As my first post for Amazing Grace 2012, I must tell the story that started it all. This encounter has been burned into my heart as one of my favorite Christmas memories and truly sparked the concept behind my focus for the coming year. This story is vivid in my mind today, I have to share it with you. I had the most extraordinary experience on December 5, 2011. It was a Monday, and I was headed to work after a very long and emotional weekend. Our dear friend Matt Burkett had died in an auto accident on December 1st. On December 2nd, Hilmar High School defeated the state Champion Escalon Cougars for the Section title. I had been on an emotional roller coaster to say the least. To be honest, the thought of going to work that day was a welcome step back into routine.
I stopped at Walmart to pick up some cleanser before I went to the office. I hate shopping at Walmart… and I hate shopping in December. I was a really just trying to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. With my single item in hand, I scanned the registers to see which one would get me out of there in a hurry. I chose one behind a tiny woman with only two items in her cart. I only mention her size because it was such a shock to me. I am not very tall, but this elderly lady only came up to shoulders.
As I was standing there waiting, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was shocked to turn and see another, tiny version of the lady standing in front of me. At the very least, this second woman had to be a sister, but I’m guessing maybe even a twin. I was mesmerized. (I thought that maybe I had just encountered two of Santa’s elves.)
The second lady was gesturing to me, seeking permission to join her sister in line. She wanted to make sure I was aware that she wasn’t trying to cut in front of me. She didn’t say a world, only motioned with her hands, but she had a very kind and warm smile. Of course I let her in and she smiled and waved at me in appreciation.
As the sisters stood there waiting, I watched them interact with each other. They barely spoke, and when they did it was in a soft, quiet language I could not identify. They only had two items to pay for… canned cat food and some form of ointment. The total cost of their items was $5.15. The original lady in line quickly pulled bills from her wallet and handed them to the clerk. When the clerk gave back the extra, she asked the sisters if they had $.15 cents. They didn’t understand and tried to hand the clerk a $20 bill for the balance. The clerk handed it back and again asked if they had (only) $.15 cents instead of breaking the $20. I already had my wallet open, I told the clerk I had the change and handed it to her. I knew I was taking a risk. I certainly didn’t want to offend them. After all, they had plenty of money. I was just trying to help… and to be honest, I wanted to keep the line moving.
You would have thought I had handed them the world.
I was not prepared for the response. Both sisters immediately turned to me with broad smiles and arms wide open. They came to me hugging me, grasping my hand and kissing me on the cheeks. I was overwhelmed and shocked… to say the least. In very broken English, one of the sisters said, “You do this for me?” (First as a question, and then, after realization set in… as a statement.) “You do this for me.” I immediately heard the scripture from Matthew. “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
Had I really just encountered Jesus in Walmart?
All three of us were in tears.
The items were bagged up and the embraces and kisses started all over again as these two women prepared to leave. I didn’t resist this time… fully realizing I was experiencing the embrace of God. As they walked away, I turned and looked at the clerk with pleading eyes. I wanted her to confirm that what I had just experienced had really happened. I realized it had when I saw the tears in her eyes as well. I knew then that we were both witnesses. We were both silent. We had both just learned a lesson in gratitude.
Now it’s not right to say I purchased Grace for $.15 cents. I can’t even say that I earned the Grace by my gesture. The Grace was always there, but I experienced it only after I opened myself to the gift. Grace is un-earned, undeserved favor from God… It comes to us as blessings, opportunities, events and people.
Even the people of Walmart.