The storm had left the sky in pinky colors swirled together like ribbons of taffy amid clouds that looked like grey cotton candy. And maybe it was the color of the sky or the thought of being holed up in the house for the rest of the evening that prompted the kids to ask for a trip to buy candy for a late night movie. Or maybe it was the weight of a fist full of dollar bills in their pockets that was just too much to carry. I don’t even know. I just know that as the sky threatened to break open again, I loaded up the car and begrudgingly made the trip across town to satisfy their whim.
I know we looked bedraggled and wild-eyed as we made our way through the store because people stopped and stared. The boys had on crusty tees from an afternoon of basketball, the babies had unkempt hair because I’m good at other stuff and the older girls were giggling like hyenas on the prowl. Seriously. We were a sight for every kind of eyes. We’re used to the stares of others because, let’s face it, it’s not everyday you see a wild pack of animals standing in the candy aisle at the Dollar Tree hollering Dollar bill, dollar bill, bruh!
Fortunately for me, I have officially hit the stage of parenthood that allows me certain liberties in public. Like leaving my kids on one aisle under the care of 15 year old Elli and sneaking off to anywhere in the store that they are not. Which is exactly what I did last night. I gave Elli the knowing eye and then wandered off to check out all that the Dollar Tree has to offer.
And let me just tell you: The Dollar Tree has A LOT to offer, bruh.
I wandered up and down every aisle, taking in the laundry detergents, organic canned tomatoes, Scott-ish toilet paper, margarita glasses. I picked up lunchbox plastic ware and a whole package of those little bags you can serve popcorn. I scanned the aisle with the nabs and the cookies and the bags of chips, mentally comparing the number of ounces per dollar. And before I knew it, I found myself in the frozen food section eyeballing hotdogs, processed cheeses, and popsicles.
I must have stopped in front of the cases and just stood there, slack-jawed for a good long while, because a large man pushing a cart said, Ma’am, could I just reach in there and grab some cheese real quick?
I snapped back to reality and apologized before stepping aside and taking note of his cart.
Individual frozen chicken breasts, one frozen strip steak, one package of lunch meat, a few cans of vegetables, one small jar of peanut butter and while I was trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing, that package of cheese hit the cart.
He caught my eye and grinned and I sheepishly grinned back at him, my face flush with shame. A dollar goes further here on some stuff, don’t it? he asked. This chicken is tough but it ain’t bad.
I couldn’t respond. I was too embarrassed to speak so I nodded and walked away with my basket full of non-essentials. He couldn’t read my mind. He couldn’t know we were in here blowing a fist full of dollars on crap candy to rot our teeth, could he? He wasn’t standing in the front of the store when we walked in with an overzealous desire to get a whole lot of something for nothing, was he?
I made my way back up the middle of the store and back to the candy aisle to find my kids wrapping up their selections and counting out their bills to cover their purchases. I quietly ushered them into the only line still open at 8:30 at night.
And I painfully tried not to take stock of each person and their sparse cart of essentials.
I know some of you reading this are thinking: What’s the big deal? Who are you to assume anything about what someone is putting in their cart? Maybe the chicken is a great deal. If your kids want to spend their money on candy at The Dollar Tree, let them! It’s their money. Maybe you’re self-righteousness is a plank in your eye causing you to see things not as they are. Maybe you’re really just a narcissit who has an inflated sense of who you are?
Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am making a mountain of shame out of a mole hill of innocent fun and genuine bargain shopping. Or maybe I am indeed forever marred by my inability to shake lose the sense of entitlement that rises up in my heart when I forget that in Christ, there is no them vs. me.
But maybe the heat that crept into my face was the kind of soul conviction that comes when the Holy Spirit blows the truth you know right into your face.
Maybe the fresh wind of truth opened my eyes to rightly see my neighbor. Maybe the frayed shoes and the limp and holey pants were part of the narrative that I was to wholly see and not the sum of an assumption made. Maybe Jesus chose that moment in front of the frozen foods to shine a big light on the disparities in my own walk and talk. Maybe I have truly forgotten what privilege looks like on this side of the tracks.
Who knows? I just know that there is a mystery to this following Jesus gig.
You never arrive or figure it out or get to cast off your sin nature in order to love better.
You just keep muddling through and messing up and being humbled in unlikely places in the most unlikely ways.
And you receive the prick of the Holy Spirit in your soul as the grace of Jesus lovingly poured out on you and you whisper a broken Thank You.