2014 in Review

It's hard to believe yet another year is ending.  As I took my annual trip back through photos from the last year via my Lightroom Catalog, I was once again amazed at everything this year brought.  God has certainly given me a few years filled with adventures and lessons about what is important in life. Speaking of what's important, one of those important parts of life is the people you love and remembering the way things are.  Which is why this year I decided to launch my Photography Business and start capturing people's memories for them.  And right now, I'd like to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU!!  In 2014, I had over 20 photo sessions and I truly feel incredibly blessed that each and every one of these people allowed me to capture a part of their beautiful life.  Each photo session leaves me feeling incredibly lucky to be let into someone else's life and to have observed the love and joy of another family.

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Whew!  That's a lot of beautiful people, right?!

So that's what Megan Schreurs Photography has been up to this year.

 

Personally, it's been quite a year.  Here's some of what I've been up to in 2014:

I started the year in a very cold Chicago.  I survived the "Polar Vortex" and what was literally the coldest winter ever on record in Chicago.  If you don't remember, I spent Sept 2013 - Aug 2014 in Chicago as a Young Adult Volunteer program through the Presbyterian Church (USA).  While there, I lived in community with Billy & Clarissa, other YAVs for the year, volunteered full-time at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly - where I provided friendship to lonely & isolated Seniors in Chicago, rode lots of buses and trains, learned so much the West Side of Chicago, and learned to trust God in so many new ways.  You can read about my many Chicago adventures here.

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As Spring came, it was SO GOOD after such a long and bitter winter.  The warmer weather led to a flurry of activity as anxious Elderly Friends could finally get out again and my housemates and I got serious about crossing things off our Chicago Bucket List.

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As the weather continued to warm up, we were unfortunately realized that meant that the number of shootings in our neighborhood skyrocketed.  We participated in a Peace Walk through our neighborhood, encouraging peace and nonviolent ways of resolving conflict. My long commute to work each day became a wonderful time of enjoying the warmer fresh air.  And during my time in Chicago, I continued my practices of fine art photography, enjoying the many photographic subjects the city had to offer.

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I took wonderful little road trip to Des Moines where I spend a much needed weekend with my bestest college friends.

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My mom came to visit me in Chicago.  I took some time off work and we got to experience some of the tourist-y parts of Chicago before I left.  We took a boat tour, ate Chicago style pizza, walked the Magnificent Mile, rode the ferris wheel on Navy Pier, took pictures in "The Bean" at Millennium Park, and watched the 4th of July fireworks from downtown.

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My little sister got married in May and I was so thankful to be able to help her with many preparations as well as taking on the big job of being Wedding Photographer and bridesmaid at the same time.  Parties and outings with my Old Friends continued at Little Brothers.  I took a trip to Central Illinois to where I grew up to share about my experiences in Chicago and got to see my old house, as well as many family friends.  Clarissa and I embarked on a journey to experience all of the best ice cream in Chicago.  I spent a week on "vacation" with Little Brothers, which turned out to be one of the most exhausting but rewarding experiences of my entire time in Chicago.  And my YAV community and I ended our year with a closing retreat of reflections and roller coasters.

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And then my year in Chicago was over.  I came back to Southeastern Oklahoma, moved in with my parents, and soon opened my Photography Business.  Oklahoma is entirely the opposite of Chicago.  Just totally different.  The hustle and bustle and noise were suddenly replaced with peace and quiet and wide open spaces.  But I am enormously thankful to be able to spend time with my family.  I don't know how long I'll be here, but I know it's right for me right now.

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I got to fly back to Chicago for a few days to document Lawndale Christian Health Center's big 30th Anniversary.  LCHC is doing big things on the West Side and I was so grateful for the chance to help them celebrate such a milestone.

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I spent a perfect weekend at gorgeous Ghost Ranch in New Mexico reuniting with YAVs who had just finished a year all over the world to reflect, share, and learn.

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Christmas came and with it lots of time with family.  My brother came from Seattle for a week and my cousin Phil and his wife were here for Christmas.  Of course we spent time playing games, eating Pizza, and celebrating our Savior's birth.

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2014 was a year of adventures, changes, growth, and trusting God.  I have no idea what 2015 will bring, but I know it will be good because He is in control.  Here's to another year and whatever it brings.

 

Megan Schreurs is a Southeast Oklahoma Photographer specializing in authentic documentary and lifestyle family, senior, and couple photography. Serving Hugo, Antlers, Soper, Fort Towson, Sawyer, and Paris, TX.  Contact her to book your session today!

Hugo OK Photographer | Transition Retreat at Ghost Ranch

Most of you know, but I just completed a year of Service in inner-city Chicago.  It was an amazing year of new places, new experiences, and of learning how to live simply and rely on God to supply what I need.  It was a year of Loving People; all sorts of people - from homeless elementary students, to lonely elderly people, to housemates and friends.  If you haven't already, you can read the collection of blog posts from my year HERE. My year in Chicago was through the YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) Program with the PC(USA), which has many sites both in the US and overseas.  There were somewhere around 70 YAVs worldwide during the 13-14 year.  We met each other during a week of Orientation before we started our years, kept in touch via facebook and each other's blogs, and were reunited recently for a long weekend of Transition Retreat in New Mexico.

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Yes, it absolutely was that gorgeous.

To sum it up, Transition Retreat was a time to share and process the stories of our years with a group of people who "get it" because although no one experienced exactly what we did in the last year, these people have done something similar.  They understand why we spent a year of our life living in a new place, giving up material things, and serving God by serving the Least of These.

The Tag Line of the YAV program is "A Year of Service for a Lifetime of Change" - and as the leaders of our retreat said "You've done the Year of Service, now it's time for the lifetime of change."

And now, a bunch of pretty pictures of an incredibly beautiful place!

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Post-YAV Thought #512

YAV Program Chicago During my year in Chicago as a YAV, there were a few times when I was called a "missionary" and each time I was extremely uncomfortable with that title.

It's not that I don't think missionaries are important and everything, but it's just that I think Christians tend to see Pastors and Missionaries as the only ones in "full-time ministry" and that bothers me - a lot.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all charged with the command to love - even our enemies!  Jesus doesn't require only a part of our life - not just on Sundays while we're at church, or on Tuesday nights at Bible Study, or when we feel like it - if you want to be a true follower of Jesus, you have to be willing to give Him every moment of your life, to strive to love everyone you meet with His love, to let the Spirit produce the fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control) in your life.  And so we are all in "full-time ministry" - for all of our life.

My year as a YAV may have been more obviously about "serving God" but it was no more about serving God then the rest of my life.  No matter what I end up doing next - if I wind up with that ever elusive "dream job" doing graphic design at a non-profit, or I continue building a photography business here in Oklahoma, or I get a job at Walmart - no matter what, I will be looking for ways to love the people I encounter and to make Jesus known.

Simplification.

IMG_8722 Since returning to Oklahoma a month ago (how in the world has it been a month already??), I've been overwhelmed with how much stuff  I have.  So much stuff.

The fact that my closet was full when I hadn't even unpacked most of the suitcases containing all of my clothes that I wore for a year, the boxes of stuff that I didn't even think of for a whole 365 days, the way I don't even know what's in most of those boxes.  Sure, some of it is sentimental and I want to keep it.  But certainly not all of it; not most of it!

I was convicted by this passage.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." - Matthew 6:19-21

I was collecting all this stuff, these "treasures" just in case I ever needed it.  "I can use that somehow" was the thought behind keeping it.

 

But I spent a lot of time living simply in Chicago.  I only bought things that I needed and you know what?  I didn't miss it.  Not one bit!

Instead of thinking of all that stuff I was able to focus more on God and on the people around me instead of myself.

 

And so, I've been simplifying a lot.  I've been purging boxes and closets and drawers and putting more in the "get rid of" pile then in the "keep" pile.  When I find myself thinking "oh, but I could use that someday" I stop myself, remind myself of the birds who only collect the food they need and don't store extra in their barns (Matt 6:25-27), and I put it in the get rid of pile.

And the more I get rid of, the more weight I feel lifting off of my earthly body.

 

The Ending.

Well, I'm back in Oklahoma and my YAV year is officially over.  It still doesn't seem real, but it is!  I'm kind of slow at processing these kinds of things, so I expect that I'll be thinking and blogging about it for quite some time yet, but I wanted to update you a bit on the end of my time.  

Saying goodbye to all my elders was exhausting.  Many of the PA's at LBFE had goodbye parties, but that's not really my style, so I decided to simply go visit each of them one last time.  I brought each of them a framed photo of them with me - or just me if I didn't have one of us together - that I had decorated and written "Don't forget that you are loved" and I wrote each of them a note thanking for their friendship, listing my favorite memories of them, telling them they'll never be forgotten and that I will be praying for them.  We talked about the future, and I gave them a big hug.  A few of them offered me some sort of parting gift - a Butterfinger bar, a paper peace crane, several cards that I will cherish.  A few of them had tears in their eyes as they walked me to the door.  It was really beautiful, and I truly will never forget them.  Even now, as I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks, I keep thinking about them and wondering how they're doing.

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Then I had a few days to pack.  Boy oh boy, I made a mess!  Trying to fit all that stuff back in those three suitcases that they came in...  But in the end it all fit - even if it took both of my housemates to zip the suitcases!  And funny story - the weight limit for the airline was 50 lbs and since we don't have a scale, I had no way of knowing how close or far I was from that limit.  So when I got to the airport I just held my breath as I lifted them onto the scale.  And one of them weighed 49 lbs and the other exactly 50!  Woah!

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Our last weekend, we (Krista, Billy, Clarissa, and I) had our closing retreat.  It was really the perfect end.  We went to this cute little tourist-y town in Indiana - Monticello, IN.  There is a lake there and lots of camping and stuff - and an amusement park.  We stayed in a wonderful cabin at one of the campgrounds - rustic enough that it still felt like camping, but with a roof and beds. :)  We alternated between silly, fun moments - at the amusement park and water park, mini golfing, swimming, playing cards, etc - and serious, reflective times.  It was truly wonderful.

And I LOVE amusement parks - especially these cute little ones.  We didn't have to wait in long lines and most of the employees were happy retired people.

 

For our reflection, we finished discussing the book we had been reading together this summer, An Alter in the World, and the final chapters were about Grieving, Prayer, and Blessings.  So we spent time mourning for the things that didn't go as we had hoped/planned this year, we spent time thinking about how we had experienced God this year, and then we each wrote a blessing for the others as we left.  Krista also incorporated my creative nature by planning an activity where we made "totem poles" with a section to represent different areas of our years, which of course helped me to process things.  And we wrote on stones to build an alter to remember what God had taught us this year.

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Audrey's House

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I just got home from four days at "Audrey's House," Little Brothers' vacation house just west of Chicago.

A bit about LBFE's Summer Vacation Program.  Some of our LBFE Elders are invited on vacation each summer; not all of them are invited - only those who are physically able and their coordinator thinks that they would enjoy the experience and be socially able are invited.  Each week a Coordinator, a bus driver, a volunteer, and two nursing students take a group of 12 elders out Monday through Thursday.  During the week, the coordinator plans activities.  Since our week happened to be all women, Lili planned a "Girlfriend's Getaway" themed week, with activities like thrift store shopping, a walk through a garden, a spa day, and t-shirt painting.

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Audrey's House is a beautiful and very large home in Batavia, IL - a far west suburb of Chicago. It has seven bedrooms, and (I think) eight bathrooms.  It is a beautiful facility, it is so perfect for our Elders, and we really enjoyed it!  It was so fun to hear the rooms filled with laughter and to see Elders enjoying the space!  We told them to make themselves at home and they did!  I loved hearing them exclaim "We're almost home!" after a day out.  Many of our Elders had never been in a home so large - or if they had, it was as someone who cleaned it!

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I was a little worried that this week was going to be kind of terrible, and I spent all weekend praying that God would give me unlimited patience and so much of His love to share - and He totally came through!  We had a great group of ladies - I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single one of them, but still, waiting on twelve elderly ladies who need a lot of help with everyday activities and just trying to keep twelve people happy is exhausting.  I had to be "on" from before 7am until after 10pm each day - happy, ready to help, social, and making sure no one needs anything!  I never did get a chance to get past the table of contents of the magazine on the coffee table. And Jesus truly came through for me, as He always does - I enjoyed every moment, even though it was hard work and exhausting work.  I fell into bed every night so exhausted, but somehow woke up 6 hours later ready for another day.

I loved getting to know these ladies, hearing a bit of their stories, and watching their relationships with each other blossom!  I loved hearing their laughter and listening to their deep conversations.  I loved asking "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" and helping them down the elevator.

 

On Wednesday, almost twenty additional LBFE Elders - who were unable to come on a 4 day vacation because of health reasons or time constraints, but still wanted to experience Audrey's House - were brought by volunteers for the day.  We had lunch together and had a "Spa Day" complete with manicures and even massage therapists who did 15 minute chair massages for the elders!

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Our wonderful staff/volunteers for the week: Me, Traci, Liliana, Emma, and Jacquie - I loved serving alongside them!

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This lady down below, with Traci, is Elia.  Elia is 94 years old and never missed a beat.  As I was loading luggage into the car on Thursday morning she came over with her walker and asked "Can I help bring some luggage out to the car?"  No joke.  She moved to the U.S. from Russia in 1981 to be a translator for a scientist and her granddaughter was an olympic gold medalist gymnast in the late 80s.  Every once in a while she would walk over to me and say things like "Go sit down and rest - you are working too hard!"  Oh, and she liked to sunbathe on the back porch each morning - in her underwear. :)

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And this young lady is Lillian - our class clown.  Always joking and making us laugh, there was never a dull moment when Lillian was in the room!  She told me that she hadn't been so relaxed and had such fun in "at least seven years."lillian

This is Anne - with an "e" like in Anne of Green Gables.  She painted the most beautiful t-shirt, makes handmade cards, and speaks Spanish.   Anne is so kind and thoughtful - and as our most mobile elders (she went for a 45 minute walk each morning and ran up the stairs faster than I could!) was always willing to help get drinks when my hands were full and I had to say "I'll be right back!"  I'll never forget the shock I felt when she jumped out the back door of the bus to answer her cell phone while I was folding up walkers to put in the back of the bus on our way home from an outing!

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This is Lillian (Yes, we had two Lillian's and a Lili on our trip!).  She takes two creams in her coffee, has twelve children, loves wearing hats, and she insisted on buying me my favorite snacks when we went to Walmart.

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Now that I'm back home and there's no one to wait on, I don't know what to do with myself!

A Year: Long but Short

* When I started this "Year of Service" I thought a year was a long time.  * But now, as I look at my calendar and count my days left, it feels so short. 

* Mid-way through the year, around February, when I was feeling lonely and really cold and just plain worn out, I felt like a year was a really, really long time.

* As I think about the relationships I've started, I want more time.  In many ways, I feel like I'm just starting to know my elders.

* When I think about everything I've learned and experienced, I feel like a year must be a long time because so much has happened.

* But as I think about the things I haven't gotten to experience, it doesn't feel long enough.

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I'm trying to finish my year well but truth be told, there are a lot of distractions:  friends who want to hang out one last time, city things that I haven't gotten to do yet, the future to worry about,  packing to start, and a sinus infection that makes me want to curl into fetal position and cry because it hurts so much.

I have just one more visit with each of my elders; one more chance to show them love.

I'd appreciate your prayers.

By Grace.


God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT


For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

Romans 3:20 NLT'


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So many times during the past eleven months I have needed those reminders.

My default setting is to try to earn God's love. I am naturally a rule follower. I love rules, really I do.  I know not everyone is like that, but it is a part of me.

I can't remember ever going through "that rebellious stage" as a child or a teenager; I always wanted to please my parents and the very thought of them being disappointed in me was enough to make me not want to break the rules. I literally don't think I saw a PG-13 rated movie until after I was 13 just because it was the rule.

So naturally, in my relationship with God that's where I go.  I want to please Him. I want Him to see how good I am and love me more for it. I think that He will see how good I am and love me more for it, that somehow if I just follow the rules a little more things will be easier.

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But that is not how Jesus works. We don't have to work for our salvation or to earn His love. He just loves us because of who He is.  He is love.  The very definition.

I know that.

But during a year like this, it's pretty easy to forget.  I'm trying to do a lot of good things, and while that is good and it is important, it's easy to do them for the wrong reasons.

 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

James 2:14-17  NLT

Doing things - like feeding hungry people and clothing people without any - is a very important part of faith.  But it needs to be the other way around - because of God's great love for us we should want to love people.  It's not by loving people well that we earn God's love.

And I need to remember that.

 


A Different View: Chicago Architecture Tour

I'm spending the next week as basically a tourist in Chicago.  Sure, I've been living here for nearly a year, but I haven't gotten a chance to do a lot of things yet.  With a few days off and my mom in town visiting, it's the perfect time!  We started yesterday with a cold and dreary architecture boat tour on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.  How cool to see the city from a different angle! Chicago Architecture Tour  landscape skyline city photography

The Hellyer Family : A Documentary Session | Hugo OK Family Photographer

"A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams." - Dr. William A Ward

I was so blessed to get to spend a Saturday afternoon recently with the Hellyer family - Jeremy, Rebecca, and their son Grayson.  Rebecca is a talented photographer herself and she wanted to get in some photos since she's always the one taking the photos and rarely actually on the other side of the camera.

We didn't do anything special or fancy for these photos - they are simply wearing their normal clothes and doing normal things at their own home.  But the result is authentic moments and emotions that reflect the Hellyer's beautiful life.

If you're thinking of doing a photo session soon, I really encourage you to let a photographer come to your home and capture the real you.  I truly believe that these images will mean so much more to you in 20 years than a posed session will.

Here's what Rebecca had to say about it: "It was awesome. So relaxing and wonderful. It was so nice to just play with our monkey and just forget about the camera. With Megan at our home it was just….nice. Relaxing, and casual, and so real. I loved it."

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Megan Schreurs is a photographer in Hugo, Oklahoma and the surrounding area specializing in authentic documentary and lifestyle family, senior, and couple photography.  Also serving Antlers, Soper, Fort Towson, Sawyer, and Paris, TX.

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I keep thinking about how fast the rest of my time in Chicago is going to go.  I know it's just going to fly. And I'm torn between being really excited to move on with life & get back to my family and being terribly sad to leave my elders and this city, which I have come to love even more now that the weather is nice!

Here's a quick rundown of the rest of my time - and you'll see why I'm convinced it's going to be over when I blink.  And I'm interspersing some random photos from the past few weeks.

First, this Friday for Community Day we are going to Indiana Dunes - a State Park with a beautiful beach that I've been to a couple of times before, when I worked at Camp Manitoqua.  Sand + sun sounds pretty fabulous right now and I'm really looking forward to spending time with my roomies + Krista too.

Then, immediately after that, I'm heading to Des Moines for the weekend to meet up with several of my wonderful college friends.  I'm seriously looking forward to that.  I'm gravely missing those close friendships, and I haven't seen these girls in way too long, so a wonderful weekend to catch up on each other's lives is very much needed.  I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it work out to go, especially without a car, but through the kindness of several people I am able to do it.  Yet another instance of God providing what I need through His people.

Then, on Tuesday, my mom is coming to visit me for a week.  I'm really looking forward to spending time with her, bringing her with me on visits to my elders, and just having her here.

In the meantime, I'm working hard on building my photography portfolio by taking photos of lots of people.  Family portraits, headshots, fashion shoots, and whatever I can get my hands (or camera) on - I love it all, but that means more time editing, looking for posing ideas, sharing photos.  You can check out some of my recent work here if you're interested. :) AND, if you are in the Chicago area and are interested in modeling for me in exchange for (FREE!) digital images, let me know! Really!

Summer and warm weather means lots of fun outings with my elders - we've been talking about doing fun stuff all year and putting in off until the weather gets nicer - and that's now! So that means busy, busy, busy-ness at work.  PLUS, lots of the other PA's have already finished their years and gone home and we don't have new ones yet, so that means that those of us that are left are having to pick up some of their previous work.  So even more busy-ness.

And then, the third week of July I'm going on vacation with some LBFE elders.  LBFE has a vacation home out in one of the farthest suburbs where elders get to go on "vacation" for four days at a time during the summer.  I volunteered to go one of the weeks, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the vacations which many of our elders say are the best thing about LBFE.

Amidst all of that, there's also the traditional "ending" things - wanting to have people over for dinner, crossing things off our bucket list, and somehow finding time to continue with regular life.

And of course, I'm still working hard to update my portfolio website, my resume, and working on job searching while all of this is going on.  I still need a job when this whole thing is over, and honestly I haven't gotten a chance to even think about that all that much because I've been so busy, and then when I do have a spare few hours I just need to rest more than anything.

So yeah, lots going on around here.  I'm looking forward to all the excitement, but it's just so weird to think about this coming to an end and moving on with life.  I feel like I need another year just to process all of my experiences from this year. Thanks for reading, thanks for your love and support all year, and as always I would appreciate prayers as I process the things I've been experiencing and as I continue to seek the next chapter in my life.

 

Much love,

Megan

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Peace Walking.

On Friday we were invited to a Peace Walk that was put on in our neighborhood by a local nonprofit, specifically by the children in their afterschool program.
I didn't have any idea what a "Peace Walk" even was, but I've learned to just go with it and enjoy whatever these events bring!
It turns out that a Peace Walk is more like a march.  The kids had made signs to carry - they said things like "Stop the shooting - I want to grow up!"
If you aren't aware, the number of shootings in the inner city - including my neighborhood - skyrockets around this time of year, as the weather gets nicer.  It's literally in the news every Monday morning with headlines like "9 dead, 32 injured in shootings in Chicago this weekend."  It's crazy.
So we carried signs, we walked with the kids, we chanted,  we wore "Peace for All" buttons, and we heard speeches from children on how violence has already affected them in their young lives and about how they don't feel safe even when they take their garbage out - and we pleaded with the neighborhood to stop shooting each other.
It was pretty cool.  It was empowering to see little kids standing up for themselves and their friends, so that they might be able to play in their yards without being afraid.  Will it actually make a difference? I don't know.  Maybe.  Who knows, maybe someone who might otherwise not care had their window open or was walking down the street and heard us.  Let's pray they did.  Because something has to change.
 

Ice Cream Adventures: Memorial Day Edition

My friends went to Costa Rica for two weeks and left their car at our house - with permission to use it as much as we want - thanks Michelle & Josh!! So, with the freedom of having a car in this city for the first time ever and a day off, we set off on an adventure. Ice cream was the goal, of course - Clarissa loves ice cream like no one I've ever met before. Rainbow cones, driving around the suburbs, and a picnic dinner = a wonderfully refreshing day!

Home.

I apologize right now for how long this is going to be.  It's been a really busy month, and I have a lot to say!  Thanks for sticking with this!
I went home for two amazing weeks.  Home is a complicated word for me.  I've lived in a lot of places and it can be very confusing.  What is "home"?  I've come to realize that for me, it's where my family - my mom & dad, my sister & brother - are.  The traditional sense of "home" ended for me when my parents moved across the country the week after I graduated from high school.  From that point on, my home because very confusing.  Is home where you went to school, where your friends are, the place that is familiar, where you grew up, where you were born? 
 
Anyways, my parents and sister currently live in Southeastern Oklahoma.  I lived there for two years before moving to Chicago, so it's sort of home, but I still don't know a whole lot of people there, and don't have many friends there, so it isn't really.
So yeah, when I say I went home, it's a bit different than a lot of people.
 
 
But my sister got married, so I spent two weeks in Southeastern Oklahoma, helping with the wedding and spending time with my family.
One of the many things I've realized about myself this year is just how important my family is to me.  I think it's because we moved so much when I was a kid; nothing in my life was consistent except the five of us.
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And so it was really, really important for me to be there to help with Becca's wedding.  Thankfully, Little Brothers and Krista have both been very generous and understanding with time off, so that wasn't a problem.
I'm not going to go into it too much right now, because this is already going to be way too long, but the week before I left Chicago was the hardest one of my year by far.  It was bad.  And so I was so ready for a some time with loved ones and a break in routine.
This is one of those occasions that meant a lot to me, that people don't quite understand just how much.
 
I spent the first week helping with a lot of projects for the wedding, which was why I was there anyways.  I worked really hard doing things like going shopping for last minute supplies, cleaning, various DIY projects, making trips from the church to my parents' house to my sister's house to the reception site, etc. 
 
 (the roses were in full bloom.  so so gorgeous.)
 (my biggest DIY project, I made a sandwich-board-style sign for the wedding out of an old pallet)
 (I enjoyed the wide open spaces and warm tempertures in Oklahoma - almost 90 degrees on some days!  And the kitties, of course)
(Oklahoma had leaves long before Chicago did.)
Then the extended family started to arrive.  My grandpa, Aunt Julie, and cousin Maya arrived from Whidbey Island, Washington on Wednesday night.  Aunt Libby (also from Washington), Aunt Ann & my cousin Maggie (from Wisconsin), and my cousin Kaitlyn and her boyfriend Tyler arrived on Friday.  My Aunt Amy (from Denver) came on Saturday with my cousin Ethan, as well as some good family friends from when we lived in Central Illinois, the Harts.  We were all so overwhelmed with love and with how far people traveled to be there to celebrate Josh & Becca's marriage.  It made for a very busy, but fun-filled weekend.
 
 
The wedding was a very DIY affair.  Everyone worked so hard to decorate with things borrowed from friends, from the church, from the school where my mom works, etc.  We cooked the food ourselves with the help of a friend who caters.  I did the photos, with the help of a family friend & her boyfriend. 
 
Yes, you read that right.  I was a bridesmaid & the photographer at my sister's wedding.  It was really chaotic and not an easy task and required more multi-tasking than I thought was possible, but hiring a professional proved impossible because Hugo is so far in the middle of nowhere plus their engagement was just so short that the few photographers were already booked.  So I told her I would figure out a way to do it and spent a lot of time figuring out just how in the world I could do this!  I am so thankful that Tori & David were able to help me out for the parts that were just impossible for me to do by myself - for times when I just couldn't be in two places at once, like during the ceremony and for group shots that I was in.
 
 
 
 
 
The ceremony was at the church where my dad is the pastor, and he officiated.  My grandpa (who is also a pastor) led the beginning of the service so that my dad could walk Becca down the aisle.
The wedding party consisted of my cousin and I as bridesmaids and Josh's two brothers were groomsmen.  The flower girl, Emma, was the daughter of one of Becca's friends.
It was simple and beautiful.
 
The reception was at a house at Hugo Lake, a state park just outside of town.  We were very blessed to be able to use that space and it ended up perfect.  The weather was gorgeous so most people sat out on the deck, which overlooked the lake, and the bugs weren't even that bad! 
 
 
 
There were also a lot of special touches on the day.  My sister wore my mom's veil, which my mom bought while she was serving a "Summer of Service" in Belgium the summer before my parent's wedding.  Becca also wore my grandma's wedding ring on her right hand, which was really special since this was the first of her grandchildren's weddings she wasn't at.  By aunt also brought my grandma's actual garter.  We used the china from our church that they used to use for church dinners back in the day.  The roses in the centerpieces came from our neighbor's rose bushes.  Some of the decorations came from a friend of my sister's wedding last year.
And then week two consisted of cleaning up (because it turns out when you spend a week setting things up, it also takes a lot to tear it all down!), spending some time in my mom's third grade class, taking people back to the airport (a three hour trek), and editing wedding photos.
The entire two weeks was jam-packed with busy-ness.  But it was soooooooo good to be back with my family.  I have missed them more than anything while in Chicago.
To be honest, it was really hard to come back.  Really hard.  Thankfully the beautiful weather has helped, but I would appreciate prayers as I try to finish strong - it's hard to believe that my year in Chicago is almost over but with only a few months left, it really is coming to an end, which is pretty bittersweet.
(And oh man, as I was looking through photos to add to this post, I realized just how many other thing I have to blog about.  So look for more posts soon - and bother me if I don't post them - cuz I'm just going to fall further behind!)

Happy Easter!!

If I'm being totally honest, I was kind of dreading today.  I had no plans, my housemates were going to be gone, and I wasn't even sure if/where I was going to go to church.  I hate spending holidays away from my family.
But then I just decided that it was going to be a good day.  I just decided it.
Jesus is alive and that is something worth celebrating no matter what!
I woke up, read the resurrection account from John, and I told myself to quit whining and missing my family and just to celebrate Jesus today.  And so I sucked it up and went to church by myself.
But it's amazing what an attitude adjustment like that can do.
It was a great day!
I talked to a lady through her open apartment window while I waited for the bus.
I spotted the first buds of Spring on the tree by the bus stop.
I admired all of the little girls' fancy Easter dresses
I smiled as I stood in line to get into the packed Church.
I happily served in the nursery in the next service and held a darling, happy baby.
I headed downtown and hung out at Panera.
I met up with my friend Katie, who altered my bridesmaid dress for Becca's wedding, to pick up my dress.
I talked to my mom on the phone.
I smiled at the lady who got on the bus and proudly proclaimed to the whole bus "Happy Easter!  Jesus is alive!"
I spent some time writing in my journal and drawing in my sketchbook.
And now I'm joyfully enjoying the last few hours of my weekend.
I chose JOY.  
Because Jesus is alive.  
And nothing else matters.  
Life is worth the living just because He lives!

Hope.

Spring has finally made an appearance here in Chicago!
Of course, it's supposed to be gone tomorrow, when the temperatures are supposed to be back down to 40, but it made for a wonderful weekend.
Saturday Clarissa and I headed over to the lake (that's Lake Michigan if you aren't familiar with Chicago) to sit at the beach and read.  We were both reading a book that we're supposed to read for community day in a couple of weeks - Our Black Year.
It was so foreign to the Chicago weather that we've gotten used to.  It truly felt like the whole city had come out of hibernation.  Everywhere we went there were people enjoying the fresh air, walking the dog, riding bikes, etc.  It was like an entirely different place!  It makes me so excited to experience Summer in this city - I have a feeling it's going to be fabulous!
 

 

Realizing that my gifts MATTER.

Over the past week or so, I've gotten to see a few of my graphic design projects in real life. 
Somehow, seeing things printed in mass quantities instead of just on my computer screen in Adobe Illustrator makes it seem more "real."
I designed a postcard for National Volunteer Appreciation Week (this week! Go thank some volunteers!) for Little Brothers.  This week, almost 1,500 people around the city of Chicago will receive a postcard thanking them for their service with Little Brothers this year - with my photo and design on in!
 
And, I came home the other day to a postcard and bookmark waiting on my desk for me from my housemate, Clarissa.  I  designed a logo for the organization she's working with this year, Grace Seeds, and they "debuted" the logo at an event this weekend - complete with the logo on a cake!!
 
 
 
 
 
So I've been thinking (again) about Graphic Design and how important it is to me.
I really think that's one of the biggest things I've realized this year.
Our gifts have been given to us for a reason. My gifts have been given to me for a reason.
I've loved to create for as long as I can remember.  Some of my first memories are making things out of homemade play-doh and coloring "scribble drawings" with my mom.  As a little girl, I was constantly doing some sort of craft. Making something where there used to be nothing absolutely fascinates me.  I've been through phases of just about everything - cross stitch, polymer clay, scrapbooking, shrinky-dinks, painting, quilting, handmade cards, embroidery.  I could go on.
I started college with no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  None.  I actually started as an Elementary Education major, mostly because it was something I knew.  I understood school.  Thankfully, I went to a liberal arts college that required me to do some exploring anyways.  So I took the general Art101 class that everyone takes.  I loved every moment of it.  And thankfully, I went to a college where the professors care.  (Here's a secret: If you want to get me talking about my deepest thoughts, give me a paintbrush or some clay to stick my hands in and I'll spill it all.)  So I talked to my professor.  I told him how I loved art but I just wasn't sure that it was a practical thing for me to study since I really didn't want to be an art teacher.  He introduced me to the concept of graphic design.  I had never even heard of such a thing before.  He convinced me to take Graphic Design 101 the next semester to see if I liked it.  And I loved it.  I loved how it incorporated the creative with the practical.  I loved seeing my ideas come together on the computer screen. 
So I changed my major. 
I changed my dreams.
I started dreaming of a corporate, city lifestyle.  I was sure that I would move to Seattle, ride the train to work where I would design pretty things for clients, and go home to my cute little apartment.
And then I graduated.
I quickly discovered that finding a job in this industry is next to impossible.  I didn't have any real life experience.  I didn't have any contacts.  And so my little resume never made it to the top of the pile.  I applied for well over 200 positions and never even had an interview.  It was so sad, so depressing, so discouraging. 
So I got another job.  Ironically, it was in the Education field, the field that I decided wasn't for me.  Funny how God works, right?
And slowly, my Graphic Design dreams faded.
Gradually, I decided that I probably wouldn't ever get to work in Graphic Design.  It would just be something that I could do on the side, for fun.
I accepted that.
And then God led me to the YAV program.  I knew that I needed to step out in faith, and do something crazy for God.  I knew it was time to put my Faith into action instead of just talking about it.  And this work with Little Brothers is good work, really good.  It's just my gift.  I have to rely on God to give me what I need all day long.  And relying on God is an amazing thing.  And I hope that never stops.
But gradually, over the past 8 months, He's shown me that my gifts matter.
He's given me a love for details, for typography, a passion for color theory, and an enthusiasm for problem solving that are the perfect combination for designing.
He's taught me that my skills can help people by putting opportunities in front of me. 
He's made me realize that my skills are unique.  I know things about file formats, color spaces, and vectors that the average person doesn't have a clue about. 
And He's shown me that Design is something that is needed by small non-profits, churches, ministries, and organizations just as much - if not more - than large businesses.
So now I'm here, no longer dreaming of a corporate, career-driven life, but of a life helping people further the Kingdom of God through my skills of Graphic Design and photography.
Now I just have to figure out how to do that.
So keep your ears open, friends, for jobs like that - because in a few months my student loans are going to need to be paid again and I'm going to need a real job where they pay me.

 

A [failed] Day in the Life

I woke up this morning feeling wonderfully inspired to pick up my camera.  I thought "Oh, I'll do a "day in the life" series for my blog.  I'll take photos all day and then tonight I'll post them on my blog so everyone who reads it will know what my day looked like."  See, I had the day off work at Little Brothers today.  I had grand visions of getting things crossed off my to-do list that I somehow never have time to do, and heading downtown for an adventure, and cooking dinner, and enjoying a lovely relaxed evening with my roommates.  As you read that you probably realized what I missed - even though it was a day off, it was still only a day.  There's just no way to do all of that.  And then about half way through the day, the light was no longer as pretty, and I set my camera down and forgot to pick it up again.  And so the rest of my day went undocumented.  Oh well.  You'll still get to see part of it.

Thanks to my lovely bed-fort, I got to sleep in way past when the morning light would have otherwise woken me up.  A few months ago, back when it was really cold here, I tied up these blankets around my bed to keep the heat inside and keep me warm inside.  And then it had this unexpected benefit of also keeping it dark in my bed, which made me sleep way better than I had since I got here.  So I left it up.  And on days like today, I'm so glad!

The remnants on my desk of a little creative-ness this morning.  I told you I was feeling inspired.  Before I even took my pajamas off, I sat at my desk with the goal of drawing a grid for a homemade calendar.  But as I picked up those markers, I had to do more.  So I spent a little extra time doodling.

The result is the above little grouping: a homemade calendar, a countdown until I get to go home in May (26 days left!) and some quotes to remind myself to live for today and not just for the future.  I'm constantly forgetting that.  I'm always looking ahead, excited about something coming up, and I forget what a beautiful gift today is.  I'm trying to find that perfect balance.

This is "my spot."  You know, that favorite spot on the couch.  It's where my laptop hangs out and it's the first place I go when I get home after a long day.

Then I got some chicken out of the freezer for supper tonight.  The hardest part of cooking for me - remembering to take the meat out to thaw!  I'm always forgetting that part!

Of course, laundry.

And no DITL post is complete without a few selfies.  I never did brush my hair today.

The worst part of my day; I had to take care of some stupid complications with my student loans.  Student loans are going to be the death of me.  But I got it done.  For now, until they get something else mixed up.

Pandora.  All day.

And, let the cooking begin.  My turn to cook dinner for my roommates and I.  I've been wanting some of my mom's cooking, and since she's a few miles away, I called her to request instructions for some favorite dishes.  (Thanks, Mom!  They tasted great!)

And then my roommates came home and I forgot to take any more photos.  And that would have been the more interesting shots, huh?  Sorry about that.

"My power works best in weakness."

"That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses.  If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message,  even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses,and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."  (2 Cor. 12:1-10)

I haven't talked a lot about the specific Elders that I work with through Little Brothers for a reason, because I want to honor them and their specific stories.  Each of them has a different story; some are eager to share and others change the subject when I try to ask them about it.  And that's okay.  I understand that it's not easy to share.
But here's the thing:  So many of their stories are not very happy.  These are Seniors who have been classified as "lonely and isolated" for a reason.  Unfortunately, many of them are not the easiest to be around; often they say things without thinking, they do things that are very self-centered, and they isolate themselves by doing these things.
I came into this year wanting a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus and love people, and I have definitely gotten the chance to do that. I truly love people all day long, and I am beyond thankful for that.  These are people who need it; too often I'm the only one in their life who takes the time to listen to them and just be with them.  But I've also learned a lot about loving, as a verb.  It's a whole lot of work.  It requires way more of 1 Corinthians 13 than I understood before.

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

And probably the most important thing I'm learning is to rely on God more.  I am reminded daily, when my strength runs out and I just want to stop, that I should be looking to Him to provide.  I am not supposed to be giving away my own love, but God's.  He has more than enough for all of my elders.  More than enough for the entire city of Chicago, and the whole world.  He is never going to run out.  On the other hand, I do.  Daily.  My tank of patience and kindness and love is completely dry many days, which is an amazing opportunity to allow Him to work.
Some recent photos from a few different Little Brothers luncheons and outings:
 
 
 
P.S. Watch for a blog post in the next few days about my trip to Washington D.C. last weekend!