A love letter

10 year old Monya sitting at a typewriter
10 year old me

Dear 10-year old Monya,

I see you, sitting in front of the typewriter Grandma Flo gave you when you moved away; your fingers stained various shades of black from the ink ribbon, your head full of short story ideas. You wrote your first piece, “The Three Little Kittens’ First Christmas,” when you were 6, and haven’t let up since. I wish I could somehow speak back through the years and tell you to not to forget how much you love it. Because you will.

In the years not long after this picture, you will put the typewriter in the closet along with your goals of seeing your name on the cover of a book someday. You’ll stuff down your creativity: your love of reading, writing, and music, along with your intelligence because at some point it becomes uncool to be smart. You’ll learn to be exactly who they want you to be: quiet, agreeable, convenient. You’ll do all this without question or hesitation. You won’t even put up a fight. It will never feel quite true, but over time, you won’t remember what true feels like, so this might as well be it.

I don’t mean to sound like you won’t have a good life – you’ll know happiness and joy – but you won’t be living authentically. Don’t be discouraged by this – most people aren’t their living as their authentic selves either. We all go through life striving to be versions of ourselves that we think are the most attractive to other people that are also trying to be the most digestible version of themselves. It’s a pretty silly concept if we were to stop and think about it, but few seldom do.

The good news is that you will start to question it eventually. You’ll start to remember bits of who you were before you decided that you weren’t enough. You’ll fight it for a little while, but eventually the curiosity will get the better of you, and you’ll start to lean in. You’ll remember your creative side and how much you love to read, write, and how you need music like you need air or water. You’ll very slowly and timidly start to create again. I can’t yet say whether or not it takes off like maybe it would have if you had questioned it sooner – I’m not that far in yet.

As you continue to lean in to the questions you have about who you actually are, you’ll find that you have some pretty strong opinions about things that you hadn’t really stopped to consider before, and many of them aren’t quite in alignment with some of the people and situations you’ve tolerated before. You’ll realize that you’re a little bit crazy about humanity – especially those kept in the margins. It turns out that all those years you spent trying to be someone mainstream society found acceptable will be absolute wasted time, because it’s those people on the fringes that you connect with most. You’ll realize that community and relationship comes easy with the right people.

It’s been a little more than 30 years since this picture of you with your typewriter was snapped, and I’d be lying if I said most of them weren’t spent living as someone that’s not fully you. While I can’t go back and change anything, I can commit to continuing to rediscover and reacquaint myself with the person that’s been hidden for so long. You have always been enough.

Love,
An older, wiser version of yourself

Processing… (alternately titled “A mini autobiography leading up to my current existential crisis”)

Gosh it’s easy to get knocked off track. Today is Friday, and here in Texas, it’s the first normal feeling day I have personally had all week thanks to the winter weather we had starting last weekend. That’s actually not true – the winter weather had very little to do with the absolute standstill we have all been at this week. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I lost most of last week as well due to the lingering immune response that my body had to the second Covid vaccine that I received the weekend before. It was rough, but well worth the resistance to an infection that has knocked the entire world on our collective behinds. But I don’t really want to talk about that either.

What I want to drone on about today is calling. More specifically, my calling. What is it? How do I find it? What do I do about it when I do find it? Can I borrow yours until I do find mine? “Oh great,” you’re thinking, “one of those posts where she waxes all what-am-I-supposed-to-be-doing-with-my-life.” Well, you’re right, so either suck it up and buckle in, or move along.

So here’s the thing: growing up, I had this ambition to become a teacher. Everybody I talked to (literally tens of people) knew it. I spent weeks during the summer at an aunt’s house that was a teacher, and my favorite thing to do was go through her classroom decorations and decorate my pretend classroom where I taught my obedient class full of dolls and stuffed animals. It was all I ever wanted to do.

I graduated high school a year early with a 2-week-old son who had undergone a heart operation less than 24 hours after birth, and my priorities shifted pretty drastically (I found they would do this several more times). I spent the summer between high school graduation and starting college in a NICU learning how to care for a medically fragile infant, and made the decision to pursue nursing. I was basically getting on the job training minus the pay, how hard could it be? So when I started taking community college courses, I loaded up on prerequisites for the nursing program. What I quickly found was that I hated it. Anatomy and Physiology was the first class I ever dropped because I just couldn’t memorize all those bones (this was probably the first two weeks of the curriculum). The truth is that I could memorize all those bones – I just didn’t want to. Nursing is a noble profession, and I appreciate all the nurses out there, but it was not for me. So I cut my losses and graduated community college with a Certificate of Proficiency in Office Technology. I was basically certified to be a secretary (a profession that doesn’t actually need a certificate).

Fast forward a few years of employment as – you guessed it – a secretary, and I decided if I was going to advance my situation in life, I should probably get a real degree. I worked at a university at the time anyway; surely I could just take a few classes around my work schedule. So I did. I declared a Computer Science major, and off I went. The first couple of semesters were all about taking care of basics, but since I had tested out of both the required English classes as well as Psychology, I had some room in my schedule to take an early class in programming so when I began my degree work, I wouldn’t be so behind. I quickly learned that while I was definitely a technology savvy person, Computer Science was not going to be a field in which I was going to find any kind of fulfillment. C++ was every bit as boring to me as the bones of the face had been a few years prior. Introduction to Programming was the second class I ever dropped.

In the five years that followed, I tried out Journalism and Marketing as majors before finally declaring Public Relations as the one and started focusing on just getting the degree and getting out. It wasn’t just that I had screwed around and taken classes long enough that I needed to just be finished (though the community college that I had previously attended did send me an Associate’s Degree simply due to college hour accumulation), the coursework in the Public Relations program was actually interesting to me. A lot of it was centered around nonprofit work, which I found incredibly rewarding, and I felt like I had found my calling – to help people. Somehow.

Some time after I graduated with my degree in Public Relations (minor in English), I took a job with a nonprofit organization as their Youth Program Director. I was responsible for presenting existing programs to kids as well as developing new programs. I loved it. I loved connecting with the kids and reaching out to the community. It provided a lot of different experiences with different audiences, which was nice since I’m the type of person to burn out pretty easily when things get mundane. After about a year, the organization restructured a little and the scope of my position changed, and I left the organization with a lot of valuable insight into myself and a renewed desire to become a teacher.

And so I did. The following school year, I took a job as a special education classroom aide and started a program to work toward becoming certified to teach. Because I was already plugged into a school system, I was able to begin student teaching as soon as I finished the coursework (which also didn’t take long), and in just over 6 months, I received my elementary teaching certificate as well as an ESL and a Gifted and Talented supplemental certification.

Over the course of the 6 years that followed, I had what I always thought was my “dream job,” but I struggled to feel what I thought I was going to feel. I’m not really sure how to articulate the conflict between what I expected and what I actually experienced, but I can say that I never really felt successful as a teacher. I loved my students, and a lot of them seemed to genuinely love me back; connecting with them never really seemed to be the issue, but I never really felt like I was successful in actually delivering the content. My last year in the classroom, I was assigned to teach 4th grade Writing, and I was pumped. I love to write, and I was excited to pass that love on to reluctant writers and to encourage those that already loved it as well. The reality was that kids at that age have very little actual experience in writing anything organized because until that age, focus is put on other subjects, so teaching writing turned out to be less encouraging kids to become better writers and to love writing, and more teaching them the rules of grammar and writing, which we all hate. In the back of my head the whole time was a nagging feeling: You are not fulfilling your calling – this is not where you are meant to serve. So I resigned from my teaching job.

In the months since, I have taken on the mission of finding what it is I am meant to do, who it is I am meant to serve, and in what capacity? Unfortunately, the nagging feeling that lead me to leave teaching hasn’t really offered up any further guidance. The universe has done a good job showing me all the things I am not called to do, but has yet to open my eyes to what I am. When I embarked on this journey to find this calling, I had a list of criteria that I would like for it to include. I want to write (but what?). I want to speak (to whom? About what?). I want to empower and give hope (again – who? And how?). I have read books, listened to speakers, and talked to coaches about finding purpose, and the recurring theme is that your purpose is at the intersection of your skills and expertise, your talents (apparently those are somehow different from skills and expertise), your values, and your passions (again – apparently those two things are different). As easy as that formula sounds, I am no closer to knowing than I was 8 months ago.

So now what?

There are no resolutions here

It’s New Year’s Day, and this year is a weird one. There are plenty of posts out there that will break down in detail what a mess 2020 was (and don’t get me wrong, it was), but this is not that post. There are also many posts talking about finding the blessings amidst the destruction of 2020 (of which there are plenty if you bother to look), but this is not that post either. Though there is much value in reflection, and we’ll need to do a lot of reflecting to even begin to heal from the events of last year, this is a post looking forward to the year upcoming. But instead of resolutions and specific goals, I am choosing instead to focus on improving specific areas of my life through habits and systems. There are five areas in my life that I have decided to focus on for growth this year.

Focus 1: Physical Health

First, let me emphasize this focus has nothing to do with weight loss. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and I have no intention to do so anytime soon. It’s not even about how my clothes fit or what the mirror shows. It’s all about how I feel. For example, I know by listening to my body that I am sensitive to sugar. Too much in the morning makes me nauseous, and too much any time gives me a headache. I also know from experience that sodium effects me pretty strongly. My hands and feet swell when I am the slightest bit dehydrated and have had anything too salty. I know I feel my best when I eat real food that is prepared fresh and hasn’t been in a package for who knows how long. The solution to this problem seems pretty obvious: just eat healthier, home cooked food. Ironically, I actually enjoy cooking. But often by the end of the day, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like it, and it’s really easy to talk my family into ordering takeout (we are a family of loving enablers). But in the interest of focusing on taking care of my physical health, I am putting in place a system that at 5:00 each evening, I will cook dinner.

Of course, physical health isn’t only about food. Movement is important too. I go through pretty drastic hills and valleys with regard to exercise. I’m either working out 6 days a week and feeling amazing, or I haven’t gotten off the couch in a week with no current desire to do so ever again (one guess as to which extreme I’m at now – hint: I’m currently lying in a recliner watching my 4th Marvel movie of the day, typing on my phone because my laptop is charging in another room). The challenge with this one is finding the best time to do it. If I start my day with movement, I feel great, but then I feel like my day is running late. If I wait until the end of the day, it’s likely something will get in the way and I won’t get to it. So the system I’m putting in place for this one is at 4:00 each afternoon, I will move my body for 30 minutes. This could be a jog around the neighborhood or a workout in the garage. Hopefully before too long it can be a gym workout, but right now that’s not in my comfort zone due to Covid.

Focus 2: Mental Health

A lot of the mental aspect of health can be improved by improving physical health, so if I can get that under control, I feel like I’m that much closer to better mental health. Unfortunately, I have historically focused specifically on one or the other meaning that the one that wasn’t the focus at the time only got as much benefit as the other provided. For example, in times that mental health was the focus, I tended to make sure that I was prioritizing rest, meditating regularly, and being kind to myself without putting any real emphasis on nutrition or movement. My mental health systems are small, but impactful. Most of these practices are how I start my day. I will list 5 things to I am thankful for first thing. I will not check my phone for the first hour I am awake. I will meditate and reflect each morning before I start my “work” day (more on that in a minute). I will continue to meet with my counselor every other week.

Focus 3: My Work

This is a tough one because it doesn’t yet have a specific focus or determined direction. That’s why I’m putting these systems in place – to establish that direction. I have joined author Kathi Lipp’s ministry team as an intern to learn more about how to build my brand and put myself out there. In joining this team, I have joined the Writer’s Collective which is a program that I feel will really strengthen my progress toward my goals. The program is broken down into three categories: create, build, and serve.

3a: Create

Creating for me means making progress toward writing my memoir. The plan is for this manuscript is to follow my evolution of a mother through my life as a pregnant teen, teen mom, single mom, married mom, and now that my kids are mostly grown, as a self aware individual. I will spend 90 minutes daily, Monday through Friday, working on some aspect of this manuscript.

3b: Build

In addition to writing, I am also putting a system in place to spend 90 minutes each day building my platform and community. This will be useful in hopefully increasing my readership, but also in attracting an audience that will actually find value in what I hope to offer in terms of hope and support and acceptance.

3c: Serve

The final 90 minute block in my “work” day is dedicated to serving my community. Right now this will be primarily through blog posts, but as I get more comfortable reaching out and as it becomes safer to interact in person post Covid, I would like for service to be feet on the ground serving marginalized communities wherever I can.

As I mentioned before, all things “work” related are pretty vague. The systems are there, but the projected outcome is not. Not yet anyway. If nothing else, I’ll be learning.

Focus 4: Personal Growth

Another pretty nondescript category, but not any less important than the others. I would like to set aside time to discover new interests and rediscover interests I have set aside. I mentioned earlier that I enjoy cooking. I’d like to remind myself that regularly and make a habit of it. I used to play piano, and while I hated it as a child (to be fair – my teacher was really mean – even my mom will back me up on that), I wish I still played. We got rid of our piano about 5 years ago, but I think maybe I’ll pick up a keyboard and try to get back into it. Part of me would like to learn to dance, though that sounds terrifying. Regardless, I plan to set aside 30 minutes per day for some sort of personal growth activity.

Focus 5: Spiritual Growth

This one is a little bit scary for me as my spiritual upbringing swings between my step-dad’s extreme Old Testament, fire and brimstone beliefs and nonexistent avoidance. I’m in a place now where I’d like to learn actual truth. I have a hard time accepting a God that is ok with things like misogyny and white supremacy and homophobia, yet sends his son to teach love and peace and acceptance. I need more information. I need reconciliation. Last year, I started to get involved in the Daughters of Abraham and was looking forward to learning more not only from women from my own faith background, but women from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds as well. Covid put a damper on that though, and it fell by the wayside with so many other intentions. I plan to get more involved with the group this year – even if it is virtually. I also virtually attended the Evolving Faith conference this year, and found myself among a group of seemingly like minded people. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to make some connections in person and find a church community that I can plug in to and learn from.

So there you have it. No actual resolutions, but plenty of areas to focus on growth. I’m seeking out accountability resources to keep me from losing focus, and the only real goal is growth. Here’s to 2021.