awkward fine dining and the question worth asking

I am an awkward fine diner. I never know which fork is for the salad, I always drink from my neighbor’s water glass, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used my butter knife to try cutting my steak at least once. I’m an awkward fine diner because I never feel sophisticated enough to be in those restaurants, with my knock-off purse and my substandard dress among the chic and refined.

But if you put me in a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of a run-down neighborhood, I sure feel fabulous. Rich. Respectable. Uncomfortably so.

This unspoken hierarchy in the context of public establishments and business transactions is a curious one. We may not even be fully aware that it exists and that it affects our expectations, behavior and reactions. But it does. In a restaurant, we look at the décor, the prices, the reputation. We form quick judgments about the appearance and perhaps the accent of the person who is serving us. We behave and interact accordingly, to at least some subtle – or not so subtle – degree.

I saw a Facebook posting recently by someone who experienced what was unarguably very poor customer service, in any context. The cashier had cursed and thrown paper at this acquaintance of mine. In response to this person’s Facebook post describing the incident, however, another person commented, “They work those jobs for a reason.” What reason is that? And what gives any outsider the right to automatically assume with such confidence that only a certain type of person with only a certain level of competency, morality, and worth, would end up working a customer service job in a casual, run-of-the-mill restaurant?

I worked at a coffee shop while I was in nursing school for my Masters in Nursing at a well-regarded university. As I poured coffee and fetched napkins and mopped floors, I could feel that unspoken stigma towards me and towards my coworkers, many of whom were quite brilliant. I have to confess that I felt a strong need to explain that I was only working that job in passing, on my way to my Masters. See, I have bought into that mindset as well. I’m guilty too. But I hope I’ve changed and am still changing for the better since my time in that coffee shop. Because I’ve seen that for many people who work “those jobs,” their reason for being there is because they are incredibly hard-working, sacrificial, and humble. Some have travelled unimaginable roads that I am not strong enough to endure, in order to secure “those jobs.” They are their family’s heroes, their community’s heroes. And they serve some people who come in with their fancy cars and poor coffee shop behavior, day after day after day. Those friends of mine are my very misunderstood heroes. Not all people in “those jobs” are worth-less. And not all people in the CEO chair behave any better by virtue of their job title, nor are they worth more.

Why we have allowed this curious aspect of shame to pervade even our dining experiences and day-to-day business transactions is a question worth asking. I am an awkward fine diner trying not to feel ashamed about my lack of class. I am a blessed middle class working woman trying to remember not to shame others who very often work much, much harder than me, receive much less in return, but deserve so much more.

How about you? Have you ever witnessed or been a part of a dining experience or business transaction that became very awkward because of this aspect of shame? 

How introversion suits my pastor’s wife. And oh, that’s me.

Back in my college years, I remember dreaming about becoming a pastor’s wife. Oh silly, naive me. I certainly found a shepherd’s heart to be wonderfully attractive. I thought it would be neat to be an encourager, the main encourager, to a person in that role. I thought it would be neat for my own self to have more doors open for me to care for others.Then, I married a pastor, and I cried.  I can’t do this. I can’t. do. this.

Please don’t get me wrong. Our church community is as genuinely supportive as it gets in their care towards us and their respect of our boundaries around our personal lives. They are actually quite amazing in how supportive they are. But even still, the roles of pastor and pastor’s wife are just inherently hard. Boundaries between the professional and the personal and incredibly blurry. Our personal life, in so many ways, is completely intertwined with my husband’s professional life. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re having a bad day. When my Sunday mornings come on the heels of a busy stretch of shifts at work in the hospital, I can tell that my ability to engage in meaningful conversation at church is not so stellar, and it’s in those moments that I hope people can understand that this introvert can’t always keep up so well with the roles of nurse and pastor’s wife without a bit of social faltering here and there. I hope they can remember that I’m primarily Stephen’s wife, not ‘the pastor’s wife’. Well, beyond that, I hope they can remember that I’m just me.

After reading Adam McHugh‘s lifechanging book, Introverts in the Church, followed by Susan Cain‘s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I have become significantly more comfortable with my personality type and have learned how to recognize, treasure, and make the most out of the strengths that introversion has to offer. I’ve learned how to pull myself out of overstimulating crowds and engage in smaller, quieter conversations with just one or two people. I’ve learned how to communicate my needs for periods of solitude to my husband so that he can plan his meetings and dinners at our home accordingly. I’ve learned that I do not need to feel guilty when I keep my open days open, and use much of that free time to read, write, and take long walks to pray. I’ve learned that this is what makes me a better listener and a better talker in the long run. And I have to admit, I still relish the shock on peoples’ faces when they find that I have a very sarcastic, pranksterish side that I love to keep quietly hidden until just the right time.

But really, as I have gained a much better understanding of who I am and what my introverted rhythms are in terms of a social versus private balance, I honestly feel that this has helped my husband and I guard our own time together in a much healthier way. While he is an introvert as well, he has much more social stamina and he does not have as strong of a need for structure in his days. My counselor suggested that I help build in structure, not only for my own alone time, but for the two of us, in order to help ensure that we both have sufficient space to breathe, rest, and receive.

Some may say that pastors and pastors’ wives would do better if they were all extroverts. I would say that I love being an introvert married to an introverted pastor, and I would say that our personality type is a good, good thing for us.

the worth of a less impressive answer

I have decided that gardening is a hobby that may cause the obsessive-compulsive part of me to run into a bit of trouble. I didn’t want to hire a gardener just to trim the shrubs and the bougainvillea gone wild in the front of our home. So I grabbed the shears, rolled up my sleeves, and went at it. Suddenly, every stray branch and every slightly awkward stem became ridiculously obvious. I could not stop, despite the sun beating down on me and the milk from newly cut stems covering me with stickiness. I am surprised there is anything beyond a stump left standing after all the trimming I did.

My parents came for a visit not too long after I finished. I apologized that I was worn out from doing a whole lot of yardwork. My mom wanted to see what I had done, but I had nothing special to show for all my hard work. She hadn’t seen how scraggly the shrubs were before I had attacked them. And so to her, things were “just as they ought to be,” nothing more. Just a bunch of trimmed shrubs.

Maintenance is that way. People ask what I do on my days off from work, and I feel so busy but I struggle to find an answer. Or perhaps a more honest statement is that I struggle to find an answer that sounds impressive. So much of my time is spent simply maintaining. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing. Just maintaining.

But I think there is something about maintenance that reflects, or at least helps to cultivate, the virtue of faithfulness. Sticking to something not because you always love to do it, but because it’s important to be done. Cleaning house because it is a space that has, in a sense, been entrusted to me. For my friends who are new parents, changing diapers over and over again because that humble, humbling maintenance is sometimes all that separates a good parent from a dangerously neglectful parent. The baby who is well-cared for will still cry, but underneath, that baby’s butt is as clean and healthy as can be. It’s not anything special to show for all that hard work. But it matters. It’s important. We simply do not realize how valuable maintenance is until it is no more.

Let us then not despite the drudgery and humbleness of everyday maintenance. And perhaps more significantly, let us not despise ourselves when that is all we have given ourselves to for a day. It matters.