Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hospital Hallways

“That office is in the North Wing,” the diminutive volunteer behind the information desk told me. “Take this hallway till it ends and turn left. Take that one to the end and turn left again. At the end of that hallway, turn right. ”

Bravely I set out in the direction the aged lady’s withered hand had feebly waved. I had been lost like this in the hospital before; each previous time I had accidentally run into a friend who worked there and she simply guided me to where I needed to go. There was no sign of her today, however; I was clearly on my own.

At long last I found my way and finally turned the knob on the door to the appropriate office, only to be stopped by an attendant at a nearby desk.

“You sign in over here,” he said. I took the clipboard he held out to me, sat down in a nearby chair and answered the few questions, then stood to return it to him. Told to keep the paper and remain seated until my name was called, I obediently sat back down. A few minutes later in a ridiculously loud voice, considering I was the only person seated before him, he called my name. “You can go to Desk 4,” he directed.

Looking about I saw only empty chairs in the area, and nothing resembling a desk. Forced again to ask for directions, he somewhat disgustedly pointed me to a bank of registration booths I had obliviously walked by in my search for the proper department.  At long last I was given permission to go to through the door, only to be greeted by a lonely technician who clearly had had no one to talk to all day. There was no way I could hurry her along as she chatted endlessly about her children, an upcoming anniversary celebration, and the quarreling taking place between her siblings now that her parents had died.

All I wanted was my mammogram. Was there no easy way to get this thing done? No wonder I waited so long since my last one; I must have subconsciously remembered the difficulty involved in the procedure. Save me!, I pleaded in my heart to God.

Sometimes we make the process of finding God as difficult for non-believers as getting my x-rays today was for me. They walk into our churches looking for what they know they need, and too often we just give them vague directions and wave them in the direction they need to go, using a language they are unfamiliar with and landmarks they don’t recognize. When they move forward in their faith we have a tendency to stop them and make sure they have followed all the proper procedures, filling out contact information, signing up for the proper introductory class, and joining the proper home fellowship group. We chat them up like old friends instead of addressing the issue that brought them through the doors in the first place, forcing them to eventually voice their need in a soundless prayer to God,  Save me, please!

And just that quickly, He does, despite our bumbling and the unintentional roadblocks we set up to the process. What God meant to be easy we have somehow turned into something incredibly difficult. It‘s no wonder the lost and hurting are sometimes reluctant to walk through church doors. 

What I needed yesterday afternoon at the hospital was the friend I trusted to show me the way. She told me later she was stuck in a lab that afternoon and so wasn’t out wandering the halls as she usually is. And I am reminded that God needs us to be people on the lookout for others who are likewise searching for the door to His Presence, to take them to it instead of simply telling them how to find it, and then to leave them in prayer safely there in the Doctor’s care.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
(Luke 19:10 NKJV)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Shopping Madness

A grocery store remodel is everybody’s nightmare. A shopper needing foil for the family barbecue or a forgotten item for dinner that is already on the stove once knew exactly where to find it and could be in and out in a matter of minutes. To rush in only to find that foil has inexplicably moved from Aisle 5 to the other end of the store frustrates them more than words can say. Some items are so mysteriously placed that it takes a whole host of store employees rushing around madly with lists in their hands before it can be found. Customers simply don’t buy the company line that we’re improving our store design with a better shopping experience for them in mind.

It’s no better on the employee end of things. Excited about the store’s coming new look and motivated to help the shoppers any way we can, the work week started off on a good note. But the continued customer dismay has worn everybody down. Anybody walking around with a blue company shirt on is a target for the shopper’s rage, and managers and assistants alike groan when they hear their names called to the front of the store for “customer service”. The pep in our step long gone, we now drag our way through the building, pasting a smile on our faces and trying our best to help the customers find what they need.

A people person by nature, I was initially delighted when I was assigned to be one of the roving clerks moving about the store assisting shoppers. A hard hat on my head, construction vest crossed by a black sash with the word INFORMATION splashed boldly across it, I set out with the list of relocated items in one hand and a basket of candy with which to mollify people in the other. By the end of the week my hard hat was long gone, I’d abandoned the vest, and the sash slipping continually off my shoulder prompted one person to tell me I looked like a drunken prom queen walking the aisles. I knew then that my struggle to keep my patience with irate patrons was beginning to show.

Thankfully God didn’t wait for me to bring the matter to His attention before He stepped in to act. Repeatedly and with impeccable timing He placed images in front of me that delighted or encouraged me. I looked up once just in time to see a little boy of 5 years old or so walk up to the display of baseball paraphernalia, pick up a stuffed doll of one of the players, hug it tightly to his chest, kiss it lightly on his cheek, and set it back down before following his parents on down the aisle. Knowing he was too young to know which player had that number stamped across his stuffed chest, I realized that moment of sweetness was really from God to me, and accepted it with joy in the toy’s place.

While I was working a register on a break from walking the store one day, the customer in front of me was suddenly moved to tears by the sight of my bagger working away as best he could despite his disabilities, a smile on his face and ever anxious to please. Too choked up to explain his emotion, we both understood God's reminder that our lives are simply blessed beyond measure, and the little irritation that comes with a store reset is nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things. And repeatedly in recent days I’d look up to find one or another of my particular friends standing in front of me to chat and laugh for a minute as they made their way through the store, bursts of sudden sunlight in a temporarily darkened world. Later when frustration would set in again I’d go back to those moments and be encouraged and inspired all over again, as God intended.

The store remodel will be over in a matter of weeks, the new location of items committed to memory after that in just a matter of days. The important thing to keep in mind is the wonderful realization that the love and mercies of God never come to an end, but are new with every dawn to help us carry on with whatever we’re called to do in a manner worthy of Him.

“…be very patient with everybody [always keeping your temper]. See that none of you repays another with evil for evil, but always aim to show kindness and seek to do good to one another and to everybody. Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always)”
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)
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