This a story that has made its way around the globe. I’ve talked about it countless times on my radio show and to family and friends. I’ve been reminded of it countless times. Why? Because we all desire wholeness in our lives.  And personally,  I think all of us can see a piece of ourselves in these events. After sharing this, I was asked to write my story, so 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 because it is a time and space in a busy day to simply roam perhaps a little aimlessly. I love it! Today was slightly different for me, I was extremely focused on the job at hand. I was stepping outside of my culinary safety box and cooking something new for our dinner guests. So, with cookbook in hand I was charging through the shops focusing on my recipe and my trolley. Normally I would greet my fellow shoppers with a friendly ‘hello’ and a smile. Not today.

After making tracks through the supermarket, I made it to the checkout.

As I began to place my purchases on the sliding belt and the cashier scanned each item, I felt a sense of satisfaction. 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, smiling at the man who was doing his best to pack my groceries. Whilst I was at the checkout and daydreaming about my coffee and thinking about my impending culinary extravaganza. I turned to discover someone had joined my line. It was a man who appeared to be homeless, he 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 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. His groceries, would have probably cost around $10. I stood, riveted to the floor, my feet wouldn’t move. My heart began to beat a little faster, my internal temperature increased. It was that feeling that maybe some of you get when 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 and my heart was beating 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. As the kind cashier put my last bag into the trolley,  he 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,. 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’!

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, is also 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, explaining I had dropped it and he wanted to make sure it was returned.

Now, take a moment and allow me to paint a picture for you. This man had captured everyone’s attention through his looks, stench and the concern of him  generally perusing the shelves. Now he was following 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. I was scared but desperate to BE in the moment, desperate to step over ME.  I was 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. I prayed that this courage I felt, this strength within would help me 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 continued the conversation, “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. 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, 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.”
At that moment, 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 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.

When 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 cannot claim that I know how his story ends or 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 third chance and I chose to 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. Today I had the opportunity to speak into a hurting life. I realise 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 our stories. When we do this we 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

Original date January 14, 2010.