Believe it or not, this was my first time out Christmas shopping. It's easy to wait until the last minute when you know you have little funds to work with. Money is tight but I felt the spirit of Christmas all around me. I love the bright twinkling lights around town and the snow as it falls on this Christmas eve, eve. I witnessed families rushing around the store in search for the perfect treasure for their loved ones. I feel at this point in my life, I know the true meaning of Christmas. To me it's not the presents around the tree but those loved ones around the tree and all the blessings that come from having food, clothing and a home.
I knew as a single mother that my gift choices this year had to be carefully thought out. I told my children to show me around the store and pick out their top (three to five) gifts for Christmas. The kids knew the budget was smaller this year, but what they didn't know was I would pay for gifts from two Target gift cards a friend bought for me. I thought to myself how special it would be if I could afford taking them out for a festive lunch afterwards, but knew I just couldn't do it.
My cart was filled with the gifts I needed to pick from. I felt my body tense up as I knew it was "go time." I told my son to go out to the car with his sister and pull up at the front and I'd be out soon. I planned my strategy and took one of the last lanes near the door so I wouldn't be embarrassed if I came up short and had to put some gifts back.
I guesstimated how much money I had on my two Target cards and laid down the items I thought I could pay for, leaving most of them in the cart. The cashier said,"Your fifteen dollars short mam." I put my hand on my chin and let him know I needed to think which gift my daughter wanted most. He restated the balance I needed to make up. I could feel my face turning red and noticed the long line of folks behind me. I prayed I could quickly figure out which gift was less, so people wouldn't get impatient and angry. I dug in my coin purse and saw a whopping fifty cents. I knew I had no money to spare in my bank account because I needed it for rent in a few days.
Taking out one of the gifts for my daughter, I asked the cashier if I had enough to pay for what was left. As he was ready to answer me, I heard the woman behind me say, "sir, I would like to pay the difference. Is this a gift for someone, she asked me?" "Yes, it's a Christmas gift for my daughter." The kind woman says, " I really want to do this for you- please let me buy this gift for your daughter." I answered, "Oh thank you so much but I can't let you do that." She tells me she really wants to do this good deed for me and it would make her Christmas. I could feel a warm rush of love flow through me, and the worry and embarrassment melt away. I knew she was a blessing that God put in my path at just the right time. I thanked her profusely and asked if I could hug her. After giving her a huge embrace, I shared that I was a single mother of two great teenage kids. I couldn't hold back hugging her again and the smile on her face told me we both made each others' Christmas. The cashier was welling up with tears and said, "I've heard about beautiful stories like this but have never personally witnessed it." I was overflowing with love and joy and asked her for her name. "My name is Jana." "Thank you so much Jana, I will make sure to pay it forward as soon as I can."
I looked behind me at the long line of people waiting to pay for their gifts. Instead of them looking impatient and irritated, they now wore big smiles and looks of wonder on their faces. As I finished up my transaction with the cashier, Jana said, "here, do something nice for yourself." She put a $20 dollar bill in my hand. I threw my arms around her and wished her a very Merry Christmas. I took one last look at the long line behind us and noticed people were teary eyed. My eyes were welled up and I was ready to just burst into tears.
I walked out the front door of the store and waited for my son to pick me up. As I poured myself in the car, I couldn't hold back the tears. The children looked at me with confusion and asked what was going on. I shared the touching story of the compassionate stranger, and soon the three of us were blubbering. We were full of gratitude and were reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. I got my wish and then some, I thought to myself. Jana wanted me to do something for myself-what better than spending the money going out to lunch with my kids at their favorite Deli. During lunch we made a heart felt toast to Jana and her wonderful act of kindness.