It was Christmas Eve, late in the evening, when I realized there were still some things I needed to buy for Christmas dinner the next day so my sons and I drove over to our regular Walmart. The store aisles weren’t nearly as congested as I expected, but did look like someone had thrown a hand grenade in the middle just to see what would happen. Every aisle looked like it had been looted. Shelves were fairly empty, stuff was all over the floor, and it was a mess! I didn’t even head over towards the toy or Christmas sections of the store because I was afraid those might be where everyone was located given that the parking lot was full and the east side of the store, the grocery section, was so quiet.

I hurried through the aisles, trying to get everything as quickly as possible, because I wanted to do a little baking that night before I went to bed. We were living with my dad then, partly to keep him company after my mother passed away, partly to combine household expenses to a more economic level for both of us, and partly to watch after my dad who was getting a little bit forgetful and confused. He would receive the bills and I would write the checks and pay them. He was so afraid he’d forget to pay a bill that on the day he received a bill of any kind, the moment I walked in the door, he’d hand it to me and have the checkbook waiting on the kitchen table for me to write it out and put the payment out on the mailbox for the next day’s mail. Besides being a little forgetful, he had macular degeneration so could only see the periphery of everything, which greatly limited him for many things.

After I picked up all I needed in the grocery section, my sons and I met at the front and found the shortest line, but still had about three people in front of us, some with groceries, but most with toys or gifts of various and sundry types. The register clerk seemed to be moving rather slowly so the person right ahead of me, snapped at her very rudely. I hate seeing this happen ever and usually try to lighten things up when I get to the clerk.

When I moved up in line, I on an upbeat, chirpy note, said, “Hi! How are you doing? Are you ready for Christmas?!” The young woman said “No,” and then started crying! She was trying her best not to cry, but still, there were tears flowing down her cheeks and she had to clear her throat twice before she could answer. “No! I’m not ready for Christmas and I guess I won’t be this year at all!”

I felt badly for obviously reopening a very new wound, but as the silence stretched between us for a minute, I could tell she really needed someone to just listen to her. I gently said, “What’s wrong, hon?” That’s all the encouragement she needed. “I was working this part-time job at Walmart just to make extra Christmas money so my kids could have a good Christmas this year. I’m a nurse at ** Hospital and I just found out this morning, with no prior warning, that I’m being laid off, effective today! What in the world am I going to do now? This part-time job at Walmart isn’t going to support me and my kids!” Then she started crying in earnest. She had finished checking out my items and I had already paid, but felt she needed a few moments more. I had just learned of the layoffs at the hospital on the evening news a couple of hours before. They were letting over 60 people go due to budget cutbacks. No warning had been given, although some of the employees had heard rumors. This young woman had obviously not heard the rumor.

“Well,” I replied, “Are you a registered nurse or an LVN? Either way, you should be able to find some job in nursing soon, don’t you think? I mean, at least you have good credentials, right?”

“I’m an LVN and I do have good credentials and a good reference, but if the main hospital in town is laying people off, I don’t know if there will be any good nursing jobs in town available.”

“Oh, I had not thought of that,” I said. One thing I did know was that healthcare workers were usually in high demand. I couldn’t understand why the hospital had laid off that many people when healthcare workers are in such high demand, especially LVN’s and RN’s. Suddenly struck by inspiration, I asked, “What about jobs in home health agencies? Have you thought of that? We have a nurse from a home health agency who stops in to see my dad a couple of times a week to treat a knee he hurt when he fell out of a tree recently.”

“What?! Your dad fell out of a tree? How old is he anyway?”

“Oh, he’s 90 years old and if I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a hundred times to stay off the roof of the house and to quit trying to trim his trees by himself! But did he listen? Oh no! He decides while I’m at work that he’ll climb up that old maple tree and cut out the deadwood in it. In the process, the ladder slipped, he started falling, and the only thing that stopped him was the fence. He landed on the fence, hung by his knees, totally upside down with his feet on the outside of the fence. He’s a strong old guy, but he didn’t have the strength to pull himself upright on the fence and get down. If his mail lady hadn’t happened to see his feet and know him, I don’t know what would have happened to him! She helped him down, took him inside the house, and found my emergency number. I went home immediately and looked at the damage. The spikes on his fence had dug into the backs of his knees and left bad, deep wounds. So, I took him to the doctor and the doctor prescribed a home health nurse to give him antibiotics by injection and to keep an eye on the wound. She loves her job, by the way. She said she has been much happier in home health than she ever was working at a hospital. I know the name of the agency where she works and could give you a referral there if you like. My husband used to be their accountant.”

At that point, the clerk came right around the counter, grabbed me, and started crying again, but this time with hope and relief. “Do you really think I could get a job at that home health agency? You’re not just saying that?” “Yes, I do think you could get a job there. How long did you work at the hospital?” “15 years.” “Oh, wow, then sure I think they’d hire you! Call Brad at ** Home Health and tell him that Dee Lane suggested you apply there. Tell him everything! It’s worth a shot anyway, right?” The clerk hugged me and I hugged her back. I told her not to ever give up hope because there was always hope and a way to get back on track. Then I said, “I know I just met you, but I really care and God cares even more for you!”

My sons had already gone outside. They were embarrassed, I think, by one more instance of their mother getting caught up in an emotional moment with a total stranger. I gave the clerk one last hug and then followed them outside, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Mom! What are you crying for and what took you so long?” I pulled out a tissue to wipe my face, handed off our shopping basket to one of them and as we headed for the car, I told them about the clerk’s predicament. “You know, boys, I just received my Christmas present for this year. I was honored that she talked to me and that I could be there to offer her encouragement and hope. You know we’ve been in dire straits before and people have popped up out of nowhere to help me all along. It was nice to be able to be the person offering help and hope for a change. Besides, your mom is a crazy lady who loves to talk to people! You should be used to it by now!” We all laughed as we got into the car and drove away.

I learned later that the young lady did call the home health agency, she was hired, and they were really happy with her! So what she thought was a disaster ended up being a blessing for her and her children. Just another example of when God closes one door, He leaves a window open to the next adventure. Never forget to really listen to people and pay attention to them. I spent 15 minutes with that young woman and I’ve never regretted it. I mean, really, are we truly in such a hurry that we can’t pay attention to those around us? I know more times than I can even count, people have taken time and trouble to help me, so it’s my turn to pay it forward…

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