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Searching for family outside the garden…

I love the idea of a kindred spirit. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables was the first time I had ever read this phrase and it immediately struck a chord inside of me. I am convinced that what each of us feel inside is unique only to ourselves, is actually shared by hundreds, thousands and millions of others across the world. I know this because of one distinct truth.

Whether or not you believe it; we share a common ancestry through our first parents Adam and Eve, and we are family. This human condition we hold in common, binds us together as the largest communal family in the universe. It is because of this familial connection that; when one of us is down or worried or filled with hope, others of us can sense it. It isn’t just a human condition, it is the spiritual tie that binds us together.

This is why yesterday, while taking quite a bit of time to answer the questions of a young couple about how to tile their entire house, I got a strong handshake from the young man and a short hug and kiss on the cheek from the young wife. In that moment they were not my customers…I was helping two of my kids to tile their house by giving them the benefit of my experience and knowledge. I was their old dad, helping them out.

In fact throughout the days that I am working, I find myself listening more closely, and caring more about their projects than I used to do as a young man. Later in the afternoon, a man approaches me about how to install blinds, a lady and her elderly husband ask about the best flooring for a kitchen and it’s when I begin to ask questions that they hadn’t thought about and come up with solutions that will fit into their budget, people seem to come alive.

I know it’s an old and tired saying, but people don’t care how much you know…..until they know how much you care. When they see in your eyes that you are taking time with them and that you don’t think that people are an interruption in your day, it is then; that people will listen to whatever you say and take it to heart.

Yesterday there was a couple, not much older than 22 or 23 years old walking and trying to find the aisle for air filters. I saw the lost looks on their faces and since they were walking in my direction, I simply asked, “Okay you guys”, (that is a Northern idiom, meaning…Okay you guys), “what are  you looking for?” the guy looked at me and kind of sheepishly asked, “Where are the things that you put in front of your furnace that catches all the dust and lint and stuff?” I smiled and genuinely tried not to laugh, but I was unsuccessful. “You mean air filters for your furnace?” A big smile popped onto his face…”Yes, I guess that IS what they are…air filters!” Instead of pointing to the aisle, I began to walk them down to the right area. “What size are you looking for?” I asked. “The young woman looked at me and asked, “Size…you mean there are different sizes?”

We arrived at the correct aisle and when they saw the hundreds of filters she laughed out loud and said, “Well, okay, yes there are different sizes!” We all three laughed and I asked if there was anyone at their home to go and snap a picture of the filter in their furnace and she frowned…as did he. “No, but we don’t live far away…can we go back really quick to see and come back?” I told them of course, but then the young man said, “but…well, when we come back, a …” his young wife finished his sentence, “Will you be able to help us again?” I can’t tell you why…but the feeling of being needed flooded my soul with thankfulness and I nodded yes with a big lump in my throat. They left quickly and I headed back over to the flooring department where a woman stood in the tile aisle looking at a big stack of tile.

I never just say “May I help you..” which I abandoned years ago because, if I work somewhere, I had better be able to help them! So I said, “Hi…what is your project?” the lady looked at me with big eyes that said, “Oh thank God…someone is here!” She grabbed my arm and said, “Please, tell me what to do!…I am doing something called, “flipping a house” and I was told by my husband to go and find some tile!” I’m not a judge…okay? I don’t want to make sweeping judgments against people because I don’t like being judged myself, so I refrain from asking myself judgmental questions like…(tongue in cheek…) “where is her husband if he is flipping this house and why did he send her here without explaining what to look for and “… I stopped myself and just laughed and said, “This is gonna be so easy your husband is going to feel ashamed he doesn’t know as much about tile as you do when we are finished!”

For the next 15 minutes, I asked what size were the rooms, and to my surprise she had a copy of the blueprints of the house on her phone. We began to design every room in that house, right down to the color of thinset and g rout. We built her shower and she was furiously taking notes and asking the difference between modified thinset and regular and large format tile thinset. She asked how to grout and I showed her how to hold the float. Just as that moment up walked the young couple who had gone in search of their air filter size.

“Hi Mr. Doug…we’re back!” (I get called Mr. Doug because my name appears in big bold letters on the front of my apron.) I was almost finished with the lady “flipping” her house, but she immediately grabbed my right arm and said, “HE’S MINE!” The young man and woman grabbed my left arm and said, “NO HE ISN’T, HE’S OURS…WE FOUND HIM FIRST!” At this point I understood what a wishbone must feel like when two people are tugging at it from both sides…I was gonna get broken! I laughed but neither of them did. So I said, “Okay…ma’am, I DID tell them I would help them when they came back, but it is just for an air filter!” The house flipping woman said, that’s fine, but I am walking down with you so that afterward we can come back and finish.

Down the main aisle we walked, the house flipping woman holding my right arm and the young couple holding my left. I had employees of my favorite big box store looking at me, thinking they were trying to help me walk! One even came up to me and said, “Doug, are  you okay?!” with genuine concern. The young  couple said, “Oh no, we are making sure Mr. Doug helps us and we are not going to let him go until he does! The house flipper nodded in the affirmative as well. The employee laughed and told them, “Other people work here you know… we can all help you!”

That’s when my house flipping friend said words that warmed my heart. “This isn’t an employee…this is our friend!” The young woman said, “He’s family!” With all of the fuss I made the other day in missing my family during the  holidays, I must confess that at that moment, my family was right there by my side. The young couple saw me as a dad, the house flipper as a friend and it was cemented into my heart when after picking out the correct filter, the young couple looked at me and asked, “Mr. Doug, if you don’t have family here in town, we would love for you to spend Thanksgiving with us!” I must tell you that a tear came to my eye at that  moment and I couldn’t speak. I am such a fricken BABY!

House flipper looked at me and said, “Oh, I like that.. Mr. Doug…is that your name?” I nodded and she said, “I know my husband’s mother is coming from out of town, but he would probably love it if he could talk house renovation with you at the Thanksgiving table!”

I smiled and gained my composure and said, “It is so kind of you both but my wife and I are having a couple of friends over this year…” the young man said, “Well, you sure have helped us…” I got the hug from his wife and he shook my hand and said if we didn’t have plans for dessert, they gave me their written address then they left, waving as they walked away. The house flipping woman finally got all of her questions answered and asked for my last name. I gave it to her and she then packed up her notes and pens and blueprints and off she went into the frigid air.

As I returned to the desk in the flooring department, I took a seat to catch up on follow up with other flooring clients on the computer. At that moment I had a manager on duty come over and said, “Okay…where are they?” I answered , “Where are what?’ He smiled and said, “the  drugs you gave to those customers who just came over and bragged on you?” I blinked and  said, “People are nice…aren’t they?”

A long time ago, in a garden far, far away, we all belonged to an unbroken family who enjoyed daily friendship and endless love with one another and our creator. But like the song says,

“In the land of God’s first heartache
When our line of sin began
And the eyes of man were opened
To the evil there at hand
The creator heard the footsteps
But He did not see the man
And God called out for an answer
But He turned away and ran

An attempt in desperation
To be hid from holy eyes
Was to fashion out a garment
That could hide him in disguise
But the Father bled compassion
And with a fast forgiving hand,
Took the life of one yet blameless
And made a covering for the man.

On a hill outside Jerusalem
Where the sin had took its toll
Hung the life of one as blameless
As that garden beast of old,
And He bled with God’s compassion
For the evil man had done;
And the heart that cried “Forgive them!”
Was the heart of God’s own son.”
The broken heart of God’s own son.

I offer to you my friends that we do not recognize each other as brothers and sisters who are far from our garden home because many are still hiding and trying to cover themselves with the leaves of their own making.  Some are hurt and others…angry. But, every once in a while, we catch of glimpse of one of our family members and they catch a glimpse of us. For a moment our hearts jump in our chests that we belong to each other…but then, we drift apart again as strangers just like my three friends yesterday.

It’s Thanksgiving season. And our brothers and our sisters are all around us. Some have been found by the Savior, and others refuse to come into the banquet. Whatever we do, let’s not give up showing bits of love, and random kindness to our lost family so that; in hope, we will all sit down around the same table holding hands reunited, in a  new and living garden from which we will never be cast away again!

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Thanksgiving 2010

It was mid-November in 2010 when I stood outside on the curb of the dealership where I worked and surveyed the scene before me. Snow had lightly dusted the lot and I brushed it off of the windshields of every car to prepare for the days business. A small breeze blew and I pulled my coat around my face with one hand and brushed with the other. I groaned. I had seen better days.

I had lived in South America and had been involved in ministry years before, and; on days like this, the sweetness of those days…having been used by God to change lives stung my heart a bit as I complained to God about my current state. I complained a lot actually. I felt as though my life really didn’t count for much. After going from job to job, I had lots of regrets and often complained to God that I wasn’t doing anything to change people, nothing to improve the world, nothing but work and go home…day after day.As the thoughts swirled in my head and my hands were approaching frostbite, a car drove onto the otherwise empty lot.

It was a Sunday, which promised to be busy, but so far only me and one other sales person were on staff. Out of the car emerged a woman wearing a heavy coat and a scarf. Her eyes looked red and I guessed she was catching a cold. I approached her and said, “Not a great day to be out is it?” She tried smiling, but kept her head down and mumbled a rather tired, “My daughter needs a car.” I invited her to come in and warm up at my desk.

I poured her a cup of coffee and she gratefully accepted it. Dabbing her eyes again with a worn out tissue, she said, “my husband is coming also…we need to find a car for our daughter.” I smiled and asked a bit about the type and model of car she was looking for. As she began to describe the car, the door opened abruptly and in came walking a tall man without a coat and rubbing his hands together. From the look she gave him I knew it was her husband. He nodded to me and began talking quietly to his wife. I gave them some privacy.

Reappearing with another cup of coffee, I introduced myself to the man and he sat down next to his wife. The showroom was completely empty with the exception of this couple. They sat silently. I thought that maybe this idea to buy a car for the daughter was not a mutual one. The man, for his size, (I guess 6 foot 6 inches tall) looked haggard. He looked into his lap and his wife, continued wiping her eyes.

The atmosphere became thick. I could tell there was a strain between them and I didn’t want to interfere. In an effort to give them time to talk a bit, I offered a private conference room, where we could talk about their daughter’s car before going out on the cold lot to test drive one. They both appeared grateful for the opportunity to get out of the main showroom and get to a more private area. I felt like an intruder, so I said, “why don’t I give you both an opportunity to talk a bit, and I’ll be back shortly?”

The husband spoke up. “No…no need sir, we…a, “he was searching for his words. “My daughter was involved in a car accident that totaled her car.” I asked if she was alright. The mother blushed, and put her face into her hands, and this time I could hear her cry. “Is everything alright with your daughter?” I hesitated to pry, but I had never been in this situation before. I waited at least 30 seconds for him to reply. “Our daughter will be fine” he replied…”She is only 17 and,” he paused, internally asking whether he should take me into his confidence. “We discovered while she was in the emergency room that she is pregnant.”

The mother truly broke down at this point. I grabbed the box of tissues on the table, and was grateful for the opportunity to do something. Handing her the box, she acknowledged thanks and looked at me. “I know this is not what you expected…you want to sell cars, and I’m so sorry to just break down like this.”

Now…at this moment, as I sat back down in my chair, something happened. I can only describe it like, a smell of spring rain and a warm presence came physically into the room. I heard myself say, “This is why I came to work today Mrs. ——.” She was surprised by my answer, as was her husband….AS WAS I! A bold confidence came upon me, or I should say, welled up within me and a true love moved up from my stomach to my throat…it’s the only way I can describe it.

The wife and husband both looked at me. There was no more talk of cars or features like cruise control or paint color. They looked at me expectantly, as if this was what they were waiting to hear. I sat back in my chair and smiled. “You’re thinking her life is over before it begins aren’t you?” I asked. “You’re thinking she lied to you, maybe even disappointed you…” Tears formed on the eyes of the husband and his lip quivered. I continued. “She’s scared, because she loves you so much.” She knows she made a terrible mistake.”

An intense boldness came upon me, as if, I was the counselor they needed to hear from. I also began to weep but without fear. The presence of Jesus was in the room at that very moment.As tears rolled down my cheeks, I explained, “Your daughter is so sorry for being impulsive and not trusting you to tell you…but she was afraid.” The father spoke up, “I know…I’m so hard on her, telling her she has to go to college, that she has to wait until marriage…I have been mad at her, and I’m sure she can feel it.” The mother also spoke up. “Its just that our family…our name in the community…” and then she stopped, feeling embarrassed. I spoke up…”and you know she feels that shame right?”

Again she broke down weeping. I said, “Let me ask you a question, are you gonna love your daughter no matter what?” “Are you gonna love that baby?” Will you be sitting on the front seat of the church in 20 years when your grandchild gets married and rejoice when they have THEIR first baby? The husband smiled, “I sure will!” he exclaimed beaming. “Will you gather around your daughter and hug her and forgive her and then be thrilled as she walks through her pregnancy?” “Will you stand by her side in the delivery room?” Will you let anything hurt her?”

The mother stood up, and I thought, “Oh dear God Doug you big mouth, she is going to slap you…” Nothing will hurt her!” she said it, like an oath. “What about the shame?” I asked…”what will your friends think?” The father joined his wife by standing. “Our loving friends will love our daughter, so will her friends, so will our church….so help me God!”

Energy pulsed through the air. Whereas five minutes ago there was the depths of despair, resolute faith was now present. Discouragement slinked off and under the door. Where there was once only shame, there was now joy. “And she wants to name him William!…it’s a wonderful name William don’t you think?!” Her husband William agreed, and so did I. Now they were shouting in that room. They didn’t care who heard them or what people thought of them…

”She is going to finish school and whatever she wants after that…we are going to help her!” “The couple embraced and wept and laughed and embraced. I felt a bit out of place, but they wouldn’t let me leave the room. At that moment, the husband’s cell phone rings. By the initial few words, I understood it was their daughter calling. The Father, overcome with emotion said, “Sweetie, everything is going to be fine. We love you so much!” the mother was talking into the phone too. “I can’t wait to go shopping for baby clothes honey!” Then, they were silent…and began weeping again…their daughter, overcome with love, was crying on the other end of the phone. “It’s okay honey…we’re all gonna see this through together!” said her mother.

As quickly as it began, it was over. I stood and got hugs, handshakes and pats on the back…and all I had done was offer coffee and safety. As they walked back to their car and departed, I put my coat back on and started to walk out the front door when once again, I heard God speak to me. “I place you where I want…and 20 minutes in an office with Me present will always do more than you standing alone behind a pulpit for 30 minutes.” The day was about over. As I walked to my car I realized Thanksgiving had come early this year on the car lot. He didn’t need a theologian…God wanted an available car salesman. And there in my car, in November, I asked forgiveness for my complaining. All I heard the Lord say was…”that’s remarkable son…truly remarkable.”