It was the coldest day of the year so far in Nashville, and suddenly I was craving my favorite Chilled Shrimp & Soba Noodle Spinach Salad from Panera. I bundled up putting on my fur vest over my leather jacket and threw on my warmest scarf (homemade by this sweet friend!) as Stephen and I headed out to go do errands on the icey roads. We finally arrived at Panera, and ran through the 9 degree weather from the car to the warmth inside the restaurant. I quickly scurried up to the counter and ordered my regular salad.
“I’m sorry, we don’t carry that anymore,” the cashier informed me.
I got flustered. Excuse me? How can you not carry MY salad anymore? I had an entitled moment of getting irritated. How could they do that me? I mean, we left the warmth of our home to drive in the snow just to go get that salad. If I was a 10 year old Stephanie Tanner on Full House, I would have belted out a high squealed “Hoooow ruuuude!”
Then I turned the corner and my whole perspective changed.
While Stephen finished checking out for us, I found us a table tucked away in the far corner. There was only 1 other person sitting by themself in that faraway corner near us, and I was glad to find a spot where Stephen could finally attack our 2014 goals we were now 6 days behind on. It took us finally leaving the house and all our distractions to go find a table in Panera and daydream.
Well… God had different plans.
As I passed by the other person sitting tucked away, I looked up from my iPhone long enough to notice she was an older lady playing crosswords in the newspaper. I looked back down at my iPhone as I walked toward the table, then back up to to notice now this time, she was sitting in Panera without any food in front of her, only a free glass of water. As I tried to look closer out of the corner of my eye while trying not to stare, I saw, she had holes in her clothes. And she had about 5 layers on. And it looked like she hadn’t had a bath in weeks.
Then I realized…. Does this woman have no warm home to go to tonight in this 9 degree weather? Does she have no warm food to fill her belly? How could I find out without being rude and bluntly asking “Hi, are you homeless?”
As Stephen walked over to our table, and passed her by, he said hello to her, in his usual manner as he usually does greeting perfect strangers with his extrovert personality. We started chatting with her and found out her name was Rene. Pronounced Re-nay, but spelled just like my mom’s name, but pronounced Reen. She started to share how it was too cold to stand outside with a sign and earn money to eat that day, but that she was thankful to be able to come in a place like Panera and just sit in the warmth.
“They don’t like that I come in here, but, I don’t bother anyone. I just try to keep to myself,” she tried to explain as if she didn’t deserve a decent meal like the rest of us. “Every now and then, someone approaches me with a giftcard, and I’m thankful for that, but I’m not trying to bother anyone, it’s just nice to have a place to sit.”
I had to hold back the tears. And here I was complaining about something silly like them taking away my salad.
“Can we get you anything? You name it, we’d be happy to buy you something,” I asked her.
In that way that I love Stephen loves to serve others, he jumped up eager to go place her order. He took her order and walked off.
“I love the tomato soup, with the grilled cheese… it warms me up,” she said reaffirming her choice.
“I agree,” I said. “It’s my favorite!”
“If you’ll excuse me, since I’m now able to eat, I’m going to go wash my hands, will you watch my stuff?” she asked so politely.
“Absolutely!” I said. And my heart broke even more at the simple luxury of getting to wash my hands that I take for granted.
Stephen came back before she did and he said, “Ok, we’re good to go, hers will be ready in a minute. And bummer about your salad, I’m sorry they didn’t have it.”
That’s when I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore, and they burst out of my eyes. “Gawwwwsh, it so doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We have a warm roof over our head tonight. My heart just breaks for someone like Rene who doesn’t have that luxury tonight in this blistering cold weather,” I said as I tried to wipe my tears before she returned to her nearby table. Yes, I had been complaining about the cold all day, but suddenly, the thought that there are some people who have to sleep in it…. well….. broke me. And the last thing I wanted to discuss were our 2014 goals like we had originally planned during that meal, because all I suddenly cared about was… tonight… and making sure this new friend would not freeze as she slept.
As Rene returned and the Panera staff delivered her food, I couldn’t help but think of the 90′s song of “What if God was one of us?” Just that morning, Stephen and I had a long conversation about how in 2014 we want to find more opportunities to give more. In looking back over my 2013, I feel like I let myself sink into too many pity parties. Instead of choosing to dwell on all God HAS blessed me with, I let myself get caught up in all He HAS NOT. It was an overall constant theme of my own personal battles with 2013, and I was tired of being in that mindset. As I posted last week on my Instagram, this verse really hit me hard:
And as I prayed with Stephen about that that very morning, I felt like this was my 1st test for God to see how serious I was about wanting to give. Would I sit there and ignore the quiet lady in the corner with holes in her clothes, or would I strike up a conversation and listen to her needs and use my resources to help her?
She began opening up about how she was from Europe and moved to the states with her husband who was in the military. But then she went through a bad divorce and was left nothing and now has no way to get back to her family in Europe. When I asked if she had a place to stay tonight, she said hadn’t figured that part out yet, she was just sitting in Panera for as long as they would let her. Stephen and I offered to drive her to a rescue mission, but she politely declined because “It’s just not peaceful there.” Then we offered to put her up in a hotel. I mean, for all I cared, I wanted to put her up in a Ritz Carlton to allow her one night of luxury for the burden she has to carry in life. “No, no, no, hotels are too expensive, I couldn’t accept that from you.” I tried to convince her otherwise, because the thought of her sleeping in the 9 degree weather, I didn’t care what price I would have to pay to help have a roof over her head on this freaky cold Nashville night. She then continued about what I could tell in her eyes was really her simple luxury. “I do have a place that only costs $20,” she said. “It’s a lady who has a house and she rents out rooms to people like me. I would be staying there tonight if I could, but with the cold, I couldn’t bear standing outside with my sign to gather money today. It’s my fault, I should have done that. But that place is real nice, she lets me do laundry and use her detergent and everything.” I asked if she would accept our $20 to allow her to stay at that place that night, and her eyes lit up, “You would do that for me?” ”Of course,” I answered. ”Well, that would be real nice,” she said with a smile.
As we said our goodbyes, I asked her what specifically we could pray for her about.
“Gosh, I can’t think off the top of my head,” she said. After a pause, she finally knew her answer. ”Wisdom… yeah, that’s what I need. Wisdom, that’s what you can pray for me about.”
And suddenly…. I realized that was my lesson that night on that very subject. Wisdom. About what’s truly important in life. And what’s truly important is giving more than receiving. Because giving truly is receiving. Except, what you receive in return, often exceeds your expectations beyond what you could ever imagine.