Saturday, March 29, 2014

You Had Me at Ginger Snap

It was a ladies outing: 3 friends scouting out all the buzz that is Trader Joe's. I wasn't sure what to expect, but happy distractions greeted all my senses upon entering. First, the daffodils. Yellow upon yellow, buttery rows of them in the window. I chose several bunches and thought about my list, when I heard two of my favorite words: Ginger Snap. "Ginger snap," she called. "Who would like a free sample?" Her name was Katelyn. I had 3 triple-ginger snaps. As with any new store, I was unfamiliar with the layout and asked Katelyn to please direct me to the juice aisle. "I'll take you there," she offered. Katelyn consulted my list and deftly guided me to the crackers, the produce, the pickles and peanut butter. I could hardly believe my good fortune. I had my own Personal Shopper. As we found the items, I explained to Katelyn that I was shopping for specific foods for a friend who is having her second go-round with cancer. The chemo is tricky, rendering her tummy sensitive to many foods, and Trader Joe's has stuff she can tolerate. Katelyn said I was a good friend, to shop for these special foods. "I don't know," I said. "I just want to help in some way." I thanked her for the assistance, accepted another ginger snap, and kept exploring. I found greeting cards and tortillas. The produce section beckoned. Saturday customers jostled their carts, sampling little delectables like vegetable spread over crusty bread. I was taking in the happy buzz of it all, when round the corner came my new friend, Katelyn. She smiled, and held out a stunning bouquet of mixed flowers. And 2 of Trader Joe's signature canvas bags. "These are for your friend," she said. "From Trader Joe's, and me." I must have looked confused. "Or," Katelyn added, "they can be for you, if you want. The flowers. I just want to be a part of this, a part of what you're doing." What a darling, caring young woman. She showed up for work on this day, but more than that, she showed up for ministry. Katelyn attuned her heart to the needs of others, and responded. This is customer service with a warm smile and a ginger snap. If this is a typical experience at Trader Joe's, I'm officially a loyal customer. Thank you, Katelyn. And thank you, Page, the artist who drew the Get Well Card. Your kindness has been delivered, along with the groceries. Strong medicine and good doctoring can fight disease. So can prayer. And so can the kindness of strangers. After high-fives and hugs, I told Katelyn I'd be back, and to keep it vivid. Her face lit up with a smile, enough to trump the window display of sunny daffodils. And I carried that sunshine -- that human warmth and strength and caring -- to Erin, who has cancer. Life is hard. Cancer is a journey that nobody wants to be on, and it's also a tough road for the bystanders who feel so helpless. But when you choose to travel the road with the hurting, it sure is a blessing to meet fellow sojourners, be they angels or cashiers or ginger snap girls.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Quivering In-Between

So here we are: Dwelling in that middle-season that follows Winter and precedes the eruption of Spring -- the Quivering In-Between. Have you noticed? I was a passenger in my friend's car and together we assessed the muddy landscape. "It's just depressing," she said. "The snow is gone and the earth looks, well, kinda dingy." "Yeah, nothing worse than dirty snow and a dull gray landscape," I replied. We were like a couple of amateurs, really, looking with untrained eyes at God's Canvas. What we beheld, now that I think about it, is a countryside landscape of Anticipation: a quivering in-between; a first blush of Possibility and Life. Amidst the road dirt and the muddy edges and the sleeping fields and the unadorned woods, we were looking at the backdrop for a miracle. Spring has arrived on our calendar, and it's busy maneuvering its greatness now, behind the scenes. While we humans bustle about our business and switch ice scrapers for umbrellas, a mighty army of bulbs and seedlings are nudging the waiting earth. While we complain about the rain and how badly our car needs a good washing, the quietest velvet of early-green arrives on silent knowing branches. While we dig out mud boots and walk the dog and pay the bills and whine about the leftover road grit and cavernous potholes, the soil is quivering and maybe the earth is laughing as it gathers momentum for the Bursting Forth of glory. Soon enough, we will look up one day and notice an unfurled leaf, an affirmation that the warmer days are really starting to settle in. We'll step out into the day and feel, instead of a slap of icy wind, the whisper of a Southern Zephyr on our upturned faces. A robin will sing, and we will actually notice. At some magical moment, we will become the hushed audience before the downbeat, and the Overture will begin. Mesmerized, we will finally look around. "Hey! Did you see my tulips this year? They're amazing!" you will say to anyone, everyone. "Wow! You should take a drive up the hill - the forsythia are the yellowist yellow I've EVER seen!" "My neighbor's daffodils are having a national convention! Man! They're all the way past the driveway into the back field! Come and see!" And so it goes. We, you and I, make this oh-so-subtle shift from the whine to the wow. From the blasé to the blown-away. From glum to giddy. The canvas has exploded into a drama of color and light. The Quivering In-Between has crossed the fence and there is no turning back. A cacophony of peepers and birds and neighborly greetings merge into one glorious Symphony. Pretty soon we'll be complaining about the way the grass grows too fast and the lawn needs mowing and the dandelions are taking over and who forgot to buy the citronella candles for those pesky skeeters? Oh, we are a silly unbridled bunch, blithely unaware sometimes, of our own leafy newness. In spite of our limited vision, we have managed to find an underground, wiggly strength. Our canvas too, which was in the icy grip of waiting, is now warm and radiant and painted with Possibility and Life. This is Easter. Settle in, and don't miss the Overture.