Monday, September 1, 2008
"Hey Honey, how about these?" He's peeling off the last too-tight fit in the clearance aisle, and I've been rapidly rummaging through this season's models one aisle over. The hiking shoes in my hand are the widest I can find in the store.
We're preparing for a "family heritage" vacation. You'll never guess where we're going: Yep!--into the desert! That's only part of the trip, though. We'll also be winding our way through several magnificent mountain passes...dancing in cold, cascading waterfalls...visiting old family cabins and gold mining claims...playing in the ocean...touring 5-6 national parks...hiking up, up, UP to my favorite mountain lake (thus the need for hiking shoes)...and visiting relatives here and there along the way. This trip has been fun to plan, and we're just about ready, set, go!
"How much are they?"
"I don't know. I can't find a price anywhere--"
Then the tag catches my eye, and I groan inwardly...$90. My husband doesn't pay $90 for ANY shoes, let alone a pair that, in his words, "won't be used to make money."
About 100 miles south of us in a teeny-weeny rural town, there's a teeny-weeny Redwing store that sells new, seconds, and--of all things--used work boots. Ever since a friend introduced us to the place a decade ago, my husband has been a consistent customer in the "Used" department. We've asked but never thoroughly understood why this little store has used boots for sale (I mean, who "turns in," or "trades in," their slightly-worn used work boots? And how? And why?!), but every other week this store receives a large shipment of used boots from the big city. The day after the shipment arrives, the boots are sorted according to various criteria and lined up neatly in the "Used" room. The store even has a toll free number so customers don't have to waste a trip; they can call ahead and the clerks will rummage through the current supply to see if they have what the customers need. About once every year or two we pray ahead and then call or stop by on our way through the area, and find my husband's next pair of boots. A pair of used boots costs $35-40, depending on appearance and wear.
Talk about walking in another person's shoes! ;~)
Our son loves to walk in his father's shoes, figuratively as well as literally. When he was two he'd find his dad's big ol' work boots resting near the front door, climb in, grab the laces up tight like reins, and clomp around the kitchen giggling with joy and boyish pride. As the years passed he loved and learned to emulate his father in so many other things, too, so that now he's quite handy, engaging, and seemingly steadfastly decided on his career (despite any counsel from anyone--even Dad). His goal is to follow in Dad's footsteps and work right alongside him someday.
Along with work, funny is big at our house. Since my husband excels at entertaining the rest of us, our son is busy perfecting a like sense of humor that belies his age. Most of his jokes and teasing drive his sister crazy (because, as she's quick to remind him, he's not Daddy!), but a precious jewel of wisdom my mom passed on to me years ago prepared me for this stage. Mom shared that she hadn't realized what my brother was doing when he first started developing his "dry" humor, and she hoped I'd watch for it and be able to appreciate it more in my son. I'm so thankful for that heads-up! My son's developing humor captures and thrills me so that I don't even have to pretend to get a kick out of him--he's funny!
A couple weeks ago he really caught me, though. We were out of milk that morning. The sky was clear blue, the air crisp-cool, and we welcomed a refreshing bike ride to the local grocery first thing. As I paid for our milk the elderly clerk asked where my husband was working that week, then began to reminisce about what her life was like when her husband worked on the road. The "lovely" spin she put on the lifestyle truly glorified God, but as I listened my mind sought balance. While I acknowledge God's provision, I must also acknowledge the desert. It is because it is hard to watch my husband struggle to maintain all the other aspects of his life during the few days he's home each week, and because it is sometimes hard to maintain joy when I'm a tired "single parent," disappointed in--or right along with--a child, that God's presence and grace in my life is such a precious oasis. Without the harshness of the desert, I would not seek nor value His help so much. And so although I trust and promote His faithfulness, I must acknowledge the hardship that creates room for it in my life. And since I am human, I also long for relief...or at least improvement!
As we left the store, I said to my son, "Remember, when you grow up, what it feels like when Dad is gone. Remember, so that maybe you can live in a way that's not so hard for your family."
"What do you mean, Mom? I'm gonna do just what Dad does, right along with him."
"Yes, Son, I know. But just remember what the rest of your family will be going through at home, and pray for a way to balance things more."
"Uh...no way! When I grown up I'm gonna be gone from home as much as possible!"
"So I won't get made fun of..."
I had just pushed off and was pulling away from the curb as he said it, defensively looking for moving cars as we crossed the parking lot, so just kept going. But I almost cried the whole way home. In the midst of a hearty round of joking, my husband often teases us that he "just gets made fun of whenever [he] comes home..." But I know he's kidding... Didn't our son? Doesn't he know his father would prefer to be home every night, with us and having time to work on projects at a more relaxed pace? Can he not see that marriage, and family life is lovely, and valuable...and that we wish we had more time for things other than all the have-to-do projects that steal our time to play together? And with the breakdown of family values so prevalent in our culture, it's important to me that our children see the gift of family--that they see it in us, and for what it truly is... And we've tried to show them... And...aren't they getting the message?!?
By the time we got home and hit the day running--breakfast for Grandma, home school, etc.--I was a basket case. I was praying, but still a basket case with a churning mind and stomach. It wasn't until the next day that I was actually collected and ready to broach the subject again with my son.
He quickly explained that he'd been TEASING!
Thankfully he's not quite old enough to judge me as silly or stupid for feeling upset.
But then, he's walked in my shoes some, too...
I hand the box of $90 hiking shoes to my husband, knowing I'll have to elaborate on my answer about the price but wishing I didn't, wanting to at least see if they're wide enough... He opens the box to try the shoes on, and notices...they're used! But we aren't in a used shoe store--we're in a sporting goods store. They carry used guns, but not used shoes! Weird! And these shoes are d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y used, but just a little. The shoes are the right model for the box, but they have light wear/scuff marks on the sides, a light layer of dust all over, and a little mud still stuck in the barely-worn soles. We ask a roaming clerk about them and she tells us to ask for the manager at checkout to receive a discount. After I tell my husband the regular price, we agree it prob'ly won't even be worth it to ask about a discount. (He's not willing to pay more than $50 for hiking shoes...)
But what do we have to lose? While he takes the kids to look at guns, I carry the box to the checkout, praying all the way. The astute young man at the customer service counter is genuinely baffled, both at the appearance of the shoes in a new box in his store and that we want to buy them. But I gently reassure him we are not crazy--just thrifty--and he finally calls the manager. The manager has him look up the store's cost for the shoes, and offer them to us for...$50!!!
As my husband pays for his shoes, the sales clerk still can't quite wrap his mind around this event. "Are you sure you really want these?" "Yes," my husband tells him, "Used is fine with me. Someone else just wore the price right out of them."
I, like my husband and son, choose to walk in used shoes. I strive to stay in the shoes of my precious Master, Jesus. Whoever first owned my husband's hiking shoes walked their price right out of them, but Jesus forthrightly paid the price for my sins (the ones I've already confessed, as well as those I have yet to commit). However I cross life's deserts (and mountains!), whether I walk, run, stumble, fall, crawl, roll, or dance...I am blessed to cross freely, in His shoes!