Waiting at the Car Wash…

There are a lot of things to do on days off. Laundry, cleaning and the one thing I only get to do maybe 5 times a year…get my car completely cleaned, inside and out. This is not one of those “stop and get gas and …oh, by the way, “do you want a car wash?” questions at the gas pump. Oh no…this is the dipsy doodle of car washes…the Grand Poobah of car washes, the “vacuum the rubble and scrub it with bubbles” car wash of washes. And it isn’t just running it through an automated wash…oh no. This wash takes an hour and fifteen minutes where they clean the floor mats, vacuum between the seats, vacuum out the A/C vents, deep clean the leather seats and polish the tires. You buy popcorn for this kind of car wash and then sit under a shaded area to watch 5 people crowd around and into your vehicle to polish the paint, moisturize the leather seats, lovingly clean your wheels and use little bitty brushes to get in between the buttons on your dashboard. By the time they’re done, you have a ride that Mario Andretti would be proud to drive.

After paying, I went outside to sit and watch the 20 or so employees polishing other vehicles and taking tiny brushes around the rims or tires making everything gleam. At first I went and sat way down on rows of benches, but I have to talk…it’s a sickness with me. I have to have someone to talk to about something…anything. So I moved from being a loner to a bench where a young woman was sitting. I asked if I could sit and she kindly said yes. It was a better seat, and I could see my car smile at me in anticipation of getting all scrubbed up. (yes, I have problems…) I looked at the woman and asked, like a proud parent standing at the window of the nursery in a hospital, “Which one is yours?”

She kind of giggled at me and said, “You’re really into this aren’t you? “ I laughed and said, it was a rare that I ever spent much money on my car, but when I did, I tended to go overboard. I learned that her name was Sarah. She smiled broadly and said it was rare too, but she and her husband were so busy, that this was the only time she had to do it. Of course, I asked what kept them so busy. She said her husband was the worship pastor at a church in Thompson Station, not far from Brentwood. I was thrilled because I loved worship and she was so excited about it. She then told me about her children…and one in particular. She said “We have a special needs child and sometimes he takes more attention than the others, but how happy he is!” I was curious about that so I asked her. “Is it hard for you?” referring to having a special needs child when everyone around them had lots of children with no special needs whatsoever. Her 30 something eyes narrowed as she spoke.
“I fell in love with him when he was born right away.” She continued to say, “He can’t speak, and is challenged to communicate with us, but his eyes tell me the whole story when I look into them…” her voice spoke tenderly as she imagined his image in front of her while we spoke. A smile came upon her face. She looked at me squarely, “Travis opens people to the love of God by looking and smiling at them… he communicates acceptance, friendship and God’s love”…

I discovered that she and her husband were going on a short trip together just to have some alone time. Her mother and father were coming in to take care of their children. I asked if she worried about Travis while she was gone. “I worry about them all! she said. “Travis is the one I least worry about.” “He picks daisies and brings them to me, to my husband and he’ll pick them for my mother too. He gives daisies to EVERYONE!”

She laughed out loud…”He picks SO many flowers…he’s my flower child!” She told me she wanted to do more in ministry and I asked her if I could pray for her. She bowed her head. “Lord, I ask for my new friend that you would give her the desire of her heart to do something in ministry that will be useful and meaningful. I ask that she would be used to do exactly what Travis does…to communicate acceptance, friendship and God’s love.” As if on cue, over the car wash speakers came her name…I stood and gave her a daddy hug. She thanked me for the prayer and one of the workers cleaning her vehicle came over and asked her to come look at her car. We waved goodbye with promises to keep each other in prayer.

It took another 30 minutes or so for my little Solstice to get finished, but finally the speaker blurted out my name and I went walking toward the car. The guy who was showing me the vehicle proudly walked me around it. I thanked him and gave him a really good tip. I’ve worked in service industries and you need to always tip people as MUCH as you can afford to tip…it is really how they make their living.
As I went to open my door and get in, I broke out into a huge smile. Before she had left, she had found a moment to gather from the trash can one of three dozen daisies that had been cleaned out of her car and placed the prettiest one on my drivers seat. Travis had touched me and made me smile without ever having met him. God savors the gifts that other people throw away. Sarah had known Travis was a Down’s syndrome baby before she gave birth to him, but determined not to throw him away. And out of the trash she had chosen one of her sweet boys precious daisies and rescued it from the trash so it could bring another person joy. I have pressed it in a book at home to always remember that God doesn’t make trash…he gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and a boy with smiling eyes to communicate His love ….PERFECTLY!

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.