What Your Waiter Isn’t Telling You

St_Johns_Lutheran_Church_Rabbit_Hill_Alberta_Canada_02AImagine a large family getting ready to attend church on a Sunday morning. This isn’t your family, and it’s not mine either. This is the most unusual tribe you’ve ever met. There are a dozen sisters and just as many brothers, and they share a tiny home. To fully appreciate the chaos in the home you’ll need to know there is only one restroom to facilitate grooming, and there are not enough clean socks for all the feet. Now just to make things even more interesting, there is a language barrier.

This family would obviously struggle in their efforts to get to church in a timely manner. However, upon their arrival to a quaint steeple, hillside church, each teenager would grab the hand of a younger sibling and walk them safely to the fold. The morning crying and the chaos would be history, and the family would be presented as a unified structure of grace.

This is the life of your restaurant waiter.

A food server’s shift is immersed with duality. The conversations, attitudes and behaviors of the staff while they are working with guests in the front of the restaurant are quite different than what takes place back in the kitchen.

To an outsider, the seemingly disrespectful way in which the restaurant staff sometimes speaks to one another when they are in their safe place (a.k.a. the kitchen) might be alarming and even offensive. But truth be told, it is no more startling than the comfortable communication between siblings. The intense and rigorous work a restaurant staff undergoes forms a familial bond.

Perhaps a reader objects, “Wait! The same is true for my staff at (insert company logo here). We are definitely like family!”

I don’t disagree with you, dear reader, but when you leave (insert company logo here) ninety percent of you end up at a restaurant with your closest pals to debrief the week’s events or to complain about your coworkers. In other words, even those of you who don’t work in a restaurant still go to restaurants. They are the most common meeting ground in every developed Nation. For this reason, we are going to concentrate on restaurant workers today.

The nod I want to give to restaurant workers comes from deep within. If this blog post had hands, it wouldn’t be a formal handshake to thank a food server for a job well done. This blog would be a lasting hug to a wealth of people who have reminded me of the importance of building community wherever you land.

Late last Saturday night, at the end of an emotionally and physically exhausting eleven hour day, my husband met me at the restaurant where I have the privilege to serve. I enjoyed a fruity craft beer, and my husband and I shared a Mexican apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and brandy butter on a sizzling fajita skillet; a delicacy that neither of us have any business eating late at night.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and at some point over the weekend, I had allowed the bandit into my head. As I sat with my husband relaying the struggles I was battling, he made a request:

“Name three things about today that you are thankful for.”

I turned my head towards a passageway to the kitchen, and at that precise moment two young women, fellow food servers who are close in age to my adult children, were coming through the doorway.

“Them,” I replied to my husband.

Image-1I shared with my husband that if I were to list the things I am thankful for, these women would be at the top of my list. Yes, I was thankful for the guests I had the chance to serve; thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with returning guests who remembered my name. Yes, I was deeply moved by a heartfelt conversation I had with a young female guest who is a recent widow. Of course, I was humbled and grateful for a couple of great tips. These moments are always welcome, but I am not surprised when I am blessed by obvious good.

This is why I am inspired by the community of people I get to work alongside amid moments that are, more often than not, quite demanding. I am inspired by the playful bickering that happens in the back of the house. The complaining, the inside jokes, the bending of the rules, the calling each other out, the “happy to do it” sarcasm, but all of it with the knowledge that they have my back. On even the longest night, each of us is never alone.

  • Do you have time to take two waters to table 52?
  • Can you box my food on 13?
  • Will you run my bar drinks to 16?
  • I’m caught up, can I help you with anything?
  • Can you follow me with the fajitas?
  • Can you greet 61?

The struggle to do what needs to be done to create an enjoyable experience for our customers is not done merely for tips. Sure, having a great paying job is important and I don’t take that reward lightly, but in all honesty, the entire restaurant staff works hard for each other. Those who wear name tags work hard for the people in the back of the restaurant who aren’t working for tips. If a food server reflects poorly on the restaurant, the customer may never return. If the customer doesn’t return, then there is less money coming in. If there is less money—there may be less hours available for the cooks. If there are less hours for cooks, one of the cooks may lose their job.

That matters to me if the cook is Chuy.

When a position becomes a person our heart is less apathetic toward the situation.

And it’s not just in the chaos that restaurant workers experience familial love. It’s in brokenness. When a team member’s weakness seeps to the surface the family responds. When the weakness is pride it becomes a bad enchilada for everyone; a selfish attitude harnesses a weakness in the tribe making it hard for everyone to do their job. Because of that, I’ve witnessed staff push back and struggle to overcome workers who have become prideful or greedy. The intensity of the job sometimes means the situation is not handled with soft spoken words.

Of course, at other times, soft spoken words sneak around the corner and find you near the walk-in refrigerator.

Two female servers stand rolling silverware. Both have been on their feet for ten plus hours; carrying trays, taking orders, delivering drinks, warming tortillas, restocking glassware, negotiating with cooks, submitting to managers—basically, just doing the job.

One server begins to break down. Tired and fearful, her comparisons have convinced her she is failing at something that she feels she should have mastered by now. The other server, her sister and friend, responds with grace and speaks truth to the situation. These two women were born on opposite sides of the Nation—one is a Jersey girl while the other is a California native. They would have never met were it not for a restaurant in the middle of the Arizona desert. Age and upbringing are irrelevant. Failures and regrets are insignificant. In this moment what matters is love and encouragement.

The younger of the two women, the Jersey girl, disappears for a moment. While she is gone the older woman continues rolling a knife, a spoon, and a fork into a black cloth napkin. Her mind drifts back one year.

Arriving in the town where she and her husband were separated from every other family member, including their children, was surreal. Taking a job in a restaurant because she saw it as “just a job” reminds her of how limited her worldview had become. Every job has significance in the way it shapes the people we become and the community we create. Restaurant workers spend nearly every weekend together—engaging, challenging and conquering rough situations.

The Jersey girl returns holding a wet rag. “I cleaned the high chairs,” she announces.

Image-1(1)Five simple words? No. A novel. These words are lovelier than a psalm or a Shakespearean sonnet.

The Jersey girl just did the Californian’s side work for her.

Hearing the brokenness of the Californian motivated the Jersey girl to respond to her sister with a physical gesture of love. There were no extra tips, and it didn’t help her to get out of the restaurant earlier. In other words, there was nothing “in it for her”.

Maintaining sanity in this particular high intensity, repetitive job is not merely done for the hope of 20% in tips. That money is here today and gone tomorrow. Overcoming self, inspiring another person and experiencing life with a wide variety of uniquely crafted people are not garnishes in life—they are the main course. These are things that money cannot buy.

But, should you stop in for a meal, don’t forget to tip 😉


Grandparent: The Verb I Am

FullSizeRenderMy first grandchild, my granddaughter Isla (pronounced “eye-Luh”…as in Island), turns TWO today. As we prepared to celebrate her little life at a Minnie Mouse themed birthday bash, I got to thinking about the things I would be willing to do for her. I got to thinking about the effect grand-parenting has on those of us who get to walk that path. 

For as long as there have been grandparents there have been toddlers giving their parent’s parents unique pet names. Not every grandparent ends up with the title Grandpa or Grandmother. I have a friend whose grandchildren call her “Googs” and another friend whose granddaughter named her “Dit”. Two and a half years ago when my daughter announced her pregnancy, I was consistently  asked what name I wanted to be called. Most of the time I answered with a simple shrug. The name didn’t matter, as long as it was ascribed to me by my granddaughter.

FullSizeRender5About a year ago my husband had to take a job in another state, which meant we had to relocate. Because I tend to feel things deeply and struggle to see promise when I’m fearful, I was devastated. I felt like our relationship with our granddaughter was going to be severely altered. I feared Isla was too little for us to sustain a long distance relationship. At a friend’s suggestion, each time I would talk to my granddaughter on FaceTime, I would read her a book. Her favorite being Grandma & Me. In the flap book, the little girl, whom we affectionately named “Bacon-Head Isla” asks, “Who’s at the door?” and when the reader lifts the flap, “It’s Grandma!” My granddaughter picked up on the clues, and and gave me a name. I became Door.

Fortunately, that passed, and I am no longer Door. A new name came into play and my granddaughter now calls me “Am”. Yep, Am. I am Am.

FullSizeRender6I have to confess, it’s a little weird to have become a verb. From the moment I was born and the doctor first spanked my pink bottom and declared, “It’s a girl”, I have spent a lifetime being a series of nouns. I have been a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a student, a cheerleader, a baseball player, an actress, a girlfriend, a speaker, a waitress, a secretary, a fiance’, a wife, and a mother. Mounds of nouns, and I cannot recall a time in my life when my titled role was a verb.

FullSizeRender7But, I also cannot remember a time as remarkable as this season called Grand Parenting. It’s widely known by every parent that a grandchild is God’s reward for not murdering their teenager. Seeing your own child become a parent is easily the most fascinating and fulfilling moment in parenting. There is a passing of the baton from one generation to the next. With a wink and a nod, you watch as your child becomes, not the parent you were, but a better version of the parent you wanted to be. In every way we hope that our children will “turn out” better than we do, and when we see it happening it’s invigorating.

FullSizeRender3Looking into my daughter’s eyes the night her daughter made her entrance into the world was fascinating. It was as if we shared a secret. A secret that could only be understood by she and I, and every other parent in the world. It’s a secret feeling. A new feeling. It’s the “someone just dropped me into an ocean and I’m going to drown in this love” kind of feeling. Knowing your child is engulfed in this new found love is worth every moment of frustration endured with them in adolescence. In that moment, you don’t have to say, “See…” or “I told you so!” because the littlest member of the tribe is saying it to their hearts in a way that is much more powerful.

But that’s just half the story. The other half of the story is the way it changes us. As parents, we already experienced being dropped in the sea of love; as grandparents we experience the ocean differently. When we meet the child of our child we are washed with a wave of love. Each interaction with them brings a new tide, a bigger swell of love.  And in a way, becoming a grandparent allots us each the opportunity to become a verb. Not because we weren’t active as parents, trust me–there is no amount of time that will erase my memory of how much work it takes to care for young children. As grandparents we receive the activity differently. Grand-parenting reminds us of the things we loved about parenting, but were often too tired to always enjoy.

FullSizeRender4Changing a diaper.

Reading a story.

Running a comb through thick hair.

Holding a hand.

Throwing a ball.

Receiving a kiss.

The truth is, for the first time in our lives, we understand how sacrificial love can feel good. Being a Verb Grandparent, it’s suddenly easier to get up, scoot lower, crawl under and carry more–not because our bodies are more fit, but because our hearts are more willing. Being a Verb Grandparent enables us the opportunity to serve with an appreciation for how fleeting the experience will be.

FullSizeRender8We’ve already lived through the life of a toddler and seen how rapidly they grow and change. We are quick to advise new parents to avoid “blinking” lest they miss an important milestone. In one moment our children were asking for help with turning on the bathroom faucet and in the next moment they are asking if they can go camping in Zion with seven of their friends.

Verb Grandparents have less pressure. As a parent there was a looming fear of failure, but this time around we don’t carry the same burden. Most of us have little fear about making the smallest member of our tribe feel important and special. We can see they are brilliant, and because this isn’t our first trip to Disneyland, we know that as long as they feel loved–everything else will eventually fall into place.



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Why I am Thankful for my Failure

11168856_10153348741096970_5894260610798824795_nToday is the final day of a fundraising campaign that didn’t reach its goal, and we are thrilled about it failing.

There are a couple of reasons the failure  brings us pleasure. First, it is a reminder that God has called us to walk by faith in all things. The phrase, “One Step at a Time” or “Walk by Faith” are quickly tossed to people who are facing difficulties. If a friend tells you their child has been diagnosed with a rare disease, if a coworker shares the shame of an upcoming bankruptcy, or if a close friend admits to an addiction it is natural to offer hope by reminding them to walk in faith. We know that while our loved ones can’t see their way out of the darkness–walking through it one step at a time is all that is required.

Through this experience, we have been reminded that the same is true for good things. If an adventurous soul wants to accomplish their dreams, they still have to walk by faith and shower themselves with the same grace they would offer to someone who feels like their life is in chaos. Faith walking is not reserved to the chaotic life, it’s an everyday calling–for ordinary souls to achieve their daring dreams.

The second reason we are thankful we didn’t reach our targeted goal is because the goal got better.

When we realized we weren’t going to raise enough money to hire an experienced fictional editor AND pay for self publishing, we had to make a choice. It was going to have to be one or the other. Trust me, it wasn’t an easy decision. If we used the money we raised to hire an editor, we may end up with a polished manuscript–but how would we get it to those who had made pledges? And if we decided to forgo the editor and publish the manuscript in its raw state, would we be missing a step that could make the work more appealing and convey its message more clearly?

After praying and rehashing the situation, we decided that there was much more to be gained {and risked} by using the funds to hire a seasoned editor, even if it meant we wouldn’t have the necessary funds to self-publish. We decided that while self-publishing may be where we eventually land, we didn’t have to go to that place without first getting the manuscript into the best shape possible, then pursuing an agent and publishing house.

I don’t read my writing the way other people read it, so I cannot imagine an agent or a publisher seeing its value, but because we didn’t raise the money to do both, I am taking a step of faith that I would have never taken.

It’s much easier to walk down a well lit path. Heck, I even turn on a light to make the short journey down the hallway in my house. It’s normal and we will always strive to see more and know more–it’s in our nature. But, oftentimes when it comes to the dearest things in our life, the braver choice, the choice that brings the most growth and the greatest joy involves walking down a dimly lit path.

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