A thick carpet of white lingered on the ground, a gentle reminder of the heavy storm from the day before. Scattered clusters of snow held to the branches of oak and pine, some losing their grip, taking turns plummeting to the ground. “Thank you Lord… this is beautiful”, I mused with awe.
Stepping into the warm little house, the soft ticking sound of the wood stove welcomed me. Comfort swept over me. Then a weighty thought entered my mind, “What do the homeless do on cold winter nights?” I paused to imagine, but could not. It was a world so far away from mine.
Pulling my thoughts back to the plans for the day, the first thing on the agenda was grocery shopping. With the list already prepared, I was ready to go out the door.
The store was busy with the checkout lines longer than usual. Shopping completed, I chose the line to stand in.
The odor struck me first. Glancing at the four people standing in line, I found the source, standing about 10 feet away. Apparently, it had been quite some time since he had bathed. Extremely thin, with long stringy hair, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans, a man in his 30’s held two full plastic grocery bags in one hand and a fry pan in the other.
Wondering why he had bagged groceries standing in the checkout line, I looked closer and saw they were not groceries, but clothes.
It was his turn. Leaving the bags on the floor, he placed the fry pan on the counter and pulled out his wallet, dumping out its’ change on the counter. He began counting, meticulously sorting it into separate groups of even amounts. The line waited as the process continued. After a few minutes, the woman behind me proceeded to another line.
The bag girl stood adjacent the man curiously watching him as he counted out the last grouping, all pennies.
He reminded me of where I had once been, years ago, as a young mother.
The heat of humiliation rising up would burn my face to bright red as I counted food stamps and spare change in front of strangers waiting in line. Somehow, I had to provide food for three young boys and myself.
Often, with panic, I would discover my mental math had failed me in my calculations. I had underestimated the total. With shame I would choose which items, already bagged and in my cart, to place back on the counter. The checker would then have to delete the amounts from the bill, which made the process excruciatingly longer. The larger the audience, the more embarrassed I was. Sometimes shaking, I was always relieved to finally make it out the door.
“There you go” the clerk said, handing the man his receipt.
His simple “Thank you” had a tone of humble sincerity that resonated, clashing with the triviality around him.
As he walked out the door, my heart went with him.
With teary eyes, I ran my card through the machine, punching the buttons. Cash back? I chose $10.00.
“Sorry about the long wait” the clerk kindly offered, as if she thought I felt inconvenienced.
“Have a wonderful day,” she chirped handing me the receipt and money.
“Thank you, you too” I said with a quick smile, then headed out the door with the full cart.
Crossing the parking lot, I realized the money was not for me…it was for the man. I looked around, “Yes!” He was at the end of the sidewalk rummaging through his possessions.
“Lord, please keep him there while I load my groceries.” I threw the groceries in the car, closed the door, and then turned to see the man still there. "Thank you Lord”.
Hastily I walked to the man, stopped in front of him and abruptly spoke, “Heh”. He looked up at me appearing startled.
Awkwardly I announced, “Jesus loves you.”
He stood up and our eyes met. With a drawn out “Okaaay?” he replied, as if questioning my sanity.
“Here” I said handing him the folded bill. He took it and I immediately turned and walked towards my car.
“Thank You” he called after me, with a hint of confusion.
Climbing into the car, I reflected back on the long road I had traveled, and to where the Lord had taken me. “Thank You Lord” I said aloud while starting the engine.
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