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Previous Message From Virtual Church

No Returns

The return desk was always busy, but during the Christmas season the return desk became a madhouse. Even before Christmas, people started bringing back merchandise they decided not to give for Christmas, decided they didn't want to keep, or for reasons no one could explain decided to bring it back to the store for no reason. Since Bob's Megastore was the only discount store within fifty miles of any city with a KStore or WalStore, Bob's always drew the bulk of the retail customers in the area.

Maureen and Sally were the regulars behind the counter. Denise and Bubbles were the temporary help hired to fill out the midday to early evening shift. Bubbles was not really named "Bubbles", but because Mary had a bubbling personality from the time she was two, everyone in Greenville called her Bubbles.

The manager always went through this Christmas season seminar for the return counter personnel midway through September. The way the return counter was run, the return counter personnel were always supposed to be friendly, courteous, and never question a return. The philosophy behind never questioning a return was the money given back on a returned item would be spent again in the store and then some. And the philosophy worked year in and year out. The return policy even worked for Willy The Worm. Willy was short for William and "The Worm" part of Willy's nickname came from Willy's profession and reputation. The Worm was a mobster. Willy The Worm had mob ties to every syndicate and mob in the United States and even ties to crime syndicates overseas. Because The Worm had kept enough distance from himself and the drug, pornography, prostitution, and illegal smuggling businesses he ran, The Worm had never been indicted let alone convicted. Even living in an out of the way place like Greenville, he had been arrested numerous times but never charged. For reasons no one knew, Willy The Worm liked to make returns at the rate of one return a week, always on Monday's. The rumor was that Willy was returning stolen merchandise but Willy was too rich to fool around with coming to a return counter to return a $12.95 item. Willy even produced a receipt used to buy the items brought back so the items returned were not stolen. The items were never used or tampered with. The items were always in the original box or container and the box or container had never been opened. No one knew why he made returns when he could have thrown all the merchandise away without ever missing the money.

Denise, Sally, and Maureen had decided, just for fun, to let Bubbles handle all of Willy The Worm's returns during the December rush period.

11:30 AM, Monday, December 2

Bubbles had just come back from putting the return merchandise on the shelf and Willy The Worm walked up to the return desk. Maureen greeted The Worm and said, "Hello. Just a minute, I'll get Bubbles." Maureen said to Bubbles, "Can you get this? I have a break coming up." Bubbles greeted The Worm with her usual "Hi there, how are you doing today?" Willy looked a bit stunned by the friendliness of the greeting but said, "OK. I want to return this." Willy shoved a 98 cent extension cord across the counter with a receipt taped to the paper band that held the extension cord together in a tightly knit band of plastic lamp cord. Bubbles said, "OK, would you like to exchange this item for something else?" The Worm said, "No. I just want my money back." Bubbles replied, "You know, you can never have enough extension cords at Christmas. Do you need to purchase any extra lights for the tree this year?" Willy, still a bit stunned that anyone would talk to him at all, said, "No. I don't do Christmas." Bubbles was equally stunned that anyone, regardless of who they were would say such a thing and replied back, "Don't do Christmas? What do you mean you don't do Christmas?" Willy, becoming more stunned that anyone with his power over people would be asked any question about anything said, "I don't celebrate. I don't put up a tree. I don't put up lights. I don't give gifts. I don't do Christmas. Get it?" Bubbles reply was "OK, this is the year for a change. Come with me."

Maureen and Sally were both in shock. Willy The Worm made people disappear or so the rumor was. No one told The Worm what to do. No one gave The Worm any orders. The funny part was that The Worm followed Bubbles out into the merchandise area. Bubbles grabbed a cart from near the front of the store and headed for the Christmas decoration aisle. She started piling decorations and a small tree into the cart with The Worm following along like a dog following a master. What most people did not know was that Bubbles could put a spell on people. Bubbles could put, what Maureen and Sally joked about being, a "Bubble's Jesus Spell". After about twenty minutes, Bubbles pushed a cart full of Christmas decorations and a small tree up to the check out line with The Worm following along. When they got to the register, Bubbles turned to The Worm, and said "Here you go, sir.", and walked back to the return counter. The Worm dutifully piled all the merchandise in his cart up on the checkout belt and paid with his credit card. From his appearance and behavior, Maureen and Sally both thought The Worm had been hypnotized.

Maureen and Sally both peppered Bubbles with questions when she got back to the return counter. The questions came in a barrage. Did Bubbles know who he was? Did Bubbles know what kind of crime he was involved in? Did Bubbles understand how dangerous he was? What did she do to make him buy Christmas decorations? Last but not least, did she give him his 98 cents back for his extension cord? Bubbles didn't answer any of the questions except to say "Yes, I know about him and about what he does. But everyone deserves a chance. And no, I didn't return his 98 cents to him because he will be back." Sally said, "How do you know he will be back? Listen, the guy is dangerous. You don't want to make him mad." Bubbles replied, "Don't worry, he'll be back and he won't be mad."

11:45 AM, Wednesday, December 4

Maureen turned around toward the front of the return counter and dropped the log book into which she made entries because there he was. It was Willy The Worm and it wasn't Monday it was Wednesday. Maureen didn't even speak to The Worm. Maureen immediately picked up the phone and paged Bubbles to come to the return counter. Within about three minutes Bubbles walked up to the return counter, pushed open the little entry door to get behind the back of the return counter and greeted The Worm with "Hi there, how are you doing today?" The Worm looked a little perplexed and said, "Uh, I came to get my 98 cents. Remember the extension cord?" Bubbles said, "Oh shoot! I forgot. Hey, I have to go on my lunch break. Come over here to the restaurant and I will buy you lunch." Bubbles did not wait for a reply. She walked out from behind the counter and said, "C'mon, I'm hungry." Shocking to Maureen and Sally, Willy The Worm followed. Sally walked out from the behind the counter to see what would happen next and both Bubbles and The Worm walked into the in-store restaurant where Bubbles bought The Worm and herself lunch. After forty-five minutes had elapsed, Bubbles came back to the return counter but Willy The Worm walked out the front of the store with no return on his 98 cent extension cord.

Maureen immediately said to Bubbles, "Look Bubbles, stay away from this guy. He is the lowest of the low. He is a criminal. Sooner or later he will spend life in prison. From what I hear, he deserves the death sentence. You are young. Your whole life is ahead of you. You are a devout Christian. You are in college, and believe me, The Worm has destroyed people like you. He has either gotten them hooked on drugs, gotten them into prostitution, gotten them into doing pornography, or all of the above. He is a mobster. What are you trying to do?" Bubbles looked a bit startled and said, "Look, anyone can change. God can change anybody, even someone like him. I am not on a campaign here. I just want him to change." Maureen replied, "He won't change. He'll never change. The mob doesn't let you change. Once you are part of their action, you are in it till they kill you." Bubbles said, "Yes, I know about what will probably happen to him, but everyone deserves a chance to change."

11:50 AM, Friday, December 6

Sally piled the four items from the last return into the cart at the end of the return counter. As she looked up, there he was again. Sally thought she would try to divert things a bit and wait on The Worm herself. Sally walked to the center of the counter opposite The Worm and said, "Hello. May I help you?" Seeming very uncomfortable, Willy replied, "Uh. Yeah. Uh. Is uh, uh, she here?" Sally, now sensing a way to stop whatever was going on, said, "Is who here?" Willy, now seeming even more uncomfortable, fumbled for words and finally said, "You know, Bubbles?" Noticing Willy The Worm, who some thought was a godfather of godfathers in the mob, was even perspiring a bit when the store was very chilly, Sally replied, "She is out in the store. Is there anything I can help you with?" Willy The Worm's eyes began to dart back and forth like a caged animal. Suddenly he said, "No. I, uh, I'll wait here." Within a few minutes, Bubbles came back to the counter and saw The Worm. In her familiar style and greeting, Bubbles said, "Hi there! How are you doing today? Are you hungry? Let's eat." Like before, Bubbles led the way with The Worm following as they moved through the store to the restaurant.

A spy system emerged in the store with people sitting in the restaurant listening in on what Bubbles and the mobster had to say. It seems Bubbles talked and the mobster listened. Lunch between Bubbles and Willy The Worm became a daily occurrence. Bubbles bubbled about God, Jesus, about how we are all loved by God, about how we can all change, and about how we can all be forgiven.

5:00 PM, Friday, December 20

Bubbles came up to Maureen and said, "Maureen, I need to talk to you in private." Maureen said, "OK, let's get the next shift started and then we can talk." Within a few minutes the night shift had come in and had taken over. Maureen motioned to Bubbles to come into the small office behind the return desk. After both women and entered the office and closed the door, they both sat down. Bubbles said, "Maureen, you are a great person. I want you to know that. Today is my last day. I am sorry about leaving just before the real return rush begins but I must leave today. Please do not ask any questions. I am leaving the store. I am leaving Greenville. I will never be back. You will never hear from me again. I have no family except distant relatives I have not seen in years. I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate your giving me this opportunity to work here. There are a lot of things I would like to tell you that I cannot. What I can share with you is that everyone can change if they want to." Maureen replied, "Of course, I don't know what is going on but I have a suspicion. Bubbles, I care about you and wish you the best." Both women shook hands and left the store.

10:00 AM, Monday, December 23

Sally and Maureen both punched in and hurried to the return counter. Sally said, "Did you see the news in the paper? Did you see where The Worm's mansion blew up? The police say someone used C4 explosives and leveled the place. And they didn't find a body. Supposedly, the fire and heat were so intense they are presuming Willy The Worm dead." Maureen said, "Don't believe it. I saw Willy and Bubbles in a dark colored car about 5:00 PM after the explosion. They weren't in one of his limo's either. He was wearing a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and a beard as a disguise but I could tell it was him. No one wears sunglasses on a cloudy day at 5:00 PM in Greenville in December." Sally replied, "She got to him. She changed him with her bubbling for Jesus talk. You could tell as the month wore on how he was beginning to change. He started laughing and smiling. The rumor is that one day she gave Him a baby Jesus figurine and his eyes filled with tears. So she got to him. Since what she said was she would never be back, I'll bet they are in the witness protection program. She said to me 'Everyone can change.' Funny thing was, Bubbles never did give Willy The Worm the 98 cents from his extension cord because she knew he would always come back."

This story appeared as the December, 2003 Virtual Church message at Shepherd's Care Ministries virtual church site at http://www.findthepower.com

 

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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright © 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Shepherd's Care Ministries author and webmaster, Rev. Patrick Kelly, is affiliated through ministerial ordination with Church of God Ministries, Anderson IN 46018