Sunday, December 20, 2009

Grace in Muddy Slush

This is my account of the Ten Dollar Challenge that Billy Coffey has presented. Click on the gift icon to read the wonderful stories of the others who have taken Billy up on his challenge. 

It did not turn out how I expected. But that's the nature of our plans. 

At first I wanted this to be an anonymous blessing. Then I had visions of doe-eyed children longing for Christmas toys, or parents lamenting the fact they didn't quite have enough money for their groceries at the check out. I would give them my ten-spot and they would smile and be eternally grateful and I would (wrongly) feel proud and smug.

In my dreams.

I stopped by a convenience store to put gas in my car. Simple enough. I ran my debit card through the pump, was ready to hop in and take off, but decided I'd run in the store quickly to use the facilities before embarking on the remainder of my errands. As I reached for my purse, I saw the designated Ten Dollar Challenge bill sticking out from behind my insurance cards in my billfold. I grabbed it, and stuck it in my jeans pocket. You just never know.

When I returned to my car, there was another car at the pump immediately in front of me. A 30ish woman, looking a bit bedraggled, was pumping gas into an older model car. The car seemed to be in fairly good shape, save for the frayed bungie cord that was holding the trunk lid in place.

The woman's raspy voice was angrily directed at the children in the back seat, but it's the dead of winter and the windows were up. I heard the familiar sounds of sibling rivalry, and saw some arms flailing and heads bobbing. Two, maybe three little heads. Hot-aired screaming children tend to steam up windows, and I really couldn't see clearly.

"Whew, glad those days are over for me," I thought to myself.

But they weren't over for Angry Gas Pump Mom. She lurched toward the car, opened the drivers door, and proceeded to launch into a tirade of multiple expletives toward the children. "Shut up." "Leave her alone." "When we get home I'm going to give you an @$$ slap." 

Ouch, it felt to me like she already did.

Those were some of the kinder words. The remainder were more colorful. It was sad, it was ugly, and at first I just wanted to run away. My second thought was to give her a taste of her own medicine, but I had no idea what she had gone through that day. Could have been any number of things.

Besides, I'm a confrontation coward.

I sat in my car and messed with my phone ... thinking. I gathered up a couple of gum wrappers and random receipts, got back out, and threw my trash in the garbage can.

I kept coming back to the fact that nobody should talk to a child that way, no matter what. I could only see them from the very tops of their heads in the back seat of a compact car, so they weren't very old. I was getting really angry with her.

"Now look what you made me do. You made me go #%#@ over!! Which one of you is going to pay for this ^%#@ gas?" She crossed her hands over her chest and "harumphed" at the steamed up window.

I walked toward the trash, reached in my pocket, and offered up the ten dollar bill.

"Here. I want you to have this, and may you and your children have a Merry Christmas."

"I don't want your #*%+$ money. I can buy my own (#%* gas," she exploded.

"Oh, it's not for your gas. It's just for you. I just want you to know that I care. And that your children really love and need you. Mine used to drive me bonkers when they were that age, too. In fact, they still do!"

So much for Mother of the Year this year. Again.

She pulled her hand away and the bill dropped to the dirty wet slush on the pavement. We both looked down, then our eyes met. I yearned to see hers soften, but it wasn't happening. I shrugged my shoulders, turned, and walked away quickly.

"Well, if you don't want it, I hope it will bless whoever finds it. That was my intent. Merry Christmas."

As I slid behind the drivers seat, she was still glaring at me with eyes not unlike her frosted windows. I started my car and drove off. As I pulled to the stop sign on the access road, I glanced back. It didn't appear that she had moved.

I have no idea if she took the money. When a gift of grace falls into the muddy slush of winter, is it still grace?

Yes, grace can be really muddy sometimes.

And it just might make you cry all the way to Target.

(Image: Photobucket)