A Former Retail Worker Tells All

I spent twelve years of my life working in retail, and I have a confession:  I actually enjoyed it.

. . . for the most part.

During high school, I had the privilege of working at two indedpendently-owned bookstores on Long Island.  When moved to Pennsylvania for college, I worked at yet another amazing bookstore.  I absolutely loved working with the owners of these stores.  They helped me grow not only in my understanding of the book business, but also in my faith.  After graduating college and waiting to find a job in my field, I worked for a corporately-owned hardware store and later a corporatelly-owned bookstore.  Although I worked with some great managers at these stores, there is something about the corporate retail environment that just was not the same as the “mom and pop shops” that gave me my love for retail.

Regardless, working retail has given me a perspective that foks who have never worked retail might not have.  If you’re wondering why a cashier keeps asking you if you want to buy a magazine subscription when all you want to do is pay for your t-shirt and get out the door, why there’s rarely anything in “the back” of a store, or how you can make an impact on people when you shop at their store, keep reading.  Welcome to . . . Confessions of a Former Retail Worker!

 

1. Sorry, there’s not too much in “the back,” save for my lunch.

“Do you have this book in the back?”

“Can you check to see if you have more in the back?”

Sometimes it sounds like “the back” is this magical place where all your purchasing dreams will come true.  While a lot of folks have the notion that stores keep excess inventory in “the back,” that’s actually not the case.  All we stored in “the back” at my bookstores were boxes for what was already out and my lunch.  Sure, we had some extras of gift items already boxed in the back, but there really wasn’t much else there.  Still, this question is constantly asked of retail workers, but with the exception of shoe stores and perhaps some big-box retailers, the answer to “Do you have this book in the back?” will probably be, “No.”  (Confession:  Despite the fact I know this, I caught myself thinking about asking this question just the other day!)

 

2. I didn’t say “No” to ruin your day—it’s just my job.

“Can I use more than one coupon?”

No, I’m sorry, just one. 

“Can you give me some coupons to use on this transaction because I don’t have any?”

No, I’m sorry I can’t.

“Can I return this item that I opened and is twenty days beyond the return period?”

No, I’m sorry.

I promise you that I’m not telling you no because I want to make your life miserable—it’s just that the store has certain policies that, as an employee, I have to abide by. When I worked retail, I did everything I could to make a customer happy, but sometimes, I just had to say, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

So if you find yourself angered by a retail worker’s “No,” please remember that they are just abiding by the store’s policy—to do otherwise could cost them their job.  If you do feel that the policy is unjust, it’s better to write a letter to the owner or corporate office than to unleash your anger on the employee, who really has no power to change the policy and probably isn’t getting paid enough to feel the brunt of your anger.  Better yet, consider taking a day or two to think over what you’re upset about and consider why the store has the policy it does.  At some point, a store does have to say no in certain situations in order to remain in business.  Imagine if you coulduse 3 coupons . . . on one transaction . . .  on a sale item . . .  and pay $2 for a $50 item? That would be great, right? The problem is the store wouldn’t make any money and would be out of business in a week.

 

3. I’ve seen God’s love through the people I’ve worked with.

So those bookstores I worked at? They were actually Christianbookstores.  I didn’t tell you that at first because I didn’t want you to just write me off thinking, “That doesn’t count as retail! They just sit at the register with harps all day singing hymns and showing people Bibles.”

Umm . . . That’s just weird.

We only play the harps between 2 and 4pm.

Totally kidding!

In all seriousness, I’ve seen the people I’ve worked with emulate God’s love to customers.  Sometimes they went out of their way to remind people just how much Jesus cares for them.

I remember when a customer came in looking for a Cherish Teddy figurine.  (Think Precious Momentsonly with bears.)  Every year her niece’s mom would buy her a new bear in the set for her birthday, but this year, her mother had passed way.  Wanting to continue the tradition for her niece, she came in to our store.  Now, we didn’t carry the items, but that didn’t stop the owner of my store! She called over to otherstores in the area to see if they carried them.  Once she found a store that did, she drove the long distance to pick it up for the customer.

That’s a really nice thing to do, right? I mean, we wouldn’t make any money on the item by buying it from another store and paying full retail price.  But what stood out to me more was when the customer came in to pick up the figurine.  The owner said something like, “No charge.  This is our blessing for you and your niece.”

Who does that?! It was one of many amazing pictures of God’s kindness and compassion that I witnessed working at these stores.  Sure, the store needed to make money to stay in business, but some things were more important than making a profit.  It was times like this, and the times when I saw my co-workers hold people as they cried, and the times we all prayed with customers in difficult life circumstances, that I saw the love of God in the midst of my store and through my co-workers.

 

4. Please don’t be mad at me for asking you seven different questions at the cash-wrap, that’s how I keep my job.

Many corporate-owned stores require that employees try to upsell customers at the cash wrap. One of these stores I worked at had us try to sell a bunch of things all in the same transaction with the same customer. It was annoying, I hated doing it, but it was part of my job.  So, if you notice that someone is trying to upsell you, please understand they are just doing their job.  Politely decline, or, if you’re in a really good mood, add that $5 item and give it to someone as a gift—it’ll look good for the employee, and might keep them from having corporate breathe down their neck about it.

 

5. You have more power than you realize, use it to brighten someone’s day, not make it miserable.

When I worked retail, there were certain customers that were incredibly kind and really made my day.  In fact, there are several I still remember from years ago that bring a smile to my face. One of these even gave me a very unique cross necklace he had carved himself.  On the front side it was jagged and rough, but on the other side smooth. He said something like, “Nobody wants to be on the rough side,” he said, “We all want to get to the smooth side, but get there through the cross.”  It’s true. We find true peace in the midst of the cirumstances of our lives through Christ—even in the midst of terrible hardships.  I keep it in my office today his message impacted me.  I was going through a hard time in my own life and I needed to hear that. God used him that day to bless me, and I don’t even know his name.

But then there were other customers who made me feel worthless.  I still remember some of the angry customers I’ve waited on.  I remember being surprised at their frustration or anger over not having an item in stock or not being able to use two coupons or something.  Those are the bad memories.

The question is, which kind of customer would you rather be? You can let your light shine for Christ just by being pleasant to the person waiting on you at the store.

Just by smiling.

Saying, “Thank you.”

Asking, “How are you doing?”

Remembering their name.

By not being a jerk.

We represent Jesus to everyone around us.  We can either show them that He is awesome, kind, and compassionate, or we can make them think He’s just as angry and unkind as we are behaving.  Make a choice to be a good witness for Christ wherever you go.

 

6. Items on clearance and items on sale are two separate things.

This is just a pet peeve of mine and for some reason I feel the need to educate the masses.  An item on sale is an item that a store has temporarily discounted for a period of time.  A clearance item is an item that they are clearingout of the store and not getting back in again (usually because it’s not selling well).  Thus, if you have a coupon for a discount off a clearance item, it will only apply on the latter, not the former.  Learn this now and avoid disappointment later!

 

If you’ve worked retail, what other things would you add to this list? What would you want your customers to know about working retail? What stories do you have? Comment below! And remember, be a good witness for Christ wherever you go!

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Why My Dad Was My Best Sunday School Teacher

My dad taught both my fifth and sixth grade Sunday school classes.  Looking back, I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to study under him, but I’m not so sure I felt that way at the time.  You see, one of the things I enjoyed in Sunday school was doing crafts. I loved having a little project to do as part of the week’s lesson.  My biggest criticism of my dad? He never did any crafts! I was pretty bummed about it, and I let him know! Other teachers did crafts, so why didn’t he?

Here’s what was so amazing about my dad though—we were always in the Bible, discussing the Bible, or watching a video that illustrated the truth of the Bible.  It was all about the Scriptures.  Yeah, his class was less crafty than your usual elementary Sunday school, but the things that my father taught there I have carried with me into my life and ministry.

What’s really cool to me is that my dad had only become a strong Christian a few short years prior to becoming my Sunday school teacher.  I remember seeing him reading and studying the Bible, taking ample time preparing for his lessons.  I remember hearing him talk about how God would wake him up at night and prompt him to read the Scriptures. 

That impacted me.

Being newer to the Bible, though, caused him to have some difficulty with the pronunciation of certain Biblical names.  I still chuckle when I think of how he would prnounce Esau.  (Admittedly, though, does anyone really know how to pronounce Esau without someone telling them?)

My dad taught me my first lesson in exegesis—read in context.  He would tell us over and over again, “When reading a passage of scripture, always read a little bit before and after so you know what’s going on.”  It’s true—a really easy way to avoid misinterpreting the Bible is simply to read it in context.  I learned this both in Bible college and seminary, but I learned it first from my dad.  Take Matthew 4:9 for example:  “‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”  Sounds like a great verse to put on a mint or keychain, right? Well if you read just a verse before, you find out it’s not God who said it, it’s the devil, when he tempted Jesus! Context matters, and we can really misunderstand Scripture if we don’t read it in its context.  (If you’re wondering if anyone has ever actually taken this verse out of context, there’s a meme going around Facebook poking fun at a picture of a day calendar that has this verse printed on it.)

Thank you, dad, for teaching me how to read in context.  

Through the art of repetition, my father ensured we would never forget key ideas as we went through our year-long overview of the entire Bible.  A big one I remember was the definition of a prophet.  Seriously, I think he asked us every week, “What is a prophet?”  He always made certain to emphasize that a prophet was not a psychic! God spoke through His prophets.  I couldn’t teach my Confirmation class about the prophets this week without thinking about my dad.  He also helped us understand the concept of atonement, that it was “at-one-ment,” meaning that what Christ did on the cross brought us back to God.  We talked a lot about Proverbs.  Dad emphasized to us that a proverb was a short little saying like, “A nagging wife is like a dripping faucet.” In fact, he used that proverb as an example so many times my mom thought he was implying something about her!

I learned how to teach the Bible from my father.  I have fond memories of how he would have us read just a few verses, then stop us to explain something, then have us read a few more verses, then ask a question.  It was in those little spirts of reading and explaining that I not only learned the Scriptures, but I learned a really valuable teaching method that I still employ today.

In fact, that was a method I first employed when he let me start co-teaching his class with him.  I was in eleventh grade and I loved it! At some point though, he stepped back, and his class became my class.  I will always be grateful for my very first experience in teaching the Scriptures.

Parents, you have more influence in your children’s lives than you realize.  The example you set in your personal relationship with the Lord, the words you use, and the time you spend discussing Scripture with your children matters even when it doesn’t seem like it does.  Don’t underestimate the spiritual impact you can make on your children.  I have a dad that showed me just how powerful that influence was in my own life.  For that, I am forever grateful.

2019 = Fresh Start for Families

I love how each new year gives us a fresh start. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure there are many things in your life that got pushed to the wayside as you went about 2018–things you wanted to do, planned to do, hoped to change, but for some reason, weren’t able to. For me, I was really hoping to eat healthier and exercise more often in 2018, but I didn’t quite get anywhere close to where I needed it to be!

Yet with each new year, we have opportunity to begin again–to make a commitment to change the things that God has been calling us to change in our lives. One of the most amazing things about the Lord is that he allows us to begin again when we fail. He gives us a fresh start. That is the beauty of the cross–we find forgiveness in Christ, our sins gone, so we can begin anew in him. If you’ve found yourself spending too little time with your teen, yelling more than speaking calmly, talking more than listening–don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there. Instead, rest in God’s forgiveness in Christ, and by his strength, start over. Remember, too, that this new year is an opportunity for you to renew your personal commitment to the Lord as well. I encourage you to carve time out in 2019 to meet with God daily in prayer and listening to him as he speaks in the scriptures. Get to know him better this year and draw on his strength as you parent.

In all the craziness that this year will bring, commit to making Jesus your number one love and priority, both for you and your entire family.  If coming to church has become a once-a-month occasion for you, I encourage you to instead make it a weekly time where you and your family can connect with God and other people on this journey of following Jesus.  It’s a beautiful thing to support and be supported by our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially as we walk through the ups and downs of parenting together!  In my life I have found that I cannot follow Jesus in a vacuum.  I truly believe we need to be connected with other Christians on a regular basis to grow in our own faith and for our children to grow in theirs. 2019 is a fresh start–let’s all commit to making it a great one in Christ!

Happy 2019!

Quick Review of 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid

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In 52 Ways to Connect with your Smartphone Obsessed Kid, Jonathan McKee gives great practical tips to not only engage your child in off-screen conversation, but through the things they love like their favorite shows, video games, and music. Rather than shouting, “Get off that phone!,” McKee offers parents helpful discussion starters and meaningful, fun activities that will open the the doors of conversation between parents and their children.  Also included are ideas on how to monitor teens’ phone/tablet activity while also helping them learn technological responsibility. The book is divided into 52 bite-sized chapters, easy enough to read just one a day! I highly recommend this book for every parent of a tween or teen!

Quick Review of Jonathan McKee’s “The Bullying Breakthrough”

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I got an advance reader copy of  The Bullying Breakthrough a few weeks ago.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is a MUST READ book! Every parent, teacher, principal, and youth pastor has to get their hand on a copy.  The Bullying Breakthrough is eye opening and informative, filled with stories of those who have experienced bullying and what people did (or didn’t do) to help. (It’s not for the faint of heart, though, as McKee spares no details.) McKee offers great insight into how to recognize bullying and what adults can to do help and empower those who are bullied. He also spends time speaking about the unique situations not just of those bullied, but of the bullies themselves and those that stand by and witness bullying. He does not vilify bullies, but rather spends time discussing the pain they may experience that has caused them to inflict pain on others. McKee spares no details giving the big ugly truth of bullying, but also shines the hope of how one “noticing, listening, befriending, and empathizing” person–whether adult or (especially) kid–can make all the difference.

Seriously, pre-order a copy…like right now!

 

 

Quick Review of Rachelle Dekker’s “The Choosing”

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Rachelle Dekker’s The Choosing, is a good debut novel.  She is a talented writer, and creates an intriguing dystopian society where young girls train from childhood to either be chosen as suitable mates or otherwise be deemed worthless and relegated to the fringes of society—destined to be unwed and cut off from their families. Fans of her father, Ted Dekker, will recognize many similarities in themes, particularly in the twisted villain and the Christ figure.  They will also see a similar formula of escape from the reigning society.  Nevertheless, the story is uniquely hers, and the world she crafts is engaging.  She is very good at depicting the emotions and longings of her characters.  I appreciated her using the idea of the “Choosing Ceremony” to show that being worthy is not whether or not one is chosen as a bride or seen as worthy by society.  However, she unfortunately does not qualify what makes one worthy, only noting that everyone is already worthy.  Since this is a Christian book, this poses a theological problem for those of us who hold that we are only made worthy through Christ’s work on the cross (Rom 3). Perhaps she makes this clearer in a subsequent novel in the series.  The other aspect I did not appreciate was the nature of the villain in the book.  His actions were so dark and deplorable that I had to skip certain scenes.  Because of this one factor alone, I am not sure that I will read the other two books in the series.  However, the ending was surprising and did leave me wanting to find out what happens next.

Trust Me, I Know How To Drive This Thing!

gray and silver cruiser motorcycle near green grass lawn
Photo by Pixabay

Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle? I have. Not driven, mind you, but ridden. My dad drove. The last time I rode with him was about nine years ago, and the Lord really used it to teach me about trust.

At that point, I hadn’t been on my dad’s motorcycle since I was about six. When I was that age, I remember holding on tight to my father’s back as we would ride through the parkways, over the bridges, and see the beach. Man, that was a blast!

I never remember being afraid that we would crash. I never worried that my father would turn the wheel too sharply and lose control. Those things didn’t scare me because, at six, I completely trusted my dad’s ability to keep me safe.

As a twenty-one-year-old, however, things had certainly changed. When I was younger, I had no idea how many motorcycle accidents occurred every year. I had no clue how terrified my mother was every second I was out with my dad. I didn’t even consider how easy it could be for us to fall off the bike or be hit by another car.

If you have any experience riding a motorcycle, you know that when you turn, you’re supposed to lean into the turn. But you see, as we turned onto the Southern State Parkway, I got freaked out. I was terrified we were going to tip over. So I did what I normally do in those situations—I fought it! I fought the turn and leaned the opposite direction to compensate! Apparently, that’s not very helpful, as my dad reminded me.

It came down to this: At twenty-one years old, I didn’t trust my father. I didn’t trust that my father, who has been riding since he was a teenager (which was a really long time ago), knew what he was doing.

As we rode the parkway, I pondered the vast difference between the six-year-old me and the twenty-one-year-old me. What had changed? Back then I trusted my father, but now, I had lost some of that trust. I, like all of us, had gone through life discovering that trust is fragile—that people betray us, that we get wounded, that even the best of friends fail us. No one is ever fully trustworthy. Everyone lets us down at some point.

The sad thing is that I had also applied that belief to my relationship with God. I realized that I had taken this implicit truth of “no one is trustworthy” and subconsciously believed it about God as well.

Maybe you can relate.

When I fought that turn with my dad, I chose to lean away because I didn’t understand how turns on a motorcycle work. I trusted in my own view and perception of things rather than my father’s. How often have I also done this with my heavenly Father?

Scripture reminds us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov 3:5-6 ESV). With my dad, I was certainly leaning (literally) on my own understanding. But that understanding was shortsighted and limited. It’s the same in my relationship with God. My perspective is limited; I don’t always see what He sees, and I certainly don’t know all He knows.

Sometimes, when my life gets scary or confusing, I can almost picture God saying, “Trust me on this one…I know what I’m doing.” He sees beyond the moment I’m in. He sees into all of time and space. And He is not out to get us, He is good and kind and compassionate. In many ways He is not like us, particularly in the way that He, unlike all of humanity, can be trusted at all times and in all situations. We have seen Him prove Himself time and time again in Scripture even when all else seemed lost.

Just like I should have trusted my dad on that summer day despite my limited understanding, so I am called to trust God, who does not fail. I am called to trust God, who has proven Himself enough in history and in my life that I can therefore trust Him in times when I don’t fully understand.

I remember quite a few times when I was so worried about the outcome of something. I prayed. I asked God for help. He came through. And He was indeed trustworthy in those situations. Each time I yelled at myself for being so nervous. “How could I be so afraid about this and not trust God?” I slap myself on the forehead for the many times I allow myself to go off the deep-end of panic only to find that God has been there with me, working in that time, and working things out. Not always as I expect Him to, but always working.

I’m sensing a part 2 at some point to this article, but until then, here’s a great song by Lauren Daigle that talks about trusting in God: