Five bucks

I went to Goodwill a week or two ago.   My big boys needed cargo shorts, and I try to always check thrift stores before I buy new.  Twenty minutes of browsing netted us several pairs of shorts, plus jeans, playing cards, and even kitchen items for my daughter who’s getting an apartment with friends this fall.  I stood at the checkout, pleased, idly looking around.

In came a young family.  Three little kids. A razor-thin young dad with a bit of grunge about him.  A harried mom in sweat pants and fuzzy boots.

It was the mother’s boots that caught my eye on this 70 degree day.  Why would someone wear winter boots on a warm day like this?   I wondered if she had other shoes, if they were just barely getting by…maybe she only had that one pair of shoes.  They seemed dispirited and quiet.   I wondered what they were here for.   What did they need?   Did they have enough money to meet that need?

I fingered a $5 bill in my pocket, suddenly wondering if I was supposed to give it to them.  it wasn’t much, but we could get by without it and maybe it would be an encouragement.  It was an odd thought — not the type of thing that usually came into my head.   Maybe God knew they needed that money and was nudging me to hand it over.   As I waited for my items to be rung up, I watched them walk further back in the store.  Would it insult the man if a random stranger handed his wife money?

Unsure, I decided that if they came by me again, that would be my sign.  Sure enough, they did– but at the exact moment I was swiping my debit card.  I hurried thru the transaction, not wanting to miss them.  But by the time I’d paid for my items, the couple was wandering away again.  I wanted to follow, hand them the money. But still I was uncertain.  Maybe I was just making up some elaborate story in my head.  Maybe God wasn’t really telling me to hand these strangers five measly bucks.

I stood between the check stand and the exit for a moment, watching, trapped by my own lack of boldness.  Just then one of their little children picked up a plastic place-mat and held it out to the dad.   He said something to his wife and she shrugged and nodded.  The place mat went into their cart.

Hmm.   A place mat is not exactly an essential item.  Maybe they weren’t so bad off after all.  I turned and walked out of the store, telling myself that giving them money would only be an insult. Still there was an uneasy persistent nudging in my heart:  I should have done it.

I sat in my car in the parking lot for a moment, half hoping they’d come out.   But what would I say–   I want to give you this money because of your bad footwear choice?  Because God loves you?  Because God told me to?  No explanation felt natural to me at that moment.  And yet that wadded bill still sat in my pocket.   I finally started the car and headed for my next destination, the grocery store. I deliberately left the money in my pocket, telling myself that if there was another opportunity, another nudging, that I’d hand over the bill.

At the grocery store in the cereal aisle, a neatly dressed lady with a baby in a sling caught my eye.  Always a sucker for babies and babywearing mamas, I smiled at her and admired her baby, then moved on.  As sometimes happens in the grocery store, I spotted her in other aisles too.   Even after 20 minutes in the store, her cart stayed nearly empty:  a tub of fresh-ground peanut butter, some bulk-food items, raisins, some cans of goat’s milk.  Healthy food, carefully chosen.   But not much of it.

I fingered the money again, but instantly rejected the idea.   This lady was neat and clean and carefully dressed.  The only thing that spoke of a possible need was the tiny pile of food in her cart and the length of time it had taken her to choose it.

Eventually I wheeled my loaded cart to the checkstand, only to spot the same lady two people ahead of me in line.  She was deep in conversation with two clerks who were examining her tiny heap of food and looking through something that looked like a packet of food stamp vouchers.  Conversation continued for several minutes, with the woman looking unhappy and the clerks shaking their heads and conversing.

The money.   I thought again of the money.  Was I supposed to jump in here?  Uncertain, I waited.   Maybe things would be resolved in her favor.  A minute later a third clerk came and wheeled the woman’s cart away.  She walked away, carrying nothing but the baby.  The clerks went back to scanning food, talking to each other about how her vouchers hadn’t been for the right sized items, so they’d been denied.

I felt sick.  I should have handed her that $5.  At least she could have bought the milk.  But now she was gone, and I was left with the knowledge that I could have done something, SHOULD have done something. But again, I had been frozen, not wanting to offend, not wanting to interfere.

I went home unable to shake the vision of those people.  Wondering why I hadn’t followed the nudging in my heart, hadn’t reached out, even if it was just a small gesture.  I never would have missed it.  But they probably never would have forgotten it.

Next time I’m going to listen better.  Be braver.  Put myself out there.

Even if I’m scared.

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  1. It’s ok. Your heart was definitely in the right place.

    I have been on both sides of that uneasy coin. Even now, my home is furnished in “Budget Boutique Chic” – and for the most part it has been by choice…although some not.

    I know that in the thrift store, even if you don’t have much, a little place mat for 50 cents is worth it if you can thrill your child. Maybe that child goes without a lot of things, but just that little bit of change can make a big difference. On the other hand, you just never know. Maybe they were just lazy parents who didn’t give a care, mmm?

    As for the food store…again, hon, your heart was in the right place. You will know when the time is right, and bless you so much for even contemplating and thinking of giving.

    About a year and half ago, I was stranded on a VERY cold day by the side of the road when my vehicle broke down. I began to walk, while my hands began to freeze. A truck stopped. I was afraid to accept the help, but I looked in that man’s face and I saw only good. He told me he would never like to see his wife or daughter walking along the road and although I was afraid, I got in his truck, but I kept my cell phone in my hand, and my friend was still on the line the whole way.

    Turns out the man’s name was “Sam” – how interesting. And he dropped me in a place of warmth and safety to await a family member to pick me up.

    Blessings and opportunities for blessings will find whoever needs them the most. Just trust…but you already knew that 🙂

    hugs Mary
    you are a beautiful woman

  2. Mary,

    Thanks so much for this post. I love it. My church right now is undergoing a challenge to listen and respond to just this kind of nudging. I’m going to send them here to see this. Thanks for your honesty and being willing to share this story.

  3. Sticking to the short version, one time a person offered to buy my kids milk in a grocery store. We didnt’ need her to so and when I thought back through my trek in the store I could see why she thought I was in need. I assured her that I was fine and woudl she please use it for someone that really needed it. Her gut instinct was wrong, but wow was I touched that she offered. I was blessed by her generous spirit.

  4. this reminds me of when i first moved to LA…i felt like i should give to every homeless person i passed. i had “no money” – fresh out of school…but then someone told me that instead of feeling guilty with every homeless person i passed that i should listen to instincts and evaluate each encounter with what felt right at the time. these feelings led me to volunteer at a homeless shelter. i carry the advice with me today…and feel good about giving in other ways. living in the moment – is incredibly important – and this is what you have done. thanks for writing about it.

  5. Mary,
    Your post reminded me of my uneasiness about giving to the homeless people. I always thought the homeless people were the ones we should help because they have not much.
    We live in a good size town but I seemed to only see some of them in the same area. At first I felt very sorry for them (for I know what’s like to be really without) and wanted to help by giving them some money, but thought I best consult with my husband first. Good thing I did. Hubby told me that when he was working at his second job (late into the wee hours), he found out that this one homeless man had a nice RV parked outside of a Home Depot’s parking lot – far away from the main entrance but you can still see it. Later on I also heard from a friend that she knew of someone “had decided” to live a homeless life style – by choice. Yet another time I saw the same group of young, physically fit and able to work type of homeless people – with a nicely groomed dog with them standing by the traffic light corner at a shopping plaza, sticking their hands and signs out, asking for money.
    I was so torn. On one hand I knew it would be good to teach my children to have compassion and helping the needed, but on the other hand, I wondered if they really are the needed and would use what’s given for necessity or for a “life style”?

    To solve my dilemma, I have decided (with my husband’s consent) to give to legitimate organizations such as the Salvation Army, the crisis pregnancy center, the inner city missionaries organizations, etc. Now when I see a nice shaven homeless person, I say a quick prayer for him/her and thank God for His provision for my own family.

  6. alpidarkomama says:

    I know that feeling!!!! Twice I’ve paid for someone’s meal in a restaurant when I’ve been the first to leave. I overheard the conversation both times, and knew each time it was pretty dire straits, even though they were sitting in a restaurant. I remember when we were kids, there was an older gentleman sitting at a table next to us. When he left he paid the whole bill for our not-small family because he thought we had good manners! I’ll never forget that. And the two children I saw in the restaurants… I’ll never forget them either, though it has been a long time since I’ve thought of them. Thank you for bringing the thought up, perhaps at just the right time when each of those children (now probably in their 20s) needed a prayer sent their way. Given the family situations I overheard, I’m sure they’re still needing those prayers!

    I think it would have been much more difficult to walk up and hand them the money. In Judaism, the highest form of tzedaka (the Hebrew word for charity, which actually means “justice”) is for neither the recipient nor the giver to actually know each other. It is all done for the sake of heaven, and it spares the receiver any self-consciousness they might feel accepting help. Anyway… great story! Thanks.

  7. Oh my, well I’ve been kind of lurking on the sidlines for quite a long time and I so enjoy your perspectives and your busy life….this post got me though.

    Right in the heart.

    I too ingnore God’s call me for me at times and I am so disappointed when that happens. But there are times that He speaks and I listen. And if I am sure to put myself out of the way and let only His glory shine, the results are amazing.

    I ignore the callings more often that I should though….thank you for calling that out and letting my heart ride along with you as you try and listen to Him.


  8. Oh these situations are always so difficult and yes we end up kicking ourselves thinking why didn’t I? The good thing is that it usually spurs us into action the next time & the next & the next! Could you make a donation to a food bank or shelter in honor of these two families?

    Would you mind if I reviewed your book on my site?

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience!

  9. Jeanne A says:

    This posts reminds me of a blog I read a long time ago by Antique Mommy. Someone paid for her groceries when she was young and just starting up.

    And then many years later she ended up doing the same thing for someone else.

    She does a much better job of telling the story. LOL!!!

    Maybe if, by telling your story, each of your readers could help one random person, we could multiply the blessings.

  10. Oh you have so perfectly described my own dilemma. I have lived your day many times in my life. I’m getting a bit better at it, but I still hang onto “what if I offend? what if I give unnecessarily and it’s not really needed?” far too often.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Those likely were the only shoes that mom had. I know that feeling, I only have one fitting pair of shoes myself. Everything goes towards A) taking care of my son and meeting his needs and B) meeting my business expenses so I can keep working and making money. I’ll buy my son a pack of trading cards before I’ll buy myself a new pair of shoes, because he’ll grow up remembering the fun we had playing those games together, not that mom did or didn’t have shoes.

    The mom in the grocery store was probably on WIC. All states have gone to debit-type cards for food stamps, and some are going to debit for WIC, but others still use the WIC coupons. It can be frustrating to be on WIC and food stamps when you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, as with WIC you are very limited as to what brands and sizes you can get of the various items, and organics are expensive to buy with food stamps.

    I wish I could say I’ve been there done that, but it’s more a case of I’ve been there and I’m still there, struggling my way out of that. Haven’t had WIC in years, since my son was very little, but I know many on it. And I am on Food Stamps. It’s the only way I’m able to buy food at all, and it means my grocery budget each month is exactly $367.

    $5 doesn’t seem like a lot to many people, but to someone on such a tight budget? $5 can go a very, very, very long way.

  12. Thank you for being brave enough to share this! I’ve been in similar situations where I debated so long about whether it really was God asking me to these things that I missed the opportunity to bless someone. Ugh! Fortunately, there will probably be a next time to show a little courage! 🙂

  13. I am so glad I am not the only person this happens to!!

    I don’t because I’m scared! Is it me? Is God really telling me to do this?

  14. You will have other chances to help.

    When I was in college — broke, alone, working two jobs and carrying a full courseload — the manager of the cafeteria where I worked early in the morning noticed that I never came in to eat, just to work. She started leaving a little brown paper bag with a sandwitch, some fruit, a drink, and a small bag of chips on top of my coat at the end of my shift — it was weeks before I found out she was doing it. I had no money for a meal plan, and that gift of a little lunch would carry me through the rest of my very long day. I was too proud to ask for help, and probably wouldn’t have accepted if it was offered, but so very, very grateful that someone gave help freely.

    You may feel badly for not helping those people just now, but in writing this post you have inspired many to help others. Maybe that was how you were supposed to help, this time…

  15. Uuugh. I had those experiences before and when I pass them up I know that it was God after all nudging me because why else would I think about it for so long? Your honesty might be the nudge someone else needs.

    By the way I just bought your book and am super loving it! I can’t believe you all both worked and now are homeschooling with 10 kids! That’s an awesome story!

  16. I’ve been there, too, sensing the Spirit nudging me to give but resisting. I, like you, will be listening more closely and more willing to obey promptly next time.

  17. Thanks for sharing with us this struggle in your day.

    I’m sure many can relate. As to discerning whether the first family was in need of your charity or making poor choices—I have come to believe that that is not my judgment to make. Like the homeless who choose to be, or so many others, that is between them and God. For me it is only to act with charity.

    Well, that is what I try to do. I am not always so successful.

    carol, mom to 4 lovely girls….

  18. This is a tough spot to be in – the frozen spot of “do I help? will they consider it help?” is not fun, and no matter what you did or didn’t do, your heart was in the right place.

    living in downtown Chicago, I must admit I am somewhat hardened to the sight of needy people. i feel as if i sit in judgment of them when deciding whether or not to drop a quarter in their empty, outstretched cup. we are told constantly not to allow ourselves to be approached by those who are in need b/c it could be a safety hazard, or worse, a fake-out. but what to do? it doesn’t make it any easier on my heart, everytime I put my head down and pass someone begging on the street.

    my only thought here is to treat those folks as you would anyone else – with a smile and a hello. if you feel more is necessary, go for it! sometimes respect and acknowledgment is more than enough. but be careful, and keep your eyes wide open. you’ll know what to do.

  19. Mary,
    Thanks for sharing this post. I still am haunted by faces of those in China and Vietnam when we did not give to these people because it was a moment and then it was gone. My daughter and I were talking about this the other day. “Mom, if we ever get the chance we should do it .” I know giving to an organization may seem safer. If we can wait and know it is God urging us on ward I think it is a pretty safe thing to do. But then again maybe safe is not something we should worry too much about when giving.

  20. It is wonderful of you to be honest and share this post with others. We try to rely on scripture to guide us in situations such as this – I think when Jesus said “fear not” dozens of times he really meant it. Being embarrassed is a tiny blip on the screen of one’s life – being blessed – AH that’s worth possible discomfort. We’ve prayed about the situation of where and when to offer help and been told by various “experts” what to do – and have decided to go with the promptings of the spirit. (to be clearer – if I’ve got it or can get it simply – we give it – what is done with it is on their hearts and souls not ours) Beautiful example and thank you again for sharing.

  21. Not condemning or criticizing anyone who chooses to do something else – guiding of the spirit is determined by each person not a “RULE” – I did not mean to offend anyone – I’ve been on both sides of the situation also –

  22. Your heat was in the right spot and God was definately pulling you out of your comfort zone. But you know what else, God knows that and He will surely give you another chance. And this time you will know for certain and be bold and brave and leave the situation knowing you did what God asked along with one hug smile for the remainder of the day!!!

  23. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a gentle reminder to us all to be better listeners when God is speaking to our hearts.

  24. Go for it Mary. I say lesson learned on this issue. it takes more guts then people realize to go through with these “nudgings”. And more than most people are willing to do. No worries though, there WILL be another opportunity to do so if your open to it.

  25. Been there multiple times (it was only a few years ago that I was too scared to mutter hello above a whisper to the checkout lady in response to her grunt.) Just do it, immediately, without question. It is so much easier. And something I have learned is that the easiest way is the lady in line–multiple times I have helped out people in that situation by gently saying, “Excuse me, does there seem to be a problem?” One time it was a little old lady who was trying to pay with a check someplace that didn’t take them, another time a frazzled woman with kids and husband who fond that they didn’t have money with them (and I wondered whether they had enough at all.) And other times, but in the line, right there, is easiest. Just ask if there is a problem and offer to help–most people are very grateful to find an easy way out of a painful situation. And having been there many times (I used to have to search the car for another penny so I would have enough money to get a bag of potatoes, a bag of frozen veggies, AND a can of tomato sauce) I KNOW what a blessing it is when someone offers to help you when you discover you don’t have quite enough. Another trick–give it to the kids. I have had older people sneak a quarter or more into my kids hands telling them to use it to buy something good and it was such a blessing because it is easier to accept somethign offered to your child than something offered to you. Another trick is to give the cashier money (if it is at a place you trust) and ask them to use it towards that specific persons bill.

  26. Oh, I just love you… I love your heart. I could just cry, because I’ve been there before. It’s so hard trying to decide if what I feel sometimes is the Holy Spirit nudging me or not…. it’s nice to read this and see that we all have the same waffling feelings. I feel convicted, as well, that I need to act the next time I’m not sure myself. Thank you so much for your vulnerable honesty. I love it.

  27. Sometimes it’s so hard to know what to do isn’t it. Do you ever wish God would just speak out loud to us and tell us. But then we wouldn’t be stepping out in faith, would we?

  28. Mary – this is a wonderful post – and it really touches to the heart of selfless giving and obedience. Your heart was there, but your confidence was wavering. Oh, to be confident at ALL the right times! BEEN THERE!

  29. What an honest post about something that goes on inside so many of our heads and hearts so often! The storm of rational second-guessing rages so loudly in those moments.

    And it doesn’t necessarily stop when we do follow through, does it? If you had given to the woman in the grocery store aisle and covered her need, the scene that actually revealed her true need might not have happened. It’s just faith. I still wonder about the silent, elderly bagger at the grocery store for whom I felt compelled to do something specific… No confirmation of any reason for that nudge. Did I merely feel sorry for him because he looked so bent and worn? Did I insult him? I’ll never know…

    I do believe that kindness, when given in true humility and without any fanfare, is at least not likely to go TOO far off track.

  30. Mary, I appreciate you sharing this. It is sure to touch hearts and help others be bold when they feel the nudging of the Spirit to do something.

    Just last week, my 9 yr old and I dashed into the dollar store for a cold drink. As I locked my car, I noticed an old man digging through a garbage can at the far end of the parking lot.

    In the dollar store, I couldn’t help but turn back for another look and could see that he was peeking into white paper bags he was lifting from the trash can. Fast food?

    When my son and I got back into the car, we saw he had moved on to the dumpster behind Taco Ball. Two men, dirty and on their tip toes, digging through the dumpster could be seen even though they had shut the door partially behind them.

    I circled the parking lot, thinking about how we don’t have much of an income right now and how they might be getting full from the tossed out food by now and maybe this and maybe that.

    But, in the end, I drove through Taco Bell, ordered some chicken burritos and tacos and impulsively asked for two apple pies at the window. Then, I drove around to where the men were, unrolled the window and held out the two bags “Do you want this?”.

    The younger man, clothes thick with grime, smiled and thanked me. Normally, I like to say something along the lines of “Take care of yourself. Jesus loves you.”

    But, all I could think of to say was to smile back and say”There’s apple pie in there!”.

    As I drove away, I explained to my son that yes, they might be into alcohol or drugs or they may even do other bad things. But, we don’t know. And they were hungry enough to eat someone else’s garbage. And even though we can’t help everyone, maybe because we had the eyes to see that old man at just that moment and I couldn’t shake it, that we were supposed to give them some food.

    My son looked back at the men, now sitting on the curb and reported back “They’re eating the apple pies first!”

    I chuckled. Even though this type of story isn’t supposed to be shared (don’t the right hand know what the left hand is doing and all that) I felt compelled to share because there is so much need out there and sometimes I just don’t think we will know the impact of a small deed on this side of heaven.

    Keep listening to those nudgings! Great subject, Mary. 🙂

  31. I remember a story someone told me once of what happened to them…they were in college with little money and a family. The wife signed up for WIC and went to the store to buy what they needed. There was a problem. She didn’t have all the forms or they wouldn’t accept something – so she left the groceries there and decided she was never going to use WIC again. I guess due to the hassle and embarrassment. I think it can be a good thing to be denied something – at least in this case it showed my friend that maybe they could find another way to do it on their own – and trusting God – they did.

  32. Wow, I totally know what you’re saying! I know a lot of people who get WIC & food stamps, who don’t ‘look’ like it. 🙂 God will send you more opportunities, you can bet on it. 🙂

  33. like they all said mary, there will be other nudgings from God and I know have been a generous and compassionate person your whole life. like everyone before me here i know what it’s like to want to help if even in a small way. sometimes i do, sometimes i do not. my SIL used WIC entitlements she did NOT need…but through her divorce situation and # of kids, etc. she qualified. despite living in a nice lakefront home with three cars and a boat. all of it ordinary, yes, but still. also, she was going back to work. she did NOT need those food stamps by but gosh she was going to use them (she’d also been remarried to my brother at the time). Money was not a problem. IMO she should not have taken them.

    Certain local homeless people I see here at the beach all the time – I’ve given the $5 to from time to time. They are the only who don’t ask for but but I see them drinking the free coffee in the grocery store and dozing on the park bench. They need help.

    Whoever mentioned donating to a crisis pregnancy center: now that’s close to my heart. Showing love and compassion and respect for the dignity of life. Also in your child sponsorship. Lots of ways to help.

  34. I have been in your place several times, with many different outcomes. All I can say is be ready next time. God will give you more chances to witness for him in this way. I know that if that “nudge” comes, its there for a reason, and i have finally got it through my thick skull that when I get that “nudge” to go with it. It’s taken God some rather hard nudges to get me there, but, I am there. .. most of the time. 🙂

  35. You had the thought and that shows something. We have all wanted to help and like you have even thought about it, but there is some resistance that seems to stop us? Is it the fear of being offended when they insult you for your kind gesture? The fact they may knock back your confidence with what they might say to you? Who knows, we all want to help but something just seems to hold us back, maybe he wants you to have these thoughts but these people are not the ONES! Maybe he is getting you ready for that one person who will be the one, who will be forever grateful that you stepped in, who you know in your heart of hearts was the person you were meant to help. When it is the one, nothing will hesitate you from stepping forward with your kind heart.

  36. I’ll bet she was wearing Ugggh Boots which are not only all the rage, they are NOT cheap, at all. Ugly, IMO, yes….inexpensive, no. Even IF they were faux Uggghs, does this not bring to mind the whole book/cover thing?

  37. I have hesitated before too Mary. I am going to be braver next time too. I truly believe that God helps us through the service of each other. That doesn’t make it easier or less awkward, though, does it?

    Happy Mothers Day!

  38. tough questions. too bad worrying about offending other sometimes prevents us from trying to do good.

  39. We had a guest speaker at our church a couple of weeks ago and he talked about being “open for business”. Meaning, when we feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, will we step out in faith and see what might happen. Or do we just close the door. I’ve been praying that God would cause me to be “open for business” where ever and when ever. It is so hard to do though, but thankfully His mercies are new every morning. My husband has been doing a much better job than I have been doing though. He’s also got much better stories to tell than I do lately, too! I think we just have to pray, “Lord, help me to respond when you prompt me!” Thank you for being so honest about how hard it is to do sometimes!

  40. Aw those God nudges. If we see someone outside with a will work for food sign we will get them food instead, usually a lunchable, a water and an apple. I say God bless you and go on my way. One time we were in Carrow Restuarant and there was an older woman sitting alone eating. God nudged me hard and I asked the waitress to give me her bill so I could pay for it. It wasn’t much, maybe 12 dollars. The lady came up to me with tears in her eyes and said thank you so much. I have missed several God nudges because I was thinking I might embarrass myself, then after I realize I often embarrass myself without even trying!

  41. oh, that is hard. i have been in that position, where my gut is literally in butterflies, do i? don’t i? will it be insulting? it is so hard to know. God will bring other’s across your path, I am sure. thanks for sharing this. it is such a good reminder, of the blessing I have, and that ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’. To hold loosely.

  42. How many time do you see people just running through life self obsessed and not noticing the needs of other people or too scared to help out because of the way society is turning out. that if we see someone injured or in need you are torn between wanting to help them and protecting yourself, so much so that you turn away from your natural instincts as a mother, and as a caring individual – I am not a religeous person but still feel and see the need all around. I think that it is amazing that despite your busy life you are still in touch with those others in need, call it God nudging you, or embarrasment I believe your instinct was kicking in and when you see someone who are truly in need your heart will SHOUT it at you, love to you and your family x

  43. I often feel those nudges, and do the exact. same. thing. in arguing with myself… maybe they would be offended, do they really need it? etc.
    Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this!
    And may God Bless our sensitive hearts anyway….