What I Learned From The Worst Job In The World

worst-job

For a few years, I worked for one of the largest payday loan companies in the United States.

I was always ashamed to tell people about my job. Yes, large payday loan company, I found myself saying. Yes, in their marketing department. Yes, I actively used my God-given talents to get people who could not afford small, basic bills to go into debt in order to have those things.

I always felt obligated to explain myself — that it was a good job, even though it was for a bad company, that it was only temporary, and that as soon as my husband could graduate and find a job, I would be gone.  I never brought up myself and tried to avoid the subject whenever possible.

If someone asked me what I did, I’d just mumble “social media” and leave it at that, hoping they wouldn’t ask where.

Church people especially would give me a strange look when I told them where I was working.

Often, they volunteered their time to serve the same people who were being eaten alive by the impossibly high interest rates and “easy money” fixes my company was providing.

When I told the founder of a local charity where I was employed, she glared at me. I was unfriended by her on Facebook the next day.

At the Christian college I had attended, I made a promise and a vow upon graduation to always serve others with my experience and education. Was I doing the exact opposite, or was I just feeding my family?

I felt bombarded by Bible verses in my personal devotions.

I would read the chapter where Jesus tells Matthew, the unscrupulous tax collector, to follow him and become a disciple. Easily, willfully – he did. He gave up everything to follow him.  Was I wrong for not doing the same?

Or, was I being responsible?

Now, everything has come to pass.

My husband has a job and I am staying at home with my new baby and preschooler. I never quit my job until my kids had something to fall back on, even when I wanted to many, many times.

In retrospect, I honestly believe that God put me there for a reason. Even if the business wasn’t something I believed in, I’ve realized how my job put me in a unique position to offer advice and help to others before they turned to payday loans.

Sure, this job was a stepping stone. Thanks to the job, I could feed my family. But I truly believe it was more than that. I’m not simply rationalizing my decision. I’m not talking about just money, insurance, or experience.

It gave me a passion.

My job gave me a passion to make sure people don’t wind up in the position that they need payday loan products in the first place, a passion to fight for the poor.

Before I took this job, I really had no idea how many people can’t even make it until their next paycheck to get groceries, or how many people can’t afford basic medical costs when it’s unexpected. If we all really looked out for each other, and helped the poor, and shared our resources, no one would have to turn to payday loan companies in the first place.

If I just looked out for one person, then that one person wouldn’t have to turn to payday loan companies in the first place.

It was easy for me to justify my place of employment when I started working there.

But it’s a lot harder for me to justify it now, with all the knowledge that job has given me. I don’t know if I did the wrong thing for working there as long as I did. But I know that now I cannot just sit back idly while people out there need my help.

After everything I’ve seen, and everything I’ve learned, I could sit here and demand that you go help the people in need around you. But the truth is that it starts with me, my experiences, and my God-given passion.

He gave that to me.  It’s my job now.

I like this job better than any I’ve ever had.

[photo: hermetic hermit , Creative Commons]

Time And Place To Be

Time-And-Place-To-Be-

At the beginning of May, my husband received news that his company was downsizing – his own job included.

As a single-income family, this news struck at our core, making time seemingly stand still before us.

It was as if we stood staring at an antiquated, broken-down grandfather clock, seconds hand perpetually stuck ticking at quarter past four in the afternoon, long into the night and through the morning, day after day after day.

Paradox began to mark our thoughts, invading our conversations, menacingly toying with us each day.

We live in San Francisco, a city that has surely captured our hearts, though not without its share of growing pains.

Was it finally time to leave this place that we were just now beginning to call home? Was the closure of one job – and the inevitable adventure that lie ahead – seemingly our ticket to next steps and new beginnings?

So we found ourselves at a crossroads of sorts, as we spoke our prayers aloud:

We’re open to adventure, even to moving across country and overseas – but surely, God, let us stay where we already have family and community and established identities.

Amen.

We creatures of comfort had begun the collective bargaining process with God, our interrupting “but’s” a reminder of our own lack of trust in His provisional care.

And, somehow, in the midst of worrying, we’d forgotten how to live.

Wondering whether or not we’d be able to make rent, we forgot to open the front door and go for a healing walk at the ocean’s edge, its path a mere mile from our flat.

We neglected to hop in the car and drive the hour south to Santa Cruz, where the sunny town’s worry-free attitude permeated the depths of friendships, naturally seeping into our own hearts as well.

Instead, we kept our hands tightly clenched in control, balled fists an indicator of the soul’s refusal to surrender the fight.

And then, as often happens, I suppose, just as quickly as it all began, the battle was over, its last breath breathed.

My husband signed the departing paperwork and waved good-bye to his co-workers one last time; then, car packed to the gills with son snug in the back, we drove down to the Financial District and picked up Dada on the corner of 2nd and Market.

Racing for the 80, soon we found ourselves crossing over Bay Bridge, cruising northbound through Sacramento and Redding and Yreka, and then over the Oregon border.

And with every mile logged, the weight we’d unknowingly carried began to lift, and the worry that had invaded our minds, staining every conversation, slowly began to decompress, and with it, light reemerged.

Our spirits had begun the renewal process, and like baby ducklings to their mama, we trailed behind, learning and growing and being transformed, as if for the very first time.

Holed up in Central Oregon, we were far from the hustle and bustle of the city that we’d let invade our hearts, from the place we’d let wreak havoc on our insides.

We needed the time and space to be, to rest and to think and to play, so that when we returned – because, inevitably, ironically, of course, we’d now be staying in the City by the Bay – we’d be able to fully lean into life, into all its tangled intricacies of hope and beauty and love.

And, for that, I’m grateful for the gift our road trip held: because mile by mile, time slowed down, and over bumpy roads and highways and interstates alike, healing ensued.

Life had returned.

[Photo: ben▐, Creative Commons]

Overcoming My Dark Night to Discover My Calling

Overcoming-my-dark-night

For the last six months, I awoke before the dawn to devote at least an hour or two to accomplishing a life goal: writing a book.

It was a small book, only 40,000 words or so, but it required a good amount of research and at least some soul-searching as to whether the topic was worthwhile. In its early stages, I pitched it to a digital publisher, who showed interest in the project.

Encouraged by their words, I wrote the first third of the book in two months.

Then they suggested a few changes. I went along with the idea, some of which were very astute.

Then they suggested a few more changes. The book began to metamorphosize into something different than I had imagined. Amicably, I parted ways with that publisher and, with a proper amount of trepidation, set out to self-publish.

However, once my tether to a respected and supportive organization was cut, my writing nose-dived into a free fall, so much so that I wrote nothing for the next two months.

Knowing full well that I had a quickly looming deadline for this book, every passing day without writing a word felt like another drastic step backward. I suffered the Dark Night of the Writer’s Soul. Every creeping doubt I’d managed to keep at bay attacked me with wild and steady abandon:

• You suck as a writer.

• Why are you even attempting to write a book?

• No one’s going to read it.

• You could be watching so much more TV right now.

• You could be sleeping in.

• This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had and you want to share it with the world?

• You suck as a writer.

The cycle would begin anew.

Among other things, Steven Pressfield’s necessary book The War of Art prevented me from spiraling any further. “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” He continues, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

The catalytic moment that ultimately motivated me to finish the book arrived when the show I was writing about, Breaking Bad, announced that it would return to TV a month later than previous seasons had. That is, the show typically began airing in mid-July.

The last half of their last season would begin airing in mid-August. Like manna from heaven, I’d just been given back one of the months I’d wasted feeling sorry for myself. Through a quick series of encouraging conversations with friends about the book, I awoke from my Dark Night.

My mind finally cemented itself to the fact that this book would become a reality regardless of the work it required, the criticism it might receive, or the sales it might not have.

I was going to write this book because I wanted to, and because I wanted to know what the process of self-publishing a book requires. With the help of an incredibly encouraging wife, I completed the book and managed to release it before the series’ return.

Have you ever had a Dark Night?

Have you wondered if you had what it took to emerge from the dark night and discover your calling? I was so encouraged by Stephen Pressfield’s words.

Maybe you will be too.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way.

If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

So go and nudge.

If you have likewise suffered through such a creatives’ dark night of the soul, share what helped you move beyond your fears and self-doubt and into accomplishing a major life goal.

[Photo: miss pupik, Creative Commons]

I Dread The Christian Tipper

 

I dread the Christian Tipper

The scent of fried food and cooked steak engulfed me as I walked through the double doors to the kitchen. My attire was simple: Blue jeans, long-sleeve black button up shirt and a forest green apron. The slight smile from the hostess was a subtle, almost imperceptible cue that this could be a long Sunday morning shift.

It was the calm before the storm as I waited for the church rush to come in.

The joys of being a restaurant server.

I make small talk with my colleagues, wondering how bad the church customers were going to be this week.

We reminisced about the dozens of pastor business cards and salvation tracts had been left as a replacement tip. Embarrassment and anger sat heavy on my heart as I tried to explain that not all of us with the Christian faith act in such mindless ways.

Yes, I had the pleasure of being in both camps – being a server, often assumed to be not a Christian by the church crowd, and as Christian, assumed to be a jerk by the other servers. But still, I was both. A $2.13 hourly server rate was the death of me some weeks. I hated depending on the general public, especially on Sundays.

Sunday brunch was the most loathsome meal of the week.

We looked at social media on our cell phones while gazing at the clocks in front of us, waiting for the first wave of churchgoers to come around noon. I sighed as they slowly trickled in, family by family, couple by couple, group by group. I projected my cynical thoughts on each party.

The loud group over there — must be Pentecostal.

Those hipsters — must be from the megachurch.

Shirts and ties — Episcopalians.

I masked by cynicism with a smile, served their meals, cleared their dishes, grabbed the check and walked straight to the kitchen.

Another terrible tip.

Halfway through my shift, I recognized a local worship pastor from one of the larger churches. I had only been to that church once, but I never forgot his face after enjoying their service a few months previous.

I grabbed a few drink napkins, walked toward their table, and wondered if this worship pastor was going to prove my assumptions wrong. I cleared my throat, put on a smile and greeted the table.

“Hi, my name is Nate. Welcome to our restaurant! Can I start you guys with a soda or a beverage from the bar?” I waited in anticipation if they would look up from their table and look at me. It appeared that his wife and parents were at the table with him. The worship pastor looked at my name tag, greeted me by my name and gave his order. Much to my surprise, so did the rest of his family. This could not have been right.

These Christians are actually nice?

I questioned their motives. This might be one of those tables, who are “verbal tippers.” They are really great and interactive, but only to leave a small tip at the end…if I was lucky.

I filled their glasses as they talked.

I asked if they wanted any dessert, and then dropped off the check.

This is it. Will their polite manners ruin any faith I had of Christians in restaurants? Or could a pastor prove me wrong? I returned to the table to offer them change.

“No change,” the older gentleman responded. The pastor put out his hand for a handshake and said, “Thank you for your service, Nate.”

No questions from them like, “Are you a Christian?”

They didn’t assume I was a non-believer just because I was working on Sunday. They simply offered dignity and respect, even though the pastor never would know I knew who he was.

I quickly walked to the kitchen with a few of their empty plates and server book in hand.

The tip wasn’t two percent or even ten percent, but closer to twenty percent. Completely unexpected.

What was important to me was that their actions matched their words. They weren’t just polite, their generosity matched their “verbal tip.” But even more than that, their actions, simple as they were, matched the Christ I kept searching for on Sundays, and saw so infrequently.

What if every human interaction was gifted with importance, dignity and respect? How would that change the lives of those around you?

[Photo: WarmSleepy, Creative Commons]

More Than A House Wife

More Than A House Wife

The vows were spoken, toasts were made, and as hundreds of sparklers lit our path to the get away car I realized that my big day had come, my big day had ended, and I was now a missis.

Returning from a honeymoon for us did not mean returning to normal life. Instead, it meant packing everything I owned in a 10 foot Budget truck and driving 2300 miles to my new home in Tennessee. With the exception of a few visits during our relationship, Tennessee was basically foreign to me.

I decided to embrace it as bravely as I could, and dove head first into southern living.

As a musician’s wife I quickly learned that our lifestyle would never be considered “normal” again.

Our weekends typically happened on Mondays and Tuesdays. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were never a for sure thing, and every week looked different.

This led us to the conclusion that finding me a job flexible enough to accommodate our picky criteria was not likely. I fully embraced being a stay at home wife, excited for the opportunity to try something new.

That, and not having to work didn’t sound so bad either.

I learned an important thing about myself during that time, that I think I’d only subconsciously known prior to marriage. I needed purpose. It started with grocery shopping and meal planning. I became a prodigy. Kroger had never been so discovered.

I learned to cook thai food. I made chicken pot pies from scratch. I mastered the crockpot. Weekly homemade salsa? No problem. Cleaning and decorating our home became my next pride and joy.

Working with the newlywed hand me downs that we had, I think I created a masterpiece. Our home was my haven and workplace, and I felt absolutely excited about my job.

As time went on, something started to happen…

I ran out of things to do! A bathroom counter can only be cleaned so much. I got into a rut with meals, and well… I just got bored. There had to be a next step right? That’s when I decided to start my blog. I’d catalog my adventures as a new wife, and share with people back home the adventures of living on the road.

I stepped into the blogging world and my eyes were opened to a social network of insanely talented people.Inspiring right? Wrong! These impressive and creative writers actually had the absolute opposite affect on me.

I began to dangerously compare my life to every other blogger’s, finding myself jealous and defeated. A perfectly executed DIY on one woman’s blog would only turn to paper scraps and dried glue all over my kitchen table.

One mother’s gorgeously photographed meal looked like mushy baby food in my kitchen. I just couldn’t compare to these women.

I jumped on the hamster wheel and tried to keep up, essentially trying to be them, all the while missing out on the great tasks the Lord had specifically given me to execute beautifully in my own home. I looked outward for a boost, only to be left empty inwardly.

I was no good at being someone else. In fact, I didn’t even want the lives that I was so jealous of. I felt homesick. I felt out of body.

Where was that “comfortable in my own skin” feeling that people talked about? That’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t even enjoying my own skin, because I was so busy trying on others. Trying to be a different part of the body of Christ than you were intended to be is bound to feel uncomfortable and crowded.

We aren’t meant to all be arms. Two’s a crowd when it comes to arms ya know?

This struggle has lasted over a year, and it wasn’t until recently that I was really able to look at the situation more objectively.

On a walk not too long ago, I began talking to God, asking Him to show me how I looked in His eyes. The verse that so clearly spoke through that silence was this:

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 (NASB)

I walked on and asked myself, “Does my soul really know that very well? Can I honestly say that I believe with all my heart that God thinks I’m anything special?” It took the remainder of the walk for that truth to really penetrate my heart. I believe now I can say that my soul knows it well.

I’m still looking to add “very” on the front of that, but I’m making progress with God’s help.

I’m learning the beauty in contentment. When my mind is stayed on Jesus only, I find peace. Those trips to the grocery store, a clean bathroom, and freshly laundered sheets are what I’m called to at this time.

To properly serve and love my traveling husband, and to nourish our marriage best, we have chosen this path, and have seen God bless us in it.

These tasks may seem small and menial at times, but to a God who has given me this important job as a wife, they are massive! I love who God made me to be, and my soul is learning to know it very well.

In what ways have you found value and purpose? What barriers have gotten in the way and how have you overcome them?

[Photo: Parker Knight, Creative Commons]