and one tiny town, two and half jobs, four very different living situations, and ten "roommates." It was a whirlwind, and I can't believe I ended up here in many ways. A year ago, I wouldn't have predicted 90% of what has happened in 2012. Transitions aren't easy, but I am so grateful for God who remains with me throughout it all, understands my fear of change, encourages me to embrace the vulnerability of newness, and keeps surprising me.

2012 was a lesson in learning to trust my heart. It was applying to grad school, getting acceptance letters in the mail, and feeling… nothing. It was turning down acceptances to really good grad programs in favor of the unknown. It was the decision between staying in Boston and coming back to Missouri. It was realizing that, for now, what was pulling me back to the Midwest was stronger than what was keeping me in Boston. It was moving back home without a plan and trusting that it all would fall into place. (And it was being thrilled when everything somehow did.)

2012 was figuring out what I wanted—and then changing my mind (because that is allowed). It was caring enough to let my heart get a little broken. It was feeling so much that it was sometimes overwhelming, but knowing that embracing those feelings indicates a form of self-awareness that makes me stronger. It was saying how I felt, even though at that moment it felt like the most terrifying thing in the world. 2012 was not having regrets, being eternally grateful for the kindness of strangers, learning patience, and being continually blessed by the relationships in my life.

2012 was nights falling asleep to Mat Kearney and the sound of the commuter rail, listening to "Shake it Out" by Florence & The Machine on the morning of my 23rd birthday, a summer defined by Maggie's mix CDs, and a fall with Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers on repeat (and okay, Taylor Swift's new album too). It was watching the entire first season of Girls in 24 hours, not because my life resembles a cast of HBO characters, but because that whole idea of "kind of maybe getting it together" resonates. 

2012 was my daily walk to Casserly House, wandering around the South End and hearing "Boston" by Augustana play at the perfect moment, eating popsicles with Mike, picnics at the Public Garden, and sleeping on the Casa Taj balcony. It was quiet drives on my favorite country roads, so much beautiful time with family, playing assistant wedding planner, endless resumes and cover letters, and the feeling I had when I stepped into my new office for the first time. It was learning a new workplace, figuring out life as an FJV, and watching the sun set over the St. Louis skyline and falling in love with this city all over again.

What is 2013 going to be about? At this rate, it’s hard to say. I have lots of hopes, but I'm still pretty into the idea of making mistakes—but I'm also intent on learning from them and putting a few of the lessons I've already learned into practice. I hope I keep growing. I hope I keep challenging myself. And mostly, I hope I keep being surprised by life and myself.

Thank you for a beautiful year, friends. I wish you all the best in 2013.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. And don’t forget to make some art, write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And somewhere in the next year, I hope you surprise yourself.” –Neil Gaiman

P.S. And quite obviously, I took way too many pictures of sunsets in 2012.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

hitting "pause."

changing seasons in Missouri.

After JVC ended back in August, I did what any respectable twenty-three year old would do. Unemployed and unsure of what direction I wanted to go in next, I moved back in with my parents to the house I grew up in, in the small town I spent the first 18 years of my life and every summer during college. And that's where I have (mostly) been since. 

I've been quiet for these past two months, both here and on paper. I've been doing a lot of reflecting, but I've struggled with knowing how to convey everything that's going through my mind. Mainly, I have spent this time applying for jobs, working part time, and catching up with friends and family, (which isn't too exciting after all, so I don't kid myself into thinking someone was missing out because of my lack of documentation).

However, these past two months have had their own sort of challenges. Being at home threw me for a loop at first. I embraced challenging myself during JVC, and I think the sudden lack of challenge was baffling. Overnight, my JVC routines vanished into thin air, and I suffered from more than a little bit of culture shock, including being overwhelmed by things like going out to eat a nice dinner and setting foot in a mall. I felt like I didn't know how to talk to people outside of the JVC bubble. Frankly, I felt shellshocked, and I still do in some moments.

Besides a renewed appreciation for my family, I have also gained a new understanding of humility since coming home. Again and again, well-meaning friends, family, and acquaintances questioned me over the past two months about how the job search was going. Every time I had to admit to someone, whether it was a stranger or a close friend, that I didn't have a real job yet and was still living at home, it was a blow to my pride. For most people, I slapped on a smile and tried to shake it off, but it never got easier.

In short, I have rarely felt so unsettled and confused. I compensated for the lack of control I felt about my life by going through almost everything I owned and getting rid of half of it (let the simple living continue). In my worst moments, I felt like my life had been put on hold when I stepped off the plane from Boston. However, as much as I may have felt like my life has been on pause during this period of transition, it hasn't been--not for a minute. I am still learning, and I am still growing. 

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Boston, text my community members, or miss Casserly House, but I do think I am where I am supposed to be, as difficult as it was to leave. It seems like things are beginning to fall into place for me, and I'm excited to see what happens next.

And throughout whatever happen next, I'm going to keep writing, because that's really the only way I know how to make sense of my life. I'm not quite sure what direction blogging is going to take post-JVC, but there is much be said for entering into the moment--even when the moment is confusing and seems purposeless--and that's what I am going to continue to try to do.

My questions post-JVC are a little bit different, as they include things like "Does 'business casual attire' mean I have to quit painting my nails obnoxious colors and wearing colored tights?" (answer: I sure hope not), but the big picture is still the same, as I continue to strive for meaning and intentionality in my choices and relationships.