One Year

"Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny." - C.S. Lewis

It is difficult to believe one year ago I accepted my position as an InterVarsity Intern at CSUN. Being on IV staff was not in my original plan for my life. I studied journalism but quickly switched to English to become a teacher in an inner-school. I imagined myself as Erin Gruwell, impacting students through the power of the written word and helping them find their own voice. But my first full time teaching job was a disaster, an experience that may have almost caused the death of my soul. When I stepped into this new ministry position, one I never would have imagined choosing, I had absolutely no concept what was in store for me.

Of course I had an idea about the culture of CSUN and IVMCF, enough to know that I wanted to work with these students. I was excited. I was excited to work with students who respected me, excited to work with InterVarsity, excited to wake up in the morning. This was feeling right. The "jump all in" tone was set for my ministry when literally a week after I accepted this internship position I was on a boat to Catalina for their annual Spring Break Camp. I met many of my students for the first time and many had no idea who I even was when I set foot onto the island.

When school started, however, I did not want to admit that I was still limping in pain from my teaching experience. I spent the last several months covering up the bleeding wounds to appear whole and healthy. I falsely believed it was more important to appear "held together" in front of students who experienced their own pain. They had suffered apparent neglect and abandonment. They felt passed over and unseen for such much of their InterVarsity lives because there was so little staff consistency around. When I entered the scene, they were tired and exhausted - just wanting proof that the Lord hear their cries.

I knew God heard them. I could hear their cries for staff, for mentoring, for discipleship, for love. I went in to meet the need that I saw. I stepped onto campus with a beating heart - a miracle after what I had just been through - and longed to see healing on this campus of brokenness and hurt. Jesus had every intention of healing these students but what I didn't fully realize, what I didn't fully see is that Jesus had every intention of fully healing me too.

This past year has not been an easy one. No healing can ever be easy. Those who go through physical therapy would be able to attest to this that after a damaging experience, there must be time to rebuild your body and strength. Jesus needed time to rebuild the strength of my soul. I started out in zealous excitement of my job - knowing how much better I seemed to fit into this role than as a middle school teacher.

Through working with my leadership team and my discipleship relationships - Jesus began to press into my hurt and pain. In October, when I sat with one my students during a moment of healing prayer, and I smiled after the moment was done. I felt a sense of joy that we pressed into the hard parts of her life and that she was wiling to go there. Jesus suddenly spoke to me and whispered: "Your breakdown is coming - and it's going to be bigger." I then braced for single moment of falling tears, snot mixing with sobs, and public humiliation that only red faced crying could bring.

But my "breakdown" wasn't a single moment, it was process of breaking down of my old self and a breaking through of the God-inspired, made in God's image self that I was always supposed to be. As God broke down my old wounded self - every issue of trust I ever had in my life began to rise to the surface as I felt overlooked by supervisors, by students, even by peers in my life. I felt the brokenness of a fallen world where people walk by invisible. God kept bringing himself to the surface - showing his own faithfulness, his own vision, and his own heart for my life as I remained consumed by the people who ignored me.

When stories like this get shared there is usually one climatic moment of change. It's good story telling, (it's what I attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, at one point to teach my 7th graders about plot) - every story has a climax. Truth be told, I don't think I've reached it yet. I've had many moments of small "breakthroughs" where I see the self that God has created me to be but God is still sifting through the shit I piled up from before - the lies I've let myself to believe about myself and about who God is. I look forward to the next year of my internship to see where God brings me then.


San Luis Obispo: Instagram Version

Been a while. Been busy. Prepping for Spring Break Camp, going out of town. But I did get a mini "vacation" to visit San Luis Obispo so here were some pics from my trip. Got to even visit some new places while on my trip.

Visiting the campus for the first time in a while.

Eureka Burger = awesome.

Visiting IVSLO's Large Group.

How I missed the Central Coast.

My college roommate of four years and I at Avila Beach.

Enjoying a bit of Firestone's best.

Seeing old friends that know my students from Urbana 12.

My favorite coffee shop before going home.

The beautiful 101.


5k Finisher!

I like lists and pictures so let's recap my first 5k with both!

What I learned: 
- I have a lot more energy, adrenaline, excitement on race day than on a normal day
- I can run a lot faster than I give myself credit for (I finished in 38:00 and I was shooting for just under 45:00 so I blew that goal out of the water).
- I run faster when I can run with someone
- I love having a support team who makes signs. The other runners get jealous.
- I love that you get a medal for finishing. If makes me feel twice as accomplished.
- I now identify myself as a runner. I have a Running Board on Pintrest and everything. 
- I really enjoy running.
- I am exciting to start preparing for another one.
- I foresee running longer races in my future. We will see. I have to get through the 25 goals first.

Picture time!

I passed Jenel and Jaclyn but they weren't looking. A few moments later, Jenel had sprinted up to take this picture. I'm laughing in most of the pictures because Jenel and Jaclyn were being hilarious as I ran by them. The fact that I could smile and laugh as I ran by was pretty impressive.

Almost at the finish line. I was definitely ready to be done. And glad it was a downhill stretch.

Pretty happy when I thought my time was 38:17 (based on what my iPhone said). Little did I know it was actually 38:00. 

My running buddy, Carol.

The signs Jaclyn and Jenel made for me. They were pretty impressive.



I find a lot of power in what a name means. I earned the nickname "Monte" back in my freshman year of college while in InterVarsity and it has been my name ever since. I love the name because it was my grandfather's nickname as well. It tied me to a part of my family. It enforced that I was a "Montecuollo", the only one in fact, at my school or in my neighborhood. Interestingly enough I found that the longer I was called "Monte" the more I missed being called "Melissa." Melissa was who I was, it was the name given to me at birth. Whenever I heard my own name used by someone who called frequently called me Monte I felt as if they saw the true person, not the persona I put up.

I'm not going to talk about my first name or my last. Today I'm going to talk about my middle name, Anne. I rarely acknowledge my middle name and I'm not sure why we even have them in the first place. I decided one day to look up what Anne mean and found that it is Hebrew for "full of grace." I was greatly taken aback because it seemed that in my life I was anything but full of grace. Full of energy, full of boldness, full of talking, sometimes even full of myself but rarely full of grace. I'm not quite sure what it is about grace that makes it so hard for me to comprehend or to give out. Perhaps it is because I tend to hold tightly to the deep hurts and wounds of my past. Perhaps I have too high of expectations of people and to little expectations of God. Perhaps it is because extending grace is actually the harder thing to do.

I have been meditating a lot about grace every since picking up the book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. At the beginning, Ann talks about the meaning of the word grace. The word, "eucharisteo" is seen when Jesus, while at the last supper, took the bread and gave thanks. Literally he took the bread and "eucharisteo". Ann describes the word likes this:

"The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning 'grace.' Jesus took the bared and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be a gift and gave thanks. But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving  envelops the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word, chara, meaning 'joy.'"

Grace. Thanksgiving. Joy. That was a lot of meaning for one small word but as soon as I read it knew that it would be my word for a while. How would I live out eucharisteo - grace, thanksgiving, and joy? How would I live a life full of grace rather than a life full of disappointed expectations? This is when I wish I had the answers laid out before me but I'm still journeying. I'm still learning and seeing but one thing Ann challenged me in is to take the One Thousand Gifts challenge - to make a list the one thousand gratitudes I have. It is hard, it is difficult but it just may be necessary to begin to live this life of eucharisteo.


Gratitude Snorkle

This weekend was in short amazing. So many unexpected surprises yet so many planned adventures. It was a lot of small things that just added up.
  • Skyping with Matt Rogers
  • Having Matt come on to teach Mark II with us at Catalina and getting a teacher for every class
  • Spending time in scripture as I prepped 1 Corinthians 
  • Seeing Noemi 
  • Seeing Yolanda unexpectedly 
  • Getting invited to stay and hear a seminar at the LaFe staff conference about immigration 
  • Seeing Melody and having adventures in Northridge
  • Hamburgers with Hawaiian roll buns 
  • Spending time at home with Jenel and Jaclyn
  • Having support while you do something challenging 
  • Hilarious signs (I'd rate them at 7.5)
  • An unexpected running buddy for my first 5k. 
  • Finishing my first ever 5k at 38:00 - much faster than I expected 
  • Breakfast burritos
  • The best milk shake ever
  • Just watching a movie with a good friend 
  • Talking with the twin


Becoming a Runner

I will run my first 5k race ever in exactly one week. I'd have to say I'm pretty excited but I am even more nervous. I didn't really ever envision myself as a runner up until this year. I started as a vague idea of I should get into better shape and I really only have the time to go running. 

It has been a really unexpected and slightly process. I started by walking to campus, which is about two miles from my house. Then I started running (well jogging at the pace I go) for barely a mile. One day, back in late October, I asked a student, Jenel, if she wanted to go running with me. I was trying to put myself in a vulnerable place, modeling what it looks to be intentionally not in a position of power by doing something I knew she would be better at me in. What was supposed to be just a "teaching moment" turned into something so much more. 

Since then I began the process of running regularly. I even played with the idea of running a 5k. I wasn't committed to it really, just throwing the idea out there. Well I learned quickly to never just "throw" ideas out there in front my students because at least one of them takes hold of it and begins the job of convincing me to just go for it. So in December when I made my 25 goals list I decided to just go for it. I have learned a lot about myself through this process. Some it was obvious and some was surprising. 
  1. I really like running (this surprised me the most)
  2. I process life best while moving (walking, running, driving)
  3. I tend to have a naturally slow pace. I even sprint slowly in comparison to most people
  4. I run the best when I can let mind fully wander off. I don't think about how hard it is to breathe or how much my legs hurt
  5. I love running with 1-2 other people at most because... 
  6. I am really competitive and when running with a lot of people I know I tend to go straight to comparing our performances  
  7. I take not doing well (such as having to stop and walk, going slow) really personally and don't like to be bad at things (see number #6). 
  8. I tend to not participate at things I'm not good at - which is why I never ran much before 
  9. I have to run with music. Audiobooks do not work sadly (I wish they did) 
  10. Having a routine made running a lot easier 
I guess all this to say, I'm glad I've gone after this goal and I'm glad it wasn't easy. I'm not sure I'm ready to call myself a runner but I think I'm getting there. We will see where I'm at in one week.