We stood in line, reviewing the overhead menu.
“You have two dollars apiece,” I admonished my kids, “so plan accordingly.”
Yes, I was a doctor’s wife and could afford to buy more if they wanted it, but I had one child in particular who loved Taco Bell so fiercely he could easily spend twenty dollars on his meal alone, plus I felt the need to teach budgeting and self-restraint. This was back in the days when you could purchase a burrito for fifty-nine cents, so my two dollars was cash a plenty for a ten-year-old boy.
“Please, Mom,” My boy hemmed and hawed, wishing for the most expensive items, and desert on top. “Just this once, I reeeally want to try the Mexican Pizza.”
“What about that?” He pointed to a picture of a thick taco overflowing with abundant meat, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream.
“That’s even more.”
“But, Mom…” He practically got down on his knees. He wanted those tantalizing items in the pictures so badly. To say he loved Taco Bell was an understatement. Despite me having to take in the waist on all his jeans, this ten-year-old kid could eat seven or eight burritos in one sitting and still ask for more.
“Two dollars apiece.” I held to my guns.
I had the philosophy that my children might end up working a mid to low-income job if that was their calling, and it was my responsibility to teach them how to live contentedly within their means. Just because they were doctor’s kids didn’t mean they had to live as spoiled rich kids.
“Aw, man.” His shoulders slumped in defeat as he finally conceded, requesting his usual, which consisted of however many burritos he could get for his money. The other kids, not as obsessed with stuffing themselves with that particular type of food, gave me their orders without making a scene.
As I proceeded to the counter, list in hand, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.
I looked up to see a kindly woman standing beside me. She had one hand on my shoulder and the other holding a ten-dollar bill.
“Here,” she said, extending the ten-dollars in my direction with a smile in her voice that matched the one on her face. “Get the kids more food.”
“No, I couldn’t take your money,” I tried to decline.
She pressed the bill into my hand, folding my fingers around it.
“Really, he’s fine. We have enough.” I tried to return the cash, but she waved it away.
“Just take it and get the kids what they want.”
How could I explain to this complete stranger, who was obviously taking great pleasure in feeding my “poor starving children,” that I had plenty to spend if I wanted to? It’s just I was too budget conscious to get whatever they asked for. Maybe stingy was a better word for it, but I don’t think so. As the color rose in my face, my mortification rose with it. I watched her smile at my children and saw my son’s eager eyes. If I explained further, would I embarrass her? What was the right thing to do?
I swallowed. Hard. Took a deep breath and returned the smile.
“Thank you,” I said. I was thankful for her kindness, even if it was awkward. Well, maybe more than a bit. My pride was having a full on debate in my head.
“You kids need to say thank you. Looks like all of you can get some extra today.”
It’s been too long to remember, but I suspect my son got his Mexican Pizza, and the others ended up with Cinnamon Twists or chips and cheese dip. Those were the kind of things reserved for special occasions. My meal came along with a large slice of humble pie, which, incidentally, goes well with any menu.
Knowing me, the meal also included a discussion on contentedness, generosity, and thankfulness. Since I believed in being open with my reasons for doing things, we probably talked about what was more important: my sticking to my guns, or letting a stranger keep the joy she obviously had at providing a meal for a “hungry family.” We didn’t need help. She gave out of the kindness of her heart, and I didn’t have the heart to make her feel dumb.
I’m sure my son heartily agreed that not embarrassing our beneficiary was more important than me sticking to my guns. Still, a lesson was learned. I don’t recall him loudly begging for denied items while we stood at the counter after that, although I’m sure my memory must be faulty and missed a lapse or two.
I think of that woman every time I stand at the Taco Bell counter, even though nineteen years have passed since that day. I don’t remember her face, but I will never forget her kindness. Remembering, I still feel a bit embarrassed. (There’s that pesky pride nudging its elbow in my face.) Every time I think of her, I’m touched. She must have loved the Lord well, to reach out to us so readily. I have much to learn from her.
God doesn’t need our stuff, our money, our talents. Yet He asks us to give to Him out of the abundance of our hearts. I can’t imagine He would be embarrassed and wave away the meager gifts I hand Him. He joyfully takes what we offer and in return blesses in far greater ways than our giving deserves.
To the lady who gave to me so many years ago, I want to say, “Thank you again, and I hope God has blessed you abundantly.”
I hope she lived to smile many more days.
Have you ever received a gift from a stranger? What was that like?