I was tired. The traffic snarly. I had rushed into Winco to pickup something for the next event that evening that I felt too tired to go to, and after wandering around settled on chips and salsa. With just two items I thought of taking the “self checkout” line but it was miles long so chose the checker with the shortest line. She had just completed an order, that guy was paying, so with just one person in front of me and another behind, it promised to be a short wait.
The man wrote a check, and handed it to the clerk, Debbie, saying, “I gave up debit cards when my number was taken after using it at the grocery store once. Never doing that again.”
I began to think about debit cards then, and how often we all use them. His story gave me something to ponder.
“I don’t get many checks these days,” Debbie said, as she ran it through the system. But it didn’t work.
She tried it again, saying, “I don’t know why this is doing this,” but it didn’t work. Nothing happened.
She spoke to the man saying, “I’m sorry. This doesn’t ever happen.” He said something about apologizing to us instead. He was fine waiting. She looked up for a second and then continued on.
I wondered about telling a story to the woman ahead of me, but the level of impatience I felt from her and the reality that I really wasn’t certain how long I had, checked me on that.
As Debbie tried typing the details into her screen, running it again, changing how she did it each time. But each time, nothing happened. The minutes ticked by.
The woman in front of me, for whom some items had been checked, simply waited, as did I. There was not much we could do to help. I took out a magazine and glanced at some of the latest tabloid news while waiting. I put the magazine back. I just about offered to pay for this man’s things with my debit card, but realized that might not be simple.
Debbie apologized, red-faced, to us in line, as finally his check cleared. That’s when it happened. Debbie looked back at the screen and both lanes had cleared showing “$0.00” where Lane B ought to have still had a portion of the woman’s items in front of me.
Debbie got flustered. In the processing of the man’s check she had charged him with both lanes accidentally, so he had ended up paying for the items already on the belt for the woman in front of me.
Debbie started saying aloud what had happened. “Oh I’m so sorry,” she said to the man, “it appears…”
She never finished that sentence, for the man, still packing his groceries, looked up and said looking at the woman in front of me, “I paid for her groceries?”
“Yes, that’s it, I’m so sorry,” Debbie said.
And, without missing a beat, he said to the woman ahead of me, “Merry Christmas to you!” and smiled.
That woman was then flustered, a bit embarrassed to have this good ending, for I don’t think she was thrilled at the long wait and who knows what she had been thinking. And I said,
“Now that was about the best thing that could have happened tonight.”
“Are you sure?” Debbie asked him.
“Oh yes! No problem. Merry Christmas!”
That tension in the line — you know it, when people are frustrated due to the wait but are not yet saying anything — evaporated. Suddenly we are the line of the Christmas miracle. This joy settled over the whole line. We suddenly were friends. Chatting. Laughing. Joking. Debbie ended up telling us all there the story of her first day as a checker, years back now, and what had happened when someone had just left with their groceries without paying. It was the opposite of what had just happened. She was laughing as she rang through the woman’s items ahead of me and my few items. She was joyful.
That is something in this season that is precious and beautiful to discover: Wonder.
I was sitting with two friends this week over coffee who have been traveling around the world and are back in Portland for a few months before leaving again, and the man was saying how he was rediscovering the word “wonder” as connected to this season. He contrasted the response of Zechariah (Father of John) to that of the Virgin Mary. Both were visited by the angel Gabriel. To both the birth of a son was announced. For Zechariah it was in answer to his long unanswered prayer for a son, but now as he and his wife were well-along in years, that news wasn’t exactly expected. His heart’s cynicism can be heard in his retort: “How can I be sure of this?” Whereas Mary’s response carries no such cynicism, but rather just wonder, “How will this be,” she asked, “since I have not been with a man?” This friend said,
“I want to be like that. Open. Accepting. Filled with wonder.”
His eyes danced with joy as he said this. As he described his job in downtown Portland’s industrial area, clearly, that joy, that wonder is evident in how he goes about his work.
I’ll not soon forget the joy of our oldest daughter, Anna, then over 2.5 years old, to see our lit-up tree for the first time. It was this gloriously big, wide, taking-up-1/3rd-of-the-livingroom tree. We had hiked with a friend from church out into the hills and found, cut and hauled it home the day before. It didn’t look that big in the great outdoors, but there in the small home that was ours in Corydon, Indiana, it was enormous. It touched the ceiling and literally took up 1/3rd of the room. Anna was asleep before we could get to decorating it. So, we had stayed up stringing the lights and hanging ornaments, so that it was beautifully lit in the morning.
Anna walked into the room, and her face filled with immense joy just to see it and she said, “Oh! That’s Beautiful!” She paused. Enjoying it. And then she said, “It’s so beautiful, I have to dance,” and she began to twirl and prance around the room.
I walked onto the deck at the public pool today, and burst out laughing. There were all these “older people” of which I fully realize I am one, decked out in reindeer, santa, and elf hats in the pool doing shallow water exercises. It was such a sight. What joy!
For me, there’s another event I harken back to.
It was Monday, Karen and I spent the morning preparing for our six nieces and nephews (ages 16 to 3) to arrive to bake and decorate Christmas cookies at our place. Some of them are experienced in the kitchen, “I take home economics,” Bethany told me.
And others not so much, “Oh mom doesn’t allow him in the kitchen,” Katie proudly told on her brother, “he’s not trustworthy.”
But they all helped. Nicholas didn’t do much in the kitchen but tried his hand at decorating and played with his little brother Ben.
We made some extra batches of cookies and one of those was worked on by three of them. They all helped roll out cookies, even 3-year-old Ben who told me, “I can help, I have big muscles.” I just gave him a lump of dough and the rolling pin and set him to rolling.
We laughed. Decorated. Cookies got FILLED with frosting and sprinkles. But in it all was this joy of just doing this crazy event together. And as I look back I am filled with wonder. Somehow there was more going on than just cookies and decorating.
I had a gifted parishioner burst into my office this week having seen a vision of angels – literally. Her face was lit up bright as can be. Her smile filled her face. She joyfully shared her story. No doubt: Angels. And what joy. Indeed,
It’s easy to lose the wonder: So much traffic. Drivers making the strangest decisions at the last minute. The rush to this store and that. Long lines. Depressing news. Sad memories. So much.
So perhaps, we need to help one another remember. Perhaps we just need to remember ourselves.
Something really did happen worthy of the wonder in that manger, in that stable, in that small village long long ago. And perhaps just to call that One who came to mind in the middle of the line, the traffic, the shopping, perhaps that alone will be enough to bring back a smile.
There are angels. There is light. Hope is real. There’s indeed a Savior. The lines shall end. Christmas will soon be behind us. So, maybe what does not need to pass is the wonder in it all.
Joy to you.