I stopped scanning her groceries for a moment and looked at her. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
“Oh, I’m fine. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” she asserted. “And I don’t need that in a bag…” she said, reaching to grab the bottle of vodka I’d just set down and putting it directly into her purse. The action caused me to wonder if she was really as fine about it all as she claimed, especially when I saw her the next day, the one after that, and the one following that as well, doing exactly the same thing. Some days she came through my line, on others I just happened to look up and spot her in another checkout lane just in time to see her stash the bottle in her handbag. Perhaps these days before Valentine‘s Day were tough ones for her in her current situation, and the liquor was just her pain medication of choice.
That thought prompted mental visions of another friend for whom this particular holiday was also especially difficult this year. A coworker who looks too young to have already been married two years, she’s an army wife whose husband has been deployed overseas for the past eight months. The separation has been hard on them both, and they are eagerly counting down the days till their reunion sometime this spring.
I asked her recently how she made it through the holiday season just past. She told me that Thanksgiving and Christmas weren’t so bad, perhaps because she had lots of family around, but that New Year’s hit her hard, as she and her soldier had always been together before this to share a New Year’s Eve kiss. And now Valentine’s Day loomed on the horizon, and she hoped she’d be scheduled off that day so she wouldn’t have to see people buying flowers and candy for the love of their lives, while hers was still so far away.
Imagine her disappointment then when the work schedule came out for the week of Valentine’s Day, and not only was she scheduled to work on the holiday, but she was placed in the floral department all week long! With cashier hours in short supply at the start of the year and the floral department needing extra help to handle the Valentine’s Day demand, she’d been given hours there in order to meet the need and fill out her paycheck at the same time. Grateful for work though she was, the action rubbed salt into a wound that was already raw and bleeding.
Surprisingly, she, too, found solace for her pain in something she carried in a bag…not a handbag, but a shopping bag that she filled with gifts for her friends and coworkers. By day she took orders, carried fresh blooms from the cooler and cashed out customers making purchases, and then she spent her off hours tying personally-addressed Valentines on to the stems of cloth flowers, depositing them in the pink carry-all until it was packed full. A day or two before the holiday she started delivering them with a smile, an occasional hug, and a warm wish for each. Using some tips from a regular in the department she also put together an arrangement of fresh flowers for the mother who supports her in so many ways in her husband’s absence. She simply spread joy wherever she went that week.
Her actions seemed to inspire the same in her coworkers, who were soon passing out mini-bouquets, frosted cupcakes, or buying little remembrances for any possibly lonely soul who came to their minds. And not surprisingly, the love she gave away came back to her in the form of flowers from friends, a greatly anticipated gift from her hubby, and the thoughtful appreciation of the many people who were blessed by her actions. She simply took the pain she was feeling and turned it into gain somehow for everyone around her, and found victory on the very Valentine’s Day she’d been dreading as a result.
The Bible warns that in this life we will have tribulation; each of us will face troubling situations that break our hearts and threaten to wear us down physically and emotionally. It’s what we do with that trouble that counts. So often we stay so consumed with getting through the matter ourselves that we don’t even see the suffering of those that surround us. We feel we have nothing at that point to give to anybody else, anyway. Yet God urges us to use the very thing that threatens to destroy us as a tool to help the person struggling beside us get a leg up on their own situation. In doing so we find that we are gradually lifted out of our own pit of despair as well.
We need to remember that we don’t fight our battles alone; God sends visible reminders of hope and the victory He promises if we just have eyes to see them. Perhaps it was just one such messenger who suddenly appeared before my friend in the floral shop a day or two before the holiday, a man dressed in army fatigues, presumably from the nearby recruitment center, there to buy flowers for his girl. She told me later that she was surprised she didn’t break down at the sight of him. Yet I believe he was really sent there on a mission to deliver a gift…his presence perhaps a heavenly reminder that sooner than she thinks, her own soldier will come walking home to her. On that day she will cry…but they will be tears of joy.
“…for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap…And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all…”
(Galatians 6:7,9-10 NKJV)
(Galatians 6:7,9-10 NKJV)