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On Wednesday morning I had the opportunity {through a weekly women’s group I attend called Sisters} to listen to a speaker I really admire. The speaker was Lizzy Milani and every time she speaks I choose to sit up and listen. She oozes wisdom and couples it with great wit which always keeps my attention. Her messages are well thought out and her attention to detail is definitely appreciated. This particular message was about Kindness and in her message she weaved in a story that she had read on a blog and I was quickly reminded of a story I had written and a time where I was touched deeply.


 

I decided it was time to dust this story off and share it again. It’s timeless and if anything, perhaps a simple reminder to myself that Everyone Has a Story. I hope you enjoy!

Everyone Has a Story

(initial publish January 14, 2010)

As promised, here is the story I mentioned on today’s radio show. It is a story that has made its way around the globe. Why? Because we all desire wholeness in our lives and I think all of us can see a piece of ourselves in these events. After sharing my experience I was asked to write my story out so it could be shared with friends and family. I hope it makes its way into the right places.

The story is simply about a day in my life. A day that I know will stay with me forever.

I was at the supermarket doing my weekly shop. Normally, I am a very interactive shopper. I like to know what’s going on around me and I truly enjoy the supermarket experience I go down every aisle I guess I just like to have a ‘look see’ and it is a time and space in a busy day to simply roam perhaps a little aimlessly. However, on this particular day things were slightly different for me, I was extremely focused on the job at hand. We had friends coming over for dinner and I was stepping outside of my culinary safety box and cooking something new. So, with cookbook in hand I was charging through the shops focussing on my recipe and my trolley rather than greeting my fellow shoppers with a friendly ‘hello’ and a smile.

After making tracks through the supermarket I made it to the checkout and began to place my purchases on the sliding belt. As the cashier scanned each item I felt a sense of satisfaction, knowing I had found almost everything I needed, I had completed my shop in record time which meant time for a relaxing coffee before the cooking began. I stood patiently, waiting for my transaction to end, all the while smiling politely at the physically challenged man who was doing his best to pack my groceries. Whilst I was at the checkout and daydreaming about my coffee, smiling at the physically challenged man and thinking about my impending culinary extravaganza I realized someone had joined my line. I turned to discover it was a man who appeared to be homeless and would have been in his late 30s or early 40s.

His hair was matted, his clothes were very dirty and he carried a horrible stench. Sadly, his smell was so strong that it invaded not only our space but almost the entire front of the store. As my groceries came to an end he began to delicately place his purchases on the sliding belt.  I can’t remember exactly what he was buying but I do recall it surprised me. I guesstimated his groceries would cost around $10. I stood, riveted to the floor. I couldn’t move. My heart began to beat a little faster, my internal temperature increased. It was that feeling I (and maybe some of you get when you know you’re about to hear that ‘small voice inside’ speak loud and clear. That’s exactly what happened. I heard that voice say, ‘pay for his groceries’.

I know many, if not most of you reading this story are familiar with that voice. We all hear it. Call it your conscience, call it the Universe but I call it God and I know that voice. It’s the voice that can warn me, caution me, motivate me…. so many moments I have heard that voice. Anyway, back to the story. I immediately began a debate in my head that went something like this: “What if he gets offended? What if he freaks out on me? How embarrassing, what if, what if.” I argued with myself for so long that others had joined the line. Again, I heard the voice say, “Will you not humble yourself to do something that will change a life? Have you not asked to be my hands and feet? Pay for his groceries.”

Being stubborn, I attempted to ignore the voice and my instincts. I was becoming more uncomfortable. My internal temperature was raging like hot molten lava, my heart was beating faster and faster, I was shifting from side-to-side. I knew what to do but I couldn’t step over my pride or fear to do the right thing.

My transaction was complete, the lovely physically challenged man smiled as he put my last bag into the trolley, the kind cashier finished and said, “thank you Miss, you have saved $16.00 today.”  I quickly realized that my savings (thanks to my supermarket club card) were greater than the homeless man’s entire bill. My heart sank. I had missed the moment. My internal temperature began to cool down, my heartbeat began to slow down and my head hung low.  Offering to pay for his groceries now would be awkward. I couldn’t add it onto my bill. I would have to stand and wait and there would be an uncomfortable silence. The excuses stacked up and I began to convinced myself that maybe I didn’t hear that voice, that maybe I made it all up. I knew better. I knew I had missed a chance to ‘be the change I want to see in the world today’ (gandhi)!

I wheeled my well-packed trolley to the exit and left with a horrible sense of sadness. The sadness of walking away from a missed opportunity. The sadness associated with letting your pride stand in the way of the good we are offered to do.

As I walked toward the exit, consoling myself I heard a well-spoken man calling out after me. “Excuse me Miss, excuse me Miss”. I turned around expecting the friendly cashier but found the homeless man with the matted hair and dirty clothes. He handed me my supermarket club card, he explained I had dropped it and he wanted to make sure I got it back. Now, take a moment and allow me to paint a picture for you. This man, who had captured the attention of everyone in the store through his looks, his stench and the concern of him perusing the shelves following me and calling out to me as I exited the store. Imagine, the fellow shoppers looking on, the store security almost ‘at the ready’. Can you see it? Can you hear the gasps and the looks of concern?

At that moment, I heard the voice again say, “here’s another chance.” I ignored it and stood at the entrance saddened by my weakness. The well-spoken homeless man returned to the cashier to complete his transaction. I stood, once again, riveted to the spot ~ scared but desperate to BE in the moment, desperate to step over ME — the only thing that stood between doing the good and the right and walking away and missing the opportunity to be a blessing. Finally, something within me broke and I began to rise up on the inside. What was happening, courage was taking the place of fear. Pushing it out like a storm within. I began to hope that the man would take the same exit as me and silently prayed for a third chance to make a difference in one person’s life. I prayed that this courage I felt, this strength within would help me forget me and live beyond myself at that very moment.

Before I knew it, the homeless man was behind me ~ he had chosen the same exit! He said, “I hope you don’t mind that I chased after you with your card.” I looked at him and said, “No. Thank you so much.” I paused and then asked, “How is your day going?” He locked eyes with me and replied, “Not very good, it’s hard being homeless.”

The conversation continued as we walked to the car park. “You took a risk in there running after me to give my card back and now it’s my turn to take a risk with you,” I said. “When we were standing in line I believe God spoke to me and told me to pay for your groceries. I ignored him because I was scared.” His eyes remained locked on mine and he told me, “Everyday I ask God for direction, I wasn’t always homeless you know. I used to live in a nice area, I grew up there. I had a good job and my life was great. Things just went wrong and life changed very quickly but I know I won’t always be homeless.”

I listened to him and was moved with compassion. Our conversation continued and  I said, “You’re in this space right now but God wants you to know that this isn’t how your life will end, that there is more and this isn’t forever.” He replied, “It’s Angels like you that give me hope and today I needed hope. I just spent my last dollars on those groceries.” I asked him if I could help him and he replied, “If you would like to. I want you to know that I’m homeless but I don’t do drugs, a lot of homeless people do but I’m just not one of those.” I believed him about the drugs, but you know even if that isn’t the truth God is in control and He orchestrated the entire encounter.

I asked him his name and introduced myself to him. I told him I would pray for him, that I knew God was going to do something great in his life and that he needed to hold onto hope and have faith. He extended his hand to shake mine and in my head I was thinking, “Oh no, I don’t want to shake.” Again I heard the voice say, “Shake his hand well, place value on him.” I extended my hand and said, “God bless you and have the best day today.” He said the same and we parted ways.

I made my way to my car and instantly began praying for him. I almost buckled over in tears; I felt such a huge burden for him. I don’t know how his life will change but I know through God’s creativity this homeless man’s life can become what it was meant to be.

Today, I walked away from an opportunity to make a difference but I believe I was given a second and a third chance and I chose to simply do what was right. I ended up giving him all that was in my wallet ~ not a lot to most but a fortune to him. Who knows what will happen in his life. All I know is that I’ve asked to be God’s hands and feet on this earth, and today I had the opportunity to speak into a hurting life. I realize now more than ever that on either side of our obedience there are people who will be affected forever.

My friends can attest to the fact that I always say EVERYONE HAS A STORY. I learned that from a great man … my dad. I believe that as we walk through life it is our responsibility to pull back the layers of the story and discover the gold that is within each one of us. Try to look beyond what you see. There is a why behind every what.

Thank you for reading this simple story. I ask today that you say a prayer for this homeless man, my friend whose name is Sean.

Susan