As I was nearing the registers, my cart was not too full (I really did *try* to keep a rein on it) and arguably, everything was necessary except perhaps the books (evil, evil seductive books) and that little gift for Kurt's birthday (but in my defense, he probably won't like it anyway and I will take it back for a refund so it hardly counts....except for the thought of it because IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS, KURT!)
The sections before the registers include the snack aisles (where I picked up a container of absurdly-overpriced-but-too-good-to-pass-up-even-during-a-fast Macadamia Nuts), as well as the pharmaceutical section. And that is where the story actually takes place. (You know, the story that has now taken an entire year just to set up......Hey, I'm just like Tolkien, except without that "one of the greatest writers of all time" thing going for me.)
When I went over to browse the supplement section, the CoQ10 sales rep was there giving out the yummy, Creamsicle tasting samples; the same samples that lured me to buy the stuff in the first place several months prior. He handed me a sample and started sharing the good news: coenzyme Q10 helps the heart, and every other cell in your body, lowers inflammation, gets rid of muscle cramps and headaches, helps with cancer, exercise issues, asthma, chronic fatigue, tastes amazing, like Creamsicles and, oh my gosh! Forget everything I ever told you about accurately identifying scams! I told him I had some I was still using up at home (to be perfectly honest, I don't even know what it does or doesn't do but I drink it daily because it tastes like dessert!), if only my husband would take it, too.
"That's why I don't date men," he replied. "We're just too darn stubborn."
I laughed and then steered the conversation back on course, explaining to him how I just wish they didn't use sucralose in the ingredients. I am not a big fan. I have been working on bettering the health and nutrition of my family and now see most sweeteners, natural or otherwise, as things to avoid.
And from there the conversation jumped from health and nutrition to the obesity epidemic, to the state of our schools, the differences in the cultures of various regions in our country, and I'll be....we are both native Floridians....the flood gates were opened.
Eventually, he told me how unhappy he was here, that he only stays because his ex is from here and he wants to be close to his daughter, but there are very few people he calls friends here because "people here are nuts". I remainder quiet for a moment, one eyebrow raised.
"Being from Florida, surely you know that people here are like novice nuts at best," I said. "I mean, it's a little nutty here, maybe, but everything crazy happens in Florida."
We began swapping crazy Florida stories which lead him to telling me about his bi-polar ex, who tried to stab him with a butchers knife, how difficult it is to find someone to date, how he met someone online but she turned out to be crazy (pot....meet kettle) and then he finally met someone here in the store who had so much in common with him, was Christian like he was, shared all the same interests, but it turns out, after a week's worth of talking on the phone, he asked her flat out if she had any STD's and she disclosed that she has the herpes simplex virus and he absolutely could not deal with anything of the sort, so he called it off before even getting to a first date.
I remained relatively silent in my listening, impressed that he was direct enough to ask such a personal question so quickly, and I acknowledged that it must be difficult to be single in today's world. (I also silently noted that most people do not walk into Costco and learn about the STD's of random people the sales rep had hoped to date....but still, there was something about the conversation that made me feel it needed to be continued so I again shifted the focus).
"Why are you looking online for a date?" I asked. "Why not find a good church and join a singles group there, you mentioned being Christian. Do you have a church home?"
He began telling me about his issues with the Church (the hypocrisy), with the people who frequent organized places of worship (we are all hypocrites), with his rigid Catholic upbringing, the narrowness of the Baptist college he attended, the recent media spotlight on the Pope and what he disagreed with the Pope on (which was a lot), and did he mention how hypocritical the majority of religious people are? (If you are ever in Costco, I highly recommend NOT bringing up other faiths beyond Christianity with this fellow.....just trust me.)
"I am so sorry that your faith has not been nourished by the church through the years," I said. "It does seem that the church has gotten so big, so wrought with humanity, with our own view of what God wants, we often fail to be the body God intended. We forget to love one another and are all too quick to throw stones instead."
He stared at me, silent for the first time in what seemed like hours.
"I just hope you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," I continued.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, we are called to be in community with fellow believers. The church, even with all its flaws, is a place to worship God and to be in that community. And I tend to agree, we are all hypocrites at some level; many of us have this high ideal of what God's kingdom should look like, what Christians should be like and what we need to do to get there yet all too many of us use the church as a way of getting out of doing our part; we think, 'well, I am a pretty good person, I go to church and our church goes on missions trips and collects food to give to the food pantries and makes meals to take to the shelters, and I help support all of that.' But we leave our Christianity at the sanctuary door on Sunday morning and hope it is there for us when we get back the next week.....not exactly what Christ had in mind when he told us to love once another and follow him."
(Ok, ok, writing that out is far more eloquent than how it came out in conversation.....but this is the gist.)
"Exactly," he exclaimed.
"But even as flawed and hypocritical as we may be, we are not islands. We still need God and we still need the community of believers to help us live out the calling," I said, concluding with, "so I hope you will think more about finding a church for yourself. It is out there, you just have to find it. And perhaps you will find that someone special for your life as well, you know, that won't try to kill you."
I glanced down at my watch, time was running out.
"I am sorry, but I do have to go pick up my preschooler," I told him.
He introduced himself then said, "Thanks for stopping by...oh, and God bless you!"
"You too," I replied, taking a box of the Creamsicle-dessert-like-miracle-cure-all from the stack behind him. And off
So there you have it: $300 later (I swear my cart was mostly EMPTY.....I blame inflation....) I had been blessed by a disgruntled Christian man selling CoQ10, who apparently doesn't have any STD's in case you are wondering. (And I wonder why my friends shake their heads at me so much.....)
It is uncanny how often these conversations take place in my life though. Not the exact setting or words or topics for that matter, but they are conversations that go so far beyond pleasantries (sometimes farther than preferable) into the depths of human experience, of life. I am a magnet for them. (Some argue that I create them....wait, that is a compliment, right?)
But, deep down, do we not all have that unmistakeable, unquenchable thirst to figure out our part in this story, our purpose, the legacy that will endure beyond our journey? And isn't it true that for so many, the 'figuring it out' thing is daunting and downright difficult at times? So, dear friends who laugh with me at my propensity to turn a run of the mill shopping trip into a mission trip, this is why we must stop and smell the people....(Hmmm, that works so much better with roses!) We must show up in the world and mingle with our fellow pilgrims. A little encouragement can go a long way.
Perhaps then, the CoQ10 reps out there will start to see that even we, the flawed, hypocritical people of the church, along with those who have disowned Her, are not so bad after all, are not any different than themselves really: seeking forgiveness, clinging to grace, flawed, yet somehow made in His image.
And hopefully, in communing together, we find that the weight of our cross is far less to bear.
As Hebrews tells us: "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God....."
Hebrews is talking about the guy trying to sell us that miracle stuff. Hebrews is talking about me, and you.