Spiritual Direction, Writing

A Four Letter Word You Should Know

When you work in a gift store you have this bird’s eye or panoramic view of how a shopper sees and feels about their shopping experience. I have written before about my experiences working in a gift shop. I had so many stories I wrote twice. It’s a good thing I happen to like people a lot. I like seeing them happy to shop. I also like hearing their stories. When you work in a museum store (like I do now) you will definitely hear stories. Museums push inner buttons and stir up long held memories. So who better than the shopkeeper to share your experience. I also think I have a sign on my forehead that says “you’re safe to talk”.

Jana and Paul* walked in on Saturday filled with wonder in their countenances. They were just so happy to be on their trip and to see the museum. They narrated their journeys from the mundane to the sublime as they shopped, from the statuette to the teddy bear.

They were “purchasing-machines”. We chatted about nothing really, then Jana and Paul went along on their journey.

On Sunday morning bright and early Jana and Paul returned.  Jana was wearing her museum dangly earrings, her museum shirt and museum jacket and Paul went straight for the book he’d been thinking of since he’d left the day before. Again they narrated and chatted as they browsed. A tiger dressed as an aviator with glasses and scarf was picked up and cuddled and would surely be going home. Another statuette purchased among a variety of memorabilia.

I don’t know how the conversation began, (I rarely remember how I get into these moments… must be that sign on my forehead)… OH! I do remember! I asked them where they were from.

“Ft. Worth.”

And that’s how it began. Because I grew up in Ft. Worth. So we talked about high schools. Talking about high schools led Jana down the rabbit hole of bumping into old high school classmates. There was a particular one that had made an impression on Jana, for this woman, I’ll call her Sybil, was the popular girl … the one who “bullied” her.

Jana relayed how Sybil was well-to-do and had all the friends. Sybil wasn’t very nice to Jana in high school.

Sybil, as Jana reflected pointedly, wasn’t looking too great these days. Sybil shared unsolicited information about living on the street because she’d “gotten into heroin”.

I could see on Jana’s face the expression of a long-awaited recompense. Jana began to tell me she’d received her degree in forensic psychology of which she was enormously proud.

I suppose I should share with you that Jana and Paul were simple, humble folk. There really wasn’t a shred of “well-heeled” sophistication about them. I could see into the past Jana’s adolescent gawkiness and Paul’s shyness, perhaps that he’d grown out of little more now, but then also, still, his quietude and lack of the charisma that the cool jocks had. It’s actually what I liked about them. They were kind. They were unadorned. She was quirky. He was humble. They were happy.

They were who they were.

Back to Jana and her bachelors.

Jana was now on route to obtaining her PhD. She told me her big sister wanted one, too, but didn’t think she could afford it. Jana encouraged her and now they are racing each other to the finish line. (For “now this is personal!” her sister teased.)

Paul shared that they get “two trips” (he held up two fingers) “to Arizona” because of Jana’s studies. I shared how much I liked Arizona when I visited, and we all commiserated about the heat there.

Some people never leave their front porch or think they’ll never get the chance. Arizona is a mighty jump for some. Oh, how I loved Paul and Jana for their travels and dreams.

Jana acted out a mini play for me when she spoke of poor Sybil, who clearly hadn’t gone the way of bachelors, PhD’s and museum jaunts. Jana unwittingly relayed her inner wounds from high school trauma.

Then Paul said something that stopped me.

“We still get bullied, you know.”

Every protective alarm within me peeled and rang. Nope. Not these two. Absolutely not. And before I could get a handle on the fact that I was “just a sales clerk”, what time it was and where I was, my mouth opened up in a holy protective spark.

“Oh, no. No, we are not doing that! No more of that. I am praying that off you right now. No more bullying from this moment on is allowed over you ever again.” I would have continued but Jana, who was smiling ear to ear as if she’d just recognized me for the first time, opened her arms wide and hugged me over the counter.

And out of my lips whispered, “in Jesus”. Yeah, I said it. Sue me.

I have no idea how all that happened, but it did. Then Jana revealed that, in addition to her forensic pursuits, she was also a reverend.

She grabbed my hand firmly and pulled me in. (I cannot lie, I was happy the store was empty for this was probably not listed on the job description.)

Jana proceeded to pray over me. She prayed for good sales and protection. She gave thanks for our meeting. She insisted I have her phone and email.

Jana and Paul purchased more museum fun and went, very merrily (never to be bullied again) on their way toward the plan God has for them.

I am happy that God thinks highly enough of me to allow me to know them even if for a sweet moment in a lifetime. Will I email Jana? I don’t know. I might. We’ll see. I don’t want to mess up the memory. But that’s not what this story is about.

Here’s my take away:

Jana and Paul are like many “folk” that I meet wandering through the museum in a small town in Texas. They are good and kind and well-mannered. They say things like “please” and “thank you” always suffixed by “Ma’am”. They tell stories that are simple, maybe even a little uninteresting, but important. They are unapologetic to do so because it never occurs to them they wouldn’t tell their story.

They are humble spiritually (well okay perhaps there’s work to be done when remembering that girl who bullied you in high school and you are currently having the last laugh – by the way… send up a prayer for Sybil. God knows who you’re talking about.) But even so, there’s a meekness (a word the world at large does not champion) about them that makes you remember what’s important; people and their hearts.

A well-traveled socialite would most likely scoff at Paul’s joy in “getting to” go to Arizona. But we know about those scoffers don’t we. We also know that Jana and Paul are likely to be persecuted (ie. bullied) because of their love of God, their kindness, and above all, their meekness.

For a moment today stop and give thanks for all that you have been able to see and do in your life. You may well have traveled beyond the bounds of your next-door state. You were only able to do this by the grace and gift of God. It’s good to remember. But it’s even better to remember those whose journeys are the thimbleful compared to your ocean of awareness. Give thanks. Be a little humble child. Remember the Janas and the Pauls. Say a prayer for their protection. For you have been given more and therefore more is expected of you. That begins with your compassion and willingness to love them exactly where they are – right where you are. And remember: 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3).

And if you are a Jana or a Paul I leave you with this:

Blessed are the meek. For they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

PS. Are you still seeking that  four letter word? Meek.
*Names changed.
Read more stories at www.fleuralysdobbins.com or on Little Yellow Bird.