The Encounter Series - The Extra Step
A fictional account of actual events.
Everywhere you go you have an opportunity to be Jesus in someone’s life. You just have to ask God to show you the opportunity and to give you the courage and wisdom to act on it.
Chapter 1 - The Extra Step
I was next in line at check out lane number 8 when God gave me just such an opportunity...
It had been a day like any other. A busy, hectic morning and a store filled with shoppers. I was grateful to be almost finished at the store and heading home to the list of chores and responsibilities that awaited me before getting my daughter off the bus from school. I was unloading the groceries from my cart when the lady in front of my caught my eye and captivated my attention.
I saw her take a deep breath and hold it for those 12 seconds it takes for the debit card machine to process. I knew the feeling all too well. Those horrible 12 seconds when you are silently praying for the word “approved” to appear on the screen. I had watched her counting in her head as she had unload just a few items from her cart. Milk, toilet paper, a package of chicken breasts, a box of cereal and container of strawberries. I watched her head shake and her eyes fade as her small daughter, probably five years old, asked for a candy bar. “Not today.” she answered in a deflated tone. I knew that tone too.
The little girl didn’t argue or whine. She shuffled her feet and hung her head a little. Seeing her daughter's reaction, a hint of sorrow flashed in the woman’s eyes. With another sharp breath something else took its place as she, refocused and I saw strength replace her sorrow. Quickly returning her attention to the card reader in front of her, It was as if she were willing her bank account to hold enough funds. Undoubtedly she knew the candy bar would put her over the already close accounting she was taking as she surveyed her few items on the checkout belt.
As I stood there watching this scene unfold, my mind flooded with memories and I was instantly taken back to those difficult days when I too held my breath at the register desperately trying to figure out if I had $30 in the checking account.
Denied… the register beeped and the lady at the checkout stared at her shaking her head.
God’s voice had already whispered across my heart. I knew there was something more here than a random act of kindness, something special. It wasn’t enough to just pay for her groceries. Sure, it would have been easy to just smile and quote “Jesus loves you”, as I swiped my own debit card. She would have, no doubt, been grateful and Jesus would get the credit, but there was something more God wanted in this moment and I felt it. I knew what God was asking me to do here and now. And it was something more…
It was inconvenient and if I am being totally honest, uncomfortable. Half my items were already on the belt. I had a list of things I needed to do today. As always I was on a tight schedule. And of course, I didn’t want to freak the lady out or make her uncomfortable….
Enter Satan, stage right…. Another voice, also familiar entered my head.
“You are going to make her feel bad by paying for her groceries. You will embarrass her. You certainly can’t tell her you are a Christian and Jesus loves her. What if she isn’t a Christian and you offend her? What if she thinks you are nuts?!”
I tried to regain my courage and shake the voice away as I shuffled through my purse for my wallet. I knew that sound well and of course it wasn’t the Lord. But it persisted. “What are you going to do? Are you going leave your groceries and chase the lady down to pray with her? What if you are wrong? What if you embarrass yourself? What if you look like a radical, crazy Christian and turn her off to God completely?”
And there it was, the line that had often worked against me. The line that kept me half in, the one that kept me inside my box, inside the walls of my own heart. What if I did more harm than good ministering to a stranger? What if I made them feel, well, weird?
Then I remembered what my pastor had said in church just a few weeks before… “What if your moment of discomfort was the answer to the someone else’s prayer? If your asking God to use you, you have to take the step of faith when He gives you the opportunity. It is time to be the light.” I had been praying for God to give me an opportunity. And this was it. It was right here, right now, right in front of me and I had exactly two choices... Respond to it or run from it.
I quickly assessed my cart and grocery belt. The thin young lady in front of me bit her lip as she searched her grocery bags trying to figure out for what she could manage without. As she began to take to box of cereal from her bag, I heard myself stop her.
“No, please. Let me.” I stated as I grabbed my items from the belt as hoisted them back into my cart. I put my hand on hers. I looked her in the eye assuring her that I wanted to, and that I wouldn’t take no as an answer. She searched for her words, stunned by my offer. She began to shake her head no. But I just smiled.
“Today, it is well.” I surprised myself with the words that had rolled off my tongue. “It is well” was a statement I often made to myself when struggling to find peace in a situation but it wasn’t a sentence I quoted often to others. Before she could argue, I asked, “Can she have the candy bar? Is it alright?”
“Oh no, that is okay. She doesn’t need anything, this is too much.” I understood that it wasn’t an allergy or a restriction of any kind other than money. I smiled softly to her, then shifted my eyes to her daughter. “Pick out any candy bar you like.”
I little girl’s brown eyes light up with joy and she looked to her mother for approval. The woman’s eyes softened and she nodded. The little girl quickly ran behind me in the line to select her candy bar. There were three other shoppers waiting behind us in line. The fact that they were getting frustrated with the time that this one transaction was taking was no surprise.
In the past I would have let that stop me. But not now, not today. Today I knew I heard God’s voice. I knew that they could all wait an extra 90 seconds. Afterall patience is a virtue and helping others is the work of the Lord, we could all stand to get a little better at these gifts. The wants of those behind me couldn’t outweigh the needs of those ahead of me. Not today.
A few seconds later the little girl in the pink shorts handed her candy to the cashier who added it to the order. She was an older lady who was clearly touched by what was unfolding in front of her. She added the chocolate bar to the total and I swiped my card. For the next 12 seconds as we waited for my transaction approval, I returned the rest of my items to my cart.
“What is your name?” I asked the lady for whose groceries I had just paid.
“I’m Laura.” She answered, a little embarrassed and obviously confused by my returning items to my cart. “Thank you so much for this. I get paid on friday but-”
“I know, Laura, trust me.” I wanted to ease her embarrassment. I wanted her to know that not too long ago I was in the exact same position she was. I wanted her to know this was a joy and a blessing for me too. Something to celebrate not something to be embarrassed by. Now, this would have been the perfect moment to say, but Jesus loves you or something along that line. But that wasn’t what God had whispered on my heart today. It was stretching me, really stretching my limits. My conscience was fighting me every step of the way. My own heart beating harder in my chest. I hadn’t done anything like this before and I wasn’t sure if I was going to look like a nut job or what. “I will come back for my stuff in a few minutes.” I told her, answering the question she hadn’t asked. “I would like to walk out with you, I hope that is okay?”
Not knowing what else to say she just nodded, “sure.”
“Thank you for shopping with us today, you all have a good day.” The older cashier recited as she handed me the receipt. Laura took her bags and I pushed my cart forward and parked it out of the way. I walked with her to the front of the store, all the while silently praying for courage to obey what I knew God had said. When we got out to the parking lot, Laura reached for her daughter’s had. “Ella.” She called as she stretched out her hand almost dropping one of the bags.
“I’ll get that.” I offered as I took the bag from her so her left hand was free to take her daughter’s.
“I can pay you back on Friday.” She stated, obviously still a little suspicious of why I would help her and why I was walking with her now.
“No, Laura. It’s a gift from God, not me. You can’t pay it back, you can only pay it forward. Someday things will change for you. You won’t hold your breath waiting for your card to be approved. That is when you will be moved to pay it forward. And then you will.” The three of us were just standing there, awkwardly near the exit doors. But I kept on. “I know because I used to hold my breath too. Every time.” I admitted honestly. A smile of relief started to pull at the corners of her mouth.
“This is the first time, I have ever been able to pay it forward. But more than just being a good neighbor, I felt like God wanted to tell you something, that is why I walked out with you.” She was very still and I wasn’t sure how she was taking what I was saying. Did she think I was a crazed fanatic? Was my continued presence annoying her? My own insecurities were sneaking into the corners of my heart, my eyes began to tear up, the way they always do when I feel emotional about anything. I blinked them back and kept going. There was no point in stopping now, I had to see this through. I had to be obedient to what I was pretty sure God was putting on my heart. The doubt was starting to creep in, but I reminded myself it had to be God because there was no way I was comfortable doing this and there was nothing Satan could gain through it…. That leaves God, so here goes…
“God wanted me to tell you, He sees you and He hears you.”
That was it. That one sentence was the message it took all of my courage to muster out. But as the final word in my sentence was spoken, Laura’s dark brown eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open. She dropped her bags from her right hand and slapped it against her own mouth as she gasped. Her eyes, filled with tears as she searched my face.
I was stunned and didn’t know exactly what to say or do next. Her reaction filled me with a joy I hadn’t known before. It told me, I had gotten it right. This was God. This was what she really needed. The groceries were nice. A blessing for sure, but the words from God, that was something more. Something that was making a difference not only in her day, but in her heart.
Up until now I had kept my distance. A good three feet of separation between us. I was mindful of her personal space and hadn’t wanted to overwhelm her. But as the seconds piled up, I felt compelled to take a few steps closer and embrace her.
Her left hand still holding firmly to Ella she wrapped her right arm tightly around my back. “How did you know that?” She began to sob. “I was raised in church. I have raised Ella in church. But lately, we haven’t been. I have been saying, what is the point? God doesn’t even see me? He doesn’t answer my prayers. I have been doubting he even exists. I needed him to show up.” She took a couple of deep breaths and we let go of our embrace. “I was so touched when you paid my bill. But I thought to myself, a good Samaritan isn’t the same as God showing up. I couldn’t believe you followed me out here. I thought you just wanted to know when I could pay you back. But now…. Oh my god…. Oh my god.”
I smiled widely. My own tears dripped from my cheeks. “Oh Laura. God does see you. He does hear you. God loves you, really and truly. Like I said, this is a first for me. But He gave me the courage to tell you what He has been trying to say to you.”
Ella was now clinging to her mother’s leg clearly concerned by her tears. Laura rubbed her back and smiled sweetly at her. I felt an instant connection to the woman. She was more than a stranger who shopped the same grocery store. She was a sister in Christ. She was someone who, like me, Jesus loved.
I bent down and picked up the bags on the ground. “I’ll walk you to your car, if you don’t mind.”
“Thank you.” Was all Laura could say, no doubt her mind still swarming. She picked Ella up and lead the way to her car.
My heart swelled with joy with each step. I didn’t know who was more blessed that day. Laura who had her needs met and her prayers answered or me. Because that day God had done something big in me. He had given me the courage to walk out my faith. To be more than a good Samaritan. That day He had given me the opportunity to really be a Christian. Because it was about more than doing a good deed, more than spouting the words Jesus loves you to someone in need. It was about being like Jesus. It was about taking the time and obeying God’s word. It was about making a connection with another person. It was about more than saying a prayer or meeting a need. It was about an Encounter.