Before we moved here, we lived reallllly close to Wal-Mart. Joshua loved to go, and so we went several times a week. Grocery shopping with him is different than when I go by myself. We don't "run in" and "run out." No. We take it slow. He talks to people, and reminds me of the things I forgot to put on our list. He makes friends with some of the checkers. Then nice ones? We try to get in their lines every time.
There was one at our Wal-Mart: Mrs. Deb. She was special. She was friendly to everyone...but she was REALLY friendly to Joshua...really sweet, and genuinely interested in him. Joshua would start looking for her as soon as we walked in the door. He would make a mental note of what lane she was in, and we would get in her line when we were done shopping.
If she saw him first, she would speak to him, and give him a big hug...sometimes even stepping away from her line to do so. She treated him like he was the most important person in the world to her.
She got to know all about our family, and we got to know about hers. Joshua would tell her about Special Olympics, and she would always say that she wanted to come watch him. She never did...but she would remember to ask him about it, and he would bring his medals for her to see. She always asked him about Jenni, and we would show her pictures.
Mrs. Deb was older than me. She was married, and had a family...and grandchildren. She loved fishing...loved the beach...loved her mom. She talked about her mom getting cancer, and how she took care of her in their home. She told us how they kept a small Christmas tree up all year in her Mom's room, and how, even after her Mom died, the kids and grand-kids would pick up little ornaments and knick-knacks to put on the tree. She called it her "Angel Tree." Joshua bought an angel ornament, and we took it to Mrs. Deb the Christmas after her Mom passed away.
Mrs. Deb loved spending time at the lake or the beach with her grandchildren...teaching them to fish, watching them swim and play. One year, she went to Gulf Shores on vacation, and brought a cap back for Joshua. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness, because...really...except for our WM connection, we were strangers. He still wears that cap.
But a random thing happened with Mrs. Deb. She fell. HARD. I can't remember how...but she never could get to feeling better. She tried to come back to work, but it was too soon. She was going to take more time off to rest and heal. We saw her on the day she was leaving for her extended time off. It was obvious that she did not feel well at all, and was in a lot of pain...this is a lady who was ALWAYS happy. But she hugged Joshua and gave him a big smile...and headed out the door.
We missed her a week or two after that...but one day, I "ran" into Wal-Mart without Joshua. I didn't see Mrs. Deb, but assumed she was on her lunch break. As I was checking out, the girl mentioned that it had been such a hard week. I asked her about it, and she told me about one of their checkers dying. I told her that I had read about it in the paper. And then she said something about Mrs. Deb. I said, "she's okay, isn't she?" The girl just looked down and shook her head.
I can't remember exactly what she said...something about a massive heart attack...or how I got home. I told Joshua, and we prayed for her family...and we both cried. It was a profoundly sad day.
I believe that Mrs. Deb knew Jesus. We talked often about Him, and shared our faith with her. She shared prayer requests with us, and we promised to pray for her. But there are a couple of things I learned from this:
First, time is short. Don't waste an opportunity. There will probably be times when you'll have a longer time to cultivate a relationship with someone, but there will be other times when you just have a minute. A minute to listen...a minute to pray. Make it count.
I was also reminded that God can use us if we are willing. We don't have to be a preacher or a missionary. We don't have to be a doctor, judge, lawyer...or someone the world perceives as "influential." We might be a Mom...or a Dad. Or we might work at Wal-Mart...and it might be EXACTLY where God wants us...where we can be His hands and feet to a hurting world.
We sometimes think that, with our busy schedules, we don't have time to invest in the lives of others...but we do. As Christians, especially, we need to seize the moments in each day. You might not be able to make it to Tuesday Night visitation at the church...but you can reach people right where you are. Sometimes people just want to talk...sometimes they want to listen; sometimes they need a hug; sometimes you'll have the opportunity to pray with them...or for them.
It's important to be intentional in how we spend our days...to look for those people who are hurting...to look for those opportunities to be a witness...and a friend. Our pastor is preaching on this very subject this month.
I'm not sure Mrs. Deb ever realized the impact she had on others...on us. But here it is, 4 years later, and I'm still talking about her...and I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat when I remember her kindness to my son.
God will sometimes use the most unlikely people to do His work. Because of Joshua, we have met more people, been in places we wouldn't normally have gone, and had more opportunities to share our faith. God puts people like Mrs. Deb in our lives every day...we just have to be open to it.
Tell your story.
"...when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me." Matthew 25:40