The Beauty of the Ordinary: Thankfulness

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“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…” 1 Thess. 4:11

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song about hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

– JRR Tolkien

View from first room.

Recently, I spent six days in the hospital with my father-in-law. The first day started with a call at 530 in the morning saying he was in the emergency room because he fainted. We left the house without showers, me with no makeup, no plants watered, no dishes done, the curtains not even open. We got home around 700pm and were so tired, I only watered my elephant ears and fed my sourdough starter.

The next morning started slower and I was able to do everything that didn’t get done the day before including shower and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. Standing at the sink doing dishes, I was struck by how often I either complain about dirty dishes, or don’t really think about them at all. I never get up and realize that doing dishes in the morning is a good sign that things are normal in my home and in my family in general.

Everyday chores get a bad rap.

You know, one should never be that boring suburban family who never does anything artistic, adventurous, or amazing. Who could possible want to spend their life mowing lawns or rising kids, right? Travel the world, explore other cultures, and find yourself.

Attitude change: how about being thankful for a morning that starts off with simple things? Take the quite as a sign that your family is well, fed, and off to face the day. You never know when you might wake up and spend your whole day, or several days, in a hospital watching the people you love face major health issues.

Get your hands good and soapy, get out in the heat to water plants, make the bed, take a shower, and be thankful for the small things in life, the little things the Lord provides every day.

Like father, like son.

As another morning started with chores left undone and coffee in a freezing hospital, my heart went out to all the people I know who’ve had to spend so many more hours in one of these little uncomfortable rooms. My heart went out to those who didn’t have a family member feeling well enough to give every nurse and doctor a hard time. My heart when out to those who had to go through the soul-tearing struggle of coming home one family member short.

It was sooooo cold!

I’m generally good a empathizing with others, but sometimes that empathy needs to be reinforced with a shared experience. I imagined how tired those friends must have been, how worried they were to even go home to take a shower, how confusing all the doctors and nurses and information was. I sat in that cold room and remembered how many other dear saints that I know have sat here before.
Spending a week in a hospital makes you thankful for quiet days and it makes you pity others as they face the same thing.

Day after day spent hurrying up and waiting, gave me the wonderful joy of watching a real life example of love. I’m old enough now to have old parents and extra parents. Now, they aren’t old old, but we are starting down the path of old age. How terrifying is it as an adult child to watch your parents start down that path? Very Terrifying. The strongest become the weakest, the together come undone. Roles reverse. But, by God’s grace, there is beauty here too! For almost a full week, I got to see real love. Not silly Hallmark love, (my extra Mom loves Hallmark movies) but love that is there in sickness, frailties, grumpiness, confusion, exhaustion, surgery, and post-surgery. I got to see self-sacrificing love that didn’t run away, but chose to be there every day. I saw real vow keeping visible in stolen blankets, bathroom issues, tidying, carting, worrying, fixing, and fussing. And it wasn’t just my extra Dad that my extra Mom took care of. It was all of us. She made sure everyone else was taken care of before herself. Love expressed through action, day in and day out, in the most ordinary way.

My own love for my husband grew as he prayed over his father, worried, took care of his mother, and encouraged me to stay with them each day, while the dishes and laundry piled up. Self-sacrifice and love in action.

View from the second room, post heart procedure.

Six days in a hospital lead to fresh thanksgiving for the quiet ordinary things, fresh pity for others who have had to be here too, and a fresh idea of what true love really looks like, unfiltered and earthy.
My extra Dad is home, and we’re all happy not to have to spend another day in the hospital, but God gently uses everything to make us more like Him, and for that I’m thankful.

Waiting for him to come out of surgery, and trying to stay out of trouble.

He always makes faces when I take his picture.

Racing the elevator.

They weren’t alone in playing on the stairs and elevator, Wanda joined them. It’s amazing they didn’t kick us out! 😉

Lessons from the Boutique 4: Dealing with People

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I have a personal belief that every human being should at one time or another do at least one of these jobs: secretary, retail, waiting tables, janitorial, and catering.  If we all had to experience how difficult these jobs are, we would be nicer.  We would understand that the person on the other end of the phone has no power and yelling at them isn’t going to get you anything.  We would understand that the person helping you with your clothes feels subhuman when you leave them a messy dressing room.  We would tip our waiters and waitresses more.  We would be much more careful in public restrooms and we would RSVP.  If you have worked one or more of these jobs, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  These are servant jobs.  These are jobs which require you to give parts of yourself you generally reserve for only close friends and blood relations.  They require you to clean up other peoples’ messes, literally.  You must handle verbal abuse with grace.  You must deal with the constant unexpected.  Then you go home, have a good cry, eat chocolate, and do it again tomorrow.  They demand the pouring out of yourself if you want to do anything close to a good job.

When we owned our boutiques, we focused on customer service.  My employees will tell you that I never once told them the customer is always right.  I firmly believe that this philosophy is INCORRECT.  In fact, the customer is often wrong, in my experience.  Usually, the customer is upset because you didn’t set their expectations properly.  Sometimes they have a legitimate complaint, but most often the customer is thinking only of themselves and nothing else.  We didn’t have a ‘customer is always right policy’.  We had a service policy.  Part of the issue for us was trying to find a middle ground between customers and consignors.  You can’t bite either hand that feeds you and you can’t choose one over the other.  This made customer service very interesting.

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The hardest part, we found, with customer service was our thought life.  After you’ve been chewed out, belittle, picked on, walked on, and yelled at, it’s very hard to be gracious.  In fact, it is almost impossible.  All you want to do is break that person down.  We spent hours and hours complaining and whining about our customers after they left.  We discussed how annoying they were, how mean, how useless.  It doesn’t surprise me that some people get spit in their food.  I’ve seen how they treat teens just trying to do what their bosses asked them to do.  I’ve had my teens and other staff members yelled at by grown women who should be more behaved.

But guess what we found?  The more we indulged in this kind of verbal and emotional abuse of our customers, the angrier and more bitter we became.  We hated them, our job, and everyone else.

This was when we made a policy against complaining about customers.  We taught and encouraged our teams to stop the cycle.  Instead of verbally abusing a customer after they left, we tried to imagine what could have happened in their life to make them the way that they are.  We asked ourselves if they were really being that annoying or if we were just being thin-skinned.  We tried to turn the other cheek and put ourselves in their shoes.  We encouraged one another and held each other accountable.

If someone complained about what clothes I would and would not accept, I tried to imagine what her day might have been like instead of getting upset.  Maybe she had a fight with her husband.  Maybe she lost a job.  Maybe she’s getting rid of all these clothes because she gained weight and she can’t get it off.  Maybe her kids are sick.  Maybe her dog died.  Maybe she got some really bad news.  Maybe this is just one of those days were everything went wrong.

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When we started showing our customers pity even if they didn’t see it, our attitudes changed.  We willingly put up with a lot more from them.  We found that people we always thought we didn’t like, just needed a smile and a hug.  We found out that angry women hadn’t been told they looked great in a really long time.  We found out that bitter women just needed someone to listen to them.  We found out that messy women had three seconds before their kids, husbands, or parents needed them.  They couldn’t hang everything up because someone else needed them and they needed us to hang the clothes up for them.  We found out that almost all the customers we thought were annoying were just women struggling through their days and lives.

Do you know how much more rewarding it is to bring a smile to someone’s face even when they’re pushing you away instead of complaining about them after they leave?  Do you know people can sense this?  The atmosphere in our boutique was very open, loving, and happy.  Why?  We didn’t tolerate ourselves, our customers, or our consignors complaining about one another.  Yes, we stopped even our customers from complaining for us.  This showed them they could trust us not to complain about them when they left.  It encouraged women to lift one another up instead of knocking one another down.

This lesson is one I have to revisit all the time.  This is one I have to remember even more now that I’m working with mostly just my family and church family.  Just because I love you doesn’t mean that we never hurt one another or even get on each others’ nerves.  We do and we will.  What we need to do is remember that we don’t know what’s going on in each others’ lives.  We should handle one another with grace and pity…and maybe get to know each other better.

footwash_thumb2-264x300Next time another mom in the nursery bothers you, remember that you don’t know everything about her week.  This could be her very last straw.  She could be struggling just to make sure everyone gets something to eat.  Next time someone in lunch line annoys you, remember they could have health problems they’ve never mentioned.  They could be in a difficult relationship.  They may be struggling with some sin, just like you.  Pray for them.  Pity them.  Don’t deride them.  If there are some people in your church you don’t quite get along with, that’s okay.  You can still love them.  Look for positive things about them instead of picking at the frustrations over and over.  Maybe you’re asking them to do something they can’t or don’t know how.  Maybe their strengths are different from yours.  Maybe they’re in the middle of great suffering.  It might be a suffering so deep they don’t even know how to talk about it.

Be long-suffering with your church members.  If you don’t like your church maybe you need to stop looking at yourself and start looking at the soldiers beside you.  Are they wounded?  Are they broken?  Are they haunted by the carnage they’ve seen?  Are you helping them or just complaining?  Are you lifting them up or just being one more person who doesn’t like them?

If this principle was important in our boutiques, how much more do you think we need to practice it with our fellow believers?

These men and women love Christ just like we do.  They are our brothers and sisters.  Are you seriously not treating them with more love than complete strangers?  Are you giving them the least that you have?  They are other adopted children of the Father.  He loves them, and so should you.

Lesson 1: First Things First

Lesson 2: Opening and Closing

Lesson 3: Have a System

Lesson 5: Red Heels

Lesson 6: Fashion from Boutique to Housewife

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, Beauty blessed a girl with all the physical loveliness she could bestow.  The girl’s chestnut hair flowed down a petite straight back.  Her dark eyes sparkled like brilliant smoky topazes set in flawless skin with just the right amount of olive, pink, and yellow tones.  Beauty’s creation moved gracefully in a figure both thin and curvaceous.  She spoke with a soft voice and a quick, sparkling laugh.   Gold and silver rings envied her long fingers and flowers her straight, cute nose.   Beauty’s creation gave material substance to Beauty’s spirit.  But, creating in a hidden away place, Beauty forgot to seek the help of other creators.  Her creation lived and moved, but lacked a character to match.  Beauty‘s delight became her disappointment.  Not once did her creation, endowed with so much of her own heart, show grace, charity, pity, humility, or empathy towards her fellow-man.  Without a good heart to match, Beauty wasted her gifts.

Beauty cursed the girl and removed her physical attractiveness.  She twisted her right shoulder up and out into a hump, and her fingers into hooked claws with no mobility.  Her left foot deformed into a dragging club, while her beautiful lips mashed into a soft sneer which marred any smile or frown.  Beauty Quasimodo-ed her creation as passionately as she had Helen-of-Troy-ed her.

With her outward attractiveness striped from her, the girl’s friends faded.  What she failed to provide to those around her, she now required of everyone: grace, pity, and love.  Abandoned and alone, the girl haunted the dark, dank sewers under the city which once worshiped her.

The King looked on the cursed creature and gave her the compassion which no one else offered.  As an old creator died, he graced the deformed monster with her powers – Happy Thoughts.

“She is still cursed,” Beauty told the King, watching his pity in action.

“The curse can be broken,” he said.

“Only if a man can love her.”

“A man will if she grows a straight soul inside her twisted body.”

(My own twist on the old Beauty and the Beast story.  I was inspired to write a story where the woman was the monster and the man the beauty.  Not because I feel like a woman can do anything a man can do, but because we women can think far too highly of ourselves while we backbite, gossip, and destroy.  We are just as much monsters and men, and in just as much need of pity as they.)