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From Waste to Opportunity: A Discovery Made at Disneyland

“Fresh meat for the grinder.”

Yes there are quotations around the sentence above because this not-so-lovely word picture is what someone actually said to me my first day on a new job - a job I absolutely hated and only accepted out of resentment directed at God. Go me!

When have you experienced a season in life you felt was a waste? A time when you were simply going through the motions of the mundane and when the next big thing was so sought after, it was all you could see, think of and long for? Maybe you’re in a season such as this now. Maybe you feel stuck in your current situations. Maybe you have a stirring within you for something more; if only it would become reality today.

Within a few short months of graduating seminary, I found myself working as a custodian at Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca. the city in which I was also born.

Through the lens of my limited perspective, I saw my new position as a total failure. While others who graduated with me seemed to step into and thrive in jobs and roles that seemed to align perfectly with their educational accomplishments, I viewed myself as having taken a huge step backwards. While I carried about custodial duties - I’ll rely on your imagination on all this envelops at Disneyland - I grew bitter and resentful towards God. How could God be okay with me working as a self-labeled mistress of custodial arts, after I had left everything to obey Him and follow Him to seminary life, 3,000 miles away from home? Was this really His plan for me?

It felt like a waste. It felt like I had been abandoned by God and left to figure out life on my own. It felt like a dry desert. I felt like a failure and truth be told, as a bonus, there wasn’t enough soap in the universe to clean up after a long day of cleaning the dirtiest place on earth.

It didn’t take long, working this job with constant dirt on my hands, for the dirtiest places in my own heart to surface. As I kneeled down before the porcelain gods to clean, I thought about how often I kneeled down before my Creator God with reverence on my heart and my lips. I came up short. I could however, lose count on the number of times I grumbled and complained to God for my current circumstances.

I began to see my relationship with God as extremely one sided, bending towards me and my expectations of what I believed I deserved and less of a life of constant conversation with the Author of my life.

Desperate for answers and change, I took the advice of a wise friend and made a list of all I was grateful for. By writing down my gratitude list, my eyes refocused and I began to see those ugly spots on my heart that had led me to be so self-centered where I ought to have been selfless. Pride was exposed where humility ought to dwell. Frustration towards me was growing where compassion towards others ought to have grown.

I began to see my job at Disneyland less like a curse and more like an opportunity to engage with those I came in contact with everyday. I started to see the diversity around me and almost choked on lunch one day realizing my degree in Missiology and Cross-Cultural studies could never be wasted in such a diverse group of visitors to Disneyland. In the words of Adele, “HELLO...” I may not have been called to an exotic missionary life in a rural context, but the four corners of the earth had come to me! I was a missionary at Disneyland!

I began to sing while I cleaned the ladies rooms. I prayed for the Muslim women who came into the restrooms to cleanse before their ritual prayer times throughout the day. I stood in stock closets with co-workers and we talked about life’s struggles and God’s presence in the midst of the struggles. I gave rides to coworkers who lived in Watts and we discussed the realities of ghettos, racial tension and Jesus while Warren G and Josh Groban sang through the speakers.

Where bitterness once was, joy was found. I began to realize my time at the Tragic Kingdom wasn’t so tragic after all. It was not a waste because I stopped wasting the opportunity God had placed me in. I confessed my sin of apathy, complacency, comparing and pride and in it’s place, God reawakened my desire to be His hands and feet to the world, starting at Disneyland of all places.

I realized contentment wasn’t a far off hope; it was a present gift from God.  

I may have been biologically born in Anaheim in 1979, but I had a rebirth of sorts as God awakened my passions for the world to know Him at Anaheim’s Disneyland in 2007.

Nothing is wasted with God. You may find yourself in a situation where you feel alone, desperate, annoyed and frustrated like I did. I get it. The tension between the reality of today and the hopes and dreams of where we want to be, is real and weighty. And if we aren’t careful, it has the ability to blind us to not only the people around us, but to God Himself.

So what do we do? Like my friend encouraged me, I’d like to do the same for you today. Try starting with a list of all you’re grateful for. This could be 10 things. This could be 1 thing. Just write it down.

And we pray. Think of your prayer more of a conversation - both talking and listening - with God, while complaining about current circumstances less. David said, “I lift my eyes up. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.”  

It’s been 9 years since this felt wasteland turned into joy and worship in my life. The reality is, while I no longer clean for a living, the principles of being thankful and present still apply. My life’s circumstances are different today, yet I’m still not where I want to be, not doing what I want to do and I still long for more. And I’m more content and more joyful than I’ve ever been. God opened my eyes to see every season of life as an opportunity to share His love with those around me. And where the love of Jesus is expressed and lived out there is found unspeakable joy and a life lived to the fullest.

This is true for you too, even if some punk refers to you as “fresh meat for the grinder.”

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I drink coffee, read books, and travel. I’ve been able to drink coffee and discuss books with friends all over the world, simply because someone built a bridge and I made it east of the Mississippi and beyond. For this reason, I love bridges.