Deadheading

I enjoy being outside in the summer, especially in the morning before the sun sends down the full force of its intensity. One of my favorite tasks is watering the potted plants on our front porch.

 

I like a variety of colors and textures in these pots—stalks of purple salvia, fuchsia trumpets of million bells, and petit bouquets of pink and yellow lantana. But one of the easiest flowers to care for and find at the store is petunias. They’re so simple and cheerful. And they come with an added bonus for people who like fussing with things, like peeling off labels and picking at stickers. I get to deadhead the petunia blooms nearly every day.

 

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to pinch away these shriveled, brown blooms! In the space of just a few days, my petunias can go from looking like they’re ready for the compost pile to full and lush and beautiful. Even the most unassuming plants are more complex than they may seem. Little Petunia is constantly trying to keep itself alive by passing water and nutrients throughout its maze of roots and stems. When I take away those dead blooms, Petunia can concentrate on its healthier parts. It can conserve energy. It can send out new blooms.

I see a similar reward when I deadhead bitterness from my life. I can wake up early, before the heat of another busy day has worn me out, and choose to do what Ephesians 4 instructs: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This may look like cutting back on social media or being open to the Spirit’s nudges to serve in a particular way or limiting my exposure to people who radiate bitterness like the sun on a hot afternoon in July.

 

Then I can put my energy into doing some more of what I read in Ephesians: “…put off your old self…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” I can receive the reward of fresh, new blooms. Oh boy! I can feel the contented sigh rising up through me already! Why does it too often take so long to cast off that yucky burden and exchange it for something so much better?

 

When I’m done deadheading my petunias, I look down at the handful of sticky, brown flowers. I wad them up into a smooshed ball and throw them out into the yard. They’re gone, on their way to transforming into the dirt where my grass is growing. There’s no reason to hold on to them, not with better than bitter alternatives waiting for me. See ya later, old self!

Forget yourself

When my husband and I were first married, we lived in an apartment which was conveniently located right next to a Kroger. There were many times when I would park my car in my designated spot by our apartment and walk over to the grocery store after work to pick up a few items for supper. I reasoned that the exercise would do me good, and by the time I waited for the traffic to slow down to make the necessary turns out of our apartment complex and into the store parking lot, do my shopping, then do the reverse, walking was just quicker. (Now that I have four kids—3 teens and one that isn’t a teen but eats like one—and a grocery list as long as my arm, it’s hilarious to me that I would routinely walk out of Kroger with only a couple of bags.)

 

In order to make the trek from our apartment to the Kroger parking lot, I would have to climb down a fairly steep set of steps carved into the side of a bank of dirt. If memory serves me, there was a railing, but, though I was in my mid-20’s and somewhat spry, it could be a precarious climb.

 

On one occasion, I was met at the bottom of the stairs on my way back to my apartment by a tiny elderly woman who had a similar idea. I’m not sure if she lived in our apartment complex or if she was heading to the nearby senior center, but she also had groceries to haul up the steep stairs. I could tell she was trying to decide how she could safely make the ascent as she hung two or three bags on each wrist and stared up at the incline.

 

“Can I help?” I asked, setting my bags on the ground. The woman nodded and handed me her groceries which I carried to the top of the steps. Then I came back down and held her arm as she slowly made her way up. I headed back down one more time to get my bags and made another offer. “Can I help you get your groceries somewhere?”

 

“No, dear,” she answered, revealing a slight accent, maybe something Russian or from a country in Eastern Europe. “I can do for myself now.” She reached into her ancient pocketbook and pulled out a change purse.

 

“You don’t need to pay me,” I told her. “It was no problem.” Ignoring my words, the woman grabbed my hand and thrust a pile of dimes into my open palm. “Seriously. I was happy to do it,” I said as I tried to refuse the coins.

 

But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “When someone wants to give you something, you should take it,” she barked irritably. She snapped her change purse shut and shuffled off to the left. I eventually headed to the right, the cache of dimes growing sweatier and sweatier in my hand as I walked across the steamy asphalt to my apartment. I felt abused and chastised, wondering what I’d done wrong.

 

I’ve thought about that woman many times, and not because it was an especially unusual moment. It didn’t spark a lifelong friendship Tuesdays with Morrie-style or change my outlook on grocery shopping or stair climbing or the irrelevance of coins in our U.S. currency. Though it happened more than twenty years ago, I think the reason that made that memory stick in my head was her insistence that I be paid for my simple chore and her obvious frustration with me when I tried to refuse it.

 

But that’s the thing about helping others—or really any interactions we have with other humans—there can be a lot of layers, both for the helper and the person being helped. What’s the helper’s motivation? Could the aid being given somehow hurt the person being helped? With all the ways to intentionally and unintentionally offend, it sometimes makes you wonder if it’s even worth it to get involved.

 

I turn to the advice which the Apostle Paul gave to the Philippian church. He said, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (The Message)

 

Forget yourself long enough to see the best way to help, offering equal parts dignity and compassion.

Hold my ladder

As a homeowner, there are plenty of jobs most of us just don’t enjoy doing: weed-eating, grout-cleaning, baseboard-dusting, etc. Generally, these are tasks which run on a never-ending loop: We clean. We pause briefly to bask in the triumph of our accomplishment. Then, before we know it, it’s time to do it again.

 

Cleaning out the gutters is an accurate example of this “life of a homeowner” principle, (along with possibly being on the list of the punishments God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden which are now meted out upon us, his miserable descendants).

 

When we get a heavy rain, it becomes obvious that the gutters are clogged. Water is pouring down in sheets at the corners of the roof, instead of coming down the drainpipes like it’s supposed to. Once the rain stops, my husband Brent goes out to the shed to get the ladder. He carries it over to the house and leans it against the wall. But before he climbs to the top, he does what smart people do: he asks for someone to hold his ladder.

 

I am usually the one at the bottom of the ladder, legs planted firmly in the ground using all my might to hold the metal frame which the love of my life is precariously perched at the top of. Even though I run the risk of getting splatted by the gross sludge coming down in handfuls from the clogged gutter, I preferred to be the one holding the ladder, because I don’t trust the kids to do the job. In a way, it’s an honor to be asked to do something so important for my most favorite person, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I comb rotted vegetation from my hair.

 

Now that I think of it, climbing should never be a solitary journey. In the same way that they encourage people to use the buddy system on a mountain climb, we should all be scaling the heights together.

 

Over 100 years ago, a group of women gathered together to form an organization that would do just that. It was called the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and their mantra was “Lifting as We Climb.” The women who started the organization, including the heroic Harriet Tubman, were dedicated to improving the lives of people of color, not just for themselves, but to lift up their communities for generational impact.

 

The NACW was born in a time when people of color, and especially African-American women, were demonized and considered less than human. When a British suffragette asked a Missouri newspaperman to encourage American journalists to speak out against lynching, he wrote back to her in no uncertain terms what he thought about the people of color in America. But his words of hate and prejudice only solidified their mission. The women proved their humanity in the best sense of the word by working together to better the lives of their sisters.

 

Anyone with an ounce of ambition (or who’s ever played Chutes and Ladders) knows it’s better to go up the ladder. We want better—better for ourselves, better for our kids, better at work, better at home. The question we should ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to hold the ladder for others as they scale to higher heights? Are we lifting as we climb?

All my strength

At my church, we’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy. Last week, we heard a sermon from Deuteronomy 6, which contains one of my favorite verses, a passage I was taught to memorize at a very young age: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to remember this commandment to love God, to teach it to their children, and to constantly talk and think about Him.

 

Sunday’s sermon made me want to study deeper into this passage. After all, this section is called the Shema, which means Listen, so I sat down to pay more attention to it. This scripture is central to the Jewish faith, so much so that Jesus quoted it in three of the Gospels, including Mark 12: “The most important command is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

 

Of course, Jesus doesn’t misquote Deuteronomy (that’s impossible because He is God, the author of the whole book), so why does He add an extra word? Instead of three, Jesus lists four ways to devote ourselves to God: heart, soul, mind, and strength. I always assumed the original list meant for me to love God with my emotions, my spirit, and my physical body. And then Jesus just added my thoughts. While this is true, there’s a richer, more all-encompassing explanation waiting to be discovered.

 

Due to the complexities of language, it’s easy to misunderstand what strength means in the original text. Though the picture which pops into my mind is of a carnival-type Strong Man hoisting a dumbbell over his head, it’s not an accurate visual for this verse. Some versions translate strength as power, while others use the word might. But the original word means “muchness.” We’re given one word after another that commands us to love God with everything we’ve got. Although this is a giant and challenging task, it becomes more clear-cut because I can offer what I have, and this is a relief to someone who sometimes feels she lacks strength.

 

To be honest, I don’t feel especially strong unless I’m giving birth or moving furniture by myself. Other than that, I consider my abilities in the “Strength” category to hover around average, so what would He want with my often lame excuse for strength? We’re called to love God with the heart, soul, mind, and strength we’ve been given, but how? Well, fortunately, we have the example right in front of us: God loved us first. As the Book of Romans describes it, “God loved us when we were still sinners.” Dirty, old, always-messing-up sinners. If He could start loving me in spite of my weakness, then I can love him back while situated in the same flawed condition. I can never match His strength anyway, making my offering pretty inadequate, but he still wants my love.

 

I couldn’t say why Jesus added the word mind in his list after they asked him what the greatest command was, but He was in an earthly body at the time He spoke those words. He knew the limitations of this physical form, so He seemed to want to be clear. Love the Lord with all the “muchness” you’ve got at your disposal, and then love your neighbor. Jesus told them once we do this “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Thank goodness it doesn’t have to begin with my strength…It all starts with love!

Hope for an untangled future

Per our usual tradition, my family put up our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. (By the way, this isn’t a discussion about when you should or should not decorate for Christmas. You do you, merry-makers! Deck your halls and trim your trees until you can festoon no more! And if that helps you beat the blahs of a pandemic holiday season, keep them up until August!) We dragged the boxes from the basement and began unloading their contents. Wreaths on the windows and doors. Tabletop decorations and a nativity set for the bookshelf.

 

We set up one (pre-lit) tree in the sunroom with colorful lights, kid-made ornaments, and a Santa tree skirt. I always ask our kids to hang the ornaments on this one. It’s fun to listen to them reminisce and laugh at the clay snowmen, pipe cleaner candy canes, and photos framed by popsicle sticks, dotted haphazardly with red and green pom-pom balls. And we always have to tell the story about the time when one of my daughters took a bite out of a dog bone ornament because she thought it was a Scooby snack cookie. (Either way…why? Rule Number 754 Of Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have To Say Aloud: Don’t eat, lick, or even nimble anything that is hanging on the Christmas tree.)

 

The other tree went up by the living room window. This one is artificial, too. (This also isn’t a discussion about live vs. artificial Christmas trees. Why is there so much to argue about when it comes to this stuff, anyway?!) We’ve had this tree for going on twenty years. It loses tons of (fake) needles each time we set it up, so it will eventually be bald. Until that happens, it falls to me to wrap the branches in white lights before the ornaments go on. This is not my favorite part of the process. It involves a lot of lights, standing on stools, going around in circles, and sweating.

 

As I was plugging in each strand of lights to check that they still work before putting them on the branches, I congratulated my January 2020 self for taking the time to wrap the lights around pieces of cardboard to keep them separated and organized. It would be oh-so easy to just dump the lights in a jumbled heap in the bin, pop the lid on top, and forget about it. But how I would regret it!

 

If you stop and think about it, there are plenty of things most of us are able to do because we’re infused with hopefulness. Unconsciously, we make assumptions about where we’ll be tomorrow and what we’ll be doing. When I wrapped all those lights around cardboard rectangles the day after New Year’s Day, I was saying, “I have a hope that I will need these when another Christmas season rolls around.”

 

During bleak times, remaining hopeful can sometimes feel foolish or naïve. Should we even make plans anymore? What’s the point when so much is uncertain? It reminds me of what James, Jesus’ brother, said when he scolds people for focusing too much on their own plots and proposals. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Good grief, James! This forces me to ask myself if I should even wrap those lights at all!

 

But then I search the Scripture for whispers of a living hope—hope for resurrection, hope for justice, hope that things will be made right. James goes on to say we shouldn’t boast about our own schemes, but spirit-filled hope is something we should shout about from the rooftops. Romans 5 gives us permission to boast, because we are bragging on a glorious and generous God who has given us a reason to be hopeful.

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 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.” Praise God for the hope He continually gives us. Whether it’s in the form of another day or a newborn baby, looking forward is an essential quality.

 

But focusing on the future doesn’t mean you don’t act in the present or even ignore the past. The miracle of hope is that it can involve all three. C.S. Lewis said, “Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Farther along

During recent storms (or threats of storms), I found myself looking at the weather app on my phone several times a day. Knowing that my sons were scheduled to have soccer practice that evening, I would check the predictions of bad weather even though I saw only blue skies and innocent-looking, white wisps of clouds above. On the radar, I saw our fair city sitting clear as a bell in the middle of our state. Nothing to fear, right? Then I would zoom out on the map and see ominous, swirling reds and yellows and menacing blobs of green. These storms were crowding around us, just out of view. That visual was a perfect representation of 2020. Destruction seems to be crouching at the door, waiting to pounce.

 

At the grocery store today, I found myself singing a hymn I hadn’t sung or even thought of in years. (This is one advantage of wearing masks in public—I can sing or whisper to myself but no one knows!) I was singing the song “Farther Along” as I picked out my produce and chose the right bag of shredded cheese. I was singing “Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine…” while I waited on my deli turkey to get sliced. I was telling myself, “Farther along, we’ll understand why.” And I needed this hymn today. Because of my faith, I know those spinning blobs of scariness swirling around me are temporary, but that doesn’t always make me feel less scared.

 

The history and authorship of the hymn “Farther Along” is uncertain. Some attribute the lyrics to a preacher named W.A. Fletcher, a man who allegedly wrote it while traveling in the Indian Territories in 1911. Apparently, he was sad that he was away from home for the birth of his first child. Whether the story is true or not, you can imagine Mr. Fletcher, sitting lonely and discouraged on a train, trying to cheer himself up. He was attempting to remind himself that there was a greater purpose for struggles and a reward waiting for him after all his “toils of the road.”

 

I need this kind of reminder, too. I need to know that what I see as unfair or illogical or frightening will make sense eventually. Over the more than 100 years since its first publication, there were some who objected to the chorus of the song. They took offense at the notion that “we’ll understand it all, by and by,” as if we would ultimately know everything that God knows when we get to heaven. But I think there’s a difference between knowing what God knows (just typing those words might make my brain explode) and understanding why. Maybe we don’t have to get all the way to heaven’s pearly gates to understand why the wicked sometimes prosper and the good are liable to be oppressed.

 

The Scriptures hold plenty of clues as to what suffering is for. The Apostle Paul suffered more than I’m sure I ever will, and he comforted others with these words: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8) So if you’re in the midst of suffering, comfort yourself with the promises of future glory. If you’re in that “clear as a bell” zone of the weather map with only sunny skies as far as the eye can see, bolster your faith with Paul’s words like a team filling sandbags before a hurricane. Then cheer up, my brother, and live in the sunshine.

On the lookout for angels

Since the task of feeding our family of 6 falls to me, I spend a lot of time in grocery stores. For the most part, I’m a Kroger girl and always have been. Other than a few years when my mom tried shopping at Mega Market (the place in 100 Oaks Mall where you had to bag your own groceries), I was raised on Kroger—smiley face stickers and “let’s go krogering” jingle and all. I will sometimes venture into other stores if necessary, but I like knowing where things are in my regular place—start with produce, move on to soups, then pastas, etc.

 

Last week, after dropping my youngest son off at soccer practice, I needed to do my weekly grocery shopping. I was going to pass a Publix to get to a Kroger, so I decided to get crazy and go inside a different store. Sometimes I even surprise myself.

 

Nothing was in the same place. I kept walking past things on my list, and then I had to backtrack (which was made even more difficult by the “do not enter” and “enter here” stickers on the floor). As a rule, I only go to Publix if we’re in Florida, so I kept reminding myself I wasn’t on vacation.

 

To make things even more confusing, when I was finally done shopping and the cashier was ringing up my items, the friendly bagger boy posed a puzzling question through his face mask. “Got big plans for the weekend?” he asked. I paused before answering. So many thoughts swirled in my head.

 

“The weekend?” I stammered through my own face mask. “I have been thinking today was Monday all day. What day is it?”

 

“It is Monday,” he responded. “I just like planning ahead.” I told him that I had no idea what I was doing in five days, but I liked his initiative.

 

As I drove home with my van full of groceries, I thought about my shopping experience and how it’s possible to feel like a stranger even when you’re just a few minutes from home. It can be an unsettling feeling. It’s a good reminder to be on the lookout for actual strangers (not just Kroger shoppers who’ve wandered into Publix) who might need a little help.

 

At the end of the Book of Hebrews, we see a final list of exhortations: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

 

The author is reminding the readers that the best way to love is to share, share their successes and sufferings and suppers. To love each other like we’re family, even if we aren’t related. I can’t imagine a better reward for showing hospitality than to be treated to dinner with an angel.

Tag team

When my twin daughters were newborns, they kept me moving. Seeing as how they were helpless in every way, there was always something to do for them. After a few months of being their mom, I realized something funny—they mostly alternated in their fussiness. One would be happily staring into her blurry void, a slobbery, toothless grin plastered on her face, while the other one would be screaming bloody murder. Then, a few hours later, they would change it up. Happy Baby would morph into Grouchy Baby and Angry Baby would switch to Cheerful Baby. It was as if they were professional wrestlers, tagging in and out of the ring (where I was the all-time opponent).

 

This memory about my now almost 18-year old daughters recently surfaced to my mind as we were all quarantined together. I noticed that all of the people in our home have been alternating in their emotions. One of us would begin to feel hopeless and scared about the virus and the shortages and the cancelled events, but not all of us felt these emotions to the same extent at the same time. Slowly, the frightened one would breathe deeply and pray silently, and the wave of nauseous panic would subside. Without verbalizing it, we were tagging in and out. It was as if we were announcing, “It’s my turn to cry in the bathroom, so ya’ll hold down the fort and play a few hands of Skip Bo like we’re just on Spring Break, without a care in the world.”

 

1 Corinthians 12 talks about this idea of all of us coming to the table with different strengths and weaknesses, different skills and challenges. The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of a body:

 

“Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. If the foot says, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,’ that does not make it any less a part of the body. And what would you think if you heard an ear say, ‘I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye’? Would that make it any less a part of the body? Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But that isn’t the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body.  And some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” (TLB)

 

We were never meant to be alone—just a pinky toe or an earlobe, disconnected from the body—and this is more true now than ever, even if it might be more difficult to practice in our current situation. When I alternate in the peaks and valleys of the next weeks and months, I’ll need to be encouraged by the strength of the part of God’s body (or person) at the opposite side of the curve. Then, when my strength has been renewed and I can mount up with wings like eagles and run without being weary or walk without being faint, I’ll be able to be that source of encouragement to others.

Have mercy!

Last week, I went into a store and left with a really interesting life lesson. The woman who worked there and I were discussing the importance of labeling our kids’ clothes so that they could be identified later in the Lost & Found bin. She mentioned that she had an embroidery machine at home and often used it for that exact purpose.

 

Then she told me a story about a time when she embroidered her teen daughter’s name in a large font on a prominent place on the hood of a jacket. She described the jacket’s various shades of pink and how much her daughter loved it. Another woman asked her about the jacket—where did she get it and how much did it cost—and then, a few days, the jacket went missing. “Eventually,” the woman at the store told me, “I saw her wearing that pink jacket. I could tell where she had picked out the stitches where my daughter’s name had been.”

 

I assumed the next part of the story was going to involve the authorities and an ugly argument, but I was wrong. “What did you do?” I asked her.

 

“As soon as she saw me, I could tell that she knew she was caught. So I went over to talk to her. I told her that I recognized the jacket and knew it was my daughter’s. Then I asked her if she would like me to embroider hername on the jacket. Knowing she thought I was just offering so that I could take the jacket back, I told her that she could come with me and stand right next to me while I sewed it.” This gracious woman embroidered another woman’s name—the name of the woman who had stolen from her—on the jacket she had bought especially for her pink-loving daughter without asking for anything in return.

 

At first listen, it may seem that this woman should’ve taught that thief a lesson. One might think: Now she’ll be stealing everyone’s stuff! Where’s the justice?! But there are moments when we are called to show mercy, and this angel listened to the call. I can only imagine what effect this had on the woman who had stolen the jacket. Was she so weighed down by guilt after this undeserved act of kindness that she could never wear the jacket again, or did she whistle happily as she walked away, congratulating herself on her good luck? No matter what the offender’s feelings were, the woman I met at the store that day was content with her response to the ill treatment she had received all those years ago.

 

This kind of mercy, especially when coupled with unexpected forgiveness, warms my heart and makes me all teary-eyed. These glimpses of what humans can do for each other when we’re not trying to tear each other down is refreshing. I like this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I have always found that mercy brings richer fruits than strict justice.” Maybe that’s the question to ask when we suffer wrongdoing at the hands of others: What fruits will my response bring?

 

In Micah 6:8 we read the best prescription for doing what is good and what’s required of us: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That just about sums it up.

Be the gift

How did I end up sitting on this metal bench next to a Customer Service desk? I just wanted two $25 gift cards, but instead the cashier rang up one $50 card and one $0 card. After talking to three different employees while nearly sweating through my Christmas red sweater and with no time to rectify the mistake because I needed to pick up kids from school, I left with what I thought was the $50 card, only to discover while sitting in the carline and finally examining the receipt that it was the other one.

 

I dropped off my kids at home and drove back to the store. My parting instructions from management were: “If you want to change this, come back and ask for me, (insert Assistant Manager’s name here),” so that’s what I did. I didn’t want to get in that long December return/exchange line, so at first I wandered around looking for my assistant manager friend.

 

“Do you know ______?” I would ask vested employees, as if I were searching for a missing child. “Have you seen her?” Finally, I found one of the employees who had been a part of the original purchase, and she helped me find the correct member of management. And that’s why I’m sitting here now, waiting while she checks the store log to find which card has what. As shoppers walk past me, I wonder if they think I’ve been caught shoplifting and that’s why I’m sitting here with no bags and no buggy. That’s silly, I tell myself, why do you assume people think you’ve done something wrong?

 

Other than being a slight inconvenience, this is really not a big deal. It’ll be worked out and I’ll soon be on my merry way, so in the meantime I’ll sit and watch the busy afternoon foot traffic. In spite of the festive decorations and the countdown to Christmas, generally-speaking, people look tired. They look stressed. They look not-so-Christmas-Spirit-like. A mom just snapped at her young son as he wailed for something she wouldn’t buy him. There’s some tension over a bike return at the Customer Service desk. No one is yelling, but there is a cloud of disappointment lingering over the participants in the bike return dispute. Everyone in that line looks they’d rather be anywhere else doing anything else at that moment.

 

I’m suddenly aware of an aspect of Christmas I hadn’t considered before. We (me included) get so caught up with the buying and wrapping. We can easily become consumed with lists and costs. So what if I were the gift? Not that I don’t think we should give each other presents! I’m not suggesting we eliminate any opportunities to be generous and kind. But as I sit on this metal bench on this busy afternoon, I can choose to be the gift. Nothing material. Nothing to be bought. Nothing to be wrapped. My smile, my understanding, my attentiveness can be what this stressed-out group needs this afternoon.

 

When the assistant manager comes back with my loaded gift cards, I can be the gift of calmness without a trace of self-righteous anger. When I get home, I can be the gift of patience with my kids while I try to juggle helping with homework, making supper and getting kids to ball practice. Hopefully, if I keep looking for ways to be a gift to others, it will become my natural inclination, then it might become contagious. Imagine what a pile of presents we’d have if we all endeavored to be a gift!