Last week, I ran into Publix in a hurry, as usual. I blew through the aisles with my list and rushed to the front, impatiently waited to check out and mentally went through the rest of my to-do list. As I swiped my card, I realized I had forgotten my frozen food. Grrrr. So much for getting in and out. I was so irritated. I asked them to hold my checked-out groceries and ran back to the frozen section, cursing my life and May.
Yes, it’s May, and for parents, teachers and students, May is cray. Ain’t nobody got time for Publix! And now, I had to wait in line twice. I had so much to do! I felt all the bad feels and got in a second line in a snit.
The woman ahead of me started to check out. She only had formula, diapers, and kid stuff from what I could tell. Looked like it would be a quick one. But then, she handed over a ginormous wad of coupons. The cashier was being super thorough. My head was starting to pound. Why me, Lord? It was taking FOREVER. Because OF COURSE IT WAS, THIS IS MY LIFE. Then she gave the cashier a check of some kind, perhaps WIC. Then she started swiping about 20 Publix gift cards, and after each one, the cashier would say “nothing on that” or “a little on that” and give her a new total. The line behind me was growing. It was taking forever.
The woman had three cute little ones in her buggy who were happily waiting for her. They were doing better than I was. After the Publix cards, she swiped several other cards. Needless to say, it became clear to me that this woman’s grocery shopping stress was way different from mine. Yikes, what if I had three little ones and was struggling to buy diapers and formula? What if I had to hold up the line and everyone saw me struggling to pay my bill? The cashier finally told her the total was down to $3.20. Everything was bagged up at that point. She pulled out one more debit card and it was declined. She looked at the cashier and said “That one should be okay.” The cashier tried it again. It didn’t go through.
So I offered to pay her $3.20. Because WWJD. She looked at me and said, “are those your groceries?” I was confused and said yes. She said, “if you pay my balance, I’ll buy your groceries with my food stamps.” I said, “no, absolutely not, it’s no big deal.” I mean, it was $3.20! My groceries would be over $20. She said, “I’ve been due to be a blessing to somebody for some time so please let me get them. I get plenty of food stamp money and my babies won’t go hungry.” I didn’t know what to do, I was so thrown so I told her to do whatever she felt was best. So I paid her balance and she bought my groceries. She thanked me, I thanked her and she left.
My mind was reeling. How did that all just happen? I was thinking it all through as I walked to the car. I guess she bought something that wasn’t covered by her food stamps, but all I saw besides baby stuff was some candy bars. If I paid for those candy bars, fine, I don’t care. But how did it turn out like that when I was trying to help her out and I ended up taking $20 of food stamps from that lady with three young children. I don’t know what Jesus would do with this one. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be the blessing. But she out-blessinged me! How in the hell?
But then I thought about what she said: “I’ve been due to be a blessing to someone for some time.” You know, it’s true that sometimes we are a blessing and sometimes we receive the blessing. This was a unique situation where I blessed her and she blessed me all at the same time. Mind. Blown. Thanks be to God. That’s a cool one.
It reminded me of the time, many years ago, when my husband was laid off from Delta. It was a stressful, difficult time. Money was tight. I had to lie to the preschool so I could wait to pay them after unemployment came in. We ate a lot of pasta. One day, a guy came by from the Delta Pilots’ Club and dropped off a food basket. It was my low point. I was used to being the one who put together and dropped off the food baskets!!! How was I on the receiving end of one??? It was so hard but truth be told, I swallowed my pride and we ate every damn thing in that basket. Years later, after we were back on our feet, I realized that as hard as that was, sometimes you’re the blessing and sometimes you receive the blessing. That’s life. That’s being a human being. That hard time not only gave me that gift basket, but gave me the gift of empathy for people who are in a bad financial situation.
I don’t know that woman’s story but in my haste to “get stuff done”, I was forced to slow down and see her. When I worked for DFCS, most of the clients I worked with were like this woman. They didn’t want to be on welfare. They were working hard to get off it. And yes, there were some who took advantage and we did our best to boot them the hell off. But the vast majority of people on welfare were not happy about it and wanted to be a blessing to others. They are real people; may we see them.
Today, I decided that woman’s story needed to be told. Hope it blesses you.
Take care of yourselves and each other,