Saturday, February 19, 2011

Off Target

It was spring in the late 1990’s in Delaware when I walked into Target for the very first time in my life. It was a defining moment in shopping for me… I was in love! In the same way love for all the wrong men had blinded me in the past, my love for the “Red-and-White Bull’s-Eye” also blinded me. Finally in 2009... cold, angry, cash depleted and left with a pile of possessions that looked really cool but were completely unnecessary for anyone to own, I finally cut the cord. I shouted bravely, “Never again shall I darken your doorway Target!” Many stood by nay-saying, “You can’t do it, Wendy! You’ll be back in there in a week tops.” But I was serious; determined that this would be it! Many doubted and wondered how and why I could possibly make such a bold and drastic decision. This is my story. Your questions will be answered; your curiosity will be quenched as you read this article of why I decided to get “Off Target” for good.

The first incident should have been the last. I risk losing the respect of every one of my readers by sharing this with you, but it must be told, basically just so I don't have to keep telling it over and over... now I can just point people to my blog. December 2003 was Ryan and I's first Christmas as man and wife, and our first Christmas in our newly purchased home in Texas. We were starting our Christmas decoration attic box from scratch with only a handful of ornaments from each of our childhoods. We wanted to decorate, so I headed out to my favorite store to get some trendy yet reasonably priced stuff.

I saw these really cool and interesting string lights that I thought would look great on our bushes out front and they were only $4.99 per string. Guessing how much we would need, I purchase 5 strings of them along with a cart full of other decorations and I headed to the checkout. Life was good.

Long story short (I know, too late), only three of the five sets of lights were functioning properly. I re-boxed the faulty lights, grabbed the receipt and headed back to the “Big T” to make a quick exchange that very same afternoon. I ended up having to wait in an incredibly long customer service line. At that point in my life, my patience was about as long as the leg of a flea. (You may be thinking, “That hasn’t changed, Wendy,” but I beg to differ. Currently my patience is about the length of two flea legs, thank you very much!) Having this not-so-lengthy flea-leg patience, I was not happy by the time I got to the desk to make my exchange request.

I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking that everyone knows that Target has an absolutely horrible refund, return and exchange policy so what’s the big deal lady… get over yourself, right? Ha! Just wait and you’ll see, exactly what the big deal is.

There was only one lady working at customer service and it was early December so the store was buzzing. I put my receipt down with my two boxes of lights and told her all I wanted to do was exchange these two boxes that didn't work for two that did. After examining my receipt carefully, she placed the two boxes on top of the receipt on the counter and told me to go ahead and get my two replacement boxes then come back and she would take care of everything. Off I went.

I returned to an even longer line, in which I had to wait AGAIN. My flea-leg-lengthed patience created an uncontrollable twitch in my eyebrow I was fairly sure no one else could see. Five eternities later, it was finally my turn again. I was ready to make my trade official and get home, but it was not to be.

The same exact lady who had carefully checked my receipt, the same exact lady who had taken the two broken light set boxes from me and the same exact lady who had sent me to get my replacement lights looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, you can't exchange those without a receipt.”

I said, “Oh, I’ve already been up here. I gave you my receipt and the lights that didn’t work already. You told me to go get these and come back. I've been waiting in line.”

The same exact lady looked me in the eyes again and said, “No you didn’t. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

Now, I recognize customer service representatives see a ton of people everyday so I wasn’t all that offended she didn’t remember me. This was going to be easy to work through since my receipt and the broken lights were right there on the counter. With confidence I said, “Oh yes, I was here just a moment ago. You took my receipt and the lights and put them down right over there….” I pointed to the spot and… guess what… they weren’t there anymore.

She glanced over to the empty spot on the counter then gave me the what-are-you-trying-to-pull-on-me look.

I said, “Wait, they were right there. You put them right there. I promise!”

She decided to humor me for a moment and looked around the area for my supposed lights and receipt but neither were to be found. She picked up her fancy-shmancy Target walky talky and asked someone to come. I assumed it was to get some help solving my problem. Imagine my surprise when the Target rent-a-cop, the stop-or-I’ll-say-stop-again man with a giant chip on his shoulder pulled me aside and accused me of running a scam. He quickly took me by the arm and forced me to the back room and…DETAINED me.

Yep… they sat me down like a criminal and pointed a bright light at my head as they began questioning me. Apparently, Target 'don’t take too kindly' to thieves.

Absolutely shocked and appalled, my sarcasm got the best of me. “Oh yes… this is a little thing I do in my free time. I travel around to local stores trying to cheat them out of $5.00 string lights… you got me! I have found it to be very lucrative! Are you completely INSANE???? Just forget the stupid lights; I don’t even want them anymore. In fact, why don’t you take them and shove them..." BLEEEEEEEEP!

But Target was taking this very seriously and had no intention of letting me walk out their door. They truly believed I was trying to “steal” from them and it seemed they were going to make an example of me. I actually got nervous for a moment picturing this turning into something serious. I tried to think of a way to prove my innocence and quickly it came to me… security footage. I suggested they take a look at the security footage ASAP!

All I can say is thank the Lord for security cams!!! The good news is they were able to find the footage of the customer service lady taking my lights and receipt, the bad new is I was locked in that room waiting for 3 hours while they searched for it. I got a very simple and insincere, “Sorry for the misunderstanding,” before I left but that was it. And, I made sure I left with my two new boxes of lights. They weren’t going to get out of providing me with working lights after all of this!

Want to hear the really funny part? When I got home (after telling Ryan all about my wonderful adventure) I discovered the two replacement boxes of lights, didn’t work either. I was SO MAD but was not willing to walk back in there to resolve it. I ended up throwing all five strings of lights away… so, in a sense, Target actually stole $25 from us (plus tax).

Here’s the funny explanation I came up with for the whole thing… I left the broken lights with customer service and after I left the desk, another store employee took the two boxes thinking they were a return item instead of defective. That employee put them back on the shelf, and since I mostly likely stopped on my way to the light aisle to look at "something shiny", the employee made it there before I did. As luck would have it, I ended up picking up the same two boxes of broken lights I had just returned. Of course, this is just my writer’s theory and not verified in any way… but it makes for a good story... and gives me a good chuckle inside.

As I said in the beginning, this incident should have been the last and probably would have been enough to make most shoppers blacklist an establishment… but I am a forgiving soul and a glutton for punishment so it took me six more years of abuse before I finally had enough. I won’t bore you with all the details of all of those other events but I have made a list of some of the ones that brought me to my final decision to never, ever shop at Target again. As you will see, most of my issues revolved around returns, but not all of them. And, by the way, these all happened at different stores… so I can’t even say it was just bad management in one store. All you Target shoppers, be ware. It could happen to you too!

  • I left my film at the one-hour-photo place in Target (yes,I know they are not owned by Target – however they are on Target's property so it still counts). They LOST my film within 65 minutes. They called me 7 days later to tell me they found it. I went to pick it up and they expected me to pay the full one-hour price. At my balking, they were only allowed to give me a 10% discount. Thanks... and how the heck do you lose someone's film in an hour?
  • I was given a set of books as a gift with a gift receipt showing they had been purchased at Target. The books were within a sealed plastic wrap that had not been opened. Target would not let me exchange them, even though I had a gift receipt and they were unopened. They stated I probably read them and just wanted money now that I had the information within the books. Yep, I can read through plastic wrap. It’s a superpower of mine I showcase often.
  • My husband stopped in and got some Luvs diapers on his way home. Whoops… wrong size. The next day I went to the same store with the receipt and simply asked if I could exchange them for the correct size, and pay any difference if needed. The customer service rep would not let me because she said the diapers were not purchased at Target. She even told me Target didn't sell that brand there. I continued to show her the receipt and even went to get another pack off the shelf that was exactly the same. In then end, I was unable to exchange them.
  • I bought a chandelier. One of the pieces was broken when I took it out of the package at home. With my receipt in hand, I took it to exchange it for an unbroken one. They would not allow the exchange stating I probably broke it myself so it was my problem. Yes, that’s another thing I do for fun. Buy stuff, break it then try to exchange it on the very same day – also very lucrative.
  • I bought a sweater for $30. I realized I had put the wrong size in my cart. I tried to exchange it the same day, but by the time I got back there, they told me the price had been marked down to $5. Here's the catch, the size I had accidentally purchased was the only size of the sweater that had been marked down so they would not allow let me exchange it for the size I needed. Really?
  • I bought a pretzel and drink from the concession for Brett. The pretzel they gave us tasted awful, as if it had been sitting there for a week or two. They had just made a new batch and I asked if we would could exchange it… they wouldn’t. If we wanted a better tasting pretzel, we were going to have to buy another one. NICE!
  • On the same visit as the pretzel…I was shopping for a life jacket for Brett. There were a bunch in the aisle and I carefully picked one out and made sure it fit him. The section I chose from had a big sign that said $15. At the register, it rung up for $30. I questioned it, and they did a price check confirming the price was in fact $30. I didn’t buy it but went to the back of the store to see how I had been so wrong about it. I was sure the sign said that one was $15. It turned out the adult life jackets were $15, not the childrens (why does a jacket that is made of less material cost more? I know supply and demand – but still – that’s DUMB). The store had hung all childrens jackets on the posts marked $15 and the adult jackets which were really on sale were in a completely different spot. I believed this to be a sales stunt. This combined with the pretzel was the last straw for me and I have not shopped at Target since.
So there you have it; some of my reasons (there are more) for not shopping at Target anymore. You may be wondering, was it hard to stop? Nope… not when I admitted the truth to myself… their prices are higher than Walmart yet their products are truly no different (although Target does have fresher fruit), Target's lines are usually longer and their selection is not that great. They may have candles, but they don’t have the color I need. They may have tea, but not the size I desire. It seemed I always ended up having to go to another store anyway, which was very irritating.

One of the things I have learned from this is the importance of not letting myself be abused. I do believe God wants me to be forgiving, 7 times 70... but I also believe He wants me to protect myself from abuse. He wants me to love others, and sometimes the best love I can give is to choose to separate. When that is the proper road, He desires me to separate with forgiveness. It's taken me a long time to learn that forgiveness does not mean I have to allow the repeated poor behavior of others to impact my life. Forgiveness means I can move on in peace. Through the years I have become a lot more careful about many things... especially self-care. I have also become a much more careful shopper as most of these issues were due to my carelessness. In addition, I have also become a lot more impressed with good customer service! It takes a big person to be able to say, "I'm really sorry you were wronged."

The last thing I’ll say is this… Target... I forgive you. However, to my friends and family who sometimes buy me gift cards… I love you and appreciate you and your gifts very much… but please don’t get me anymore Target gift cards. I end up giving them away, which I enjoy doing but then end up feeling guilty as I have subjecting someone else to possible Target abuse. Happy shopping everyone!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Empty

January 1, 2011 was a fun day. I got to sleep in until almost 9 am which was great considering my son has an internal alarm clock that wakes him at 6:00 am on-the-spot no matter how late he stays up. I drank some coffee while listening to some great music then embarked on a nearly two hour Ben 10 Alien Creating battle with my son. It was really fun, even though I was the big loser. I made and delivered some food to a friend who was recovering from surgery and then ... FOOTBALL! None of the teams I really wanted to win did... Penn State, Wisconsin, Uconn, GA Tech all seemed to follow my lead as loser of the alien battle but that was okay. I enjoyed watching and being in the warm safety of my cozy home with my family. We had loaded nachos and pizza rolls for late lunch.... and dinner... and I didn't even feel sick since I didn't over indulge too much (a miracle in itself). I built a fire in our fireplace but it had rained recently so our wood was slightly damp. I wasn't sure if the wood would burn but we have gas to help it get going. There was a little trouble getting it started so one of my arms ended up with less hair than the other... whoops. I have always loved the glow of a nice fire although I could have done without the smell of burnt hair. A beautiful hue of blue closed my evening out... and it wasn't the kind of blue any of us ever enjoy seeing. It was the dreaded computer blue screen of death. We had been trying to resolve some internet issues and in the process my computer decided it too desired a fresh start for the New Year. In an instant... its entire past was erased. Gone... forever. Hubby got the operating system back on so I'm back in functioning order but don't have any of my old files, pictures and I lost my Photoshop application... bummer. The book I had been writing for 2 years... gone; all 400+ pages. Are you ready for the most shocking part of the blue screen fiasco? It didn't bother me AT ALL. My heart rate didn't quicken, I didn't panic, I felt no stress at all over the loss of everything that was gone... and I slept like a baby that night. For me that was absolutely bizarre behavior. In the back of my mind I believed God was telling me it truly was time to forget the past... all of it, and move on in peace.

Speaking of the past, I wrote an article entitled “365 Days” last year. It was a pitiful whine-fest about how I recognized how much of my life had changed on my birthday July 1, 2010. I was having a pity party, a whoa-was-me, ‘everybody hates me, I'm gonna go eat worms’ moment. I remember what I was feeling back then... life seemed unfair because many of the things I wanted seemed to have been taken from me. All I could see was my own personal loss and I felt like a victim. Life had changed, and I didn't like it at all. I wasn't on board.

Six months later the new year hit, and not one of the things I felt had been unjustly taken from me back in July had been restored. In fact, a big truckload of additional people, things and responsibilities had been removed from my life since then. Yet, January 1, 2011 was one of the most peaceful days I had in a long time. I remember sitting content and at peace, not whining at all like I did in July. Life had changed even more, but I had decided to jump on the bandwagon, and that made all the difference.

As glad as I am that 2010 is over... I wouldn't have changed it for the world. July was a turning point for me where I was faced with the choice; to stay where I was and feel like a victim -OR- humble myself and search for God's will. God was trying to light a fire with me but I had stayed out in the rain for a bit too long. It seemed all I could do was smolder and hiss. He didn't give up on me though because that is the kind of God He is. He loves me and will pursue me with great passion, intensity and fervor for the rest of my life. Nothing can change that... not even my stubbornness… or dampness. God decided to turn the gas on in my life’s fireplace to get the fire to start since my dampness was in the way. I'm not gonna lie... it hurt. It burned every single time I had to look in the mirror and accept my failings and my mistakes of the past 18 months. I cringed deeply as I realized I was not a victim and had actually played a huge role in creating my own circumstances. The pain only deepened as I had to submit to every change He asked me to make... He said, “Let go of this... let go of that. Look at who you really are and rely on Me to make the changes you need to make to be happy again. Be still my child. Be still. Let Me be your God... let Me be your ONLY God.”

It took time for me to get it, but finally I did and I listened. I decided to make a conscious effort to be still and let Him be my ONLY God. The entire months of November and December, I took a break from everything except my marriage and motherhood. In that time I focused on my relationship with God and tried to learn how to be still. Let me tell you, it was very difficult for me. I am the kind of person who is always going, always moving, always looking for what’s next and I can honestly say I had no idea how to make myself be still. I actually needed someone to tell me how to do it! I had to try several different things to find the best way for me to be still. That sounds funny… being still should just be, being still… right? I have learned that each person has a different stillness capacity and a different way to get there. It took some time, but I found mine. I feel obligated to say being still doesn't mean being lazy. There is a huge difference.

Until this little experiment in being still, I had never realized just how many things I have allowed to get in the way of the most important things in life. For goodness sake, I have even let my pursuit of God get in the way of my relationship with God. That is just crazy! I was letting my service for God take the place of my actual relationship with God. In addition it seemed I had carried a perception around with me for years that I had to “be” something to be useful. And if I wasn’t being “useful” then I was purposeless. What’s interesting is that being me, being a wife and being a mom didn’t count in my thinking as me being useful. Those jobs were just expectations and what really mattered was what I did outside of those titles. Being in Bible study, doing design work for churches, being a sponsor and speaker, being the ministry leader for Celebrate Recovery… now those were the things that were useful. Those were the things that won me favor and allowed me to feel good about myself. Sounds a lot like I had been trying to make it into God’s graces by my works… doesn’t it? In my two months of stillness I have seen just how deep my lack of self-esteem runs. I have seen how I have used all those things I do outside of being a wife and mother to fill up an empty spot in my soul. And I have seen that the only way self-esteem can be real and lasting is when I receive it from my basic, simple relationship with God. I’ve heard that many times, I have even said it but now, for the first time ever, I feel it for myself. Just being Wendy should be enough.

November and December were two of the most challenging months of my life. They went against everything that was natural for me. I… did… nothing… except be a wife, a mother and a daughter of God. I tested my usefulness. I let all my works go. I faced my lack of self-esteem head-on and guess what… I survived. Not only did I survive but I learned how wrong I have been about so many things. I learned that there is no more important part of life than simply being me. In being me, I get to be a wife, I get to be a mother and I am the daughter of God, no matter what. Anything else God asks me to be part of is icing on the cake. What I have learned is ironic, the only way to fill up the emptiness was to empty all the filling. Emptying my life showed me how to be full.

As I go forward from my stillness experiment now, my prayer is for God to keep me grounded in the things that matter. I have already been tested and almost fell into some old behaviors fairly quickly. I am so thankful that God has been keeping me on my toes, making me so uncomfortable when I am sliding backwards. I suppose I could just keep myself locked up at home without involving myself in anything else just to make sure the important stuff stays important but I don’t think that’s what God wants from me. I have to learn how to go out and live life without readopting my past philosophy that simply being me isn’t good enough. It is good enough. And just so you know, simply being you is good enough too.