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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In Hot Water

I had just looked at my bank account and felt a momentary sense of peace and calm come upon me.  At this time of the year my thoughts begin to turn to the holidays that are coming and added spending that I will do.  I was contemplating how much money to put into my savings when my phone chimed with this text from one of my daughters:

“Not sure if you know this, but I just took a shower and the water was cold. I had the thing all the way turned over to hot because I was freezing and it was just warm not hot. I turned on the bathroom faucet all the way to hot and it was the same thing as the shower. Kitchen sink too. Saying this just to tell you not to worry you.”

This began a chain of events including finding the number to the utility company to see if someone could come and check on my water heater. This was Thursday, and I was told no one could help me until Sunday. I was prepared to tough it out for three days, but by evening I discovered a puddle of water around the tank that indicated it was leaking, so I called again and was told someone would be out by morning.  Amazing how when something leaks it gets quick attention.

A friendly and knowledgeable man showed up promptly the next day and informed me that a new water heater was in order.  Not really surprised, I spoke with a man in the service and parts department and was told the amount that I would have to come up with to cover the replacement. Because hot water is a necessary commodity, I gulped down my astonishment and gave the go ahead for the new item to be placed in my home.

By afternoon, two men had arrived armed with tools, a garden hose and other equipment that would suffice for the dismantling of the iron monster that had decided to spring a leak.  In less than an hour, I was signing papers and was being shown how to locate the pilot light.

While running errands later with my two girls, I found myself silently muttering over the cost that I had just been charged. I was not really fretting or all out worrying but just not comfortable with the idea of that much money flying the coup at once.  I didn’t dwell too long on this inward conversation with myself but made the conscious decision to forget it and move on.

The girls and I decided to go into a gas station for a fountain drink.  When I spied the cookies in the display case I said,

“Who wants a cookie to celebrate my new water heater?”

As the three of us were standing in front of the well stocked shelves someone coming in the door to my left caught my attention.  I thought he was standing behind us but found that he had gone into the aisle directly behind me.  When I turned to look at him, I saw his hand reach out to the candy bars and move toward his coat pocket.  He saw me looking at him and quickly put it back.  He moved on, and I turned my attention back to the cookies.

For some reason, I turned around again and noticed him reaching for the same item, and when he saw me looking, he threw it back again.  I noticed that his hands were jumpy and his movements were quick and nervous.  It dawned on me that I was witnessing a potential shoplifter.  I turned away again and felt I was to remain quiet and not confront him.  We have had a series of robberies occurring in gas stations where guns have been drawn.  With my two daughters beside me, I felt a calm knowing that I was not to cause any kind of disturbance.  I felt like I was being given a command to sit and stay.

As we picked out our selections, I heard a cellophane wrapper behind me.  I glanced back to see him making quite the show of getting a rice krispy bar.  I was still uncertain if he had put anything in his pockets, however.  He walked past me and our eyes met.  He shifted his away quickly as I watched him go up to the cashier.

I was conflicted as I stood in the next line over.  Had he really been stealing?  Why would a shoplifter be purchasing something if he had intended on not paying in the first place?  I took out my wallet and stood with it close to my face but peered over it so I could see what he was doing.  The cashier slumped across her register as he began patting himself down for loose change.  He emptied out his pants pockets but not his jacket.   I could have sworn I saw a king sized Reese’s candy bar go into his left coat pocket earlier.  I wondered when that would come out to show his thievery.

He glanced at me sideways.  He knew I was watching! I began examining my bank card closer.  In normal situations I would have offered to help him pay for whatever item he had, but I knew he was stealing and he knew that I knew! He threw his change on the counter and when the girl thanked him for it, he dashed for the door.  I stood in my line still wondering what he had taken that didn’t belong to him.

“I can help you over here,” she said.

I walked over to where he had been.  On the counter were his eye glasses, a screwdriver, a bag of fruit snacks and other items he had set down in his haste to find money in his pockets.  She looked down and said,

“Oh, no.  I should go get him.”

“No you shouldn’t,” I said.  “Was he having trouble paying for what he got?”

“Yes.”

“I believe he was stealing.  Let him come back himself.”

I went on to tell her what I had witnessed.

“Please don’t accuse him of it until you have proof though, ” I said.  “I didn’t want to say anything to him until I knew for sure.  I couldn’t tell.”

“I will review the video and see if he stole anything, and if he did, he will have to give all the items back if he wants his stuff back.”

Another lady wandered over who was an employee of the gas station.  She had overheard our conversation.

“I thought he was stealing earlier.  I saw him put an ice cream cup into his pocket, and I asked if I could help him.  He said no and put it back.”

When she said that, I knew that my observations were not wrong.  He had left in such a frantic hurry not to get caught that he left what little he owned spread all over the counter.  I paid for my items and decided not to wait around to see the outcome.

When I got home, and before moving on to my next task, I took a moment to soap up my hands with an antibacterial that promises the smell of fresh ocean breezes.  I turned the hot water on and made a huge lather between both hands.  I began sending up my praises for the use again of both faucets in my house.  No matter the cost, I am not to fear how I will pay.  A way is always made for me when I ask for help.  I wish the man in the gas station was aware of this power that is available to all.  It doesn’t have to be taken under cover, but it is given freely out in the open for anyone who asks.

If he only knew that circumstances could be different so he wouldn’t be in a gas station doing illegal acts that could eventually get him thrown into jail. What pressure to exist under knowing that at any moment he could be caught red handed.   I only feel sorrow for such a man who is living life in such hot water.

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