The fish was bad. I’d been dancing around it for five minutes. I’d called in my mother, but the decision was mine to make. It was bad. I chucked it.
It was Valentine’s Day and my dinner plans had just been thrown in the garbage. Walking the ledge perilously close to dinnertime my new plans had to be immediate. Pizza.
I grabbed the baby and left my Mom with the other two for a quick trip to the store to pick up a pizza, trash bags, and other sundries.
Ten minutes later I step into line behind a young mother, maybe late thirties, her brother and her seven or eight year old son. The boy was cute. He was very excited about getting a Gatorade.
I missed what happened next. I was kissing the baby and loading my purchases onto the belt. So, I don’t know what started it, but there began to be a little situation in front of me.
The lady’s son had gotten too close to the person checking out, maybe? She was an old lady, aged more from her living than her time simply being alive. She wore a back brace, carried a cane, and was mumbling something toward the boy and his mother.
“Don’t say that to my son.”
“He’s a boy. You don’t need to talk to him like that. Don’t talk to my son that way.”
It escalated quickly. This decrepit woman calling the mother a bitch was the first thing I could understand from her mouth. What followed was worse. It proceeded quickly to the old woman calling this young mother out.
“You better watch out. I’ll meet you outside,” she scowled over her shoulder.
“Stop it right now,” the mother said, “No one talks to my son that way, standing there smelling like liquor. I can smell it on you! I’m gonna be the bigger man and walk away.”
With that, the mother, uncle, and son picked up their few purchases and moved to the neighboring line.
It occurred to me that this nasty old lady had a severe deficiency of grace.
I stood behind her a moment longer, long enough for her to have her card rejected, before I also moved to the other line behind the mother’s party.
The poor boy looked terrified. I tried to talk to him about his Gatorade. This shifted his focus a bit as he started talking to his uncle about it. And, just when I thought the scene was over, the old woman still leaning on the checkout yells after her, “I’ll meet you outside, bitch.”
“Seriously?!” The mother stormed out.
It was quiet for a bit. The young checkout girl didn’t know what to do, mouthing apologies to everyone. I was checking out at the neighboring aisle and watched as the old lady had another form of payment rejected, still mumbling profanities under her breath and, yes, obviously in a bad way with drink.
I paused after putting my purchases in my cart and watched as a third form of payment was rejected.
I handed the checkout girl my card.
“Here,” I said, “I’ll pay for it.”
“Really?!! Are you sure?!” she was incredulous.
I insisted and proceeded to put the old lady’s bags in her cart. There weren’t many. A line had formed behind her. At this point, I just wanted to help this lady get out of there.
This horrid drunk woman looked at me, “What are you doing?”
I glanced in her cart. From what I could see in her bags there were some donuts, a large bottle of liquor, and some flowers.
“I’m buying you flowers for Valentine’s Day,” I said.
Her mouth dropped and then she smiled. She put a hand to my cheek and pulled me in for a hug. I patted her back. I wouldn’t call it a sweet moment.
“Oh, honey, you just saved me.”
I typed in my pin.
“That woman was a bitch,” she confided.
“No she wasn’t,” I said, “She was a good mother. She was doing exactly what she was supposed to do, defending her son.”
The checkout girl thanked me. I put one hand on my cart, my baby boy still sitting like a champ, and one hand on her cart. I steered us out.
At this point, I’m thinking to myself that there is no way I’m letting this very drunk woman get behind the wheel of a car. My schedule was gone from my mind. Luckily no babies were screaming to bring me back to it. As we step into the parking lot I say my first prayer since this whole episode began. Lord, let me know what words to say.
“I’m gonna pay you back,” she said, “Don’t get me wrong, I always pay my debts.”
“Okay,” I say.
“So, I’ll need your number,” she says.
“Alright, we’ll go have coffee,” I say.
“Alright,” she was pleased.
And then, thank the Lord, her car was a taxi. I left her cart. We exchanged numbers. She ogled my baby and told her cabdriver friend how I had saved her from a very embarrassing situation.
“I did it because of Jesus,” I said, “He gave me a free gift I did not deserve and so I gave a free gift to you.” That’s what I said. That’s all I said.
I have bought things for strangers before. But they were all quite lovable in their anonymity. I don’t think I’ve ever done it for someone unlovable before, or, perhaps, lovable but undeserving.
But I have received a free gift. And I did not deserve it. And the gift has set me free. It has set me free from judging the contents of a woman’s cart. Indeed, only God can know the contents of a person’s cart.
But seriously, all puns aside. Get it? Only God knows the cart? Alright, I’m done.
I wasn’t feeling love for this woman, but I was free to love her anyway. I didn’t approve of her actions but I was free from condemning her. I didn’t want to be connected to her, but I was free to befriend her in front of the whole store.
I’m honestly not sure if that woman was in a state to remember anything that happened or anything I said.
But after I left her a car stopped and rolled down the window.
“Here,” the woman in line behind her held out a twenty to me.
“Please, I don’t know if you knew that lady,”
“I didn’t know her.” (Said a little too quickly so I guess I’m not totally beyond caring what others think.)
“But I just want to help you out,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, thank you,” I took it, “I’ll use it to take her out to coffee.”
So, now I guess I really have to do that.
I still don’t know what happened. Was I encouraging a bad habit, was I witnessing to the old lady, or was I witnessing to the rest of the store? Should I have made some pronouncement that I was doing this all in Jesus’ name or something?
But I am free from worrying about all that, too. I don’t have to know where it’s going or how it turns out. There’s someone bigger than me in charge, and he uses me because he wants to not because he has to. It was enough that I showed grace to a woman who didn’t have enough grace for a seven year-old boy. It was enough that I obeyed.
I was free to love.
I chalked up the whole event as my little Valentine’s gift from God.
See, Barbara, see how loved you are? You are so loved that you can love unlovable people.
I am no more lovable than that ungracious drunk woman holding up the line in a grocery store. But I am not loved because I am lovable. I am lovable because I am loved.