Watched Over

Throughout the years, I have tried to heal my relationship issues with money. I have attempted to keep gratitude journals where I have been known to write: Nothing bad happened today.

I saw this as a good thing to be thankful for, as simple as it was.

Another thing I did was I started writing thank you on the back of every payment I sent out. It reminded me I was paying someone’s wage to help them afford their mortgage or meals for their kids. I even sent my regards to the IRS when I mailed in my quarterly estimated taxes. I drew a smile on the envelope to add to the positivity. Did I mean it? I am not sure, but they say if you do the action, the feelings might show up later.

I have done money drops where I would take cash and encouraging notes and place them for the unsuspecting to find. I stuffed them into diaper boxes at the store, left them in bathroom stalls at the airport and in books at the library.

While all that was fun, it still didn’t do much to reverse this lack mindset that had been ingrained in me since childhood, where money was the root of all evil. If anything good came my way, it was pure luck and not to expect anything.

I recall at age seven opening a birthday card with money and saying to my mom in front of a relative,

“You can’t use this for new socks this time!”

I was catching on to what the green bills meant and how they were being taken away from me. I remember she looked slightly embarrassed. I was always challenging her frugal approach to life. Something inside of me knew that her view of things was slightly off.

When she was making her grocery list one day, I said I wanted something.

“It’s not on my list, Chris.”

She had her head down, writing out this massive novel of needed items. I didn’t understand the tight rope she was on trying to make it all work. I was tired of this worn out answer she always gave me.

“Just put it on your list,” I said, thinking this was the most brilliant idea that she had never thought of.

She looked at me and started laughing. That was not the response I was hoping for, so I one-upped her and scribbled out what I wanted onto her overloaded piece of paper when she left it unattended.

“Here,” she said to my shock while she handed me the item after she returned from the store. She hid her list after that.

If I had holes in my clothes, which was inevitable because they were never new, she would stitch them or put a patch on them. She taught me to wear something until it literally fell off my body and was paper-thin from the wash.

The message was continually sent that we could not afford anything, so get used to it. After years of that, it’s no wonder I have struggled to believe I could have it better.

Having a divorce thrown in on top of that didn’t help either, which only took my uncertainty up a notch.

At the same time, I picked up on the idea to give away things to help others. My street is busy, so if I need to get rid of anything, I set it out at night, and it disappears by dawn. I have had people come to my door asking if I meant for the items to be free because they are in good shape. I have given away tables, children’s items, and everything else under the sun. Someone always needs it more than I do.

The other day I cleaned my room and came across yet another experiment that I tried in 2014. I decided to write down every good thing that happened to me for the year and placed the notes in a jar.

When I read through them, I could still see that part of me was wanting to believe that what I learned as a kid wasn’t true. I realized the progress I had made between then and now, which that in itself is worth it.

And I discovered something else. God has been faithful. Even during the most challenging times, I still never got down to my last dime, even though I sometimes skated close to that. I always had ideas come to me on how to manage, and multiple people stepped in at times to save the day unknowingly.

I wrote everything, including the tiniest detail, like finding $2 at the mall. As I have let God cure me of my money trauma, the worries have faded, and I can handle the unexpected a lot better than I used to.

At one time, if I got a bill in the mail, I would obsess over it so much that I would miss out on something more substantial, like a daughter’s birthday. I would be present in the body, but my mind was whirling, figuring out how to meet that obligation. The first time I realized I wasn’t doing that anymore was a significant milestone for me.

And where did all that fretting get me? Nowhere. I wish I had known this verse from 2 Corinthians 9:8:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NLT)

I cannot overlook the fact that this was passed down to me from someone I trusted and was looking to for answers about life. So, if you are acting like this, your children are watching and will repeat your mistakes. That was a huge reason for me to correct this in myself because I don’t want my girls to be mentally tormented as I have been.

One day in the middle of the pasta aisle, my youngest daughter couldn’t take it anymore.

“Get the organic one.”

“It’s more expensive.”

“It’s a quarter more! Get it! It’s better for us than the other one!”

I held each jar. She was sending lasers with her eyes and I knew I wasn’t going home with the cheaper one. My final fight with her was over cheese, and I said,

“You know what? I am no longer at the age where I can waste my time arguing with someone over dairy products, so fine! I will get the one you want me to, and move on!”

That started me on a new road to buying healthier options.

I used to try to skimp by on everything as much as I could. God met me in that place and provided because that is how it works. I don’t do that anymore, but if something comes along that I know has been discounted to make me feel heaven’s presence, that’s another story.

Today, my friend had breast cancer surgery. It was particularly tough because her fiance, Dan, went on to heaven last winter. He had cancer for nine years and had defied all odds. He often nudges me to buy her orange flowers, and anytime I bring them to her, she has always prayed and asked for them as a sign that he is near.

I went into the store and had that persistent thought to get flowers from her heavenly husband. I knew what color they had to be, but I didn’t know if they would have any. I had made up my mind to get her a bunch, and I didn’t care what the cost was.

In the floral department, I found three big bouquets set apart from all the rest. Of course, and he never makes me guess but always directs me to them. I thought I saw a clearance price, but I wasn’t sure, so they rang up really low when I ran them through the self-checkout.

“Is this right?” I asked the employee standing nearby.

“Yes, we got a big over shipment of flowers that we had to sell. Those are really pretty.”

A blessing had found me when I least expected it.

I spent next to nothing for them when I was prepared to empty my bank account to ensure she knew how much she is watched over.

Best Deal

His voice boomed through the store,

“Chris! Get ten of them!”

He wasn’t even in the same aisle that I was in, but he was so tall that I could almost see his head above the highest shelf.

“Stop putting stuff back! Get what you need, I mean it!”

“I don’t know if I need this many, though.”

“Christine! Get them!” He had used my full name, so that meant he was serious.

This was during a tough time financially for me. My divorce had not been finalized; there was no child support, so I was living off of fumes, and when he caught wind of it, he insisted on taking me to buy groceries. I had resisted the idea but had given in due to his persistence.

“I want you to get what you need. If there is a sale, take it and stop putting things back.”

I had a hard time doing what he said because I knew he was going through his own problems.

He had wandered off into another part of the store, so he couldn’t even see what I was doing as I took a couple of things, put things back, looked at prices, and kept telling myself to limit what I was getting. I was used to cutting coupons and strictly following a budget, and this craziness of just throwing things in the cart was foreign to me.

As I continued not to listen to his directions from afar, he repeated it as if he could see me, but I knew he couldn’t.

“Christine..get that! Stop putting things back!”

A lady next to me looked at me funny.

“Is he with you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“How can he see you?”

“I don’t know. He just can, I guess.”

She frowned and moved on quickly.

I went to the next section, and he came around the corner.

“You are still not doing it the way I told you to? You have nothing! Get back in that aisle, and get some things you need!”

He took control of the cart and landed himself back to where I had been.

“Look at this! You can get ten of these. You only took two! What are you doing? Get them!”

He did this through the entire store.

“What about this? Do you need any of these?”

“Yes, but..”

A vast handful went in, and we moved on.

“That’s so many..I…”

“I don’t want to hear any of your excuses. You have a poverty mentality, and God wants to heal you of that. You deserve things, Chris. God wants to show you that you will be supplied with what you need. Always.”

I wasn’t accustomed to his renegade-type approach to life because I was more of a keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best kind of faith back then.

He quickly piled in items as I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen to me.

“Just thank me for it, and that’s it. Don’t say anything else.”

He held up a box of cereal.

“What about this?”

“I am not sure…”

“Do your kids eat these?”

“I think so, but…”

He took his arms in a hug-like fashion and dumped in a bunch.

“That’s what I want you to do. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! Stop looking at the prices and thinking I can’t afford it. I am doing this because God told me to help you. So, quit fighting it.”

There were so many other customers around us, and they had to think we were having a domestic right there. A towering man was loudly barking orders and demanding that I buy things. Isn’t it usually the other way around?

“God can do anything, Chris. Now get stuff!”

The minute I would hold something in my hand and barely glance at it, he would pluck it away, grab fifteen more, and say,

“Those are yours now.”

When he went to pay, he acted like it wasn’t enough.

“Look at all this, and that’s all it came to. What are you so worried about? Do you want to go get more?”

“No! Please, no!”

I couldn’t take any more of his generosity. I thought it was nice and all, but I couldn’t mentally deal with it. I was not used to this because I felt that life had to be difficult, and the things I needed or wanted had to be challenging to obtain.

“Thank you,” I said once we were in the parking lot.

“You have to get over limiting God and what can be done for you. You are stopping the blessings from coming into your life.”

A few months later, he asked me if I wanted to go on a treasure hunt with him and some church members. He was clinging to God, trying to clean up a very messy split from his wife. He had children with whom he had no visitations and a whole host of things coming at him that would have made most people give up on believing in anything good.

I said I would attend, but I was a little in the dark about what this was. We were handed a pen, a piece of paper and told to sit quietly in a part of the church where no one else would speak to us. The instruction was given to pray and ask for words to write down.

This exercise was meant to strengthen our spiritual hearing and build our confidence in genuine, live faith. I had various words go through my mind, so I wrote them down.

“Now that you have your clues, we are going to go to the mall and look for what you wrote down. God will lead you to people who need prayer.”

Huh? I had to talk to people now? I looked at my list. Chapel, housekeeper, mop, coin, an American flag, water fountain, and a red shirt were what made up most of my list.

It was a Saturday, so the place was packed with shoppers. This wasn’t just any spot; it was the Mall of America which had thousands of people streaming in from all over. Of course, he had to pick the most massive collection of humanity possible. His go big or go home attitude was in everything he was doing.

The group split up once we all arrived. The minute I walked through the double doors, I saw her. Unbelievable as it was, I saw her pushing a heavy housekeeping cart. I glanced down at the words I had written. Oh, no! It was happening so fast!

How could this be? I tried to tell myself that she was busy. Maybe I shouldn’t interfere with her work because I am sure there were many messes to attend to. I was so thankful that my friend wasn’t with me because he would have grabbed my arm and dragged me over.

I observed for a minute. She stopped and started to rearrange the garbage bags, her spray bottles, and then she did something that ended up propelling me forward. She wrung out her mop! Red shirt, mop, housekeeper….it was all there.

I walked over to her and saw that she was standing right by a chapel! I could not believe it! It’s a place that is set up for quick marriages. I knew it existed, but I had never seen it.

To start the conversation, I said,

“What do you think of places like that? Have you ever seen anyone get married in there?”

I was grasping for anything I could think of to say.

“Oh, sure. I clean in there sometimes, and it’s not as bad as you might think.”

She continued to wring out her mop. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff with absolutely no safety net.

“So, I have a question for you.”

“Yes,” she said, not looking up.

“Do you have anything that you need prayer for? I think God sent me to you.”

She stopped what she was doing and made eye contact. I prepared myself for a considerable slap down. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness coming to my door and asking me if I had ever read the Bible. I was always kind to them, but some don’t treat others that way, especially if they have been abused in churches or have a bad relationship with God. She could have been an atheist for all I knew. This was too personal and up close for me.

She leaned against the mop handle.

“I need God to help me see the goodness in people again. I have been through a lot, and I don’t trust people anymore.”

“I don’t either at times,” I said. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

“I work here, and I do my best. But, I feel like there is more out there for me. My family isn’t kind to me, and I feel like something is missing in my life.”

“Let me show you something,” I said. I pointed out the words that I had written down that matched up exactly to her.

She started to cry.

“I have felt so alone. And now you are here telling me that I am not, and I know God hasn’t given up on me.”

“I don’t think so. There are many promises that say we aren’t ever abandoned.”

She grabbed my hands and said,

“Please pray for me.” This was now getting easier by the second.

And right there, in the busiest place in America, I asked God to restore her faith in humanity and to show her what her purpose was.

When she opened her eyes, with tears streaming down her face, she thanked me.

“I need to do more with my life. I know there is a church by my house that I think I need to go volunteer at and start living again.”

I took a deep breath when I left her. That was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life! I had convinced myself I would be so wrong, but God showed me that I could hear pretty clearly.

I kept thinking I was to find the water fountain. Now that I had been given a slight win with the first attempt, my fear wasn’t as high. I sat near the cascading water; I saw a woman sit down, looking tired.

Was this who I was supposed to help? I only had three vague clues left to go on, so I moved closer but not enough to have her see me. A coin was directly behind her in the water, and someone had thrown in a lapel pin that had an American Flag on it.
Yep, this was it.

I was back to square one emotionally, with terror ripping through me. I decided to throw all caution to the wind and start a conversation.

“It is so busy today, and I try not to show up here on Saturdays.”

“I had to sit down. My arthritis is acting up.”

She held up her hands so I could see them.

“It starts to hurt in my hands and feet.”

“Would you want me to pray for you? I know that sounds strange, but I can if you want…”

Before I even finished my sentence, she grabbed both of my hands.

“Yes. I would like that.”

Her eyes slammed shut like this was the most normal thing to do by the water fountain in the mall, surrounded by swarming masses.

I leaned in closer to her so she could hear me over all the noise. I felt a warmth flow from my hands into hers, and I felt her relax. She sighed and began to smile.

“I feel so much better now. Thank you,” she said.

After that day, I went on a few more treasure hunts with him and his group. It became more manageable, and I was so surprised how I was led to the right person each time. I never had anyone turn me away who I was supposed to approach.

All of this brought to life this scripture for me found in 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are God’s chosen treasure…”(TPT)

I still heard from him from time to time, and I know he got married. A couple of months ago, I was at an outdoor event that was packed with people. My daughter stopped to talk to someone she knew, and I looked up. And he was right there.

“Hey! Chris!” That booming voice.

“I can’t believe it’s you! Out of all these people!”

He said his wife was waiting for him across the street, and I had to keep moving with the group I was with. He said he would call me and get caught up.

I got word the other day that he is sedated, on a ventilator, and fighting for his life. There are no visitors allowed, and I wish I had lingered with him longer the last time we ran into each other. I hate regrets like that where you want to rewind the clock.

No matter the outcome, I know he will be where God wants him, and he won’t pass up on the best deal.

Free For All

I carefully placed my coupons on top of my purse as I pushed my cart through the store. My list seemed longer than normal.  The uneasy feelings were always the same.  I would begin to feel scared in the parking lot and by the time I made it to the cashier with my groceries, my anxiety about spending too much of the family budget would be at an all time high.   It was a torture session I endured every week.  It wasn’t that the money was not there.  It was my false belief that I was living in scarcity.

On this particular day, I found myself getting angry about the fact that I was going through this again. I wanted to rid myself of it.  As I grabbed cans of generic items, I began to count my blessings.  I had a house.  I had a bed.  I never was short on food.  My bills were all paid. And just to prove to myself that my thinking was out of line, I decided to start placing things in my cart that were not on my list with the full intention of giving it all away to the local food shelf.

I began to feel my mood shift as I joyfully went along picking and choosing products with the sole intention of blessing others.  My trip had now taken on a new meaning that took the attention off of my worries and replaced them with the idea of helping someone else.

While I stood in the checkout line, I noticed the couple in front of me.  They had a rather large order for themselves and were struggling to keep two small children occupied.  The husband stood at the end of the belt slowly bagging up their purchases as his wife handed over food stamps.

“Some of these items are not eligible,” the cashier said to the woman.

“Oh.  Which ones?”

I found myself tuning it out and started glancing at the magazine covers around me.  When it was my turn to move up, I saw that the situation must have been resolved.

She began sliding my items over the sensor and sending them down the belt next to the family ahead of me.  They were still in the midst of getting their groceries into the cart.  I was trying to stay calm, and often at this stage, I would ‘zone’ out to block out the ‘beep’ ‘beep’ ‘beep’ of the racking up of a bill.

“Excuse me,” I said to the couple as I wheeled my cart by them.  For a few moments, I was able to put items into bags until the cashier said,

“I have your total.”

I left my cart unattended to pay. Once I was done, the family of four had departed so I had more room to finish up my task.

When I arrived home, I began unloading my purchases onto the kitchen table.  I realized I had not segregated out my donations.  As I looked through what I had spread out on the table and the counter, I could not locate what I was looking for.

I walked back out to my car to see if anything had been accidentally left in the trunk.  I found that I had removed everything.   I took a closer look and discovered that not only had my food shelf items gone missing but a couple other things were not to be found as well.  An inexpensive package of toothpaste and a much needed bottle of cheap toilet bowl cleaner were among the missing.

As I stood puzzled wondering what had happened, the family of four flashed through my mind.  I had left my groceries next to their belt with just enough time for either adult to take what he or she might need to steal.

Grabbing my receipt and car keys I went back to the store to replace the stolen merchandise that I needed.

By the time I returned, the store was nearly empty but the same cashier was working the same lane.

“I think the people ahead of me took some items that didn’t belong to them.”

“They did?”

“Were they paying with food stamps?”

“Yes,” she said recalling the moment.

“Did they have trouble paying?”

“Yes.”

“I have items missing.”

“Did they do the five finger discount?”

“Well, I think they decided to take what was mine and made it theirs.  The funny thing is that they took most of the items I was going to give away to the food shelf.”

There was an absolute moment of silence until she and I started laughing.

“So, they stole food shelf items before I could donate them.  They just saved me a trip.”   This brought us to another round of laughter that made our eyes well up with tears.

I do not condone thievery, and I wish to this day that I would have paid attention to what was going on around me.  Yet, at the same time, I thought how pitiful it was that someone had to nab and grab to just get by in life.  And, somehow, I had mentally brought myself to the level of thinking that I was living in poverty.  Far from it.  I discovered that I was in a class much different than what I was envisioning over my life.

In times when I have feared the worst or imagined some catastrophe coming upon me, I often hear that still small voice whisper to me.  And, if I slow down, breath, and listen, I am drawn in by a peace that is free for all.

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Common Cents

It had been a long afternoon discussing my options with the realtor. I was considering relocating to a townhouse, and we had spent a few hours going over finances that seemed like a game of Monopoly.  Numbers ran around in my head as I tried to figure on paper how all of it was going to work out in my favor.  After we parted, I had to run an errand, and I discovered that my gas tank was in need of fuel. I began the process of trying to decide which station to go to since there is not a shortage of choices in my neighborhood.  I had to make up my mind quickly, however, because the orange ‘out of gas’ light was shining brightly.  Not wanting  to drive down to my last fume, I turned on my blinker and abruptly made a right turn into a place that I generally didn’t frequent.

After pumping my car to full, I decided to reward myself with a cappuccino.  Even though it was the dead middle of summer with August temperatures soaring into the 90s, the frothy warm substance in a cup sounded inviting.   The addiction was in the beginning stages and there was just no fighting it.  On my way in, a man in a dirty white shirt opened the door for me.

“Thank you,” I said.

His brown eyes matched his long single braid that went down the entire length of his back.  I headed straight for the cappuccino machine to contemplate which size coffee I deserved after enduring all that talk of money.  I went about my customary tasks including a walk to the ice machine to fill up my empty cup because I didn’t want to wait for my drink to cool down on its own.  During all of this, my thoughts were on my meeting earlier and how much I could afford to spend to live in a new place.  As I held my ice filled cup under the vanilla hazelnut version of my affection,  I overheard,

“I need a quarter for that.”  There was a long pause without any response that I could hear.  Followed by the same woman saying,

“You cannot have a cup of ice water without giving me a quarter.”

I put the lid on my purchase and walked to the front of the store.  There I saw the man who had held the door for me being confronted by the cashier.

Now that I was behind him, I noticed the softness of his voice.

“I need a cup of water.”

“You can have water in the fountain over there,” she said pointing in the direction of the bathrooms.  I saw him drop his head.

I took better notice of him.  Filthy fingernails, unclean pants, worn shoes.

“It is so hot outside. I would like to take a cup of ice water with me.”

“Then give me a quarter,” she snapped.  She looked at me and rolled her eyes as if she assumed I was on her side against him.

“I don’t have a quarter,” he said again almost inaudibly.   I noticed the extra change sitting right by her register but she made no move to offer him any.

“Then go get a drink at the fountain!”

I don’t know what bothered me more.  Was it her callous nature or his down and out posture?  Just to make sure we all knew what side I was on, I said,

“Here.  I know I must have an extra quarter in here somewhere.”   I put down my cup and jostled around in my purse and unearthed my last quarter.

He looked me straight in the eye and quietly said,

“Thank you,” with a vibrant smile.  Such a small amount had brought him relief, and he asked me for nothing more.

Once he was out of the range of our conversation, I said to her,

“Does he get a straw too? Or will that cost extra?” I am not sure if she picked up on the angry undertone to my question, but I was checking to be sure she wouldn’t accuse him of stealing next.

As she rang up my coffee, and he was headed for the exit, he raised his cup to me with a word of thanks.  I smiled and told him to keep himself cool in the heat.

“He could have gotten a drink at the fountain for free,” she snapped.

“But, he wouldn’t have been able to take it with him.  It is hot out there today. ” I gave her a great chance to examine her approach to life.   She gave me a curt and customary thanks for my patronage and turned her back to me.

I guess I was dismissed.

I got into my car and turned on the air conditioning full blast as I sipped on my hot beverage.  A surge of gratitude hit at that minute while I sat in the parking lot.  I had drove in moments before, fretting over my financial situation and thinking how poverty stricken my life seemed, and now with great clarity I could see how well taken care of I was.  I wasn’t wandering the streets looking for a cup of ice water and not able to buy it for a quarter.  I had a bed to sleep in, a bathroom, clean clothes, a bank account with money and the ability to transport myself all over town.  My point of view of myself had changed rapidly.

I was left to wonder why the lady behind the counter was so hard hearted. Did she have to deal with this all the time during her shift and she had lost her compassion?  No one must have ever let her in on a small but powerful secret:  A generous person will prosper, whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

It is never a mistake to help those who genuinely need it. It puts life into better perspective, and makes one grateful for every possession great and small.   All of that just adds up to good common cents.  (yes, I know how to really spell it)

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