“I’m going to give you this back because I want you to do something different,” the customer said, handing back the ten I’d just given her in change.
“Okay,” I replied with my usual outward smile yet grunting on the inside at the thought of her wanting my precious fives back. (Fives are sacred change makers for a cashier, okay? Tens are pretty great, too, but they don’t even compare to fives.)
“I want you to give me five back and keep the other five for someone who can’t afford their purchase.”
Her words caught me off guard. It’s not like people haven’t done that before–customers leave small bits of change all the time and sometimes even offer to chip in one someone else can’t afford it. But this was different because it was more than a few dimes, and for someone unknown; she wanted to give, but she did not know who it would go to and therefore expected nothing in return. It was inspiring to me.
“If not today, than another day,” she added, speaking my own thoughts. The day was nearly done and I wasn’t sure if anyone would need an extra five today.
I thanked her very much. And she thanked me for what I do as well. She left smiling, her purchases wrapped securely in a white bag under her arm. She was just a regular lady, an average customer. She didn’t look particularly extraordinary, spectacular, or different. I never took her for a world changer or even a Mother Theresa type. Yet what she did, small as some could say it was, stopped me in my tracks and gave a light to the rest of my steps.
She gave lovingly, cheerfully–just as Jesus said to give. Remember how it doesn’t matter how small our offers are?
She didn’t have to give. It was a sacrifice. And it was given in mature empathy and compassionate forethought.
While other people complain and try to cheapen the system, she let an extra five dollar bill drop gladly. I liked that.
I tucked her five dollar bill safely under the coin trey, marking it with a piece of tape: “Left by a customer for someone who can’t afford their purchase.”
I left it for two more days, waiting for the perfect moment. Almost hoping for a time when someone would be lacking in money. It was strange that I felt like that–after all, it wasn’t my gift though I got to be the bearer. Perhaps though it was the redemption that attracted me. This customer had offered grace and I longed to see another receive it.
I was impatient, almost. But I felt God nudging me, saying, “I’ll write you a story worth waiting for.”
They entered with their backpacks and I asked them to leave their packs up front, promising to take good care and “check” them with numbers for extra security. They both complied. The girl took the number I offered her and I pinned a matching one to mark her bag.
“I’ll take five,” the young man said.
“Sure,” I replied, pinning #5 to his bag and setting it down.
He was a tall man, about thirty, with dark brown eyes and hair. He wore a plain red shirt, bright and eye-catching. I could tell–or so I thought–that he was from a rougher crowd. Last year, he might have frightened me, but now I know better than to judge.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice the bedding overflowing from his backpack. Not many people carry bedding around–he must be homeless.
He showed a pair of jeans he liked to his companion. She smiled and agreed they were nice and they were–dark denim and a good quality, they looked like they’d fit his long legs.
The two looked around for a bit and I carried on with other tasks. But the man came back, holding the pair of jeans.
The man told me he’d been wearing the same pants for six days–his black pants were scuffed and a bit tattered. “I’ve been living on the street, at The Caring Place,” he said. “Can I see if my friend has two dollars to pay today? I’ll pay the rest another time.”
Whenever people ask me for a discount, I get a little heated. Okay, it’s not THAT bad, but I don’t just do it without reason or all the time; after all, I want to keep my job. And of course, all the judgment crowds my mind, the annoyance of being asked again and again and again for a better deal.
“Grace, Elizabeth. Redemption.” These new words clouded over my mind and I responded in a cheery voice. “Sure, you can make a down payment on the jeans. I’ll put them in a bag. Go check with your friend.”
We are all humans. We deserve death, but we are offered grace, just the same.
He comes back, a bit downtrodden. His friend can’t do it.
“It’s okay,” I say, remembering the five. “A customer left five dollars for someone who–who needed it a few days ago so this will be a gift.”
He smiled so openly then. I handed him the bag with the jeans and his backpack and he gave me back the number.
“It’s kind of funny how it’s a five, too,” he said, surprising me with his sudden insight. It was true. And I smiled, agreeing, because I love those hidden symbols that make me feel like I’m a character in a novel.
He sounded groggy as he spoke–like he wasn’t all there. He mumbled about how “God is always there for us and understands even though there is hardship and shame,” walking towards the door, but his head still facing mine.
Somehow I knew he wasn’t going to finish his sentence or even say good bye. He just sort of walked out, thankful, but strangely dazed.
Five. That was the number he chose, and the number left for him. I don’t know his name, yet I know him now.
The situation I’ve described may not seem very extraordinary to you and perhaps it isn’t–a customer donated money, stating her purpose for it, and another came in and used it. Simple as can be.
Yet from working in a Thrift store, I so often see people striving to get more and leave less. And I see people take and steal instead of asking.
And as the lover of analyzing the insights on situations that I am, I see this all as an illustration of sorts. So often, we try to do it on our own, not asking for grace because of shame or fear of rejection. Yet at the end of the day, our God has covered the entire cost of what it is to live. All we must do is trust.
As the man in the red shirt said, “God is always there for us, even through hardship and shame.”
He is right, and I have learned from his request and the other’s offer of grace. I see the story God is writing in my own life and the lives of others everyday. It is a beautiful but broken path, yet I am honoured to walk it, under the sky of His redemption.