I am just one person, but…

Working in Chicago, it is super easy to realize how passionate you are about multiple issues. In the birth city of community organizing, there is always a protest or rally to attend. With all the issues converging, and with the increased awareness of intersectionality (the place where issues overlap, or intersect), it is just as easy to get bogged down in a sense of hopelessness because there are SO many social injustices that need to be addressed.

On retreats at the Darst Center, we talk about Circles of Influence. We use this tool to really address how to not feel SO overwhelmed when looking at all the social justice issues there are in our nation and everything that needs to be done, but also understanding that we as individuals only have a certain amount of time and energy to expel on social justice issues. For example: if I cared super deeply and passionately, and acted upon those passions for all the issues then I’d easily get burnt out, as well as be fairly ineffective. Circles of Influence help to decipher what issues pull at your heart strings, the issues that set a fire in your gut.

Something that I love about ChiYAV is that we all work on different things. There is a mix of direct service and education. No two people in my community are doing the same type of work. For me, that’s really liberating; my work experience is vastly different than the work experience of Emily or Kyle, and so we can discuss the highs and lows of our day without comparison because our work situations are so different there IS no comparison. While I haven’t actually done Circles of Influence with my community members, I feel confident that the issues that fire me up don’t fire up some of my other housemates the same way. There is an understanding that all of them are important, and it’s okay that we are all working on different things. It’s how the Circles of Influence work.

As one person, I may not be able accomplish as much as I’d like to, but with my community (and my community members’ communities) the impact increases. And while I am just one person, I’m not alone in this overwhelming world of social injustices.

And I’d do it Again

Shots fired. Tires squealing. Sirens blaring. I grabbed my pack and I went. While running to the scene, I saw 1-2 patrol vehicles on sight, but no one was with the victim. The rest is a blur of tunnel vision and adrenaline. Trying to stop the bleeding on this 22 year old’s leg, keeping him calm and conscious and ward off the symptoms of shock until the EMTs arrived on scene.

This isn’t the first time YAV Chicago has experienced violence in close proximity to our house. Almost 2 months ago there was a fatal shooting behind our house at the opening of an alley. Between Thanksgiving and mid-January, there were a string of shootings in our vicinity. When you write it out like this…it sounds like we are living in this war torn area, similar to what the national media would have you believe. But I want it to be very clear: THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY. I have firsthand experience that this shit is scary. I am scared, but not in a “let’s hide under the covers” scared or even a “get me the fuck out of here” scared. The best way I can explain it, after the adrenaline dump, is that I am scared for people. I know I will be okay. Heaven forbid anything happen to me, I have a support system and a wealth safety net, that I will be okay. However, in my processing of this event, I know that the 22 year old victim more than likely does not have those same luxuries.

While I have all of these anxieties, and I will probably be in various stages of processing this experience for a long time, I also think that it is important to look at the systems which have pushed out thousands of men of color, and why there seems to be this perpetual cycle. Food insecurity, housing discrimination, the “War on Drugs,” access to healthcare, and many other social justice issues intersect and create this environment of unrest in communities that are disproportionately affected.

There are three events in my life that I have had to use my American Red Cross training in non-work environments. The first: my senior year of college, a man experiencing homelessness dropped and had a seizure right in front of me. At the end of this interaction, I learned that the local paramedics were familiar with this gentleman, meaning he had seizures regularly and couldn’t afford the necessary medication. The second: the experience I describe in an early post about my time in Chicago “20 minutes” and the third being yesterday May 07, 2017. I guess I should do a big shout out to my instructors, because in each of those scenarios, I didn’t hesitate. My flight or fight instinct kicked in and I went running straight into a scenario where shit had hit the fan. I’m not sure why that is my instinct, except for all I know is that is how I’m wired. While there are always inherent risks in responding to a scenario as a private citizen, and while there are inherent risks in responding to a scenario in the middle of a neighborhood that is going through some serious shifts in regards to the gang activity. But none of that mattered in the moment. All that matters is that a person needed help, and I had some training to help.

And I would do it again.

What Care? SELF-CARE!

I’m gonna be real y’all, self-care is important. Prior to my YAV year, I had a few different methods of #selfcare and most of them involved #treatyoself.


In college and after, I got into a habit of going to Target and buying either a new pair of shoes, or a new bag, or even going to Sephora and spending too much money on items that I was convinced I needed (irrelevant of the fact that I may or may not ever use them). Not that consumerism is bad, and I fully support #treatyoself on the rare occassion, but my “treats” started to become so regular that they were almost an expected thing. *Note this was a time when I was making enough money that a biweekly “treat” was not financially reprehensible*

Now comes the time for my great revelation: When you’re #ballinonabudget (or living simply) biweekly trips to Target, for shoes and bags, and Sephora, for whatever new product is out, are not exactly economical. Which means, I’ve had to find other ways to clear my head and get the same rush of adrenaline that finding the perfect pair of wedges always had. Frankly, depending on the day (and the stressor that I am trying to cope with) I’ve acquired a few different skill sets to help me decompress. Some days, it is cooking a meal that I love (a la making jambalaya for my housemates). Some days it is finding fancy words on my Pinterest, and then hand-lettering them. Most days, my adult coloring book does wonders for my blood pressure. But more often than not, I find solace in an incredibly snarky guided meditation *Language Warning*

I think it’s fascinating that guided meditations and visualization meditations have become my go-to self-care activity. I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think some guided meditations were just a little too crunchy granola for me. I’m a person of action, and so taking 5 or 10 or even 30 minutes to sit in the quiet and deal with whatever is going on in my head is counterintuitive.

My takeaways:

  1. Money can’t buy peace of mind. If I get nothing else out of this year, my YAV year has made me hyper-aware of my spending habits.(Although I have always been aware of my spending habits, I just earned enough money monthly to be a little more materialistic with my spending habits)
  2. Give new forms of self-care a chance. If I had just stuck to traditional journaling then I would have missed out on the deeper inner peace that meditation offers me.
  3. Mix up self-care techniques. When the world feels like it is crashing around me, completing a page in a coloring book is a way to ground myself in things I do have control over. When I have too many thoughts running around my mind, traditional journaling helps sort out the substance from the mania. And when all I want to do is scream and/or punch something/someone, a guided meditation calms me and offers a chance to regain control over my emotions so I don’t say or do something I may later regret.



How do we, as Christians, show up?

How do people who read the same holy text as I come to such different conclusions?

How do I show up for social injustices in a Trump Administration?

3 questions that have in some way affected my YAV year. The first, a continuous challenge; the second, a question I have wrangled with my entire adult life; the third, a new reality.

I remember having a conversation with my campus minister that I didn’t like to identify myself as a Christian. I was spiritual but not religious. I had faith, and even though I was a incredibly active member in Presbyterian Campus Ministry, am a cradle Presbyterian, and am now an employee of the PC(USA). I didn’t like being associated with an institution that, in my eyes, was ripe with contradiction and hypocrisy. My knees would quiver at the thought that someone would associate me with the so much hate and discontent. An institution that made members sign forms saying they wouldn’t drink (even though they were of age) or that women couldn’t be leaders.

While I always associated Presbyterianism with what “church” meant, I knew very well that the home my family had found at First Presbyterian Church, Lexington NC, was not the experience for everyone.  I thought that if I admitted I was a Christian (and a person who was, then immediately the people who had negative experiences with the Church would associate me with that negativity, and I didn’t want that.

So, I let my actions speak for themselves,. If people thought I wasn’t a terrible person, and if I was doing my best to do no harm then it wouldn’t matter how I make sense of the messy world we live in. That’s how I would “show up.”

This need to distance myself from the institution was due to all the dialogues I had ever had related to my second question. I don’t get it…I don’t understand how I can read a story of unconditional love and inclusion, and someone else reads the exact same words, and interpret hate, or exclusion, or love with addendums. Now, I’m no theologian. I’ve never studied the works of theologians, but I cannot get behind a human who tries to tell me my God is hateful or exclusionary. I don’t buy it. I whole-heartedly disagree with a person who thinks that my God doesn’t want me to care about the world, the whole world, the world that may look or sound different than me.

Which brings me to the struggle of my third question. How do I show up for social injustices in a Trump Administration?

The first thing I have to do: name that I work for the Church; name that I drank the Presby Kool-Aid and it’s a part of my identity that has shaped me in ways I can’t even begin to explain. I can neither shy away from the fact that there are people who have had negative experiences in my faith tradition, nor can shy away from the fact that there are people in my faith tradition who I do NOT agree with.

At the end of 2016, I began applying to graduate programs and I was struggling with my personal statement. I had a friend who point-blank asked me: Meredith, why do you care about people who have been dealt a worse hand than you? The answer: I care because I do. Growing up, I witnessed adults deeply caring about the world around us. That was my expectation for adulthood, that I would care. My time in Chicago has only intensified the deep-rooted need for there to be equity, not just equality.

This election was tough…I had such hope in humanity that I never even considered for a minute that we would be where we now are. I don’t know what the next 4 years are going to look like, but if the first 3 weeks of this administration can offer any insight, then this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

I do know that everything in my being rejects the rhetoric of hate, repression, and oppression. I know that I can’t bite my tongue when I witness a blatant disregard for human dignity. I know that I am broken and I am beloved.

I figure that if my gut is telling me I shouldn’t accept what is going on in this country that I love, then that just may be God nudging me towards where I need to go.

“It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.”–Albus Dumbledore

Nevertheless We Will Persist.

Why wouldn’t I?

Over the last week, I’ve seen lots of #WhyIMarch to take ownership of the Women’s March on Washington (Chicago, NYC, and all the other sister marches globally). Every time I considered posting a #WhyIMarch, I realized, that for me at least, I could not put one simple eloquent reason why I joined 250,000 people in downtown Chicago. So here, in a incredibly discombobulated list…here are some reasons (in no specific order) #WhyIMarch

I March because:

  1. No one should dictate where I get my pap smear (#IStandWithPP)
  2. Tampons, pads, and diva cups are not “luxury” items
  3.  Everyone should be able to pee in a public restroom without fear
  4. I should have access to comprehensive health care no matter my income (including safe abortions)
  5. Rape Culture is a THING
  6. Internalized misogyny is a THING
  7. Educators are underpaid and underappreciated
  8. Climate Change is real
  9. Anti-Choice isn’t Pro-Life
  10. Humanity demands Dignity
  11. Journalists have a right to write without fear of federal prosecutions
  12. The elite should be held to the same standards as the rest of us
  13. The United States has great responsibility globally
  14. Isolationism isn’t possible in a globalized world and angering those who have been our greatest allies is BAD policy
  15. Vladimir Putin is an ABSOLUTE, TERRIBLE HUMAN BEING
  16. My government CAN NOT be friendly with a government/leader (Russian/Putin) who has its opposition gunned down in the streets
  17. Sovereignty is key and it must be respected
  18. We are a country of immigrants #NoWallNoBan
  19. My world is starting to look way too similar to a dystopian novel
  20. And finally:

I march because Us/Them mentality is damaging to the ENTIRE society.

Some may disagree with this list. Some may try to discredit my list by calling me a “sore loser”, a “crybaby”, an “attention-seeking millennial”, or asking “What does this white woman know about oppression?”

Here’s my response:

I am an attention-seeking millennial. I am seeking attention for the marginalized, those afraid of what this new administration means for their day-to-day lives. I want to use my whiteness, my privilege, to hold up the voices of those who have been repressed and oppressed for much longer than I.

With everything I have witnessed, everything I have experienced, and everything I know, why wouldn’t I march?

The Battle of Present and Future

During Urban Immersion Retreats at the Darst Center, we (the retreat facilitators) have a schpill to tell the anxious high school and college students: “Don’t worry about what is next, be here; it’s not your job to know what’s next.” We try to keep groups in the dark as much as possible in regards to the retreat schedule, so they don’t get ahead of themselves and miss out in conversations that are being had in the present. This motto is something that has really been hitting home for me in the last few weeks.

3 months into the my YAV year, and I can’t help but think about what is coming next. Between graduate school applications, trying to network in case I decide to look for a full time position in Chicago, and general life, it has become very easy to lose myself in the preparation for the future.

“Don’t worry about what is next, be here; it’s not your job to know what’s next.”

In case you didn’t know this about me: I don’t like not knowing. I have serious FOMO (fear of missing out), and I have convinced that if I’m not four steps ahead, then I am behind. I don’t when this need to always know started, but I have become quite aware since coming to Chicago.

“Don’t worry about what is next, be here; it’s not your job to know what’s next.”



Those words have starting to become a sense of grounding, especially when the idea of making future plans is so overwhelming that I want to go to the top of the Sears Tower and just scream.

“Don’t worry about what is next, be here; it’s not your job to know what’s next.”

Being here is a once in a LIFETIME chance. Living with a group of people that are like-minded in passions is refreshing. I don’t want to waste a minute of our time together.

“Don’t worry about what is next, be here; it’s not your job to know what’s next.”

As far as preparing for the future: I’ve done all I can. At the end of the week, I will have submitted all my grad school applications. I put forth my best work, and the decision will no longer be in my hands. I have to take solace in knowing that I’ve done my best in preparing for my next step. And until it is time to take my next step…I am here, in Chicago, living the best YAV life I can.

“Don’t worry about what is next, be here;”

Once a Black Knight, Always a Black Knight.

This week has been tough; between a hectic work schedule and getting strep throat, it has just been tough. But this week has been tough for another reason: At the North Davidson High School football game, Mike Lambros, softball coach, mentor, and all around special man, was honored at halftime and (for obvious reasons) I wasn’t able to go. This is a man that only ever wants the best for his students, cared for us both on and off the field. The women that he helped mentor over the course of many many years returned to help honor him, and I couldn’t be there no matter how much I wish I could have.

Before the softball season started my junior year, I realized that the thought of going to practice caused a deep sense of dread, not just some artificial I don’t want to go to practice dread, but rather a dread that was so rooted in my being I couldn’t begin to fathom. I had fallen out of love with the sport. And that’s okay. My parents were supportive, and I knew that I shouldn’t commit to another full season if my heart wasn’t in it. I knew I had to tell Coach about my decision, rather than being expected on that first day of practice and just not showing up. Telling Lambros that I couldn’t play for him anymore was possibly the toughest thing I had to do in high school, but it was the right thing. I was so worried that he would hate me or be disappointed in me, but he knew softball wasn’t my passion, and he was proud of me for listening to my gut.

Committing to a year of service is tough. Having the courage to move away is tough. But I know I am where I need to be. I know that I have a home community that I will forever be a part of. I know that striving for anything less than excellence in everything would be a dishonor to what was instilled in me from my home community. But it’s still tough

Once a Black Knight, Always a Black Knight. YEAH BABY1929447_10690682966_9006_n