Climbing Helga’s Ladder

I LOVE my job. I love everything about my job. Very few people can say that about their jobs, and it reminds me how blessed I am. I said I’d never do fast food, and it’s turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. The people I work with are incredible. The management and operators are fantastic. I’ve worked other cashiering jobs where the customers were rude and nasty, and once in a while you’d get one that was polite. This job is total opposite. We get a crazy once in a while, but when I have to think longer than 0.3 seconds to think of a story, that’s a good clientele. Because that’s 0.3 seconds longer than I would have had to think at my last job. (Except after today, when I had a very inebriated lady yell through my window to take of my jacket and show her my boobs… But that’s for another post.)

I love our guests. I love the people I work with. I love my managers. I love my regulars. My factory job was less work with more pay, but I still make more than minimum wage, and money isn’t everything.

Now, all of that having been said… There is one thing I can’t stand. Actually, let me use punctuation to explain this…

There is one thing; I can’t stand.

When I see it coming, the first thing I will do is gauge the shelf I’m trying to reach, and the probability that I might be able to handle it on my own. Most things, I’ve gotten down to a science. Like our three boxes stacked on top of each other, if I’m needing utensils or straws, I know I can get all three down at once to get the one I need, and then I can throw them back up there still stacked. The air units over our windows? Cake! Use the hook on the topping dispenser to flip the switch up or down. Sauces in the break room? Shimmy the box little by little, prepare to catch it as it falls, and pray it doesn’t land on your face.

If I can’t get to something no matter how hard I try, my next plan is to look and see who is around me. A tall person, hopefully. If I find one, I will quickly assess how busy he is. If he looks like he could spare a couple of seconds, I’ll recruit him to help me. Problem solved.

But sometimes, neither of those things will work. Sometimes, the box of cup lids is pushed all the way to the back of the shelf, and you only have three large lids left. Or you run out if receipt paper, and the best place we could find to stash extra rolls was on a rack ten miles off the ground. And then, you know there’s no other choice. So you immediately begin fasting and praying, because you know you’re gonna need Jesus to survive this.

And so, with tears in your eyes, you go and get Helga.

I named our ladder Helga…

Before you even put one foot on Helga, you notice that she wobbles worse than Amy Whinehouse’s teeth. When Helga wobbles, you wobble. Ladders should not wobble. Most ladders are not Helga. Helga wobbles.

I blame a childhood incident on my irrational fear. When my dad was building our first house, he built the stairs last. So for a while, if you wanted to go upstairs, you had to climb a ladder. My dad never wanted me to go up by myself, so he would hold the ladder while I climbed. The other thing was, the downstairs floor was slick hardwood. It would have been too easy for the ladder to just slide out of place, and you would have face-planted into the floor.

So one day, I decide that I really want to go upstairs. My dad isn’t anywhere around. I don’t remember if I had sneaked over to the house, or if he had just left. Nonetheless, I climbed the ladder alone, and when I got to the top, I felt very proud of myself. Just one problem:  I couldn’t get back down. Because about the time I made my last step, the ladder went down with a bang.

I don’t know how long I was up there, but it was longer than I wanted to be. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling like a big girl anymore. My only way down was a shaky, sliding ladder, which was now on the floor, and there was nobody around to help me. To a little kid, this was as terrifying as a situation could be. I was hysterical and screaming at the top of my lungs, but nobody heard my cries. Even to this day, I have never had another moment where I felt more alone and hopeless than I did at the top of those stairs. And the only solution my little six-year-old mind could come up with was to pray. In my blubbering mess and choking sobs, all I could say was, “Jesus, help me.”

The people of Israel felt the shaking of the ladder. They felt the fear and the pain caused by their rebellion and their disbelief. The uneasiness of where they stood led them to cry out. Their foundation was crumbling beneath their feet. In their desperation, they cried out to God, and they begged Him for a rescue. These people were dying.

The prophet Isaiah asked them a question. He said, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.”

I don’t like ladders, and I have a special hatred for Helga. But as unsafe as she feels, I know she IS safe. I know every piece is bolted together. I know there’s rubber pads on the bottom so she won’t slide out from underneath me. I always feel thoroughly for my next step before I take it, and Helga’s steps have never moved or shifted. She might feel dangerous, but she is doing everything she was designed to do. And when something needs to be retrieved from a high shelf, whether you trust her or not, you have to make the climb.

I had been stuck on the second floor for a long time before my dad finally found me. But what took even longer was trying to convince me it was okay to climb down. It’s a wonder nobody called the police as much as I was shrieking. I kept telling him it was going to fall. He said it wouldn’t, but he just didn’t get it.

“Daddy, I saw it fall! It’ll fall if I step on it.”

“No, it won’t! I’m gonna hold it. It won’t slip.”

“I just watched it slip. I don’t want to fall.”

“You won’t fall. But I’ll catch you if you do.”

I was a daddy’s girl growing up. I was terrified of that death trap he was trying to get me to climb down, but I finally resolved in my mind that I had to do it. Because in that moment, in that sheer terror and desperation for comfort, the only thing I wanted, and the only place I wanted to be, was in my daddy’s arms. I got back down the ladder, threw myself around him, and I cried while he carried me to my grandmother’s house. I cried the whole way and then some. I remember it so vividly, I can hear him shushing me gently, and telling me over and over again, “You’re alright. I got you. You’re okay.”

Maybe you’re in a place right now that feels like it could cave in on you. Your ground may feel like it is shaking and unsteady. You might feel like you’re climbing something that is on its last leg, and you could come crashing down at any moment. And you may not know what you were thinking when you decided coming to this place was a good idea, but the reality is that you are in this place. The destination looked exciting from way back there, but now you’re here, and you don’t know how you’re going to ever make it back without falling to the ground. All you know is that everything around you is uneasy. And one thing you will discover in life is that oftentimes, the climb up is much, much easier than the climb back down.

When you feel like you’re going to fall, when you feel like you can’t take one more step, when the ladder begins to slide and you start to lose your grip, know this:  That the same God who watched the very moment of your heart’s first beat, who dreamed of you at the very beginning of an eternity with no beginning, and the same God who is worshipped by the stars and the heavens… That same God is holding onto you. He is holding onto the things that are shaking around you. So whether you fall down or climb down from wherever you’ve been, He will be there. He will wrap you in His arms, shush you gently in your ear, and tell you over and over and over, “You’re alright. I got you. It’s okay.”

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