Life at the ‘Bux.

My life has become a non-stop string of work, and it is time to start telling stories again, because even though the days can smash together and seem the same, they aren’t. And even though it seems like I do the same thing nearly every day, it never actually is. What happens while I’m being paid a pittance, is important, and worthwhile, and I’m going to chronicle it.

Life is too wild, entertaining, ridiculous, fun, messy, and hard to not discuss.

Let us begin, shall we?

I am a barista.

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Finally, I’m part of the Starbucks partner ranks. It’s with pride that I don my black and green daily. On one hand, maybe not the best use of my $45k college degree, on the other – I love it.

Sometimes, I swear I live there, at that tiny stand alone store. The place where I run miles back and forth in a twenty foot space, wall on one side, counter on the other. I work work work, until my heels hurt and I’m sometimes just done. Eight hours of nonstop can be exhausting. Add customers wanting venti, quad-shot, three pump mocha, two pump toffee nut, nonfat milk steamed to 180 degrees, but with whip cream, mochas… it can be soul-sucking.

To be fair, most customers are not nearly that needy.

Not every customer believes that it is their divine right to have a five plus dollar cup of craft coffee every day. Not every person who walks through that door believes that they deserve perfection, or expects us to be able to read their mind. But alas, some of them do. The ones who are the most trouble are the stories we partners tend to tell to each other, in hushed whispers over drive-through headsets, between orders.

Six months, and I have seen an incredibly broad spectrum of humanity while within those walls. Performers, retirees, teachers, addicts, business owners, students, managers, tourists. Ohmygoodness, tourists. People from Germany, Ukraine, Ireland, Australia, England, Moldova, China, Israel, Egypt… the lists are endless.

What I’m finding is there is a nearly tangible difference in your day when you focus on the negative, versus the positive. There is magic in the moment, and our motto “to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time” actually is inspiring, uplifting, and occurring daily, if I choose to see it.

The stories I would rather share are the ones of hope and kindness and love and patience and gratitude. I want to tell my coworkers, and my people, about the woman who, en route to the airport to visit her daughter in California, tipped us $20. Or the ones who are not just regulars, but friends.

I want to tell you that two days ago, I met Philipp (with two “p”s; he’s German). And I don’t know him – I might never see him again, but he was a breath of cute, well-mannered fresh air, and for five minutes, made work beautiful.

I want to tell you about the married couple who quote Eddie Izzard. The about my parents age, do the crossword together, never seem upset, duo. A few days ago, the husband came and announced he was picking up their drinks before their long haul. Alas, they’re moving back to sunny California. The wife wasn’t in the car to even say goodbye to.

For six months, I have seen them probably three times a week, yet I don’t even know their last name. After that shift, as I pulled into my driveway at home, I saw his jacket. In the driveway across the street. Turns out, they’ve lived three houses away from me since we moved to this neighborhood in November. I had the chance to hug the wife goodbye, and even take a family road trip picture for them.

What are the chances? They live across the street. I would say slim to none, because logically, probability wise, it’s not that high. Yet, every day, something occurs that can only be described by the statement, “This is Branson.” Or, as my best friend decided for me, “Cest la Branson.” The most unusual things happen in this town, and hysterical doesn’t even begin to describe it properly. I’m at wit’s end attempting to figure it out rationally, and have accepted #cestlabranson as enough of an explanation these days.

There are the laughter spells, where everything is funny, and partners are filled with life, sharing stories, telling jokes, poking fun in a lighthearted, loving kind of way. Days like St. Patrick’s, where a local performer, donned in nearly-too-tight white pants, and a black cross-between-a-tank-and-a-vest, brought in his bagpipes.

To the delight of the customers, the partners, and myself in particular, he proceeded to play Amazing Grace. When a woman tipped him $5.00, he handed it to us, smiled, and went on his merry way. My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I giggled through the entire performance. I could have, would have, and wanted to hug that man on the spot.

Truth be told, I love it. It is teaching me about perspective, attitude, choosing joy, gratitude, expectation, and many more things. Stories abound in the everyday, and it is thrilling to see how they unfold before my eyes. I’ll keep looking for them, and sharing them with you.

What is your job teaching you these days?
Where can you find joy in the humdrum of “normal” life?

Evening Turned Extraordinary

Tonight is a Sunday, and despite the fact that the Superbowl is holding the nation’s attention, I am in my room enjoying a quiet evening alone. This weekend was magnificent, but it was also jam-packed, and I need the rest before another week begins. I need a moment, a breath, a span of time of refreshment and solitude to get myself gathered again.

It began with a nap, and then a bit of television. Nothing profound, nothing spectacular – a decently average, forgetful time. A few episodes later, I was already getting tired, and knew I needed a hot shower and some time with the Lord before calling it a night.

My iphone plugged in, my worship music filling my small bathroom space, I let the hot water run over me, and goodness, it felt wonderful. Road trips, however fun they are, (don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore them) always make me feel the need to be clean, asap. I’m guessing most people feel that way after being stuck in any one place for hours on end.

Artwork is strewn about my floor, finally framed. One step at a time, right? After convincing myself it would indeed look better on the wall, I nailed some up, and made my bed.

It was then that the extraordinary collided with the everyday. Where I Belong, by Cory Asbury, started playing. Within an instant, I went from nonchalantly making my bed, to hearing those words sung. Then, I found myself on my back on the floor of my room, singing along.

I am in awe. The Lord calls me Beloved. His presence is where I belong. Though I have heard this song countless times, though I typically find myself casually singing along, this time was different.

This time, the presence of the Lord was almost tangible, as I lay and sang in my room. I say “sang,” but really, I mouthed the words as tears streamed down my face, my throat too constricted to actually sing. Eyes closed, I let the melody fill my ears.

Do you ever have these moments? Where you are struck by the Lord’s goodness, his care, his compassion? Where his extraordinary love overwhelms you?

It doesn’t matter which state I live in, or where I go, because where I belong, is in his presence, and he’s omnipresent.

He calls me into a secret place, he beckons to me to come and be with him. To meet with him. To spend time with him. To be in his presence.

The same is true for you, too, dear one.

I could not be more grateful. Tonight, it brought me to my knees and moved me to tears. He, and he alone, is what I need. Praises, for reminders, and for the love of the Father. He is good, y’all.

The Lipstick Gospel – A Story of Beauty & Love

I’m sitting on a love-seat out on the porch of an idyllic hotel, instrumental music playing in my headphones, watching the cars pass by on their way to Historic Branson.

A glass of moscato on the table next to me, it is a perfect day, truly. The weather is beautiful, and though the wind whips my hair every which way, it is the perfect fall temperature.

I am in love with this moment. In love with this week, and though only Monday, I know that it will be spectacular.

I’ve been away, perhaps without leave, and I find myself wanting to come back. Needing to.

So, what a better way to do that than to share with you one of the most beautiful stories I have read in many months.

It’s called The Lipstick Gospel, and it’s by Stephanie May Wilson – a fellow World Racer, once Adventures coworker, lover of adventure and whimsy, and a dear friend – she is one of my favorite writers in current day.

Today is the day her book launches and is available for download.

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And, I’m not going to tell you to read it simply because I know her. Or because she’s beautiful and hilarious and I want to win brownie points with her for sharing it. I’m not telling you to blindly believe what she says, swallow it hook, line and sinker.

My suggestion to you, however, is to sit down, carve a few hours out of your likely hectic day, and soak in her words.

When she says that it’s a story about finding God in heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the perfect cappuccino, she nails it.

Her words made me cry. They hit home, deep in my heart, and cut through my pretensions. They gave me hope, and reminded me of how loved I truly am.

Though short, her book displays her honest, vulnerable, broken heart in a way that I haven’t seen before. It’s a story that tugs at your heart. It’s one that I can connect with and relate to. It’s one that I understand, and empathize with. I think we all will.

Get it HERE. 🙂

So, grab a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee, snuggle in on this beautiful fall day, and read her story. I promise you it’ll be worth your time.

Who Says You’re Supposed To?

Tomorrow. Oh my word, tomorrow.

It is Friday, the 29th of August. When did that happen?!

For months, it felt as though time would never pass, as though I had become stuck in winter, or spring. In January, August felt an eternity away. In March, I counted the days until its arrival.

I was treading through molasses, never closer to the day, never closer to my goals, never closer to anything. Or, at least, that’s how it felt. Yet, somehow, time always has a way of catching me, and here I am, staring at a calendar in disbelief.

It’s the day before I was supposed to get married.

There were supposed to be white Christmas lights, and paper lanterns, and bright colors, and all the people in the world who care for me. There was supposed to be good food, and dancing, and laughter. There was supposed to be a wedding, and a marriage.

I ask myself, for what possibly might be the hundredth time this week – who determines supposed to? Caught up in the philosophic debate about free will and fate, I play both sides of the argument in my head.

On a human level, is supposed to determined by our parents? Our culture? Our community? Our church? Our friends? Ourselves? Or is it only determined by God? Do we have a choice in the matter?

A dizzying concept.

It was of my own volition that none of it – the lanterns, the lights, the marriage – is coming to fruition tomorrow.

Being engaged for five months is being added to the list of things that are absolutely surreal in my life. Up there with nanny-ing in Istanbul for a summer, and most of the World Race. These are all documented events, complete with hard evidence – pictures, eye witnesses, video footage. Yet, sometimes, I forget, for the briefest of moments. Strange, and unusual, it is a dream.

Except that it isn’t.
It happened.
This is my life.

Life is mysterious, intricate, complex, and wild. It throws us for loops, and surprises us more often than we are comfortable with. The past eight months, I’m convinced, have held every emotion I am capable of – from gut-wrenching heartache, to Elysian joy, from blackest bitterness to inexplicable freedom.

It has been exhilarating, and shocking. Roller coaster, to the max.

Slowly, but surely, my expectations of how I thought my life would look have been (and continue to be) shattered. Pulverized, they are blown about like glitter in the wind. Lovely, perhaps, but totally irrelevant.

Slowly, but surely, my illusion of control is deteriorating.

Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to understand that I surely do not know the future. My grip has loosened, and it has caused such a peace.

But, had you asked me a few years ago where I would be now, I never would have guessed correctly. Not in a million years. One month away from being twenty five, I am living in Missouri, not only not married, but having called off a wedding, searching for a job, living at my father’s house.

This isn’t what my life was supposed to look like.
This isn’t where I thought I would be.

Was I supposed to get engaged, but not married? Was that the plan all along? Is there a possibility that I am supposed to get married, still, and that I somehow have ruined the plan? Is there a plan to be ruined, or do I get to choose how I live my life, which decisions to make, and what I want?

I think that often we are ruled by fear.
The fear of what is supposed to be rules us.
Unfortunately, it will inevitably also ruin us.

We get caught up in the “supposed tos” of the world, and trudge along, because we think we should. Even though we’re dying on the inside. Even though the action is against who we are. Even though we know that this thing, this action, this choice, isn’t what we want, isn’t what we know to be best for us.

Fear of judgment, and of disappointing people, and not living up to this idea of “supposed to” is squelching the fire we carry within us. The fear that the unknown won’t be as good as whatever we have now holds us back.

But what if we have the freedom to make our own choices? What if we have the ability to choose what we do with our precious and wild life? What if there is no “supposed to” and no one is watching you or looking over your shoulder, expecting certain things of and from you? What if all of those other voices were silenced, and it was just you and the Lord?

And…what if we were brave enough to look in the mirror, and ask ourselves the hard questions? The questions of what we need, and want. Of who we are, and what we’re born to do, and how we want to live our lives. Of what we dream of, and who we want to become.

What if we have the courage to ask what is working, and what honestly isn’t… no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts to admit? Especially when it’s hard.

I believe that we have such agency. I believe that we participate in choosing how our lives go, and that there is much more grey than I would have thought possible. Though there will always be occurrences and events that are outside of control, that doesn’t mean everything is.

How we respond, how we act, how we react, how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, how we live our lives – these are our responsibility, and ours to own.

I’m not getting married tomorrow. And it isn’t because I wasn’t “supposed to.” It’s because I dared to look at my life and when I did, I had to admit that things were not as I pretended.

I had the courage to ask myself difficult questions. Then, I had the courage to listen to myself when the answers weren’t what they were “supposed” to be.

Someone, older and wiser than I, said something that I’ve thought about many times since its utterance back in May. He told me, “Whatever decision you make, don’t regret it. Choose to not regret it. It’s your choice.”

I believe him.

Nearly four months have passed since the conversation that sparked this drastic course change, and I don’t regret the decisions I have made.

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Wielding a new perspective, journal, and planner, I’ll move forward. Possibilities are endless for what may occur in the next year of my life, and I look forward to the adventure. My life might not be the one I had assumed, or expected. It might not be the one it was “supposed” to be.

But it is mine, and that’s what counts.

Vintage Paris – The Future is Bright

Vintage Paris. 

It’s a café here in Branson, both a coffee shop and a wine bar. Which, I must admit, is a fabulous combination. It means if I want to get away, but it is no longer a reasonable hour for caffeine, I can still come here and have a drink of a different kind.

Jessica, the owner, is sweet, my age, married, and, makes fantastic coffee. Winning, all around. I’ve already been here for several hours, and a few people have come, and gone – a few college girls, a French-speaking couple with their children, a tank-top-wearing, hipster guy.

Eclectic, artsy, and it serves good coffee? This place is everything I want in a café, and adorable to boot.  Essentially, I have found my second home and I could not be more grateful. Cafes are places where I thrive, and come alive. They are where I start conversations with strangers, where I muse about the intricacies and complexities of life, where I delight in flavors and scents of caffeinated drinks.

From jennamalinen.theworldrace.org

Already, I have tried a drink that, decidedly, I shall order again – the Toulouse. Unfortunately, not very many establishments have orange flavoring on hand, but fortunately for me, this one does. Once upon a time in Italy, I purchased an orange cappuccino at a café; I have been in love ever since.

Finding this flavor has been a rare treat, especially considering all the places I have attempted to locate it. The only other café I have found that will create this ideal drink is Steep & Brew, in Madison WI. I have missed it for years. Therefore, this is similar to finding a diamond in the rough.

I’m sitting here, at a table with mismatched chairs, looking up job openings, imagining my future months, being employed. Ironically, one month from my twenty fifth birthday, I feel once again as though I am a freshman in college. I’m in a new place, which I had never visited, looking for things to do with my time, and people with whom to spend that time.

Would I like to work as a waitress? In retail? At a clothing store? As a bank teller? Or a parade character? Well, actually, I’m not the correct height to be in the parade, but hey, it would have been entertaining. Honestly, it astounds me how many possibilities there are. It’s exciting, to be sure, and I look forward to what these next few weeks hold. 

Who knows what will be happening in a month from now? I don’t, but I’m hopeful of connecting to a group of new friends, and working hard to accomplish my goals. Baby steps, I tell myself. First things, first. Step one – unpack. Check. Step two – apply for jobs. Currently in process. Step three – get a job. Not done, but, I have to first accomplish step two.

However it adds up, at the very least, I will be well caffeinated, I will make new friends, and I will accomplish steps two, and three.

The future is bright and shiny and looking up, y’all. 

Trains, the Best Way To Travel

It was 1:00 am and I was on a train.

The best part is that I actually, legitimately love trains. I am entranced by them, and was unaware of my ardor before the World Race began. During my 11-month journey, I took many, and though they differ, I love them all equally. They are fun, different, exciting. In my opinion, trains can do no wrong.

I embarked upon 17 different trains that year, in four different countries.

Hour upon hour upon hour, I rode.

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So there I sat, legs extended towards all I owned in the world, which was laid at the end of my bed. My pack on its side, day-pack on top of that, my back against a pillow, in a small compartment all my own for a few hours. We departed KL at 9:30 and were not likely to get to our destination until some time in the wee hours of the morning, hopefully by sunrise. I would sleep but was unable to; I found myself zoning out at times.

The lights in the main compartment were fluorescent and bright, the curtain barely helping to darken my space. After a long while of just laying there, to no avail, I decided to put my time to good use, and write. Though my headphones effectively drowned out most of the undesirable noise that comes with trains, I felt the rumble beneath me as the wheels moved along the tracks.

If you and I sat down one day, for coffee, and you asked me, “Jenna, what is your favorite mode of transportation?” this is what I would describe.

I would tell you about the ways trains slow down, how everything moves forward and back, rocking with the movement. I would describe the way the air rushes past as you walk from car to car. I would tell about the sheer horror when you realize these cars are held together by couplers, in a way that is not convincingly safe.

Perhaps I would close my eyes, and recall how I could have sworn I felt the earth move as I stood between the cars, my feet straddling the space rushing beneath me. I would recall the sound of metal on metal screeching to a halt.

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Or, I would tell you that I wonder where this train has been, who it has held, and what kinds of adventures those people have undertaken. I wonder how many hours it took to put down these tracks. How many men worked on these rails? How much sweat dripped from them as they pounded these metal stakes into the earth? Which vast jungles were cut down to make way for this train and how did landscape change? How fast does this thing even go, how often does it move, how often does it take this same path?

If you asked me this question, I would answer it with many more of my own.

Maybe we would discuss where all those trains go, and who rides them. Or we would speculate about them and the lives they lead. “Did they find what they were looking for?” you would ask.

And as we drank our coffee, you and I would exchange knowing looks, and realize there’s only one way to find out.

So…When do we start?

Put ‘Em Through Hell

“Put your characters through hell…
that’s the only way we change.”

Robert McKee put down his coffee cup and leaned onto the podium. He put his hand on his forehead and wiped back his gray hair. He said, “You have to go there. You have to take your character to the place where he just can’t take it anymore.” He looked at us with a tenderness we hadn’t seen in him before. “You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve been out on the ledge. The marriage is over now; the dream is over now; nothing good can come from this.”

He got louder. “Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true. The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it is conflict that changes a person.”

His voice was like thunder now. “You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.”

Donald Miller speaks to my soul today, just as he has in the past years when I’ve read his words. This time is different though, this time it makes more sense, this time… things are harder.

A drawer full of lingerie and save-the-date cards are reminders of the things that were true a mere six weeks ago, but are no more. Unworn, and unsent, they are unfriendly tokens in my apartment of the painful season I’m walking through.

It seems strange to put such a thing on the internet, on a blog, where the world can see it, but I believe it necessary. The quiet, the silence, the lack of words screams at me and I want to update you on where I am, and where I’m going.

My time with the World Race is coming to an end, and it is not in the way that I thought it would. Plans tend to change, and I have always been aware of the truth that, apart from God, change is the only constant. For a few months now, the plan was to get married, move on to new things, and begin a new adventure. Well, the plan changed, and I find myself single, and resolved to move on regardless.

Six weeks ago, and six weeks from now – I am caught in the middle.
The eye of the storm, perhaps.

From jennamalinen.theworldrace.org

Six weeks ago, Ryan & I postponed our wedding.
Three weeks ago, we broke up.

Six weeks from now, I will quit and move away, leaving behind the people, job, and town I’ve cherished for the past year and a half.

Conflict changes us. It molds us, chisels us, shapes us, defines us. How we react, how we respond, how we reply – will and does change us.

When I was on the World Race, I thought life was hard. Walking and processing through the divorce of my parents, I thought life was hard. And now? Walking away from a relationship that I’ve invested so much in, I think life is hard.

Maybe that is just it though – life is hard. It makes sense.
[Even when it doesn’t actually make sense]

John 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Life is painful. Things can, and do… just suck sometimes.

Yet that is how we grow. It has always been how we grow. That is how we go from glory to glory, how we become more holy and more Christ-like.

Romans 5:3-5
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 

Whatever hard thing you’re walking through, cling to the Lord.
Know that he is good.
He is faithful, he is trustworthy, he is loving.
Learn to not waste your suffering, and allow it to be redemptive.
Allow it to change you for the better.

And, like my best friend continues to remind me,
“You’re okay. And it’s okay that you’re not okay.”