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Finally: A Beginning

On a day when I woke up literally questioning how I was going to find the motivation to get through the day, I got a phone call. THE phone call.

I got hired for what is essentially exactly what I could have ever hoped for. As of Monday, I will be the new resident services director for an assisted living community. The job is what I went to school for, with “normal” working hours, better pay, a real chance at advancement in a solid company, paid holidays, good benefits – the only thing they didn’t do to make this job more enticing is promise me lunch with Benedict Cumberbatch.

I received lots of congratulations these last two days on my new job, and that is really cool. Your support in the last 7 months has left me speechless. I feel like I need to send thank-you cards to a whole mess of people who have listened, encouraged, and put up with a frequently crabby me.

One thing that I feels weird is the idea of “deserving” this job. More than a few people told me that I deserve it. I worked for it. I kept at it, and in some ways, I earned it. Hearing that I deserve this job made me uncomfortable because it kind of implied that I was better than someone else, like people don’t all deserve to have this kind of a job.

My friend Allyson is an outstanding woman, with a real gift for words and a humbling heart. She has been generous with her wisdom and counsel over the few years I’ve known her, and her advice this time was to write down some of the things I have learned in the past six months before rushing on to the next thing. Though there is more to be remembered, the first thing that comes to mind is the answer to my discomfort about the “deserving” comments:

I don’t deserve this job because I am any more special than anyone else. I deserve this job because I am like everyone else, and we all deserve it.

Everyone deserves a job that pays them well enough to live independent of charity. People fall on hard times, and I am not saying that there is shame in needing help. But no one should work a full-time job (or several jobs) and still have to rely on food stamps or charities to make it through the month.

Everyone deserves a job that respects their time and family lives. This last job didn’t. Employees were expected to make work the sole priority, and anything else, from sick kids to car wrecks, was a massive inconvenience and cause for retribution. Your wife is in the ER? Not only do you not have insurance to help with the bill, but now your hours are cut for being “unreliable” and missing a shift.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. For the next two weeks, I will work full time at my new job and work part-time at the truck stop, training my replacement. Who I am in one job is not any different from who I am in the other, but as a truck stop employee, I am treated like dirt. I’m harassed, cussed out, and insulted by customers on a daily basis, and the response from corporate is that it “comes with the territory.”

Everyone deserves a work environment that does not needlessly endanger their health. At the truck stop, we were not allowed lunch breaks, no matter how long the shift. We were prohibited from sitting at any point in the shift – even when I worked 14 or 15 hour shifts. Sometimes, we were able to eat while working, but more than a few times, I would leave work with most of my lunch uneaten, still in my Avengers lunch box. As a result, my weight loss stopped and I plateaued. Much more worrisome was the horrific change in my legs. The only skinny part on my body is my ankles. They are delightfully small most of the time. When I stand for eight to eleven hours at work, they get massive. More than twice their normal size. If I wasn’t so vain, I would post pictures. My health was starting to tank, and it was closely tied to a job that needlessly required unsafe habits.

I am so excited for my new job. My coworkers (the ones I’ve met) seem pretty great, and I am giddy about it all. A small part of me is frustrated in leaving my truck stop coworkers behind. I don’t like that they are going to continue to be stuck in a place that does not realize that its most valuable asset are its people. It feels selfish to say that I deserve this new job, but really, I do. We all do.

Knee Deep

Seventeen years ago, a German film called Lola rennt (Run Lola Run) made its way into American pop culture. Maybe not as successfully as other films that year, but for any foreign language film to make an appearance, it’s pretty outstanding. As a junior in high school who was three years into her German classes, it was kind of exciting. In it, Lola tries to come up with a massive amount of money in a very short time in order to prevent her boyfriend from doing something stupid. It takes her a few tries, and in the magic of cinema, each time she fails, she gets to go back and try again, making a change in hopes of succeeding.

Last Thursday, I needed to listen to something new in order to keep me entertained while I was at the gym. While scrolling through my iPod, I found the soundtrack for the movie. I hadn’t listened to it in probably seven years, but I hit play and let the awful beat of the German techno keep my feet moving on the treadmill. Towards the end of the soundtrack, they included the scream. It’s a masterful scream, shattering and piercing, managing to communicate the most frustrated sentiment without a single word.

That scream is exactly, without equal, the best expression of how I feel about job searching and my current job.

Last week, I had to take over because the other manager went to Hawaii.  The whole week long, I felt like I was drowning, having to work with a horribly inefficient series of computer programs, dealing with vendors who aren’t used to me, and working with employees who resent my presence. It felt like the day shift was actively working against me. Last night, the restaurant manager told me that not only was I right, but she and her district manager had noticed how much effort the day shift seemed to be putting into messing things up for me. So I’m trying to put a little more effort into looking for something else.

I hate job searching. I’ve been at it for months. I hate the indignity of spending hours typing all my information into boxes only to get a form email in a few days telling me that they are not interested in interviewing me. It’s wearing me down. It’s making me angry.

This morning, while at Starbucks, I was partway through an application when two men sat in chairs at the table next to me. It became clear pretty quickly that there was an interview/pitch about to happen, and they had no hesitation in using their full volume voices to speak to one another, so I listened.

It was masterful. As someone who feels like a fish out of water in interviews, I tried to pay attention to how they spoke. It was an astounding amount of nothing that was said. No substance at all, if you were to read the dialogue. The information conveyed could have fit in a teaspoon, but the slight flattery, the shallow and vague self-promotion was oozing out of every syllable. By the time they left about an hour later, we were knee-deep in BS. I felt like I needed a shower.

And yet, it was pretty clear that this dance of charm, flattery, and vapid conversation was working. Two very successful professionals with decades of experience, and this seemed to be second nature to them. I don’t think that a lifetime of study could teach me how to do it. I’m too blunt, too honest, not at all charming. If I turned up to an interview or pitch and the other person was as shallow, I would be deflated, lost, and utterly unimpressed.

Is this what works, though? This kind of empty nothingness masquerading as communication is what gets the job done? No wonder I suck at interviews.

I’m not sure that I’m going to try to replicate their peacocking in my own interviews, if I can manage to get some. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I am going to keep at it though, because if I don’t find better work soon, I’m going to need to raise bail money.

Pricks

Did you know that a person stands on the other side of the counter when you pay for something? Or that your boss is a human?*

Tonight, I was trying to have a decent night at work. I was working with my favorite employee, one who works hard is always cheerful, and makes the time go by faster. I was mostly succeeding. Shortly after she left, though, my night got a lot harder.

I have figured out who some of my regular customers are, and sometimes, we give each other a hard time. Bears Hoodie Guy comes in and I disbelieve his stories. Colorado comes in and I tell him I won’t sell him cigarettes because he said the last one was his last pack. Girlie Drink comes in and gives me crap because the computer still rings up his booze wrong and I have to override it. It’s not mean, but it makes the night go faster.

This guy wasn’t a regular. Just some schmo buying menthol cigarettes (I totally judge people based on their cigarette choice, on top of judging them for smoking). But before we had even gotten that far, he was insulting me. Bashing me for working such a low-brow job. For not being smart enough to do something better with my life. On and on. For seven minutes. Finally, he left, and I could finish up my night.

A night that ended a lot later than it should have, thanks to Smirky McLazyBum, the employee who was taking over for third shift. Because she loathes the idea of me being her boss, she smirks and rolls her eyes at everything I say. She slams things, stomps around, and does everything she can to make it clear that she doesn’t like me. I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I do expect respect, and she doesn’t seem willing to do that. Tonight, she showed up almost 20 minutes late, then gave me crap because she didn’t like me giving her instructions. For bigger reasons than that, she probably won’t last a whole lot longer.

Another regular of mine is a waiter at one of my favorite restaurants, Stone Eagle. He’s a fabulous waiter, and every time he comes in, he’s the same friendly person he is at work, so it’s not really an act. When he went to pay for his stuff, he counted out singles onto the counter, and when I went to pick them up, he apologized for not handing them to me. It’s a matter of etiquette I hadn’t thought of until I worked at a gas station years ago, but one that has stuck with me. At least in the US, handing the money to the cashier is polite. Dropping the bills on the counter for her/him to pick up is rude, but it happens a lot. I told him it was OK, but thanked him for his apology.

Rude customers and petulant employees are nothing new. However, they are the little things that eat away at my joy. I try to ignore them, but some of them hurt. You can’t help but notice when you get stung by someone. I try to focus on the happier encounters, like the ones with my favorite employee or Stone Eagle Waiter. Some days are easier than others. Today, I deserve a medal simply for not punching anyone.

*OK, this might be stretching it… I know some of your bosses, and “human” is generous.

Discomfort

The tattoo on my back is a symbol for wisdom. The wisdom books in the Bible are my favorite books (along with 1 John). It’s a quality that I hope to possess, but one that I am realizing is the product of tougher and tougher lessons. I am much better at dispensing wisdom for others than listening to it for myself. Because listening to such wise words usually means that I am in the process of doing the opposite of whatever I should be doing.

“Baby, don’t spend your whole life waiting to be happy in the future.”
I typed these words to Brandon today. Though his dedication and faithfulness are things I admire and cherish in him, sometimes I worry that he puts up with too much sorrow now because he hopes to be happy later. In this, he and I are two peas in a pod. A former friend used to joke that I am the Queen of Delayed Gratification, suffering through an endless sea of garbage because I have this absurd notion that it will pay off, that some day, I will be able to enjoy the product of such hard work and misery.

I’ll spare you the details, but lately, life has sucked and I have lost sight of the good things. I’ve let myself get caught up in all that isn’t going right that I have a hard time seeing what is good. So much so that I haven’t taken much time to do the things that make me happy.

Right now, I have to trust that all this crap is temporary and is going to pay off. But I don’t have to wait until someday to figure out some measure of happiness, as impossible as it seems right now.

“I’m trying to find the line between hope and foolishness, and I’m not so sure there is one. Hope, by its very nature, is foolish.”
I tweeted this earlier today when I was thinking about relationships, but the more I think about it, the more it seems true. I’m (usually) a rational person. I like evidence, statistics, probability, and facts. At the same time, I’m a romantic, and cannot help but believe in the long shots. For every 98 times something happens, the opposite happens twice, and I hold out hope that someday, I’ll benefit from the 2%. I sent my resume in response to a job posting that, in many ways, sounds like the best possible combination of my education and experience. I don’t think I’m fantastically likely to even get an interview, but still: there is hope.

Not that a job would make me happy, specifically, but a different one would make happiness a little easier. Stupid Face is back, and when I saw him a few Fridays ago, he said something about how if he could have really spent time in “the mission” (meaning serving people, helping them grow, that kind of altruistic crap that suckers like us can’t help but buy into), he would be happy. It’s what he does now, in a different setting, and it’s what I desperately miss. I miss having a real purpose to my work. As it is now, I work in a place with little purpose, in a schedule that makes outside work kind of impossible. It also keeps me from being able to attend church, and it is really hard to miss out on church week after week after week.

So I hope. Foolishly. And I am trying to figure out how I can manage to be happy even in the midst of hating some parts of my life.

Worst Person in the World

When Keith Olberman was on MSNBC, he used to do a segment in which he “crowned” the Worst Person in the World. According to customers in the last week, I’m a solid contender for the next crown.

Here are the reasons I’ve been yelled at by customers in the last week:

– it snowed.
– the district canceled school.
– water freezes in 9 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.
– the delivery of chewing tobacco was delayed by the distributor.
– their credit card was declined by their bank.
– candy is too expensive.
– I would not help him commit fraud by printing up bogus receipts to turn in to his company.
– we only had 17 kinds of tea, and not the one she wanted.
– the state lottery rules are unfair.
– someone somewhere won MegaMillions and it wasn’t the customer standing in front of me.
– I carded them.
– I didn’t know if a particular repair shop had the size tire he needed in stock.
– the candy was too cheap.
– I grabbed shorts instead of 100s.
– I grabbed 100s instead of shorts.
– I grabbed silver instead of gold.
– I didn’t know he wanted Red Label instead of Reds when he asked for Reds.
– promotional KitKats are cheaper than regular KitKats (not the same person as previous person upset about candy being too cheap or too expensive)
– the gum was in the gum and candy aisle and not in the chip aisle where he wanted it.
– the keypad on diesel 18 broke in the blizzard, meaning they have to come inside to turn the pump on.
– I didn’t know that he needed a refund for the thing he didn’t tell me about.
– the Subway restaurant was taking too long.
– we don’t have overnight parking.
– we don’t have showers.
– his company made him use our stop and he wanted a different one.
– I asked him for the information his company requires in order to process the card and turn on the pump.
– the lottery machine overheated.
– the lottery machine jammed.
– the lottery machine printed his 2 tickets on 2 tickets instead of on 1 ticket.
– I leaned over the lottery machine to reach for something and my boob touched a button and printed a different ticket than the one she hadn’t yet asked for.
– because bags of ice are cold.
– bottles of pop on the shelf (not in the cooler) are not cold.
– tubs of ice cream do not come with spoons, so I had to give him a plastic one from behind the counter. For free.
– donuts were buy-one-get-one-free and she only wanted one.

This list is a very limited representation and does not include reasons coworkers have been bogus. However, I think a special shout-out is owed to a boss who chastised me for going to visit an uncle on my day off, meaning I couldn’t get there in an hour to cover someone else’s shift when she called off at the last minute.

See? I told you: Worst Person in the World.

Gas Station Pastor

I should be sleeping. I have to be up for work in a few hours, and I’ll no doubt regret this in the morning, but I won’t sleep if I don’t write it.

A few months ago, my friend and fellow pastor told me about how often people seem to be drawn to him for the kind of listening ear and compassion that is the earmark of a good pastor, even when they don’t know he’s a pastor. I get it: he’s often a pastor as well as a friend to me, even though he didn’t necessarily sign up for the gig. I remember telling him that being a pastor doesn’t have to do with a title.

And then I resigned my role as professional pastor, and felt like my pastoring days were over.

I always felt weird thinking of myself as a pastor. I often feel like people are a huge mystery I’m always studying, only to find myself more and more bewildered by them. I certainly care for people, and have tried hard to maintain that, despite whatever hurts I’ve experienced. But pastor? I’m no meek Mother Teresa. I’ve spent days at hospital bedsides, but I can’t even wager a guess about how much of that time was painfully boring. Do you have any idea how often I (and the rest of the pastoring population) think “oh mercy, will you people stop talking and complaining for five stinking minutes!!!!” — only to immediately feel horrible for having had that moment of humanity? It’s in the billions of times, often before our first cup of coffee is done.

So because I felt so human in my pastoring, I often felt like I was missing something. Surely if I was a better pastor, I would feel less human. Less cranky. Less “strong-willed.” Don’t get me wrong: I spent all those hours in hospitals and listening and serving because it was what I wanted to do. It’s the only way I know to be, despite how human I am.

Officially, I am anything but a pastor now. Given the total crap economy in this former industrial city, the best job I could get with some measure of immediacy was as a manager at a truck stop. In a lot of ways, I hate it.

“I have to eat at work, because we have no food at home, other than what I can afford for my daughter,” explained one employee, as she ate the overcooked hotdog that had been pulled from the grill and had been destined for the garbage. A single mother whose oldest kids are in college, she does what she can to make it while her youngest is still home. Last month’s paychecks fell just so that it looked like she “made too much” for food stamps, so she is cut off until next month, when the state will deem her poor enough again. I hadn’t asked about – or particularly noticed – her eating the hotdog. I hate that we throw food away, so if anyone wants to eat it, fine by me. Yet for some reason, she felt comfortable offering such personal information. Maybe she was afraid I’d be mad at her for eating it, but I doubt that’s the case. It was shortly after she had asked about my tattoo (Deuteronomy 6:4; a giveaway that I’m a person of at least some kind of faith). Later that shift, she told me about her shaken faith, nearly obliterated by the death of her grandmother, who had been the religious glue in the family.

“You know, I – I – *sigh* I’ll be honest. I’ve just gone through a real big transition, and I just – I needed a new start. I got a new career, a new life, and so I painted the house. Then I colored my hair. Then I got my neighbor’s scissors, flipped my head over, and I chopped. Then I flipped my head up and chopped some more. And then I thought, ‘OK, now I’m ready.'” All I had done is compliment the in-store Subway manager about her hair. I didn’t expect for her to share about her tough season, or how she was eager to start over. Those are the kinds of things people tell pastors, not gas managers.

I’ve been trying to think about why my employees/coworkers seem to be so open and candid about their struggles. None of them know I was a minister. None of them necessarily know I go to church. I do listen a lot, though, whether it’s because I don’t know what to say or because I think they just need ears to hear their words. I don’t really offer solutions or answers because I don’t feel it’s my place as their boss to weigh in on how to deal with personal matters, so I say a lot of social worker sort of things like “I can see how that would be really hard to deal with.”

A lot gets said about the “ministry of presence” and “active listening” when in seminary, but I almost think I have more time for it now than I did when I was a professional. Instead of trying to figure out how to get hurting people to come into my church to be ministered to, I’m the one they see for hours every week.

I wish that these two things were taught to the lay people in our congregations. They are the ones who have the most contact with the outside world. How different would the church be if it was made up of people who were present and listening in their own communities? Not beating them down with immediate evangelism or invitations to some overly programmed Women’s Ministries function, but just listening.

I didn’t have a congregation for a few months while I was unemployed. I got to join a new congregation that I absolutely love. While I still kind of hate my job, the last two days have helped me see that while I may not be where I would pick, and while I am still trying to figure out how to not feel so embarrassed about my job, I am still a pastor. It’s a continual lesson in humility, but it’s not like I’m the first person to find themselves in an unorthodox, unofficial ministry position.

Hopefully, I’ll remember this tomorrow, when I am stupidly tired and maybe a little more cranky – and human – than a pastor should be.

Visibility Forecast

An introvert with generalized anxiety disorder is probably not the ideal candidate for a job that demands an ever-increasing amount of attention, but I never seemed to have trouble with speaking in front of people about work related things. I’m a pretty solid public speaker, and I knew my material well. The painful part was usually what so many other people find easier: small talk. Conversations with strangers during coffee breaks are the things of nightmares. Being an officer meant a lot of schmoozing and a lot of visibility; as if it wasn’t enough to work for The Salvation Army, I had to wear the hideously outdated uniform in hopes that it would draw more attention.

In my new job, the uniform consists of a black polo shirt and some form of neutral pants. It lets people know I work there, but doesn’t make me look like a lunatic. I am identifiably invisible. Which suits me, for the most part, but… Sometimes, I kind of miss the positive impression that I had a few months ago, simply by being in another professional role.

No one ever thinks much of the woman at the gas station. No one assumes – or even supposes – that I have a bachelor’s degree and am working towards a masters. I doubt it crosses anyone’s mind that I once played a part in huge, life-changing transformations for some people. They don’t look at me and see someone who has spent days at hospital bedsides, or frozen herself while outside in the dead of winter, feeding hungry people, or blown away doubters by raising tens of thousands above and beyond the Christmas goal. No one associates me and my job with compassion, kindness, love, or responsibility anymore.

I never did any of those things so that I would be recognized for them; I did them because it was the only way I knew how to be.

No one sees anything like that now, because almost no one sees me at all – I am invisible. They see a being in a polo shirt mopping the floor, or running their fleet card, but not me. Honestly, sometimes I’m really glad for it, because I hate working there and I can’t wait to have a job that actually makes use of my education and capacity. I find myself reminding myself as I push the salt spreader around outside that this is not really me, that it is a temporary fix.

Tonight, a customer kind of snapped at me when I carded him. I’m used to it; people really think nothing of talking to retail workers like they’re subhuman. After a few seconds, though, the guy looked up and apologized. He said he’d had a horrible day with customers and he hadn’t meant to be snippy with me. He was wearing his own polo shirt with a pest control logo on it. I thanked him and wished him a better weekend. While fleeting, for those few seconds, it seemed like for the first time all night, I wasn’t quite as invisible to the person on the other side of the counter. He at least remembered that I’m human and that I wouldn’t like to be spoken to that way.

I don’t know what to do with how I feel about this. Is it prideful to say I’m better than this job? Is it selfish to say that I miss the recognition, even though that was never my motivation?

This job is exactly the job I said was my reason for making it through college: because I never wanted to be here again. When I think about it, I get so angry I could string together profanities better than any sailor has ever dared. I get angry at the people who made my life as an officer so miserable that I resigned. I get angry at all the bad officers who get to skate by on piss poor work because of the usually unnoticed good work done by the good ones. I get angry at myself for thinking this job is, in some ways, beneath me. I get angry at the people who applied for the same, better jobs I applied for and got them. I get angry about being invisible.

I don’t regret leaving. As miserable as being invisible is, it’s a Mardi Gras parade compared to my daily life three months ago. It’s just hard to go from an identity that is generally esteemed (whether or not it’s deserved) to one that is invisible at best (even though I know what I’m capable of).

Like seemingly everything lately, I don’t know what to do with this, other than to keep going. To get through this shade of hell and onto something better. Because almost anything is better than being invisible.