Oh, how to tell this story....
Maybe we will start here: It was 8:40 this morning when we were pulling out of my driveway. (Pertinent background to this story: The school bell rings at 9am. It takes 10 minutes on a good day to get Roman to school from our driveway, and I was finally leaving early. Glory hallelujah. You see, I've been making far too many 9:03am drop-offs lately and the school is becoming unimpressed with me. The people-pleaser in me is melting into a small, defeated heap at my feet because of this. It's not for not trying. It's just that when three small humans are completely uninterested in getting out the door on time, the one big person who does care just can't win. And so the stress of getting to school on time has been major lately. But that's another story.) "Hooray!!! We did it!!!!" I championed. Don't worry, the victory only lasted long enough for me to look at the gas gauge. CRAP. Crapcrapcrap. I have 4 miles until my tank is empty, and the 7-11 is 3 miles away...and the opposite direction of school.
I plugged the route I would need to take into the gps. ETA: 8:54.
We. Can. Do. This.
Let's say that I drove according to the speed limit to the gas station, and after what seemed like an hour I pulled in beside the gas pump. I'm pretty sure the angels in heaven we singing along with me, but it could just have been the blood pounding in my ears. That's hard to tell. (I'd like to say that I am over-dramatizing for the sake of story telling, but when you are a performer/sensitive/musician, what you see is what you get, homie!!)
I reached to get my purse.....whiiiiiiiich wasn't there. It WAS currently sitting on the kitchen counter. Clearly it won't be getting points for being a team player today.
So let's review: I can drive approximately 1 mile until my car is out of gas, I HAVE to get my son to school without being late because repeating 1st grade isn't flattering for him or me, and I have no way to pay for gas. Not even a little bit of gas to eek out the drive to school and home. My hands go to my face. I put my head on the steering wheel, while the chorus "Mommy, what's wrong? Why are we sitting here?" is bouncing from child to child, and 'round again. "What am I going to do?" I whisper.
And so I walk into the store. There are two cashiers working, the manager who was in her 40's and a younger girl in her early 20's. And a gentleman standing at the register so he could buy some pastries. And so I recap the story and end with, "...so if I could just borrow $5 from someone right now so that I can get enough gas to get my son to school, I can pay you back in less than an hour! I just don't have it right now....because my purse is at home....you see?"
"I'm sorry, but by law the store just can't lend you money. You have to understand. It's a store. It's not me."
"Well, right. I get that....what I'm asking is if either of you might have $5 that I can borrow?"
The young one went to go tend to something on the other side of the store. The gentleman pretended he didn't hear me and fiddled with his danishes. That left the manager. She looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, hunny. I don't have it either."
I'd like to say I turned around, pushed my shoulders back, and fiercely determined to come up with Plan B. In reality, I stood there and cried.
The gentleman left. The cashier turned away.
And so I stood at the counter, still crying (ugh.).....and asking the Lord just how I was going to get my son to school. My son, who now was most certainly going to be late.
I approached the manager again: Can you brainstorm with me about ways we can be creative? I have my phone, which means I can get my bank account numbers and routing numbers. Can I maybe take out a money order and use that to pay for my gas? "Sorry, we sell money orders but we don't accept them as payment here. Do you maybe have someone close by that you can call?"
No. I live in the middle of nowhere and don't have any friends within a 20 minute drive from my house. Great, now I feel all alone on top of it all.
More tears. Hide me now. "Okay, but the thing is, I HAVE TO GET MY SON TO SCHOOL SOMEHOW. And I literally can't leave this gas station without some gas in my tank. I'm talking $5. Is there any other option you can think of?"
She leaves and walks over to a gentleman- I'm guessing a repairman or something, since he is in coveralls. They talk like they might know each other, and then she comes back to me. "That gentleman is going to cover your $5 to get gas. You just need to wait for him to pay."
So I walked over to the gentleman and thanked him with every ounce of heart I have in my body. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I just.....THANK YOU."
Don't worry about it, ma'am. (I'm a MA'AM?! Ew.) Just do it for someone else some day."
So I put the $5 of gas into my tank and hop into the drivers seat. We pull out of the 7-11, and I start full-on sobbing while I'm driving. Apparently, for those of us whose eyes are total betrayers, a few desperate sobs and an endless stream of silent tears isn't entirely fulfilling. I'm so glad that my eyeballs are overachievers! And it's entirely possible that my oldest son will have to go through counseling, because this was the first time he has witnessed his mother's soft heart, and he was so distraught. "Mommy, why are you crying?? What's wrong?? When I get home from school I am going to snuggle you for a long time." Sweet boy. You fix sad/angry/embarrassed hearts so well.
Finally, we pull into the school. Roman has a 9:10 check in. That's the worst I have ever had and the office ladies won't even meet my eyes. Really, though, that's okay.....I probably look like I'm tripping on drugs, what with my watery eyes and red, swollen face and all. I'm so glad I didn't put on makeup this morning. You know...since I didn't think I was going to have to get out of the car because we were leaving early. Sure. That worked for me! (enter "raise the roof" emoji here)
So, on the drive home, I found myself bouncing between the embarrassment of having to beg for gas money; the anger that it took FOUR PEOPLE until I could find someone willing to let me have $5 for gas; and the feelings of gratitude and inspiration at the man's generosity and challenge to pass it on.
But about the whole "it took four people" thing....this is what I have learned, by my ripe old age of 33: it's my responsibility to take people at their word. I'm not accountable for their honesty or their lies. I'm responsible for my response to their words. That has freed me from so much. If friends say there is no offense, I get to function as if that is entirely true. AND SO if someone says they don't have $5, I have to hold them to it, and believe that it is true. And assuming it is true?!?! What if I just came face-to-face with two women (I can't track down pastry man) who were living so tight that they genuinely didn't have $5 to spare.
I have been there. I have had a negative balance in my bank account and still had over a week to get through until payday. And not just once, either. I have had to live on credit cards because we switched from military to civilian world and the jobs didn't overlap. And let me tell you, those are some of the most scary, stressful, terrifying days I have lived through. And the Lord has been so generous with us..... overwhelmingly so. Life lesson I have learned #2: I have it so that I can give it. My home, my money, my time....it's mine so that I can give it to those who don't have it. If you know me, you know that is one the things I am most passionate about. Partly because I have lived through seasons where I didn't have those things. Mostly because that's what the Lord has put on my heart and I take Him seriously.
And because of this morning, I now have the opportunity to help two people in that position. And so let's do it! But first, makeup.
Listen. I'm still Lauren.
So after a quick trip home to grab that slacker-of-a-purse and apply some eyebrows, we head to the gas station to get some unleaded and use the ATM. Gas? Check. ATM? Out of order. "Okay, maybe I just won't stick to the plan. I would have to drive 7 more minutes in the opposite direction of home to get the cash, then I would have to go back to the store. You know, they might not even still be working. No one would ever know I didn't. I have my gas......no. I can make the world better than I found it. I believe in that. I'm called to be the Light.
(Golly, how long can this story get?!?! Are you even still here?)
So anyway, I go get the money and come back to the store. I wait until the two cars that were there leave so that our exchange can be private. The younger girl was at the register when I walked in and she smiled shyly to me. "Listen," I say. "I know you weren't in the position to lend me $5 today, and I just wanted to tell you that I've been there. I know what that's like and it's really, really hard. And so I just wanted to give you this and hopefully relieve some of your stress. And I'd really love if you would hold on to $5 of that and keep it folded in your wallet so that the next time someone comes in who just needs $5 to get home can have it. I kind of promised the guy I would pay it forward, and the best way I can figure it, this is the way to do it."
"Oh my god. I knew it. I KNEW IT!!! I had $5, and I could have given it to you. I even go to church and I knew God was telling me to give it to you but I just didn't it. I'm so fu%*& selfish!!! I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Now she's the one crying. "Here, just take it back. Wait, wha-! How many bills are here?! Take it!!! This is way more than $5!!!! TAKE IT!"
"No way. Keep it. Just pay it forward."
Then she tells me that the gentleman from this morning was taking too long to pay, and her manager knew I had to get my son to school, so she ended up paying for my gas. I'm so glad she is still there. So I find the manager and explain it all again. Now there are three girls crying! (Look, sometimes when girls cry it's annoying, I guess, but other times it's bonding and this was girl bonding time at its best. There was hugging, there was laughing...) And I'm pretty sure the manager gave me what she didn't have to spare this morning, based on her response.
And so what began as one of the worst days I have had in a very long time found itself at noon, having become one of the very best days I have had lately. That's what God can do with our junk.
So that's the story.....
Why did I write it? Well, I guess because I am still heartbroken and rightly-angry that it took me four people to find one who would give a strange, disheveled mom $5 for gas. And I was pretty convinced that this world is a great place. And I still believe that it is, but maybe it's also more scared or hard-up than I had considered. So this post is still part of my paying it forward. It's my request that we all carry an extra $5 in our wallets for the person who needs it. It's my request that we all challenge ourselves to be brave enough to engage the person who is having a hard day without judging why they might need the money or why they might be dropping their kid off late (Or some other version of what seems like poor parenting to those who have zero clue what the story is that lead up to the moment you just witnessed.) We can do better.
We have to do better.
Because here is what I know: Most of us have $5 to give to the homeless person or enough food in our fridge to bring a meal to someone who needs one less task to do that night. But often, instead of giving money to the guy on the street, we tell ourselves that he's just going to buy drugs with it and we look away or tell him we don't have any money. But here's the thing- that's not your job to worry about. That's on them. (And hello- maybe he won't!) YOUR job is to be generous with what you have. That's the measuring stick you get held up to.
And it's not your job to decide that it's someone's fault that they are so stressed and exhausted lately. It's your opportunity to show some love and just bring them dinner. Just make a bigger dinner than your family needs and drop off half of it. It's easy.
You just do it. Because you might need $5 some day. Or you might need a dinner. Because hard days hit us all.
We need to stop just giving what we get. It's our job to leave this world BETTER than we find it.
So do me a favor and slip a $5 in your wallet, and keep it folded for the next person who needs it, okay. And if you could really use $5 today....it's okay to cry about it.
I cried with you.