When I came out of college and moved to Buffalo to work for a regional grocer, my first assignment was as a management trainee in the bakery. Under careful mentorship, I learned how to write orders, schedules, and reviews. I learned how to use a powered pallet jack to move skids of product, and how to efficiently put away a load. I learned how to use the mechanical bread slicer to slice fresh loaves of garlic tuscan, and how to base-ice a buttercream celebration cake. I was introduced to P&L management, inventory, and production planning and developed a love for business alongside my existing draw towards helping people.

Between the spurts of learning were moments of mundanity. I filled donuts and conditioned displays and baked muffins and thought about how to lead well, and how to build a good life, and how funny and seemingly random our callings can be. Never once in my childhood dreaming did I imagine being a grocery store bakery manager. And there were moments where I wondered if I was wasting my life. Shame is a persistent companion, and comments about “finding a real job” challenged my conviction that I was exactly where god had placed me. 

I carried a little notebook in my pocket through that first year to keep track of important learnings. Tucked between oven setting for baking kaiser rolls and last month’s inventory results, I scribbled this quote from Oswald Chambers: “God places His saints where they will bring the most glory to Him, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.” It was a frequent, bolstering reminder that my choices were a private matter between god and I.

When I was twenty-two, I was transferred to a new store to lead a high-volume bakery of my own. I was absolutely terrified, and desperate to prove myself. I worked long hours to cover my lack of experience and strived with that chaotic intensity of early twenty-ness. I’m grateful for the determination and drive that carried me through those days, but also long to place a calming hand on that quivering heart and to breathe peace and ease into those days. 

The holidays, unsurprisingly, could be particularly harrowing. Retail schedules offer wonderful flexibility, and my company is one that provides excellent support for employees to prioritize time with family and friends, but I lived two hours from my family and wanted to be worthy of the trust I had been granted, so holidays tended to be blurred with exhaustion and strain. I often asked people to remember that my team gave up parts of their holiday to make the holidays happen for others—theirs was a remarkable act of service, and we worked hard to stay connected to the joy and privilege of giving that gift. 

One Christmas when I was particularly exhausted, I finished sweeping the floor (one of my favorite rituals) and perched on the guardrail around the bagel kettle. With legs aching and eyes burning with tiredness, these words came to me:

Could it be, that a grocery store
Could be a place that remedies loneliness
Just by teaching people to be hospitable?
And creates connection
Through the warmth of good food?

Could it be that we are not retail clerks,
But models of that life—
Of an open-handed existence,
Where we do our work wholeheartedly
And offer peace
to every single precious person,
Because life is hard,
And kindness is the best balm
For brushed souls? 

Could it really be
That there is no work
However vile or sordid
That does not glisten
Before god?

And that Calvin
Was really writing a benediction
For the bakery manager?

She, who with seeds in her shoes
Treads softly and bravely
Into the lives of others

And with bread and earnestness,
Begins to feed the hungry?

For those who toil in these frosted days of darkness, I offer you this benediction as you do your holy work. For god places his saints…


  1. Vickie Wheeler

    Awesome writings Ansley! Thank you my sister in Christ!

  2. Katy

    “With seeds in her shoes” and tears in my eyes. So beautiful as always.


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