I recently planned to order some gloves and a coat for a man I see each day as I travel to and from work. He appears to be homeless and often sits bundled but shivering under an overpass near the entrance to the interstate leading away from Midtown Atlanta. I felt God giving me permission and an invitation to use some money to help this man and I was very excited about it, so excited I started looking on Amazon for the warmest and best items I could afford under an arbitrary but generous threshold and forgot to sleep for nearly an entire night.
On the way to work today I felt God asking why I delay, and encouraging me to stop now and buy gifts for this man. I reasoned that it could wait but I didn’t want to look back and wonder why I’d resisted God asking me to do something. I pictured the word obedience. God helped me see this word and this action and this concept as “Come on this adventure with me. I love you and I love this man and I want you to come along and participate in making this known.”
I pulled over and found a pair of gloves, wool socks, and a fleece pullover. The items should have totaled $35. Before pulling off the road to find these items I considered what this amount of money would mean and whether it would be too much to spend especially after Christmas having travelled so much and having purchased so many gifts already for family members. I then remembered that yesterday my wife asked me about a mysterious deposit made into our account of 10% our typical payment installation. I checked and it was labeled in our payment system as a Christmas bonus.
This was enough to encourage me to see that I had the means to follow God and that this was a privilege not a duty so I picked out the items and walked to the register. Of the 4 open self-check-out registers, one was broken. The attendant tried to fix it but could not resolve the software conflict. He waved me over to his register to expedite the line instead but there was a woman with some groceries in her cart in front of me. I tried to wave her ahead but she insisted I go ahead because I only had a little bit.
I wanted to be proactive in helping this purchase go smoothly so tried to present the price tags facing out to be scanned quickly but I couldn’t find the price tag on the first item, the gloves. I’d noticed and been pleased with the tag on the side joining the gloves together describing their construction and ability to preserve and provide warmth but I didn’t notice there was no price tag.
While the attendant took the gloves from my hands I noticed the same problem on the pullover. I’d picked it out on a whim as I passed a rack mostly because my favorite winter pullover is fleece. (Similarly I’d chosen the socks because though I couldn’t afford some like it at the time and did not know I needed them, I’d been gifted some similar socks recently in preparation for my hike through the mountains and they made a big difference on very cold nights.) I initially chose a blue fleece pullover like mine but then reasoned that a solid color without the neon adornment of its bright orange zipper might be more universal. After searching I began to panic as I realized this item, selected at random from an entirely different section of the store, also did not have a tag.
I heard the cashier flipping the gloves over in his hands and slapping information into the point-of-sale system while I considered running back to fetch new items. Any time I have ever picked items without proper pricing information at a chain store I have been asked to either wait while the staff retrieves the needed information or to retrieve it myself. Some people are lucky and receive the benefit of the doubt in these situations but I am not one of them and so I don’t even try. I don’t ask for discounts, I don’t use coupons, I don’t explain the context of where I found an item – most often if I experience turbulence in a transaction, I signal the cashier helping me to remove the item from the transaction and proceed. Normally, I would have just left without buying theses items.
As I was considering this the young man took the pullover from my hands as he’d done for the gloves and I watched as he did the same thing he’d done with the gloves; he checked the sleeves and neckline, flipped the silken tag over, and pounded information into the keyboard in front of him:
No identifying mark or information. Unusual.
Half the cost of the item.
The final total was $15.97. I was worried about money, and God doubled the value of what I was willing to sacrifice by cutting its cost in half. I was excited to give and devised an intricate plan, but God wanted to move more quickly. I wondered if I could spare some funds, and God tithed to me, increasing my income before I even knew what had happened.
I wondered what difference even the priciest and finest gifts could mean, but had no idea the value of the gift when given by God from His source in His timing instead of by me in my timing from sources I deemed appropriate.
I saw the man sitting at the intersection bathed in bright sunlight, tucking his hands into his coat sleeves with his hood drawn shut. I was so excited that the gloves and socks and pullover would be what he needed that I couldn’t wait to properly wrap or present them. I was sure that, given the impossibility that I could know the stranger’s needs, God’s presence in this would immediately be known and appreciated.
But I also am aware that living on the street is often an outcome of a broken spirit and a tormented mind.
I placed the items in improvised gift wrap of a bag stuffed with torn pieces of a brightly colored table cloth left over from my son’s birthday party. I walked to the man and he was initially intrigued, but when I said they were a gift for him and sheepishly that I didn’t have time to wrap them proper our interaction changed and he began to dismiss me and flee.
He insisted that he did not need these things and not to present this difficult reality today. I felt as unprepared and overwhelmed as I knew I would in this scenario and could only feebly insist, these are for you, I got them for you and no one else, they are gifts, and finally – I was told by God to leave these for you then. He responded he’d throw them in the trash.
This was all very disquieting. By now he’d paced 50 yards away and began leaning back and leering suspiciously with aggravation. I began to sulk and walk back to my car, maybe I’d try later, maybe I should plop the entire bag down there under the bridge.
I hope I did the right thing. I positioned a clean landscaping timber next to the garbage can under the bridge and laid the gifts out down the length of the timber. Neatly folded, still packaged and labeled. I really wanted to act with as much love as I had when carefully positioning my children’s gifts a few nights prior. I wanted him to remember when this was done for him as a child and understand he was still seen, and someone still, as though for their child, arranged to meet his needs.
That person is not me, but I was invited along. I am not responsible, only participatory. I myself would have driven straight to work, or abandoned the transaction, or cast the items out from it, or given up and returned the items, or kept them for myself and reasoned I’d tried my best.
God’s plan was different. His plan was to persist, and push forward. It is easy sometimes to hear God and commit to obey from a vantage point of safety and planning; it is hard to discern how to obey or proceed when in the moment and confronted with unpredictable realities. I can only pray that I heard correctly and acted rightly.
I don’t know if he will pick those things up from where I placed them or not. Maybe he will throw them away. When I drive home, I will look to see if his hands are gloved. I was very troubled and hurt, not by the man, or by God somehow, as though faith necessarily guarantees only fruitful and pleasant outcomes; I was disappointed and challenged by my self. I could have spoken more clearly, said better things. I could have understood better, or budgeted time better.
I don’t see this with futility. I can go learn how to be more effective in these circumstances. I can read on the mindset of broken people, and empathize, and spend more time, and learn to better see and meet more needs.
But none of this made me feel any better about how it had all gone down. I hoped for a glorious story of triumphant victory to report back – but that is not what I experienced.
But then a thought I can only assume came from God quieted my mind and gave me new hope: I hadn’t paid full price for those gloves, and at that price I could afford hundreds of pairs, and if God kept infusing me with random gifts of money, I’d never have any concern for waste or efficiency. If the man threw the gloves away, or sold them, or gave them away, or if they were picked up by someone else, God could send me literally every day with new gloves until they were on that man’s hands if that were His will.
I could remember hundreds of times I drowned out God’s whisper of love, and ignored His guidance, and He never gave up, His love was never diminished, and His expression of it never less clear or potent even in times when I’d tried my best to drown it out. I, too, had paced angrily down the street away from things God had done, but He had been patient and persistent in proving His love’s permanence, and that I’d refused it by failing to understand not only the worth of the gifts, but my merit as its receiver.
The man did not want the gift God clearly commanded I bring. I don’t know why he did not want them, or what would make him say he did not need something he clearly did need, but I am open to the possibility of that being precisely why God had me bring them.
God was teaching me that I am invited on this journey to communicate love and give good gifts even without planning, or provision, or good timing.
God’s answer when His gifts are refused is simple and beautiful;
“then I will keep sending more until you eventually see – my love does not run dry, my provision does not run out, my grace does not have limits, and if ever you feel I am withholding anything from you, please see, I cannot bear to withhold anything from those I love so much as they can fail to receive it by insisting they are unworthy, without need, or better off left alone.
I know you inside and out; You are worthy. I am with you. I choose to draw near to you. There is no end to my love for you, and so there will be no end to my provision and blessings to you, until and beyond the point that you likewise draw near to me and see – you are mine, beloved son, treasured daughter, valued partner in this mission to spread love and relationship.”