Your "mini mission" should you choose to accept it…

I got the chance to serve a mini-mission tonight. My daughter is spending the weekend with her dad and I had some much needed free time to myself. So like any party-animal single mom would do…I went to the grocery store. I didn’t need much so I rolled out a small basket and quickly made my rounds grabbing the mostly “non-essential” goods that I’d be able to enjoy without sharing over the next few days. In record time I was done and headed to the checkout. Two lanes open; one express (15 items or less) and one regular with someone in the payment stage, i. e. a clear conveyor belt. I knew I probably had more than 15 items but I tried to eyeball count what I had and apparently took too long because a full-basket whisked in ahead of me as I counted…16, 17, dammit! Not sure why it mattered. Although I did have a very large tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  I was ready to get this party started!

After a few minutes of scanning the magazines and learning that Jen and Brad had yet another secret reunion, I noticed the line hadn’t moved. The lady that had been paying when I first arrived was still there. There was a little commotion but I thought it was probably a coupon issue or something. Then the lady in front of me turned with a most unpleasant face and let out a sigh with enough air to change the weather in Canada. I looked past and noticed a woman holding crumpled dollar bills in one hand while digging franticly in her purse with the other. The woman was a bit disheveled, somewhere in her late 30’s and clearly did not have much more than what she was able to scrounge from that purse. She had a child with her. A dark-haired, little boy just tall enough to see over the ledge and he was looking straight up at her. As a matter of fact, there were now several people behind the register all staring straight at her. I asked the wind machine in front of me what was going on and she said with a perfectly snarled lip, ½ rolled eyes and enough of a sigh to undo the weather disaster she had previously caused, “she doesn’t have enough money to pay for what she bought!”

I looked around her again and saw groceries being pulled from the cart and heard a manager yell from two lanes over, “Just scan it! I’ll come over and do the override for whatever you need to put back in just a second.” Pause on this scene for a moment, if you will, because that’s what happened for me. I felt like time literally stopped as I took in the full scene. I saw food coming out of this woman’s small, ½ filled basket. People around her staring at her with faces of frustration and aggravation as if she had totally jacked up the proper order of the universe. And then I saw the child. Looking up at her with confusion as Ramen Noodles were being taken out of the grocery cart to try and get the total to match her dollars. Ramen Noodles for God’s sake! It wasn’t like she had a cart full of cookies!

I can’t tell you exactly what came over me but I got PISSED! I felt my ears turn red and I said “Oh no…that’s not happening!” I know I said it out loud because weather girl’s face got a little twisty and afraid. I grabbed my wallet, told her to watch my basket and shoved my card in the machine. “I’ll pay for it” I said. “Do you want to know how much it is?” asked the startled cashier. “I don’t care. Just run it.” I wish I could tell you that I was polite about it but I wasn’t. Something took over and I was the boss on lane 14. “Put the groceries back in her cart and run it.” The cashier did as I asked and yelled out to the manager, “never mind, this ladies gonna pay for her stuff!” I was thinking, seriously?!?…this really isn’t going to get any better for this poor woman until she can get inside her car and drive away from this situation. The woman said thank you and told me she didn’t know what was wrong with her card and thanked me again. I sort of heard her and, honestly, I don’t think I even made eye contact with her. But I did lock eyes with that little boy. He was still confused about what was going on. They left and I went back to my cart.

Everyone disbursed and everything was once again as it should be for the cashier. The lady in front of me never did get her face right. She got all her groceries scanned, paid for and in her cart. As she was leaving she turned back to me and said “thank you.” I wasn’t sure why exactly but it sounded like she was thanking me for ending the inconvenience so she could get going. I don’t know if I even replied. After I finished at the checkout and my ears weren’t red anymore I turned to head toward the exit and felt someone tap my arm. I turned to find that she had come back with a much softer and curious face.

“I’m sorry” she said. “I meant ‘thank you’ for helping that woman. You completely surprised me when you rushed up there and paid her bill. Honestly, I kind of feel bad that I didn’t even think of it.  Can I ask you why you did that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess because I’ve been there before.”

“You’ve gotten to the checkout without enough money?” she asked.

“No. But I have been that little kid looking up at my mom when she couldn’t pay the bill.”  As I said it I realized why I had gotten so aggressive about it. It had hit a nerve.

“Oh” she said. “I think I understand. Well, thank you for helping her. And thank you for reminding me.” And she quickly walked away.

I was really surprised she came back and I may have felt a tiny twinge bad for calling her a wind machine in my head. But the truth is that sometimes we are all like that lady and those grocery store employees. We judge, we get cynical, we get so wrapped up in our own stuff that we don’t even notice the human struggling right in front of us. I do it. The guys on the street corner make me nervous as hell. Not because they’re threatening but because every time I see them I get all twisty inside about whether I should give them money or not. Will I be funding a panhandler, buying a drink for an alcoholic or feeding a hungry human? So, too often, I just keep driving. But occasionally I get a feeling much like I did on lane 14 tonight and I can’t drive away so I give what I’ve got and trust that there’s a reason I felt so compelled to do it. I call those moments “mini missions.”

Now, I’m not sharing this story to brag. I mean seriously if deeds are what count then I’ve got lots of work to do to offset some of my other “less noble acts.” I’m sharing it because I feel compelled to share it. And to encourage you to accept those mini-mission challenges when they happen. To trust that feeling that starts in your gut and rises all the way up to your ears urging you to help, to step up or to give. I can’t tell you that you won’t be buying someone another drink; any more than I can tell you if the woman in the grocery store has a drug habit or just sucks at math. What I can tell you is that I wasn’t supposed to be in the express lane tonight. I was supposed to be on lane 14 behind a woman that needed to be reminded, behind a woman that needed a few bucks, behind a child that needed Ramen Noodles. I was supposed to be on lane 14 tonight to remember where I’ve been, who I want to be on this planet and what really matters most to me. 

So next time you feel that feeling and your ears turn red, listen! Decide who you want to be on this planet and trust that you are right where you are supposed to be and the universe is challenging you to serve a mini-mission for a reason, even if you don’t get it. It may not have anything to do with you or it may be all about you. Either way, I promise you will get far more out of serving your mini-mission than you give, just as I did tonight, if you’re open to it.

Oh…how much was the bill? $27. Money very well spent I’d say.

Cheers to being human first!


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