Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite pastimes.  In fact, I try to do it as infrequently as possible.  I plan our meals well in advance so I can get everything in one trip, and I am always greatly relieved when the experience is over.  Some people love it, but I am not a member of their club.

One of the things I’ve had to adjust to in New England is a different set of grocery stores.  Let me first confirm the rumor that food costs more up here because that proves to be one of the great dilemmas in where to shop.  There are primarily three options for grocery shopping, unless you have a membership to a wholesale store.  And keep in mind that we’re still living in the Ice Age, where there are no such things as Super Target or Super Wal-Mart.  In fact, we’re lucky to have the regular versions of those stores at all.

But our three options consist of two pricier stores that have more locations and are located within 5-10 minutes of our home and one store that is 20 minutes away and much cheaper but also like descending into Dante’s seventh level of hell.  I haven’t actually read the book, but I’m quite sure that my analogy is not far-fetched.  Because this place is so much cheaper, all of New England shops there.  And they all coordinate their schedules so that they can be there at the same time as me.  The layout of the store is completely illogical.  They have split up canned vegetables into aisles far apart because apparently people are going to get bored in the canned food aisle and would rather break up that section of their shopping list into random aisles throughout the store.  You are constantly having to weave your way back across the store because they decided to put the tortilla chips on the rice aisle.  They don’t always have the same items stocked, so inevitably I will have to finish my shopping list at another store.  And I do not see any reason why I should have to go to TWO grocery stores to finish my shopping each week.  And then there is the mass of humanity you have to deal with (which is even worse during the NFL playoffs).  Each aisle is so full that you sometimes have to just stand there and wait for minutes at a time.  New Englanders operate their grocery carts much like their cars, so they aren’t so eager to let you “merge” into the aisle again after stopping to pick up spaghetti noodles.  It’s like a war zone and that bumper boats game all rolled into one place.  And they close at 7:00 on Sundays.  Since when did grocery stores start closing before primetime shows begin? 

So you must clearly see the dilemma that I face each time I have to go to the grocery store.  These are the issues that torment my soul and keep me up at night. 

By the way, I know that you are completely riveted by this extensive discussion of my grocery shopping options.  Truly, my life is so very exciting.  If you’re still reading this, I promise I have a point.

A couple of weeks ago I was shopping at the not-so-super Target during my normal Saturday errands.  I was facing a strict time dilemma.  I had to pick my husband up at the airport in a short while, and I still needed to shop for groceries and unload them at home.  Because I was two minutes from the dreaded store, I lost all will power and made the decision to swing by and pick up my short list of items.  As I braced myself for the worst, I tried to focus on how efficient my plan would be.  The timing would work out perfectly.  But please keep in mind the fact that I had not actually shopped at this store in five months because I just couldn’t make myself.  I’ll scrimp.  I’ll save.  I’ll eat pork chops for the next two months because the other store had them on sale.  But please don’t make me go back to that awful place. 

I pulled into the parking lot and surprisingly found a parking space without using a quarter tank of gas.  This should have been my first indication that something was awry.  But I got out of my car and walked in the store with my cloth grocery bags – because I am sooo green, people.  Well, really it’s just much easier to carry 5 big bags of groceries up three flights of stairs than to carry 85 small plastic bags.  But, you can applaud me for my greenness if you’d like. 

I found a shopping cart and headed to the dairy section, when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker.  I never listen to the loudspeaker in a grocery store, except in this place because they are usually saying, “The store will be closing in five minutes” and I just finished lunch.  Anyway, the announcement was, “Attention, customers.  Please check your shopping carts and make sure that you have the correct cart.  If you do not, please return the other cart to Customer Service.”  Oh great.  So now this place has shopping cart thieves too.  Only further confirmation of my deep dislike of this store. 

As I was nearing the other end of the store, almost finished with my shopping list, I stopped in the frozen food section.  There were other people already shopping there, so I pulled my cart over to one side of the aisle and walked to the other side to get what I was looking for.  When I took my head out of the freezer, I turned around.  In that two minutes, every person and every thing had disappeared from that aisle, including MY CART.  I thought I must be mistaken.  Had I mysteriously teleported myself to another aisle and that’s why my cart was no longer behind me?  I could not believe it.  Are you kidding me?  I did not have enough time to go back through the store and pick out everything all over again, so I headed to Customer Service and told them what happened, while waving a bag of frozen biscuits in my hand the whole time I was talking.  They made an announcement about it, and one woman brought back a cart she had “accidentally” grabbed, but was it mine?  Of course not.  Apparently people in this store have lost their minds and are just grabbing other people’s carts left and right.  I was being completely level-headed and non-emotional about the whole thing.

I walked all over that store to find my cart, thinking someone might have just left it elsewhere when they realized it wasn’t theirs.  But apparently, they were the sneakiest little grocery cart thieves in all of New England because I couldn’t find that cart anywhere.  Finally I gave up and told them that it would probably be another five months before I came back, but that they should call me if someone decided to return my beloved cloth bags that were in the cart.  I left and headed to the airport, trying to decide which store I would visit to make my second grocery trip of the weekend.  I love grocery shopping.

I share this way too long story to say that you never know when something is going to disappear or be taken away.  We can be walking along and all of a sudden the rug is pulled out from under us.  And as our world crumbles apart, we are standing there with a bag of frozen biscuits in our hand, trying to get everyone else to pay attention to how we’ve been wronged.  And they’re not paying attention to us because we weren’t paying attention either a few minutes earlier.  It’s only once something has been stolen from us that we start to pay attention. 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  (John 10:10)

But we need to start paying attention because a missing shopping cart is the least of our worries.  And if we start thinking everything is going really well and we can relax, then that’s probably when our cart is going to get stolen.  There’s a battle going on.  We can either live in denial about it because it is not against flesh and blood, or we can brace ourselves and take notice of what is going on around us.  I promise you, your cart is not the first one he’s stolen.  He knows what he’s doing, and he’s not giving up any time soon.  He knows his time is almost up, so he’s taking as many carts as he can (Rev. 12:12).   

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  ( I Peter 5:8 )

I know I’ll have to go back to that dreaded store at some point.  But from now on, I’m keeping one hand on that shopping cart at all times. 

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