Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rib Tickler

“You're doing a demo in deli today,” I was told after I'd clocked in to work. “Giving out samples of ribs.”

Thinking it a pleasant change of pace from my regular cashier duties, quickly I headed to the back of the store where I found a table set up with all the necessary supplies and a deli cook already cutting up the racks of ribs she had just pulled out of the oven. It was the start of Labor Day weekend, and many people would be gathering with family and friends to bid farewell to summer. Offering the shoppers a taste of the store's pre-cooked baby back ribs alerted them to the possibility of eating such great summertime fare without the work of cooking them up themselves. Many tossed a half-rack or two into their carts before continuing on.

It wasn't your usual shopping sample, to be sure. A hot piece of meat covered with barbeque sauce, it took the sight of the nearby napkins to convince many to accept the treat and give it a try despite the accompanying mess. But one by one, as they returned to discard the bones and waste in my trash basket, they uniformly declared them to be delicious.

Soon the deli cooks had trouble keeping pace with the rate at which the shoppers were gobbling up what was offered to them, and I was told to be a little less aggressive in getting the customers to sample our wares. Thus “repeat samplers” began to be a problem. Most people were reticent to ask for another sample; others not so much. One little boy in particular stole my heart. After tugging on his dad's shirttails repeatedly to get his attention and let him try one of the ribs in the first place, he was soon standing before me again, a happy smile splitting a round little face that was covered in barbecue sauce from ear to ear.

“Can I have another?” he asked. Totally unable to resist him, I handed him what he wanted and he ran off to rejoin his dad.

Some of the adult customers were less appealing, and I had to remind myself repeatedly that I was just there to hand out the samples, not judge people on their manners. And I certainly couldn't vocalize my disdain. So I kept my mouth tightly closed when one particularly annoying man came by for a third time with his hand extended for more...until he complained that the shopper before him had received a bigger piece!

“Isn't this number three for you today?” I asked in reply. Embarrassed, he laughed guiltily and walked away, rib in hand, and I knew I had broken the cardinal rule of not alienating a customer in any way, shape or form. It was one I had struggled with repeatedly with this particular man, an aggressively social shopper who regularly halts the checkout process completely while he tells jokes and strikes up conversations with total strangers. I groan inwardly whenever I see him headed my way. 

God doesn't, however. As if to prove the point, He immediately sent the little round-faced boy back to likewise ask for a third sample, his bright smile and sparkling eyes his bargaining chips. I folded completely, handing him a juicy hunk of meat with a smile to match his own and not a word of condemnation. Noting my response to the little boy, God nudged me and said, “That's how I feel when I see the other guy you so dislike.”

In that moment I was forced to admit that my response to people is based at least somewhat on their behavior, their looks, their personality and my personal preferences in those areas. God simply sees everybody as His precious child. It's not that He is blind to our imperfections; they are simply covered up in the blood of His Son. Thus He responds to us based on that relationship, rather than the right or wrong in our actions. And it is the overwhelming love He has for each us that works in us to bring those actions in line with the “good” that He proclaimed over us at creation.

And so I smile now when I see that particularly annoying shopper coming towards me, because I know God is doing the same. Funny, it is me who was changed as a result of our last encounter, while I thought it was he who needed the work! God reminded me with a chuckle of His own that He can still do a lot with a piece of rib...

Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman...”
(Genesis 2:22 NKJV)

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Gray Day Challenge

The first of March was drawing near, and I could feel the rising joy in my soul that the anticipation of Spring always brings. Having spent most of the winter recuperating from a broken elbow and multiple surgeries to correct the damage, I was more ready than most to get back to work and get on with the life that my injury had so interrupted. But instead it was my line of thinking that was suddenly interrupted as I walked through the kitchen one morning and spied a bag left on the table at the end of a long evening. Across the front were the words “GRAY MATTERS. Did you know?”

The question stopped me short for some reason. I was intrigued enough to look up the website listed under the phrases that had grabbed my attention. Apparently they were merely a reference to the store's recycling efforts and had nothing to do with anything I was going through. Or so I thought.

Any of us who are going through a difficult period in our life experience, regardless of the season or time of the year, are ready to celebrate a time of new beginnings, fresh hope and warm and gentle breezes across our souls. We are quick to discard the current “winter” months as disturbing and distasteful...a time to hurry through. Yet a difficult journey is made bearable by the knowledge that God knows exactly where we're at, has our situation under control, and will be with us through all the days that lie ahead.

That's what we need to know, isn't it? That God sees ...that He hears our prayers... that He cares about what we're going through.

The devil would like us to think that God has abandoned us in our times of trouble, that He took flight to warmer climes like a supernatural snowbird and left us to wander through the cold of our current experience alone. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. And so, as if in rebuttal, God poses the question that I ran into this morning.

Did you know...that what matters to you, matters to God? That He promised to never leave us nor forsake us? While we would be quick to change our circumstances, God is more interested in changing the way we think about them, working with the gray matter between our ears in the hope of getting us to see our lives from His perspective. The only thing that really matters is God 's presence in all our they sunny, or cloudy with trouble or pain. And often it is in the most difficult days of our lives that His nearness and love can be felt as never before.

In the physical world, it is in the cold and dark of the winter months that changes invisible to the naked eye are happening in seeds and bulbs underneath the ground that produce the flowers in the Spring which so delight us. And likewise it is in the difficult months of struggle and hardship that change occurs in our spiritual makeup, the evidence of which in subsequent seasons brings tremendous joy to the heart of God.

If our gray days matter to God, then they should matter to us as well. So don't discount them. Look for and learn the lessons they provide, and give thanks for the subsequent gifts that come into your life that you would likely not have experienced any other way.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
(James 1:2-4 MSG)
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