“May I buy your groceries?”
Rather than buy ourselves and our young adult children gifts this Christmas, we decided to walk the walk. You know. That walk where you stop indulging yourself with increasingly frivolous items and actually reach out to help others not as fortunate.
We bought several Walmart gift cards with funds we would have used to buy our gifts for one another and our kids. Then our daughter and daughter-in-law (who is pregnant with twins, our 10th and 11th grandchildren, so yes, we have more than enough blessings in our life), Mr. Wilkinson and I went to our local Walmart yesterday, a beautiful Sunday morning. Not quite knowing how to do what we wanted to do, just praying we’d get it right and not embarrass anyone or get arrested. Our girls decided on an approach, took the gift cards, and my husband and I stood at a distance, ready to help if needed.
The girls walked along and watched the check-out lines, and when they felt a tug at their kind hearts, they went up to people ready to check out and asked,
“May I buy your groceries?”
The initial responses were ones of shock and disbelief. No one was rude, or dismissive. They just wanted to know why. The girls answered that they were part of a family who decided this was the way they wanted to celebrate Christmas. Then a few asked if they were with a church or an organization. No, the girls said, we are just a regular family and this is our gift to you! No strings attached! From us!
Then the miracles came.
The first one, a young Mom, with a cart of food and just a couple of tiny presents for her little son, broke down in sobs, confiding that she “didn’t know how I could afford any of this”. Her hugs and her tears washed away all the nervousness our girls felt at first. They helped her bag her groceries and they all held one another for a long time, before this young woman left the store, trying hard not to sob.
The girls then quickly went to an obviously worn-out and defeated looking Dad, with 4 young sons. Beat down and broke, you can bet. In the check-out line, counting the bills in his wallet, nervously. “May I buy everything in your cart, sir?” they said. Again, the disbelief, the tears, the hugs, and the sincere, very heartfelt gratitude. That seismic shock you felt at 10:47 am yesterday? That was a huge crack opening in my cynical heart as I watched this.
Two elderly ladies, with one cart between them, barely full with just the most very basic things. A 2 pack of toilet paper. A small package of ham. A little pumpkin pie with red bow on top. Cans of cheap cat food. I doubt they had cats. They were the most unbelieving of all – they were literally paralyzed with shock. One had dementia and couldn’t really understand what was going on, but the other couldn’t believe “anyone cared about us” and “no one has been this kind to me in 75 years”.
There were people who smiled and merely told our girls, “No thank you! We are very blessed and in a good place, so please help someone who needs it!” Pay it forward without getting a thing. I like it.
The disabled veteran in a wheelchair, the lonely, unhappy looking girl, the young family with formula and diapers, the older lady who reminded our daughter of her beloved, departed grandma. Their surprise, their joy, their relief, their gratitude. All of them giving us more than we could ever give them.
It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced
And then there was the guy with the tattoos and the swagger and the backward ball cap. My husband saw our daughter approach him and started to get upset because he thought this guy didn’t look “needy”. But it turned out, he was one of the most appreciative and gracious people she interacted with. He couldn’t believe anyone would do this for “Me? You’re doing this for ME?”. A misfit, maybe. Who cares? Jesus didn’t. And either did our daughter. I saw him transformed by our daughter, who was smiling as big as I have ever seen. As he left, he keep stopping and looking back at her, shaking his head with disbelief, waving, and smiling. His gift was far more than a gift card.
This heaven on earth continued and each time, the glow from our girls got brighter and brighter.
Who was giving who what?
Me and Mr. Wilkinson? We just wept and tried to hold it together. And tried to stay anonymous. I did speak with a few lovely people, who noticed me watching (I guess I’m not as subtle as I thought…it was probably the wailing) and came up to me with such open and raw emotion, I could hardly speak. One woman, standing there holding my husband’s hand and telling him she lost her husband that very day, a few years ago. And my husband’s face as he remembered he lost his own father on that every same day.
The cashiers with their Santa hats wept, we wept, people we will never see again, wept, hugged, believing that, at least for a little while, people cared about them. We gave the cashiers the last of the gift cards and they promptly gave them back to their customers. How. Completely. Awesome.
I was one of those people who made fun of the people of Walmart. And I’m an idiot. I don’t know anyone’s story, their background, their pain or their journey in this world. I judge the badly dressed, the overweight, the sloppy, the ignorant, the ill-mannered. The same ones, yesterday, who cried when someone offered them a small kindness. The ones who, when they figured out what my husband and I were doing hiding in the jewelry section across from the check-out lanes, came running over, looked us right in the eye, thanked us and complimented on our wonderful girls. There’s MY gift, right there. I haven’t gotten anything as precious as that.
So, I ask again – who was giving who what??
I absolutely did not want to share this story. There seemed to be no way to tell it without it reeking of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation. Ugh. I was encouraged (forced) by a very close friend, whom I did share it with, to go ahead and write about it. So I’m sharing it with the hope and prayer that other people can find their own Holy Land, and make a pilgrimage there to honor the birth of Jesus Christ by actually living His sacred message of sharing and sacrifice for others.
It starts with a question. Ask it first. Let it be answered. “Ask and you shall receive”
And boy, did we receive.
“May I buy your groceries?”