Retail Holidays

During high school, I worked at the Richway Department Store in Roswell, Georgia. For newer generations unfamiliar with the now defunct store, the chain began life as a discount cousin of Rich’s. Imagine a hybrid combining Wal-Mart and Target. Various departments offered hardware, clothing, jewelry, linens, stationary, automotives, electronics, toys, sporting goods, and almost anything else imaginable.

My first job at Richway began before the store opened. I swept floors, crushed boxes, and cleaned debris under the supervision of my 18 year old supervisor named Dave. After the store opened, I worked briefly as a bag boy before transferring to Small Electrics, Stereos and TVs, and Records. (For younger readers under 40, ask your parents what a “record” was.)

When I left for college, my supervisor promised a job would be waiting when I returned. Sure enough, I found myself with gainful employment the Friday after Thanksgiving. I spent the next six weeks of eternity in RETAIL HELL.

retail-holidaysEVERYONE ought to work retail during the holidays at least once. The experience provides an education like no other. Retail workers divide the world into two categories: humans and customers. Doctors Jekyll become Misters Hyde when entering a department store. Even a mild-mannered milquetoast can make Attila the Hun look tame after standing in a lengthy line.

During the holidays, we become more of who we are.

The best and worst in people becomes magnified by the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The same persons who drop $20 in a red Salvation Army kettle will cuss out a minimum wage clerk at the cash register. After wishing complete strangers Merry Christmas at the mall, maddened motorists practice road rage on the highways.

One incident in particular stands out in my memory. On a short-handed Saturday, I was covering three departments while my coworker took a hurried lunch break.

Store policy dictated that customers carry general purchases to the front registers where the lines stretched back to the North Pole. After sharing this information with one pushy customer, he demanded that I ring up his twenty items. While a dozen people clamored for my attention, I completed Ebenezer Scrooge’s transaction.

In hindsight, I suppose I DID place his purchases into the shopping bag with a bit more force than minimally necessary. Okay, so maybe I threw his items into the bag while snarling like a wounded wolf. He objected to my actions and attitude, threatening to file a report with the management. I diplomatically asked him what could they possibly do—make me deal with more morons like him?

Granted, the scene would never make the highlights’ reel for Christian evangelism. An hour later my supervisor pulled me aside to ask what happened. I gave him an unvarnished account of the incident and waited to be fired. Instead, my normally stern supervisor smiled, patted me on the back, and said, “Son, that’s retail!”

Thus God confirmed my call to the ministry.

During the holiday season, we will hear a lot about peace on earth and good will towards all. These are nice sentiments and worthy goals. However, allow me to suggest a more modest start: Be nice to everyone you meet in retail.

I guarantee you that they’re already having a bad day.

A Christmas Parable

parable-definitionThe kingdom of God is like unto a man decorating his home for Christmas. The man—being a man—required close supervision for any endeavor combining the words “decorating” and “home.” Fortunately, the queen of the manor took great delight in such matters. She gladly volunteered to oversee his efforts.

Numerous pilgrimages were made to far off lands named Attic and Closet. He returned with boxes of Christmas past, trailing the exotic aromas of evergreen, cardboard, and dust. Stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Ceramic Santas shared the mantle with a nativity scene. Artificial wreaths with fresh bows garlanded the doors and windows.

Finally, a coffin-sized box came thumpity, thump, thumping down the stairs. It contained the dismembered limbs of a fake fir. Working from the bottom up, the man painstakingly inserted each branch into its proper place. Soon an artificial, eight feet tall Christmas tree graced the room.

While his better-half organized ornaments, the man attacked a mare’s nest of tangled lights. A series of exclamations not in keeping with the holiday season soon followed! He angrily slammed the lights on the floor, and several shattered into glass shrapnel. Grabbing car keys and wallet, he journeyed to a distant emporium and purchased ten new strings with one hundred lights each.

The man wrapped the one thousand light bulbs around the fir’s branches. Extension cords stretched to every available outlet. When he finally finished, the entire family gathered for the lighting of the great tree. “Oohs” and “ahhs” greeted the glorious advent.

The husband/father settled into an easy chair with a double shot of eggnog. His wife banished the children and spent three hours placing the ornaments just so on each limb. Then they all stood arm-in-arm surveying the golden glow of the Christmas tree.

That’s when he saw IT. One string at the tip-top of the tree remained stubbornly dark. One hundred lights were not burning! The man frantically checked and rechecked plugs and fuses. He finally had to admit the obvious: one bulb must be burnt out. His spouse chose this moment to ask if he had checked the lights before putting them on the tree. Seeing the look in his eye, she quickly retreated from the room.

Light by light, the man wearily checked each bulb. One, two, three . . . . Midnight came and went, but he remained faithful to his task. Ninety-eight, ninety-nine . . . . Of course it was the final bulb that proved to be the problem.

But, oh, what a wondrous sight when the string finally came to life! All the hard labor and heartbreak were forgotten. He stood basking in the warm, Christmas light. Then he awoke his wife and children and cried out, “Rejoice with me; I have found my burnt out light!” The family celebrated with a bottle of eggnog and a plate of Christmas cookies.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents of the darkness than over ninety-nine righteous persons who already live in the light. (Luke 15:1-7)