We are currently collecting all of the Christmas gifts that we’ve received and are carrying them to new locations in our house. Inside, I feel the adrenaline of the weekend descending and my mind becoming clearer by the minute. Thoughtful gift giving has brought rushes of joy, intensified anticipation, and the fulfillment of lots of planning. In hindsight, it’s the reflection upon the 2 days before Christmas Eve day however, that my mind continues to return back to…

     “Girls, make sure you lock that side door,” I say. From the drivers’ seat, I can see the two blurs of my daughters’ coats as they leap out of the van. The parking lot isn’t as full as it usually is. Goodwill isn’t the hot spot for gift purchasing I suppose. It was at the top of my list today though. Our youngest daughter is the first to grab a cart, I am the second, and I agree with the thought that driving them both in the quiet store won’t pose a traffic problem. After a little pleading, I allow our girls to step over to the shoe area where they are on a mission to find black dress shoes for the Christmas Eve service tomorrow night. My eyes and cart veer to the right. The tight racks hold a treasure trove of options for the outfit I am hoping to find as I serve on the church worship team the next evening. My shopping method is pretty simple, if it’s an option, throw it in the cart and sift through it later. I don’t like searching the packed racks twice. By the time my basket is 75% full, the girls roll up. “I only found these,” Grace says. She holds them up in the air and all I can see is the heel on those satin beauties. Brief memories of a high school banquet pops into my mind. “Throw them in the cart and we can think about them,” I say. I then glance in my basket long enough to feel a twinge of pain. “Why am I thinking about buying all this stuff for myself at Christmas time?” I presume I am driven by the hope of my chilly body becoming warm by sweaters and sweatshirts in addition to the festive options for Saturday night. I need a steep discount though and proceed  to locate the lady who announces thrilling specials to Goodwill shoppers like me.

     “Christmas items are 75% off. Our 50% off day is tomorrow,” she says. Her face is kind and her voice compassionate. I picture myself hiding my finds in a lone rack somewhere in the store so I can find it as the store opens at 8am. It’s unrealistic; I won’t be back on Christmas Eve morning. My only option is to accept my responsibility, turn my cart, and head towards the women’s area again. While rotating the cart, a woman glides up an aisle in a white wool coat. Her neck is garnished with a coffee colored scarf, tied in a stylish knot. She meets my smile with one of her own and leans her blond head in to share something with me. The first sentence that she speaks in a whisper, confuses me. “What did you say?” I ask. Her tone is soft again. “I would like to purchase everything in your cart for you.” I stand in front of her stunned and silent. “C’mon,” she says. The woman gently spins the cart and leads it toward the checkout lane. Still in a daze I look down at my full cart and regret fills me. Why did I put so much in there? Why didn’t I go with the girls and help them find their shoes first? My lips babble simple words like a toddler. “Maybe there is someone else that you…” I say. Then, I stop myself. I want to say there must be someone else that needs such a generous gift. However, if I were the giver of such a thoughtful, methodically planned, sacrificial, loving, and gracious gift, I would have wanted the person I chose to simply receive it. I now need to allow myself to receive this gift even though I don’t deserve a stitch of the items in my cart. After searching in my wallet, I quickly whisk out a coupon for a meager 15% off and slide it toward the check out lady. She rings up one item at a time including the gloves, socks, and my daughters’ first pair of high heels.  My bill totals a whopping $79 and some change.

     After my initial shock lightens a little, I ask the graceful woman before me what her name is. Karen shares about her two daughters and answers my question about her church home. She is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in a distant town. She then asks if Jostlin is our youngest. After hearing about Nathan, she responds with words that I can’t quite make out. She says it twice, but all I can grasp is that she is now affirmed in her gift to me.  While my cart refills with large white bags, I reach for this unexpected friend, and hug her. “Thanks for letting God use you,” I say. Her lips quiver, she nods a Merry Christmas in return, and then she fades out the door.

     Our two little girls are left astonished.  I lead them to a quiet corner of the store to consider and process what has just happened. After my husband answers our home phone, I cannot help but imagine his concern over my weepy voice and the possibility of his thoughts drifting to my being in an accident. I feel my heart aching and lightheaded.  “Pay it forward” comes to mind and then my husband also speaks the words. Yes, now that I’ve experienced being on the receiving end of such a gift from someone I’ve never known, I know it will change and impact me beyond this day. I want to become like the giver I’ve just experienced.

     Days later, as I continue getting our home back in order, I reflect back on that event.  Now I see the hesitant way I reacted to the woman in white who offered me a gift at Goodwill and the internal struggle I felt. Maybe you’re thinking; “I would have received the gift from the woman without hesitation!” Really?  Would you receive any valuable gift offered to you?  If God walked up to you and offered you the gracious and generous gift of His son Jesus? Would you hesitate? Would you consider your unworthiness? Would you surrender and receive it gratefully? It truly is a gift of more significance and can never be worn out, destroyed, or stolen. Remember, God gave this gift at an unexpected time in history, in an unexpected way, with an unexpected message, to an unexpected people. Now, He extends the offer to us also. I suppose the looming question is; are we going to receive it today and then- pay it forward like Goodwill’s woman in white?

 …”remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  Acts 20:35b

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NLT

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23 NLT

“So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”

James1:16 & 17 NLT

Going Deeper- Being Generous