I unloaded the kids’ school paraphernalia out of the back of the van to make room for the two black construction size bags filled with clothes that needed to be dropped off at our local clothing center. I was already fighting a panic attack before I’d even left the driveway.
Before you ask, no, I don’t always panic at the thought of being separated from the clothes I’ve dug out of the bowels of my children’s closets. Nope, you see, the donation was a well timed front for my true destination. Which was giving me all the early symptoms of a panic attack.
I pulled into the parking lot at dusk, wishing it was just a bit darker. Shutting off the van I took a deep breath and opened the driver’s side door, right next to a sweet girl I went to high school with. Because that’s what happens when you don’t want to be seen in a small town. All one has to do is not shower, have a bad hair day, or forget to put deodorant on, and you’re guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Every. Time.
Except this time I was showered, my hair was presentable and though I was sweating, I was still okay in the odor department. This time, I had something bigger to hide than poor hygiene. No worries! I have my two bags of donations, they’ll never know what I’m up to. It’ll be fine! Until she kindly offers the services of her husband to carry said bags for me. Still okay! I will just drop the bags and they’ll be on their way. As we walked through the parking lot catching up a bit she tells me they’re headed into the building too, for a community education dance class for the adorable toddler holding her hand. My nervous brain finally processes the pink leotard and leg warmers. My too bright smile masking the new panic as I realize they’re headed in the same direction I am.
I drop off the bags, say my goodbyes, and head back to the safety of my van. That’s it. I’m not doing it. I even start the van again before I realize I don’t have a choice. The refrigerator is as empty as our bank account and pay day isn’t for three more days. This is when I start to think I’m suffocating. That someone has snuck up and sucked all the air out of my van and caused this crazy fear to grip my throat. I jump back out of the van, sucking in deep breaths of air. You know the kind. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I stuff all that fear back down to wreak havoc on my stomach instead and jog to the entrance of the food shelf before I can change my mind… again.
That’s right. My super secret, anxiety provoking mission is this tiny little grocery store replica tucked into our community center. I step quickly inside and take a seat with my back to the front door. I fill out the required paperwork and wait for my number to be called. The worst part seems to be over, as far as anxiety goes, but now I’m battling a new fun thing. Shame. I can’t even meet the eyes of the sweet ladies helping me. What I really want to do is curl up and cry. Then, I want to explain why I’m here. Then I start a running dialog with God on why I’m there.
How did this happen?
I did all the right things!
(Whine. Whine. More whining.)
Just as the tears start to win, a lady from the desk comes and stands next to me. It takes me a minute to figure out what she’s saying. And when I do, I’m a little confused. She’s asking about my purse. I think she likes it? I struggle for a minute to remember that I had inherited it from my mother’s closet. I told her I’d considered it a step up from the diaper bag I’d been carrying for what seemed the last 12 years. She laughed. I laughed. And I finally looked into her eyes. Where there was no condemnation, no pity, just kindness. Once she had my attention she started showing me the “ropes”. That it’s just like grocery shopping, only there’s limits listed on the signs. When you’re done, you bring your shopping cart to be weighed to “check out”. And then there’s a very sweet gentleman that will help you carry your things to the car, or you can pull up if there’s room.
As we’re loading my bags, in full cover of darkness now, I still take a few glances around hoping I haven’t been spotted. I thank the volunteer for his help and make a quick exit.
It occurs to me on the drive home that there is something probably wrong with my reaction. That though we’d routinely supported the local food shelf in the past ourselves, I had quite obviously had a few misconceptions not only about the “kind of people” that used it, but the way it was run. As the days and weeks passed, I became more and more convicted of my pride and self righteousness.
As the months wore on it became more and more clear that my faithful, thorough, relentless and loving God was totally committed to purging me of some of these blemishes of my character. Trust me, by the time we’d sold anything with value, come perilously close to losing our house, borrowed from our parents to get our daughter to the latest specialist and still had to dig through the change in the van to pay for the hospital parking fees… all semblance of pride in our circumstances had pretty much evaporated. Everything I have is a gift.
Now, this has been a couple of years ago now and God is continually chipping away at some of these ugly parts of me (which can be depressing) but sometimes I have to look back to see how far He’s brought me.
This week I was reminded of this day when I was feeling enormous guilt. Why? Because we bought new appliances. Like, brand new and delivered. There was a time I wouldn’t have truly appreciated them. A time I would have been the most excited about the way they looked and telling everyone about them (And now, as I’m typing, I realize I’m telling everyone about them. 😅 But in a totally grateful, praise be to God for His provision kind of way, right?).
I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the invoice or agonized over what this money could do for someone else; where it might be better spent. I wouldn’t have thought long and hard on if I truly NEEDED them or not. I certainly wouldn’t have waited until only one burner on the stove worked and the dishwasher was continuously leaking before trying to replace them. And that crack in the sink? That wouldn’t have lasted a week, never mind three years!
Now, I’m not saying I don’t still roll in the mud of pride and self righteousness. That I don’t still care far too much about how my life “looks”. That I don’t
regularly hourly need to be washed clean by the blood of Christ. But, every once in awhile I’m reminded that I’m a work in progress. The key word there being… progress!! I may not be who I want to be, but I’m not who I once was! Praise God!!
In celebration of the gift of another year of sanctification, 😉 I’m asking anyone that might be considering a card or gift for me to instead support our local food shelf. They were not only there when we needed them, but they showed more kindness than I’d imagined. Let’s help Five Loaves continue to multiply.