The bell sounded as I pushed open the door. A rush of refrigerated air perfumed by the chemical odor of new merchandise ushered me into the narrow shop. Appropriately alert, the sales clerk lifted her head and gave me her best “I’m so glad you’re here!” smile, well-executed as a result of thorough training. I returned the welcome, lips tight with too much rush. Time was crunching, and I just didn’t have moments to spare on small talk. My response undoubtedly conveyed a strong sense of consumer independence: Don’t trouble yourself. I don’t need assistance, thank you. I know exactly what I’m after. I swept down the aisle with the self-importance that only someone who has too many significant things to accomplish and too little time to complete those significant things can carry.
However, after perusing the shelves for several minutes, I realized that the item for which I had been hunting seemed to be in hiding. I dug through stock, looking behind and beneath, coming up empty-handed. Exasperation escaped through ground teeth. Argh. The allotted time for this stop was rapidly expiring and hope for success seemed bleak. I needed to –ahem– find the clerk.
As she and I were the only folks inhabiting the store, tracking her down wasn’t hard. Eyes focused on item in hand, I explained my dilemma. This is similar to what I’m hunting, but I need a different color. Can you check your stock for me?
Her response stopped me cold. Of course! I’d be more than happy to help you. Humility. Kindness. Service. And she meant it.
In that moment my eyes lifted and for the first time, I actually saw her. She was young with a simple freshness that conveyed an innocence that was disarming. Her face was lovely without being made-up or artificial, her hair simply arranged. And her clothes… well, I hadn’t seen a young woman dressed so unabashedly modest in far too many years. She was altogether charming.
Leading me to her workstation, she began to check on my item, chatting easily as she went. I detected a hint of those round vowels which hail from the midwest, quickly concluding from all available evidence that she was NOT a local. Because what So Cal girl presents herself like this? Yep, definitely not from around here.
My curiosity was piqued, and in spite of my tyrannous to-do list, I capitulated. I had to know. Where are you from?
The conversation launched. She was from Michigan. Bingo. She was a newlywed and had been in Southern California for just one brief week. This was her third day on the job, and she was utterly overwhelmed. By everything.
Her husband was a Marine, and she had left all familiarity behind to begin a new life in a new place with only himself as a companion. And as she spoke, I was transported twenty-five years back. How well I remembered the tremulous excitement of starting fresh in a strange place with my young husband. Vulnerable and young and unsure of what life would bring, but oh-so excited to taste it all.
I had to ask. Do you have family here? She quickly replied that they had no one. She was alone. It was in that moment that I finally got it. Dense, thick-headed, preoccupied, and yes, self-focused, I had almost railroaded right past the purpose in it all. This was a divine set-up.
Jesus, give me the words.
You know, there’s a wonderful church down the way that has been my home for many years. They have a fantastic women’s Bible study as well as small groups where you and your husband can get to know some fabulous, loving people. I’d love to have you as my guest sometime!
And she blushed crimson. The tell-tale flush spoke her silent decline, but oh, how she longed for the love. She summarily thanked me, moving quickly on in conversation. But I had been foolishly stubborn for far too long that afternoon and wasn’t about to be sidetracked by a demurral.
I know how hard it can be to migrate across the country. The loneliness can be overwhelming at times. I’ll check back in with you in a week or so to see how you’re doing.
Once again her cheeks flamed, and for the first time in our encounter, she was silent.
Because Love always wins.
Purchase in hand, I jogged toward my car with her precious face imprinted upon my heart. I hadn’t even asked her name, but she was indelibly marked in my mind. Closing myself into the vehicle, I stopped, head cradled on the steering wheel. Thank you, Father. Thank you for pulling me out of myself so that I could realize the need around me. I’m so grateful for your patience and lovingkindness. Oh, how I need You.
I would be returning, Lord willing, but next time with a less congested spirit. With a heart eager to love and fresh eyes to apprehend more readily the need of the one precious life which is always, everywhere in front of me.
Photo by Kylene Nesbitt