Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waiting to Love

She greeted the clerk with a warm smile as she entered the department store. It had been a long day with her classroom of 19 energetic third-graders, and she was eager to get home. She just needed to pick up a baby shower gift, and she would be on her way. Her mouth watered with anticipation as she thought about the chicken and vegetables left simmering all day in the crock pot at home. She was ready to put her feet up for a bit and enjoy her dinner before heading to mid-week Bible study with her husband, Mike.

The shopper strode to the back of the store, glad for an opportunity to visit the baby department. She spied a rack of infant sleepwear and quickly selected a pale blue baby gown covered in soft brown puppy dogs. Mrs. Nelson will love this one, she thought, picturing the first-grade teacher's puppy-themed classroom. She picked up a khaki chenille blanket and plastic puppy rattle and headed back toward the front of the store.

Fishing a coupon from her purse, she slipped into the check-out line behind two other customers. An elderly gentleman collected his bags from the clerk as a young woman placed her merchandise on the counter. The young woman spoke in hushed tones to the baby strapped to her chest in a front carrier. The young mother's eyes looked tired -- I remember those days, the shopper thought wistfully. But even fatigued, the young woman was very pretty. She looked relaxed yet put-together in a coral-colored shirt -- shiny brown hair swept into a loose ponytail. Her porcelain skin bore no signs of age or worry, and her countenance was soft as she kissed the top of the infant's head.

The shopper smiled as she observed the mother and baby, her mind drifting to her own daughter. Carolyne and Mark would be coming down for Christmas, and she suspected they might have an announcement that would at last make her a grandmother. Her eyes twinkled at the possibility.

The shopper did not recognize the store clerk and thought she must be new. The red-head looked slightly uneasy behind the register as she scanned the young mother's first item.

Only now did the shopper notice the young woman's sizable pile on the counter -- an elegant selection of slacks, skirts and blouses, so much like the style Carolyne preferred. The young woman pulled a few more items out of her stroller: several dressy outfits for the baby; a pair of pink toddler shoes;  and a pretty stone bracelet.

The young mother offered an apologetic smile to the shopper standing behind her in line, which the woman returned with a reassuring shrug.

The clerk blushed as she fumbled with a few of the items, struggling to remove an anti-theft tag from one of the garments. "Do you have any coupons?" she asked the young mother.

"No, I don't," the young woman replied with a sigh.

"Are you sure? No value dollars or store coupons?"

"I'm afraid not."

The shopper surveyed the young mother's sizable pile of merchandise, then looked down at the three small items she clutched. Clearing her throat, she spoke: "I have a coupon she can use."

Surprised, the young woman protested, "Oh, no, you don't have to do that."

"That's all right, Dear," said the shopper. "You are welcome to use my coupon." She extended her hand, offering the coupon to the clerk.

The clerk scanned the coupon for the grateful young mother, but said the discount could only be applied with the use of an in-store credit card. "Do you have an account?" the clerk asked hopefully. When the young mother explained that her card had been dormant for a couple of years, the clerk suggested they reopen the account, adding, "It should only take about five minutes for the computer to process the request."

The young mother turned to the shopper, embarrassed for another delay to slow the purchase.

"That's all right," the shopper said before the young woman could speak. "I don't mind waiting."

Minutes passed as the computer stalled and had to be re-booted. After several tries, the transaction was finally complete -- generous discount applied. "Thank you so much," the young mother said to the shopper as she loaded her bags into the stroller.

"You are very welcome," the shopper replied, placing her shower gifts on the counter.

The young mother pushed her stroller toward the exit, but as she neared the door, the shopper noticed that one of her items had fallen out of the bag. "Oh!" she gasped, chasing the young woman to the exit. "Dear, you dropped this."

Something washed over the young mother's face as she took the bracelet -- relief? gratitude? sadness? The shopper could not read her expression. The young woman stared at the bracelet, fingering the smooth stones for a moment before whispering her thanks. The shopper offered one last reassuring smile before returning to the counter to complete her purchase. But she turned back just in time to watch the young mother step out of the store, a single tear shimmering on her cheek in the afternoon sunlight.

------------------------------------------------

Perhaps I have told this story from the wrong perspective. In truth, I actually know very little about the shopper who stood in the back of the line and much more about the young mother with whom she shared her coupon. You see, that young mother was my sister. And what that benevolent shopper did not know -- what she could not have known -- was how deeply her kindness touched our family.


Jennifer entered the store that day physically and emotionally drained after keeping vigil at our mother's bedside in the hospital the night before. She had packed so hurriedly for the trip to Alabama that she did not have enough clothes to last the week. The bracelet she nearly left behind -- its strands of pretty stone beads attached to a silver tag engraved with the word "strength" -- replaced a broken, nearly identical bracelet she had bought to commemorate her trip to visit Mother during her treatment for multiple myeloma in Salt Lake City.

Jennifer struggled to keep her composure as she shopped that day, filling her stroller with clothes without even pausing to try anything on. What she did not reveal to anyone in the store -- what she could not share, lest the dam break and her tears flow -- was that our mother had died the night before. Jennifer was buying clothes to wear to her funeral.

In the refuge of our parents' home, my sister broke down as she recounted this story to me. Through her kindness, this loving stranger unknowingly mothered Jennifer through one of the most difficult errands of her life. I am so thankful that in that most difficult moment, this woman demonstrated patience and extended her hand in generosity. She may never know how her tenderness soothed my sister's broken heart.

I share this story today -- a busy, errand-filled, hurry-scurry day -- to remind us that we cannot know the burdens carried, the challenges faced or the wounds suffered by the strangers we meet each day. Or how much comfort our simplest acts of kindness might bring.

When Jennifer unpacked her shopping bags at my parents' home that day, she discovered that she had misplaced the pretty little pink shoes she purchased for her 2-year-old daughter. The shoes never turned up in their van, so she assumes she left them behind at the store. I like to think they went home with the benevolent shopper who reached out to my sister. Mis-bagged by the clerk, perhaps they fell out of the woman's shopping bag when she tossed it into the trunk of her car. And maybe, just maybe, as she heads out today to finish up her holiday shopping, the kind stranger will discover that tiny pair of perfect pink slippers -- a poignant reminder of the afternoon she took a few moments to walk in a stranger's shoes.


" 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' " (Matthew 25:35-40).

25 comments:

Christina said...

Dear Melissa,

As it isn't my habit to leave comments at each of your posts, I simply cannot resist today.
This little story has touched me very deeple that words cannot begin to express how I feel.
Little gestures like these are filling our hearts with gratefullness. I wish people would be more like this. But it is my guess that a lot of people don't know how to be loving, giving and caring about others any more.

Take care, your story will have a place in my thoughts and prayers as will you and your family

The Martys said...

Oh how I love to hear stories like this. God Bless you and your family this Christmas.

Carol said...

Thank you for sharing this kind story!! Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Carol in GA

Anonymous said...

all i can say is thank you....what a beautiful story to share and remember. merry christmas to you and your family. sharon

Mid-Atlantic Martha said...

What a beautiful story -- we never know what others bear and what small, seemingly insignificant, kindnesses can do to ease a burdened soul.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

Just what I needed to read today!

So often we think we can't give gifts without money, this story shows how that is not true. The best gift we can give is ourselves and our attitude.

Judy said...

My eyes are filled with tears as I read your touching story. How many times have I been in line and barely disguised my impatience with someone ahead of me, never thinking of anyone other than myself. The Bible tells us about entertaining angels unaware and I believe this wonderful stranger was truly an "angel".

In the future I hope I can be half the woman your sister's stranger was.

Judy

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Melissa! I loved this story. Having been in retail for 15 years I know one kind work can make a clerk's day. One mean word can spoil the clerk's day. So today when you are all out finishing your last minute shopping take time to appreciate the hard workers behind the counters. They are busy working and getting ready for their own holiday celebrations. Just smile and say "Thank-you and Merry Christmas".

Debbo

Tina Foster said...

Oh Melissa, you did it again. You took the time to let God speak through you and we are so blessed. Thank you for being unselfish with your time and talent in this most hurried time. I try to remember when I'm out and about that since God is actually LIVING in me, every person I meet should leave my presence with a lifted spirit. That's a tall order sometimes, but I try to keep it mind. Merry Christmas, friend!

Glenda said...

A beautiful story, Melissa, and a great reminder today as I go out to finish the last minute shopping! Who knows whom I might encounter and how I might touch their lives. Thank you and Merry Christmas! from your Texas reader

hip-chick said...

It is a beautiful story. It's the very small simple things that make the biggest difference sometimes.

Carrie @ Cottage Cozy said...

Lovely share!

Merry Merry Christmas! May your stocking be filled with blessings!

Hugs, Carrie

Lisa ~ The SweetTalk Shop said...

Melissa,
Thanks for sharing this story! God's love truly shined through that stranger.
May you and your family have many blessings bestowed on you this Christmas weekend!
Lisa

Sue said...

Beautiful, and oh so true.

Thank you for sharing so beautifully a message we all need to hear.

Merry Christmas
Sue

Judy said...

I had to leave another comment to tell you that as soon as I read this I called Shannon to tell her she had to read your post today but to have plenty of kleenex handy. Then this evening I've tried to read it out loud to David but had to stop several times due to tears. This post has really touched me.

Judy

GranMarty said...

There was a day many years ago when I took my three boys to buy clothes for their dad's funeral just a day after he'd died. It was only about a week before Christmas, and the store was bustling with shoppers. It felt strange and unreal - and I remember thinking that people around me had no idea what had just happened to our family. I was just another mom getting ready for Christmas. And I felt so very alone.

Pat said...

Thank you for such a beautiful and inspiring story. It brought tears to my eyes. We never know by looking at a person how they feel, or what they are going through. This is just what we all need to hear this time of the year or anytime of the year for that matter. God has angels around us all the time. Thanks again for a wonderful story. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.
Hugs,
Pat

Laura Wilkerson said...

Melissa,
Even though we don't know each other, I'd just like to thank you. I randomly found your blog when I "googled" how to make a pillowcase dress. I was not a "blogger" at that time but when I began reading yours and I decided to jump on out here in blog land. I have met some wonderfully, inspring ladies out there and not only have they given me encouragement but also a renewd faith in God. I've stopped to smell the roses (so to speak) and realized that God planted these roses in my path. All thanks to you and your blog.
Who would have thought such a random thing would redirect someones life, but it has. So, I just wanted to wish you some peace this holiday season as I know you've had a heartbreaking year.
I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas and many blessings.

Laura

Karen said...

A beautiful story, lovingly told. Thank you. A little over a week ago I was standing in line at JC Pennys behind more than 20 people. I had just taken my husband home from the hospital after prostate cancer surgery. He went through two sets of pj's in 30 minutes. I was there buying several extra sets. When I got up to the counter the lady in front of me handed me a 20% off coupon. What a blessing! Of course, I said "Thank you". But that doesn't cover it! She touched my heart.

Merry Christmas and blessings to all of your lovely family members. You are a treasure.

Rebecca said...

Thank you! Beautiful!

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Thank you for sharing this post.
I just wanted to be sure to stop and say: A very Merry Christmas!

Blessings & Aloha!
Mele Kalikimaka!!!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Dear Melissa, this is just so poignant. I am so happy you shared it with us, and I cried when I read it. God truly is good, and you are so right in the way that we often see Him is through the actions of other people. I know He smiled on that whole endeavor, just as I know He is smiling at you for your amazing ability to tell the story and move people to rise to their best selves.

Merry Christmas, sweet girl. I am up early, early or late, late as the case may be, but please allow me to be the first person to officially wish you a Merry Christmas on Christmas itself!

Blogging with you over the past years has been such a joy for so many people, and I hope and pray that some of that will come back to you. Sending you my warm Christmas wishes for a bright and merry time with your children. I know this Christmas is going to be a difficult one, but each Christmas is just one step closer to the one where we will all be reuinted with those we love forever.

Merry! Merry!

Love you much...

XO,

Sheila :-)

Christina said...

Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

Janay said...

Melissa,

Thank you for sharing this precious, heart filled story. My eyes are still tearing.
I couldn't help but remember 5 years ago I had traveled across the country to my mother who had a massive stroke and brain surgery and I had forgotten to pack clothes for a funeral. I remember shopping for those clothes, and the clothes my mother was to wear in her casket. Also I had to purchase a wig to cover my mother's shaved head and surgery. I went to a shop and broke down when I told the gentlemen I needed a short, salt and pepper wig for my mother. That man rummaged for quite some time, knowing he had one in his shop somewhere, until he found it. And then he gave it to me for a discount. I will never forget that man's kindly insistence and thoughtfulness.
Hopefully your story will help be more aware that we have no idea of what is transpiring in other's lives, and to be patient and caring to those around us.
Again, thank you for a beautifully told "true" story.
May you and yours have a wonderful New Year.

Janay

Karin @ 6ByHisDesign said...

Melissa,

You wrote it beauutifully. Thank you for sharing such a touching story. Indeed a time for all of us to reflect and pay the same gift forward in patience and kindness.

God bless,
Karin

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