Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Ministry? You've Got To Be Kidding Me!

Two years ago, I was on the prowl for a part time holiday retail job. The reasons were simple. Extra money. Seasonal. Temporary. Work through the holidays and be done with it. I'd already done holiday retail prior to this and HATED it. Serious loathing going on here, folks. It was pretty horrible.

I'm happy to say that I survived Christmas retail again, as I embarked on this new job. Because it was my second job, I was pretty much there on weekends only. (Read: 5 days to recover in between scheduled shifts!) As December drew to a close and gift returns were dwindling as well, I waited for those magical words from my boss . . . "we're done with you."

Actually, those words never came. In fact, as the new year began and I was still finding myself on the schedule each week, no one was more surprised than me when she asked, "would you like to stay on?"

Every part of me wanted to reply "NO!" Not that I'd had a bad experience-it turned out to be not so bad really, and even fun at times. But, I had no desire to be in the retail world again-at least not on a regular basis. My voice was working a lot faster than my brain however, and I found myself saying, "sure."

Two years later, I am looking at Christmas in the face again. "What? It's only early October!" you say. Ah yes, but this is retail. Remember? (giggle)

When I started the job two years ago, I clearly remember expressing my frustration with some dear friends in our small Bible study group. I was frustrated with how customers acted, frustrated with the materialism factor, and just frustrated in general. I will never forget how one of those girls looked me in the face and suggested that I look at it as a ministry.

It took everything in my being to not laugh at the suggestion. Hmmm. A ministry. Sell candles and shower gel for Jesus? There was no wrapping my brain around that one. But, on the other hand, perhaps He did provide the opportunity to stay there for a reason-other than extra money (of which is minimal at best during the rest of the year).

I'll be honest and say that I didn't initially give her suggestion too much of a second thought- that is, until the day that the mother-in-law walked in the front door. As we were "trained" to do, I welcomed her to the store and offered to help her find what she was looking for. To be honest, she seemed a little lost-uncertain of knowing exactly what she needed. I made a few recommendations, which prompted her to blurt out "my daughter-in-law is dying," as she looked at me with tears in her eyes.

What do you say to that? She looked to be about the same age as my own mother, so her daughter-in-law could very well have been around my age. I gulped. And waited. And wondered what to say next.

She finally composed herself and explained that she wanted to buy some lotion for this special woman in her life-telling me that her son wanted to massage his wife's arms and hands. Just about then, my manager gave me "the look" from a distance-indicating that she wanted me to move on to another customer. Clearly my manager also had no idea the kind of customer I was dealing with, either. I'll be honest here and say that I disobeyed my manager, vowing to explain later.

I turned my attention back to this woman, who asked about a particular item. Unfortunately, it was something that we didn't have at that moment, but would probably be getting in within the week. I shared that information with her and suggested that someone call her when it arrived in the store again, to which she replied "we don't have a week."

Thankfully, we found something else that she felt would be a good substitute and she was soon on her way out the door, but not before she thanked me. "I appreciate you being patient with me," she said. And she was gone. I knew then and there that perhaps my friend was right. Maybe I could look at this as a ministry.

Several months after that, an older woman came into the door with another woman whom I assumed to be her mother. The younger of the two women came to the registers, asking if we had a public restroom for her mother to use. Normally the answer would be "no" due to company policy. However, it was obvious that this was an emergency situation. The women were escorted to our back room and one of the associates waited outside the restroom door as the women were inside. Later, we learned that the older of the two women was quite ill and that it had been an emergency situation indeed.

Happily, that same woman's daughter appeared in our store just last week and was beaming as I rang up her purchases. "You probably don't remember me," she said, "but you girls here were so kind to let me take my mother into that restroom in your back room. You will never know how much I appreciated your kindness and I'm happy to tell you that my mother is doing so well right now," and she went on to fill me in on all that had happened to her mother over the past year. Honestly, I had only a vague recollection of this woman, but it was obvious that she remembered us and one of the girls' act of kindness in saying "yes . . . you can use the restroom."

In that same week, I also helped a woman find travel sizes of his favorite shower gel. "He's being deployed tomorrow to Afghanistan," she explained. "He leaves tomorrow, and I want to sneak this into his bag while he's sleeping tonight." On her way out, I wished her luck and encouraged her to come back in the store soon." She looked at her 8 year-old daughter and smiled at her brightly, then looked at me with tears in her eyes. "Oh, we will! We're going to be filling up our days and doing lots of things together, right?" she asked her daughter. The little girl nodded and then they were gone. I hope that they do come back soon-even if they don't make any kind of a purchase next time.

As I finished out my shift at the store last night, a different woman walked in-carrying a large sized box. I was helping another customer at the time, but my manager assisted this woman who was bringing back a large quantity of returns. As I was finishing up the transaction with my own customer, I was hearing bits and pieces of the conversation between the woman and my manager. Upon being asked the reason for making the return, I heard the woman hesitate then say, "I lost my job. I can't afford all of this."

I gulped. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. You see, we're going through a similar situation in our own home right now. As my own customer left the store, I moved down the counter next to my manager and expressed my sympathy. It was obvious that the woman was struggling. I asked her when it happened, which she answered "Wednesday." I felt so bad for her. I knew how much she was hurting. And I had a feeling that I also knew how fearful she was. I tried to encourage her. "At least, " I said, "it happened at this time of the year. Places are hiring for seasonal help right now . . . maybe you could get a temporary job while you look for something more permanent?"

As my manager finished up the return, I made my way to the front of the store again and saw the woman approach the doors to leave. On her way out, she waved an application in my direction. "I talked to your manager!" she smiled. "Maybe I'll be seeing you again soon."

I sure hope so.

Even if it's just for a "season."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Dance As Though No One Is Watching You" . . . or something like that!

I love that quote, but never really thought about it in the way I experienced earlier this afternoon.

Mackenzie was looking to redeem a birthday gift card this afternoon and after much deliberation and weighing of the choices, used it to purchase a kids CD with "YMCA" on it. (Actually, that song is what sold her on this particular CD-to say that she LOVES that song would be a gross understatement.)

Anyhoo, I made a detour to McDonald's on our way home. Because I have discovered the joys of the mocha frappe this summer, I decided that the day and the temperature were "frappe-worthy" so we swung into the drive-thru before heading home after our shopping trip. But, I digress . . .

After paying at the first window, I followed the instructions and drove to the second window and waited for the window to slide open. I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. I didn't mind though-Mackenzie had requested that I put her new CD in the player and go to track 14 . . . "YMCA." So I did . . . and I blasted it. LOUDLY! And I did ALL the arm motions-spelled it out and jammed in between the choruses. It was one of my finer dance moments really, if I do say so myself. And suddenly I happened to glance to my left. There, smiling broadly, was the friendly McDonald's employee waiting with my frappe.

I quickly turned the volume down as I rolled down the window, gave the woman a sheepish smile and apologized for not noticing her sooner. Thankfully, she grinned and said "that's ok. I was actually enjoying the show."

And to think . . . I really thought no one was watching.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"B" is For . . .

"Bo" and for "buddies" because it looks like these two puppies are getting along quite nicely during playdate #2.

. . . and for "bubbles."

"B" is also for "back-to-school." A successful first day was had by all-even me in spite of the other "B" word . . . "boohoo." My "babies" are growing up.

And we can't forget about "birthdays" 'cause we had one of those to celebrate last week as Mackenzie turned six years old. She, two of her cousins and a good pal celebrated by "building bears" and having a small "bash" at our house. In the photo below, you'll see their "best" poses!

"Breakfast" is the next "B" word. Yep. I let her have WHATEVER she wanted for her first meal of the day. She voted for chocolate pudding. I went a little crazy and added the whipped cream, sprinkles and cherry. (Would it surprise you to know that she has attempted this request for breakfast every day since her special day last week? Yeah, I didn't think so.)

"Big Girl" is what she's getting to be every day that goes by . . .

"B" is also for "blink" because that's how fast time seems to be flying these days. I'm trying to keep my eyes wide open. I don't want to miss a moment!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Letter To My Girls . . .

Dear Cassidy and Mackenzie,

Tomorrow is a huge day for both of you. For me too, actually.

Six years ago, I rocked a newborn Mackenzie in my hospital bed as her older sister went off to her first day of kindergarten. I made your daddy promise to take lots of pictures. And shoot video. And make sure that she wore the correct shoes with the brand new "first day outfit." And then I cried. A lot.

I also did the math . . . figuring that with the age difference between the two of you, Cassidy would be heading to middle school on the same day that Mackenzie would be greeting her kindergarten teacher. I quickly pushed the thought aside. THAT day was years away.

And yet, here we are. Tomorrow I will watch Cassidy ride away from my sight on the bus and then I will walk Mackenzie to her new school and into her new classroom. How this day arrived in what seems like the blink of an eye is beyond me. Impossible, actually.

Cassidy, I am so proud of you! I've watched you grow and mature through your elementary school years and admire you so much! I've cheered your victories and hurt for you during your struggles. I've watched you develop new talents, make new friends and experience new kinds of hurts. I've watched you come alongside your sister and encourage her in these past several years as she dove into preschool in anticipation of her turn at kindergarten. I wonder if you know that I overheard your conversation earlier tonight at bedtime when you assured her "you're gonna LOVE elementary school!"

What a cheerleader you've been . . . not only for her, but for the kids who won the student council elections that you lost or for the friends who just needed a hug for no particular reason. Believe me when I say that your school report card doesn't matter to me in the long run. It's the stuff of your heart and the desire to be a reflection of Jesus that makes the difference. I am praying tonight, that in spite of the new school, older kids and new experiences that are just around the corner for you, that you remember you are a child of the King! He has great plans for you. Don't ever forget to look to Him first as you navigate the waters ahead!

Mackenzie, my baby and brand new kindergartener, I knew you'd be more than ready for this first day for so long! From the time you were barely three, you advised me to "drop me off right here, Mom" on that first day we swung into the parking lot of your preschool. I knew you'd be going off to do your thing with hardly a glance back in my direction. Believe it or not, I'm ok with that. I know, deep in my heart, that I need to give you this freedom. It's part of my job, even if I don't always like it!

I hope that you will remember the importance of being Christ-like. As you adjust to being in kindergarten and out of the cocoon-like atmosphere of preschool, I hope you will remember those all-important skills that go beyond coloring, learning about letter sounds and the difference between upper and lower case letters. I hope it's stuff like sharing the crayons, waiting patiently for your turn at things, and recognizing when those teachers of yours might just need a hug that become second nature for you. I pray that you will enjoy days of being a leader, but also learn the importance of being a good follower. I pray that you will have success. I also pray you will learn lessons that teach humility.

To both of you sweet girls, I pray you will continue to be focused on Him . . . to let Him be the ultimate teacher, advisor and line leader! I pray that you will give Him your struggles and thank Him for your victories.

I pray all these things, my sweet girls, on this eve of your first day at a new school. I love you dearly!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bo Meets Ozzie

"No way, Mom. NOT going to happen. I'm willing to play fetch, work on that potty training thing and even chew on the coffee table, but I'm NOT having any part of meeting this other dog whom you so fondly call 'Ozzie.'"

Bo: "Did you not hear me? I believe I said 'No!'"

Ozzie: "Relax, kid. Let me have a look at you."

Ozzie: "That's right, kid. I AM the ALPHA dog here. Don't you forget it."

Ozzie: "Ok, I've smelled where I need to. Let's have a closer look at this other end here. And don't even think about trying to smack me again with that little paw of yours. You did it once already. I'm watching you, kid."

Ozzie: "All right. You passed inspection. Now for the rules: 1. My house. 2. My yard. Got it?"

Ozzie: " . . . and rule #3: if we're going to walk the yard, I follow closely to make sure you haven't forgotten the rule #1 and #2."

Ozzie: "You know . . . I think you're ok, kid . . . just as long as you don't forget those rules, ok?"

Ozzie: "Yeah . . . I think this could be the start of a beautiful relationship. As long as you remember the rules. And by the way . . . this is a great spot to . . . you know . . . do your business. I'm happy to share it with you. Just don't forget those rules, of course."

Ozzie: "Maybe we should shake on it. Do you know how to do that yet?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's a Bo-tiful Day!

It's been 1 week since we brought home our fluffy bundle of joy.

And what a week it's been!

So many people advised "it's just like having a newborn again." I smiled every time another well-meaning person mentioned this-comforting myself in knowing our puppy would be different. And well adjusted. And happy. And showered with toys. And given treats. And ample petting. No whimpering necessary.

I wonder if crow tastes good. It looks like I might be eating some.

Night #1:
Last potty trip outside for evening: check.
Fluffy blankie for crate-complete with smells of litter mates from Bo's first home: check.
Treat inside of crate to entice Bo into liking his kennel: check.

After weighing the advice of many and what I'd been reading in the puppy books from the library, we decided to keep Bo and his crate in our bedroom-anticipating middle-of-the-night potty breaks. We put Bo in his crate and crawled in bed ourselves, holding our breath as we listened to the quiet. Ahhhh . . . such a sweet puppy.

I'm sure you're way ahead of me here. Within minutes of turning out the light and anticipating a good night's sleep, it began. The whimpering was quiet at first, but before we knew it, the sounds had given way to down and out shrieking and borderline screaming.

Suffice to say, it wasn't the quietest night in our home. (yawn)

Thankfully, Bo is starting to establish a bit of a predictable routine in our home, although we did switch it up a bit Thursday evening. A late night at work had me walking in the door at 2:30 am to the sight of Gregg still wide awake and working on his computer. In anticipation of Bo's 4:00 cry to go outside, we jumped on the opportunity to get puppy face outside to do his business a couple of hours ahead of schedule. Imagine my surprise when he still woke up at 4 am. (Really puppy? Must you?)

At 6 am, like he has done every morning this past week, he was awake. WIDE awake. If he could talk, he'd surely be saying "I love you! I love mornings! I love that you must pay attention to me to avoid a puddle in front of the coffee maker!" I just didn't have it in me. I took him out to potty and looked at that pitiful face when we got inside again. There's NO leaving him gated in the kitchen by himself while I sneak off to try and catch a few more moments of sleep. He hasn't had any part of it all week ('cause believe me, I've tried!). He whimpers, whines, cries and makes the most horrible noises until I give in and climb over the gate again. It's awful. So there we
sit . . . him eagerly wagging his teeny little tail and me slumped over the kitchen table with my coffee-smiling feebly and asking him if he slept well.

After a night of next-to-no-sleep with my late arrival home and the regularly scheduled sounds of Bo's usual 4 am potty break (God bless my husband for taking that one on), I did what any sleep-deprived mom would do upon waking to the 6 am puppy clock.

I woke my oldest child.

"I have some good news and some not-so-good news," I whispered to a sleeping Cassidy-right after I managed to climb the ladder to her loft bed and thanked the dear Lord that I didn't fall off in my stupor. She lifted her head groggily (like mother, like daughter) and looked at me.

"My good news," I began, "is that we have a new puppy. The not-so-good news is that we have a new puppy." Confusion clouded her face. "Ok. Here's the deal . . . neither Daddy or I have had more than a couple of hours of sleep and Bo is tearing around the house and lovin' life. You're on puppy duty."

My heart nearly soared with joy when she popped right up and eagerly climbed down the ladder.

"Sure, Mom! No problem! You go right back to bed. I've got it under control."

I'd be lying if I said that Cassidy didn't become my most favorite person in the world at that moment.

I crawled back into bed and slept for another couple of hours. Ah, bliss! Pure and simple bliss.

As the remainder of the day drifted by, we continued to discover the joys of having a dog in our life again . . . We've gotten reacquainted with tearing around the yard and watching him flop down in the grass and pant and grin at us. We've observed him stalk anything that seems the least bit interesting (stray pieces of his food that he flips out of his dish or clumps of leaves that fall from the work of the squirrels in the trees above him) and have taken him for rides in the car. On Friday, he met the friendly people at our bank and sampled their milk bones, met a couple of his human cousins, a friend of Cassidy's and took his first trip into PetSmart. To say that "it's a dog's life" would be an understatement. He had a blast.

He has stolen our hearts and we are in love. He's not our sweet Sadie, but he's our sweet Bo. And just like Sadie, he's ours. And it's all good. (No matter how much or how little sleep is involved!)

Monday, August 2, 2010

In Search Of a "Nice" Mommy . . .

Mackenzie: "Mommy, will you play with me? Let's pretend, ok? I'll be the little girl and you be the mommy, ok?"

Me: "Got it. I'm the mommy and you're the little girl."

Mackenzie: "But . . . you're a nice mommy . . . you let your little girl have candy and gum without making her ask first."

Me: "Hmmmm. I see. You want me to be a "nice" mommy . . . let my little girl eat candy or chew gum without having to ask first, right?"

Mackenzie: "Yep."

Me: "So, you don't want me to be like ME, you want me to be "nice."

Mackenzie: "YES!!!!" she says as she smiles and claps her hands.

Life in the land of make believe . . . I wonder what Mr. Rogers would have done.