This is a blog post that I originally wrote almost 8 years ago! My, how time flies. Here it is in an updated version. Many years have passed, but the sentiment of these thoughts and this life lesson have never been more true. I am so grateful to be able to look back and see all the ways and all of the people that the Lord has used to help me grow along the way. I hope you are blessed by the memory of my friend Donald as much as knowing him blessed me.
It is hard for me to believe that I have been in the retail business for twenty years! While I am grateful for the life experience that I have earned, when I add up how old that makes me, well, that is a hard pill to swallow!
When I moved home after college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into! God is so funny that way, isn't he? I moved home to run my dad's new retail shop, not planning on staying long, and having zero business experience. Here I am, all these years later, now owning my own business, after running that shop and cafe for 19 years!! I could write a novel on my experiences of learning the art of business in a small town, dealing with small town politics, and the struggles of drowning in bills--all while trying to maintain a 100-year-old bank building that was always in need of tender loving care. Maybe one day I will write that novel but today I want to tell a different story. Rather than focusing on all the gory details of my trials by fire, I want to tell you my story of learning to use my retail business to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my community.
I would like to tell you that I learned the aforementioned lesson quickly, but I am afraid it has taken me quite a long time. As a Christian, I have struggled with the worldly side of my business for years. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. I was born with a creative spirit that desires to make the world a more beautiful place, one well planned party and beautiful home at a time! I know that these talents come from God, as he is the Great Creator. What I have struggled with from time to time is that this job that I love so much is only providing people with worldly possessions that they do not need. Couldn't their money be better spent building wells or feeding hungry children in third world countries? This idea nagged at me for years before I really started to see the ways God was working to use my business in a bigger way, for His glory.
I attended my first Catalyst conference in Atlanta in 2012. This was an experience that would get my wheels turning and help set me on a path that I am still forging. The theme that year was “Make”, and it seemed like the two-day experience was tailor “made” for me!
I have never enjoyed such powerful worship and been immersed in thoughts of such knowledgeable speakers. As a part of the experience, there was a “Makers Market” set up outside the conference center. It featured several businesses that employed and empowered people who needed help, all while providing the world with a beautiful and meaningful finished product. I know that these days this is very common, but at the time, the idea of “one for one” or companies that give back were new to me and I was completely inspired.
I was able to talk with representatives from The Giving Keys, and Lamon Luther, both of which are companies that are working to fight homelessness and freedom from addiction and life’s hardships by providing jobs and hope. I was hooked on this idea that retail and selling people beautiful things could go hand in hand with loving people and providing for those in need. I just couldn’t quite figure out what that could look like for our business. I remember telling my then husband and business partner on the way home that I thought we should start using our Cafe to give away lunches on certain days of the week and those customers that could pay could make a donation and the ones that couldn’t could eat for free, no questions asked. I also remember the look on his face when he shot that idea down. Hahahaha! Ok, maybe I was grasping at straws there, but it could have been a good idea, we’ll never know!
Fast forward to the next pivotal moment in my retail missions journey that happened at Catalyst 2014. The theme for the event was “Change Makers”. I listened to Andy Stanley ask the question: “Who are you, and what breaks your heart?” I knew instantly, without hesitation as I thought to myself, “I am Roxie Crain Seale, owner of The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry, and Donald breaks my heart”. This is Donald, and until that moment, I didn’t even realize that my heart had been breaking for this man.
Donald used to roam the streets of our little town, all day, every day. He was physically handicapped as the result of a terrible car accident he was involved in when he was young, and he struggled with addiction. Many assumed he was homeless, but he was not, and he did have a little income. His father was a preacher and Donald was very familiar with the Bible and used to spout off scripture and bible stories to everyone that he met, whether they were listening or not! Most everyone in town knew him and knew that he was harmless. Some folks ignored him, some offered him rides to where he was going, and some fed him. Not many took the time to talk to him and show him love, including me. I am terribly guilty of hoping he would just walk on by and not come in my place of business and disrupt my guests. Donald and I had a rocky start on our path to friendship. He came in drunk, used very foul language towards my guests and team members, sent his food back to the kitchen, spilled his drink and proceeded to try to light a cigarette in our non-smoking facility. It took some time to get him to leave as he could not be reasoned with. In those days, Donald was very dirty, smelled of urine and alcohol and was in terrible need of a haircut and shave. In a nutshell, we hated to see him coming. I am ashamed to even admit that to you, but I promise the story gets better!
After I realized that Donald broke my heart, I returned home with a new outlook on our relationship. As uncomfortable as it made me, I made a real effort to look Donald in the eyes and talk to him like he was a human being. I did discuss with him that we would be glad to serve him, but behavior like he exhibited in our first encounter was not acceptable. We had a good talk that day. He was not drunk at the time and found it very hard to believe that he had acted that way. He ate lunch that day and behaved like a perfect (but still very dirty) angel.
Donald began coming by almost every day, and can you believe I thought about telling him that he could only come in twice a week? What a stupid thing to do, limit the number of times per week that we could show Donald the Love of God! At this point, I will skip some of the details of our story and get right to the important parts.
Over the course of the next year, Donald began coming in clean shaven, with his hair cut and his beard trimmed, and his clothes were clean. He was so excited to be greeted by all of the smiling faces at The Shoppes and to have a good lunch. This became possibly his most pleasant experience of each day. I am proud to say that my team embraced Donald as I had decided to do, all of them being kind and helpful, taking the time to ask him how his day was going. I almost cried as I watched them help him with his straw or open food containers for him as his hands were crippled. We all bragged on him as much as we could; how good he looked with his hair cut and how we had noticed such a great change in him. I specifically told Donald that I was so proud that he seemed to be drinking less and that I thought he looked really good. He told me that he had quit a lot of that bad “stuff” he was doing.
I am thankful to tell you that we had several years to get to know Donald better and share our days with him. After our rocky start he almost always used his best manners when he came in to see us. When he didn’t join us for lunch he would come by in the morning before we opened to get a cup of coffee. Everyone that worked with me at the time knew how he took his coffee and what he liked to eat. I think he liked coming so much because it made him feel good to be “known”. He never could remember our names, so he referred to all of us as “Squirrel”. I can’t tell you that he completely quit drinking, but he was happier, and it showed all over his face. I was thrilled when I got the chance to meet the barber that had been shaving him and cutting his hair. I was able to tell him thank you and how much it meant to all of us. At that same time there was a lady cleaning his house, doing his laundry and buying his groceries. Donald didn’t know her last name or really anything about her except that she was good to him. For the longest time Tara and I suspected she was an angel, and in some ways, I guess she was. She came into the shop one day to meet us and tell us thank you for being kind to Donald, but she was the one that deserved all the thanks! Over the years Donald dropped by for visits or lunches, joined one of my porch parties (he lived in my neighborhood), and even shared more than one Thanksgiving meal with my family. I am proud to say that my family embraced him as much as me!
Many years ago, Donald had a stroke and became even more physically handicapped. During that time, I felt so helpless to help care for him. After a frustrating hospital stay and being completely let down by our medical system, Donald was moved to a nursing home in another town, closer to his sister. While I know this was the best situation for him, I will say that I, that we, missed him. The shop girls and I sent a couple of Christmas presents and tried to remember to send cards. I never made it over to visit with him at his new home, but we tried to keep a little happy mail headed his way, though it never seemed like enough. A few years ago, Donald’s “angel”, Sandra, came by the store to tell me that Donald had died. I was so overcome with emotion and sadness over the loss of this person that I really barely knew. I will be forever grateful for my friendship with Donald and for the many gifts and life lessons that he gave me. Learning to love Donald opened my heart in a way that I had never experienced before.
After going through this experience with Donald, I realized that God had been building a work in my business and I just had not opened my eyes to realize that He had slowly been shaping a ministry. My heart had already been broken through the years for my customers. My widows and widowers, my divorcees, my parents who had lost children… daily we were faced with people who needed to experience the love of Jesus. I realized that we were not just selling these folks a sandwich, or a lamp, or a new piece of jewelry. We were given the opportunity to LOVE them. It finally dawned on me that my place of business was a place of hope and refuge to so many. I knew then that I must be more intentional in reaching out to those who were hurting and celebrating with those experiencing victories while encouraging and befriending the lonely.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, I am sure we can agree that people in this world are thirsty for love. My Shoppes and Southern Merc teams made it a part of our mission every day to purposefully be kind to people and show them love. I am not going to lie to you and tell you that this is always an easy task when you work in the customer service field. It is not. Just try to remember that everyone you meet has struggles, everyone you meet is going through something and everyone is worthy of love. Everyone. This is a lesson I am still learning daily Over the years I have tried to take every opportunity I can to use what I have been given to serve others. Through fundraising events for local charities and service organizations, supply drives, and through offering our customers an opportunity to purchase with purpose, we are finding ways to not only love our customers, but to reach out to our community.
Andy Stanley says to “do for one what you wish you could do for many.” That is so wise and so true. Sometimes it is overwhelming to look at different charities or “one for one” business models and feel like they are changing the world, and that you are not doing enough! How could you ever feed all of the hungry, clothe all of the needy, or adopt all of the orphans? Do for one. Find your Donald. There is someone in your community that needs you. I promise if you do for one, it will change your life. You will suddenly have a fire burning within you that wants to do for many. You should be aware though, that once you open your eyes and your heart to the needs of the world, you can never go back to the very comfortable bubble that you once lived in.
Learning to love Donald, and to see him as a child of God, has taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life, to be kind, compassionate, and loving and to try to meet people where they are. I thought I was doing Donald a favor, but all along, it was him that was teaching me and making me better. If you make the effort to show kindness, even when it is hard, you will be repaid 10-fold.
Southern hospitality at its core is serving others. So much of what we focus on at The Southern Mercantile is sharing southern hospitality. We want to make sure that we are serving as many as we can as we spread the love of Jesus and raise awareness regarding the needs of others. If you don’t already have a ministry or mission that you support, we hope you will join us in supporting a few of our favorites! Check out the “Our Mission” section on our “About Us” page on the website for a list of just a few of the many worthy causes out there!