An exercise in letting go and letting God, Work Edition.

When I first accepted my position at work, I was told that I would need to travel for training and then on occasion for meetings. Although the new job was exciting and I looked forward to it, the idea of traveling for weeks at a time sent my anxiety into overdrive. I had never actually traveled for business before this job. Further, I had never traveled alone since being married. Most terrifying of all, I had never traveled to a city I had never been to (Kansas City for the first three trips) or driven an unfamiliar rental car en route to a hotel I had never stayed at — to meet 35 people I had never met. Boarding the plane for that first workshop week was rough. Yes, it was only five days, as my company requires weekends spent at home for liability purposes. Still, that was five days away from all of the comforts of home, learning a job I had never done before.

The first week took a lot of courage. What if I was totally in over my head? What if I got lost in the airport?* What if I forgot my laptop charger, or my makeup remover or something else? What if the other trainees were total jerks? I packed for all four seasons, any number of natural disasters, a selection of pens and notepads that could stock Office Depot and everything but the kitchen sink.

One of the amazing views from a flight to the Midwest. God’s wonders in their glory.

*Sidenote: The Kansas City airport is approximately the size of a shoe box. No worries there, as it turns out.

I can laugh now but at the time, these were huge hurdles to jump. By the middle of the three month training, I was navigating O’Hare International Airport with my laptop bag and a small carry-on with the bare necessities for the week, looking forward to seeing the group of trainees that had become some of my most treasured friends. By the last week of training, the clerk at the Enterprise Rental Car counter knew my name, which of my cohort were travel delayed coming in, and my preference for mid-sized SUVs.

My view most nights while training — nine hours of classroom work, three hours of homework from the hotel.

This group of thirty five strangers from across the country had become a group of close friends. In fact, many of us still stay in touch today. We came from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, varying levels of education and experience — all bound by the common thread that was our employer. In many ways, this is like a church congregation. A body of people who have one thing, a love of God, in common. A group that can seem intimidating at first but that you find yourself loving and appreciating as time goes on. We didn’t always agree on everything and in fact, from time to time I think we all got irritated with each other, but we were on this ride together.

A fun and food-filled week at our corporate offices in Rosemont, Illinois.

I’m sharing this insight into my life because two things happened last week that made me think back on the first week of training and how nervous I was to embark on that insane journey.

First, my husband and I were supposed to join a small group at our church. With the help of some of the staff, we were connected with a group. We went as far as the church parking lot before I was overcome with anxiety. I couldn’t even pinpoint what was making me uneasy — after all, I go to church every weekend and even attend classes that are no larger than the training cohort I traveled with just a few months ago. Why was this different? I still don’t know, but my patient and loving husband told me we could get more information on the group and try again next week.

The second thing that happened was a road trip with three of the other salesmen in my district. We live and work in another state than our offices, so we travel for sales meetings. To save the company money and to reduce our footprint, we carpool. Here we were, four folks from very different backgrounds, ranging in age from 32 to 74, bound by one common thread. I’ve spent time with each of them in the context of larger meetings or one-on-one, but never as a small group. Even though I know my co-workers, I felt a little awkward. What would we talk about? Would there be periods of silence? Road trip car games like when I was a kid?

As it turns out, we have a lot more in common than I expected. We had great conversation, true fellowship, and our four hour trip flew by. As the “new kid,” (and the only woman, and the youngest, and the least experienced in our field!) I was never made to feel uncomfortable or excluded.

I imagine that once I put my trust in God to pair us with the right small group at church, I’ll find the same sort of friendship. Too often, I’m quick to assume that everything will go wrong or that I won’t fit in. This last week was a testament to the power of letting God take me out of my comfort zone and just enjoying the ride.

This photo sums up my most recent trip — chilling in the backseat for the drive up, a few good books, and a hotel room across the hall from a group of high school athletes who spent a majority of the evening laughing, running the hotel corridors and just being kids. I was mildly annoyed at first, but felt their excitement because once upon a time, I was part of those teams too!

Fan or follower?

Years ago, if you had asked me if I was a follower of Christ, I would have looked at you like you were ridiculous. After all, I was raised in a Christian household. Sure, our church attendance rate was abysmal, but my mother made it known from the time I was very young, it was just who we were. God-fearing Christians. Followers of Christ.

It was as much a part of my identity as having brown eyes, being a citizen of the United States or being the oldest sibling. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t need to give my life to him, because it had already been done for me. To me, the idea of rebirth and dedicating one’s life to the Lord was reserved for unsavory, wayward souls who hadn’t been blessed enough to be born Christian. Though I don’t fault them for it, my parents never told me otherwise. For the most part, our beliefs weren’t spoken of openly. They were just… there.

As I got older, my relationship with God went sideways, although I didn’t know it at the time. I went through all of the motions, including a hasty and ill-planned baptism when I had become one of the wayward souls I had chastised as a youth. I did all of the “Christian things.” I looked the part. I played the part. I knew all of the worship songs, I read all of the contemporary Christian authors and I was a brilliant public speaker, so I could pray aloud confidently and fit into small groups with ease. I rationalized my poor behavior during these years with the good works I performed and the titles I held. Outwardly, I was everything that I wanted to be. Inside, I was lost. I would have nightly battles with God. I was so angry that I had done all of the things I was supposed to do and I was still suffering. “This wasn’t the plan, God,” I’d say.

In early adulthood, I abandoned God and I assumed he had given up on me too. I had a failed marriage and two small children, and little else. I divorced my husband and Jesus all in one fell swoop. I felt the stares of everyone who said that we were married too young, heard the “I told you so’s,” dodged all of the prying inquiries by the gossips around me. I had failed.

Spiritually, the next several years were a blur. I prayed intermittently, but in the way that someone might scratch off a lottery ticket they bought on a whim. Always asking, never thanking, briefly excited but never expecting anything. No surprise, I never found what I was looking for — and I never hit the jackpot.

If you ask anyone who knows me well, they can tell you that I struggle to admit fault. Mostly playfully, but sometimes I’m downright hard-headed. I can say with confidence that my stubborn attitude is what led me back to God. As it turns out, He had never left. He was there the entire time, perhaps exasperated at my inability to let Him take control, but He was still there. I felt God’s presence from time to time, but pushed Him away. One day, at a low point, I threw my hands up, literally, and said, “Okay. You want me? The misguided, broken, flawed disgrace that I am? You’ve got me.” In my obstinate mind, I was going to prove to God (it’s okay, you can laugh — I can laugh about it looking back) that I was a waste of time. Chalk it up to a loss. Move on. Go work elsewhere.

He didn’t move on. He wouldn’t let me go.

… and he hasn’t. He won’t.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

It has been a long journey of trust and healing. I had to learn to let go of all of the misconceptions I had about Christianity. I had to repent for sin, for all of the times I pushed God away. Most of all, I had to put Him back in control. I’m happy to say that now, with my amazing husband by my side and a fantastic church full of great people, I am finally a follower of Christ. My husband and I were recently baptized and the feeling was more real than anything I’ve felt in my life. I’m not leading my own life while gazing adoringly at Christ, or only involving Him when it is convenient. He has control and I have faith.

I recently read the book Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Christ by Kyle Idleman. From Google Books, the excerpt reads: If someone asked, “Are you a fan of Jesus?”, how would you answer? You attend every movie featuring a certain actor, you know the stats of your sports hero, and you can recite lyrics from your favorite songs. In short, you’re a huge fan. But are you treating Jesus the same as the other people you admire? The truth is Jesus wants more than the church attendance, occasional prayer, and the ability to recite Scripture—the fan response. He’s looking for people who are actually willing to sacrifice in order to follow him.

This resonated with me, as did the rest of the book, because there have been plenty of sacrifices. I’ve been taken out of my comfort zone more times than I can count. I’ve lost more friends than I care to admit. In fact, I’m sure there are readers who have known me for many years who are thinking, “Is this even the same woman I knew before?” The short answer is no, not really. I still have brown eyes, I’m still a citizen of the United States and I’m still the oldest sibling. Now, though, I’m a follower of Christ.

On Motivation.

I’m in the midst of suffering through one of most disgusting, miserable head colds. One of those colds that just totally knocks you on your tail. Before it hit me, I gently teased my husband about having the “man flu.” I told you, I think God has a sense of humor and maybe a twisted one, because I now have every bit of my husband’s sickness and more. Point well taken.

Still, the food business stops for nothing. I’m still needed by my customers. In fact, coming off Valentine’s Day week, I’m more needed than I was last week. Restaurants in the middle of their “late winter slump” just saw a huge increase in business. More diners in their restaurants means more food served, which means more work for me.

I love what I do. I’ve always been a sucker for a good challenge and my job provides plenty of them. I also have a soft spot in my heart for independent restaurants. There is something so special about operating a restaurant, and something so emotional about taking the ordinary (providing food, a basic human need) and making it into something extraordinary (adding beauty, flair, atmosphere, etc.) I like seeking out the perfect products for my customers and I love getting photos of the finished product (or better yet, being invited to taste their creations!) and helping them succeed. All of that holds true even when I have to drag myself out of bed, nose stuffy and throat raw. It just takes a little more motivation.

Disclaimer: Having been previously employed in the restaurant industry for many years, I would never advocate going to work while sick. It’s gross and a health risk. For those of you reading and thinking, “Is she really going to tell us she went to work while sick?!” I don’t actually handle food and I take precautions to make sure anything that can be done without face-to-face contact is done remotely while I’m under the weather. Just putting that out there as a point of clarification.

I didn’t have much choice this week but to suck it up. I thought about my last post and decided that this was a perfect exercise in involving God in my work. Sure, I won’t always be sick — but there is always something. There’s the morning commute. There’s the weather. There’s a deadline that seems like a cruel joke and work piling up on either side of it. Self-doubt. A grumpy boss. A late delivery. An angry customer. There is always something lurking on the sidelines, threatening to derail my day. Yours, too.

Here’s the great thing though: Each of has the ability to find positivity and purpose in our work. As with all things, we can choose to see the best in every situation. Even better, we can choose to let God take control and make our path clear. After all, we are working for Him.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23‭-‬24 ESV

This takes shape in a few ways. Over the last few days I have made an effort to look to Him for my motivation when I feel like I have none.

Pray before you start the day. Pray in quiet moments between appointments, in traffic, when you’ve ended another day, when you can provide for your family because of your hard work, when you’ve made a difference in someone else’s day by good deeds, etc. Pray without ceasing.

Focus. Keep the Lord at the center of your focus. Strive to serve others. Do the right thing. Use your God-given talents to make an impact. Thank Him for the opportunity to work.

If I were to sum up this first endeavor into involving God in my work, it would be to say, “Gain control by giving it up.” We can’t predict the future, we can’t control the world around us but we can choose to make the most of the work we do.

The Wonderful World of Work.

We spend a majority of our days doing it.

Yes. Work.

It’s necessary for most of us. After all, the bills won’t pay themselves. For many, work is exhausting, stressful and unenjoyable. Even for those of us fortunate to work in jobs we love, it can be a challenge to stay motivated and excited about the workday. There are so many other things we can (and some may argue, should) be doing with our time. Stressors and professional setbacks can lead to discontent. Anxiety can manifest itself in physical discomfort. Workplace stress can follow us home and cause problems in our home lives. Monotony can precede apathy.

It can be a true struggle to find purpose and joy in work.

For clarification, I do find great pleasure in my career. I am blessed to work in an industry I love and know. I write from a perspective of someone who truly loves her job but still falls short, procrastinates, yearns for more free time and so forth. Things like helping a customer find a solution to a nagging problem, seeing a blossoming restaurateur’s pride in his new menu, creating a relationship of trust and partnership — all of these bring me happiness. Then again, so do things like extended vacations, long weekends and sleeping in late when the mood strikes. Still, I do my job.

It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing our work is insignificant. At face value, the work I do doesn’t scream, “Working for God!” There are few, if any, that would look at my daily routine and say, “She’s doing the Lord’s work out there, slinging cases of canned tomatoes and beef tenderloin. God bless the food saleswomen of this world.” In fact, I’m guilty of it myself. There have been times when I’ve wondered if I’m doing something worthwhile, or if I’m just looking for happiness for personal gain and praise from other people. Or favor in the eyes of the Lord? Or, worse, am I just looking for a paycheck?

At an impasse, I decided to take a look at that thought on more than a superficial level.

I am 100% Christian. I pray everyday that God guides me near and toward a deeper faith. I’m not a rules follower, I’m a Christ follower.

… and I will likely spend 50% of my adult life at work.

More than at home, or in social activities, or at church or even all of those combined — I spend time working.

So (and I’m using myself as an example but I imagine if you’ve made it this far and are still reading, something has resonated with you) in summary:

  1. I need to work.
  2. I love my job but I feel the stress of my work often. I know my colleagues do too, because many of our conversations revolve around these seemingly universal feelings.
  3. I question the importance of my work. Not on a fundamental level but on a real, spiritual, WWJD-type level. I know I do great things for my company, and I love hearing it.
  4. I want more. I want to reconcile my love of God with the love of the work I do.

With that said, I recently had an idea. Like most of my good ones, it came and went (hello ADHD, my old friend!) and came again. Eventually I stopped it ignoring it.

What if I make a conscious effort to find God in my work? What if I make an effort to work for God? What if I look to Him for motivation through the mundane, the necessary, the ordinary work I do?

I don’t claim to have the answers and I can’t promise to be a source of mind-blowing information. See, this is an experiment and a therapeutic exercise. What I would love is for you to join me as I explore these questions. If you will, subscribe, bookmark my site, or write a mental note to check back for my musings as I truck on through this journey.

For the Love of… Dog?

I told my husband that I wanted to start a blog. Without pause he asked what sort of blog. He knows me well enough that this sort of off-the-wall remark doesn’t even surprise him. If it did surprise him, he hid it well.

“Dogs? Jesus?” He inquired.

There is certainly something to be said about how well he knows me. More on that later, though. To his point, dogs and Jesus are typically what consume my attention in a given day.

I thought about it. My business-minded personality was begging me to think this through. Surely I wouldn’t begin this endeavor without a brand and a plan, right? Cue my more dominant personality trait, the one that dwarfs my business sense and tugs on my shirt sleeve like a nagging toddler: ADHD. I don’t mean the fleeting impulsiveness that most people are familiar with and deal with rationally. I actually have severe ADHD and fleeting ideas become obsessions if left unchecked. I’ve learned to cope with my illness with humor. If God has a sense of humor — and I think he does — he’ll understand why sometimes all I can do is laugh when my brain takes me into weird directions.

“I’m not sure. I hadn’t really thought about it. I just want to start a blog,” I told him.

I thought about it. I dwelled on it. Then I prayed about it. It was a little bit, “Could this be worthwhile?” and a little bit of, “Lord, help me through this crazy idea and keep me focused on your plan.” Then, in a strange intersection of the two, I was reminded of a theme I’ve encountered in this season of my life. Sharing. The scary thought that maybe the next step in my spiritual journey is sharing my faith in a meaningful way. I’m as flawed as a follower can be, but aren’t we all?

So it begins. Perhaps a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of dogs. Maybe a lot of Jesus. I can’t be sure (can we ever?) but there is a part of my heart that believes that this might be what I am called to do right now. Maybe He has set my medium before me and I need to share. Still, I assure you there will be dogs. After all, two of my five children are of the four-legged variety.

As for my husband truly knowing me (coming full-circle now, I knew I was going somewhere with this post), the other day we came home with surprise gifts for each other — books by the same author! Sometimes, whether guessing what I’ll blog about or picking the right titles at the bookstore, he knows me better than I do. That’s love!