It's Christmastime again and that means it's time for... Good Samaritan gift cards!
If you haven't been around my blog for the last couple years and don't know what that means, let me tell you.
Every year, I buy four or five gift cards and carry them around with me so I can give them to strangers as I feel led. They're not extravagant... usually just small amounts to Harris Teeter and Target. But to the person on the receiving end, they can mean the world. Especially when the world is full of chaos and we all could use a little more love and kindness.
I am so excited to see who God will lead me to this year, but for now, I want to share some of the stories from last year's cards.
First, was the day at Walmart. I had just stopped to run in for something real quick and on my way in, observed a police officer sitting in his car near the front corner of the store. It was a usual spot for them (not sure why... I guess to keep shoplifters at bay!), so it didn't strike me as out of the ordinary or anything. But as I was leaving the store, I felt led to give one of the gift cards to the officer. So, I dug in my bag and pulled out one of the Target gift cards and walked over to the car. The officer looked up from where he was working on his computer and when I reached my hand out with the gift card and said "Here, I just wanted to give you a little something as a thank you," he smiled and opened his eyes wide with surprise. He thanked me and told me I had made his day as I walked away.
Then, there was Christmas Eve. While visiting my sister, I ended up having to go out to buy dog food at the last minute. Of course, everything was closed so I ended up having to go to Walgreen's, the only thing that was open. Apparently, everyone else who had a last minute need had the same thought, because there was about a dozen other cars in the parking lot. When I pulled up, a young woman pulled up beside me and as I gathered my purse and phone, she wrangled up her children - a little boy about 2 or 3 years old and a baby in a stroller. When I got out of my car, we made eye contact and she said "Nothing like last minute shopping!" and laughed. I laughed and shook my head and then headed into the store.
While I was walking around the store, I noticed that she was obviously overwhelmed - her baby was crying and her toddler was running all around the aisles, not listening to her. A few moments later, I felt God leading me to give her a gift card, so I circled around the store until I found her in the one of the center aisles. As I walked toward her, she was still trying to wrangle up her toddler and then realized I was walking toward her. I held out the Target gift card and said "Here, it looked like you could use a little blessing." Her reaction was so great - she got this huge smile on her face, her eyes teared up a little and she gave me a huge hug as she thanked me profusely. I left the store and honestly was on a high for like an hour after that. It's the best feeling in the world! :)
And then there was the last one that I definitely didn't see coming, but God had planned just perfectly. My friend and I had gone out to see Wicked in downtown Charlotte but because of a huge debacle that is a story for another day, we ended up not being able to see it. So we had gone for dinner and drinks instead and when we left the little pub we were at, "accidentally" turned the wrong way to head for our car. Now let me say on a side note, this is an area that we both had been in before and our parking garage was actually right across the street, just diagonal to the right. But when we came out, we went left and ended up running into a few homeless people along the way. We both gave them our leftovers from dinner and then after another block or so, we were approached by a homeless couple. It was a young man and woman in their 20's, very polite, and asking for something to eat. Since we had already given away our leftovers, my friend told the man that she would buy him something to eat, but not give him cash. She asked if there was somewhere she could buy him a sandwich and he said there was a 7-11 a few blocks away.
So, we began walking with them and as we walked, we learned more about their story. They had just moved to the city recently from Charleston and were still trying to find jobs. They had been together for a long time and he was going to marry her as soon as he could afford to. He had a rough upbringing with an angry father and later turned to drugs and had gone to jail. He was clean now though and had actually been his father's caretaker when he ended up later passing away from cancer. He also mentioned how when he first got to Charlotte, he had been hitchhiking on the interstate and someone had picked him up in the middle of the night. He was surprised that they had stopped and when he asked them about it, the person asked him if he knew about Jesus. They got into a discussion and it had left an impression on the young man.
At that very moment, God reminded me (by now it was the end of December) that I still had one gift card left in my bag - for Harris Teeter. So I asked the man if he knew if there was a Harris Teeter around there. He said yes, there was one just a few blocks away, so I reached in my bag and told him God wanted him to have this, as I handed him the gift card. He gave me a big hug and kept saying "thank you, God bless you," and after we made it to the 7-11 and my friend bought them both a sandwich, we all parted ways.
Each experience was special in its own way and I will never know what effect (if any) they had on the people involved. But that's why its a random act of kindness - it's not up to me to know what their situation is, if they really need help or what the effect of my action will be. That's up to them and God.
But one thing I can tell you for sure... we can all use a little more kindness these days. So even if you don't hand out gift cards, I encourage you to find a way to help a stranger this holiday season... pay for the person behind you in the fast food line or at Starbucks, or leave an encouraging note on the mirror in a public restroom or the front of a gas pump.
You never know how your act of kindness could change the day of another person. It may be just the encouragement or light they need to get through. Or you may inspire them to pay it forward themselves.
As for my gift card mission... I'll update you all soon on what happens this year. But until then, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!
And... Merry Christmas!