The other day I came to the realization that I have been working in food service for 20 years.
For those of you doing the math at home, you are asking yourself a very legitimate question right now. "Wait just a hot second," your smart little brain is chirping, "I thought she was only 29!"
First of all, bless your heart. If anyone out there actually thought I was only 29, consider your faces cyber-kissed. Nah, I crossed into the next decade a while back and I will be turning 32 this summer. So yeah. I started working in food service when I was 12....which is technically illegal. I guess.
But when your super-cool, slightly older than you friend helps out at a catering company owned by a family friend and asks if you want to come along and you really desperately want this friend to keep hanging out with you, you go to work! I remember coming home from one of my first days at the catering company and being absolutely beside myself with pride - "Mom!" I yelled, "I only worked for one day and she paid me TWENTY whole dollars! Cash money, baby!"
I probably didn't say "cash money baby" to my mother in 1995, but you get the picture. Just like that, I was bringing home the bacon whenever I could. I worked at that catering company off and on for years. Catering evolved into fast food which eventually led me to waiting tables at a BBQ joint as soon as I got to college. Ribs led to lobster which led to pancakes and homemade pie and after a move to the big city, it became spaghetti and lasagna which led to veal and farm suppers.
20 years. 14 of those years have been spent as a server in a restaurant.
There are plenty of stories to tell from those years (it will likely be a whole chapter in my book one day), but I can honestly tell you that I feel like those years are beginning to wane. I've been wanting to take a step back from serving for a while now, but I really hit that breaking point last week when I realized how I had become a "Lifer."
Now, a Lifer is a person who works in a restaurant who has been waiting tables longer than many of her co-workers have been alive. She's the one who knows all the regulars by what their typical order is, how they like their eggs cooked, which booth they like to sit in, and the names of all their children and grandchildren. She's the one know exactly how she likes to do things and will get a little salty if someone tries to tell her differently. Little Miss Lifer will have a short fuse trying to train someone because she's likely to get frustrated if her trainee isn't ready to rock and roll after five minutes as her apprentice. She walks fast, she talks fast. Her feet hurt, her back hurts, and I promise you that she was ready to quit doing this years ago, but she couldn't really see any other way. What else is she supposed to do? There's nothing else out there for her where she could replace her server's income and still give herself a breather. Instead, she picks up shifts when the young guy would rather go to a concert than work. More money for me, she mutters, as she ties her apron strings once again.
Lifers smell like french fries.
It's hard to go out to eat with a Lifer because when we look at our server, it's like looking in the mirror. We are uber-critical, but laced with a lot of grace. If it comes down to a conflict between the server and the person we are dining with, we will take the server. Every time.
Lifers secretly toss an extra $5 on the table when someone else pays the bill.
And the really scandalous secret? Lifers love what they do.
We love interacting with so many people. We love the fast pace and the mental challenge of having to multi-task at a constant pace. We love making people happy. We love talking. We love being on the move and efficiency. It's fun, really fun.
But it gets to be tough when you become a Lifer. You start to ask those "what if?" questions and it gets downright frustrating when you ask you co-workers where they were when they heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the response is, "I dunno. I was three."
At one point or another, that still small voice starts to whisper of bigger things. Adventures that may exist out there without apron strings or free refills. True Lifers will hear that voice whispering time and time again only to turn a deaf ear and keep on keeping on. Someone has to pay the bills, after all. Dreams don't buy the groceries, son.
But that voice doesn't relent. It only grows stronger while the Lifer's knees grow weaker. And then that day comes when a twelve hour shift ends with the realization that it is finally time. Time to listen to what that voice has to say and really consider the crazy schemes it whispers about. Listening becomes praying and praying leads to bold requests for others to join you in your search for a new adventure.
So now this Lifer will listen a little harder to that still small voice. I have a lot of exciting possibilities that are beginning to show up and to be honest, it is overwhelming an scary. Serving has always been my safety net, but is is crystal clear to me that soon that safety net will need to be pulled and I will need to step out in complete and total faith that the path laid before me is the one the Lord has set out for me.
The closing song at church yesterday was Oceans by Hillsong United. Many of you know it. With all this stuff swimming around in my heart, it was all I could do not to crumple at these words:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,
let me walk upon the waters
wherever you would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
and my faith will be made stronger
in the presence of my Savior.
I still have so many questions, doubts, and hesitations. I am afraid to close that door, try something new, and fail. My prayer is that I will let go of that fear and grab hold tight to the hand of my Savior, listening closely for his voice so that I can step safely out on to the waters with confidence. Only then will any efforts of mine amount to anything.