Have you ever noticed how two people can see the same situation in such a different light? One day this summer, I found myself out shopping alone, so naturally, I stopped at Goodwill. You see, Goodwill is one of my happy places, but my family doesn’t like to go with me. They say it has to do with the fact that I spend two or more hours looking at every single thing in the store. How else are you supposed to find the deals?! This particular day, I was in the book section perusing the shelves for engaging middle grades books for my classroom library. I am new to teaching middle school English, and a well-stocked bookcase doesn’t come cheap! A lady who looked to be in her 60s was on the same aisle as me, and a few other customers were scattered around this section looking for deals in housewares and electronics because some of us appreciate a good bargain when we see it (eh-hem, are you listening, family?).
In this Goodwill (GW), the children’s books are on the other side of the adult books, and, for some reason, a few toys are there as well, even though the main toy section is up front. It is important to know your GW layout for the times when your family accompanies you with the condition that we spend less than one hour shopping–party poopers! How fortunate for me that the best toys seem to end up in the back. A mother and her two small sons were shopping the GW that day as well. She decided to let the boys play with the books and toys in the back while she looked through the clothing racks nearby. I don’t blame her; kids can really drag you down when you are in the GW-bargain-hunting zone. The key to a happy family GW experience is that everyone gets lost hunting in his/her own section.
Suddenly, as I stood contemplating how many books I could buy before my husband complained, a loud BOOM sounded from the aisle next to mine. Shoppers around me gasped, and I heard voices from the front of the store cry, “Look!” Above me floated a cloud of blue confetti like you might see at a big city parade or a pop concert. It was magical! I stared in awe as long, skinny rectangles of blue plastic rained down on my head and shoulders. Seemingly outside of my control, my arms stretched out, my head leaned back and I laughed out loud at the barrage of flashy bits falling down in slow motion on my aisle. “Have I won a prize?” I thought. “Am I the one millionth customer? Maybe I’ll get all these books for free–a $14 value!”
My moment of careless bliss was interrupted by the lady on the aisle with me. She said something like, “Can you believe this?” I couldn’t; it was magnificent. But the way she said it sounded like she didn’t quite see the fun in our situation. Her words did not bring me out of my reverie completely, so she started picking confetti off me. Perhaps she thought I was in a state of shock and couldn’t respond properly to this disaster. I told her that this was like magic, and she told me it was “those kids” with a sneer. Of course, I did not believe the confetti actually appeared out of nowhere, but I had not yet taken the time to piece together exactly what had happened. I began to look around at the other customers who were staring at the children’s books and “extra” toy aisle with disgust before walking to confetti-free sections of the store.
A GW employee came running past my aisle, stopped short at the next aisle, and looked with barely veiled anger at who I assume were the two unaccompanied little boys. Next, their confused, slightly embarrassed, and much less angry mother walked up and asked, “What happened?” as though she somehow missed the booming confetti brigade. One of the boys, I believe it was the oldest, answered, “it wasn’t we!” Again, I laughed out loud thinking to myself, “oh, it was we!” My aisle partner solemnly shook her head. She was trying to commiserate with me about the extreme naughtiness of these delinquents, but I was too busy enjoying their attempts to prevaricate. The mother, still fairly calm or clueless about the angry employees and customers all around her, gently took her boys and left the GW with the same confused look on her face.
I, too, was a little confused as to exactly what had happened, so I walked around to the next aisle to investigate. (Also, I wanted to look through the children’s books because I don’t get to go to GW by myself every day.) There, on the floor, lay a rather large and empty confetti cannon. It appeared to have been covered in packing tape to prevent a misfire, but the boys were easily able to bypass that failsafe. This knowledge only brought me more questions. Who puts a loaded confetti cannon in the toy section? Why would someone lucky enough to own a confetti cannon give it away? And could one purchase and reload said confetti cannon? If so, where would one buy confetti ammo? Is it half price today?
I spent a little more time shopping through the books while another employee kept apologizing profusely to me about the incident. I assured her that I had enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it was quite funny. She agreed that it was pretty silly but said that she would have found it more amusing if she did not have to clean it all up, which I took as my cue to leave. Sadly, I did not go home with a used confetti cannon that day for fear that it was a one-time use only. However, I did leave with a parcel of good books and the happy memory of a glorious time when I was showered with confetti out of the clear blue for no apparent reason at all.
The varied reactions of people around me in the store that day caused me to reflect on why we had such differing extremes of emotional responses to the same situation. While I was filled with joy and awe, my partner in the aisle was filled with disgust. The first employee on the scene was obviously irate, but the mother appeared to be mainly confused and slightly upset to have her shopping trip end so abruptly. Other shoppers seemed to have differing degrees of shock and disapproval, and the second employee was both amused and annoyed. Why did I appear to be alone in my joy over the day’s events?
While I wish my gut reaction was always to find joy in the journey like I did this day, I know that many times I struggle with negativity. Proverbs 23:7 describes the evil man like this: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” This describes what we call the “self-fulfilling prophecy” or the idea that our thoughts ultimately control our emotions and actions. Negative focus leads to negative emotions and actions. I believe God’s Word teaches that our fleshly nature pulls us toward the negative in this life. Why else would God, through Paul, exhort Christians to focus on “whatever things are true…noble…just…pure…lovely…[and] of good report” unless this was different from what the world around us tends to do?
In this life, chaos happens. Kids misbehave. People are rude. You lose your keys or your wallet or your phone. Drinks get spilled. Dinner gets burned. Confetti cannons explode. Bad things happen! Are you going to be the person who rejoices in trials like Christ calls you to do (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7)? Or are you going to be the person who lets the devil drag you down with all the little things that go wrong in your day? And maybe they aren’t little things. Do you think Satan will stop at car keys if that is not enough to tempt you to sin?! When our focus is where it should be, on things that are above, then the negative things in our day-to-day lives begin to take their proper shape (Colossians 3:2). Meditating on God and eternity should give us a great deal of perspective on what really matters in this life: living your life and going to heaven. Everything else pales in comparison.
This school year, our dean is encouraging the faculty to be more positive. Why don’t you join us? I don’t want to miss out on the joy each day brings because I am too focused on the trials. Think positively. Smile and laugh out loud when you could be angry or upset. Take time to stop and smell the roses, or shop at GW by yourself for a couple of hours. Embrace the chaos because sometimes the chaos is absolutely magical!