What I Learned at Nordstrom University

The telephone startled me awake. “Huh, um, hello?” I croaked.

“Sorry to wake you buddy. I know it’s early, but today’s the day!”

“Really?” Suddenly I was awake.

Within three minutes I was racing south on Interstate 405. No way was I going to miss this sale at Nordstrom.

Mind you, this was no ordinary sale. It wasn’t available at all stores—only at the Nordstrom Rack in the Tukwila Mall. Nor was it advertised. The only way to score on this jackpot was by getting a tip from an employee at the Nordstrom administrative office.

The reputation of the sale was as legendary as the Loch Ness Monster. I had heard the tales, but wouldn’t believe them until I experienced the sale for myself. As the stories went, you could buy top-quality clothes for the cost of a button. Friends showed me $50 Nordstrom dress shirts they purchased new for one dollar at this sale. Five-hundred-dollar suits were twenty bucks. Tommy Hilfiger slacks? Two dollars! This was no ho-hum sale.

Arriving an hour early, I joined the small posse of people huddled by the front of the store. “Good morning,” I said to the woman next to me.

Too focused to acknowledge my greeting, she stared intently at the table stacked with clearance items.

Glancing to the woman on my left, I said, “How are you today?”

Again, it was like talking to a statue.

Fifteen minutes before opening, a large crowd milled around the outside of the store.

Ten minutes before opening, the people pressed against the gated entrance.

Five minutes before show time, I elbowed for position.

At exactly 7 a.m., the gate started to rise. Both women who sandwiched me in this melee got on all fours and crawled furiously under the rising gate. These were women who were decked out in business suits. These were women who voted for the President of the United States of America. These were women who needed therapy!

When I finally clawed my way to the table, I noticed the women again. This time, they were engaged in a tug-of-war with a leather jacket.

“I had it first,” the one lady screamed. “It’s mine!”

“Is not!” the other countered. “Give it to me!”

One woman planted her foot on the table for improved leverage, thus exposing a bruised thigh. Meanwhile, the other lady launched a verbal assault of cussing.

The battle boiled until security guards arrived and manhandled both women to the exit. It felt like a nasty episode of the Jerry Springer Show.

Meanwhile, the mountain of sale items quickly evaporated. I grabbed my share and replaced my wardrobe for under a hundred bucks. The sale was worth it.

But that snapshot of selfishness is forever tattooed in my mind. Two women, acting like two-year-olds: “It’s mine!” “No it’s not! The jacket belongs to me!”

“Me! Me! Me!” You, too, can live that way, but it’s a dismal way to go. Jesus showed us a better way. He called His followers to recklessly give of themselves and their resources. By modeling the generosity of Jesus, we enter into the adventure of His kingdom. We discover that it really is better to give than to receive (see Acts 20:35). Ellen White comments, “Young people may reach God's ideal for them if they will take Christ as their helper. Make an unreserved surrender to God …. Christ can give you power to overcome. By his help, you can utterly destroy the root of selfishness” (Ellen G. White, Youth Instructor, 1903-04-05.001).

I think of this lesson every time I don my leather jacket. (Except for the claw marks on the arms, it’s still in decent shape.) At five bucks, it was a cheap education.

Featured in: March 2006


Karl Haffner

Walla Walla University Church senior pastor, 1997–2007

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