It happened at Aldi of all places. I was convicted. Broken. Softened. And humbled. I wept on the steering wheel as I drove away, and blinking through my tears to see the road, I prayed aloud and I cried to my Lord. How long it had been since I praised Him for His goodness, felt His constant presence and His grace so tangible, His provision always enough, and His strength the strength in my bones. I want to share this story with you, that perhaps you, too, may be encouraged by the power of God and rejoice with me in His perfect love for us.
I tend to be somewhat self-sufficient. I like to have things in order. And sometimes I am over-confident in my abilities. Especially since I’ve transitioned to a more independent season of life, I have managed more details and things have gone smoothly for the most part…until last week. My family was going to be coming back into town for a couple of weeks and I planned to get some groceries for all of us during their stay. Our fridge had nothing in it, of course, and the cupboards were pretty bare, so I needed to start from scratch and buy almost everything we needed. I enjoyed the challenge and soon had a lengthy and detailed list planned out, complete with condiments and instant coffee for our frappe recipe (you never know when that coffee urge will hit). I didn’t have much cash on hand for the purchase I would make, so I decided to pay with my debit card (Mom would pay me back later). No biggie, I’d done it before at the automotive shop and I’m sure I could do it at the grocery store as well. I transferred the money, made sure everything was in its place, and headed to the store.
Shopping was fun. I stuck to my list and enjoyed the change of shopping for lots of people instead of just for myself. My cart filled with colors as I added fruits and veggies, meats and eggs, and some snacks and baking ingredients. It was pretty full by the time I reached the checkout line, but I was sure I’d transferred enough money and could pay for it. As the checker read me my total – $109.04, I confidently swiped my card. And then it happened. The little machine asked for my pin number. And in surprised horror, I realized that I didn’t know what it was. In fact, I’d never had to use it before and there was no way I could remember it. My face burned with embarrassment and my mind raced desperately as I tried to decide what I was going to do. Mom and the boys were still traveling, Wesley was at work, and I needed to quickly make a decision. I told the checker about my situation and decided to call my bank and try to get the pin number from them. I pulled my cart and myself into the farthest corner of the building and, lowering my voice, made the call. They could do nothing to help me (which made sense after I thought about it later). But I was flustered and, not wanting to accept the reality that I couldn’t use my debit, I persisted several times, keeping my voice low and as quiet as possible. The woman’s voice on the other end got a little forceful and I knew that was the end of that. I said I would figure something else out and ended the call. My next plan was to pull together all the cash I had on hand. Grimly walking out to the car, I pooled every bit of green paper I had. As it turns out, I had a little extra from babysitting the night before. I had tried to turn down the payment, but they insisted on giving me the money, so I ended up putting it in my wallet that morning (thank you, Lord!). I also got out that little $20 bill all folded up in an obscure corner in my wallet for emergencies, as my mom taught me to do. I took everything from my gas money envelope. Holding my breath, I counted up the money and found myself short. $19 short to be exact. SURELY I had one more $20 bill somewhere! I dug through my backpack and thought desperately about where I could have stashed one. I wanted one so badly I could just SEE it and found myself getting frustrated. “Just one $20!” I said out loud. Just one! Why don’t I have one more twenty on me somewhere!? But there wasn’t one to be found. I was at the end of my resources. The very end. So I determined to do the only thing I could think of: to put $20 worth of groceries back. We didn’t need that big, lovely watermelon I’d so carefully chosen or the bag of chips or the cheese sticks. I slowly got out of my car and walked back to the store. People bustled all around me, busily packing their groceries, and glancing at me curiously. Boy, this was humbling. Never before had I found myself in such a needy, dependent, embarrassing situation. I was stressed and frustrated at myself for not being prepared.
As I crossed the busy line of checkers and customers and made my way to my cart, a middle-aged woman in a pink sweater caught my eye and nodded her head, motioning for me to come closer. I thought I was in her way at first and excused myself, but she said, “No, come here.” She looked at me and asked discretely, “can I help you?” I couldn’t say a word. “I heard you talking on the phone and I would like to help you if I can.” She held her wallet in her hands, her eyes full of compassion, and I knew exactly what she meant. As she spoke, a lump rose in my throat and I fought to hold back the tears. I was overwhelmed. I managed to tell her, “a 20 would be amazing.” She reached in her wallet and drew out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to me, asking “are you sure that’s all you need?” I told her yes, and thanked her with a trembly hug, making my way back to my cart through blurry tears. I counted up the money again. It was enough. As I got back in line, my heart was bursting to the seams. It was the same checker, and as I gave him that wad of cash, I smiled and told him I’ll be sure to memorize my pin number for future purchases. He gave me my receipt and I had exactly one dollar leftover. I left the store with everything on my list and everything in my cart.
I broke down (me, not the car, thank goodness) before I was even out of the parking lot. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep. Perhaps it was in anticipation of seeing my family again. Perhaps I was just feeling emotional that day. But I don’t think it was any of those things. Gently, oh so gently, the Lord convicted me and exposed my prideful, doubting heart. He provided in a way that I had never dreamed He would. Even when I didn’t think to ask Him because I couldn’t imagine how He could provide, He used a little woman in a pink sweater from Aldi to help me.
I realized that what He was teaching me went far beyond a $20 bill, a lady at the checkout, or a cart full of groceries. I realized that in reality my whole life is a picture of me standing at the checkout without my pin number. Even with everything I have, all my pooled resources, and an “I’ve got this” mentality, I am helpless. Needy. Dependent on the Lord for He grace: a constant supply of His free and unmerited favor and blessing.
Not having the money to pay for those groceries was God’s mercy towards me in disguise. He showed me my helplessness to show me His power. He reminded me that He sees. And He cares, even in the smallest of things. Indeed, if I can trust my great Savior with the weight of my soul and my eternal fate, how can I not trust that He is sovereign in every aspect of my life!? He won’t always give us what we think we need. Indeed, even if I had to put back $20 worth of groceries, I should have still been content and praised Him for all the things I could buy with the money I had. God reminded me that His faithfulness extends far beyond my own wisdom. I can trust Him because He knows. He sees. And He provides in His abundant grace and new mercies. As I neared home and turned onto our old familiar country road, I sang these words by Laura Story and praised my Savior for His mercies in disguise:
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?