Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, aside from 3 years I spent in Texas, I’ve lived my whole life in Oklahoma, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.

I think it’s amazing that God not only created everything around us and binds our universe together, but it’s amazing that he would make Himself known to us. He has invited us to have a relationship with him and even wants us to communicate with him via prayer. Sometimes, such as today’s story, it’s not clear whether God answered my prayer, or the prayer of someone else.

In the fall of 1994 I began working part time at a Christian bookstore chain. By late 1995 I had decided to drop out of college and began working full time. The following year I was promoted to a key carrier position, and in 1997 I was promoted to the assistant manager. In 1998 I was approached by the district manager to join the manager-in-training program. I could not see myself enjoying the next 45 years of my life managing a store, so I declined.

Then, in February of 1999, he approached me again about joining the program. I still couldn’t see myself making a career out of being a manager. I was holding out for a buyer position at the corporate office. But I told him I would pray about it, and pray about it I did. Those prayers turned out to be one of the few times in my life where I felt God was clearly speaking directly to me. I was to join the program and move to Lubbock. You can check out episode 566 for more of that story.

Joining the program meant I would get engaged in March, married in May, and move to Lubbock at the end of July.  There I worked under the store manager, Sammy, to set up a brand new store and hire the staff. As a manager-in-training, I never knew when or where I would be called to go lead a store of my own. Our company was adding multiple new stores per year, so the odds were good that I would eventually be called upon to take over and open a brand new store. Turnover in the store manager position was very low, but there was still an outside chance I could be called to take over an existing store where a manager had either quit or been fired.

In addition to the store in Lubbock, our company was adding a store in Overland Park, KS, Irving, TX, and Littleton, CO. The positions for Kansas and Texas had already been filled, but the Colorado position had not. The Columbine massacre had occurred in Littleton earlier that year, so I was nervous about the possibility of taking over that store.

To be clear, I was in no fear for my safety. I knew that the Littleton community was broken and hurting. The planning for us opening a store in that location was underway before the massacre, but I knew the store would likely play an important ministry role in that community. I wasn’t sure I had the maturity or life experience for that unique situation. I was only 23 years old at the time.

I was relieved when the company selected a manager from within the community. Her name was Dana, and she’s still one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Not getting selected for that location also meant I got to continue to learn and grow under Sammy, which I very much enjoyed. It seemed like every day I was learning and developing new skills under his tutelage. 

I had no idea when my day would come and I had no idea where I would go. If I took over a brand new store, I had the chance to train the entire team from the ground up. On one hand, training 30-50 employees at once is an incredibly large task. On the other hand, it would ensure that I knew exactly what they’d been taught. If I took over an existing store, there was no doubt that the task of properly training the staff would be smaller. However, it would likely also mean that I’d have to retrain staff who had been trained incorrectly, or even overcome situations of staff who were set in their ways.

I also thought about my age. In all likelihood, I would be taking over a store at the age of 24, which would make me the youngest store manager in the history of the company. Would employees or customers respect that, or would they dismiss me due to my youth and what could be perceived as inexperience?  By that time I’d worked for the company for 6 years, and helped setup and train employees in a dozen stores, but that wasn’t apparent by looking at my age.

So I set aside time every day to pray. While I had no idea where I would end up, God did. While I had no idea what the makeup of my team would be, God did. While I had no idea whether or not I’d take over a new store or an existing store, God did.

As I prayed, I asked God to shape me into the leader that my future team would need. I asked him to help me be humble, learn from Sammy the skills I would need, and prepare me for what lay ahead. I prayed for my team. I asked God to help prepare them. I asked him to work in their hearts to give them an attitude of humility and a desire to learn. I asked God to bless them and prepare them for the future we would have together.  I asked God to prepare all of us to serve the community in which we were placed.

One day, about 10 months into my time in Lubbock, Sammy pulled me aside. He said he was going to share something with me that he wasn’t supposed to, but he wanted me to be able to go home that night and think about it, talk to my wife about it, and pray about it. The secret he revealed was that the district manager was going to call me the next day and offer me the store manager position in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sure enough, the next day I was offered the job.

I accepted the job and got up extra early to make the 3 hour drive to Wichita Falls. I met the district manager at a restaurant near the store and he brought me up to speed. He told me a bit about the staff and some of the challenges the store was facing.  After that, we drove over to the store where he took me around and introduced me to everyone. 

They were great people: Rhonda, Linda, Harry, Jeanette, Samuel, Julie, Ryan, Jenni, Kareen, Jovette, David, Marie, Francis, Jason, and Julia just to name a few.  Once we were introduced, the district manager left. He called and visited me often that first year, but he understood the importance of letting me spread my wings and be established as their leader.

The store was in rough shape when I arrived.  Issues ranged from a general lack of cleanliness and organization, to poor inventory management and even a few service issues. In our kids department, we had a bank of 4 TVs that were constantly playing videos like VeggieTales. In front of those TVs was a circular bench. It had been so long since the bench had been cleaned the color was closer to tan than the pastel purple it should have been.

Some issues, like the bench, were easy for me to spot. Other issues required more digging. I soon discovered that the store had not been rotating or marking down merchandise. The previous manager was afraid to mark down merchandise. His fear was what eventually led to his downfall. One day I found out one of the main reasons he was let go. 

Several months prior, the district manager had noticed a major problem with inventory management. There were crates of old merchandise that, instead of being marked down and put on the sales floor, they were tubbed up and stowed away in the stock room. When the district manager found out, he ordered the manager to take care of it. I have no idea of knowing what the exact instructions were, but the manager’s solution was to load the merchandise into his truck and hide it in his garage. When the district manager found out, well, I guess you already know the rest.

Multiple employees told me that the manager would disappear for hours at a time. Some suspected he was having an affair. Others didn’t share any speculation on his whereabouts. But all of this led to a store that was in disarray, a crew that was frustrated, and a tarnished reputation for the store within the community.

Here’s what I learned.

I haven’t shared this info about the condition of the store to build myself up or bring up dirt on my predecessor. This episode isn’t about me as much as it’s about the crew of that store. 

That crew was great. I spent my first couple of weeks going one by one around the store and having one-on one conversations with every full time and part time employee. I wanted to get to know them and understand them, but I also wanted to understand their mindset. What I discovered was a group of people who wanted to work hard and wanted their work to be excellent.

It was easy to go department by department and ensure they had all the cleaning supplies they needed as well as create standard operating procedures for how to properly open and close the store so that it was kept clean.  The inventory issues were quite a challenge to resolve, but the team had the willingness and desire to do things the right way.

Our hard work and teamwork paid off. My second year there we had the biggest jump in customer satisfaction scores of any store in the company and we also had one of the best inventory scores.

After I’d been there a couple of months the lady who ran the customer service desk pulled me aside. She told me that she and the crew were very happy I’d been brought to them. She said that she and several others had been praying for some time that God would send them a new manager.  

She told me that she knew things couldn’t continue at the store and that a new manager would eventually come. She didn’t know who that person would be, but she asked God to shape him or her into the leader that they need. They wanted a manager who had integrity and could help restore their store and their reputation within the community. She said they’d also been praying that God would prepare them to be the right kind of crew that was needed to turn the store around.

I was shocked! The words of her prayer were almost identical to the words of my own. For months we’d each been praying the same prayer for each other and we had no idea. We each only knew half of the situation, but God could see it all.

I already knew that God answers prayer, but that day was one that made that fact abundantly clear. It also taught me that there’s value in not only praying for those in your current circle of life, but value in praying for those who you will cross paths with in the future. Most of all, it taught me the importance of humbly praying that God will teach you, shape you, conform you, and ready you for the future. 

When we humbly submit our lives and our futures to God, not only are we able to give up worrying about the future, but when the future becomes the present we find it’s more rewarding and fulfilling than we ever thought it could be. Sometimes God answers our prayers, sometimes we are the answer to someone else’s prayers. And sometimes, God allows us to see that those are the exact same thing.

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

I want you to be a part of the next Monday Mailbag on July 29th! Monday Mailbag is your opportunity to Share what YOU’VE learned, so that other listeners and I can learn from YOU.  It can be a message as short as 30 seconds or several minutes long.  It really doesn’t matter just as long as it’s something that will benefit others.  You can send in questions or responses to my SILY episodes, and I’ll respond to them via Monday Mailbag episodes. You can participate in Monday Mailbags by visiting the Golden Spiral Media listener feedback page at goldenspirlamedia.com/feedback.