going through it.
"Nobody said it was easy. Nobody ever said it would be this hard," Coldplay, The Scientist.
Yeah, when they said a year of service would be hard? Turns out they were NOT JOKING.
I know that when you think of domestic service corps, you probably aren’t thinking major life challenge. That association comes — and rightly so! — with things like the Peace Corps. One of my very best friends is serving in Belize in the Peace Corps and told me the other day that she is a “Peace Corps Princess” because she has electricity and hot water.
So, yeah, you probably don’t think about my gig in Richmond with the paid-for old house, the two kitchens, the hot water, the clawfoot bathtub, the provided job, the city life as hard. I didn’t either at first.
But let me tell you, things are hard.
It’s hard to go to work every day and see kids struggling because they are too hungry or too tired to concentrate.
It’s hard to come home and have obligations every day, not always having a chance to rest and reflect.
It’s hard to have swollen feet and picky eating habits and not be in an environment you have complete control over.
It’s really, really, really hard to live with five other human beings with their own interests and lives and plans. Anyone who say differently is selling something, highness.
But as one of my favorite bloggers, Kate Conner, recently said, “Something precious is forged in our hearts as we walk through the difficult, painful places. The gauntlet strips off pretension, pride, insincerity, piousness, and anything false. Underneath we find gentleness, humility, wisdom, compassion, bravery, and indomitable strength. Refined by fire, the Bible calls it, burning off the dross, leaving the gold.
There are no shortcuts to that beautiful, beautiful countenance. You have to go through some stuff to get there.”
You can’t just reap the rewards of a program like this by only getting the good stuff. You have to fight through the problems and tough spots and annoyances in order to get to the discernment and life-altering places.
And in the meantime, if you have to text-vent to your friends (who will respond with emojis and puppy pictures) and go hang out at your family’s for a weekend for love and food and decent water pressure in the shower, so be it. No one said you had to go through it alone - just that you have to keep going.
rockin’ the suburbs
It’s not cool, but it’s true: I love the suburbs.
Look, I get it. Richmond is a cool city. It’s got great urban art. Lovely local stores. Interesting people, lots of cool buildings.
The country is cool, too: wide open spaces, bright blue skies, cows and horses and speed limits that are rarely enforced.
But suburbs? Be still, my beating heart.
A lot of you are probably shaking your heads right now, thinking that I’m being sarcastic. I know, I know — suburbs are sucking the souls of communities dry and ruining our culture and whatnot.
Here’s the thing: I was born in a college town. I was raised in a college town. I went to college in a college town. I studied abroad in a college town. And although I have enjoyed my time in Richmond so far, you can only hear jazz saxophone outside your window at three a.m. so many times before you start longing for the dulcet tones of complete and utter silence as everyone in your subdivision sleeps so they can get up on Saturday morning and mow their lawns before they read the paper.
The suburbs are home to me. Maybe they aren’t cool and hip and happening and trendy, but there’s something amazing about being able to go out on a Wednesday night and hit a Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Sonic, Trader Joe’s and a Five Below in the same intersection. I take comfort in the little local cupcakeries nestled in between the big box stores. Maybe the store owners don’t, but I enjoy being able to get the convenience of grocery stores with the local flavor of the independent stores.
Because the suburbs are home, Short Pump, VA is my little piece of Texas. Sure, my Denton stores like Recycled Books are missing, but they’re replaced by fun new stores. I see my beloved nursery director at the Kohl’s, because she faithfully shops the sales there to get cute clothes for her granddaughter in Spain, and my mother and father at the Chick Fil A and Target because they go there every Saturday without fail. My college friends are at the Chuy’s, and we’re whining about the service at the Sonic together.
Someone once called me the most nostalgic person he knew, and there might be some truth to that. But in that nostalgia is comfort and the desire to make new memories in my new places.
I’m sure I’ll make memories in Richmond — in fact, I already have. But there will always be a little part (or a big part, let’s be honest) of me that longs for the conveniences and comfort of a small, suburban college town.
Week One At School
Week one at my worksite is complete, and all I want to do is sleep.
I used to think it was an odd Shaver quirk that my mother naps as often as humanly possible and can fall asleep anywhere, but nope, that’s just her livin’ that teacher lyfe. I’m not even a teacher, and all I do is nap, nap, nap no matter what; got nappin’ on my mind, I can never get enough.
I’m an instructional assistant at a local parochial elementary school that’s quite literally in my backyard. Walking slowly, my commute is a grand total of thirty seconds. I can see the playground from inside my house. This elementary school serves low-income students (families can make no more than 200 percent of the poverty line), and each of these students is on a full scholarship.
This week, all the teachers headed back to school, so I did too. I spent the week learning the names of the faculty and staff, sitting through meetings trying to figure out what happens at the school, and working in the front office. This has involved an awful lot of question-asking (“Um. What does a fax machine look like?”) and transferring phone calls (“I’m so sorry, but I am not sure the answer to this basic question, so let me transfer you to a random faculty member. You can leave a voicemail, and they might be less clueless”).
I’ve felt so clueless at times that I have absolutely seized any opportunity to demonstrate my skillz. Oh, you don’t know how to work the laminator? LET ME SHOW YOU; I AM A LAMINATOR GODDESS. Need some double-sided copies collated and stapled? I got you. My years as my mother’s slave (er…intern) and classroom volunteer are paying off, y’all.
I really have enjoyed this first week despite my exhaustion. My coworkers are incredible human beings who are willing to try new things and talk about year-round school because they care about these kids so much. I’ve been fed free food and been taken out to lunch, where the head of school bought everyone who wanted it sangria during the school day. Everyone has gone out of their way to help me; they treat me like I’ve been here forever and am their equal and not like an intern or volunteer.
Because the school is so low-income, things run a little differently and priorities are rearranged compared to the public schools I’ve worked in. One of the teachers told me that she makes it a point to greet each student by name each morning because many times, she is the first person to talk to a student in the morning. Kindergartners still take naps because some of them are allowed to stay up far later than a little five-year-old body should. The cafeteria serves homemade (schoolmade?) lunches full of local fruits and veggies and organic protein, and most students will get breakfast, snacks, and lunch, a huge blessing to many families.
Next week, the students come back, and I’ll start settling into more of a routine at work. In the mornings (seven. thirty. a.m. BLARGH.), I’ll supervise the playground, and once the students head to class, I will too. The first weeks, I’ll be in kindergarten and first grade, helping students adjust, and once the school year gets going, I’ll rotate to different classrooms depending on need.
Because I only work a 32-hour week (the other hours are spent working for the church or in my community), I get off at 2:30. As we know, this is prime naptime.
Bless you, sweet Lord Infant Jesus.
an email to emily
this blog post is excerpted from an email to my dear friend emily, who is serving in the peace corps in belize. we belize that we are hard corps.
I got here Tuesday night, and I was a half hour late because Dad and I got stuck in a traffic jam and I was so flustered. My new housemates and directors descended on me and unloaded my car, and as soon as I was unloaded, I had to turn around and take Dad to the train station.
The six of us (me, Carolyn from DC, Melissa from Boston, Stephanie from northern Arkansas, Patrick from eastern Virginia and James from DC area Virginia) plus our directors Abbott (the priest at the church) and Paris (from the diocese) walked to this amazing little Italian restaurant, which changed my life. We then had free time, and I’m pretty sure it was that night that Carolyn, Melissa and I decided to walk to Carytown, which is this uber-hip district in RVA. Maybe it was Wednesday, who knows? We didn’t make it, but we were walking around Richmond at night and did not get mugged, so hurrah for that! We also did a house compline service which was kinda neat.
The next day we started program orientation, and that was the start of my eternal exhaustion. We did. not. stop. moving. We had a small morning prayer service, and talked a lot about ourselves and our senses of place and ate a ton of food. They took us to 821, this amazing upscale diner thing, for lunch and then drove us around to all of our worksites. Mine is the second closest with a whopping thirty second commute. Others work down near the projects (half hour bus ride away), and one works about a mile away, and one works in the church office, which is maybe ten seconds away. We also participate in the church’s laundry ministry, where they gather clothes from the homeless and wash them in a laundromat, and Wednesday was the first day that we did that. Melissa, Carolyn and I walked to Chipotle afterward because the church had given us a gift card (praying hands emoji here).
Thursday started with a more formal prayer service where members of the congregation could come and pray with us. There was then a lot of talking about ourselves sort of thing, and then we were paired off and each given a $25 gift card and a $10 bus card. They told us to go find lunch outside of VCU/Oregon Hill, our neighborhodo, and to be back by 4:30. Stephanie and I walked to this aaaamaaaazing Cuban restaurant and then to the art museum, and then on to Carytown for real this time. We found this awesome used bookstore called Chop Suey and a great local stationery store. We then walked to the bus stop and successfully navigated a bus for the first time in my life! We were the only group to manage the bus, and I was unreasonably pleased. The vestry (which is like the SPRC or the Board of Directors) threw us this huge welcome party for dinner, and they were so nice. They sent us home with leftovers…including about 30 bottles of beer, if that gives you any indication about the kind of party these functioning adults threw us!
Friday was more lowkey. We had a small prayer service and were sent out on a scavenger hunt of Oregon Hill. I’m pretty sure we all epically failed, but we did get out and explore the neighborhood, which was probably the point anyway. We came back and all the super old people in the congregation came to talk about what Oregon Hill was like back then. There’s a dude who is 91, and I adore him. We then walked down to the James River and to Belle Isle and ate sandwiches along the banks. Some people swam, but I didn’t want to walk back all sticky and wet, so I hung out on the shore with Carolyn and Patrick.
Yesterday was our day off, and my really super sweet friends Bo and Willa came over to bring us some coffee table books - Bo’s sister is one of my grandparents’ best friends and is the wife of their longtime rector. Melissa and I were the only ones home, and Bo and Willa were like, LET US TAKE YOU ON A TOUR and it was amazing. Richmond is the coooooolest and I love it. They saw their 27-year-old daughter out driving with her boyfriend and flagged them over, and they invited us over briefly. WE GOT TO PLAY WITH THEIR PUPPY AND IT WAS THE BEST. Bo and Willa took us everywhere, including to Kroger because we mentioned we needed a loaf of bread. That night, my precious roommates decided I needed to see the Silence of the Lambs hahahaha aren’t they the best just so sweet
Today we went to both services, and I wanted to give Charles Wesley (Chuck Wez? Can that be a thing?) a hug because EPISCOPAL HYMNS SUCK SO BAD. Even in a congregation that can sing — like St. Andrew’s can —, the hymns are just hard to follow and nowhere near as pretty as It Is Well With My Soul or O For A Thousand Tongues. Everyone was, once again, very nice, and we had coffee hour on our lawn and gave tours of our house. I then took a glorious Sunday nap, which I’ve just woken up from, and now I’m emailing you <3
infinite Xs and Os,
In a nutshell
One of the weird things about not getting A Real Job straight out of college is that nobody understands what is happening. Over and over, friends and family have asked me, “So…what are you doing in Virginia?” and I’ve fumbled through an answer that generally concluded with “…but I don’t really know.”
I’ve got some more answers now, so I thought I’d share a little bit about what I’m doing while I try to gather my thoughts into more cohesive blog posts about my first days here in Richmond.
Midway through my journalism degree, I realized that I wasn’t really interested in becoming a journalist. I stuck with the major, though, for many reasons, including my genuine love for my college and many of its staff and professors. This realization meant that I needed to find something to do after graduation that would likely look different than many of my classmates’ plans.
I thought about many things during this discernment process: au pairing (too expensive and risky due to European visa restrictions), Americorps (not enough support), Peace Corps (I’m not hardcore enough).
I’d discovered that the United Methodist Church, my church, had programs for clueless young adults such as myself. I decided not to apply because of some issues I had with the funding of the program and some of the content, and also because I totally and completely missed the deadline.
I had this church program thing in the back of my mind as I perused idealist.org, a job-seeking website for nonprofits. I stumbled on a job listing from the Episcopal Service Corps and was immediately intrigued.
The ESC allows you to apply to several different programs throughout the country that focus on social justice issues. Each site has a community of interns that live together in an intentional community; with a few exceptions, the site places each intern at a worksite that exists to alleviate divisions and issues in our society.
I applied to seven different sites and interviewed at each of them, and I ultimately settled on Grace-on-the-Hill (GOTH) in Richmond, Virginia.
As a part of GOTH, I live with five other wonderful interns who are all recent college graduates. They come from the DC area, Virginia, Boston and Arkansas and are honestly some of the most interesting people I’ve met.
We live in an old house in the Oregon Hill neighborhood , a very old district with close ties to philanthropist Grace Arents. Our house is two stories and had previously been converted into two apartments. We each have our own room — and they are giant — as well as two laundry areas, two kitchens, a dining room and a living room. We also have wonderful porch and balcony areas.
The house was generously furnished by donations from parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, the church one of our program directors is the rector at and the church we will attend this year. Every time I come back to the house, someone from St. Andrew’s is there, fixing the place up. I came home to a new front door yesterday!
Our program is supported by St. Andrew’s, the diocese, grants and the Episcopal Church (plus donations from viewers like you!). We are provided a house food/furnishings budget and get a small individual stipend each month. The house and its associated bills are taken care of by the program.
My worksite is St. Andrew’s School, and as you might guess from the name, I’ve got a heck of a commute: thirty whole seconds. I’m an instructional assistant, and I’ll learn more about my duties in the coming weeks. The school serves students who otherwise might not get a strong education.
Like I mentioned previously, we get a tremendous amount of support — financial, emotional, WiFi set-up, everything — from St. Andrew’s Church. I’m sure I’ll elaborate more on this soon, but you should know that I am being well taken care of! Our pantry was fully stocked when we moved in, and we’ve been taken to some of the tastiest restaurants in Richmond. The vestry threw us a welcome party last night and sent us home with tons of food. We are happy campers.
I’m going to go eat some of that food, actually, but now that our WiFi is installed, I plan to blog more often about the adventures I have. Rest assured that three days in, I have material to last weeks.
On The Road Again
It is truly incredible how exhausted you can get if you’re sitting in the car on the way from Texas to Maryland. I really did nothing for two and a half days (my father is a self-admitted bad passenger, so I never drove) but play 2048 and watch episodes of 30 Rock, yet I am so completely wiped.
We had intended to make the trip in three days, but as we were winding down the first day, my aunt texted to ask what time we were coming Sunday. When I said around dinner, she replied, “Awww, bummer, we were going to invite you to a crab feast!”
Obviously, we immediately reworked the schedule so we could be there in time. Because CRABS. Priorities, people.
I’d planned a few days with family in Maryland so that we could relax a little before move-in and Dad flying home, and so I didn’t show up at the new house looking super ratchet, but we haven’t really been doing much relaxing! In the past day and a half, we’ve made it to the crab feast — for the uninitiated, an outdoor gathering where you sit at a picnic table and crack crabs to eat —, gone swimming at my aunt’s house, had a cookout/in with Mom’s entire family, delivered Meals on Wheels with my grandparents, had lunch with my grandfather’s sister, played cards with her, done laundry, epoxyed my car back together and unloaded some boxes into my grandparents’ workshop.
I would like a nap, please.
It has been really wonderful getting to see family, and it’s a good taste of what I hope the rest of this year will bring — the good kind of exhaustion that comes from getting to see people near and dear to you. Since I’ve probably seen the inside of my favorite Mexican restaurant more often than I’ve seen my extended family, this is especially appealing to me. While the trade-off will be hard (no puppy or Mazatlan or good brisket until June, no immediate family until Decemberish), I’ll be glad to see both my dad and my mom’s families, along with good friends, more often.
Right now, however, I’m going to stick with being happy to see a big cup of tea and a bed.
I move in tomorrow and am excited to report back about what my new home is like!
On The Road
Look, here’s the thing. I’ve made this drive from Texas to Virginia (and then on to Maryland) about 20 times now, so I know this incontrovertible truth: there is no way to make this drive interesting. No way.
I could tell you about my precious, precious puppy (aged somewhere between 8-10) hopping in my car because she thought she was gonna get to go to Virginia too.
I could tell you about stopping at a Chicken Express in Texarkana, my last meal in Texas for many months and my last Chicken E for just as long. I could tell you that this Chicken E printed a Bible verse on my receipt, but that’s sort of par for the course in this part of the world.
I could tell you about the horrible, horrible traffic in Arkansas that resulted from a bunch of people slowing down to see a tractor trailer pulled over on the shoulder, but since that happens to me LITERALLY EVERY TIME WE DRIVE THROUGH ARKANSAS, THAT GOD-FORSAKEN CESSPOOL, I’M SORRY ARKANSANS, YOU’RE LOVELY, BUT I’M A LITTLE BITTER, that doesn’t seem worth mentioning.
So instead I’ll just tell you what I told my mother after she sent me approximately 37 pictures of my dog in an American flag hoodie:
Ummm. Okay. So we made it to the hotel in Memphis, and we’re at the Texas Roadhouse, and there are no rolls and no hot tea, and if they don’t bring me some rolls, I AM GOING TO BURN THIS ROADHOUSE DOWN.
They did bring me some rolls, and the joint is still standing, but I am not. I am exhausted from a long day of sitting in the car watching my father drive and muttering derogatory things at drivers in Arkansas, so I am going to sleep.
At 8:48 P.M.