Jesuit Volunteer Reflects: Ruined for Life and Split Plums

Plums and tomato copy

BY SARAH NEITZAugust 8, 2014

Driving home to Gettysburg, PA , I saw a bike alongside the road with a sign tied to it: “The best plums!” I’d finished DisOrientation, the last Jesuit Volunteer retreat. I’d completed my goodbyes, cleaned out my desk, packed up my life on Seven Mile Road in Detroit.

In half a mile another bike appeared, its sign proclaiming: “You need a mug!” Two years of Jesuit Volunteer Corps had ended without aplomb, a tear wiped away as I hugged my housemates for the last time.

The next bike advertised, “Sweet local corn! Next exit and turn left!” Now I was curious. I took the exit.

I pulled my car up to a fruit stand beside a farmhouse on Taneytown Road. Glossy mugs and plates were arranged on tables and shelves across the lawn. I sidled up to a yellow-striped mug, picked it up gently.

“Hello!” a girl with a wide face and freckled nose, a teenager, bounced up to me. “This is for you. It’s an elephant hearted plum.” She held out a small purple fruit. “You look very sunshiney,” she pronounced, “I saw you pull up, and I thought, ‘She looks sunshiney!’ I’m Charlotte. I work here.” I took the plum and introduced myself.

I went to inspect the heirloom tomatoes when Charlotte spoke up again. “Do you do any art?”

“Well, I write.” I replied. I sidled over to the cash register.

“My mother’s an author,” she said, “I don’t write, though. I can’t stay in front of a computer long enough.” Charlotte was from Florida, but had discovered Gettysburg on vacation and found a way to work with the potter this summer. “I was up for adventure,” she told me. And she was curious about my adventures, too.

“My family’s from Gettysburg,” (“I’m jealous!” she exclaimed), “But I’ve been doing Jesuit Volunteer Corps for the past two years. I was in New Mexico my first year. And I just finished up in Detroit working as a university minister. JVC was…” here I trailed off, wincing as I tried to find a word, “Rough. And beautiful. And fun. And I met some awesome people who changed my life.”

“Where is God calling you now?” Charlotte inquired. I jumped at the “G” word. Even after a year in ministry, I don’t expect God to be mentioned casually by a teenager at a fruit stand.

“I’m going to work on an urban farm in Detroit this fall. And I’m thinking about – well, I’ll spend this year discerning graduate school.”

“Aren’t you scared? Moving around so much and not knowing what’s next?” She attempted a casual face, but her earnestness showed. I’ve worn that face many times. That face got me into two years of JVC, and a commitment to live with goats in a bankrupt Michigan city.

I laughed. “I have been scared!  I got through it, I guess.” Surprised at my own answer, I continued, “I was present to it. I prayed.  And I moved through it. I think that’s why I’m ready to think longer term.”

We say that JVC makes you “ruined for life.” I used to think that “ruined” referred to how I felt after my first JV year: like my heart had been ripped out. After year two, I’m not bleeding anymore. But I pull over for curious bicycles, have spiritual conversations over a bag of the best plums. God is insistently everywhere, and my brokenness has made me think life whole.

The split plums are the sweetest. Thank you, JVC.


3 replies
  1. Kate Carter
    Kate Carter says:

    well written, Sarah. Detroit changes lives. everyday. i honor your story about living there.


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