Our little country grocery held the basics, and sometimes a few special treats; but Jimmy’s couldn’t come close to what this huge store could offer. The area ranchers all took advantage of the opportunity to visit the various shops and stores whenever they needed to drive the hour and a half to the city for appointments or meetings.
Up and down the fully-stocked aisles I moved with my shopping cart. Having been a city-dweller most of my life, I loved the feeling of being on more-familiar ground, as much as delighting over the purchases accumulating in my cart. I discovered one point of assimilation, though. I’d come to enjoy the area’s music preference—country western—which streamed down on all the shoppers.
Noticing the time, I rushed to the check-out stand. I didn’t want to be on that long, isolated stretch of rural road when the sun was setting. I moved to the checker whose last customer had just lifted her bagged purchases off the counter.
“Howdy! Did you find everything you needed today?” said the checker, as she began swiping my purchases.
“Yes, I did and some I didn’t need,” I said, as we both laughed.
I’d passed by the display holding cartons of cigarettes; but now my eyes returned to rest on the stack of Marlborough Lights. No one here knows you, the inner voice said. Go ahead and buy a carton. That’s your brand. No one will know. Who’s to say you can’t have a cigarette once in awhile?
My heart rate increased and an enormous rock dropped in the pit of my stomach. To my shame, I reached out and plopped the carton down with the last of my purchases.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” a voice said behind me.
Like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, I froze. Turning around to see who had recognized me, I saw Linda’s smiling face. Linda, a lady my own age, a resident of my new town, and whose acquaintance I’d recently made during a Bible Study. Linda, who was trying to stop smoking.
The intense heat filling every inch of my neck, ears, and face alerted me to the obvious; my guilty embarrassment glowed. “No, Linda, actually I don’t.” I reached for the carton of cigarettes at the same time as the clerk.
“Oh, you’ve changed your mind? You don’t want these after all?” The clerk released the carton, waiting for my response.
“No, I don’t. Well, I do want them; but I’m not going to take them. Sorry.” The rock in my stomach began to dissolve as I set the carton back on the nearby display. Turning back to Linda, I said, “I’m sorry you saw that, Linda. Actually, I guess I’m not sorry, because, had you not been here today, I would have purchase those cigarettes.”
“It’s okay; I understand. I’ve struggled to quit a few times. I’m doing better, and just might make it this time.”
“The sickening thing is, Linda, the Lord helped me quit ‘cold turkey’ when I came to Jordan. I had only smoked for seven months—and a few other things I’d rather no one knew about—but I left that all, when I drove out of town, you know? I’d not had even the smallest desire to return to that life, not one. Then, just now seeing that display—well, I’m just glad you came along. I don’t want to go back there. Thanks for saying something; you saved me from a huge mistake.”
We shared the traditional American farewell embrace, promising to encourage each other to live out our convictions.”…to reject the wrong and choose the right,” as the Bible says in Is. 7:15.
It’s been forty years since this episode in my life; yet it’s as fresh in my mind as if it happened this morning. Linda did make it and remains a good friend, though we live far from one another now. I believe that the poor witness I’d been to Linda that day brought such shame to me that the remembrance of it continues to serve me. No, I’ve never had another cigarette; but even better, this painful experience keeps me from ever again being tempted.
In Romans 12:1-2, I read, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Since I long to know God’s perfect will in my life, I’m working hard to “reject the wrong and choose the right,” in every area of my life. As my experience at the out-of-town grocery store proved, God is interested in helping me succeed!