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Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: Finding beauty in the beast

I was in the last stages of childhood when I took my first job at a drug store. Even though the pay was laughable, I enjoyed meeting people, but some people were easier to meet than others.

There was this one lady, well into her 80s, who frequented our establishment pretty often and always challenged our patience. She would proudly march into the store, dressed nicely and wearing enough makeup to make a clown jealous. Her appearance was of utmost importance to her, probably the product of having been a homecoming queen back in the days when horse-drawn buggies ruled the sandy streets of our fair little town.

Now widowed and alone, she passed her time tending to the affairs of her family and occasionally grasping for some semblance of her former glory. Many days found her feeling a bit under the weather. The mixture of all these circumstances caused her to be short tempered and less than cordial at times. In fact, she could be intimidating with her sharp and sarcastic expressions that often left my fellow employees feeling that they could do nothing right where she was concerned.

This scenario went on for several months and she would consistently enter our doors with words of disgust and disappointment aimed at our assumed poor customer service. One day, everything changed when I decided to act like Jesus for this cranky lady. I wanted to see if kindness and compassion would change her impressions of us and maybe brighten her day.

As she entered the store one morning, I literally slid under a rail near the front door so that I could get to her immediately. "Good morning," I cheerfully proclaimed, while grabbing her a shopping cart and positioning it in front of her hands. I continued speaking before she could utter a word. "What do you need help finding? I'm going to take care of you, today."

At this point, her facial expression looked as if she had just narrowly escaped the running of the Bulls, in Spain. She may have been struggling to find a complaint to utter, but she found herself speechless as I took her through every aisle, helping her select the best items and bargains that we could find.

Her countenance continually softened as we walked the store together and she thanked me several times before she departed. Though I was just a standard employee in this store, I became the manager in her eyes and that is how she referred to me for most of her future visits.

Now, we knew when she entered the store because we heard her yelling politely for the "manager" to come to her aide. I always did, because I had made a friend of my formerly cranky customer. Just a small dose of unconditional love was all it took to transform a beast back into the beauty she was intended to be. She remains one of my happiest memories from my years in that drug store.

Recently, I was given another opportunity to employ the glorious powers of unconditional love. Ironically, I was checking out at the pharmacy when the situation unfolded. Though I am not in my 80s, I am much older than I was in my days with Miss Beauty and the Beast.

Now, it was my turn to come in the store with several delightful varieties of pain coursing through my body and a bouquet of concerns and worries that were stinking up my brain. I wasn't prepared to be handled roughly by the cashier who stood before me, but she was more than ready to dish out some of her own frustrations my way.

By the time our encounter was over, I was so disturbed that I was shaking. My words to this lady became increasingly unpleasant as I departed. I even promised to write about her, so at least I kept my word on that point. But, my intention was to write something that would appropriately blow her out of the water, because that would surely make me feel better.

Later, I remembered my cranky friend from years gone by and I realized that God had again put me in front of someone who needed unconditional love and all I did was withhold it. I blew it. The Lord impressed upon me that my mistake was allowing her mood and environment to determine mine, rather than letting Jesus show Himself off through me and demonstrate His unconditional love for her. She needed that. We all do.

As Christians, we need to be more careful to respond to others rather than reacting to them. Reaction to negative behavior is simply agreement with it and that is not what we are called to do. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that "love takes no account of a suffered wrong." There lies the correct response to whatever comes our way, though it is no easy task.

So, to end this reflection wisely, I am going to complete my promise to my future friend in the pharmacy with this: I'm sorry for losing my cool and not showing you some grace after a hard day at work. Jesus will always treat you much better, no matter what, because He loves you, no matter what.

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