So the other day I was on my way home from our annual Women’s Christmas Tea. Well, it’s usually a Brunch, but this year it was a very delightful Tea. Along with all kinds of tea and coffee with flavored creamers, there was a beautiful spread of sandwiches and too many sweets to choose from. Somehow I managed to choose anyway. A lovely gift of a little booklet was also given to each of us and I was planning on reading through it when I got home. All I saw was the name Billy Graham on the front cover.
I stopped by Starbucks and grabbed myself a venti decaf iced mocha and was headed out the door to the parking lot with thoughts of getting my house in order. I looked up and blocking my way to my car was a small, very old, very beat up car. I saw the driver, a haggard-looking woman, who started to say something to me that I couldn’t quite catch. My ears finally began to tune in to what she was saying: she didn’t have any money and needed some food for her and her children, who I saw out of the corner of my eye sitting in the back seat. She muttered something about praying for me as a thank you if I could help her out.
Now, I’ve been faced with situations like this before. Unfortunately, my past experiences have made me quite cynical about handing out money to strangers who confront me like that.
The scene usually goes something like this:
(In the parking lot of a gas station) “I don’t have any money and my car is out of gas. I have to get to *insert some far-away location*, could you please give me some money?”
“Where’s your car?”
“It’s around the corner”
“Well, if you’ll pull your car up to a gas pump I’ll pay inside to put so you can put some gas in your car.”
Waiting, waiting, waiting…No car in sight.
So as I stood there staring at this woman in the beat up car with my $4 coffee in my hand, I finally manage to grunt out a “huh,” trying to bide my time while I decide whether or not I should help this woman and her nearly grown children. There’s a grocery store in sight and I figure if I say I’ll meet her in the store she’ll turn me down or simply won’t show up.
“Wanna meet me at Safeway?” I say.
“Sure,” she says.
That immediately throws me for a loop. She drives off while I get in my car, look around and see that she’s nowhere in sight. I have a clean get-away if I want. But something inside says, “No, you told her you would meet her there, you should follow through.”
So I drive over, park, walk to the front of the store, and sure enough, she’s standing there with a cart in her hands. As I’m walking toward her and her son I’m thinking, “How am I going to do this? Am I going to shop with her? I have no cash. How much should I allow her to get?” I meet up with her and we walk inside. She tells me she hasn’t gotten her food stamps and thanks me profusely. I tell her just to think of it as a gift from the Lord and she says, “Are you a Christian?” and I say, “Yes.”
“Praise the Lord!” she responds. I still can’t tell if she’s genuine or if it’s an act. She tells me I can shop with her or I can purchase a store gift card for her. I tell her that’s a good idea and she moves right to the aisle of an empty lane and spots one immediately. She’s done this before. I purchase the card, and begin to look for her. One full lap around the store and I finally see her walking toward me. I give her the card and pull the Billy Graham booklet from my purse and give it to her. We exchange hugs and I leave her to her shopping.
For a day or two I mull over in my mind whether or not I should have helped her. Is she a drug addict or an alcoholic who uses her government assistance to fund her addiction instead of feeding herself and her family? Is she somehow going to use the gift card for something other than food? The mom in me didn’t want to enable a bad habit.
I will probably never know the truth, but God does. I do know that I walked into that parking lot at the exact moment she drove through. I know that for an inexplicable (okay, maybe not so inexplicable) reason, I drove to the grocery store instead of heading home. I know that I had tucked away a Billy Graham booklet in my purse just that morning and it was on my heart to give it to her. I know that I have prayed for her and her children more than once since that Saturday.
And I know that there was a time when I was beat up from sin and my heart had been anything but genuine. But I asked God for help and He didn’t judge me. I was guilty, yes, but God had sent His Son to be born as a babe in a humble stable, to grow up and die on a cross. He had already paid the price of the judgment for my sin. Instead of judging me guilty, He showed me mercy and gave me new life.
Our God is a benevolent and merciful Father and He loves to see His children show mercy, too, at Christmastime, and always.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)