Best Deal

His voice boomed through the store,

“Chris! Get ten of them!”

He wasn’t even in the same aisle that I was in, but he was so tall that I could almost see his head above the highest shelf.

“Stop putting stuff back! Get what you need, I mean it!”

“I don’t know if I need this many, though.”

“Christine! Get them!” He had used my full name, so that meant he was serious.

This was during a tough time financially for me. My divorce had not been finalized; there was no child support, so I was living off of fumes, and when he caught wind of it, he insisted on taking me to buy groceries. I had resisted the idea but had given in due to his persistence.

“I want you to get what you need. If there is a sale, take it and stop putting things back.”

I had a hard time doing what he said because I knew he was going through his own problems.

He had wandered off into another part of the store, so he couldn’t even see what I was doing as I took a couple of things, put things back, looked at prices, and kept telling myself to limit what I was getting. I was used to cutting coupons and strictly following a budget, and this craziness of just throwing things in the cart was foreign to me.

As I continued not to listen to his directions from afar, he repeated it as if he could see me, but I knew he couldn’t.

“Christine..get that! Stop putting things back!”

A lady next to me looked at me funny.

“Is he with you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“How can he see you?”

“I don’t know. He just can, I guess.”

She frowned and moved on quickly.

I went to the next section, and he came around the corner.

“You are still not doing it the way I told you to? You have nothing! Get back in that aisle, and get some things you need!”

He took control of the cart and landed himself back to where I had been.

“Look at this! You can get ten of these. You only took two! What are you doing? Get them!”

He did this through the entire store.

“What about this? Do you need any of these?”

“Yes, but..”

A vast handful went in, and we moved on.

“That’s so many..I…”

“I don’t want to hear any of your excuses. You have a poverty mentality, and God wants to heal you of that. You deserve things, Chris. God wants to show you that you will be supplied with what you need. Always.”

I wasn’t accustomed to his renegade-type approach to life because I was more of a keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best kind of faith back then.

He quickly piled in items as I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen to me.

“Just thank me for it, and that’s it. Don’t say anything else.”

He held up a box of cereal.

“What about this?”

“I am not sure…”

“Do your kids eat these?”

“I think so, but…”

He took his arms in a hug-like fashion and dumped in a bunch.

“That’s what I want you to do. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! Stop looking at the prices and thinking I can’t afford it. I am doing this because God told me to help you. So, quit fighting it.”

There were so many other customers around us, and they had to think we were having a domestic right there. A towering man was loudly barking orders and demanding that I buy things. Isn’t it usually the other way around?

“God can do anything, Chris. Now get stuff!”

The minute I would hold something in my hand and barely glance at it, he would pluck it away, grab fifteen more, and say,

“Those are yours now.”

When he went to pay, he acted like it wasn’t enough.

“Look at all this, and that’s all it came to. What are you so worried about? Do you want to go get more?”

“No! Please, no!”

I couldn’t take any more of his generosity. I thought it was nice and all, but I couldn’t mentally deal with it. I was not used to this because I felt that life had to be difficult, and the things I needed or wanted had to be challenging to obtain.

“Thank you,” I said once we were in the parking lot.

“You have to get over limiting God and what can be done for you. You are stopping the blessings from coming into your life.”

A few months later, he asked me if I wanted to go on a treasure hunt with him and some church members. He was clinging to God, trying to clean up a very messy split from his wife. He had children with whom he had no visitations and a whole host of things coming at him that would have made most people give up on believing in anything good.

I said I would attend, but I was a little in the dark about what this was. We were handed a pen, a piece of paper and told to sit quietly in a part of the church where no one else would speak to us. The instruction was given to pray and ask for words to write down.

This exercise was meant to strengthen our spiritual hearing and build our confidence in genuine, live faith. I had various words go through my mind, so I wrote them down.

“Now that you have your clues, we are going to go to the mall and look for what you wrote down. God will lead you to people who need prayer.”

Huh? I had to talk to people now? I looked at my list. Chapel, housekeeper, mop, coin, an American flag, water fountain, and a red shirt were what made up most of my list.

It was a Saturday, so the place was packed with shoppers. This wasn’t just any spot; it was the Mall of America which had thousands of people streaming in from all over. Of course, he had to pick the most massive collection of humanity possible. His go big or go home attitude was in everything he was doing.

The group split up once we all arrived. The minute I walked through the double doors, I saw her. Unbelievable as it was, I saw her pushing a heavy housekeeping cart. I glanced down at the words I had written. Oh, no! It was happening so fast!

How could this be? I tried to tell myself that she was busy. Maybe I shouldn’t interfere with her work because I am sure there were many messes to attend to. I was so thankful that my friend wasn’t with me because he would have grabbed my arm and dragged me over.

I observed for a minute. She stopped and started to rearrange the garbage bags, her spray bottles, and then she did something that ended up propelling me forward. She wrung out her mop! Red shirt, mop, housekeeper….it was all there.

I walked over to her and saw that she was standing right by a chapel! I could not believe it! It’s a place that is set up for quick marriages. I knew it existed, but I had never seen it.

To start the conversation, I said,

“What do you think of places like that? Have you ever seen anyone get married in there?”

I was grasping for anything I could think of to say.

“Oh, sure. I clean in there sometimes, and it’s not as bad as you might think.”

She continued to wring out her mop. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff with absolutely no safety net.

“So, I have a question for you.”

“Yes,” she said, not looking up.

“Do you have anything that you need prayer for? I think God sent me to you.”

She stopped what she was doing and made eye contact. I prepared myself for a considerable slap down. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness coming to my door and asking me if I had ever read the Bible. I was always kind to them, but some don’t treat others that way, especially if they have been abused in churches or have a bad relationship with God. She could have been an atheist for all I knew. This was too personal and up close for me.

She leaned against the mop handle.

“I need God to help me see the goodness in people again. I have been through a lot, and I don’t trust people anymore.”

“I don’t either at times,” I said. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

“I work here, and I do my best. But, I feel like there is more out there for me. My family isn’t kind to me, and I feel like something is missing in my life.”

“Let me show you something,” I said. I pointed out the words that I had written down that matched up exactly to her.

She started to cry.

“I have felt so alone. And now you are here telling me that I am not, and I know God hasn’t given up on me.”

“I don’t think so. There are many promises that say we aren’t ever abandoned.”

She grabbed my hands and said,

“Please pray for me.” This was now getting easier by the second.

And right there, in the busiest place in America, I asked God to restore her faith in humanity and to show her what her purpose was.

When she opened her eyes, with tears streaming down her face, she thanked me.

“I need to do more with my life. I know there is a church by my house that I think I need to go volunteer at and start living again.”

I took a deep breath when I left her. That was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life! I had convinced myself I would be so wrong, but God showed me that I could hear pretty clearly.

I kept thinking I was to find the water fountain. Now that I had been given a slight win with the first attempt, my fear wasn’t as high. I sat near the cascading water; I saw a woman sit down, looking tired.

Was this who I was supposed to help? I only had three vague clues left to go on, so I moved closer but not enough to have her see me. A coin was directly behind her in the water, and someone had thrown in a lapel pin that had an American Flag on it.
Yep, this was it.

I was back to square one emotionally, with terror ripping through me. I decided to throw all caution to the wind and start a conversation.

“It is so busy today, and I try not to show up here on Saturdays.”

“I had to sit down. My arthritis is acting up.”

She held up her hands so I could see them.

“It starts to hurt in my hands and feet.”

“Would you want me to pray for you? I know that sounds strange, but I can if you want…”

Before I even finished my sentence, she grabbed both of my hands.

“Yes. I would like that.”

Her eyes slammed shut like this was the most normal thing to do by the water fountain in the mall, surrounded by swarming masses.

I leaned in closer to her so she could hear me over all the noise. I felt a warmth flow from my hands into hers, and I felt her relax. She sighed and began to smile.

“I feel so much better now. Thank you,” she said.

After that day, I went on a few more treasure hunts with him and his group. It became more manageable, and I was so surprised how I was led to the right person each time. I never had anyone turn me away who I was supposed to approach.

All of this brought to life this scripture for me found in 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are God’s chosen treasure…”(TPT)

I still heard from him from time to time, and I know he got married. A couple of months ago, I was at an outdoor event that was packed with people. My daughter stopped to talk to someone she knew, and I looked up. And he was right there.

“Hey! Chris!” That booming voice.

“I can’t believe it’s you! Out of all these people!”

He said his wife was waiting for him across the street, and I had to keep moving with the group I was with. He said he would call me and get caught up.

I got word the other day that he is sedated, on a ventilator, and fighting for his life. There are no visitors allowed, and I wish I had lingered with him longer the last time we ran into each other. I hate regrets like that where you want to rewind the clock.

No matter the outcome, I know he will be where God wants him, and he won’t pass up on the best deal.

Blowing Smoke

I unpacked my overnight bag and immediately put the items into the wash with extra soap poured on for good measure. My hair reeked of the smell, but I couldn’t throw myself in with the clothes so a different kind of scrubbing was needed.

Any type of establishment that allows smoking inside the premises leaves its trace long after one has departed. Standing outside in hurricane type gales would not even do the trick to remove the odor.

So it was after a night away that I found myself hurriedly transferring the offensive garments to the machine and thanking myself for quitting the habit at the age of eleven .

What would have happened to me if I would have let it take hold? I wondered.

One day while at a friends house, unattended by any responsible adult, we were left to our own devices.  I was sitting in the living room when she rounded the corner with a lit cigarette between her long skinny fingers.  She sat down next to me, handed me one and said,

“Here.  Try this.”

“Where did you get this from?” I asked.

“My mom’s room. She doesn’t even know when I take some.”

I felt a slight twinge in my stomach.  I wasn’t the type to steal, lie or do anything that suggested shadiness.  However, before I knew it, I had white puffs coming out of my mouth that I was trying to fashion into different shapes.

I didn’t go into a coughing rage or choking fit.  I watched what she did, repeated it and took one drag after another.  Once down to the end of it, we both ran them under cold water and threw them outside into the trash.

That is when the guilt hit.  I had just smoked a cigarette!  All the way home, I wondered,

Would they smell it on me?  Would I look different when I walked in?  Would my mother look me in the eye and know what I had been up to?  

Anxiety overwhelmed me as I strode in the door and made a quick turn into my bedroom.

That entire evening as I ate dinner, worked on my homework and changed into my pajamas, I prepared myself mentally for the bomb to drop.  Nothing happened.

The next day I found myself in the same set of circumstances and the days to follow.  Soon, it was becoming a regular afternoon occurrence to which she invited another girl to join us.  My worries became non-existent as my confidence grew that my parents did not have a clue as to what I was doing.  I generally limited myself to one, but with the three of us smoking in the same room, it would get hazy fairly quickly.

One evening, while eating dinner, my dad said,

“I bet when Chris grows up she is going to smoke.”

It was like he jabbed a hot poker into my chest.

“Why?  What? No I wouldn’t.”

He slurped down a spaghetti noodle and said,

“I think you will.”

I became instantly angry with him for unfairly judging me.

“I would not!  I will not smoke!” I raised my voice much louder than I normally would.

How dare he look across the table and decide what I was going to do when I was an adult? Then, I remembered.  I was already smoking.

“I think you will, ” he said again.  “And anger shows guilt.”

It was like the ceiling fell on top of me.

He knew!  He knew!  How did he know?  I thought I had covered my tracks carefully by spraying myself with perfume and chomping on mint gum.

“When someone is angry like that it shows they are guilty.”

“I am not guilty,” I said looking at my carrots on my plate.

My mom saw how upset I was getting, so she added,

“She won’t smoke.  Smoking is bad for your health.  Chris is too smart for that.”

Oh, boy.  I finished my meal and slunked away.

The following day when I was offered a cigarette, I declined.

“I think my mom and dad might know,” I told her.  “I am quitting right now.”

For a few weeks I was ridiculed by the two smoking partners, but the situation changed when the thief was caught stealing from her mother’s stash.  Fortunately, I was not a part of their group that had grown to a club of eight.  I guess, lifting one or two goes unnoticed, but that amount got her into trouble.

The subject was never discussed in my household again until I was in my twenties.

“How did you know I was smoking?” I asked my dad.

“What do you mean?”

“You know. That time I was sitting at the table and you kept saying I was going to smoke when I grew up, and I got mad. You said anger shows guilt.”

“I was just joking.  You were smoking?”

“Yes!  And, I thought you knew I was so I quit the next day because I thought you were on to me.”

“No.  I was teasing you.”

“You and mom really didn’t know what I was doing?”

“Nope.”

I am grateful to this day for the intervention of an unseen source on my behalf.   We hear of statistics of many dying from lung cancer due to this, and yet if you stop in traffic long enough and glance around, chances are you will see someone who has gotten caught into the addiction.  Most likely, someone made the offer and they took it.  Just like I did.

The other day while in the grocery store, the cashier said,

“You don’t drink pop?”

She held up a bottle of an antioxidant fruit beverage.

“No.  I quit drinking it.  And, that is my substitution.”

“Is it good?”

“Yes, but quitting wasn’t easy.  I am okay now, but it took a few days.”

“I know how that goes.  I quit smoking a year ago.  Cold turkey.  I decided one day not to do it anymore, and I had been smoking for awhile.  I started before my teens.”

“You quit without any type of help?”

“Yes.  My mom told me I would never be able to do it.”

I asked the obvious,

“Does your mom smoke?”

“Oh, yes, really bad.”

“That is why she told you that you couldn’t do it because if you were successful, then she would have no excuse not to quit too.”

Once out in the parking lot, I thought about the power of that mother smoking and discouraging her daughter from doing something healthy.  What a triumph to overcome the cigarettes in the face of such adversity.  Not everyone has the “I will show you” attitude.  In fact, many of us shrink down under the presence of a negative thinker with a bad outlook on life, and we take on their pessimistic stench.

How many times have you gone into an environment in a peaceful state and were inundated with harsh words, a sharp bark or a put down only to find your sunny disposition gone within seconds? Suddenly, the world is dark and unfavorable.  The next thing you know you have a headache or some other sort of pain in your body, and maybe a whole week goes by where you find yourself depressed and out of sorts. All because you allowed someone else’s foul ideas to permeate your spirit.

Here is a possible solution to not living like that anymore.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways. (Proverbs 4:23-26;NLT)

Here we are given a wonderful answer to how we can combat and protect ourselves from being pulled into the opinion or drama of another.  If we stay connected closely to the Creator and only exist to please heaven, then one can remain on the outside of the mess without stepping into it.  A love filled relationship with God provides a way for us to see the genuine goodness of life and avoid those who are just blowing smoke.

 

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