My mission, and I chose to accept it, was to stand in public holding a purse while appearing to be at ease. I was thankful the purse was not a shopping bag sized overnighter and with some manly effort managed to tuck it under my arm like a football. I was stationed amid racks of frilly clothing and time slowed to a crawl as women walked by shooting me the evil eye. Some turned back and zapped me a second time. I tried to blend in and browse the shelves in a nonchalant manner but gave up as there were items whose purpose eluded me. Why, where, how, and when would this stuff be worn? I hesitated to read the labels to educate myself as that would only confirm the suspicions of the female life forms that a pervert was loose in Ladies Wear.
True love demands a man complete this rite of passage as often as his bride requires his purse holding services but why do they put the ladies changing room next to the undergarment displays?
Shawn does not enjoy shopping for herself and I’ve learned to make the trip a date and go with her. She’s worth it and welcomes my input although I have no idea how sizes are determined for women’s clothing. I know there’s a difference between 10 petite and 10 regular. I think there may be a 10 jumbo but I did not ask. We were looking for a “colorful top” and I joined the quest with vigor. Being tall I can see over the racks and survey the entire game preserve from one spot. I can see the best hunting locations – “50% off”, “Closeout”, “Sale” – but have learned that silence is best when the female is shopping. I did express my dissatisfaction with one item. I think Shawn held it up to verify my ticker was still ticking, at least I hope she was not seriously considering that monstrosity. The “top” should have been a “bottom” as in bottom of the compost bin. It looked like someone ate a colorful salad then barfed onto a cloth. I guess some designer/buyer somewhere thought it was a good product to sell.
We found a number of possible clothing items as the search for a colorful top morphed (with my encouragement) into a search for multiple outfits. I was proudly serving as a mobile clothes rack until the sales lady came to check on us for the third time. She took the clothes from my hands and scurried away to prepare a dressing room for Shawn. Now I had nothing to do but realize I was the only guy in the store. I started counting the burned out lights in the ceiling and examined some of the display fixtures to see what improvements I could make if I had to build them. As I occupied myself with these engineering tasks more clothes were identified as possibilities and again I entered clothes rack mode. The sales lady was beside me in seconds to retrieve the treasures to add to Shawn’s pile in the mysterious dressing room.
Season writers suggest paying attention every day, asking questions, and listening as people talk. My next story idea may walk past me at the mall or drive by on Glenwood Avenue. I’m an introverted introvert and talking to strangers does not come easy but I manned up standing there among the frills and engaged the sales lady in conversation. Her name is Karen and I noticed the attention she gave each customer. I lost count of the number of trips she made from the dressing room to the sales floor to find sizes or colors.
Karen’s actions communicated a vital message to her customers. “You matter to me. I care.”
Her words were encouraging to the shoppers. “I want you to find something that will make you happy. I know the stock in my store and can find things you may have missed. We have that in another size range. You can add this with that and get an even better result. Here’s a color you may not have considered. Did you try this one?”
I have great respect for one who takes ownership in performing her job. During a pause in the action I spoke to Karen. “I can tell you enjoy what you do here.”
Karen came from the decorating industry with its perks, promotions, and glamor. Over the last years the opportunities crumbled and the stress mounted. She opted for a different way of life. Some would make a job change that drastic and drag along an attitude, but not Karen. Stocking shelves and helping women (sometimes rude women) find clothing could be viewed as a step backwards by some, but not by Karen. Every customer represents an opportunity for her to make a friend and build a client relationship.
Life does move us backwards from time to time. The ladder to success we’re climbing may run out of rungs or be leaning against the wrong building. Adversity besets us and we have to make adjustments. The hard part for me is making those adjustments without latching onto a sour attitude. My experience with Karen yesterday could have been different. I could have exited her store thinking, “I’m glad that’s over.” Instead I walked away with a lesson learned.
Jesus shared His plan for our lives: “… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). I looked up the word abundantly and it has these meanings: beyond, excessive, superfluous, more extremely, and greater. Even when my day seems like 2 steps forward and 3 steps backward, Jesus intends the experience to make my life fuller.
How do I model a positive attitude when I move in reverse? Paul gave advice on that. I learn to control the attitude as my experience level grows. And I learn to lean on my Source of strength.
“… I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 (NASB)