Fill ‘Er Up

Back when drivers stayed in their cars and relied on gas station attendants to fill up gas tanks and wash windshields, my little four-year-old self sat in the back of my parent’s white Mercury Monarch with faux burgundy leather interior watching the experience unfold.

I loved the pleasantries exchanged between my dad and the attendant through the rolled-down window that Dad would have hand-cranked when he pulled up under the overhang of our local Amoco gas station. Dad always liked to learn each attendant’s name so he could answer appropriately when they asked, “How you doin’, Mr. Brant?” “I’m doing fine, Mr. Reggie. How’re you?” The simple exchange about weather and car parts and the daily grind leveled both men to a commonality that boosted rapport and built loyalty that brought them both back to that same gas pump some days later, like clockwork.

Once services were rendered and a gas card produced, the attendant would go into his station and come back out with a small, plastic clipboard, the gas card propped such that it stood up tall and out in front was a receipt waiting for my dad’s signature. The attendant would hand the clip board to my dad through the open window who would, in his typical flourish, sign the receipt and hand the clipboard back to the attendant.

Then, because magic sometimes happens in the most unassuming places, the attendant would peel back the layers of the recipe until he found the customer copy, tear it from its side binding and hand it to Dad. Well wishes and gratitude were exchanged, Dad would hand-roll his window up, and we’d be off to wherever it was we were headed.

But, my mind was still back on that receipt. Had anyone else seen that? What kind of hocus-pocus had I witnessed? Dad signed the top page, but the bottom page had his signature on it, too. How in the world? It was more than my young mind could process, having never heard of carbon paper or triplicate receipts.

And I’ll tell you, that magical appearance of a signature on a page that hadn’t actually been signed as happened with the triplicate receipts given at gas stations the nation over was the deciding factor for my decision, at the age of four, to be a gas station attendant when I grew up. I shared this news proudly whenever asked to decide my future career and was only swayed on this idea at seven or eight when I learned that being a teacher meant you got to be in charge and, being the youngest in the family and therefore always being bossed around, being in charged and bossing others around seemed far more magical than some old gas receipt.

Thankfully, and much to my parent’s relief, the teacher-thing stuck, and when I entered the workforce after college it was to be a fourth grade teacher and not a now-nonexistent gas station attendant.

But, what if I had continued on the path to becoming a gas station attendant?

Aside from the obvious salary differences and uniform expectations, I wonder how different I’d be as a gas station attendant than I am an educator.

Here’s what I’m getting at: my personality, strengthens, weaknesses, and talents were shown long before I signed my first job contract in 2002. The person who I am, the employee I was to become, the difference I was to make was stitched into my very being long before anyone noticed these traits in a job review.

We’re all in the same boat in that way.

The Bible tells us that God knit us in our mother’s womb. He created us – knitted us – with strengths and talents and gifts and weaknesses from our very start. (Psalms 139:13) He made us exactly as we are and exactly as we’re supposed to be. Our purpose in life – in every day dealings and in career choices, in the way we parent and the way we handle stress, the paths we lean toward and the routes we avoid – can be seen in little ways and sneak peaks in every person beginning at birth.

This is great to keep in mind as our kids grow up. It might help us through some rough behavior in their younger years.

But, it’s also really helpful for us, you and me. Once we find ourselves in the forest of families and careers and responsibilities and middle-age, it can be really easy to forget who we are and what our purpose is. Sometimes, in the middle of all the stuff, we find we can’t see the way. And, it behooves us to pause and remember what it was that caught our eye and gave us joy back when our peripheral wasn’t so crowded.

I have always been a people-person, and I’ve always been someone who seeks opportunities to help another. It’s no wonder I hung on every word during our weekly gas station visits – those exchanges highlighted skills, task, and talents that I possessed and in which I was gifted. And, the coolest part is that those are skills, tasks, and talents that I still possess and in which I am still gifted.

Lots of things have changed in the forty years between now and then, but who I am at my very core isn’t one of those things. The gifts God knitted within me in my mother’s womb are still tightly stitched into the fabric of my purpose and calling all these years later.

When my niece was in Kindergarten, at a moment when her teacher stepped out of the room and her classmates lost their minds and were running crazy within the classroom, she stood up on her desk and yelled at everyone to quiet down and to get back to their seats. Her teacher stepped back into the room in time to see everyone else in their seats except my niece who was still standing on her desk, daring her classmates to act up on her watch. She got in trouble that day for standing on her desk and yelling at her peers, but those skills and talents and gifts serve her well twelve years later as she works to obtain her degree in Theater Tech. She’s going to make an amazing Director for some huge Broadway show in New York, one of these days, and we all should have seen it coming from as far back as Kindergarten.

And, what about you? What is it that you loved doing as a child that has manifested itself in your daily life? What do you need to get back to? What beautiful thread that was knitted within you inside your mother’s womb needs a chance to shine?

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