An Update on The Shed (and a few other things, but mostly The Shed)

If you are one of the potential tens of regular readers of this blog, you may (but probably not) have noticed a couple of things. One, the site now has obnoxious ads. This is due to the expiration of my WordPress Pro subscription, and my inability to justify continuing to pay for it. They’re distracting, I know, but this blog has no business potential, and if it’s not going to bring in money, I can’t allow it to cost money. Anyway, on to the headliner of this show: The Shed.

Back in January, I introduced a pretty big project I had decided to tackle: transforming a small shed on our property into an office space for myself. The shed was an outwardly ugly, inwardly dank, dark, 98 square feet of plywood and mildew. It was full of boxes whose contents were unknown (and largely not missed), computer parts that haven’t been used since 2008 (I could rant about clutter and packrattiness for hours, but I’ll save you the read), and our disassembled – now water damaged – pool table. What it lacked in charm though, it made up in potential (much like the rest of our property). It already had electricity running to it, which seemed to me like a pretty good start, so off I went guns blazing or whatever, ready to tear some walls down.

Look how ready I am to tackle some demo!

Day one: Demo Day! I invited a couple of friends over, and armed with sledgehammers and crowbars, we went to work. While I do watch a fair share of home remodel shows, I am not naive enough to believe that home construction projects go anywhere near as quickly as they do on TV. That is to say, I did not expect to have this shed cleared out in an hour. I did not, however, expect demo to take an entire week. The girls and I spent most of a Saturday afternoon prying off trim and taking down shelves, but at the end of the day, the walls still stood.

While I am an enneagram 9, my 1 wing is incredibly strong, and I am an organized, scheduling, planning machine. I had a timeline of how this project was going to go, and at the end of week 1, I was somehow already almost 2 weeks behind schedule. I had hoped to be caulking and looking at whatever electrical work would be needed (a job I outsourced to my husband – electricity is not something I have any desire to play with), and instead I was still tearing out plywood and eradicating wasp colonies.

Once the walls were gone, I was ready to rock and roll. I marked off where I wanted my windows framed in (another job for the husband), and started planning the next step, which in my mind was insulation and drywall, but turned out to be adding trim to the outside to stop water from getting in. The enthusiasm you see in the first picture? Waning quickly. Still, I kept myself encouraged by thinking about the end goal, picking out paint color and light fixtures, and reminding myself there is value in learning to manage expectations. My kids kept me encouraged by continuing to live their lives in full volume on either side of the guest room where I still worked.

Eventually, The Shed was ready for windows, and because I am equal parts brilliant and foolish, I proposed to my husband that we replace the windows there were in our kitchen with french doors and put the windows in The Shed. This was a project we had already planned to do (eventually), and would save us from having to buy windows. Obviously, my timeline took a hit since we couldn’t take the windows out of the kitchen and put them immediately into The Shed – we had to install the french doors first. In a perfect world, this side quest would have been roughly a 3 day adventure, but it’s well known that the world is not perfect.

Just as we got the doors installed, but before the wall was put back up, my husband got the call that his father’s passing was at the any day stage. The weeks that followed were a blur of his travel to and from his mother’s house across the state, an ice storm with no insulated kitchen wall, a frantic push to finish the wall before the whole family traveled across state for the funeral, and finally, a week in the mountains where we all took a collective breath and got our heads back together.

Once we got back, somewhat refreshed and ready to put a fork in this thing, windows went in, and suddenly the dark, damp cave started showing some real promise.

Let there be light!

Things started really moving after that. Insulation, hanging drywall, and taping/floating became three things that I knew wouldn’t make it on my list of hobbies to pursue, but I had no idea I’d hate them so much. Each step was more awful than the one before, but they got me visibly closer to the part of the project I was excited about (design), and ultimately closer to my goal of having my space.

And then it was time. I had electricity, walls, windows, and air conditioning and it was time to take the vision out of my head and put it into this little space. The week I spent painting (yes, an entire week) was far more enjoyable than the week I spent tearing walls down. I happily touched up scuffs and bleed-throughs because it wasn’t mudding drywall seams. For three weeks, putting the touches that turned this space from a storage shed into The Shed was my full-time job. We ate pizza at 8:00 on a school night because I HAD to get the flooring laid. I woke up every morning with a list of what I wanted to accomplish that day. It really did border on obsessed. I set a deadline of April 23 for move-in. It would be one year to the day of when we moved into this house. And with the help of my amazingly tolerant husband, I made it.

I give you: The Shed

It is literally everything I wanted it to be. It’s quiet and cozy. It’s feminine and inspiring. I feel creative and at peace in this space. I could not be more pleased with the outcome. I can’t wait to see what I create in this space.

It Turns Out, I’m Kind of Awesome (and I’m guessing you are too)

I keep a list of journal/blog topics in a few different places for when an idea hits that I’d like to hash out a little bit but don’t have have the time/resources/mental space to do it right then. When I sat down to write today with nothing on my brain, but a goal to write words, I naturally went to my trusty list. As I read down the list, I found that exactly zero of the topics were speaking to me today. None of them. I tried grabbing the first one and just going with it, but after two paragraphs that I would not have accepted from my students when I taught 4th grade writing, I deleted it and went back to my list.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the reason none of them were sparking any kind of inspiration is that they’re all kind of heavy. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with heavy. In fact, some of my self-professed best work is on the heavy topics. They provide me with a way to process what’s going on in my head without the odd looks I get from my family when I make random comments out loud. But that’s not where I’m at today. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday. Maybe I feel good because I forced myself to work out this morning (damn you endorphins – you win again). Maybe it’s because I actually have a few things coming up in the near future that I’m excited about. Whatever the reason, I decided that today is a day to keep it light.

Here’s the challenge with that: where does one come up with a “light” writing prompt? I scoured the internet, and after reading list after list of deep prompts, I found a list of journal prompts for kids; and y’all – this might be my new go-to list. The prompt I decided to use as my jumping-off point was: What is your favorite thing about yourself? It felt a kind of big though; like if I’m going to choose something to call my favorite, it must really be great. What if I spent a ton of time coming up with my one favorite thing about myself only to realize tomorrow that I appreciate some other characteristic more? So I came up with a compromise and decided to just make a list of 5 things I love about myself.

  1. I have good ideas. I’m not talking change the world type ideas (though I like to think I have a few of those, too) – but day to day things. For example: one day my husband was lamenting (I’m being dramatic, but he was complaining pretty heavily) about the tire on a cart being broken when he needed to pick up branches from around our property. I proposed the idea of taking the front tires off the cart and just attaching it to the riding lawnmower. Guess what? It worked. He didn’t have to walk from pile to pile, and the busted tire wasn’t an issue.
  2. I’m funny. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. I would venture to guess that 90% of people who know me agree, and the 10% who don’t agree? Well, they’re entitled to their (wrong) opinion and probably have a more mature sense of humor. The important thing is that I think I’m funny.
  3. I’m brave. Sometimes by necessity, often by choice. I left a secure career that I didn’t hate and that provided a secure paycheck for absolute uncertainty. To some that may sound stupid, but two things can exist in the same space, and I choose to call it brave.
  4. I’m determined. I know what I want and I will get it. It may take a dozen left turns and four times as long as I would like, but I will make it happen.
  5. I’m evolving. One of the best (and sometimes worst) things about being a parent is watching the changes your child goes through as they grow up and the way your relationship with them evolve in tandem. I think once we hit “adulthood” (whenever exactly that is) though, we tend to think we’re done. I have found though, that I have grown and changed more in the last 10 years than I ever thought possible. As fascinating as watching my children become who they are becoming, I have been equally amazed watching my own evolution.

Coming up with this list was tough at first because the nagging voice of self-doubt is always just in the background questioning who I think I am to be tooting my own horn (but if I don’t toot it, who will?). As I kept thinking and typing though, it got easier. All I had to do was look at myself like I would look at someone else exactly like me – weird how much more encouraging we are to other people isn’t it? Anyway, I challenge you to try it. Come up with 5 things that you love about you. I’m sure you’ll find you’re at least as awesome as I’ve decided I am.

The Shed

About a year and a half ago, in September-ish 2020, the housing market in the area I live in went crazy. We’re talking houses with multiple offers 20% over asking price within 24 hours of being listed crazy. Unfortunately for my family, we are not prophets, and we sold our house about a month prior to this boom; thereby missing out on the insane profit that houses were suddenly fetching, as well as facing a weird situation where we couldn’t afford to buy a house equal to the one we had just sold because of the unexpected market shift. To call the whole experience frustrating would be a gross understatement. I’ll admit, our list of what we wanted in a new home was pretty specific: we did not want a new build (BTDT), we did not want an HOA (also BTDT), we wanted at least 1/2 acre of land, and it had to be in our current school district. We were looking to downsize from our previous house, but with my husband now working from home (thanks, Covid) and me exploring starting a business of my own, it had to have enough space to accommodate offices for both of us. Finally, after 8 months of renting and 10 failed offers, we ended up in a cute little farmhouse on 1/2 acre with enough projects to keep us busy for the next decade.

After 8 months of waiting, we finally moved into this little yellow collection of projects (but those trees!)

The house checked all the boxes, if barely. It’s definitely not a new build (it’s “newly updated” which is code for “don’t look too closely”), there is no HOA (this neighborhood would give an HOA board a nervous twitch), it’s on 1/2 acre, and it’s in our school district. It’s smaller than our old house and it has a separate office space for my husband. The only thing missing is a designated office space for me. Fortunately, there is a guest bedroom, and we only host guests a few times a year, so I set up my desk in the corner, and it works just fine as long as neither of my kids are home as the guest room shares walls with their bedrooms, and being the passionate gamers they are, it can get loud and somewhat distracting. It usually is an acceptable space though, and has served me well enough for the last 9 months.

I’m coming to a place that “well enough” isn’t really good enough anymore, though. My business plans need a space that isn’t confined to a corner of a bedroom where spirited shouts of a computer game from the wall behind me don’t rival those of the wall beside me. I want a place that is mine; a space that is quiet and calm and invites creativity. Luckily, among my 1/2 acre of projects there is… a shed.

So nice of them to paint it yellow to match the house

Words to currently describe this building are: small, dark, mildewy, wasp-filled (mostly dead – we’re working on it), and ugly.

I’m choosing to look past all that though, and see the potential for what it could be which is cozy, bright, inviting, and MINE. The more I’ve thought about it, the more excited I’ve gotten. This could not only be my perfect office space at the end, it could really be a great experience in the journey. I’ve told my family of my plans, and instructed them that this is something I want to do on my own terms; meaning I may need help, but make me ask for it (I struggle with that). And when I do ask, I don’t want someone to jump in and do it for me – guide me. If this is going to be my project, I want to have ownership in it. If it turns out amazing (in my head it already is), I want to allow myself to feel the pride that comes with it. If it turns out to be a flop, I want to learn the lesson in the failure and pull myself up and try again.

I’ll be posting updates on Facebook and Instagram under #operationmonyascastle and periodically, I’ll post about the process here. If you can’t tell, I’m crazy excited about this. People in my real life are going to be sick of me talking about it in a month, and I don’t even care. I have my tools, gloves, and safety glasses ready – demolition starts Saturday!

My Hello/Goodbye (or Goodbye/Hello) Experience

*Disclaimer: This is not a solicited post in any way. Pastor Steph and Jo Saxton don’t even know who I am (though I think we would be great friends if they did). This is simply a resource that I found a lot of value in and it would be selfish of me to keep it to myself.*

I’ve mentioned my views on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions before. It’s no secret that I’m not really a subscriber to the whole “new year, new you” mentality. If I’m asked to really break it down though, I think it’s more the messaging than the actual notion. I just have a hard time signing on to the idea that because the clock struck midnight on a given night, suddenly all our goals are more attainable. As if in that exact moment, we somehow collectively morph into completely new, more disciplined, more capable people, and THIS is going to be the year we drop that 20 pounds/write that book/quit that habit/travel more. Don’t get me wrong, as an optimist I love the intention; the universal hope that comes with wanting to leave every crummy part of the previous year behind and magically move into a bright and shiny new one. As someone who has previously set resolutions and repeatedly let myself down though, I’ve grown a little bit jaded to the concept.

All that said, I do appreciate the symbolism of ending an old year and beginning a new one as an opportunity for reflection and goal setting. It just requires a little different mindset (not to mention vocabulary) for me. For starters, the word resolution is out. If I ever start a sentence with the phrase “This year I resolve to,” just know that it will never happen. I have magically set myself up to fail with one word. I acknowledge this is a self-defeating attitude, but I stand by it. I need something a little less rigid. A little more practical. I stumbled across a resource put out by Lead Stories Media called Hello Goodbye, and it completely changed the way I looked at the old year out/new year in notion.

I have followed Pastor Steph and Jo Saxton online for a little while now, and while they have apparently gone through the Hello/Goodbye process many times over the course of several years, this was my first exposure to it. An extremely oversimplified explanation is that the resource walks you through a process beginning with meditating on scripture and really digging in to what God is calling you to say Goodbye to and leave behind, as well as what you are being invited to say Hello to. I’m not sure how long your average person spends on such a process, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it is not a thing you can hope to get through in one sitting. In my case, I spent an average of 2 hours/day for probably 6 days total (not in a row – there were some days I didn’t have the emotional capacity for such a thing – it got heavy at times). The takeaway here is that this is not a process to be taken lightly. While the specific details of my reflection are mine alone, I did want to share a summary of my 2021-2022 Hello/Goodbye.

In looking back at 2021, I am saying goodbye to those labels and identities that no longer describe or define me. I am saying goodbye to expectations I have previously placed on myself as a result of what I think others expect of me. I am saying goodbye to the fear of uncertainty knowing that certainty is a fallacy and fear hinders growth.

In looking forward to 2022, I am saying hello to the pursuit of a true calling over a job. I am saying hello to the belief that I am a creative being. I am saying hello to a deeper relationship with God and to being curious about my faith. I am saying hello to embracing community in all these spaces.

My prayer for the year ahead is that God will grant me the courage to embrace uncertainty and push beyond my comfort zone, for the confidence to believe that my dreams are worthy and achievable, and for guidance in figuring out the next steps necessary to move forward.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope it finds you with a renewed passion to dream.

New Year, Real Me

Here we are in the first few days 2022, and the resolution/goal setting/new year, new you mentality is running rampant. While that type of approach has proven to be ineffective for me to say the least (destructive would be a more accurate word), it works for some; and if that’s true for you, then let me assure you there is no shame here. You do you.

On the other end of the spectrum, is the new year, same me rhetoric. The idea that just because the calendar turned from December 31 to January 1, there is no reason to change anything but the page on the calendar (if you still use calendars with pages. I do). This outlook is also ok. After all, change can happen at any time you choose – no specific date or day necessary.

Somewhere in the middle, you have me. While I won’t be found with a list of specific things I will accomplish starting on January 1, I do have a list of things I would like to be curious about this year. And while I fully embrace the opportunity to make change at any time, I do like the symbolism of a new year – especially in these uncertain times.

One of the things I would like to embrace and be curious about this year is authenticity. I like to consider myself to be a mostly ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person. Mostly. But while I like to think that I don’t go through life pretending to be something I’m not (anymore – I’ll admit to spending a lot of time trying), there are parts of me that I keep hidden in probably 99% of situations. These parts vary depending on who I am around, but the overarching truth is that I can’t think of one single person who fully knows me 100%. (My immediate family is probably pretty close, but I don’t even fart in front of them, so no – not 100%).

I wonder what it would look like to embrace my full self in all situations. To not sit quietly with my opinions because they might be unpopular (like my dislike of animal prints), or not keep my ideas to myself because they may come across as stupid (they’re actually often pretty good – it turns out you can repurpose meatloaf for spaghetti), or not be quiet about my spiritual beliefs because they might threaten the superior identity that many cling so tightly to (I don’t have a cheeky example for this one – the evil of supremacy in any form doesn’t leave a lot of room for humor).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m in no way implying going around calling people out for wearing leopard printed everything, or picking fights with anyone who looks sideways at my culinary recreations (because the leftovers aren’t going to eat themselves and there are only so many identical meals in a row that one can tolerate). But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to allow myself to speak up from the proverbial (and sometimes literal) corner of the room when I hear something that I genuinely feel should be challenged, or defend something that I genuinely feel should be defended. So in the symbolism of a new year, I’d like to lean in to authenticity in all areas, in all situations. I’m curious about what we will all learn about me in the process.

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

Daddy Issues

Wow, Monya. You really just stepped back in after a four month absence with a topic like daddy issues? No personal update or anything, just jumping in, huh?

The short answer is, yes. I thought about a personal update. I even had a draft of one – like 1500 words long! But then I looked back at the history of my posts and realized that 90% of them are exactly that. A personal update post after a long hiatus. It’s obviously not working for me. So I regrouped and decided that whatever this site’s purpose originally was, this blog is for me, and I don’t need a personal update. It’s purpose is nothing more than a place for me to process whatever I am processing at the moment. And at this moment (or collection of moments over the last week or so), I am processing the concept of daddy issues – but probably not quite the daddy issues you may initially think of when you hear the phrase.

I’ve mentioned a time or two before that I have a complicated relationship with faith. There are just so many things that I either don’t understand, or that just don’t quite sit right with me about what I was taught or what I experienced; and don’t even get me started about the harm I’ve observed from afar done in the name of God or Christianity or the Church (hello Conversion Therapy).

Admittedly, I don’t have a very firm foundation of theological knowledge. As a teacher, I would say there are “a lot of gaps in my education,” and while a lot of the books I read and people I follow are in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing their existing faith, I am kind of just getting started and learning as I go. Constructing, if you will. My immediate need is to lean in to the questions I have relating to my own beliefs, and at this particular juncture, my issue is with the way God was always presented to me as a “Father.”

A quick Google search will give you varying answers about how many times God is referenced as a father in the Bible. I suppose it probably depends on what version you’re reading. The one thing all the answers did agree on was that the number is pretty high. One source claims God is referred to as “father” over 100 times in the gospel of John alone. Growing up with my very Catholic grandmother, our prayers always ended with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And of course, every denomination shares the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with “Our Father.” I never felt much of a connection to any of it, and until recently, when I started really digging into my faith, I never really thought about why. Now I have a hypothesis.

I was raised with two examples of a father. The first was my biological father, who was, for the sake of simplicity, absent. I have exactly three memories of visiting him between the time he and my mother split up when I was 3 and the time he passed away 10 years ago. Once was at my grandparents’ house in Texas when I was maybe 5 or 6, once at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma when I was 14, and the last time was at his house in Seattle when I was 16. From what I remember, he was always very nice to me, and he was wicked witty. At the end of every visit, I would go home with renewed hope of how our relationship was going to be from that point forward. It would start strong: I would write him letters, he would write me back, there would be a Christmas gift and maybe a birthday card, and eventually the communication would drop off again. He was not at my graduation, did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and never met any of my children.

One of the few photos of me and my father

The second version of father that I was raised with was my step-father. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be unpredictable. One minute he was the nicest person you’ve ever met, and the next he was raging about hairspray or makeup (both unacceptable in his house). He would quote pieces of Bible verses at me, making sure I knew my place in the hierarchy of our home and the world outside of it. He was a strong believer of “spare the rod and spoil the child…” It was one of his favorite phrases.

My step-father actually taught me a lot about God. In fact, God was one of his favorite topics of conversation. He made sure I knew that I would never be good enough for God, but I didn’t take it personally – it sounded to me like almost nobody would. He painted a picture of a deity that was harsh and angry, and would strike down anyone that crossed him. I had better love God and worship him out of fear and respect, or else. It was ironically pretty similar to his own parenting approach.

So here I am, faced with the concept of God as the “Father,” when personal experience has presented me with a father as someone who loves you in convenience, or someone who demands respect through fear and intimidation. Why would I actively seek a relationship with either of these? Neither version reconciles with the unconditional love and adoration I was later told that God also offers.

It hit me out of nowhere recently that this might be a reason (though likely not the only one) I’ve always felt a little disconnected from God. I can’t fathom a father who loves and cherishes and wants a relationship with me at all times. One who accepts me and sees me as worthy just as I am. In my experience, that sounds more like a grandmother to me than a father. And so my epiphany went a little deeper to incredulously ask (of no one in particular), who decided God is a man anyway? Who decided God has a gender at all? How on earth can you hold the divine within a human-made construct? What else? Does God have a race, too?

And so I’ve decided that if, in fact, I have to personify God in order to be in relationship with her, I’m going to have to change the image my mind conjures. God is a tiny but mighty little old lady. We drink coffee and eat cinnamon toast while we watch The Price is Right and talk about life. She listens with care and answers with wisdom. She is strong, but she is fair. She loves me simply because I am hers; I have nothing to earn or prove. Maybe someday I’ll be secure enough in my relationship with God to think of her as a “father,” but for now, for me, God is a grandma.

A Convoluted Musing about Prayer

It turns out that the first Thursday in May is recognized as National Day of Prayer*, and it got me thinking about my personal relationship with prayer. What feels like another lifetime ago, I wrote a blog post about my inconsistent faith journey in general (you can find that post here), so my complicated relationship with prayer should be no surprise.

I grew up around recited prayer: Our Fathers and Hail Marys; nice words with unknown meaning behind them. As I got older and started saying prayers that weren’t memorized, I tried to be very fancy about it – everyone I had ever heard pray out loud always sounded so articulate and well versed. Meanwhile, I would stumble around thanking God for vague blessings, asking those same blessings on others, and guiltily asking for… I’m not entirely sure what, because I always felt very selfish asking for anything at all.

In adulthood, I have questioned a lot of elements of my faith; prayer being front and center in those. Questions like, with all the billions of people in the world – many undoubtedly holier and more deserving than I, praying beautiful prayers, and dealing with far more important issues than I could even fathom – are my prayers even important to God? Am I being selfish for bothering God with my wants and needs? Or, even if my prayers are important enough for God, how will I know if He responds? Even if signs are real – I’m not very good at recognizing them. I’m more of a someone needs to explicitly tell me what to do type of person. People on social media request prayers, and I’m always happy to oblige, but I can’t help but wonder if my prayers are actually doing any good.

But that’s why it’s called faith, I suppose. Faith is believing in something even when you can’t observe it with your physical senses. I have to believe that God is there, and that He is listening, and that He does care; because if I don’t have that belief, then what is the point of anything at all? I also believe that not all of my prayers are going to be answered, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been heard. It may not be the right time. Or they may be answered in a way I didn’t expect. I hear the requests my kids make, but that doesn’t mean they always get what they ask for. Furthermore, I have decided that God doesn’t care how I pray. There doesn’t need to be recitation of something specific, or beautifully articulate and ceremonial prayers. My prayers have evolved to something more like a running conversation. I stutter. I stumble over my words. I explain things that God doesn’t need explained because… well, He’s God, but I need to process out loud. Sometimes I cuss and yell and cry. And sometimes I keep it all in my head like I’m communicating telepathically. After all, if God is omniscient, I shouldn’t have to say it out loud right?

So on this National Day of Prayer, I don’t really have anything beautiful to recite. I don’t have anything profound to pray for. If you want to pray a memorized recitation, I think that’s ok. But if you just want to ramble on in an incoherent string of words, I think that’s ok too.

*It’s also World Password Day, but I opted to not write about that after spending half an hour trying to figure out the master password to my password recovery app

Clearness committee or board of directors: whatever you call it, we all need one

I’m currently reading an advance copy of a book called “Make a Move: How to Stop Wavering and Make Decisions in a Disorienting World” by Stephanie O’Brien; a pastor, preacher, author, and activist in Minnesota. I signed up for this book launch for a myriad of reasons, the largest of which being that one of my biggest character flaws (besides being a grown woman and not knowing how to apply makeup) is that I completely suck at making decisions – from what to eat for dinner to what to do with my life – and the title of this book spoke directly to me. Basically, I get to read a book that, on the surface at least, seems to be written specifically for me before it hits the public; and I hopefully get some helpful advice on how to get past what Pastor Steph as she is known on the interwebs calls “decision paralysis,” and maybe my life moves forward a little bit. There is no scenario in which I lose here. And Pastor Steph? Well, lucky her – she gets her book put in front of the literal tens of people that might read what I write about it.

Full disclosure – I have not finished the book yet, so this is nowhere near anything that can be called a comprehensive summary or review. The purpose of this post is purely for me to process a concept that was introduced in Chapter 5 that Pastor Steph calls the “Clearness Committee Process.” The basic idea of a clearness committee is that as tempting as it is to make large decisions on our own, life altering decisions are best made in community. This isn’t meant to be a call-your-bestie-and-see-what-they-think kind of community decision making, this is an actual process with a specific group of people that you trust enough to charge with this task. In her book, Pastor Steph lays out the process for this group, and sadly, it does not involve sitting around tossing out ideas over a bottle of wine. It actually sounds like mentally and probably emotionally exhausting work. There are ground rules about keeping the focus on the person needing discernment, time limits, and reflection. And the real kicker? There’s no guarantee that at the end of the session, the person facing the decision will have actually made one. Rude. What the Clearness Committee Process does do though, is require the person to answer questions from outside perspectives causing them to think more deeply about the decision from other angles, and then provides reflection from the viewpoints of the other people involved in the process. So while it’s not a fast-track to decision making, it’s definitely a useful tool in preventing the person from spiraling through their own cycle of thoughts, and ensures that when a decision is made, it has been made with a level of information and wisdom that you could never have if you chose to try to make the decision on your own.

Let’s take a little side trip now, and I promise we’ll circle back around. In January, I joined an online group called the Red House Writer’s Collective, which is the brainchild of author and speaker and all-around charismatic person, Kathi Lipp. The goal of The Collective is to “combine check-ins, community, coaching, and a proven 12-month program to help writers build a sustainable career from their message.” For sake of brevity, I won’t go into the entire structure of the program, but the coaching component is typically live video sessions with an expert in whichever area The Collective is focused on that month: create (content), serve (your audience), or build (your business). In March, the focus area of The Collective was the “build” piece. This is the piece that I struggle with most, because how on earth am I supposed to build a business that doesn’t exist? While this aspect never got what I would consider easy, I did eventually come to terms with the idea that, while I don’t have a business to build, I am actively trying to build myself as a brand, and the two are not really all that different. Once I came to that realization, I found myself going back through recordings of the videos that had been presented during the month; now with a little more of an open mind. One of the videos that I revisited was presented by Kathi Lipp herself, and was on the topic of creating a board of directors. I hadn’t given it much attention when she was presenting it live (who needs a board of directors when you don’t have a business, right?), but with my new outlook, thought maybe I should give it another listen. Kathi explained the role of a writer/speaker/business owner’s board of directors as a group of people that provide structure and accountability for the goals that you set for yourself. This group should include someone who knows you well, someone who is familiar with the industry, someone who will be a cheerleader, someone who will help you to set, and adhere to, boundaries, and a spiritual warrior who will hold you up in prayer. The first time I heard Kathi talk about this concept, I only about half heard what she was saying because the negative self-talk going through my head was talking so much louder, but after some reflection, and chapter 5 of the “Make a Move” book, it hit me: this concept of a board of directors isn’t much different than the concept of a clearness committee!

It’s funny how much power words have, and how just changing the vocabulary of a concept can take some of the pressure off. The idea of a board of directors sounds like a no-brainer to anyone running a business of any size. I once worked for a non-profit agency with a staff of four people, and we had a board of directors. Conversely, the school district I most recently taught in employs roughly 2800 people, and naturally they fall under a board of directors as well. It’s a straightforward concept when you’re coming from a business standpoint. From a personal standpoint though, it was a little bit scary, and made me think it just wasn’t something I was ready for yet. Once I made the connection between a board of directors to a clearness committee however, it felt like something I was qualified for. Silly, right? Both are a specific group of people with intentional roles to support and guide you to make the best decision for a specific situation. I’m calling this small epiphany a win in my personal journey, and I am going to start intentionally thinking of people that would serve me well in this role – whether I call it a clearness committee or a board of directors.

Some vague clarity moving forward (if only for me)

Man, I love a good contradiction in terms. “Which is it?” you might be wondering, “Vague or clear?” And my honest, really not trying to frustrate anyone, answer is both.

We’ll start with the vague. This part is pretty simple. I still don’t know what my purpose is. I still don’t know what exactly I’m searching for. I don’t know if I’m looking for a job with an existing organization or if I’m leaning toward an entrepreneur kind of situation. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to develop my current manuscript (resembling a memoir) or if I’ll scrap it and take my publication efforts in a completely different direction. Oddly enough, for a person that thrives on certainty, I’ve found a pretty crazy level of peace in all this vague not knowing.

Here’s what I do know: the clarity piece of this puzzle. I have done a remarkable amount of self-reflection in the past couple of weeks, and have had some pretty big “aha”s. When I launched this blog, the intention was “to establish community with people that share my affection for humanity and my passion for social justice and to learn about different people, customs, cultures, etc. outside of my very small circle of experience.” That is a direct quote from my first post in February 2020. Somewhere along the way though, I got caught up in the idea of somehow building a business. I’m not sure how the blog ever fit into that idea, or if it did at all, but suddenly building a business became a big focus for me. The more I worked toward building this business, the more discouraged I became, and here’s why: I was trying to build on something that doesn’t exist. I don’t offer a product or a service. People aren’t calling me to offer my expertise on anything. There is no business to build. I got to the point where I was ready to scrap the whole nonexistent thing and just get a job, because at least working for someone else I would have some concrete direction and clear expectation.

And then one day it hit me – rather bluntly – during a fairly difficult conversation with my counselor (whom I typically love, but less so on this particular day). I don’t remember what exactly was said, or how it was stated, but the theme I logged off the session with was this: I am not building a business. There is no business – that was never the goal. I am however, building a brand. I am the brand that I am building. If I continue to build myself as a brand, staying true to the values that are important to me, any business I choose to build will come organically.

So there you have it: still pretty vague overall, but the little bit of clarity has been game changing. In the weeks since that session, I have been reading and reflecting, and really digging in to my values and the things I want for my life. Among those values, inclusion, acceptance, and community stand front and center, and it’s time I bring the focus back to that.