Archive | July, 2014

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

pic

pic3

pic2

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.

Advertisements

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.

roadtrip

(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!)

art

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.

pig

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.

kayak

(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: 

ape

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

pirates

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

dream

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.