Yesterday I featured Billy Coffey in my first “Twelve Days of Community” tribute. I also mentioned that Billy (in cahoots with the ever-sassy Katdish) masterminded the Ten Dollar Challenge. You can learn more about (and join!) the challenge by clicking the green box above, but in a nutshell, it’s simply this: Set aside ten dollars and keep your eyes open for an opportunity to bless a stranger, with no strings attached. There are no hard-fast rules. The gift may be given anonymously or not. It may go to someone with clear financial need or simply someone God places in your path and prompts you to bless. In my case, the “ten dollars” didn’t even take the form of cash. And it wasn’t until hours after I gave it that I realized the person I’d been keeping my eyes open for had slipped inconspicuously into my life, touched my heart, and gone away with her gift held tightly in her hands and tears of gratitude shining in her eyes.
Thursday night I spoke at a community-wide Christmas banquet in Pineland, Texas. (You can read about what I shared here, if you’re interested.) It was a lovely evening with festive decorations, delicious food, and live music provided by country singer, Tracy Byrd. Afterward I signed copies of Parting the Waters.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m always amazed by the stories people tell me when they hand me their copy to sign. No matter where I go, in groups of any size, there will be well-dressed, smiling, functioning people who’ve suffered in ways I can’t begin to imagine. Isn’t that the way it is, though? We can easily paralyze ourselves with irrational fear, but we can’t imagine the grace God gives when tragedy becomes reality. Grace defies imagination. And it changes everything.
The first wave had moved past the book table, and in the lull, a petite woman slipped beside me and leaned over. “I just want you to know, I loved what you shared, and I’m going to order your book. I would buy one tonight, but I didn’t bring any money with me.”
I smiled at her and said, “Thanks! That’s fine. You can get it on Amazon or other major online outlets.”
She kept her eyes on mine. “I lost my son,” she began, then stopped.
I know that look. It’s the must-hold-myself-together-in-public look. I waited.
I guess she decided she couldn’t trust herself to say more. After a few moments she smiled sheepishly. “Anyway, I really look forward to reading your book. I know the circumstances are different, but I definitely need . . .”
I grabbed a book off the pile and opened to the title page. “I’m going to sign this to you. What’s your first name?”
“Oh, no! You don’t have to do that . . .”
“I want to. I really do. I want you to have a signed copy. You can give the money to Judy sometime, and she’ll get it to me later.”
Her eyes shone as she watched me write her name. “Thank you so much!” she said. “This will be my Christmas present to myself.”
When I handed her the book, she actually grasped it to her heart. And mine broke.
“You know what?” I said. “Forget the money. This isn’t your Christmas present to yourself. It’s my Christmas present to you.”
I don’t know what she saw in my eyes at that moment, but in hers I saw a mirror. I saw a mother’s loss redeemed by a God who knows what it’s like to watch a first-born son suffer and die.
It wasn’t until hours later as I drifted off to sleep that I made the connection. When I speak I sell my books at a discount.
At first I wondered if it really counted for the challenge. After all, cash is versatile. A book, not so much. You can’t use it to buy groceries or put gas in the car. It’s simply words making thoughts making story.
And yet, sometimes God meets us in story. And when He does, we emerge from the pages changed. Renewed. Healed.
May our great Redeemer take my little gift of “ten dollars” and turn it to gold. And may He do the same with yours, to the glory of His name. Amen.