It was December 22nd and I stopped at the local grocery store after work to pick up a few items. My stepson was coming for dinner, so I needed to get in and out quickly. I grabbed the tater tots and coleslaw and searched for the quickest checkout lane. It appeared to be checkout lane 12. I was wrong.
As I stepped into line behind three other people, I spotted the old man standing in front of the credit card reader just ahead. From the confused look on his face and the patient way the young cashier was talking to him, I could tell this might take some time.
The old man looked perplexed. He was clad in wrinkled jeans and a worn black coat. A tattered blue stocking cap covered his straggly, gray hair . He wore thick black-rimmed glasses, and when he looked my way, I could see he was missing two bottom teeth. His rough calloused fingers seemed to fumble the credit card he was holding. He gazed back at the line that had formed behind him and shifted nervously. He appeared lost. Confused. He looked to the young cashier for help.
With a calm voice, the young cashier directed the old man step-by-step on how to use the credit card reader. From a wrinkled piece of paper in his left hand, the old man punched the PIN number in with his right. Upon completion of the transaction, the young cashier looked into his eyes and spoke quietly. “Sir, you have a balance of $7.43.”
This seemed to throw the old man into a more confused state. “But…the card,” he stammered.
“Yes. You used what was on the card, and you still have a balance of $7.43.”
The old man glanced from the cashier to the line of people behind him and back to the cashier.
Before the old man could speak again, the middle-age man standing behind him looked at the young cashier. “May I insert my card?”
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “Would you like me to add these other items, also?”
The middle-aged man nodded.
The young cashier rang up two boxes of light bulbs and a couple other items I couldn’t see. Apparently, the old man had divided his groceries into two piles. Things he needed and other items he would get if he had enough money.
The young cashier scanned the items from the second pile and finalized the transaction. The middle-aged man took his card from the reader as the cashier finished bagging the groceries. “You can go now, ” she said grinning. “Your balance has been paid.”
Still confused, the old man looked at the bags of groceries. “How much did you say I owe? Seven…?”
“You don’t owe anything,” said the cashier. She looked at the middle-aged man. “This man covered your remaining balance.”
The old man gazed back at the middle-aged man with a questioning look.
“Merry Christmas, Sir,” said the middle-aged man. He smiled.
The old man became still and looked down for a moment. We all stood quietly and watched. When the old man lifted his head, his face was scrunched and his eyes glistened. He looked at the middle-aged man and spoke softly. “This is the first Christmas without my wife.”
The old man turned back to the cashier and asked her once again, “How much did you say I owe?”
The young cashier looked at the old man with compassion. In a voice barely above a whisper she repeated, “Sir, you are free to go. You can leave now. You don’t owe anything.”
One more time, the old man turned to the middle-aged man. A smile emerged and his eyes sparkled. “You know, for thirty-seven years she was a good wife and mother. But most of all,” the old man raised his right hand and patted his chest, “she loved Jesus with all of her heart.”
The middle-aged man smiled in return and extended his right hand. “Merry Christmas, Sir.”
The old man’s trembling hand grasped the middle-aged man’s in return and they shook hands. Their two hands stayed tightly clasped for a brief moment. Then the old man released his grip and replied, “Merry Christmas.” He picked up his bags of groceries and shuffled toward the door.
When the old man was out of sight, the young cashier took a deep breath. She raised her hands and fanned her face to dry the tears that had begun to trickle down her cheeks.
The middle-aged man turned to me and the woman between us. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” He winked.
With tears in our eyes, we wished each other a Merry Christmas. Then one by one, we completed our transactions and left the store. Each of us different from when we entered.
As I left the store with the scene still fresh in my mind, I thanked God for allowing me to be a spectator as this special Christmas blessing unfolded. I realized I had just caught a glimpse of Heaven; one I might have missed had I chosen another checkout lane.
It was the most precious gift I received this year. No gift I would open in the next few days would top the Christmas blessing I received in checkout lane 12.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16, ESV)
Prayer: Dear God, Thank You for the privilege of allowing me to observe You at work. It wasn’t just the old man who received a blessing that night, but all of us who watched the scene unfold. Help us to remember people who struggle during this time of year. May we reach out as the middle-aged man did and help someone in need. Let us be alert to the opportunities You place before us each day to be Your hands and feet. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.