It was just going to be a routine oil change. But it always starts out with something small, doesn’t it?

I made a list about a year ago of 25 things I wanted to do before I turned 25 . One of them was using chopsticks well, which I’m on my way to having down. I may or may not have started writing a book, but we won’t know that for a while. I’ve been reading  two books at a time and making sure it’s the last thing I see at night, not my phone or computer. Since I’m doing so well at these, I should have added “Learn to sing like Adele” and “Cure all disease.”

Instead I put things like this:

13. Learn how to either a) change a flat tire, b) change my oil, or c) be able to label all the parts of an engine and know their function in relation to the others. Maybe all three.

So I haven’t learned any of that. I learned how to check my oil in Driver’s Ed, though, so when my little oil lamp sign started turning on in my car when I slowed down (only when I slowed down though), I figured it was worth checking.

Ah, no oil registering on the dipstick. For you who are less car literate than me (never fear, dear one, that doesn’t mean much) that means that there wasn’t much oil in my car and that my engine could be very crabby. It probably means more, too, but like I said, not super car literate.

So I drove my dad’s car to Minnetonka and back and scheduled an oil change for before work the next day.

“Don’t let them talk you into anything else,” my mom told me when I left the house.

“Oh, I know. I’ll stand my ground,” I told her, assured that I would only spend $19.99 and only get an oil change.

I walked into the place with my hubris and my high-heeled ankle boots, all certain that I’d be driving my car out of there in an hour with just one service performed. The man who worked up front was so kind and got everything all set for me. So I sat down with my book to wait for it to be done.

He came back to me after about fifteen minutes. “When was the last time you had an oil change?”

“It’s been over six months, I know.”

“I’m asking because there was almost no oil in there, and it was dripping.”

There was a leak.

“I’ll get an estimate for you.”

NO! I was going to be stalwart and not get wheedled into anything else. But you don’t get to plan leaks. And as long as you know the people you’re working with are honest, it’s best to fix leaks.

So I talked to my dad, and he said to get the leak fixed. Just calling was admitting defeat. Um, nope, I can’t evaluate this one on my own. I guess I’ve got a little ways to go before I can just waltz into a car repair place and know what’s going on. I may never get there.

At least I could pay for that. That wouldn’t be too bad. Of course, the man came back with a longer list and a bigger total, but he told me some things could wait.

He said if I took care of the whole list I’d get 50,000 more miles out of my car. That got my attention. But the total for everything wasn’t going to fly, so I said, “Fix the leak, and we’ll do the rest later.”

I didn’t mention that maybe someone a little less expensive might do the rest.

So me and my high-heeled boots left my car and my keys (and the sandwich that I accidentally left in my car, which was now high above the garage floor) and walked a couple blocks over to work. And it wasn’t that bad.

So this is about a) rolling with the punches, b) not being able to control … anything, and c) taking advice when you need it. Take your pick.

Valentine’s Grocery Bagging

I went grocery shopping after church today, realizing once again how talented I am at spending money on food. I’d gotten everything I needed (except aluminum foil, which I would remember on my way home), and I approached aisle five to pay and get out of that money-sucking, wonderful place.

This grocery store chain has a bag-it-yourself philosophy when it comes to grocery bagging, so when you see a couple gangly teens at the end of your conveyor belt it’s because they’re raising money. Today they wore purple t-shirts that said they were from a local church youth mission team. They were bagging painfully slowly, and I thought I might just turn them down and get out of there faster.

I was so often that gangly teenager, most often in a t-shirt advertising my volleyball club. The more fundraisers I participated in, the less my off-season volleyball would cost, so my parents signed me up for all the grocery bagging I could do. We’d have 5 or 6 hours shifts of bagging on the Friday and Saturday before any major holiday. You name the holiday, and I’ve probably bagged the groceries for it.

I have to admit, I got pretty good at it. It’s hard not to with that much practice. My hands and lips would get chapped, and the paper bags would give me little paper cuts on my arms. I’d get sore feet from standing and a sore back from bending over, but by the end of my tenure as a fundraising grocery bagger, I could bag quickly and with the best of the amateurs.

There’d be little old ladies who would size us up, knowing what this request from a person such as ourselves usually meant and say, “Okay, but just a few items per bag. I need to be able to lift them.” So we’d cram a few items in each bag and send her off with thirty little bags in her cart. There would be the people who enthusiastically accepted help with their hundreds of dollars of shrimp cocktail and tip $20. There would be the tired mothers who looked so grateful to accept but had to say they didn’t have any cash. But we did it anyway. Then there’d be the people that frustrated me, who said, “That’s okay. I’ll do it myself.”

What do you think I’m here for? 

So we’d stand at the end of the row, trying not to look idle or bored until the next person came through and would ask, “Can we bag your groceries for you?” None of this, “Would you like help…?” nonsense. “Please, give me something to do other than watch your food roll down the conveyor belt.”

Knowing my own grocery bagging prowess and seeing these boys struggle, I wanted to bag them myself. Plus, I only had two dollars in my wallet. That probably isn’t a decent tip anymore.

I could do it so much better and so much faster. 

But I remember being that kid. It wasn’t that long ago. 

But they really are so slow. And they’ll probably crush my bread and make the bags super heavy.

But that’s not a good reason. You’re just writing them off because you have assumptions about them, and you hate it when people do that to you. Maybe they’ll do a good job. And even if they don’t, you can just be nice.

So when the kid in the purple shirt asked me if I wanted help, I said that would be great. That might have been an exaggeration of my feelings on the situation. And when they asked, “Paper or plastic?” I said, “Both.” It was strange to be in the position of the adult accepting the help of the high schoolers, being called “ma’am”, and being the one to ask, “Where are you going on your mission trip?”

They didn’t know. Apparently the adults just pack them up in the car, and they don’t know where they’re going until they get there.

They’re stepping out in faith — or maybe their parents are making them. But you gotta give them some credit for spending their Valentine’s Day afternoon bagging groceries for a mystery service trip.

I didn’t watch as they bagged, but they were done by the time I’d paid, gotten my receipt, and met them at the end of the row. I gave them my measly two dollars, giving them the same spiel about how I wished I had more cash on me.

They told me to have a good day.

And I was glad for an opportunity to support the youth of the world, as other people supported me. Isn’t it nice to be able to treat people the way you were sometimes treated and the way you wish you were treated other times?

Not a bad way to practice what I preach.

When I loaded my groceries into my car, I realized that most of my groceries were fit into three, very heavy bags. And then there were the bananas in a separate bag, all alone.

So, they’ve got a bit to learn about grocery bagging, but at least they didn’t crush my bread.

Grace with effects

I’ll just say it straight. I forgot to take a shift at work yesterday.

It doesn’t sound that bad when I say I forgot, but let me put it this way. I swapped shifts with someone (so important for me, and so kind of this co-worker to swap) and told my manager I’d just come in early and pull a double with the shift I was already scheduled for. 11:00 was the appointed time for the shift covering.

As I was driving to work at 1:50 for my 2:00 shift, I realized with horror that I should have been doing that four hours beforehand.

I walked into work with my horror.

“What’s wrong?” My friend, Tracy, the shift lead asked, obviously with some idea of what was wrong.

“I was supposed to be here at 11:00,” I said, my eyes still like the deer-in-the-headlights.

“Yep,” she said.

In my head, I was saying, “You aren’t very responsible. You are letting people down. You’ve got to get yourself together. What do you have going on that you can forget stuff like this? There’s no big crisis here. You should remember things.”

And Tracy just said, “Well, we’ll make up for lost time. I had Chrissy here, so we’ve been working on shipment. I thought about texting you, but I wasn’t sure if we’d cut the shift.”

It took me a good half hour to adjust my self-talk.

“You’ve never done this before. Well, other than that time Lisa wanted you to babysit so she could go see Jane Eyre at the Guthrie and you forgot but didn’t make other plans, so it worked out. You really are dependable. You just made a mistake. You’ll be more vigilant about scheduling from now on. You can just work extra hard to make the shift productive. You’ll have to own up to it though.”

I put off texting my manager for a couple hours, mostly because I was trying to stay on task and partly because I hate having to apologize for something for which I have no excuses.

I was just at home, planning and editing and doing laundry. There were no medical emergencies or illnesses. Just a memory lapse.

Everyone was so gracious about it. Tracy gave me a long list of things to get done, but she didn’t guilt me or make me feel like I’d failed miserably. She even tried to take partial responsibility.

When I finally texted my boss, saying how it would never happen again and I was so sorry but working hard to make up for lost time, she just responded, “That’s ok! Have a great night, thank you!”

She called a little later to make sure I knew that the closing associate was switching with someone else and to see that someone else had come in to sign her timecards.

“I’m so sorry about that. I don’t know how I forgot to come in.”

“That’s okay! It actually worked out better.”

Really, it would be great if I just came in when I was supposed to.

It was one of those days where I felt God using the people in my life to remind me what grace is. Grace doesn’t say that I haven’t done anything wrong, and I still know I have. Grace says that we can get past it. Grace tells me my mistake doesn’t define me, and it tells me to get back on the horse–or back behind the cashwrap.

God isn’t afraid to show me grace. He’s not afraid that I won’t know that what I did wasn’t good. And I’m not talking about skipping shifts here. I’m talking about thoughtless words, ignoring people who could use encouragement, choosing fear over trust, being lazy, being stingy.

God gives grace so that I can try again, not kicking me for failing but reminding me that I am capable of being obedient and faithful. And his grace to me isn’t without effect. At least, some days.

It’s much harder to receive grace than we think. Not just because we don’t deserve it.  On our “good” days, we find it hard to receive grace because we know we did wrong. On our less good days, it’s hard to receive grace because it pushes us back into action and asks us to humble ourselves and try again.

It’s much easier to back off from what we’ve failed to do or done poorly than to go back to it wholeheartedly.

So I’m planning to make it to all the rest of my shifts this week on time.

And to embrace the moments where I’ve acted less than faithfully as an opportunity to try again.

Smooth and bumpy

On this day sixteen years ago, I lost my first tooth. I believe this was the one that actually got lost, as in jetted out of my mouth in the kindergarten play kitchen and was never seen again.

By “never seen again,” I mean, of course, that I never saw it again, but odds are, someone else did and had a horrid realization that what they had found was, indeed, a human baby tooth.

I’ve come a long way since that day.

Today, I drove my car through multiple inches of snow and fishtailed beautifully (and got myself out of the perpendicular-to-traffic position quite nicely without freaking out). I closed the store by myself for the first time (though “by myself” includes relying heavily on the sales associate who was with me and making two phone calls to another sales lead).

And I did it with all my adult teeth in my mouth.

I had two small, panicky breakdowns this week about the job search. Not car breakdowns. Ashley breakdowns. Just two. A little anxiety over networking and feeling like anything I do will be fruitless and a little uncertainty about where I’ll be working in a couple months. Everything feels bumpy right now. There are few answers and lots of questions, which feels a lot like driving an old car down the highway at 70 miles per hour and hearing the wind blow.

I’ve been driving on the highway a lot lately, going in and out of Minneapolis, back and forth from Eden Prairie (where my sister lives). My car is your typical I-just-graduated-and-got-my-dad’s-old-car vehicle. It’s a lightweight, so on the highway it kind of veers when the wind blows. Also, it’s old and when you drive super fast it sounds like all the colors of the wind are in the car with you.

My friend at church asked about my job search this past Sunday. He’s on the other end of this. He’ll retire in a few years. And I told him I hadn’t heard anything back from my applications and had a couple small panics about it. He gave a knowing nod, just like yep, that’s how it is. I told him I sometimes wonder if my resume is any good. “I mean, I thought it was. I know it’s just second-guessing everything because they haven’t gotten back to me.”

He said, “Yep.”

That’s about all I needed to feel understood. the self-doubt, the insecurity, the impatience is normal. He remembers that. It’s a phase, a bumpy phase before having something more secure. He was there at one point.

My dad’s car, which I drove on Sunday, is more solid than mine. It’s about eight years newer, same make and model. Something happened in those eight years to make the rider smoother. You can’t hear the cyclones outside when you drive in his car. The wind doesn’t have as much effect on the car. It has a few amenities that mine doesn’t have (a CD player, auxiliary port, automatic transmission, and radio controls on the steering wheel). Nothing luxury, but it sure does feel different.

As I drove his car, I thought about how much more in control I felt. Driving was easier. It was simpler. But if you asked me if I wanted to trade cars with him, I wouldn’t. I’m doing my time with an old car, caring for it in its old age, wearing it down until it won’t run any more. I’m learning to operate in less optimal conditions, knowing that when I’m forced to buy a car when mine dies, it’ll be an easier ride, something a little nicer.

Just the same, I wouldn’t trade the job search for being in a secure job right now.

Well, maybe I would.

But I know that this process of waiting and wondering and connecting and reaching out and networking and searching is molding me and teaching me. The time spent here is valuable. Where I could have had a job right away, there’s something about going through the bumps of the process that I know is worth it. I’m here because I’m learning, and learning is often a bumpy process.

It’s worth it to be here.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to get through the next week before I have the same breakdown.