I think God lives at Publix…

” The entire front of the store broke into applause, cashiers were ringing the cowbells they ring for special occasions. It was like a party. Then Ray shouted, “Let’s do it again!” “

Doug Pacheco

Today, my wife went to visit her parents with her daughter and grandchildren. This time, I stayed home and I did the usual, cleaned up my dirty dishes and did some laundry. Didn’t watch any football, but then, I haven’t for the past two years so I figure I haven’t missed much.

This afternoon I once again got in the car to go and buy something at the store for dinner. I walked into Publix, and as usual, at least two employees said hello to me and asked me if I needed any help finding  something particular. I thanked them but said I had my list and went on my way.

Sunday’s are supposed to be laid back and “easy” according to Lionel Ritchie, but there has always been a tension in the air on Sunday’s for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I know that I go to work the next day, or just what it is, but Sunday’s always go by way too fast and I generally have a long list of things to get done. Today shopping was one of them.

For some reason today, I felt sad, and I wasn’t quite sure why. There is nothing that I know of that should make me feel sad, but it was the kind of heaviness that I knew meant I needed to pray. Sometimes, God does his best talking without saying a word. When I get to feeling this way, it is a sure sign that even if I don’t have a reason to pray, God always needs someone to intercede. Anyway, I went into the store and began shopping and prayed under my breath as i shopped.

People are easy to talk with in the South. They don’t ever seem afraid to stop and make a comment or two when you speak with them, they seem to know instinctively when you are making a joke and are free with their laughter. Today was no different.

I chatted with a guy who was trying to decide between Pork Chops or spare ribs. I saw him weighing in his mind the pros and cons of each.  His arms were crossed and his hand was over his mouth…so I modeled his stance, looked at him and I asked him,

“So, what’s it gonna be brotha?” He looked at me and grinned a big grin and asked,

“Which do YOU like the best?” I said, “You can’t beat good Country ribs if they are cooked on a grill”.

He looked up in the air and imagined what that would look like and I saw him do his Andy of Mayberry, “Mmmmm Mmmmm!” look and said, “That did it for me…Country Ribs it is!” We passed each other up and down the aisle for the next 10 minutes and each time I’d pass him he would give me that same big grin.

People in Tennessee are sacred folk. I’ve fallen in love with my adopted home. Everyone is so proud to be from here, or to have a child in college here. They are proud of the music in the air, the biscuits and gravy, the contagious charm that makes every stranger a friend… the readiness to help a neighbor out with anything they need.

I headed to check out and since I didn’t have that much in my buggy (Northern Translation: Shopping Cart, Spanish Translation: “No Ninos en la Canasta!”) I for sure wasn’t going to have anyone take my groceries out to my car for me. Publix does that you know…they stand there, bag your groceries and then ask, “May I please help you out to your car with these?” they all wear a button that says, “NO TIPPING PLEASE!” I paid for my groceries and just at that moment , my day became sacred.

I had been bagging my own groceries because the girl who had been bagging had run to do a price check. As I bagged, a very kind voice spoke over my right shoulder and said, “If you do that Mister, I won’t have a job to do.” I looked and saw a good looking young man with a nametag that told me his name was “Ray”[1].

I said, “Hello Ray, I don’t want to take your job away from you!” He smiled big and then gave me a big hug…followed by a kiss on my cheek. It made me laugh. Ray had Down’s syndrome and was so proud…just SO proud he could help me. I felt as if I was the most special person in the store that day. Ray approved of my choice of bread and he said he LOVED Crunchy Raisin Bran that I had bought. He said it was his FAV-O RITE,,,just like that. “that is my FAV-O RITE” he said and just laughed. His laugh was contagious. I started laughing too.

Ray owned me from that moment on. The cashier looked at me and smiled and said, “Ray you are my sunshine!” Upon hearing that, Ray broke into song, and when he started singing, I started singing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” I looked at the people behind me and the other cashiers and waved my hands to sing along…they started singing…”You make me happy, when skies are gray…” The other customers in three lines got in on it…”You’ll never know dear, how much I love you…” I couldn’t sing anymore…my throat was getting choked up, but by the end, there were 30 people in 8 lines singing, “Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

The entire front of the store broke into applause, cashiers were ringing the cowbells they ring for special occasions. It was like a party. Then Ray shouted, “Let’s do it again!” And away he went, singing. Of course, the entire front of the store sang along. After that, the cashier looked at Ray and said, “These people need to get home Ray!” He smiled and said okay.

He then took charge of my cart and asked, “Where are you parked?” I said, “Oh Ray, I don’t have that much and there are other people behind me with full carts that they probably need help with.” He asked, “do we go this way, or that way?” Pointing in the directions and I finally said, “Just follow me Ray.” He did.

Outside at my car, I opened the hatch and he placed my groceries inside my car. He then did something that NO ONE has ever done in my 61 years of life. Ray looked at me and asked me my name. I told him and he then asked, “Doug, can I pray for you?” There are times in life when a moment is so special that for some reason, I go deaf to all the noise around me, and my vision narrows. This was one of those times. I tried to speak but all I could do was nod my head. Ray prayed out loud and clear,

 “Lord I pray for my new friend Doug and I ask for him to be your special boy and that you will love him and give him your happy smile and that he will know that he is your special boy.” Amen!

I said, “Amen” and I grabbed Ray and gave him back the hug he had given me earlier. He said, “I have to go now, I have a job to do.” I thanked Ray and he walked back into the store. As he walked, I could hear him singing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine”…  I usually listen to music when I drive but I drove home in silence, I’d needed prayer and God sent Ray.

The heaviness lifted, joy returned, and today, whether anyone knows it or not, I am God’s special boy. And, don’t look now, but I think you are too. I certainly know Ray is. This Tennessee…the Holy Spirit loves this place!


[1] Not his real name.

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