Love What You Got While You Got It.

28 Jul

“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
Elizabeth Lesser

A little over a year ago I printed out driving directions to a convent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I walked into a room of 10 strangers, took a deep breath, and met a group of people who would forever change my life.

The second semester of my senior year at Loyola I was handed a book with hundreds of post-grad volunteer opportunities in America and beyond. I had no idea where I was being called next or what to do with life post-Loyola. Actually, I couldn’t even imagine life outside of the little niche I had created for myself in the Windy City. But after starring 80 different volunteer programs, my heart was pulled towards one, and so I sent in one application. At that time I couldn’t have told you what it was that felt so right. But as I sit here in the Southside of Pittsburgh at the Beehive Coffee Shop, preparing to kick it back to the Cleve in the morning, I now see that I was right to trust that little voice and not fight the nudge that pushed me to this place.

We aren’t always granted the luxury of sitting back to reflect on the impact that an experience has on our lives. Oftentimes we rush right through things, too caught up in the past or future to be where our feet are and soak up the magic of a given place and time. We’re physically present, but we fail to open our eyes and see a little of the grace that penetrates each moment. But this year, this time that we’ve had together, was different. Our eyes were opened, the fog was cleared, and we had our own little corner of the universe to cultivate community, service, spirituality, and simplicity—ultimately leading us to further understand what it means to love.

Eleven months ago eleven strangers decided to spend a year devoted to these four pillars. For different reasons and from different places, we all answered the call to come to Pittsburgh and serve. Through their passion, kindness, compassion, and deep-seeded desire to make the world better, my community has served me in ways I never even imagined. They have taught me that life is better when you enter into with others, and that even though investing into another’s chaos and choosing empathy takes its toll on your heart, it is the only way to live a life of love. They have taught me to love myself—even the weird parts—and know that it is only in loving myself that I can exude that love into the world. In each of their own unique ways, my community—and the other individuals in the Burgh who have touched my heart—have taught me a thing or two about the intersection of life and love, and a bit more about who I am in the process.

When reflecting on my purpose in the Burgh, it is impossible to distinguish between what I have given and what I have received. I have learned a lot and grown a lot, but I think that simultaneously I was meant to be here for people to learn and grow from me, too. I don’t say this to be self-aggrandizing in the slightest, but more so because I am beginning to understand that this is exactly how life works. We hear a call and we follow it—never knowing but always trusting that the plan of the Universe—of God—is bigger than we can grasp or comprehend. When we are in sync (haha…Nsync) with the Spirit and answer the call, we must trust that we’re sent where we are meant to be—both to gift and be gifted. This, I think, is what it truly means to be in community. We must come to know and trust that we have something to offer, concurrently knowing and trusting that the other has something to offer us. It is in giving that we receive (holler, St. Francis!). The point then, is to be in community with them all—the roommates, the clients, the co-workers, the strangers on the bus. Don’t write any of them off. Because each and every person can be a messenger from the Divine, if you only choose to see a little.

So though tomorrow this chapter ends and the page must turn, I am overflowing with gratitude for the moment in time that I got to call this home.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you,

but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach,

because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
Frederick Buechner

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To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

—Mary Oliver

Thanks for it all, Pals.

Slashed Tires, A Dead Pig, and the Meaning of Community

15 Jul

Today as my supervisor Karen and I were driving in the car, she looked at me, grabbed my arm, and said, “how can I miss you so much when you’re sitting right here?” That sentence pretty much sums up what I’ve been feeling since I flipped my calendar into July. The month I have been dreading since August—the month I say goodbye to my current home—has come. I knew it was coming, my brain has constantly been aware that my time here is finite, but judging by my emotions these last two weeks, my heart missed the memo that said I’d have to say goodbye.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks, both in the world I belong to and the world within me. Although I must admit, as I am learning to become more present, the two are becoming indistinguishable, as everything on the outside undoubtedly affects everything on the inside. I was reminded of this once again when I learned a deep lesson during two of the most unprecedented situations in these last few weeks.

On July 3rd Kim and I decided to try our hands at another road trip and take an overnighter to D.C. It was spontaneous and albeit a little impulsive, but isn’t every good adventure? My heart overflows when I think of the offers that came pouring in when we needed a place to stay with only a day’s notice—never lose faith in the world, friends, because hospitality is everywhere and generosity truly abounds. We had a great trip to the District on Thursday, jam-packed with American spirit and spirits. We were living in colors, and they were red, white, and blue. We woke up to a shock, however, when we found two slashed tires on Kim’s beloved Cream-Filling (yeah, that’s her car). And when I mean slashed, I mean someone had it in for the great state of Wisconsin, because that was no accident. So, after four hours, numerous phone calls, just a few tears, and a tow ride in our pajamas later (sidenote—the tow truck driver thought we were from Sweden…I mean, I guess?), we had two new tires and were on our way.
During the process of making Cream-Filling drivable once again, I felt like a helpless bystander. Though Kim and I were in this adventure together, there was not much I could do to help her coordinate with her parents or navigate her insurance company. As much as I willed it so, I couldn’t fix the tires. I couldn’t do anything, really—but I did know one thing. I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave Kim’s side through it all. I was painfully there through every frustrating conversation, closed auto body shop, and influx of information (“I’m sorry, you just said a lot of things. What??”). There were no actions, ideas, or even words that could help the situation—I could only hope that my presence could do something to ease the tension.

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(This is from our road trip to the Burgh, but it’s the only picture I have of Cream-Filling, the star of the show!)

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Fast-forward one weekend. This last Saturday the community went out to a pig roast at a local farm (though, given its lack of animals (except a dead pig) according to Joy it was most definitely NOT a farm). We played picnic games, ate delicious food, and had some good conversation. Everything about the event screamed a great time. But, as I’m learning, sometimes our emotions take the wheel instead of our logic, and I was just not having it. I had failed to address some things that were bothering me, and that night they took control and I shut down. Like, walking zombie shut down. I couldn’t wait to get home and close out the world with one slam of my bedroom door.

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But, of course, my community wasn’t about to let me fight my negative emotions alone, and multiple people came in to help me gain some semblance of balance. I didn’t know what I needed (I’m still learning this game where we tell people what we need and they give it to us…fascinating concept, letting other people in), so I couldn’t tell them what to do to help. Some chose to give me space but make sure I knew they had my back, which I am grateful for. But Kim wouldn’t let me off that easy. She sat down next to me, grabbed my hand, and told me we were in it together, and she was not going to leave my side. And she didn’t. She just stayed. And though I didn’t know I needed it, it was the best gift I could have received. And, in that moment, I thought back to the slashed tires, and I realized what community has taught me.

Community isn’t about what you do, say or give to another. It’s about presence. It’s about being invested in other people’s lives. It’s about saying to another person “if you aren’t okay, then I’m not okay either.”

I have grown connected to these people by more than a shared program, a house, or a shared stipend. I’ve grown to believe that my well-being is so inextricably connected with theirs that it physically hurts my heart to back away. I guess that’s love, and it means this experience has taught me to love more deeply than I ever thought possible.

And I’m okay with that.

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(The community (minus Chris and Wes) on a kayak adventure last week)

Well-Played, June.

1 Jul

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” 
― C.S. Lewis

During the month of June I have taken great pride in knowing what day of the month it is. It was not uncommon for me to walk into the office and announce, “Good morning! Happy June 13th!”, or “Have a lovely June 21st!”My hope in this astute attention to the date was that it would help me to be more fully present in each day, and maybe by some supernatural power this attention would help time to slow down. Makes sense, right? But, alas, the second we believe we have any sort of control we lose our balance, and June passed as quickly as ever, maybe even faster, just to prove to me I don’t have a say in the matter. Well played, June.

And yet, even though time has passed in the blink of an eye, we’ve crammed a lot of life into these last few weeks. Between cookouts and porch beers, frolics in the grass and long drives with the windows down, summer has definitely hit the ‘Burgh. There’s an energy in the air that makes me want to go to sleep late and wake up early, not wanting to miss a second of what these sunshiny days and summer nights have to offer. The Pals all seem to be infected with this energy, and we have been up, down, around, and about more than ever before. The free spirit inside of me is dancing for joy.

Some June adventures: 

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High ropes adventure course with Big Papa on Father’s Day

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Community night at the Pirates Game (they aren’t the Indians, but they’ll do in a pinch) 

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Volunteer ice cream scooping at Dream Cream (buy our flavor…Change a Heart gets the donation!)

I don’t know what I’m going to do when the moment comes where I have to hug my friends goodbye. I realize that life is a process of growing attached and letting go, but I feel myself clutching these Pals with every ounce of strength I can muster. I’ve had to watch loved ones move hundreds of miles away before, and  been dropped off at buses and planes amidst hugs and tears. I know we can do it, because we have to do it. Nothing gold can stay said Frost, and time passes sweetly by. But despite that awareness, I feel myself clenching these days with a white-knuckled grasp. And as sore as that makes my knuckles, I can’t say it’s totally a bad thing. Now more than ever, I’m savoring every conversation, every hug, every laugh. I’m choosing conversation over sleep and companionship over solitude. Maybe there’s something to living with the knowledge that time is limited.

In the span of our lives, this year is nothing but a dot on the timeline. But Mitch Albom wrote that one day can bend your life, and I know for certain that after a year in this little adventure my life will never be the same. Cliché? Of course? Sentimental? Naturally. But that’s just what love does to people.

Not a Shove…More of a Love Tap

8 Jun

Well friends, this time it’s been over a month since I sat down to compartmentalize feelings to formulate thoughts to create words to type into this cute little blog that’s been going strong throughout my volunteer adventure. I apologize for the time lapse, though if you embody what I strive for and accept the triviality of space and time, maybe it doesn’t matter to you too much. I can only hope.

The month of May was nothing short of an emotional overload. In an attempt to avoid interpersonal snafus in my own life I got lost in the quandaries of a pal…which was a nice distraction from my own issues, until inevitably I became emotionally involved. (Is there a name for feeling another’s feelings? Like tangibly, physically, feeling the way another person does, out of compassion, empathy, or just some superhuman connection? I’d love to learn that term.) So simultaneously I became overinvested in a friend’s troubles and knee deep in a few of my own confusing relationships. The good Lord knows I like to feel the feels, but this was just too much. Near the end of the month I finally decided that I needed to make things right, and multiple difficult conversations later I was on the path of healing each of the relationships in my life that had gone somewhere south of normal. I needed a fresh start, and those I care about deserved it, too. This was my mentality heading into June.

JUNE! I am absolutely loving this month so far. I’ve so affectionately taken to calling it “no-drama June,” and I’ve once again made a pact with myself to ground myself in the world in front of me instead of the one in my head, and be present to each and every moment these dwindling Burgh days have to offer. Last weekend some of the girls in my family came to town for a Pittsburgh adventure, and 2 hours of coffee time on June 1st definitely set the month out on the right foot. This week service progressed as usual, even a little slow as my office prepares to transition me out and new help in. But I’ve tried to carry on with a spring in my step and a song in my heart, because these are the days we’ll miss when it’s over.

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Sisters in the Burgh! 

Yesterday 5 of us went out to Prospect, PA to participate in the Run or Dye, a 5k where brilliant colors flew through the air to paint our persons with the rainbow as we ran. Energy was high and laughter was loud as we watched our white t-shirts, headbands, and socks get drenched in color. There was not one spec of clothing or skin that went unpainted. The pals and I had an absolute blast. Why spend your days in black and white when there’s so much color to absorb? RUN IN COLOR. LIVE IN COLOR.

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Today is Pentecost Sunday. To Catholics, this means that today we remember that the Holy Spirit is very much alive in the world, and when we surrender control to the movement of the Spirit we are led where we are meant to go. I DIG THIS. And I think it is important to remember no matter what your religion, spirituality, or world vision. When you open your eyes and pay attention to the world (be where your feet are, live in color, and all those other little things I say with a sly grin), you will ultimately be led in the right direction. And as a spunky, happy, immigration lawyer and nun told me at a picnic yesterday, if you have trust in that process life is terribly exciting, and incredibly fun, too.

In recent years I’ve begun this life-long process of being led. I believe that the Spirit led me to Change a Heart. It’s too random to believe it just happened by chance. And as I sit in this coffee shop today with one of the pals that has changed my heart, I am so thankful that I responded to that little shove—the gentle love tap—that guided me to this place. And I trust that I will continue to feel that little push, as I soak up these last few months, move to Boston, and continue to do my little part to set the world ablaze.

 

 

JOYFULLY NAKED. (With All My Clothes On.)

3 May

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.” -Brene Brown

Lately some of the Pitt Pals and I have started a bit of a joke to describe the different ways we think. Example 1: Rachel is an engineer. When I describe her way of thinking, I move my hand in a completely straight, vertical line in front of my face. She is a logical problem solver, and her thoughts don’t dwell in the realm of intangibles. Example 2: I’m, well, I’m me. When Rachel describes my way of thinking, she moves her arms in unrecognizable patterns above her head, because she knows that I’m fascinated by the intangible space where thoughts and feelings collide. So to all my engineers, you may not like this post. But to my other emotional thinkers out there, I think you’ll get where I’m coming from.

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If you’ve been on a retreat or two or twenty, you have heard of the great paradox of vulnerability. We grow up thinking that to be vulnerable is a sign of weakness—that you shouldn’t let them see you cry. But you know what? That’s horse shit. To be vulnerable, to speak your peace when your stomach is in your throat and your feet are sweating through your socks, now that’s strength. (Sorry for the language, mom.)

Side note: I’ve developed a slight obsession with the Christian biblical character Mary Magdalene in these last few weeks. Here was a woman who opened herself right up to the Big Man himself, basically saying, “here are all the awful things I’ve done in my life, here are all the reasons I know I’m not perfect. This is all I have to offer. But here it is. Here I am.” Talk about vulnerability. She poured out her heart. And you know what? She was loved. (More than any of those men, if you ask my opinion. But I digress).

I think of Mary Magdalene when I think of vulnerability. These last few weeks I was nudged in the same direction that she walked. Echoing Mary Magdalene, numerous times this month I’ve been asked to say, “This is all I have to offer. Here it is. Here I am.” WHOA. Talk about sweaty feet.

A few different conversations took on some serious tones lately, and I’ve spilled the contents of my heart to lovers and friends, admitting to my fears and insecurities in some of my most important relationships. I poured out word vomit (happy 10th anniversary Mean Girls!), without knowing how it would be received. But you know what? Despite the chaos and confusion of my heart, I am loved.

Last weekend some of the Pitt Pals bused it to Cleveland for the day to surprise me and see the city I call home. Mom and Pops took us all around town, showing off Cleveland’s best side. Then the girls came to my home to see the streets and the Stars where little Martha reeked havoc. I’ve always had an uneasiness bringing friends home with me—showing them my deep roots, mixing family and friends. There’s a certain vulnerability there. But you know what? Despite my insecurities, I was loved.

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            Those of you who know me well are quite familiar with the disease that I so articulately named “Martha’s crazy stomach.” I’ve had a nervous stomach since high school, but I consistently wrote off morning sickness and persistent nausea as a normal outlet to stress. Last week I decided that enough was enough, and with the support of a dear Pal I decided to see a doctor for my beautifully-named ailment. And you know what? I’m going to live! Sucking it up and showing a little vulnerability where my health is concerned has helped my doctor and me to create a plan of attack to cure Martha’s crazy stomach. And despite this surrender of independence that I’ve tried to hold onto for so long, I love myself.

Sorry to disappoint, but despite the title of this entry, being naked and vulnerable is not always my favorite pastime. But I’m beginning to learn that when I take off my mask and show a little vulnerability, the joy that arises is deeply rooted. I’m not just loved in spite of what is found. I’m loved because of it.

Cue the Full House music, because that’s been my latest lesson in the Burgh.

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Disintegrated Orange Juice

22 Apr

A few weeks ago the pals and I spent a weekend atop a mountain in Kermit, West Virginia. It wasn’t quite a seven-story mountain, but it took us about half an hour in the van to make it up the steep and narrow path from the base to the peak.

The mountain is called Big Laurel, and it is the home to two bad ass nuns in their 70s. Talk about service—these women know not only the very breath of the mountain itself, but also of every individual who resides on it. They have lived atop the mountain for 37 years, living simply and serving boldly.

There really is something to be said for getting your hands dirty. My community spent the weekend helping the sisters with the mountain chores, from moving outhouses to painting shelves to vacuuming up dead ladybugs. Whatever they needed, we did. This mentality is what got Joy and I outside by the campfire on Friday afternoon, becoming “women fire tenders” and burning the trash that we accumulated the day before. It wasn’t a difficult task, really—we made sure the fire was contained, and periodically threw another piece of trash into the flames. At one point, we reached into the burn bag and pulled out an empty orange juice container. We were surprised that we were asked to burn such a substantial item, but we followed sister’s orders and threw it into the fire, watching it disintegrate into thin air. It amazed me—something so firm and tangible seemed to have vanished right before our very eyes. But it didn’t vanish—things don’t just disappear. That empty carton had just changed forms, no longer an object that we can see and touch, but none the less still present in the air around us.

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The following night our community spent some time together beneath the stars and beside a campfire. At some point during the evening the casual tone of our conversation shifted, and we were prompted to think a little deeper. Kelly asked us to think of something that weighs us down, overflows our cups, keeps us from living our best lives. Once we determined what it was we didn’t want to hold onto any longer, we were asked to write it on a piece of paper and throw it into the fire, symbolizing release.

I wanted to be a good community member and follow the prompt, but for the life of me I could not stop thinking about that orange juice container. When we throw things into the fire, they don’t really go away, they just change forms. They remain with us. So instead of writing and throwing something I wanted to be rid of into the fire, I wanted to write and throw something that I wanted to remain with me.

Are you waiting in anticipation for the little nugget of wisdom?

We’re getting there. But first a quick life update.

When I made the trip to Chicago at the end of February, the clouds were lifted and I suddenly saw the next step in my path. I was supposed to apply to Boston College…I knew it deep down in my bones. So back in the Burgh I frantically applied to the dual Social Work and Theology programs. The odds, however, unlike for Katniss, didn’t seem to be in my favor. I had already missed the application deadline for the School of Theology, I only had two weeks to study for the GRE, and I have never even been to Boston, not to mention the whole issue of paying for grad school. But, the resounding gong of “apply anyway” rang through my being, so I did. Heaven knows why.

Then, a week after I sent in my GRE scores, I was offered a full scholarship to the School of Theology and Ministry. I had to read the letter three times before I could believe it.

Throughout my discernment and application process, the whole Theology aspect of the degree was just sort of there, quietly including itself in the Plan. My focus was on Social Work, and Theology just inched along unnoticed. The School of Social Work unfortunately did not offer me a scholarship, so unless something out of my hands fall into place in these next few weeks I cannot pursue that degree just yet.

So if my dense human brain didn’t have faith already, the decision to accept this offer from the School of Theology and Ministry alone is what really drove home the realization that I am following a plan that is not my own. This plan is God, the Universe, Fate, pushing me in the direction that I am supposed to wander to next.

Okay, back to the campfire.

I wanted to throw words into the fire that would stay with me. Because I saw that orange juice container. It didn’t disappear—it changed forms, it disintegrated, but it didn’t really go away. So, on that little slip of paper, I wrote the following:

“Don’t worry, Martha. I got this.”

Now, when I stand back and stare at the skies above in wonder and awe at this Plan that is larger than my own, I know that floating in the air around my head is a little reminder that all I have to do is trust.

And it’s right beside a carton of orange juice.

“Ask a Scientist, It’s Quantum Physics; We’re All in This Together”

29 Mar

“And on the subway
We feel like strangers
But we’re all in this together
Yeah I love you and you love her
And she loves him
But we’re all in this together”

–Ben Lee, We’re all in this Together

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geZehkuUvuk

            When I last left this white blank page, I was a woman on a mission. I had just returned from a venture to Chicago, where I finally concluded that graduate school was my next step and hence learned what I needed to do with the next month of my life. That was one month ago. So here’s where I’ve been, and here’s what I’ve done.

            When I discerned that graduate school was next in my journey, I had one week to finish my applications for my first choice program—a dual-degree experience in Social Work and Pastoral Ministry. I completed the application, and then took the GRE, securing acceptance into ½ of the program. Fingers crossed and eyes to the sky that I get accepted into part 2. Mentally, here is where I’ve been—consumed in the potential for further discernment and moving a little bit closer to answering the call. It’s a bit intimidating and more than a bit overwhelming, but when something feels right the only real option is to move. Or, right now, prepare to move.

            While that’s where I’ve been mentally, emotionally I’ve been everywhere but. Sometimes all I can do is stand back, throw my arms in the sky, and praise the One who  thought up this masterpiece we call life. Please excuse my extraverted way of thinking, but to show you where I’m going with this I have to let my mind ramble through my fingertips for a paragraph or two.

There’s this song by Ben Lee called “We’re all in This Together” (NOT High School Musical, come on now). In the song, he sings about how he woke up one morning and suddenly realized that your pain is my pain, your joy is my joy, and that even though we are all in different places, we are, really truly, in this place together. It’s simple. So simple. And yet it’s brilliant. Because what it means is that we get to share emotion, and it, like all great things, is a paradox. When you cry I cry—and sharing the load makes the burden lighter. When you laugh I laugh—and more people means more laughter. This, again, is why I stand up and praise the Master Builder and his master plan. Because we are all in this together, and we don’t have to go it alone.  

This month some big things happened in the lives of ones I love. Two Search friends shared their love in marriage, and my oldest friend gave birth to a beautiful boy. I made it to St. Louis for the wedding and Cleveland for the birth, and to share in the joy of love and of life truly deeply made my cup runneth over. Emotionally (and physically) this is where I’ve been. Dancing in the joy of another, and standing back in awe of the depth of it all.

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I’d be lying if I said those are the only places I have been emotionally this month. My emotions have also been about 460 miles west of here. Because even though it’s hard to tell when someone’s your last dance or just your last goodnight, when you wake up every morning to a reminder that you are loved it’s inevitable that those words and the one who sends them will always have a little piece of your heart.

I realize that, in theory, this blog is a reflection of my volunteer and community experience. But the thing about life is that sometimes we can’t compartmentalize. Service and community and love and meals and exercise and goals and dreams and relationships and friends all roll up into one big ball and we call it our lives. Just as no man is an island, nothing we do is in isolation, either. And it’s during times where the ball seems to be rolling too fast downhill that I really thank those closest to me for helping guide it along. Because I know I’ve done a lot more taking than giving lately. So to the Pitt Pals, thank you for entering into my chaos this month. We scream together and eat froyo and drink wine and dance. And sometimes, we just sit with each other, knowing that care can be conveyed without words. Entering into the chaos of another….there’s no greater gift—and no greater love—that that.

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