It was the kind employee in an elf hat who volunteered to fetch me an electric cart. I stood awkwardly leaning on my crutch and trying to find ways to make myself look less conspicuous. It wasn’t working. Apparently crippled, pregnant women were not commonly spotted hanging out in the entryway of Walmart.
Looking back, maybe if had I started smiling and waving, people would think I was a greeter. Better yet, if I stood completely still, maybe people would think that I was a mannequin, perhaps simultaneously advertising maternity clothes and orthaeopedic aid!
“Can I help you?” another employee asked.
“Oh I’m good!” I laughed confidently, silently praying that my elf would hurry up, and that they would even have an electric cart in stock. A week ago, in desperation, my husband had picked me up and hoisted me into the back of a grocery cart along with our nearly two year old son. I can now highly recommend that every married adult be pushed around by their spouse in a cart at least once in their lifetime. This is “in sickness and in health” at its finest and most entertaining!
This time, however, I was all by myself, and the prospect of crutching to the Christmas section on the opposite end of the store was overwhelming. A few weeks earlier, near the end of my first trimester, I had severely injured my knee in a ridiculous accident involving sitting down in my car. This particular injury would normally have required immediate surgery, however, risks to the baby necessitate that I wait until after she is born to have it repaired.
In the meantime, I am working on ways to make my limp more attractive and socially acceptable. I am currently debating between peg-legged, pot bellied pirate, and a retro dancer who moonwalks everywhere since I’ve gotten pretty excellent at sliding around. My husband has yet to approve of either of these two new identity choices.
Tonight was the first time I had driven myself anywhere since the accident and I sighed with relief when I spotted my elf helper steadily making his way across the store towards me in a coveted electric cart. I made sure to thank him profusely before climbing behind the wheel. After nearly running over two or three innocent bystanders and mercifully breaking free into the produce section, I realized I was going to have greater issues than my poor driving skills.
The sounds the cart was making indicated that it had not been maintenanced since oh, the foundation of Walmart. The front right wheel squeaked and wobbled so loudly I feared it may fall off at any moment, and though I pushed the lever up to the highest speed, I went only about the speed of a turtle being pulled by a team of slugs. To top this off, the brake system was shot and always lurched to an immediate, neck snapping halt, coupled with a sound similar to metallic nails grinding against a chalkboard.
I was determined, however, to get what I came for and gunned her for all she was worth. The next 20 minutes or so can be summarized in the following soundbite.
Squeak Squeak Squeak Squeak SCREEEEEECH. Ow! I am SO sorry ma’am! My neck!! Is it possible to give an unborn baby whiplash? BEEP BEEP BEEP. Bang! Oh no… I’ll just go the other way. SCREEEEHHHHH I sincerely apologize sir, I am not very good at this thing. Wow, I sure take up a ton of room don’t I? OW!!!! I think I’m going to have to see a chiropractor. Are they supposed to laughing at me or with me? Don’t mind me! Something is obviously wrong with my cart here, it’s not me really. SCREECHH!!! OW!!!
After somewhat successfully collecting most of what I came for, I parted a crowd of sympathetic onlookers to make the arduous journey back to the register. At the speed I was going, I figured it would only take me another 20 minutes or so to arrive. I leaned my elbow against the wheel and rested my chin in my hand. It was then that I noticed the flashing red light indicating that my battery was about to die.
Fantastic. As I tried to imagine what I would do if the cart died right here in the middle of the store I was hit with a sudden stroke of brilliance! This would make the BEST live Facebook video ever!! I could do a fake S.O.S. call pretending to be stranded in the middle of Walmart. I could include cute, clever phrases like, “Don’t worry everyone! I landed close to Auntie Anne’s pretzels and the smell is reviving me.” This was going to be GREAT!
“Nothing like drawing attention to yourself!” a well meaning woman with laughter in her voice called as she watched my agonizingly slow journey.
“Oh yeah!!!” I shouted back cheerfully, now eagerly anticipating my moment of awkward, supermarket glory.
Amazingly, I managed to make it to the front of the store and through the register before the inevitable happened. Without warning, my cart SLAMMED to a stop, nearly sending me over the steering wheel and garnering the stunned attention of a bench of employees on break.
“Don’t worry!” a valiant young man popped to his feet,”I will push you to the front!”
“Hold on!” I held up a hand and whipped out my cellphone. “I need to make a video!”
Traffic streamed around me as my brave, new friend poised behind the chair and I frantically fumbled to pull up Facebook.
WHAM! I was jerked to the side as a woman at the water cooler attempted to back out and wedged herself between me and the machine. As she attempted to break herself free and my thumbs struggled to launch me into internet stardom, my cart suddenly, miraculously launched forward.
“Never mind!” I called to my helper, secretly bemoaning the loss of my golden moment. I decided I could at least salvage the aftermath and held up my phone to record my violent ramble through the exit. As I attempted to make this video as incredible as possible, I noticed an older gentleman in a flannel jacket staring me down intensely. I ignored him and continued to try and come up with witty and interesting things to say. I had just finished recording and was busy doing a terrible job parking and being sad about my video lacking the epic quality I hoped for when the older gentleman who had been watching me so intently approached, breathing heavily.
“Excuse me, could I have that cart?” He asked, in obvious physical distress.
“Of course!” I said, all thoughts of my lost moment instantly vanishing as I noted his desperate expression. “I have to warn you though, I think the battery is about to go dead.”
“It’s ok,” he doubled over, hands clutching his knees, unable to catch his breath. “I have to have it. I have congestive heart failure.”
I fumbled quickly to grab my bags so the poor man could have a seat. “I’ll just sit here a while and let it charge.” I nodded and gave some sort of awkward, saddened goodbye.
I felt sick as I hobbled my way back through the darkened parking lot. I had been so concerned
with my moment of internet stardom that I had completely ignored this man who had been in obvious pain.
I wondered how often I have allowed my obsession with attracting social media attention to distract me from those around me who actually needed my love and my attention.
This is not just a personal struggle, but a cultural epidemic.
More than any other generation, ours is faced with the temptation to settle for looking good rather than doing good.
Millennials so often value our digital reputation above our in-the-moment presence.
This social media driven world has created a climate of self absorption that has made it easy to confuse doing what is “tweetable” “likeable,” even “lovable” for doing what is loving, what is right.
After a while, we start to equate what is “seen” and what is “noticeable” for what is life changing, and important.
This is the precise opposite of God’s definition concerning what makes a life matter.
God says that when we do good we are not even to let “our left hand know what our right hand is doing.”
He calls Himself One who lives and sees in secret.
Jesus saved His strongest words of condemnation for those who performed their acts of righteousness in the streets for everyone to see, and His promise of greatest reward for those who loved selflessly without regard for personal acclaim and who was paying attention at the time.
He says one day He will turn the lights on and all of our hidden motives will be exposed and marched center stage.
Our social media facades will be stripped down and we will stand, naked and as we really are, without the covering of “likes” and our “shares” and our friends lists.
God will reward us not based on how much we were “liked,” but on how much we loved.
“Likes” are not the building blocks of God’s Kingdom, in the moment, face to face, love is.
Really, this is what Christmas is all about. God broke the barriers of time and space to become present with us, to become Emmanuel. He demonstrated what real love is by closing the distance between us, putting on our flesh, living life with us, so that He would be able to make the ultimate sacrifice and pour out His life for us.
Not a lot of people liked Jesus, but His demonstration of love was so great that it turned death inside out and possesses the power to redeem our very souls.
He came to save us from our selfishness.
Christ became present with us so that we could learn how to be present with other people.
This is my challenge this Christmas, be like Jesus and give the present of your presence.
Put down your phone and look someone in the eye.
Practice face to face, person to person love.
We can’t pour out our lives for people if we’re not even looking at them, or are too busy looking at ourselves.
This is the generation that wants to change the world. Start by loving the person right in front of you.
If we all did that, we’d have a different planet by Christmas.