In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I took part in my blogger-friend Billy Coffey’s Ten Dollar Challenge. I set aside ten dollars and blessed someone with it—for no particular reason except that they needed it and God pressed my heart to give it.
One of my favorite things about the season of Christmas is that it’s a time that seems to awaken the compassion and generosity in people. But it has always bothered me that people who are so soft-hearted and giving during that month aren’t always as soft-hearted and giving the other eleven months of the year.
Yesterday afternoon I sat on my bedroom floor and cleaned out my purse. Having traveled during December, it had become a sort of a wasteland for crumpled receipts, gum wrappers, and empty Mucinex blister-packs. And to my delight, in the maelstrom of paper and lint, I came across a ten dollar bill.
Yes! I can have lunch out one day this week!
I carefully folded the bill and put it in my “other” change purse—the one where I keep the credit card I never use, the library card to the library that I don’t live near anymore, and my almost-spent Pier 1 gift card. And I buried the “other” change purse near the bottom of my purse and promptly forgot about it.
About fifteen minutes before I got off work today, my brother called with a special request. “Can you pick up sandwiches at Subway on your way home?” I had to go across the bridge, into town, to fill up with gas anyway, so yes, I could pick up Subway.
It was cold—below freezing—when I pulled up to the pump. The sun had set, the temperatures were dropping, and the wind was blowing. And with the vicious cold, my mind was set on getting home. I pulled my debit card out of its pocket in my billfold and used it to pay for my gas. I stuck the card in my pocket and when I got across the street to Subway, I didn’t have to dig for my billfold again. I had my debit card at my fingertips as I stuck my car keys in my jacket pocket and got out of the car.
Walking up the sidewalk towards the door, my single-girl-surviving-alone-in-the-big-mean-city radar alerted me that there was a man lurking between me and the door. I slipped my hand into my pocket to grab my keys in case I needed them for a weapon. I’ve had more than one single girlfriend attacked while walking alone and I was once grabbed and harassed by a couple of young punks myself. I’m not paranoid, but I make a point of being aware of my surroundings. And my radar said, “Young, tall kid, dressed in dark clothes, loitering in a dim parking lot—could be trouble.” But when I got about six feet from him, the wind gusted and I felt it slice through my slacks. I saw this twenty-something guy shiver and sit on the curb. I hesitated. He sensed my hesitation and met my eyes and gave me a half smile.
“Ma’am.” He nodded.
I smiled in return and when he saw my smile, he pulled one hand out of his pocket and showed me a small handful of change.
“You got any change, ma’am? To buy a sandwich? This is all I’ve got.”
I felt the debit card in my pocket and shook my head.
“I’m sorry. I don’t carry cash.”
“I understand, ma’am. It’s pretty dangerous to carry cash.”
I smiled again and wished him good evening as I went inside. I walked away, but I couldn’t forget him. I patted down my pockets, wondering if just maybe there was something there I could give him, but there wasn’t. After I’d paid for my meal and walked to the door, I saw him still sitting on the curb, hunched against the chill. That’s when I remembered the ten dollar bill in my “other” change purse. In my car. In the bottom of my purse.
The skeptical, cautious radar-watching lady inside of me fled and I made a beeline out the door.
“Come on! I remembered something.”
And I walked this stranger to my car and turned my back on him as I dug in my purse. (Which, ladies and gentlemen, is NOT what you’re supposed to do in this circumstance. But God must’ve been watching out for me.) And I chattered while I dug.
“I cleaned out my purse. But I have a little something.”
“Yes, ma’am. You should see my Mama’s purse. It’s always a mess. And next time I see you in town, I’ll pay you back.”
And I turned around and handed him a ten dollar bill. He took it from my fingers and I could see his surprise. He had asked for spare change and had gotten a ten.
“Thank you, ma’am! I’ll pay you back.”
“No, it’s a gift. A late Christmas gift. God bless you.”
I sat in my car for a minute and got my things resettled in my purse, but when I went by the front of the Subway, I craned my neck. He hadn’t gone inside. He’d skirted the restaurant to return to the housing project behind it.
For less than a second, I felt frustration that maybe this guy had duped me for drug money or alcohol money. But as I drove away, watching him disappear in my rearview mirror, I was filled with a peace that God had given me that money to give to that young man for whatever he chooses to use it on. And for good measure, I spent the four minute drive home praying for that young man that whatever he chooses to do with the money, that God would woo him, persuade him, move him, and arrest him with the knowledge of the love of Jesus. That he would see that God has given us a gift—salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. And He lets us choose what to do with it. And my prayer is that no matter how this young man uses the ten dollars that he would choose the gift of salvation.