My Letter to Me: From YouthWorks to Now

Last week I received one of the more unique letters the U.S. postal service will ever deliver to me. Yes, even more random than the birthday cards from my first grade teacher, received 15+ years after I presented my last show-and-tell.

Last week I received a letter from none other than me, dated from August 8, 2011: my last day of YouthWorks.

To say I experienced a rocky whirlwind of a summer would be a severe understatement. I wrote nonstop about my YouthWorks summer when I first started this blog in August, and even after all these months, my heart still aches over the loss/conclusion/transition of this chapter of my journey. On our closing day of debriefing, we were asked to write ourselves a letter, which would be sealed, turned in, and mailed to us at some point in the coming year.

That point finally arrived last week, and I’d forgotten most of what I even wrote to myself on that grassy Minneapolis lawn.

While I won’t repost my letter to me word-for-word, I’ll mention the highlights.

TMZ: Milwaukee and Me

To start, I reminded myself that I did more than simply survive this summer; I thrived. Much of my life has transpired like one of my favorite shows, Survivor, marking days off a calendar in hopes of lasting long enough — for what, I don’t even know. Just basic human survival.

But not this past summer in Milwaukee. Every single day met me with mountains of stress and heartache, and while that makes YW sound like a horrible experience, I wouldn’t dare trade an ounce of sweat from that arduous climb. It was worth it. So worth it, to move beyond simple survival and experience genuine thrival.

I reminded myself that I grew, stepping out in unheard of ways: speaking in front of dozens of youth each night, connecting with ministry contacts three times my age, and connecting with my fellow staff in the most challenging yet meaningful ways I’ve ever experienced with a group of people.

Finally, I wrote to myself about Satan.

Yes indeed. Said that Satan is a master of forgetfulness, how he’ll strive to make me forget or simply lessen the impact of my summer triumphs. Looking back on the summer as a whole, he’s succeeded in some areas. But it’s hard to look back on my life before my YouthWorks summer and not notice the stark contrast between then and now.

The theme of our YouthWorks summer was “Be Different.” And while that phrase was intended for our youth to step out and do things counter to what the world would have them do that summer, I realize now that I too became different.

I’m less afraid of people, young and old.

I’m less stressed about opening up my deep dark scary soul to others, including those fellow staff members who’d become some of my dearest friends.

I feel less hopeless about the rest of my life. I wrote “hope” on my hand throughout much of my summer, and while more hopeful today than I was a year ago, I still wrestle with this heavy notion: finding hope in the story of me.

Despite the healing and victories from last summer, I still have so much further to travel. So much deeper to grow. But I’m not forgetting my YouthWorks summer. Not letting Satan snatch those life-changing months away from me quite so easily.

I am different. And I’ll never be the same.

About TMZ

The name's Thomas Mark Zuniga, though I usually just go by TMZ or Tom or Traveling Golden Trout. I'm a twenty-something tutor, writer, and restless wanderer. I blog about traveling and trials, faith and frivolity, strength and struggle. Currently residing in Orange County, California, but journeying onward before too long. It's lonely out there; won't you wander with me?
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