Overwhelmed, I scurried down the grocery store aisles, flinging items into my cart on the run. I only had twenty minutes to get everything on my list, check-out and make it home before my kids got off the bus. A quickly rotating to-do list turned itself in my head. I had dinner to make, a birthday cake to whip-up for tomorrow’s sweet sixteen celebration, a house to clean, groceries to put away, a dog to feed and a toddler to bathe, not in that order. It was a tireless race; I felt like a runner crossing the finish line as I swerved my cart into lane three.
I tapped my foot impatiently. The woman in front of me was taking forever getting her groceries on the miniature conveyor belt. She kept pausing between each one to chastise her small child clinging to one leg trying to slip candy into her cart. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I angled myself away, trying to distract my impatience with the latest tabloids, coming eye to eye with a haggard old man, leaning heavily on a sleek, mahogany cane. He peered into my eyes. A tad uncomfortable I cleared my throat.
He continued to stare. A slight twitch threatened to tweak the corner of my eye. I rubbed it in a nervous manner, unsure of what to say. I tried for a weak smile and attempted to slowly turn myself around as discreetly as possible. He placed a large hand on the curve of my shoulder closest to him.
"Don’t worry," he said.
"There’s no need to rush through your life in worry. Time is fleeting, young one."
"Sir. You have no idea the things I need to get done tonight. I’m not worried just feeling spread thin, that’s all." I heard the cashier completing the lady’s sale in front of me. "But thank you, for your advice."
Finally moving forward, I began to heave my groceries onto the belt. Again I felt his big hand fold over my stooped shoulder.
"Mister, please, I’m really in a hurry and I have to get these groceries rung up."
"You are very loved."
"Cast all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you," the man replied. I looked into his big eyes and for the first time since I’d found myself in conversation with the odd fellow did I notice the well of compassion behind his golden irises and the immediate peace that slipped over me as I melted into the gold.
Before I could respond the cashier interrupted, "Ma’am, are you ready to pay?"
"Yes, sorry," I answered, hesitant to turn from those kind eyes. Swiping my credit card, I started to thank the elderly man, but he was being ushered into lane four that was unoccupied. I was disappointed, but obligations quickly filled my mind once again, pushing him out.
Loading my cart, I accepted my receipt and pushed forward, heading out to the parking lot at a jog. I found my car quickly, and was already almost through filling the trunk with my groceries when the man hobbled out of the store.
He gave me a little nod, shuffling his way down the sidewalk lining the grocery mart. Just as I was about to turn away, I realized he wasn’t headed very far, as he came to a stop by a box brimming with odds and ends, a sign propped against one side: Homeless. Will work for food.
I looked away, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I had noticed him. Something stirred inside me then, an anxious flutter, pleading with me not to ignore it. My trunk was full, I had food to make, a family to take care of...
I began to unload my groceries, filling my arms with as many as I could carry. As I turned to where the man had been sitting, he was right next to me, leaning once again on his cane.
"Thank you child for your faithfulness. Life is but a breath and then we pass away, check-out and check in to eternity. Don’t forget the bigger picture, beloved, and to keep your heart open toward the hurting and the lost as you go about your busy days."
A brilliant light burst from the man then, replacing wrinkles with glowing skin, rumpled clothes with robes of white, and wings that spread out, sheltering her in their canopy of colors. "He told me to tell you, you make Him proud."
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