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."

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