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.

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.

Because I Gotta Have Faith

Let me just start by saying that if you didn’t read that title in song, I might not be the person you need in your life. You’ll figure out pretty quickly that I often reference songs, books, and movies; and if you can’t get on board with that, well then I’m not sure you can be saved. On with the post…

Faith is something that has recently hit my radar pretty hard. Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s just where I’m at in my journey of self discovery. Regardless, it’s been something I am feeling called by; and so in an effort to find some clarity, I thought I’d write it out a little.

My faith journey is scattered and inconsistent at best. My early memories of anything church related are of my grandmother, who was Catholic. Like, the most Catholic a person can be. She lived a few blocks away from the church she attended, and walked to mass 6 times a week. Monday through Friday mornings at 5:30 or some equally obscene hour reserved for devout Catholics and fitness buffs, and Saturday evenings. I’m sure she would have gone to the Sunday mass as well, but it was in Spanish. I would go with her to the Saturday evening mass, and occasionally when the weekday service was at 8:00am or something more reasonable than 5:00, but I never went through the classes or participated in the sacraments or anything.

When I was about 9, I moved away with my mom and my step-dad, and we began attending a “non-denominational” church, which I never fully figured out. It was a pretty big church relative to our small city of about 200,000 – not quite mega church, but big enough to feel totally alone. We went, sat in the seats, and listened to the sermon, but we didn’t ever actually plug in. We didn’t have church friends or go to church sponsored events, and on the rare occasion I went to Sunday school or youth group, I may as well have met those kids for the first time every time so inconsistent was my presence. I just sat through the service with the grown ups and tried to stay awake. This was the bulk of my experience through high school.

It’s probably no surprise given my mostly unplugged and unengaged background that once I moved out on my own, a church home was not the first thing I sought out. The opinions that I had formed about church by that time was that it was stuffy, and judged, and oh so boring. I could be spiritual without all that. I never really had any kind of huge crisis of faith where I questioned the presence of God or anything – I just had a problem with the way every church I had ever attended taught. So I decided I would worship in my own way and focus on being a mostly good human.

As time went on, I kind of started feeling like maybe my kids could benefit from church. I knew enough people that had great past experiences with church; had grown in their faith and made lifelong friends along the way. I couldn’t imagine ever being friends with the type of uppity people I had encountered in church in the past, but I was willing to overlook that and maybe try a different church. So I dragged my little family to a few churches, and eventually found one that I absolutely loved. It was an old building with the awesome architecture and the stained glass windows. The services were traditional in that they sang hymns out of the hymnals to music being played on an actual organ. But the traditional feel ended there. Where I was used to church services being long and boring, and preachy; the sermons at this church were timely and relevant. This church tackled tough issues speaking from a place of God’s love and acceptance; not hellfire and damnation. I learned that this church was a member of the Reconciling Ministries, a network of congregations dedicated to full inclusion of the LGBTQ population, and I was sold. It had never occurred to me that there were populations marginalized by the church, and knowing that the church I was attending was fighting to end that discrimination spoke to me in a way organized religion never had (this was probably one of my first realizations of my own privilege and kickstarted my fervor for equality and social justice). It was the only church my family ever actually joined. All 3 of my boys were baptized there, and 2 of them were confirmed.

Fast forward to present day, and I now live roughly 400 miles away. We have lived here for nearly 4 years now, and while we have visited a several churches, and really actually liked a few of them, I am still without a home. This is due in large part to the fact that I haven’t put a huge priority on it. I have gotten complacent to spending Sunday mornings drinking coffee in pajamas under a blanket, and leaving that comfort zone (both the literal and the figurative) is pretty unappealing. I’m just so afraid I’m going to have to muddle my way through church after church of unaccepting, noninclusive doctrine. As I mentioned before, though, I’ve been feeling pulled to explore (restart?) my faith journey, so I’ve begun searching again; only this time I am looking for more than just a church home, but for a community of like-minded people that I can learn from – in whatever form that may come.

Enter the Daughters of Abraham. The Daughters are a group that was established after 9/11 to bring women of the three faiths descended from Abraham (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) together to celebrate build community with, and learn from, each other. They meet once a month and discuss issues important to society in general from the perspective of each of the three religions. After promising myself for months that I was going to check out a meeting, last week, I finally did. The topic was Women Leadership in Our Houses of Worship: How Do We Make Our Voices Heard? I had absolutely nothing to contribute to the discussion, and that was ok. I was only there to listen. It was fascinating to hear all these women from different backgrounds, different cultures, different beliefs share their experiences and wisdom. I left that meeting inspired and excited for next month’s meeting to continue learning from these women.

So my faith journey has begun. Again.