I spent much of my childhood in a convenience store. I learned so many valuable skills in the store. I learned to count back change, deal with the good and not so good customers, and clean. I don’t mean your regular cleaning – I mean the deep cleaning of keeping a store as it should be. I learned the dates on products don’t mean much, except with milk (which I didn’t like anyway). Long after we could sell it to a customer, it was still just fine. ‘Best by’ doesn’t mean ‘gone bad’. At this time, there were twisty ties on bread that were different colors. This was an indication of when it was produced – so you could pick out the freshest loaf. I also learned the names of most any candy you can imagine and sampled nearly all of them (I don’t enjoy coconut, so those were all avoided). Since my parents owned a convenient store, my dad reminded me often that I had better not run out of gas. He threatened that I could not call him if I ran out of gas since he owned a gas station. This did not keep me from testing the limits of my car – just to see if it really would go beyond the red line which indicated it was completely empty (I still tend to do this – I don’t know, it’s just a thing). I never did run out of gas so I never had to find out if he was being ‘for real’ about what he told me. I suspect he would have come and got me, but it would have come with a really long lecture about responsibility. I had those a few times. I could probably quote one now but you will have to pardon the eye rolls (my face always has gotten me in trouble – but don’t worry, my mouth was not much better…not much has changed).
There was one tradition that happened at this time – inventory. This meant that after we closed the store, we counted every item in the store by hand. Yes, every single item was counted. It was an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of night. Since this was before computers and using bar codes, this was a way of accounting for what had been brought in and what had been sold or taken. This identified what was actually in the store at that moment. This was fun for about the first 15 minutes. But after you have counted the 150th piece of bubble gum, you just don’t care quite as much.
As I sit here, looking at the end of another year – and an interesting one at that – I can’t help but take inventory. I am thinking about the times which lit up my day, brought joy to my life, and helped me see the good of the Lord in the land of the living. There have been births and celebrations, encouraging words and kind notes. I started the journey of writing this devotion during this year. There have been so many little nuggets of goodness packed into this otherwise difficult year. And there have been explosions of goodness. I completed my doctoral thesis, defended it, and was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree. My youngest daughter graduated from high school and began her journey in college. My oldest daughter was accepted into and began the Dental Hygiene program. I couldn’t be more excited about all the opportunities that are ahead.
There have also been sorrows and struggles. I have spent more time than I like at the foot of a grave of a dear friend or loved one. I have watched so many families struggle like never before. We have grieved the loss of being together and worked to figure out what it looks like to be safe in a pandemic. We have torn each other apart in the madhouse called politics and haven’t done much to repair the damage that has been done. The church is bleeding profusely from the loss of community and struggles to figure out how it all fits in a time so different from anything we have ever experienced. The end of ministry as I have known it is before me and I have no idea what the future holds.
Yet – and most especially – God has been present. In every one of these, God has been there. He has poured out his presence on those who grieve and on those who celebrate. He has been evident in the challenges of the pandemic and illuminates the paths of those who seek to know him better. He has spoken in some pretty incredible ways – but we only notice when we are paying attention. God is present. For this, and so much more, I am grateful.
What does your inventory look like? All in, all accounted for, what does it look like for you as you complete another year? I pray you find the joys, the nuggets, the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. May you be overwhelmed at all the good you had forgotten, but has been a part of your life. May you grieve the losses and begin the difficult journey of moving forward. May God’s grace fill you up as you consider a brand new year. Happy Inventory!
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Photos included in Devotions are captured by David Cain – The Cain Gallery. Photos are available for sale by contacting The Cain Gallery