It’s All About Me!

Thinking Out Loud

James RubartWe’ve previously reviewed four books by James Rubart here: Rooms, The Book of Days, and The Chair. Recently James shared this story on his blog:

A man is enjoying watching a Seattle Mariners game when he finds himself thirsty and decides to get himself a Coke.

As he’s returning to this seat a few minutes later, he hears a voice cry out from high in the stands above him.

“Hey, Tony!”

The man stops and squints into the seats with a frown on his face. A few seconds later, he resumes his path back to his seat when the same voice bellows again. “Hey, Tony! Up here!”

The man turns and glares for a moment at the spot the voice is coming from, then trudges on.

Not more than three seconds passes before the voice calls out a third time. “Tony! Hey, Tony!”

The man stops…

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What Can Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ Tell Us About God?

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Guest Post: Amy Young, "A Boss Who Actually Cared"

In this series, writers from around the world have been sending in their recollections called “What I learned from my first job.” Today, we get to hear from Amy Young, who blogs at The Messy Middle. She’s a terrific writer who has been teaching in China for more than a decade. I met her at the Bear Clause writer’s group in Lakewood, CO, while she was visiting home and was impressed with her sensible, humble style. And it’s not too late for you. Got a memory you want to share? E-mail me here.
A Boss Who Actually Cared
There are many lessons from early jobs that have helped me in my “real” job

I started babysitting at age twelve and learned it is important to enjoy what you do. Earning a dollar an hour just wasn’t cutting it because it turns out I don’t really like watching other people’s kids.

Around age 14 my sister and I were hired to clean the toys in the church nursery weekly. The salary was insanely high for someone not yet 16 ($2.75 an hour! Compared to babysitting it was a gold mine). We were to fill a bucket, add some solution, and wipe down each toy. A parent would drop us off, wave and say they’d see us in two hours never suspecting that their little dears filled the bucket and then mostly sat on our butts chatting. To this day I am embarrassed. I learned that even if nobody knows the quality of your work and make certain assumptions based on your character, God sees.

Finally at age 16 I was able to earn minimum wage at $3.35 an hour and start paying taxes (not all lessons are fun). My first high paying job was at Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. To say I loved it, is putting it mildly. I had a boss –not a parent, teacher, or babysitter but a BOSS — who trained me! People, does life get more exciting? I learned to use a fryer, stock a salad bar, make a frosty and put all the ingredients in the right order. I learned that there are people who are quite different from me and we can still find much to connect over. I learned that there are good people out there who will protect you and make sure you get safely to your car after closing hours and before they head off drinking. I learned and I learned and I learned. And that right there might be what I learned most: there is much to learn and a lot of it comes from being open and willing to try new things.

I’m a long way from those first jobs, but they live on in me. Turns out they were pretty real!

So how about you? For the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting voices from around the world, reflecting on what you learned at your first job. Send me a note here and join in! Click here to subscribe and not miss a single post. The Archive is here.

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Posted in amy young, Babysitting, China, what i learned from my first job, Writers Resources | 16 Comments

In the Garden of Your Mind

I miss this wonderful man.

What are you growing these days?

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Guest Post: Troy Sims. "Sorry, I have to work"

A number of guest posters this month will be weighing in on “What I learned From My First Job.” Today we’re privileged to have Troy Sims give his insight. Troy has a M.Div from Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth TX and blogs at Loving God With All Your Mind. He and I first met at Laity Lodge and sat on the River Frio devouring bowls of ice cream with fresh berries. I appreciated his sense of humor and insight into the world around him. Want to add your adventure? E-mail me!

Sorry, I Have to Work
by Troy Sims

One of the many things that make me grateful for my parent’s parenting was this. If I wanted a car in high school, I was going to have to get a job and make money. I’d have to pay for it as well as gas, maintenance, and insurance for the vehicle. My mom didn’t get her driver’s license until after me, so it’s not like I could get her to run me everywhere – or anywhere. I didn’t want to rely on the school bus or friends. I wanted my own transportation.

So, how was I going to make money? I occasionally did babysitting, but I didn’t really like it. Plus, I never made much money from it. I wanted to maintain good grades in school, so I didn’t want to work retail, having a changing work schedule – often working late at night. What could I do?

Luckily, toward the end of my 8th grade year, my dad took a job at a local electrical parts distributor who was wanting to start a new division selling, building, and sometimes designing electrical control panels to operate machinery for various manufacturing plants. Trying to keep costs low, the company decided to hire me – a fourteen year old with no experience and just an inkling of wanting to be an electrical engineer someday. I began the week after school let out making a whopping $3.35 per hour!

The job was perfect. I worked 8-5, Monday-Friday (and only an occasional Saturday). That first summer, we could have as many sodas as we wanted for free. Sometimes, there really wasn’t enough work for me, so they might have me mow the lawn or dust. Occasionally, I got a day off, too. Plus, it was cool to tell my friends that I worked a place assembling and wiring electrical control panels, because it sounded more important than it really was! Yet, I was still able to make about $700 that first summer, and after school started again, they’d often have me come by to work after school until they closed at 5 or on an occasional Saturday.

I learned a few things from this job where I worked until I was a senior in high school. Having a “good” source of income helped me to begin to learn to budget and make financial priorities. Whereas I could relatively easily avoid people at school who had ticked me off, I had to learn to keep working with people who made me mad (and I’m sure vice versa). I also discovered that even though employers wanted me to be dependable and loyal, this was often not reciprocal as there were times I could not count on them for hours I needed or for raises I felt I deserved. These insights continue to ring true today.

Here’s something else I learned back then.

My parents had another rule that I appreciated back then and continue to appreciate. Once I got my driver’s license, they left it up to me whether I went to church or not. I’m glad that they allowed that to be my choice. In hindsight, it eventually (after a few years) helped me appreciate church more, but for the first few years, I usually chose not to go. One of my excuses was, “I’m tired. You know I had to go to school and work this week. I need to catch up on my sleep. I’ve gotta keep my grades up.” It wasn’t just church that I used this excuse for, though.

“I can’t go to this family gathering. I have to work.”

“Sorry, friend. I can’t hang out with you. I have to work.”

Sometimes, it was just an excuse to do my own thing. Sometimes I let the job take priority.

I apparently learned this well as I have continued to do it. Work often becomes my “idol” that keeps me focused away from very important aspects of my life. Often it has been the love of money (or the worry of what I’d eat, drink, or wear – see Matthew 6:24-25). Then, once I went into ministry after five years as an electrical engineer, the job became too big of a priority, because I thought, “I’m doing this for God!” Right. Often, I was doing it for my over sized ego, since it didn’t all depend on me. I had not been following the guidance of the Apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 12:3 to not think to highly of oneself. And now that I’m a stay-at-home dad, many times I let the cleaning, washing, cooking, and other household tasks take priority over teaching our son.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? And yet, Romans 12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are called to change when needed. I need to change in this aspect, because at least one thing I learned in my first job needs to be unlearned.

I have two questions:
• What did you learn from your first job?
* What do you need to unlearn from your first job?

So how about you? For the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting voices from around the world, reflecting on what you learned at your first job. Send me a note here and join in! Click here to subscribe and not miss a single post. The Archive is here.

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Guest Post: Becky Garrison, "Laughing Through The Pain"

In our ongoing series of guest posts about, “What I Learned From My First Job,” we’ve been getting some laughs and some schooling along the way. Today Becky Garrison drops in and tells us what she has learned from her job as a religious satirist. Her work for the now defunct Wittenburg Door was masterful, as she balanced sound doctrine with a tongue firmly planted in her cheek. Thanks in part to that early work, she’s now the author of six witty books and numerous articles. And today, she’s our guest. Want to join in with your own reflections? E-mail me here.

Laughing Through the Pain
In the documentary Before the Music Dies, soul singer and song-writer Erykah Badu made some astute observations about the music industry that can be applied to any creative enterprise. She noted there are three kinds of artists: (1) those who hurt to do what they do; (2) the one who imitates those in pain (these are often the rich ones); and (3) those who do what somebody tells them to do.

I definitely fall into the first category. A friend once told me, “Becky, you make people very uncomfortable because you remind them of the pain they’ve been trying to hide.” I applaud those who can put up with me when I open up my guts and give birth to a book. In the process, a few people I thought were friends and fellow travelers bolt and head for the hills.

At times I wish I could join them. Seems I can never unpack my personal baggage without having my junk strewn all over the place. What some call “passion” others dismiss as “pain in the rear end.” More often than I care to admit, I end up throwing a full-blown Calvin-styled temper tantrum when I should be demonstrating more Hobbeslike wisdom and restraint. (Where is cartoonist Bill Watterson when we need him?)

Also, my suitcase never seems to close properly, so I can’t stuff myself back in, all neat and tidy, and simply move on to the next adventure. I’m the one walking around the hallowed halls of Christendom with theological toilet paper stuck to my shoe. During these moments when I feel like some dog in desperate need of a flea bath, I take comfort in Mike Yaconelli’s messiness — for he seemed to have a similar packing problem.

On a whim, I took a class at Yale Divinity School in which we acted out Bible stories. (I have no clue why I signed up for this, but my gut told me I had to do it.) Our final project was a performance of the Bible. I remember leaving some classes in tears over the taunting a few students gave me when the teacher wasn’t looking.

“You really lack any stage presence and rhythm whatsoever.”
“Let me show you how it’s done.”
“Maybe you should visit the writing tutor.”
Fortunately, Professor Peter Hawkins was in charge of casting the show. He assigned two roles to me — Isaac, the sacrificial son, and a grandmother who tells the story of her two prodigal grandchildren.

When I performed those pieces, somehow I was able to silence the spiritual snots and simply inhabit the roles. For a brief period of time, I connected not with the words I was saying but with the soul of the characters. Afterward, a few people came up to me almost in tears. I just stood there, wondering what the heck happened that night. But the spark to write that had been brewing inside me began to smolder.

The embers didn’t catch fire until a few years later when Mike Yaconelli and Robert Darden took me under their wings and opened The Wittenburg Door for me. Somehow, they saw my light during that period when I groped around in the dark. Mix together my constant cravings to put pen to paper with my disgust for undivine dorks — and thus marks the unexpected birth of a religious satirist in 1994.

A similar dynamic happened two years later, when I connected with my improv teacher, Gary Austin, and his wife, Wenndy MacKenzie, who later became my vocal coach. They taught me how get out of my head and into my heart. By not thinking about what I want to do but simply responding to what’s happening around me,

I can get in touch with the essence of who I am — junk and all.

These reflections are excepted from Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist Searches for the Risen Christ (Zondervan, 2010). Follow Becky on Twitter @Becky_Garrison 

So how about you? For the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting voices from around the world, reflecting on what you learned at your first job. Send me a note here and join in! Click here to subscribe and not miss a single post. The Archive is here.

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Posted in Becky Garrison, Mike Yaconelli, what i learned from my first job, Wittenburg Door, Yale Divinity School | 8 Comments

It’s never too late

Helen was an instant hit at our writer’s conference.  She’s the kind of woman you want as a mother, grandmother, or friend.

Photo by Laura Boggess
Her story was of loss – and resilence. She was married for 65 years to the same man and had lost him. Although she was now widowed, she didn’t quit. To be surrounded by a good retirement, a big house, loving children and grandchildren wasn’t enough. She still had a story to tell. And that’s why she was at the writer’s conference. She wanted to be a writer and wanted to start her book.

She was 90

What kind of person starts a book when they are 90?  Probably someone not totally in their right mind. And totally someone I want to be like.

Why do I think it’s too late to get my life straight, to write a book, to learn an instrument, to make a friend, to make a difference? Why do I think it’s too late for forgiveness, for wrongs to be made right, for reconciliation?

Laura Boggess wrote of her here  and here.  “And all I can think is how I hope I’m still letting God surprise me when I am ninety years old

I don’t know how Helen’s doing on her book, but her inspiration is still resonating.

It’s never too late.

Feel free to comment here.

Photo by Laura Boggess

Linking up with Jennifer at God Bumps today.

Posted in aging, fulfillment, helen the writer, never too late, Retirement | 34 Comments

Guest Post, Marcus Goodyear: "The service is what matters"

For the next two weeks we’ll bring you some of the most interesting bloggers from the blogosphere all sharing what they learned from their first job. I already have a couple of dozen posts lined up, but there’s still room for you. Send me your idea here.

I first met Marcus Goodyear in 2007 at GodBlog in Las Vegas and I instantly liked him. A humble charm belies his brilliant mind and leadership ability. As the senior editor of The High Calling, he serves as my boss, overseeing the Weekly Calling that I am priviledged to author. And he’s a good manager, as he herds a gaggle of a couple of dozen part time workers from coast to coast with grace and persistent vision. He blogs occasionally at Good Word Editing, must most of his work is found at The High Calling. Here’s his submission to the project:

The Service is What Matters.

As a fifteen year old grocery bagger at Jumbo Foods in Enid, Oklahoma, I had two mantras.
“Would you like paper or plastic?” and “Let me help you to your car with these bags.”
The first was a real question. Some people preferred paper. Some plastic. As the bagger, I did my best to quickly sort and pack food without damaging anything. I thought of it as Tetris. Just keep up with the stuff coming down the conveyor belt. Smile and look happy. Juggle the canned goods away quickly. Group the fruits with grapes on top, nestled in the curve of a banana cluster. Be especially careful with eggs and bread.
The second was something we always offered. We were the store that served people well. Sometimes people gave me a tip, I think, but my memory is hazy on that point. You’d think I would remember that.
Instead, what I remember is loading groceries into a corvette and wondering about the impracticalities of grocery shopping in a corvette. I remember standing on the curb with several baskets from different customers, waiting for each to drive their cars over so I could load their trunk. I remember bagging groceries at the registers. I remember bagging ice in the back room until my hands were numb. I remember the great joy of being asked to burn stuff in the incinerator. I remember mopping the concrete floors late in the evening.
I was too young to run the register or drive the forklift. I couldn’t work late because of my age. But I worked hard on the weekends, helping people with their food.
It was a store that focused on customer service. I don’t necessarily remember any pep talks from the manager, but I knew that customer service was important. I was there to serve people, the customers, the cashiers, the other employees, even the manager.
That’s the lesson. Good work always begins with good service. Today, I manage a large online team, I write articles about faith and work, and I serve a nonprofit funded by a grocery store. I don’t know if that’s irony or destiny.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. I get up every morning and head to work so I can continue serving people as best as I can. Sometimes people give me money for good service. Sometimes they don’t. Once I’ve paid my bills, I mostly don’t worry about it.
The service is what matters.
So how about you? For the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting voices from around the world, reflecting on what you learned at your first job. Send me a note here and join in! Click here to subscribe and not miss a single post. 
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Posted in Customer service, high calling, Marcus Goodyear, service first, what i learned from my first job | 44 Comments

Keep the light burning

I had a friend once who’s life took a series of ugly turns. He ended up being just bad news, with no job, no family and no faith, having turned his back on everything. Seeing nothing but darkness, I walked away.  Years later I heard that he recovered and was a brilliant example of grace and restoration — and I missed it.

The LA Times last week reported a most interesting story. In 1935, a neon light was installed to backlight a forest scene in Clifton’s Cafeteria in old Los Angeles. Along with a bank of other lights, it created an escape from the urban life for diners.
A few years later, in 1949, the cafeteria was renovated with a different theme and a partion covered the forest scene.
Fast forward to this year. A bulding inspection revealed a soft glow coming through beams, a faint light. They tore apart a section of the wall, and there it was. That neon light was still glowing.

It seems that during the last rennovation, someone forgot to turn off the electricity and the light has been burning ever since. That light has now been burning for 77 years.

Normally, neon lights max out at 40 years before the glass detiorates. Why did this last so long? Hidden from view, no one really cared. But when the old boards were finally torn away, it’s glow was still bright.
I’m thinking about my own life. When I was 20, I was newly married and full of excitement to serve God. Maybe missions. Maybe the pastorate. Maybe full time work at a school. But two kids later and life got in the way. I put up walls over that light and passion. Then there was disobedience, sin and shame. In many ways that zeal was sealed up and forgotten. But the light glowed through the crack, a constant reminder of the truth I have known.

Photo courtesy LA Times

My friend Tim first brought this article to my attention, and he saw it as an application to the culture at large. He observed that the light was intentionally covered over in the name of progress and modernization. That’s true. Society always has a better way, a way without God. But Tim was also a man who knew my light when others thought it had departed — and never gave up on me. 

I have grown children whose lights seem boarded over with youth, career and apathy. But it’s still there for them. And for others in my life. I just can’t give up on them, because a few people never gave up on me. 

The light keeps on burning

Posted in Clifton Cafeteria, Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Is retirement an option for the Christian?

What are you working for? Do you look forward to the day when you take advantage of 4 P.M. early bird menus, who-cares-when schedules and golfing at noon? Or do you have plans – big plans for God.
“My husband has just checked out.”  The exasperated woman confessed her frustration at a workshop I was at last weekend. Apparently, her husband hit a certain age, began drawing a retirement check, and decided his ministry years were over. He had an impressive background, including serving as a vice-president of a major Christian relief organization. He had a lifetime of giving, ministering and helping the helpless. In his mind, his work was over.
His days are now spent in front of the television and fretting about his next doctor’s appointment.
What a waste.
I contrast this with my friend Jack, who passed away recently at the age of 89. Although he retired from his railroad job 25 years earlier, he never really retired from ministry. He simply replaced the hours he had spent on the job with hours for God.
He volunteered tirelessly at church, folding chairs, cleaning toilets, teaching classes, and helping pastors. He visited the sick, counseled the confused and loved the loveless.
I’m more than a few years away from retirement, but I’m wondering what my life will look like? The idea of checking out doesnt appeal to me. While a golf game on a Wednesday morning has it’s appeal, it really doesn’t make a real impact on the world.
What do you think? Are you retired? How do you fill your days?
And if you aren’t retired, how will you spend your post-work time?
I would love to hear your comments here.

Posted in Retirement, Retirement Planning | 18 Comments