Monthly Archives: March 2014

Changing the World with a Smile

Working in customer service holds immense power.

Monday evening my manager told me to help a woman load four cases of bottled water onto her shopping cart. As we walked to the front of the store, I tried to make small talk, asking about her day.

She sucked in a deep breath.

“One of those days?” I asked.

She told me she woke up to some bad news. But life goes on, she said.

“Yeah, we have to keep moving,” I agreed. Unsure whether it was appropriate to ask about a serious, personal issue, I added, “I hope it wasn’t anything too life-changing.”

“Oh no,” she said with relief. “No, that happened last year.”


She then explained how her husband had been diagnosed last year with a disease that left little chance for surviving even a few months. Her news yesterday couldn’t compare with the day she heard about her husband’s condition. With that news, her life had suddenly come to an edge. Her husband struggled through, though, and has survived this far.

Even so, it was clear she had grit her teeth through a long and painful day.

We continued talking while I pushed the cart outside to her car. The sun had sunk below the hills far enough to leave the clouded sky grimly lit. I hefted a case of bottled water into her trunk and said, “I hope things turn around for you before the day is over.”

Waiting by the shopping cart, she smiled wide. “Oh, honey, my day got better as soon as I saw your smile.”

Credit: Andres Rodriguez, Creative Commons (

Credit: Andres Rodriguez, Creative Commons (

Soon after I started working at Walgreens, I noticed a strange phenomenon. My training included the instructions to greet every customer who walked through the doors. Usually my voice is near inaudible, so my manager told me to project for the many elderly customers. To further suit the role, I also unconsciously took on an ultra-friendly, ultra-cheerful persona while at work. When someone comes in–feet shuffling, shoulders hunched, eyes glazed–I belt out as best I can, “Hello! Welcome to Walgreens!”

The customer jolts to awareness, craning their head around to see where the faceless greeting came from. Then they spot me, waving and smiling at them from behind the front counter. A smile sets on their face. Their eyes brighten. “Hello!” they respond back. “How are you?”

“Doing good. How are you?” I say.

“Good, good.” And they continue on with their shopping, standing perhaps a little taller, walking with just a bit more energy.

A brief exchange lifted their mood. Wherever they may have come from, a welcoming hello, a smile, and a wave shifted their day. They walked in dull and distracted, with a mind clouded by the day’s demands. But then someone noticed them. Someone recognized their presence and even looked happy to see them. For some, the employee behind the counter may be the first person to speak to them that day. Suddenly a stranger made them matter. Suddenly they are worthy of at least a friendly smile.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me….’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:34-35, 40).”

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).


Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Other thoughts


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When Some College Kids Prayed Together


It was January of my final year in college. A friend had just returned from a semester studying abroad, and he told me there was this group of friends that he wanted me to meet. Another mutual friend said the same, inviting me to check out the group. They told me the group gathered upstairs in the student union every night of the week. Their one goal? To pray.

“About what?” I asked, a bit wary of religious fanaticism.

They replied, “Personal struggles, family needs, our campus, missionaries, unreached people, the world at large—anything and everything.” So one night I agreed to come.

I never left.

My latest book project is dedicated to that group, a strange conglomeration of college students who I never thought to meet—students passionate for pursuing God, understanding the Bible, living like Jesus, and praying always. Students who geek out over the prophecies of Isaiah and get excited to sing old hymns in public locations. Students who spent a week-long road trip together and never once started a fight through cold campsites, irregular meals, or getting lost several times. Students who pray for hours until the campus security guard kicks them out to lock the building and who then continue to pray in the night air. Students who confess their strongest temptations and worst fears and hold each other accountable as they grow together. These students became my closest friends and most admirable inspirations in my relationship with God. They are, in short, the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.

I realize we enjoy a rare community. Not everyone has friends who stop you and say, “How are you doing really? Tell me. What’s on your heart?” Instead, I’ve met many students who crave intimate spiritual community and don’t know how to find it. They suffer from loneliness and stagnation. They may have a relationship with Jesus, but they are cut off from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Young adults need mentorship from older generations, but we also need fellowship with our peers. We need to commiserate with those going through our same life situations. We need friends we can rely on for encouragement and support as we walk alongside one another. And together, as the body of Christ, we are strengthened.

I’d like to share our story with you. That’s why I am in the process of writing a book about how God has worked in and through the prayer group over the three years since its start. New people have joined while others have left. The atmosphere of our prayers have transitioned through different seasons. There have been nights of tears and days of celebration. Sometimes God was tangibly present in our midst; then there were times when we cried for his guidance and healing.

The deep intimacy you desire is possible. It isn’t a far-off dream. It’s real. I’ve experienced it. You don’t have to be alone. You can have life-giving relationships with a community of people and, most crucially, with God.


Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Books


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