For the Days I Can’t Lift My Head

Sometimes when I run, I feel as though I could run for hours. It’s like I might run and run and never stop. Now, I’m not a die-hard runner. I couldn’t finish a marathon, probably not even a half-marathon. But it’s not because my legs wouldn’t take me the 26.2 miles to the finish line that I won’t be attempting a marathon (because in reality, my legs turn to jello after about 3 miles). No, it’s not my legs. No, I couldn’t run a marathon because I look at my feet too much.

I’m not sure if this is a problem for other runners, but when I run, I find myself staring at my feet. I look down at my feet for what should be only a moment and yet I am suddenly more tired, my body is leaning forward and aching quicker, and I’m watching my feet become heavier and heavier.

It would be nice to just stop staring down, but it’s harder than you’d think to force my eyes upward. And then if I don’t look at my feet, I’m thinking about not looking, so I have to look and then I catch my neck straining and… it’s just bad. On those days, I can barely get through one mile. My efforts and intentions to go farther are lost.

I’d like to tell you this doesn’t happen all the time, but to be honest, it’s more often than I’d like to say.

Some days seem to catch me off guard. The morning sweeps me up with a bad mood, full of comparison to others and a desire to never leave my bed. I don’t want to face the world those mornings. Onto work again anyway, feeling inadequate or undeserving.

Sometimes it’s these unmotivated, sour days that I catch myself looking down at my feet.

It’s like the days where I watched my feet hit the pavement of three part time jobs, becoming heavier each day. I stared down at myself as a college-educated barista, listening to comments like the sarcastic “That’s a good use of your degree,” and “Don’t you want a real job?” Another mile passes; I’m tired. Watching your feet is difficult. Feeling the weight of other people’s standards beats my ego down in a hurry.

I’d like to say this doesn’t happen all the time, but let’s be honest, it’s more than I’d like to say.

It’s as if I could just look up and move my eyes a few feet north, I could move more easily, I would be able to enjoy the run, I could be prouder of myself. Instead, I shamefully stare at my feet, letting people happily pass me by on the way to the next mile.

Is it just me? Am I the only one who allows the words of onlookers, and even my own standards, to bring me down? Feelings of needing to be more financially stable, thinner, more successful, married, or a better this or a better that, these are the feelings that make us want to look at our feet. These are the feelings that make the miles harder to run. Our bodies ache of disappointment. Our hearts are heavy. Why couldn’t I pull my head up and be okay telling others the place I was in, where I was living or how many jobs I needed?

Though some days I let myself get the best of me, I know I am not walking through these seasons alone. I know there’s still the opportunity to look up confidently.

Lately, when I grow tired, when my life looks vastly different than I had hoped, when I see others far more put together, I try to respond in a better way. I created a list, rather than a plan for my future, something that will help me lift my eyes upward, away from the shame and disappointment, away from judging comments and let down dreams.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
“Trust in Him at all times, O People; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5)
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)

These days, I run lighter, more freely than before. I can lift my head and be proud of where I am, wherever that may be.

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The Closing Shift Lens

I almost always work the closing shift at the coffee shop.

It’s usually quieter at night. I can watch the sunset through big bay windows, read in my down time if I’m lucky and chat away the night with co-workers and quirky regulars. It’s not half bad actually.

The closing shift does have some negatives though. Not only are there far less customers than the morning but also less positive attitudes. Customers haven’t woken up eagerly looking forward to their morning cup of joe. No, I’m serving some people that have had crappy days, people that need an afternoon pickup, people who just want the day to be over.

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And sometimes, by the end of the night, I think their exhaustion has rubbed off on me. I’m so ready to wipe the counters, the espresso machine, dump the remaining coffee and prep for a whole new day.

Serve customers. Clean up the mess. Start all over.

It’s a cycle. But it’s missing something.

My closing shift cycle is missing the part where I get to see everything through new lenses. It’s missing the part where I walk behind the counter to sparkling counter tops, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and start my day clean.

What I’ve been seeing instead, is the dirt and grime at the end of the day. When all I see is splattered opportunities and spilled mistakes, it’s difficult for me to remember what it looks like at the beginning of the day.

What am I learning though? That every day can start new. Yesterday could have been messy and less than ideal; Today is clean and prepped for a whole pile of possibilities. No matter how many lattes I dropped the day before, the floors can always be wiped spotless the next time around (although I may have to pay for a few of those mishaps).

The last blog I wrote was about me choosing the future with a positive outlook. I think lately, my life has been day after day of lessons – lessons of choosing, having options, and just deciding to turn things around. I don’t believe it’s a mistake that I work closing shifts or don’t always get to see the neat and tidy part of the coffee shop. My life hasn’t been neat or tidy, but I’m learning that even the uncertain and unorganized seasons can be changed.

Thanks for reading about my lessons. I hope by following me, you too can know the choices you have and the hope you can hold onto to turn your season around.

// xx

Growing Expectations, or Killing Them.

I used to think growing up meant a lot of things.

Independence. Glamor. Older. Wiser. Full of Direction.

Growing up means you know how to make a pot of coffee (and drink it).

Growing up means you can eat pizza and donuts all you want and have no curfew.

Growing up means you know what you like and don’t like – for the most part. (I still can’t decide how I feel about water chestnuts).

Growing up means you have it all together.

Growing up means a lot of things, right?

I used to think a lot like Jenna Rink in 13 Going on 30. Once you make it passed the awkward teen years and the mean schoolgirls, you hit 30 with style, or as Jenna says, “30, flirty and thriving.” And only after the magical fairy dust settles, transforming Jenna into the so-called fabulous 30 year old, does she realize it might not be all she’s dreamed it could be.

I’m not 30. (whew, thank heavens I am NOT 30 yet.) Nope, not 30. I’m a few weeks shy of 23 and being a grown up hasn’t quite matched up to what I had dreamed.

I never sat around picturing my 20s, or held tightly onto a fashion magazine hoping I would magically become like the pictures, as Jenna did. But I did have expectations.

I had ideas of what my 20s would look like, of what me as a “grown up” would look like. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t figured more of life out. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned it’s not really about figuring it all out. It’s not about supposedly knowing what an adult looks like. It’s not even about living up to who I thought I would be when I was a young and naive preteen.

To me, growing older has been more about me letting go of what I thought this season of my life would look like. I don’t want magical fairy dust or Jenna’s wishful dreams of adulthood. I think I’d like to proudly become older knowing I’m choosing to do it my way rather than the way others are telling me.

I’ve had many suggestions on how to change my perspective to make more money or get a husband or find a real job. I’ve had plenty of those ideas, but I’ve only had maybe one or two comforting and unknowingly very welcoming “It’s okay’s.”

I’m here to tell those who are like me and in the in-between, those who are unsure and undecided, those who have only felt discouragement lately:

It’s okay.

It’s okay to be where you are. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to leave behind your expectations of what growing up looks like. It’s okay to be figuring it out.

It’s all okay.

Windblown Changes

There’s a window at the coffee shop I work at. Behind the barista’s counter, behind the dishwasher, there’s one, big window facing Lake Michigan. In the summer, the baristas gather near the window during lulls, hoping for a cool breeze, some relief to the beating heat. The window was wide open then, with a barely-there screen separating the outdoors to those stuck inside the working walls of espresso machines and surly customers. During the summer, the window stays open all the time. It has to be jimmied shut (I mean, I’ve heard a hammer and a crow bar are sometimes necessary) so we aren’t allowed to close it. No questions asked, the window stays open until it gets cold. Sort of like turning on your heat, you wait until you just can’t wait anymore, probably when there’s already a foot of snow, a frost advisory, and you’ve had to shovel once so far. That’s how our window is, once we close the window, it stays shut for the winter.

Last week, I came into work and it was some time before I noticed something was different. The other baristas swore everything was the same, but I had this feeling, something was out of place. And then I saw it… the window. The window was closed.

I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but my heart twinged a little. I was hurt. The window was closed and no one told me? How did this happen so soon, it’s only November!

Later, I found out the owner had walked behind the counter one night when the weather dropped below 40 and made the executive decision to shut the window. Obviously, she didn’t need my new-employee approval to close the window, but she could have asked, right?

I don’t mind change. I actually kinda like it. The newness, the fresh looks, the brand new challenges that change bring, they keep me on my feet. But I only tend to like change when I know it’s coming, when I have time to talk myself into it, consult my faithful lists, and prepare accordingly. When I know it’s coming, I like change.

Somehow though, every year, more specifically every three or so months, I’m surprised by seasonal changes. They hit me like a slap in the face. *Ouch* How come no one told me it was already time for the leaves to start falling? Or, I didn’t get a personal invitation to spring? Or, I just wasn’t ready for the window to be closed. The kind of change that hurts.

Graduating college felt something like that. Sure, it was inevitable for me, like the seasons, but I just wasn’t ready yet. I wasn’t ready to actually see the window be closed, even though each of the baristas had told me at one time or another that we don’t touch the window and when the boss finally does, the window is closed for good. I wasn’t ready to actually graduate and find my successful, career footings, even though professors and meetings and final exams were all building up to the culminating graduation. I just wasn’t ready yet.

Yes, I had time to prepare. Plenty of time in those four years, actually. It happens to other people all the time! They graduate, they find jobs, they move on. So how is it different with me? I had my trusty lists, I talked myself into it, but then what? Then I got rejection email after rejection email. One after another, employers were passing on what I had to offer. My encouraging motivation and excitement for finding a steady, full-time job was thrown into the wind with each “Thank you for your interest, but…” line I read. I just wasn’t ready for that yet.  No one told me what to do if I can’t find a job. No one prepared me for how to get back up on your feet after hearing so many reasons why I’m incompetent or unqualified. No one told me what to do or how to handle this seasonal change.

I shouldn’t be expecting a personal invite to winter, like I shouldn’t be expecting a handwritten instructional guide to “the post-college, job-searching, in-between-life” months (or years). It just happens. And when it does happen, we figure it out.

Sometimes seasons change, whether we are ready or not, and sometimes we work at coffee shops with windows that shut. We put on a coat, we apply for another dozen positions, and we keep going.

___

P.S. I probably should mention, as you may have noticed already, I changed my blog’s name (yes, again). The title now reads, “Steeped in Sunshine.” The phrase comes from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:

“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.”

More than Dickens poetic description – and my love for a well-steeped tea – I know all too much how the sun and the seasons can affect moods and emotions. I think rain or shine, snow or sleet, our lives have the opportunity to feel steeped in all the sunshine life has to offer us. We can live each day as if it’s the sunniest, most perfect day there ever was, and that’s how I want to live: Steeped in Sunshine.

Thanks for reading today, on this ironically dreary day.

-Al

Barista Virgin No More

I recently started working at this quaint, Californian coffee shop. There’s a bike on the wall, more gluten free items than any other food, and wooden everything else. It’s perfect and I love it. Just one thing: I’ve never been a Barista. This may have slipped my mind when I asked the owner if they were hiring and she said, “Yes we are, can you be here at 1?”348s

I didn’t think it was that important. The owner seemed to think I was fit to enable coffee addicts that believe Starbucks is too mainstream. (Amen!) I faked it until I made it, or until my boss asked me for a Cafe Breve and I didn’t know how to begin.

But after three days of training, memorizing Pinterest charts of different coffee ingredients, and deciding whether to greet customers with “Morning!” or “Welcome,” I’m in. This Barista virgin is one no longer.

Need a cappuccino? I’m your gal.

Need an americano? Call me up.

Need a frappuccino or an upside-down half-something macchiato? Get out.

But for the rest, this girl knows her way around the espresso machine.

Goodbyes and Growing Up

Lately, each day I have set aside time in the peaceful, quiet mornings to reflect on my college years.

It’s not much, but it’s helpful looking back on how I have matured through the processes these four years took me through. And while I wouldn’t be considered “good” at goodbyes, I’m saying goodbye in my own ways. I don’t like the sad goodbyes. I like the ones with smiles, knowing we won’t easily be forgotten or the smiles affirming how blessed our time together has been.

The process of growing up is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose.” – C.S. Lewis

Similar to goodbyes, growing up can be looked at as losing the things – or people – we desperately want to hold on to. Instead, goodbyes and growing up should be valued and revered for the how time has brought us to where we are now.

I could never have imagined the relationships I have formed with friends, roommates, classmates or professors. And if I would have planned my life out in advance, I would have missed a lot from the unexpected.

I can’t follow my own plans, I have learned.

This college was never on a Top 10 list, or even a Maybe list. It was on the unwritten, Do Not Go list along with several other schools that had too many hills or not enough nature paths. But what do I know? Turns out, this was the perfect school for me. If I would have followed my own plan I would have passed up on a lot of good things.

I wanted to drop out of college my sophomore year. Thankfully, I was persuaded to stay. And I will soon be a college graduate, with classes and lessons I would not have experience had I given up years ago.

My plans may be subpar, considering I would have missed a whole heck of a lot between just two decisions. But I can now look back at the university and all the formed relationships with a smiling goodbye, knowing we won’t be easily forgotten and have been blessed to be together.

So with goodbyes and growing up, I know definitively I have gained much more than I will ever be able to lose.

I Earned My Adult Status

Recently, I realized I had arrived at adulthood

No, it wasn’t when I paid my first rent check or when I finally made my first pot of coffee. It wasn’t even when I planted my first garden.

I arrived at adulthood when I discovered I made my bed each morning.

It must have been a process, but I don’t exactly remember when it started or how it changed. But during my childhood, there was an ongoing fight that usually went like this: 

Mom: Al, turn the TV off and make your bed.

Daughter: Uh huh, sure mom. 

Dad: Make your bed before you leave for school. 

Daughter: uh huh, sure.

Mom & Dad: MAKE YOUR BED!

…And so it went. My childhood was passing and my bed was rarely made. Yet, somewhere along the journey of life, this changed. Now, in my own house, I wake up earlier than five minutes before class begins. I enjoy these mornings. I wake up, start the coffee, and make my bed. Every day. That’s the way it goes.

Maybe this is insignificant to those of you who appreciate a spotless house. Personally, I can handle a floor covered in clothes, dishes filling the sink, and blankets strewn throughout the house. Until I want to be productive, that is. If I want to write a paper in my room, the entire house has to be clean. So don’t mind me while I thoroughly clean the house just to do homework.

Regardless, my bed is always made. Somehow I tolerate the rest of the mess, but not my bed. At first I thought my bed had to be made to not tempt me to crawl back into it. Then, I realized this is what it looks like to be an adult. As a preteen, my bed was never made. As a teenager, my bed was never made. As a freshman in college, my bed was never made. As a senior is college, my bed is made.

It’s as if my bed screams “Now you’re an adult,” every morning.

And I’m not sure if I like it.