Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Completely Free

Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, I went to Albertson's to pick up a few groceries. As I made my way into the store, I noticed a couple of pennies on the ground. I chuckled to myself. Nobody even picks up pennies anymore...they're worthless. But I had a compelling urge to pick them up. I shrugged it off and went into the store.

When I headed back to the car a few minutes later, there were those two pennies again. And again, I felt like God was telling me to pick them up. I argued with Him. Pennies should be done away with all together. Nickels should be the smallest currency from now on. Pennies are annoying. What a pain.

I walked past the pennies and got in my car. I was missing a glove. I figured I'd left it at the checkstand. So I headed back toward the store entrance, deliberately stepping on the pennies as I went, determined to let sleeping pennies lie. But I was starting to feel sort of silly about it. Good grief, I muttered to myself, just pick up the pennies!

My glove was in the parking lot, just beyond the pennies. I picked it up. And then I had to go past the pennies again to get back to my car. On this, my fourth trip through Penny Land, I gave in and picked them up. Fine! Sheesh! I get the point! I dropped the two copper coins in my purse and forgot about them.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I arrived at church one Sunday morning to find a beautifully wrapped gift on the floor outside my office door. It said, "To Becky, From Merry Christmas."

Things were pretty tight for us last holiday season, so instead of opening the gift, I took it home and put it under the tree so I'd be sure to have something to open on Christmas Eve. In our little family, we open our presents on Christmas Eve morning because we spend Christmas Eve evening and Christmas Day with extended family.

Anyway, I put the gift under our tree and forgot about it. (Almost.)

When Christmas Eve morning came around, I found that my lovely gift box contained four new shirts! I was so excited! And they were trendy! Being my untrendy self, I was thrilled to have trendy right there in my hands for once in my life.

The best part about it was that I was in need of new shirts. But I also needed some new shoes (I'd been coloring mine with a sharpie for over a year), and a new pair of dress pants. I thought, Well, God provided shirts. He will provide boots and pants too.

Then I went into the bathroom to try my new shirts on. I felt so flattered that my anonymous benefactor thought those shirts would fit me. Every single one of them was way too small. Thankfully, the receipt had been included in my gift box, with a precious note which encouraged me to return the shirts if they were not just right and get something I loved.

We had a Christmas Eve service coming up in a few hours, and I had felt I really had nothing to wear to it, so I jumped right in the car and went into town, with a singular goal. Shirt, shoes, pants.

I waited in the return line at Marshall's and tried to figure out how much I would be able to spend. Attempting to match the sku numbers on the shirts with those on the gift receipt, I figured it would be about $40.

When I got up to the counter, the cashier rang up my return. It came to $39.98. She turned to me and said, "Do you have two pennies?"

I was flabbergasted. Visions of an Albertson's parking lot flashed through my mind as I reached into my coin purse and pulled out the only thing inside it...two pennies. I handed them over to the cashier and she gave me an even $40.

I wandered around Marshall's for a while and tried on a few things, but the note had said for me to get something I loved, and nothing really fit the bill. It occurred to me after a while that I had been given cash, not a Marshall's gift card. Oh. Right.

Wondering where I should go, I heard a still, small Voice say, "Go to Target."

Well! You don't have to tell me that twice! I love Target! I hopped in my car and started out.

On the way there, I drove past Goodwill. I explained to the Lord that I could probably get a better deal at Goodwill and that would be a better use of my money and great stewardship to boot.

He said, "Nope. Go to Target."

But when I got near the Target parking lot, it was completely jam-packed with last minute Christmas Eve shoppers. I grabbed at the first break in traffic I could find and ended up down the strip from Target, in front of Payless Shoe Source.

Since I was right there, I went in. And I found the perfect boots, on sale. $16.99. Dark brown. Yummy. I wore them out of the store, stowing my sharpie shoes in the boot box.

As I exited onto the sidewalk, I noticed that Fashion Bug, next door, was having a big sale on nice clothes. I knew I was supposed to go to Target, but God seemed okay with my circuitous route. So I went into Fashion Bug. And I found the perfect shirt! Red! With a matching cami! 50% off! $16.99.

Are you doing the math? I had now spent $34 of my $40. I had $6 left. And I heard the still, small Voice again. "Okay. Now go to Target."

Exulting over my success thus far, I was just sure God had a pair of matching brown pants at Target, sitting on the clearance rack, marked all the way down to $6, waiting for me.

I searched every clearance rack at Target and found nothing at all. One pair of brown pants in my size which were the wrong cut for my body type. Ugh.

I began to feel quiet agitated and cranky at the still, small Voice. Why did You make me come to Target? This is stupid. There's nothing here.

God replied, "Because I wanted to show you something."

What?

No answer.

Fine. Is it okay if I go to Goodwill now?

"Yep. Go."

Goodwill had lots of brown pants! Several pairs that worked great! One problem: they all cost $6.99. I only had $6. And some change. I searched all over the store trying to determine whether or not the pants I'd settled on were perchance the right color of tag and therefore half off. No dice. They were full price. $6.99.

Jeff had some gas money in his business account, but we always try not to mix our business and personal banking, so I didn't want to mess with that. But the pants! They were so great! I decided I'd call and run it by him.

I fished my cell phone out of my purse and dialed home. The lady on the other side of the clothes rack from me jumped visibly when I began to talk in full voice out of the blue. She thought I was talking to her. I walked away a few paces so she could shop in peace, and I asked Jeff if I could borrow $1 of his gas money. He said it was fine for me to do that, but as we discussed the best way to go about it ("Do I just pay $1 with your business card the rest in cash? Does Goodwill do that?"), I suddenly noticed motion out of the corner of my eye.

It was the lady from the other side of the rack. In a gentle voice, she said, "Excuse me..." I looked over at her, and came face to face with a $1 bill making its way across the clothes rack to me.

My eyes widened as they filled with tears. I babbled, "Oh my gosh! Thank you so much!" Returning to my conversation with Jeff, I said, "A lady just gave me a dollar!" This, of course, ended our discussion about his business account, and I told him I'd call him back.

Snapping my phone closed, I turned once more to my Goodwill angel. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! That is so sweet!"

She smiled kindly and said, "You need those pants."

As I made my way to the checkstand, God said, "See how you made her day? You provided her with the opportunity to be generous on Christmas Eve. I planned that."

I left with my purchase and called Jeff again as I drove out of town. I told him this entire story from the beginning.

One thing still had me puzzled. I told Jeff, "But I still don't understand why in the world God made me go to Target. I ended up getting the pants at Goodwill."

But Jeff knew. After the briefest of pauses, my husband explained, "God sent you to Target to kill time. If you hadn't gone to Target, that lady wouldn't have been standing across the rack from you when you called me at Goodwill."

I was in awe.

Not only did God work out the timing of my shopping trip right down to the minute, but He met my clothing need right down to the penny. I did not contribute one cent. Out of the fullness of His glorious riches, He used parking lot pennies, anonymous benefactors, and Christmas Eve generosity to provide me with a blessing that, to me, was totally and completely free.

God showed me that He does not need my help to provide for me. He can do it all on His own. He is a loving Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children.

It seems like there's always some kind of personal contribution I feel I should laboriously attach to every blessing I receive. But last Christmas, I just sat back and enjoyed my present from God.

Do you see where this is going?

Just as my new clothes were completely free...

So is His love. So is His grace. So is His Son.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves...

...it is the gift of God.

~ Eph 2:8