It started with a visit to Nissan. I was only there because it had looked like I had won a brand new 2016 Nissan Altima as claimed by their “instant win game” which landed in my mailbox. It was really a lure to get me to try and buy their older, preowned vehicles. I found I had gotten at least something out of this instant win game: a lottery ticket with a prize worth two bucks.
I go to a gas station to claim my winnings, and a man who I assumed to be a customer before me was there and seemed to be busy on his phone (he had a Bluetooth headset on) . The cashier asked for my ticket which I gave him, and the man in front of me asked me to step on over to the left of him. I could have sworn he was referring me to the leftmost side; not to his immediate left. Then he said, “No sir. To the left here. Geez man. You walk like you’re scared of me.” Finally spotting the prize redeeming opening in the cashier’s window marked “lottery,” I claimed my two bucks, but I couldn’t leave without (shyly) explaining my behavior to that man: “I thought you were referring me to that side.” He just said, “Yeah, whatever,” and I left.
Driving early to my event that Thursday, I thought, “Man, I really screwed that up.” Considering all that has recently been going on in the world with violence and hatred, maybe that partially explains my mannerisms. The rest of it can be explained just because of who I am; shy. Everyone from family to co-workers have always described me as shy. That’s why I especially get frustrated when people don’t seem to make an effort to get to know me.
Arriving at my destination, I walk into the chicken restaurant only to see that the rest of my crew (The ChristLife Men’s Group) wasn’t there yet. It didn’t look like I could just sit and wait inside, so I walked back out to my car.
As I walked back out to my car, I heard the argument. A woman had gotten a manicure done at the nail shop left of this chicken restaurant and apparently had no money to pay her bill. She argued with the store owner; a middle-aged Vietnamese (I was speculating) woman. That owner argued back (in a thick accent), “You have to pay for me. You have to pay for me.” I just continued on my way back to my car to sit and wait inside, not wanting any trouble.
With my seatbelt and car air conditioning on, that was the moment: that was when I heard the voice of Christ, speaking through my own conscience. He said, “You know, if I was in your shoes right now, I would not be here trying to sit and wait safely. You know where you are. You know you live in a neighborhood surrounded by several poor and less fortunate. I would be asking that store owner to pay that woman’s bill.”
I wanted to help, but my curse of shyness and occasional awkwardness was holding me back. I sat there, hesitant as the Lord continued to speak to me: “You say you always have money you are sitting on. This is an opportunity for you to use money well. You can afford to take the hit.” I was still hesitant. I thought to myself how common this was for me; wanting to help and wanting to do what’s right but allowing internal fear to hold me back. Every time I would hold back, I sensed the Lord in my own conscience sighing in disappointment. Time was running out, if I was still going to do this, it was now or never.
And then, led by the Spirit, I unfastened my seatbelt, slowly shut off my car, and exited my vehicle. I approached the scene which was still going, and stopped near the store owner. At first, I just awkwardly hovered there, listening to the argument and looking for an opportunity to ask my question. I glanced at the female customer and said to myself, “If I do this for you, I’ll also take the time to pray with you right here. You got that?”
I don’t remember what the shop owner said as my queue. Whatever it was, I responded by saying calmly, “How much does she owe?” I thought I heard the owner answer, “One, two, three dollar.” I asked for her to repeat and thought I heard the same thing, thinking she was trying to say 123 dollars, so I said, “123 dollars?” She answered, “150 dollars.”
And by reflex, out came my resolution to the problem: “Put it on my card!”
The owner was surprised. The customer, on her cell phone, said to whoever she had called that someone just volunteered to pay for her.
The owner thanked me for my kindness and asked, “Where do you work?” I told her where I worked, and that was when another woman came to say that she will partially pay for the service (55 dollars of it). I said to put the rest on my card. Going inside the shop, she first did the 55 dollar transaction for the woman that offered. When she got to my card though, the owner spoke with the other shop owner (her husband) about this act of kindness I was performing. It was then I could confirm they were Vietnamese (I have heard that language enough to distinguish it from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese).
Apparently, between both of these shop owners, to charge over a hundred dollars to my card was asking too much of them. The owner gave me back my card and told me she cannot take my money. She tried to explain how she and her husband would not feel right charging my card and to let it go.
I thought about how if I was in a supermarket, how terrible and guilty I would feel if I walked out without paying for a tangible item like a candy bar. To me, how true still for an intangible service. After a pause, I heard the Lord tell me, “It’s OK. Honor their wish.” Nodding and slowly accepting back my credit card, the owners thanked me and I left, saying to everyone inside, “God bless.”
This was an exercise of practicing true, authentic love. That is, willing the good of the other. The people I encountered in my travels were total strangers to me, but just like you and me, they too need love. Despite leaving the shop only to find the woman I would have prayed for was gone, I succeeded in somehow willing her good for no other reason other than the desire for her good.
This experience also taught me however that as we walk on the journey to give away true and authentic love, sometimes we fall. For me on that day, that was my experience with the man at the gas station. I had an opportunity to will his good, but he could see within me feelings of fear and anxiety. Though we are to expect opposition when we share and speak truth, we ought to face that opposition the same way Mother Teresa did; with a smile.
May this story inspire those who seek the love their heart evermore longs for. Love is not an easy journey, and we will stumble along the way. God will never stop granting us opportunities to try again though, and as we sharpen our will to sacrifice for one another, may be become more perfect as our Lord in heaven is perfect.