Archive for the ‘JVC’ Category

What JVs actually do

Perhaps you’ve seen those “what I think I do” memes popping up on facebook lately. I thought I’d get in on the fun.

Alternatives for the last frame were drinking, knitting, and composting. But given the freak blizzard we had this afternoon, I thought the last one was most apropos.


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I’ve seen a lot of searches coming to my blog lately with JVC questions like “what to wear” and “what to pack.” So to any future JVs leaving for orientation in two weeks that might be reading this blog, or anyone who is considering a year of service, I, as a former Jesuit Volunteer with 2 years of experience, can tell you (with 90% assuredness) what your year will be like.

Orientation will be the longest week of your life

You discerned, you prayed, you talked to your friends and family, you applied. You were interviewed, and interviewed again, and maybe even a third time. You have filled out countless forms and completed your physicals, graduated from college and for the 1000th time explained to someone what the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is (it’s kinda like a faith based Americorps type program where I will live in community, volunteer at an organization and make $80 a month) and can say it in one breath. You have waited during a painfully long summer, saying goodbye to everyone and everything you’ve known, you have packed in two impossibly small suitcases and have boarded your plane for this grand adventure.

And finally, finally you are here. And now you must wait another week before you go onto actually starting your JVC year. But relax. Listen. You will get there soon enough. You might come away scared out of your mind, convinced that your housemates are crazy, and sore from sitting in plastic folding chairs all week. But you will be home soon.

Your expectations will surface and then be shattered

Now after spending a week hearing “let go of your expectations” you have convinced yourself you have. But trust me, they will arise when you are least expecting them. Maybe sometime mid-winter when you have realized JVC wasn’t exactly what you were expecting, but you still have that nagging desire to (fill in the blank) play more, pray with your house more, travel more, live a more simple life, have a job with more responsibilities, have a job with less responsibilities.

Observe them as they come up, and do not judge them. Do not be heartbroken when your expectations are not met. But learn to see what else is in store for you.

You will fall in love

For me, it was with my housemate that I thought was pretty cute as soon as I got his picture in the mail. 6 weeks later we were dating, terrified that we would somehow wrench our house apart. But they were nothing but excited and supportive and thrilled to be at our wedding two years later.

You will fall in love. With someone, with something. I don’t know what it is yet. But if you keep your heart open you will fall in love with your town, with the tribe, with the mountains surrounding your house, with biking to work, with that new food you had never heard of, with your clients, with God in a new way, with the big sky. It will happen if you let it.

Whatever you do for Christmas, it will feel like the wrong decision

During orientation, your leaders will urge you to stay in your community for Christmas and immediately you will say “well I would, but I promised my mother I would go home and while my community is important my family is more important and I just don’t think I am ready to do that yet and unless my job requires me to work I am going home.” And then you will go home and think about your housemates you left behind.

Or you will stay, and it will be hard. You might have to work and while you may have this incredibly moving life changing Christmas experience that so many others have had, you may just end up working like it’s any other day, and watching movies with your housemates that night. You might spend the afternoon alone trying to call all of your friends who are too busy celebrating to answer, leaving you to stare out the window, alone and crying.

But you will remember that that is what Christmas is about. Loneliness, coldness, and tiny star in the night sky telling you that hope has come. It is light in the darkness, and it will be a Christmas like none other.

You will realize $80 is a lot of money, and not a lot of money.

You will quickly see that the monthly stipend of $80 is more than some of your clients have in their pocket, ever. And that when you have room and board taken care of (though you will probably have to budget some to cover those), $80 of “fun money” left over is not that bad of a deal at all.

Then you will run out of shampoo, of toothpaste, and the holes in your jeans have worn completely through. And a friend gets married and sends you the link to her registry, an all of a sudden $80 (or the $20 you have left over after buying jeans and toothpaste, well, make that $18.03 because you treated yourself to a cup of coffee earlier that month) is not a lot of money at all.

But while you may have to turn down social invitations and send people homemade gifts, you will be surrounded by others doing the same thing. You will never worry about going hungry or becoming homeless. And you will realize that’s all the financial stability you need.

You will have fights over what to have for dinner

There is no way around it – deciding what to eat will be tough. You will shudder at the thought of putting expired, canned, processed, commodity food into your body since to you, “simple living” meant returning to nature, to real food, to wholeness. Or you will roll your eyes at the suggestion that you only shop organically, since to you “simple living” meant eating in solidarity with those rummaging through garbage cans and shopping at the food bank.

But let it go. You are breaking bread together, and that is what is important.

You will work hard

You will come home at the end of the day tired, exhausted. Not every day, maybe not every week, but there will be days. It may be the ache of an honest days work, or it may be the relentless frustration of ramming your head up against a wall of social injustice day after day. You will work hard. So rest hard; play hard.

You will deeply regret your decision to do JVC

There will be times of deep doubt, where you are thisclose to calling home and booking the next flight out of there. You will hate your job, your community mates, your town, the winters, the eighth-day-in-a-row of tomato soup for dinner. And you will be done. You quit, you tell everyone.

Have a little mercy on yourself, on those around you. Take a deep breath and rest a while. The (especially in the northwest) long hard winters cooped up with nothing to do but fight with your housemates can take a toll. Get out and stretch your legs a little. Pray hard. Remember why you came on this adventure in the first place and what you have left that you would like to do. Spring will come, and you will survive and wonder what was ever the problem in the first place.

You will have fun

Despite the work, the struggles, the challenges, you will have a blast. Hiking or biking or canoeing. Getting your car stuck in the mountains in rural Montana. Getting lost on your way back from Canada. Spinning around in the backyard until you fall down. Playing games you haven’t played since you were in middle school. Exploring your house and the treasures left from JVs past. Potlucks. Lots and lots of potlucks. Playing with the children in your day care. Cracking jokes with a homeless man. There will be joy.

You will make a difference

You probably won’t see it, but it will be there. I promise you.

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This weekend we were off to New Hampshire.

Please, any rumors about one of us declaring our candidacy for presidency is purely rumors.

Actually one of our darling housemates from JVC was getting married to the love of her life.

This is the only picture I have of the eight of us. The bride was the girl to the far right.

So yeah, I hang out with one of my former housemates 24/7 but other than that I don’t get to see the crew as much as I’d like. I have seen everyone since the day we left, but we haven’t all been in the same place since August 3, 2009. Sadly, we couldn’t make that happen this weekend either, but 7 out of the 8 of us got together.

It was a short trip. We only got about 24 hours together then John and I headed to Boston to spend the day with my cousin. But it was worth it. It was so worth it.

Getting ready the morning we were going to meet up, I was blow drying my hair. I was not enjoying blow drying my hair, which is not saying much because I very rarely enjoy it. But I remember thinking “ugh, why am I trying to make myself look nice?” Then I remembered I was meeting up with people that I haven’t seen in years and thought, eh, maybe I should put in the effort.

But why?

This group of people has seen me at my worst and and at my best. They know what I look like in the hospital (little GI bug, no big deal), after getting 1 hour of sleep, after a night of too-much-fun, after being puked on by a baby, after hiking 15 miles, after biking home in the rain.

Let me tell you, none of those are a good look for me.

But they love me anyway. And with this group – I feel no need to impress them. You know how when you get together with high school friends you want to show your successful side, your college friends you want them to see you as cool or hip or one of those things I’ve never been able to manage.

But with my former housemates there is no point of putting on a facade. I can be honest with these guys. No point in being someone I’m not. They’ve seen me in good and bad, and I’m not just talking about hair days. Times when I’ve been a great friend and when I’ve been a flat out jerk. When I’ve needed some love and when I’ve been up for adventure.

It’s a relief to be authentic for a day. I should try it more often.

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Last night I popped over to the JV house to say hi to a few old friends. They were two JVs doing their second year in Hays, MT, a tiny, tiny reservation town out in Eastern Montana. Their year had finished up (since they were teaching at a school) and were now touring Glacier and Yellowstone Park before heading off to their final retreat. A few hours of sharing JVC war stories made me all nostalgic, and so I thought I’d share my one biggest lesson from JVC.

Just a brief info session of JVC if you haven’t heard of it: JVC is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a program that sends volunteers to sites all over the country and the world to commit to a year of full time service to an agency and the community they are living in. It began in Alaska back in the 1950s, when college students were sent to help at a small school up in St. Mary’s, Alaska. It was founded by the Jesuits. If you aren’t familiar with Catholicism, their are basically different orders of priests, monks, nuns, etc. That doesn’t mean they are separate religions, just different organizations within the church. The Jesuits are known for their emphasis on education and  social justice, as well as “Ignatian spirituality.” St. Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits, and promoted self-examination and constant reflection as a spiritual practice.  JVC has four values it lasts its members to live by: social justice, simplicity, community, and spirituality. As far as community goes – you live in a house with other volunteers. For simplicity – you make $80 a month, plus get a community stipend that covers room and board. That stipend is pretty small too; last year ours was about $450 a person to cover rent, food, electricity, travel to and from retreats, heat, & our phone bill.

Now JVC has three branches: the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (which serves the East, Midwest, South, and Southwest parts of the country), Jesuit Volunteer International (the world!), and JVC Northwest, which focuses on Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The Northwest region is where JVC started and so it has many more placements and thus its easier for it to be its own organization.

I did 2 years in JVC – one in Spokane, WA working at a day care center, and one in Missoula, MT working at a drop-in center for homeless people who were under the influence.  I met my husband in my first year of JVC.

So anyway – what is this life shattering realization I came to whilst in JVC?

I can be friends with anybody.

Okay, scratch that. I’m not going to be friends with everybody. Some people will just have personalities that I don’t mesh with. I won’t get along with everybody. But what I mean is, the variables I used in high school and college to determine if someone was a potential friend (are they similar to me? about my own age? do we have the same interests? same values?) don’t really hold up anymore.

My first year in Spokane, we established that out of the 8 of us, none of us would probably have been friends in college. I mean, we would have probably been friendly, and maybe good acquaintances, but we probably wouldn’t have hung out in the same social circles to really get close. But nevertheless – we were great friends. Okay, we had our issues, and things got bumpy in the winter, but really, we complained a lot over nothing. Community is stressful and difficult, but the relationships I developed were priceless. Even if they had to go through fire first.

My second year, I hung out with homeless people. A lot. I worked 12 hour shifts, and my job description was basically “keep the peace,” so I had a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with folks. Can’t really say before that I would’ve enjoyed chit chatting with a high school drop out, or a convicted felon, or drug addict, but heck, I got along with a lot of them great! I’m not saying we became ‘friends’ because that’s obviously a boundary issue, but I realized I could share with, talk, relate to, and enjoy people whose lives were vastly different than mine.

It might sounds simple, but really, it was pretty life-changing. I don’t have to look for friendship just in 20-something college educated girls anymore (okay, sounds awful, but lets admit it – that’s what we tend to do!). The whole world is brimming with potential teachers and friends.

Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like I was an awful, judgmental “to good to be friends with you” person before I did JVC. But heck, I probably was.

Have you had any life-changing lessons?

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Los Angeles

Next stop on our road trip was LA. We got there late Friday Saturday evening, just in time for dinner. We have impeccable timing. We were staying with one of our housemates from JVC in Spokane, Jon. He’s also in law school, so the guys had lots of (boring) things to talk about. It made me laugh because whenever John and Jon get together they usually talk sports non-stop, but this time they threw things like tort reform and habeas corpus into mix.

Not really those two things specifically, but they are the only two legal terms I can think of at 8 am.

Can you read that sign? It says “Doctor Office.” We were in Venice Beach, and several street vendors asked if we wanted to “get legal.” Marijuana, people, I’m talking about marijuana. It has been a big fight here about if its regulated enough, but California makes Montana’s laws look like a dictatorship.

Dodger Stadium

Jon pointed out that while the Lakers are popular, the Dodgers are really LA’s team, since real people can afford to go to them. We sat in front of a hilarious 4 year old girl, who was determined to cheer despite knowing zilch about baseball. She kept yelling “Strike him out!” no matter who was at bat and attempting to start a “Let’s go Dodgers!” cheer with her squeaky little voice. After one failed attempt she turned to her dad and asked, “Why is no one clapping?”

We all got Dodgers snuggies, too. Win.

Beautiful sunset behind the stadium.

After the game (Dodgers won!) we spent an hour walking around the parking lot looking for our car. We didn’t park in one of those areas that had a number, and every corner of the parking lot looked exactly the same. Plus it was multileveled. It was awesome.

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Happy Easter!

Below is a re-post of my Easter last year. My JVC community travelled to Hays, a tiny reservation town in Eastern Montana. By tiny, I mean like 700 people. The nearest grocery store is an hour away. It was the most beautiful Easter I’ve ever experienced, and since most of you weren’t reading my blog last year, I thought I’d share this. Hope you have a blessed Easter and find some time to rejoice and relax today!


His hands shook as freely and unpredictably as the flame of the candle he held so precariously. He spoke slowly, waiting patiently for the words to reappear as they disappeared in the flickering light. The children were amazed by the dancing light in the bowl which sat on the table beside him. My heart leaped up into my throat every time they decided to see whose fingers were brave enough to get close. As the tiny ones leaned on the table, the alcohol sloshed to one side of the bowl and the flames would leap up higher, and eyes would open wider.

This would a far cry from the Easter Vigils of my youth. A nicely lit wood-burning fire would be lit outside in a well-contained pit. But this year, I was in a room another world away. This year, in a small gym, crowded around a table precariously balancing the previously mentioned lit bowl of fire, in the community of Hays, a town of 400 in the Fort Belknap reservation.

The procession thankfully began, and those gathered processed one-half of the way around the gym. Although it was only 6pm, the room was pitch black. Blankets hung on the walls, blocking the light. I found this mildly ironic that we were trying to make night come early, especially after the long cold Montanan winters. But I imagined several of the parishioners had long drives home.

The priest, an 82 year old Jesuit, sang on, continuing to struggle in the unreliable candlelight. He must be used to persevering, living on land like this, I mused, and the fidgeting of the crowd definitely didn’t phase him. He finished his prayer, and the lights came on.

“Okay, time for the baptisms!” he yelled.

“JOSEPH!” A nun, quite obviously from New York, yelled. “You forgot the Liturgy of the Word!”

Thus began the liturgy of the world. Children ran wild, mothers pursued. Members of the congregation read, in that quick, flat reservation accent accentuated by nerves and punctuated by cries of children. A college student on an alternative spring break trip sang a responsorial psalm. She was one of about a dozen students from Michigan, who looked utterly bored (or exhausted) throughout the mass. Also in attendance, and the reason I was there, were the all of the Jesuit Volunteers in Montana.

And then (as the priest predicted it eventually would be) was time for the baptisms. About a half dozen children were preparing to make their sacraments this night. It was easy to pick them out in the crowd. The girls’ hair was perfectly coiffed, even though the curls would soon melt in the baptism pool. The boys stood tall, although they could not resist nudging their younger brothers mischievously.

The room was filled with the smell of sweetgrass and sage, as the herbs for the smudging were burnt. Once again, I was reminded of my Easter Vigils where the smell of incense hung heavy in the air. An elder, holding the bowl of smoking herbs, circled the bowl around the children – to the north, south, east, and west. The ceremony of smoke and fire, and the ceremony of water.

This was not a solemn, reverent occasion, although I fear I am making it sound that way. Mothers, Fathers, Godmothers, Godfathers crowded around the hot tub (ahem, baptism pool). Cameras flashed, and girls ran to change into their communion dresses. At one point, I stood up.

“Are we supposed to be standing?” Bree asked.

“I don’t think there are any ‘supposed to’s’ in this mass.” I replied.

I snuck out in the midst of the baptism to run over to the JV house, a mere 50 feet from the church, to use their bathroom. The legendary winds of the plains whipped my long skirt and drew it out into the wind. The sun was setting over the…

I have no words for it. They have all been used.

The wide, open plains.

The vast expanse.

The house of sky.

It felt as if I was standing on the entire world.

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Hi. No apologies about not blogging much lately, because I realize that’s annoying. But just FYI, I am writing my thesis proposal so posts might be scarce over the next few days/week. Don’t loose faith!

So last time I wrote about detachment. On a related note, I want to talk real quick about simplicity. I do believe that Christians are called to a life of simplicity. To live in solidarity with the poor, like Oscar Romero did.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

On the other hand, I don’t believe that simple living requires austerity. It does not need to be an aesthetic way of life. There is moderation.

Give me neither riches nor poverty, but let me be fed with the food that is needful for me. Proverbs 30:8

I know I’ve been talking a lot about trying to resist materialism lately (see here and here). But today I’m just going to embrace it and tell you about one of my favorite things. I think part of simple living is not just taking material objects for granted, but appreciating what you do have, and cutting the stuff that you could do without.

I bought this quilt when I lived in Spokane doing JVC. Back then, I made $80 a month (plus money for room and board, though that wasn’t much either). This quilt cost me $25, over a week’s salary essentially. But it was worth it.

I wanted to have a souvenir of the experience (little then did I know I’d get to keep my then-boyfriend now-husband as a souvenir). At the time, I was working for Catholic Charities Spokane, one of the largest charities that side of the state. One month in the newsletter I saw an ad for the Quilting Ladies of Spokane.

These ladies have been sewing for 100 years. (I think some of them have literally been sewing for a 100 years). They don’t buy any of the material; a good amount of it is repurposed. For example, the backing on my quilt looks to be a bed sheet, not muslin. The liner is apparently reused liners from old electric blankets that no longer work. All of the quilts are just simple block quilts, and they range in size from twin to king. The twin ones go for $15 and the largest for $35. All of the proceeds go to Catholic Charities Spokane.

They only sell these quilts on Thursday, the day they set up in the basement of the Chancery to whirl away on those machines. I worked every Thursday, but one day during my lunch I biked furiously downtown to stop by, spend 10 minutes picking out a quilt, and bike furiously back.

It’s quite a site to see. There are piles and piles and piles of fabric squares, all arranged by color. In every room in the basement, there are women hunched over sewing machines. The operation is nothing fancy. Big cardboard boxes were full of the finished projects, with “Twin,” “Full,” “Queen” scribbled on the side in marker. I picked out the one I liked the best, hopped back on my bike, shoved a peanut butter sandwich in my mouth, and was back to work.

I love this quilt. I love the bright and sunny patterns. I love the kind of funky patterns, like the leopard print.

I wrapped up in this quilt during the cold winter months in Spokane. Its sunniness brightened up my basement room during my second year. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s special to me all the same.

What’s one of your favorite objects?


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