It was an 80-degree Saturday in the beginning of May—unseasonably warm for Wisconsin—and I was stuck at work.
I was in a foul mood. The door to the small-town grocery store where I clerked was propped open and the warm breeze teased me. I knew that the owner of the store, my boss, was golfing—and that a big stack of homework waited for me when I got home. All I wanted to do was bask in the sun, but instead I was sunk in the dramatic depths of self-pity.
Thankfully, that day almost 10 years ago did not end with me stomping home, blind with anger at the injustice of life. I was right in the middle of my funk when a couple I had never seen before stepped in front of my cash register.
“How are you?” I asked them politely. They smiled brightly. They were in their mid-30s; his hair was thinning, his jacket was worn, and she wore a floral scarf around her otherwise bald head.
The man burst out, “How could I be any better? My wife is home, the grass is green, the sun is shining, and we’re going to have a picnic in the park.”
I was startled by their joy. I hadn’t noticed them standing in line; they were just another couple passing through, but now I saw that they were beaming at each other. I’ve never seen two people look happier. When they left the store a minute later, carrying their bananas and deli sandwiches, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
I assumed she had gone through chemotherapy. Was her cancer in remission? Would it be gone for good? How long had she been in the hospital?
I didn’t know the answers to those questions. I only knew they had made a choice not to dwell on what they had been through or might continue to go through. They were enjoying each other and the moment.
Suddenly the ridiculousness of my self-pity became clear, even shameful. God had given me a particularly beautiful day to rejoice in, and what was I doing with it?
About 20 minutes later, the couple popped back in the store carrying three huge waffle cones filled with thick vanilla frozen custard. The man held one out to me. “This is for you. When we left, we both thought you seemed sad, and we wanted to cheer you up.”
I was speechless. And thankful. To this day, I’m grateful to those kind benefactors—not only for the custard, but especially for their attitudes, which set them apart from the rest of the world that day. I don’t know whether they were Christians, but I suspect they were because their behavior was so in keeping with God’s Word.
Today I hope strangers will recognize me in that same light—by attitudes and actions of grateful thanks, praise, and joy, even when I’m talking to a clerk at my local grocery store and my 2-year-old is inconsolable in the checkout line.