Those Who Inspire No Envy

In 2016, God sent me back to school. Not to earn another master’s degree or a doctorate, but to learn what I couldn’t learn in any other way. He placed me as a cashier in the university’s food court.

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I suppose I really began to learn the lesson on the day I went to the dentist. At the end of the checkup he told me I needed two crowns and a root canal. I left the dental office feeling dazed, like I’d been hit on the back of the head. Fixing my teeth would cost many thousands of dollars, and I didn’t have—nor could I ever conceive of having—that amount of money.* What happens, I wondered, when a person doesn’t fix her teeth? Do they just rot and fall out?

From there, I went on to work. The first person to greet me when I walked in was Angelo, one of the men who stocks the packaged food and drinks. He offered me a big smile, and when he did, I noticed what I hadn’t noticed before. Many of his teeth were missing. Those that remained were chipped and broken.

When a person grows up financially secure like I did, she thinks everyone goes to the dentist to have their teeth fixed. But when I looked at Angelo’s smile, I realized—no, not everyone. What was normal to me as a child is to some an unattainable privilege. That day, I didn’t sympathize with Angelo; I empathized. I understood him, because we were in the same place.

~~~

The people I work with at the food court aren’t seeking success. They are mostly trying simply to survive. Many work two jobs; some work three. Some work seven days a week with no days off. Some work day shifts and night shifts both, leaving their night job in the morning to go to their day job. A number are ill with diseases like diabetes and kidney failure. Some are crippled with arthritis. They come to work in pain and go home in pain.

These are the people no one envies and no one aspires to be like. Who dreams of becoming a sixty-year-old cashier whose legs are bowed with rheumatism? Who yearns to be a single mother who works at the food court and at Burger King both, yet still can’t make ends meet? Who hopes to grow up to become a middle-aged stock boy with broken teeth?

~~~

I love these people. Every day they greet me with smiles, with hugs, with enthusiastic cries of “Hi, Miss Ann!” While we work we grab a few minutes here and there to talk, swap stories, laugh. While there are the usual personality conflicts, I more often see kindness and encouragement. Once, to my surprise, Miss Merle threw her big arms around me and gave me a smothering hug. She just wanted to tell me she loves me.

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Merle is one of the kitchen workers. She stands all day at a counter making sandwiches. She isn’t young and she isn’t small, so she’s asking a lot of her feet. One thing I’ve learned about Merle is that she loves Jesus heart and soul. I once went into the ladies bathroom to wash my hands, and as I stood at the sink I heard music coming from one of the stalls. The next thing I knew, Merle burst out of the stall holding her phone and singing along to a gospel song. She shimmied down to the sink where she spent the next few minutes dancing and praising God, singing at the top of her pipes about the day she would be home in glory. I listened happily, delighted to be her captive audience. It was one of the most inspiring concerts I’ve ever attended, performed by a solitary black woman in the bathroom of a university food court. It seemed even a momentarily holy place, filled with joy.

~~~

Kevin is another one of our stockers. He doesn’t talk much. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think he was mute. When I ask him to bring us something from the supply room, he merely nods, one small lift of his head. Though he doesn’t talk about it, the large silver cross he wears around his neck offers an inkling as to his beliefs. Sometimes his apparent reticence gives way to quiet acts of kindness. Last Valentine’s Day he came to work bearing a huge bouquet of roses. It wasn’t meant for anyone, but for everyone. That is, he wanted to make sure all his female co-workers got a flower on Valentine’s Day. No one was to be forgotten. I was touched when he laid a rose—without a word—by my register, though he appeared and disappeared so quickly I couldn’t even thank him.

~~~

Sherrie is one who works two jobs. She spends the week making pizza and pasta and on the weekend she works at Costco. Except for holidays, she has no days off. How, I wondered, does anyone work seven days a week without having a single day of rest to look forward to? I for one would soon drop from physical and mental exhaustion. And so I asked her, “Sherrie, how do you work so much?” And without a moment’s hesitation she told me her secret in two amazing words: “God’s grace.”

~~~

When I’m at the food court, I look around and see the people that most of society deem invisible. They are just too far down on the social stratum even to be noticed. But I know this much is true: In this place of struggle and obscurity where no one wants to be, God is here. Grace is at work. Hope is real. And the love of God elevates even the least of us to a place of glory.

* The Lord later provided the full amount for the root canal, for which I am continually thankful.

18 thoughts on “Those Who Inspire No Envy

  1. Ann, I love your blog so much, and it is inspiring me to get up and get moving again, just for the sake of sharing what God puts on my heart. He once told me, “Sit at my feet and proclaim what I show you.” It’s so easy to forget – or let get squeezed out – the “sit at my feet” part. He’s been lovingly drawing me back, and your blogs confirm His call. Thank you SO much for sharing your journey! I look forward to reading more about what He shows you.

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    • Mary, thank you for taking this journey with me! God is so good to lovingly draw us to Himself, as there’s no better place to be than sitting at his feet, learning of him. And then, yes, sharing it….I’m so glad you hear his call in your life and are willing to answer!

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  2. Ann, that was refreshing and reminded why you became a favorite author for me. You make ordinary people vibrant with your words. It seems someday a book will come forth from this experience. Write on, you are inspiring. While on the mission field I often reminded myself if I am here for only one person , it is enough. I love the silent young man with the roses. I loved them all. Keep going…. if only for one it is enough.

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  3. Old ladies are nosy – So, Ann, have made enough money in the food court
    to pay for your expensive dental work? 🙂 I certainly hope so.

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  4. Ann, your words touched my heart. So often it’s easy to judge others based on their social class, communication skills, physical appearance or job position. By society standards I grew up poor. We lived in a rental my first 17 years of life and I was the youngest. All of my siblings including myself had paying jobs at age 12 or younger. We never went to the doctor or dentist as children. Our parents were proud people and though we could have qualified dad would never take welfare. Only two of us attended college.

    I find that those who often have very little are the most generous. I learned after my sister Joy passed that the meager retirement she had saved she spent buying food and giving to strangers who had lost everything in our hometown flood.

    I remember my roots and my husband was a PK. We were helped as a young married college couple by a generous farmer in our church who would share fresh sausage or vegetables from their garden. God has taught us to be cheerful givers in return.

    One of my most memorable jobs was working for Chick Fil A about ten years ago as their Cow Mascot at Triangle Mall. God can use us wherever we are planted. Thanks for sharing❤️.

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    • Daphne, thank you for sharing some of your own story. Isn’t it so true that often it’s those who have the least that are willing to share the most? I was reading just this morning during my Bible time about the widow’s mite, and how she gave more than anyone, because she gave all she had. This sounds like your sister! And how wonderful that one of your most memorable jobs was as the Cow Mascot; wish I had lived here then so I could have seen you! 🙂 Thanks for reading my post, and thanks again for sharing. ❤

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  5. Hey Bones– Great piece! ! Keep on pumping ’em out!  This reminds me of how I feel about my clients– well most of them anyway. 💟

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

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  6. Hi Ann, this makes me think of my Bible Study group at Golden Tree Apartments, a senior subsidized complex. What stories they have to tell – especially Ron who has been “there” and back. He lives such a life of joy in the Lord because he understands what God’s grace is. He prays for me everyday and says I should be a preacher. His love for me knows no boundary and I feel so honored to know him. God has sure used these dear people in my life, just as God has used your dear friends! Isn’t it interesting how God puts people together?

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