Thursday, December 29, 2016

Was she an angel? A test from the Lord? The Lord Himself in disguise?

Breaking two mirrors at once had put me in a bad mood, so I was not happy when the woman came up to my car begging for money.

Let me back up a minute and explain before I get into the heart of my story.

In addition to writing, editing and photographing The Ozarks Almanac, I have two other jobs. My main full-time job is with a big-box home improvement store about 30 miles away in the next county. In the late afternoon and evening, I cover local government for the local newspaper.

At the home improvement store, I am a combination merchandiser/housekeeper, although the title is "product service associate." The team to which I belong puts up displays, hangs signs and resets bays of merchandise. And we do a lot of sweeping, dusting, sometimes mopping, cleaning off adhesives left by price labels and painting of the shelf beams. It's a lot of manual labor, so I like it.

On this particular day, we were hanging mirrored medicine cabinets in a full bay, putting them in rows from the floor on up to about 10 feet. Late in the day, when we were nearing completion of the hanging and getting ready to start cleaning up, I came down a ladder with a medicine cabinet on my shoulder. As I stepped off the ladder, I stepped on a cabinet that I had placed on the floor on an earlier trip down the ladder. I broke that mirror and started to fall, dropping the cabinet that I was carrying, breaking it. if I were superstitious, I would have been scared to death.

I am not superstitious, but I was angry--mostly at myself for being so clumsy.

I cleaned up my own mess of broken mirrors, and we finished up, cleaned up all the other leftovers and went home.

Driving home I stewed about breaking merchandise. I decided to stop at the Kroger and get a can of peanuts for comfort before going to the newspaper office, which I did.

As I got into my car, I heard a woman saying, "Sir, sir, sir!"

"What?" I said, obviously irritated at the woman coming up to my car.

By now, I was seated behind the wheel with my hand on the door to close it.

"My little baby needs diapers, and I don't have any money. Can you help me?" she pleaded.

Now, I have a real distrust of beggars. Our town of only 20,000 has a bad problem of meth and heroin, so we have some thievery and scamming going on. Begging is a favorite way of scamming. i don't give money to people. I have bought a breakfast for a guy claiming to be hitchhiking through, and I bought groceries for a guy who said he and his wife were traveling and had spent their money on a hotel room. But I don't give out cash.

"You'll just spend it on drugs," I told the woman. "So, no."

She said, "No, I will buy diapers for my little boy. He needs them."

"I don't believe you," I said. "And I don't have much cash anyway."

"OK," she said. "Well, you keep what you have. Thank you anyway." And she started to walk away.

I guess I was feeling a little bit guilty, so I said, "Here, take this." I grabbed all the change I had in my consule cupholder. There was a handful, but it wasn't much.

"No, you keep it," the woman said.

"NO," I said, lifting my voice. "You take it. This is all I have left in cash." And it really was, for I had paid for the peanuts with my debit card.

She reached out and took the money, and then walked away. I closed my door, and drove off. I wasn't out of the parking lot, and I was already talking to Jesus.

"Oh, Lord, I guess I failed you again," I said. "There was a woman who might have truly been in need, and I didn't help her. Not only that, I was short-tempered with her. She might have been an angel that You sent to test me. I go to church on Sunday and thank you for saving me from my sins and ask you to help me follow You better, and here you give me a chance to actually do something for someone who might truly be in need, and I respond like that. I am ashamed."

When I got to the newsroom, I told my three colleagues what had happened. I admitted I was wrong. My Catholic buddy said, "You should have gone in and bought her a box of diapers if you didn't want to give her money."

"I know, I know. You don't have to tell me," I said. It is irritating for a Baptist to be corrected by a Catholic.

That night I prayed again for forgiveness, and I prayed for another chance to help someone. In fact, I prayed for a chance to help that same woman.

For weeks, I kept an eye out for her. One night, my wife asked me to stop at Kroger to get something, and that's when the guy who was traveling with his wife stopped me at the door on the way in and asked for help. He asked for money to buy some bologna and bread. I told him to go in and get what he needed for supper and meet me at the cash register so I could pay for it.

He did as he said. He got bologna and bread. I had told him to get some chips and cheese if he wanted. He had done that, and he had a package of cookies. "Do you mind if I get these for my wife?" he said. "If you do, I'll put them back."

"No, go ahead and get them for her," I said, and paid for his stuff.

I thanked the Lord for an opportunity to help someone, and I thanked Him for giving me the sense to help someone without complaining. I asked Him to let me help that woman again, if it were His will.

More weeks passed, and I backslid in my attitude. I wasn't looking to help anyone, and I had forgot about the woman at Kroger.

I was filling up with gasoline at the MotoMart across the street from Walgreens, when I heard a woman on the other side of the pumps talking to another motorist.

"Can you help me buy my little boy some medicine?" I heard her ask. And then I heard her say, "OK, thank you anyway."

Then she came over to my side of the pumps, and said, "Sir, sir, could you help me? I need to buy my little boy some medicine. He has a prescription waiting at Walgreens, but I don't have enough money to pay for it."

You're not going to believe this, but I recognized it as the same woman. And you're not going to believe this either, but after weeks of praying for an opportunity to help that same woman, my thoughts were this, "Well, good grief, I was right all along. She's just a scammer, after all. She's begging again, this time with a new approach. I don't feel so bad now."

Aloud, I said, "I'm sorry. I don't have any cash. I'm paying for this with my debit card. Don't have anything else. Sorry."

"OK, thank you anyway," she said, and walked off toward Walmart, and she was out of sight around the corner of the Motomart as I finished fueling.

I got in my car and was immediately stricken with guilt.

"I'm sorry, Lord," I said, and I drove off to catch her. By the time I got to her she was at the bottom of the hill at the corner. I pulled over, rolled down the window and said, "Listen, I don't have a lot of money in my account, and payday isn't until Friday. If it isn't too expensive, I'll go over there and pay for your boy's prescription."

She said, "It's only about $10."

"OK," I said. "If it is more than that, I won't be able to swing it. I am way down to the bottom of my bank account, and I'll still need to buy some stuff later in the week. I'll go on over there and pay for it if it's just $10."

I left her there, because I don't let women into my car with me unless my wife is with me.

She had told me the boy's name, and I told the pharmacist that I was there to pay for it, and that she would come and pick it up. The price he gave me was closer to $20 than to $10.

"Well, I guess I won't pay for it after all," I said, and I walked away from the counter.

Well, of course, I was again stricken with guilt.

"OK, Lord, you win," I said. "I'll pay for it, but You'll have to help me make ends meet later this week."

I went back to the pharmacist and said, "I'll go ahead and pay for it. The Lord has kicked me in the butt."

He laughed as I slid the debit card through the reader.

He gave me the receipt, and I said, "Now, let me make sure. Is that prescription for a baby?"

He said, "It's not for an infant, but it is for a small child."

Well, I figured that was close enough. After all, it had been several weeks, months even, since I had chewed the woman out for begging in the Kroger parking lot. The kid likely wasn't an infant.

I met the woman at the door on my way out.

"How did it go? Were you able to help?" she said.

"It's paid for and ready for you to pick up," I said.

"Oh, thank you," she said.

I  haven't seen her since..

No comments: