Thursday, September 11, 2014

from chick-fil-a to dippin' dots: lessons in giving and receiving

I let them unbuckle and climb into the back seat to watch as I pulled slowly away from the drive-thru.

Wait mama!  I want to make sure they give her the picture I made!
For weeks the kids had been pestering me asking me about the 'drive thru difference'.

Our local radio station designates certain days on which they encourage listeners to order their food at a drive-thru restaurant and then pay for both their own meal and the person's behind them as a gesture of kindness.  It's a kind of 'pay it forward' {or backward...depending on how you look at it} type of thing.  It's a great idea, I just never got my act together to remember what day you were supposed to do it and to print out the letter to give the person at the drive-thru to give the person behind you.

Last Friday the three of us were packed up and headed to Clemson for the weekend.  We decided to stop by our favorite 'cow-approved restaurant'.
On the way over Oliver reminded me - let's do that drive-thru thing!
Lucy grabbed her box of markers and a piece of paper and said - I can make a picture to give them when we buy their food!

I was so close to being a party pooper and telling them 'no' since I wasn't prepared...since it wasn't part of the 'plan'.  Thankfully I came to my senses and realized it didn't matter if it was the designated day or if we had the designated letter...acts of kindness should always be the plan.

We were brimming with excitement as we pulled into the parking lot.  All of us looked expectantly out of the back window to see who would pull in behind us...who would be the recipient.
Just as we were about to place our order a young woman in a white sedan came into view.
It's her!  There she is!
You would have thought she was a celebrity.

When we got up to the window to pick up our food Lucy rolled down her window and passed the drawing she had made to the cashier.  We explained that it was for the person behind us and we also wanted to pay for her meal.  The cashier got excited.  We paid, we pulled forward, and the kids watched just long enough to see the woman receive what we had given her.

I thought of the uneven, imperfect letters on that paper, passed through the window, that said 'I love you, Lucy'.  I imagined that somehow that note, that gesture, must have brought a deep joy to her heart.  I will probably never know who she was or what her story is but I believe when we simply extend kindness to strangers God takes that and uses it in ways that we couldn't imagine.

If the story stopped there it would have been a good one but it didn't...

The very next day we found ourselves in a different line.  There we stood under the stands in Death Valley, surrounded by a sea of orange, enduring nearly 100 degree heat to watch a football game.  The only thing that had convinced my children to go with me on such a brutal day was the promise of Dippin' Dots.  So there we stood - in line - for almost 15 minutes.

The kids never complained about the wait, just kept looking up at me and grinning.  Occasionally they would discuss whether they were going to order cookies & cream or just plain chocolate.  When it was finally our turn they had both decided on cookies & cream so I placed the order.  With spoons in hand they watched their dots being scooped up and set on the counter in front of us.  When I handed my credit card to the cashier he said - I'm sorry ma'am, we don't take credit cards.
My heart sank.
I didn't have any cash.
I apologized to the cashier and ushered the kids away from the counter. The disappointment on their face almost made me burst into tears.  I apologized to them.  We had only taken a few steps when I felt someone running up behind me.  It was the woman who had been standing in line behind us...
Please come back!  Please let me pay for their ice cream.  They waited so long and so patiently.  I don't mind at all...really.
At first I hesitated and then I remembered the day before and the joy we all felt at buying that meal for that woman.  I smiled and thanked her profusely...told her that she had no idea how important this was to them and how much I appreciated it.

I don't for one second believe it was a coincidence that those two events happened one right after another.

I believe that's the way God intended for this world to work.
I believe it's important for us to learn how to be givers and receivers of kindness.
I believe there is value in meeting the needs of others but remembering that we need other people too.  I believe that to stay pure in our giving we have to keep on receiving lest we begin to think too highly of ourselves for our good deeds.
I believe freely giving and receiving over and over and over again sets our lives to the rhythm of grace...that thing we all need...
rich or poor
short or tall
mother or child
black or white
man or woman
artist or plumber
...we all have to keep that gift circulating in and out of the minutes, hours, days, and years of our lives.

Never stop giving.
Never stop receiving.
It's the thread that keeps sewing our hearts together.
Because when we give we receive and when we receive we give...and it just keeps propelling us all forward.

And so we stop working so crazy hard to
meet a deadline
meet a quota
meet a goal
and instead set our hearts to
meet a need.

And we don't dare
give up
give in
give out
We just keep finding ways to
give away...
our time, our resources, our kindness, ourselves...

What if every day, instead of being party poopers, we pressed our faces up against that back window and waited with anticipation for the one whose needs we could meet...the one to whom we could give.  What we offer may be uneven and imperfect but it conveys love all the same...and that is something we can celebrate.

What if, in our time of need, we waited hopefully on the one who would run up behind us and offer to help.  What if we graciously accepted and then kept that weaving in and out of kindness and generosity going.

And so we give.
And we receive.
And in doing so threads of grace move in and out of our souls, binding us
closer and closer to one another
closer and closer to the One who gave everything for us...
not because we earned it
not because we deserved it
but because great love couldn't help but meet our great need.