You Hem Me In

I am a Black Friday shopper. I never thought this would be the case, as I used to shop like a man.  I've only recently learned to enjoy "just looking," and I'm still pretty terrible at judging what is and isn't worth spending money on.  (In the past there was some confusion about a bobble-head chihuahua.  Yikes.)

But when I married Dan, I began to do the Black Friday thing with my mother and sister in law.  The first year I was just along for the ride (I was also great with child, so the 12 hours on my feet wasn't tons of fun).  The second year it sort of snuck up on me, like a happy surprise.  After our Thanksgiving meal I remembered, "Oh yeah!  We get to do this!"

And this year?  I've been looking forward to it for weeks.  Parking/walking/spending/crowds and all.  I don't even mind getting up early.  ME.    When you combine this fact with the stories in the previous two posts (here, and here), you will begin to understand that the Conner family has totally transformed Thanksgiving for me.

It is a SPORT for these two, now three, Conner women.  We scour the sales pages while everyone else watches  football.  We map out a route.  Usually something like Target, then Bass Pro, then Belks, (stop for brunch) followed by some giant mall where we can pick up the last of our family Christmas gifts.  I mean we literally PRINT OUT A MAP.

I'll be out of commission for a few days, so here is a little piece I wrote after Black Friday last year:

Sandra, Sandy, Madeline and I were in Big Lots for round two of Black Friday Christmas shopping. We’d stopped by the house to eat some leftovers, and collect Madeline from our babysitters.  I mean husbands.

The Big Lots here is kind of like K-Mart, only less organized and junkier, if you can imagine it.  It had been a long day, and after only 10 minutes of sitting in the cart, Madeline began to “escawhine.”  (Short for “escalating whining.”)  In the event that you are not a parent, allow me to explain: when a child escawhines, the child states what it wants and if the parent doesn’t IMMEDIATELY comply, the child tries again, only an octave higher and slightly less articulate.  And then higher and even less decipherable over and over until the child’s whining has escalated to such a high, squeally, incoherent state, that it sounds like a freight train slamming on its breaks.  And if you listen really closely, you can hear the screeching metal train saying, “Wanna hold Ellllllmmo!”

So Madeline began to escawhine, “I don’t wanna sit in the caaaaarrt.”

For a brief moment I considered turning this into a teachable moment – leaving her in the cart to show her that whining doesn’t work (or at least that I am as stubborn as she is), but that is a battle that can be won in the comfort of our living room – not in a crowded discount-super-store.  Her remaining in the cart is hardly a hill worth dying on, so I plucked her up and plopped her down on her tippy toes and let her walk beside me.

She toddled around, weaving in and out of all our legs, touching EVERYTHING.  At which point I began to look for the 5-gallon jug of off-brand hand-sanitizer.

Madeline called out all the numbers she recognized on the sales tags as we passed. “Dassa fiiiive.  Dassa freee.  Dassa seven.”  (She says “seven” really fast, like a ninja.)  Then she pulled on the beards of all the singing Santas until she found a little pokey football on the floor and carried it around the store, clutched to her breast like a prize.

That funny little girl is the prize of my life.  We moved   s l o w l y through the store in a single file line.  Sandy first in her knee-length black and white giraffe print coat (which I would like to borrow for my Cruella DeVille costume next Halloween).  Sandy was followed by her mother, Sandra, who was followed by triumphant Madeline with blue football, and finally me - exhausted, bedraggled, and pushing the cart heaping with cheap Christmas decorations.  We look like a bunch of people who would shop at Big Lots.

As happy as I was to watch Madeline walking with her football prize, I was also keenly aware that she is a beautiful little two-year-old girl wandering through a store full of strangers at Christmas time, all by her big-girl-self.

And every time our little caravan turned a corner and I saw "the Sands" disappear, I accelerated my cart right up behind Madeline as she stepped out around the corner – like I was cutting out in traffic – so as not to leaver her in the back of the line, exposed.  I repeated this exercise as we worked our way up and down all the aisles, imagining Madeline as a duckling waddling in line.  I zipped around every corner right on her heels and smiled as I saw her walking safely between her grandmother and myself.  She hadn’t a care in the world; she was safe and happy, and I was hemming her in.

And in my heart I heard a whisper,

“You hem me in - behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me.…”

I memorized Psalm 139 in high school so I immediately recognized the whisper as the Word of God.  And in that moment the word-picture in Scripture came alive to me.

I saw myself in little Madeline: marching forward, unaware and fiercely loved.  With every corner we turned I thought, “Precious Father, You watch for me like I watch for Madeline.  Only instead of protecting me in a bargain store, you protect me through this messy, scary thing called life.”

I could have started crying right there in our caravan at Big Lots (which really would have been a sight).  Oh, Jesus.  You hem me in – behind and before.  I walk safely through life with God going before me to lead me, and following close behind to keep me safe.  Never exposed. Hemming me in.

As soon as I got home I pulled out my Bible and began to read.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” [Psalm 139: 1-12]

I have a great big God who loves me enough to hem me in as a travel through life.  He turns the murky darkness around me into light, because darkness is as light to Him.  He is fatherly towards me – tender.  And He makes me feel safe when everything around me is in upheaval.

You'll hear from me again after I emotionally recover from all that spending.  And when I do?  It's time for Advent!  Get excited.