Saturday, December 16, 2006

I hate shopping

I Hate Shopping

Karla is a very methodical Christmas shopper. She wants to buy the perfect gift. She thinks and shops and ponders and shops and thinks and ponders some more before ever laying down her cold hard cash. She puts great effort into buying gifts for her loved ones. Like Santa, she enjoys making a list and checking it twice. Karla receives great satisfaction in finding the perfect gift in the tenth store she visits especially when it is two dollars cheaper than it was in the first store and one dollar cheaper than it was in the eighth store.

I’m not that way. I go to one store. I rush in, buy it (whatever “it” is), and rush out. I’ll pay the extra two bucks. In my mind, shopping malls at Christmas time are like the “hairy-lipped kisses” my grandma used to give— they should be avoided at all costs. I know there are presents to buy. I know that I must buy them. But like those Christmas smooches from grandma, I derive no enjoyment in the process.

It’s not that I don’t want my loved ones happy on Christmas morning, I do. Despite my propensity to utter “Bah Humbug” whenever I think of a mall, I don’t think I’m a Scrooge. And this little e-mail is not intended to be a “materialism, consumerism, and every other “ism” is evil” type of writing. All that may be true, but my point is not that deep. It’s simply this: I hate shopping.

While I never seem to have a problem finding a parking space at church (It helps that I arrive before the roosters are awake on most days), in a mall parking lot I never seem to get within three football fields of the doors. Once inside and upon receiving the necessary oxygen from my Everest-like hike to the mall, I never know where the stores are located in which I want to shop. After an eternity of seeking, asking, walking and wishing I was like the Magi with a star to follow, I might locate the necessary store or maybe not. Assuming I do find the store, upon reaching my destination, I am usually once again in need of oxygen and a meal following this store searching marathon.

Of course, entering the store is when my “fun” really begins. I am the Ponce de Leon of Christmas shopping. I rarely find what I am after and frequently settle for a second, third, or even the fifty-fourth choice. My frustration doesn’t end there. You see, I have the gift of being able to pick out the one item on a shelf of hundreds of items that doesn’t have a price tag or bar code on it. I have the ability to enter the one check out line that contains the worker with the least capacity to work a cash register, a cash register that has run out of paper for the receipts, and/or the line where the credit card machine just went on the blink. And I have an uncanny knack of standing behind a person in line who has won the prize for being: a) the most Grinch-like person in Who-ville; b) the foulest mouth in the Navy; c) the worse head cold the Mayo Clinic has ever diagnosed who also has the penchant to sneeze in my general direction; or d) as is usually the case, the super trifecta of all of the above.

Yes, I hate shopping!

Like it or not, we have ten more shopping days until Christmas. Unless you are one of those sick individuals that have had their Christmas shopping done since July, like me you will probably find yourself in a mall in the next ten days, or at the very least, in a Wal-Mart or Target. You will have a choice. You can be grumpy and rushed and have a bad attitude and foul disposition like the guy I’m usually behind in the check-out line or you can determine to be happy and spread the love of Christ.

Here’s how to be happy in a mall at Christmas: In spite of all of the facts from the previous paragraphs, determine to smile a lot. Say “Merry Christmas” to as many people as possible. When entering the mall, have some change ready for the Salvation Army Bell Ringer. Be generous. Hum a Christmas Carol while you shop. Take a moment to watch bright-eyed kids tell Santa all of their materialistic desires. Find a Starbucks and order a Peppermint Mocha (a tasty drink that is quickly becoming a Rob Prince holiday tradition). Be polite. If you pass a Santa hat display, ALWAYS try one on while loudly saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!” (If you have teenage children shopping with you this will make them disappear quicker than asking them to do the dishes following dinner.) If someone has more than their allotted items for the express check-out line, don’t sweat it. You’ll get your turn to purchase Aunt Lucy’s Chia Pet, I promise. While in the mall, don’t be afraid to use these words: “excuse me,” “thank you,” and “I’m buying this present for my pastor.” (Oops… how did that last line get in there?) Point is: don’t let crowded malls, cranky people and tight schedules remove the joy from your heart. It’s Christmas! The greatest news of all is ours: God is with us! Why not act like it—even in a shopping mall!

Monday, December 11, 2006

3327 Text Messages

Have you ever opened up a bill and noticed that there was a glaring, unmistakable error. At least you hoped that there was a glaring, unmistakable error. It happened to me this week.

On Saturday, my cell phone bill arrived (I won’t tell you what cell phone company it is, but I’ll give you some clues: The headquarters for this company is in Overland Park; several fine Centralites work for this company; and, its name rhymes with “squint.”) Anyway, I received my bill and much to my surprise, it said I owed this fine company an eye popping $691.19. Here’s a general rule I live by: if your cell phone bill is higher than the cost of a plasma TV, you’ve got a problem.

I had a problem.

Upon investigation I discovered that $574.60 of that bill was my #1 cherub’s text messaging bill. Alex, during the billing period, had received and sent a grand total of 3,327 text messages. How can anyone send and receive 3,327 text messages? I love my son, but I don’t believe I spoke to him 3,327 times in the last year—maybe not in his lifetime. 3,327? Are you kidding me?!?

Here’s the whole story: On our cell phone bill, from the month prior to the Super Colossal Bill of $691.19, Alex had gone over his text messaging limit and it cost him something like $14.95. Knowing that to have unlimited text messaging was $15.00 a month, my astute math whiz decided that he should have unlimited text messaging for a nickel more. So he and Karla went to the local cell phone office that rhymes with “flint” and changed his coverage from 1000 text messages a month to unlimited text messages a month. Unfortunately, the employee at the cell phone office that rhymes with “mint” must have typed in the wrong information or hit the wrong button, because instead of having unlimited test messaging we had no text messaging coverage. Hence, our cell phone bill was for $691.19.

As you might imagine, quicker that you can say “Can you hear me now?” I called the cell phone company that rhymes with “Splint” and said: “I think we have a problem.” Jessica was the name of the friendly cell phone employee on the other end of the line (Is it correct to say “the other end of the line” when referring to a cell phone company? Probably not.). Anyway, Jessica informed me that my $691.19 bill was over her limit to authorize an adjustment. She was sympathetic. She was nice. But she could not do anything about my bill. I told her a $691.19 bill was over my limit too. She said she was sorry and that she would fill out some form (I assume it was a form for people who were about to text message “I owe a crazy amount of money to a phone company!” to the whole wide world) and that a representative from the company that rhymes with “tint” would call me on Monday.

I waited on Monday. All day I waited. Finally, I could wait no longer and called the company that rhymes with “Lint” and said: “We’ve still got a problem.” This time I spoke to a fine employee named Troy. Troy told me we had no problem. He said that my $691.19 cell phone bill had already been adjusted, and that my worried son no longer had to figure out how many driveways he would have to snow shovel to come up with the $691.19. Whew! Thank You, Jessica. Thank you, Troy. Thank you cell phone company that rhymes with “Clint,” as in “Eastwood,” because just like Dirty Harry they “made my day!”

Why did I tell you all of this?

The phone bill was an honest mistake, which the phone company quickly rectified. In life, I had a much bigger problem than a $691.21 phone bill. My debt was huge. It was a mile long. It was a million miles long. It was the type of debt that on my own I could in no way clear up. And no cell phone employee (even with the proper authorization) could clear it up either. My “sin” record could only be cleared by a savior. And that’s the good news of Christmas. The glorious message of the angel to Joseph in the Christmas story was mine and your good news too. The Angel told Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). I need Jesus. So do you. Jesus came to this world to save people from their sins. That’s exactly what I need, and that is the ultimate message of Christmas. A savior came. His name is Jesus!

Now, that’s a message we could “text” to 3,327 of our closest friends!