A Season of Small Wonders


There are small wonders happening all around us. Sometimes we’re involved. Sometimes we witness them. Most of the time I suspect they go by without our noticing.

In Grocery Outlet tonight, I passed a hispanic woman in, perhaps, her early sixties.

Permiso,” I said as I stepped past. I am acutely aware that A)My Spanish is weak, and B)a gringo trying to bust out his three words of Spanish can look silly and even come across as condescending. Nevertheless, I choose to speak Spanish when I think there’s a decent chance it is the other person’s first or primary language. The vast majority of Nicaraguans graciously and enthusiastically encouraged me when I spoke Spanish there, but I don’t think most Mexicans or Hondurans or Guatemalans struggling with English receive the same treatment from gringos here. Therefore, I try to convey that I want to communicate and will not criticize any attempt at speaking English (i.e. can you really do worse than my accent?).

I scooted past and began perusing hair care products.

Then the woman said, “Disculpe,” as in “Sorry to interrupt you,” and asked me, in Spanish, if I could reach a bottle from the top shelf. Now I should mention that she was short enough not to be able to reach these bottles even if she had a good vertical leap and I always think of myself as short and am thrilled when I get to be the tall person and utilize all five feet and eight inches God gave me. I reached up–not even on tip-toes–and grabbed a shampoo bottle for her, and then she asked for a second one. She thanked me effusively. We smiled at each other.

It’s a tiny interaction, a minuscule kindness I was able to offer, and it happened almost certainly because I addressed her in Spanish. I don’t know that, of course, but I do know how awful it felt in Nicaragua, even (or especially) after seven years, when I lacked the language to say what I needed. And remember, nearly everyone treated me well when I revealed I spoke imperfect Spanish. So I’ll put it this way: If I were her, I would not have asked for help, in Spanish, from a random white man who might not understand a word and might snarl at me for not speaking English.

As always at Grocery Outlet, I imagined a one-bag trip and ended up with an overflowing three-bag trip. I had brought two with me (because I don’t completely fool myself) and still had to run to the car for the third. Just before I ran outside, a heard a man in the next checkout line ask, “Can I pay for that for you?”

My head swung like someone had offered me chocolate. There was an older, grey-bearded man, explaining again what he was offering. Interestingly, the man he offered it to said “No, thank you.” But I thought it was a really cool gesture. Then I ran outside to get the aforementioned grocery bag. When I got back, the checker was just scanning my last items. And the grey-bearded man was paying for several bags of groceries of a woman in the next lane. She was thrilled. She hugged him.

I turned to the clerk in my lane and said, “Wow!”

“Yeah,” she said, “they’ve been offering that to a bunch of people.”

Sure enough, as I watched, the man moved to the line on the opposite side of me and asked to cover three small items for a guy who looked to me like he might not have the money even for those. He might have been homeless. The grey-bearded man and the woman with him–I’m going to take a wild leap and say his wife–both hugged the man. I heard both say, “God bless you.” Finally, the couple headed back into the aisles, apparently to hunt down other potential recipients. They seemed to be looking for people specifically who needed the help.

The cashier said to me, “They do that. They own a small business and just like to give back where they can.”

I left Grocery Outlet and walked out into the windy night, pushing a cart filled with my three-bag visit. I had on short-sleeves and a fleece vest and my arms quickly got cold and then painfully cold. I didn’t stop smiling the whole drive home.

There is too much to protest and oppose, too much bad news, and I am sick of feeling discouraged, sick of praying for it to get better and watching it get worse.

Maybe that makes small wonders appear bigger. Or maybe I just needed the reminder that small things matter.

What is the Kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

Oh, that’s right.

PS I’m pretty excited that my book of Advent reflections, God Enters In, is now available in paperback and as a e-book. Some of you have heard that a dozen times, but there may be someone out there yet to hear the news. Merry Christmas!

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