One late fall evening, I walked into a health food store on a mission. I had 30 minutes to shop before sunlight slipped into dusk, and my list was long: oxidized water, turmeric, green tea, organic fruits and vegetables, and lots and lots of supplements. Ever heard of Ashwagandha?
Armed with a grocery cart, I rolled laser-focused through the aisles—until a young mother with two children in the back of her grocery cart caught my eye. She was chatting with a grocery store employee while she and her offspring happily munched on free samples of cheese.
My subconscious took a mental picture, and an ever-so-sliver of annoyance began bubbling within me. I pushed the dark, negative emotion deep down into the crevices of my heart and continued with my time-constrained shopping trip. About 10 minutes later, as I walked with my cart brimming with items including spinach, kale, apples, and a whole free-range chicken for homemade bone broth, I spotted the woman and her little ones again. This time they had made their way to the deli and were snacking on free samples of sliced turkey breast.
I noticed her cart was still empty. Not a loaf of whole wheat bread. No carton of oat milk. Not even a pound of grass-fed beef. I just couldn’t understand. What was she doing? She had been in the store for at least 20 minutes, just like me.
The annoyance I’d earlier attempted to push down like acidic vomit began snaking its way back to the forefront of my thoughts. Now I was officially very irritated. As I grappled with the intensity of my emotions, the source of my problem dawned on me like lifting fog: I was embarrassed.
The mother and children were Black like me. But I, with spare room on my credit card, was shopping in the health food store properly. I was following the upper middle-class script of how to spend a whole paycheck on groceries while this sister was making me—and the entire African American race—look bad. The way I saw it, here I was carefully selecting healthy items to put in my cart for myself, my husband, and our lone of three sons still living at home while she was just roaming through the store chowing down on hand-outs with her children in tow. Seriously. I mean, who does that?
Indignant, I attempted to whip my cart into the next aisle to get away from her and her children when a holy conviction sucker punched me. In the gut. In the face. In the heart. I stood frozen. The shame enveloping me clouded my judgment into thinking the cows on the front of the organic milk cartons were glaring at me. Internally, I heard the unmistakable voice of God.
God: You really are a piece of work. That woman and her children just might be hungry and YOU could feed them tonight.
It never occurred to me that the family might be hungry. But think about it. Who comes to a high-priced health food store just to eat free samples? Sure people do that at big-box warehouse stores like Sam’s, B.J’s, or Costco, but not in a health-food store. Feeling like a scolded child, I eased my cart away from the milk carton cows and their condemning stares.
Me: Lord, I didn’t think about them being hungry. What do you want me to do about it?
At this point, I made a decision to disregard how my mental state might appear and committed to a full-blown conversation with The Almighty right there in the middle of the health-food store. Apparently, on that day at that time, I was in the right place because it wasn’t just my body that needed healing. So did my heart. Even so, I didn’t want to admit it. I felt myself getting an attitude. A bad one.
God: I’ve blessed you to be a blessing. Why don’t you offer to buy the family dinner?
Me, with the attitude: God, I know that’s not a good idea. That would be so insulting. How do I walk up to a stranger and say, “You look poor and hungry. Can I buy you some groceries?”
God, being patient: I have blessed you with many gifts, including the gift of gab. Just open your mouth. The right words will come out. Trust me.
Reluctantly, I sulked my way toward the deli. As luck would have it, no one was around, which removed the chance of me using “listening ears” as an excuse to back out. I gingerly approached the woman and her children, and as God had promised, the words flowed effortlessly from my dry mouth.
Me: Excuse me, but I’ve noticed your children have been the sweetest little ones during your shopping trip. My three boys would have been all over the place. I’d like to treat your children to a large pizza. Would that be okay?”
The mother smiled, seemingly pleased and in agreement with my assessment of her children. The children looked at me as though they agreed too. That meant pizza!
Completely taken aback at how smoothly the exchange went, I still clung to my petulant attitude. God had this all wrong. Okay, the family graciously accepted the pizza. One point for God. But now I was going to have to wait FOREVER for the pizza to be made, and I was supposed to be in and out of the store in 30 minutes. Two points for me.
I slowly and very carefully explained this to God so that He would understand.
Me: They NE-VAH have whole pepperoni pizzas ready on demand at this store because the pizzas are so popularly sold by the slice. So, you see, I’m going to have to wait for the pizza to be made and wait for it to be baked. I’ll never get out of this store in time to keep with my schedule.
I rolled my eyes. God was not letting me get out of this. With a sigh, I proceeded toward the large brick oven where an employee was standing with her back to me. With a tone in my voice, I told her I wanted to order a large pepperoni pizza. The employee spun around with a big smile and said, ‘You’re in luck. I’m just pulling a pepperoni pizza out of the oven right now.”
God: <audible silence>
Me: <embarrassed silence>
At this point, my gift of gab had gotten up and gone. I was speechless. The realization that I had behaved like a genetically modified donkey’s ass for the last 30 minutes made me nauseous. I had been snobbish, judgmental, and borderline cruel. I was so caught up in myself that I didn’t see the woman and her children. I just saw people who looked like me, and I wanted them to act like me. I wanted them to act the way I thought they should be acting.
I handed the fresh pizza to the excited children in the shopping cart and told the mother I’d take the ticket up front to pay for it. I looked into her eyes and saw her for the first time—and I liked what I saw.
I left the store with my chemical-free and responsibly sourced haul and sat in my car for a few minutes. What had just happened? I then realized the encounter was never about the mother, her children in the back of the cart, or the lack of groceries in their cart. In fact, the mother may not have even needed help paying for her food. I, however, admittedly needed help with my heart. And God, in His infinite wisdom, decided the best way to do heart surgery in a health-food store was with a large, cheesy, pepperoni pizza.
Me (in a whisper): Thank you, Lord.
God (whispering back): You’re welcome my child.