It all started innocently enough. My husband was out of town, so I took over the dry cleaning for him as this normally was something he took care of. We had been using this dry cleaner for over 20 years which is owned and operated by an Asian couple who still struggled with English but have faithfully worked to run their own business year after year.
The female store owner recognized me but she didn’t seem interested in small talk. “Phone number? ” She demanded in broken English.
I gave her my husband’s cell. She seemed irritated when it didn’t work. Next, I next gave her my cell. It didn’t work either. I then gave her our old home number that we don’t use anymore.
I just wanted to drop off the clothes. I gave her my husband’s cell again.
Then she started to ask me something that I couldn’t make out. She seemed offended that I didn’t understand her and as her frustrated rose she walked away from the counter. When she came back, I asked if I could pick it all up by Saturday (3 days later) as we both were going out of town on Monday. (I didn’t realize how early at the time) This is the first time I’ve ever asked for a specific day, but I needed the dresses for the convention.
“can’t do that “, she said stubbornly.
“Ok” I said bowing down…” How about early Monday?”
She said 8am. Problem averted I thought. I’ll just pick up the clothes early Monday even though they are closed on Sunday and the clothes would most likely be done on Saturday. It’s fine, I thought. She must have been having a bad day.
Chatting with my husband later that day, he informed me that we were leaving early (like 7am early on Monday).
“No!” I thought. I need to go back and face this bitter, unhappy women? I need to ask her for a favor? I started to make a game plan as I drove over. I would ask her nicely after I give her the old phone number that she still has in her computer. I would apologize and take blame for not knowing what number was in her system. And if she wasn’t able to help me? I would ask for the clothes back and have them cleaned at our hotel.
“Hello”, I smiled as I walked in.
“clothes are not ready” she barked out without a smile.
“I know” I said still smiling “I found out from my husband the number you have in your computer . I’m so sorry as it is a 20 year old number.” She put it in as I waited to ask her for my request.
“So I just realized that we are leaving at 7 am on Monday morning. I was wondering if I could please pick up the clothes on Saturday?”
“No..can’t do that”
“Then can I have my clothes back?” I countered.
“No…they all mixed up back there…I no can find them”.
I tried to remain calm but part of me was thinking of calling for backup. Like 911 backup. I could feel the tension rise as my face felt flush and the claws in my hands started coming out.
“Can’t you use the numbers on the receipt to find them? I inquired. “Those are my property”.
We were at a standstill. My clothes were now held hostage and like two cowboys in a western film we both had our hands on our weapons. And so I tried a different tactic.
“20 years”. I said with pleading eyes and a questioning voice.
She just looked at me …we both had our paws out, claws ready.
So I then tried my last resort plan. I made a threat. “If you don’t help me, my husband won’t come here anymore.”
She agreed that I could pick them up at 5 pm.
“Not one minute earlier” she said.
And then she gave an explanation of her frustration in rapid execution, but I could only make out the phrase, “it is smelly back there.” ..then she turned around and with her back to me she put up her right hand in a “never mind you wouldn’t understand” wave.
“You both work very hard,” I said…she didn’t turn around.
Driving away my heart grew increasingly sad and heavy. I would receive the clothes earlier and I didn’t need to call the police; but I started to put myself in her shoes and the Holy Spirit began to convict me.
20 years. In those many years Amber, did you ever bring her a thank you card or gift?
I thought of my own business and while I also deal with challanging situations, at Christmas and graduation I always receive some form of appreciation from some of my customers.
And on the flip side, during the Christmas season, my husband and I do our best to remember those who serve us: the mail person, the garbagemen, my hairdresser, the UPS person who delivers at our business…the list goes on.
But my guilt started to build as I realized how overlooked she has been by our family. Perhaps this is why she is so stressed and unfriendly at times? Does she feel unappreciated?
The night after my second showdown, I happened ( I call them divine appointments) to be having dinner with a sweet sister who also used the same dry cleaner. She listened intently and sympathized with my position but added insight into this woman’s side.
She said she has seen customers that treat her very badly. They demand things from her and disrespect this small elderly Korean women who they don’t even try to get to know. My heart softened even more as my friend shared and I decided on what I needed to do.
I shared with my friend that I think I should bring a gift and/or card when I picked up Saturday night and my friend agreed. She said that she would do the same the next time she picked up her husband’s clothes.
(Do you see the importance of sharing with a Christian friend who will not just take our side but like healing Salt remind us that the point is not winning our own personal battles but in winning others over with God’s love ?)
So at the encouragement of my sweet sister I made my game plan. I found a thank you card that had the words, “Thank you” in different languages and on the inside it read, Sending a World of Thanks.
Next, I chose a beautiful pink orchid in full bloom and prayed about what to write in the card.
I thought about how in our recent bible study book, entitled, Knowing the Names of God by the GIG girls. (Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith, Mary Southerland) the Hebrew name El Roi means “The God Who Sees”. In the Old Testament, Hagar is a mistreated girl slave to her mistress Sarah. She was so unhappy that she ran away into the desert as her pregnancy caused Sarah to jealously mistreat her. An angel of the Lord asks her questions and then declares a promise to her that He will increase her descendents and that “He has heard her”.
The chapter by Sharon Jaynes reads, “Falling on her Face, Hagar gave God the name El Roi, The God Who Sees. “I have now seen the One who Sees me” she cried. She had heard God. She had seen God. Most Important. God had seen Hagar. God had heard Hagar”.
This woman is like a modern day Hagar, I thought. She probably feels mistreated and underappreciated. She probably wants to run away too. Does she know that God Sees her and know everything? Most of all, does she know that God Loves her?
So I wrote to the couple , “Thank you for all that you do each day. While most people do not notice your hard work, God sees you. God loves you so much. And then I thanked them again and signed my name with the symbol I put each time I sign my name, a cross running through a heart.
I drove nervously to the cleaners and arrived a little after 5 (it said on the website that they were closed at 6 and I didn’t want to be obnoxious and arrive early)
With orchid and card in hand I walked to the door. The doors were locked. “Oh No” I thought. Did she set me up? Is this Showdown number three? Then I saw her walking to the door.
And. then. She. saw. the. flower.
“You are lucky I am still here” she said with a friendly voice as she unlocked the door.
“I’m sorry……I was getting you a flower, I thought you closed at 6pm.”
She started to explain why she didn’t give me the time I asked for before . No. I “declared. I am the one who is sorry”.
I looked her in the eye and sincerely apologized while I slowly said to her, “And I am so sorry that after 20 years I have never thanked you. Thank you for all of your hard work. My eyes were misty as I truly felt awful that we had overlooked her.
I am embarrassed to write this but I didn’t know her name…….What is your name?” I finally asked.
“Kim” she said.
Where are you from? “Korea”. I could tell she appreciated me trying to bridge the gap and showing interest in her.
“So how do you say “Thank you” in Korean?”
She told me and about 5 times I keep trying to say the multisyllable word ( kam-sa-ham-ni-da ?) and this confirmed again to me of how hard it must be to live and work in a language that is not one’s birth language. Like an old Seinfeld episode I comically kept trying to repeat the Korean to no avail.
This time her smile mirrored my own as I waved a surrender sign …”what ever you said in Korean I mean”.
I walked to my car and as I was situating my clothes when her husband (who had been listening in the back) rushed out to tell me something,
“Thank you for the flower”, He smiled and waved.
I gave a thumbs up and yelled back, “Thank you for all that you do”.
Proverbs talks about how a gift can change a sticky situation.
Proverbs 18:16 A gift opens doors.
The love behind purchasing a gift is what is needed to open doors to reconciliation, Love and understanding.
Do you feel unappreciated by others? Remember that God Sees all that you do. He sees your heart. He sees how hard you try.
Or perhaps there is someone around you who doesn’t feel appreciated. Someone who could use a flower ? A thank you card? Who is the person that others never thank that is in your world. It could be someone as close as a spouse or mother or child to someone you hardly know like your drycleaner. Pray about how to best show them that you see them. That God Sees them. They will know God’s love through your noticing and this softens hearts for seeds to be planted.
For Love is the most effective and powerful weapon against isolation and ignorance.