Saturday, February 25, 2012

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE REGISTER

You knew it was coming sooner or later...

My first three hours on the register last night were the worst half-shift I've pulled in my nine months as a cashier. Absolute worst. Hands down. I was needing some scream therapy by the time I headed toward the back of the store for break. And so, Dear Shopper, here is a view from the other side of my register...

We call it the Crap Shift. We work 5:00-ish p.m. to around midnight. There are day cashiers, who head home at five to fix dinner and spend the evening with their families. There are the overnight-ers, who wake from their sleep just before the sun goes down, slam energy drinks, and walk in bright-eyed for the midnight shoppers. Then there are those of us on the Crap Shift. We come in right on the heels of our "day jobs" - some cook lunch for your kids at the elementary school; some tend your babies at day care; some are students who were up all last night studying for an 8:00 exam, classes all day, and now, five-and-a-half dazed hours standing on concrete scanning a ever-flowing river of groceries. We all have one thing in common: we're coming in tired. And we're here just in time for the big evening rush.

You, Dear Shopper, are tired, too. You're on your way home from work, hauling kids who are strung out from too much time sitting in a classroom. All you want is to get your groceries and get out of Mega Mart, go home, eat dinner, and crash on the couch. I understand. I feel exactly the same way. Only I've got five more hours of lifting suitcases of soda and buckets of kitty litter. Then I can shop for my own groceries and head home for a short breather. Another difference between us: I really need to maintain a cheerful attitude, while you maybe feel free to vent by being irritable or rude. Here are a few tips to make the check out process pleasanter for both of us...

Learn to count to 20. If that sounds too difficult, count to 10 twice. Hint: if you actually have to stop and begin digging through your cart to see if you are over the limit for the express check-out, just head for a big belt. I'm not equipped for large orders, and the process will be slower at my "Speedy" check-out (slower for you and all the irritated customers behind you) than if you stood in line behind one other large order at a regular register. Trust me.

Tip 2: If you have limited funds with which to pay for your order, try to have an idea how much your order is going to cost before you get to the register. When I'm buying groceries, I round prices to the next highest dollar and keep a running tally of my total. When I finish scanning your 47 items (because you forgot to count to 20 before getting in the Express lane) and your total bill is twice the cash you have in your purse, no one in a fifteen foot radius is going to be happy when you start asking me to dig items out of your bags and void them off, one at a time, until we count down to the amount you meant to spend. Yes, I'm smiling and putting on a cheerful face, but I'm also fighting a mighty urge to smash your potato chips and bread. Because, when you head for the parking lot, I get to pay for your rude negligence while I'm checking out the frustrated, grouchy people in line behind you.

Tip 3: Do NOT let your little darlings play with the bag carousel. Sooner or later, somebody is going to get hurt. You may not care if it's me ( which it usually is), but surely you don't want your toddler impaled on a bag holder. Hang in there and do the tough job of parenting for a few minutes longer - you'll be home in 15-20 minutes and then you can turn them loose in the yard.

Tip 4: If you think there is a problem with your order, I really do want to make things right...so there's no need to get ugly. My Dad used to say, "You win more bees with honey than with vinegar." Being rude to me, to my CSM, and to my front-end manager is no way to get what you want. If you're pleasant, you can bet we'll go the extra mile to keep you happy. Start cursing and calling us names and you can just bet you're not going to get that vacuum cleaner for half of the marked price. You may, however, get personally escorted from the store.

Tip 5: Imagine that your cashier, like you, is human. You aren't ever going to know that the pretty girl smiling across the register is a single mom struggling to make ends meet, and that she's stressed about being two weeks late on the rent. That the young man bagging your groceries just found out today his parents are filing for divorce. That the lady handing you your receipt tonight won't be here tomorrow because she'll be flying out to arrange her sister's funeral. We'll smile and say "Thank you" and "Have a great day!" - but some of us have heavy hurts and broken hearts underneath. Just be aware that we have real lives and real problems, just like you.

Tip 6: If you're into playing the Extreme Coupon game, please don't assume that I want to lose my job so that you can score big on your check-out total. Don't you think that's asking a little much? Quit trying to work the system. Just stop it. And No, I'm not going to sell this case of sodas to you for half price because you think "No one in their right mind would pay that much for a case of Cokes!"

Tip 7: If you absolutely can't help being rude or ignorant, please don't be both at the same time. If you're rude to me, I can be polite. If you're ignorant, I can be patient and explain something to you. But if you hit me with both at the same time, I feel overwhelmed. Like a deer in the headlights. And don't assume that because you don't understand something, it must be because I'm stupid. I did a quick survey of my co-workers last night, when I was fighting to maintain some semblance of sanity, and there wasn't a single stupid person in the bunch. Actually, quite an intelligent, industrious, personable group of folks working the registers, every single one of them more than a match mentally for the irate woman who shouted "I'm not ignorant! I'm not paying $6.00 for these cookies! You get a store manager over here and tell him I want these marked down to $3.00!" Makes you wonder what this woman does when she has a real crisis on her hands.

There's a silver lining to every cloud...not really, but I'm trying to make a transition.

Here's a big Thank You! to the two 60-ish sisters who came through my line late last night with their small orders. When I finished checking out the second lady (whose order included, among other things, a tube of "personal lubricant"), her sister laughed, "What? No price check?" The second sister giggled.

"I'm sorry - did you need a price checked on one of these items?" I began looking through the bag hanging beside me on the carousel.

"No," joked Sister 1. "We were just laughing about how embarrassed we would get way back when we were both newlyweds, whenever we had to buy condoms. Seems like there always had to be a price check if we bought condoms."

"They'd just blare it out over the intercom for everybody in the store to hear. So embarrassing! It was awful," laughed Sister 2.

Which led to a very silly conversation between the three of us that left me in tears. "I really needed a good laugh - thank you both so much for coming through my line tonight."

"You have a great rest of the night," commented Sister 1 as they turned to leave.

Thanks to these two lovely, cheerful ladies, I did.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

HAPPY (LATE) VALENTINE'S DAY!

Number One Song on the Country Music Countdown, Saturday, 2/18/2012 - "All Your Life" by The Band Perry. From the chorus: "Well I don't want the whole world; the sun, the moon, and all their light. I just want to be the only girl You love all your life..." No, I'm not a sold-out fan of country music, but, Yes, I do like this song!

From the lovely Mr. Chesterton, shared this week on Facebook by one of my favorite people: "The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a joke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being as it is a yoke consistently imposed on all lovers by themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black v. white contradiction in two words - 'free love' - as if a lover ever had been or ever could be free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover with an ill-favoured grin the largest of liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants." --G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant

From R.C. Sproul, Jr., who recently watched his wife give up this life for life incorruptible: Valentine the Brave: "A godly husband, then is not one who four times a year takes up the aggravating task of trying to be relational, in order to keep his wife from getting grumpy. Instead a godly husband is tasked with the constant call of communicating his love and commitment to his wife. This is not a few days a year, but every day. Too often husbands get frustrated, even offended by this hard reality..." Go read the entire thing. Right now.

From Ed Welch, that brave man who boldly and graciously takes Scripture and applies it to the most intimate areas of our lives: An Intrusion into the Christian Bedroom. If "I am my beloved's..." doesn't get your blood pumping as you consider the wife God has given/will give you, maybe it's time for a spiritual re-alignment.

The bride for her lover, from Song of Solomon 7:10: "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me." (Do you not just hear the joy in that verse?!)

From God, recorded in Jeremiah 31:3: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

HEAVY SHADOWS

Everyone in my family knows that I have a melancholy personality. Not that I don't know how to laugh or never have fun, but, yes, I've been accused of being "too serious" and "too sober" - repeatedly. I "think about things too much" and am prone to over-analyze.

I've often wondered how other people can be so light, have such fun personalities. Why is it that some folks seem to live more in the sunshine, while others of us live more in the shadow?

I don't have an answer for that question, but I suspect it's due in large part to personality, in large part to experience, and in large part to calling. For most of my life, I've thought that this melancholy disposition was something I needed to be shed of, a kind of curse...if only I had a greater faith, I could be like my light-hearted, take-it-in-stride acquaintances. It's "bad" to be the heavy, right? And "good" to be the Sunny? I mean, Sunny is obviously better, right?

Well, maybe not. Maybe not, if your calling is to carry shadows.

As a young girl, I was the person the misfits in school could talk to. At an age when most of my peers didn't even know the meaning of the word "incest," I was gifted with the shameful burdens of broken, lonely, depressed classmates. In our rural, isolated neck of the woods, "homosexuality" was barely even whispered - it was a freak aberration that occurred "out there," far away in California where the fruitcakes lived. Except for the confused, fearful, withdrawn classmates that confided in me on lonely corners of the schoolyard. They knew they could talk to me and that I wouldn't tease or blab or mock. The high school classmate that was going to have to tell her parents she was pregnant - the one who carried her baby full term, and the one who was secreted away for an abortion. I was too young to have answers, but, for some reason, I knew that these folks were carrying dark, heavy burdens and that they desperately needed to unload on someone. Heavy, heavy burdens for one so young.

In college, there was the terminally-ill girl who didn't want any one else to know her condition, who just wanted a "normal college experience, for as long as it can last." But she needed to tell someone. Could I keep a secret? She died the summer after our freshman year. The young Marine wife who hadn't bargained for being so very alone, who just needed someone to talk to who would understand. The first-grader who needed a place to hang out until her mom came home and unlocked the door. The neighbor who lost a brother to Aids, but who was afraid to tell anyone why he had died so young. The tearful, depressed wife who had been unfaithful to her husband, and she was so very, very sorry and afraid, and she didn't know if she'd ever be able to tell him or to make things right...

So many sad stories in this broken world. And some of the sad stories are my own.

Yes, my wagon seems full of shadows. Very heavy shadows. Is it any wonder I sometimes seem gray and melancholy?

But there is a man who has walked through these dark shadows and who has come through to incorruptible light. He invites me daily to follow Him, follow Him into the light. Is it any wonder my heart aches for Glory?! Thankfully, this "lovely, lovely man" posts radiant sunbursts along my path. Indeed, He is the lovely source of true delight.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

True, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent....

Jesus.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NOT A CHANCE! THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

More great assurance from the Heidelberg Catechism...

Question 27
asks: What do you understand by the providence of God? Answer: Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand.

God not only created everything, He also “upholds” (sustains) everything. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that “…he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Again, in Colossians 1:17, we read that “in him all things hold together.” Truly, as the apostle Paul said in Acts 17, “in Him we live and move and have our being.”

But God does more than just sustain His creation: He also controls and governs everything about it. Everything. We speak of “accidents” and of “chance” and “luck,” but these things do not exist in God’s economy. Indeed, Scripture tells us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father. From the smallest atom, to planets hurtling through space, every single detail of creation is perfectly and absolutely controlled by God.

Many people have no difficulty speaking of the providence of God when it comes to those things easily seen as blessings: the fruitful years, health, prosperity, etc. But they often stop short when it comes to circumstances not so clearly perceived as blessings: the lean years, sickness, poverty, etc. We quote Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” – but we shrink from the “all things” and try to soft pedal God’s sovereignty. We reason, “Surely this sickness/death/job loss/etc. is not from the hand of God. Still, I will trust that God will somehow work this difficulty out, turning it to some sort of good for me.”

Wrong! God, in His divine providence, is sovereign over both the good and the bad. Hebrews 1:11 tells us that God works all things “according to the counsel of His will” – His will being that end which He ordained from before the foundation of the earth. God has a plan for your life, and He is purposefully and precisely working to accomplish that plan through both the joyful and the sorrowful, both the pleasant and the painful. Everything that comes to us in this life, comes to us from His fatherly hand.

Did you, like me, lose a grandbaby? Maybe you received a bad report from the oncologist’s office. Maybe you lost your job. Those things did not happen because a sneaky Satan somehow managed to get a jab at you while God wasn’t looking. God isn’t scrambling to somehow “make good” after dropping the ball. No! God has been orchestrating every detail of your life all along.

Which leads to Question28: How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us? Answer: We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved.

Do you feel like things are going against you right now? Be patient, and persevere. Our mighty, loving Father is working in you, even as He worked in Joseph, who toiled long years as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 37, 39-46). Are things going well right now? Thank God for this season of sweet refreshment! Are you worried about tomorrow? Take heart: if you are in Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of your heavenly Father.

For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. – Psalm 135:5-6

Monday, February 13, 2012

MY FATHER IS GOD (REPOST, SORT OF)

I am part of a group of writers who work together to produce a weekly column for the Religion section of our local newspaper. In two-and-a-half years, we've written a series on significant figures of the Reformed faith, one on historic church councils, and a series on the attributes of God. Currently, we are writing a series of articles based on the Heidelberg Catechism. What a tremendous blessing it has been to me to work with these writers as we study together and consider afresh the great truths of this faith that sustains us!

While I consider this labor part of my ministry to my local church and to my community, it is no less true that this labor is a ministry to me. Repeatedly, God has used the words of one of my fellow writers to encourage me or challenge me in a timely way. Likewise, God has often had me sit down to write an article myself, only to find that the assignment for the week seemed precisely fitted to my struggles or concerns of the day.

We schedule our writing assignments several weeks (even months) in advance, so it always amazes me when I tackle a topic and find it so intensely personal and immediately applicable to my current situation. Such was the case a couple of months ago when I sat down to work on an article based on Lord's Day 9 of the Heidelberg...

MY FATHER IS GOD
(The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 9)

A crazy-busy week ushered in Christmas. Christmas Day itself was filled with worship, celebration, and feasting with family. Finally, the Monday after Christmas, I had a quiet morning to sit down at the computer to begin work on this article.

I had just powered up the laptop and checked email when my son-in-law called from Iowa. He and my daughter were driving to the Emergency Room. My daughter was fairly certain she was losing the baby, their first child and my first grandchild. “Yes, I will pray for you!” I assured them. But when I hung up the phone, I sat in stunned silence. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. “Oh, Lord,” I wept, “Be merciful to us. Give us the grace we need for this hour!”
Much later, I sat back down at the humming computer and turned it Off. No, nothing in me wanted to write that Monday morning. Instead, I reached for the Heidelberg Catechism. I was too sad to write, but I could at least read through the question for the next "Soli Deo Gloria" column. And this is what I read, on the heels of that heart-breaking phone call:
Question 26: What do you believe when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”? Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by His eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ His Son. I trust Him so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because He is almighty God; He desires to do this because He is a faithful Father.
Read that again. Think about it. God, the almighty and omnipotent, created heaven and earth “ex nihilo” – out of nothing – and He sustains and rules every bit of this created world by His power and wisdom. No, He did not start with some kind of elemental raw material, cooked over billions of years into life as we know it today. He started with nothing. Everything that IS came into being by the power of His word, by the intent of His will, and for the fulfillment of His own purposes. And, No, He did not just set everything in motion and then step back to watch it unwind. Rather, He sustains and rules and directs all of creation for His explicit purposes.
A God that powerful and that intimately involved in His creation would be terrible to consider, were it not that He is my Father – because of His Son Jesus. Some people call God “the Father of all,” referring to the truth that God is Lord and Creator of all mankind. But in the sense of familial union, God is “Father” only to those adopted in Christ (see John 1:12-13 and Hebrews 2:10-17). Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is my brother; my Father is God, the eternal, almighty Creator of heaven and earth.
Because God is God and because God is my Father, I can be confident that He is both able and eager to provide all my needs and to orchestrate all the affairs of my life to accomplish what is best for me. Even in this “sad world” – and this world is very sad indeed, sometimes!
In The Good News We Almost Forgot, Kevin DeYoung writes: “… (God) will turn to good whatever adversity He sends me. The Bible is not na├»ve about suffering. Trusting in God’s provision does not mean we expect to float to heaven on flowery beds of ease. This is a ‘sad world’ we live in, one in which God not only allows trouble but at times sends adversity to us. Trust, therefore, does not mean hoping for the absence of pain but believing in the purpose of pain. After all, if my almighty God is really almighty and my heavenly Father is really fatherly, then I should trust that He can and will do what is good for me in this sad world.”
That is what God led me to read that tearful Monday morning. In His sweet providence, He led me right to the solace I needed. God is so very, very good!
God is your Creator and Sustainer, Dear Reader, and He is your Lord, whether you acknowledge Him or not. Do you not desire the great comfort of calling Him Father?

Monday, February 6, 2012

SNOWFALL

These prickles
These frosty barbs you fling
Fall like snowflakes in a church yard
Wet, cold, heavy
Freezing the air to


Silence.


But my heart, burrowed six feet deep,
Does not feel their wintry sting.
It sleeps and dreams
Of sunshine
And of spring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

MEADOWLARK

A meadowlark perched outside my window this morning
His song - a bubbling spring, cascading over winter's gray
Like new honey - warm, clear, golden, sweet

"Mom! I hear a meadowlark!"
The sun came out in Helen's face.

Like battle-weary Jonathans,
Our winter-worn eyes brightened at such sweet sustenance.