Twenty Dollars


Little did I realize how special this day would be for my family and me. I arrived at the church early. On Sunday mornings, I usually treat myself to a Tim Horton’s coffee and enjoy a little time of preparation and reflection at the church before returning home for breakfast.

I reread the morning’s text and went into the sanctuary to pray for the folks who, in just a few hours, would be gathering. I prayed that those who were torn between coming and staying away would opt to come. I prayed that those who were beat up by circumstances would find healing through the gathered community of believers. I prayed that my words would actually be God’s words. I prayed that the typical morning rush to get to church would hold enough family tension to evidence a need for God but not so much that hearts would be hardened.

Sunday mornings at home are always a scurry. To help, we go straight for the cold cereal, not even thinking about porridge. That morning, Seth, our three-year-old, was adamant that a pair of sneakers about two times the appropriate size were his “fast” shoes, and apparently it was important to him to dress for speed. I insisted on switching them to the correct feet, but softened on my stance regarding shiny black dress shoes. Actually, I seriously thought about leaving my uncomfortable black shoes at home, too, and wearing my own “fast” ones.

The conversation in the car on the way to town focused on the children’s desire to eat out after church and my repeated explanation that there was not enough money in my wallet to do so. I felt bad about not taking them out, for I knew a lot of their friends’ families would be going out. I did not like the disappointment on their faces.

In the foyer after the service, as one elderly lady shook my hand, I felt an object sandwiched between our palms. Ruth did not say a word, but simply smiled and walked away. She had done this before. However, there was no rhyme or reason to her gifts, at least none that I could figure out. Once I realized that the folded paper was a 20-dollar bill, I immediately thought of the kids. Now, with a small supplement, we could eat out.

At home that afternoon we saw the gift pressed into my hand as God’s gracious treat. I picked up the phone to express my thankfulness to the woman who had given it to us. Excitedly, I told her my story with lots of details. When she was quiet for a little while, I assumed she was searching for a way to express what fun it was for her to touch the lives of my children. She finally found words. “Oh,” Ruth said. “Here I thought you might have done something sensible with it.”

I was crushed. I knew we came from different places—she from years of scrimping and saving and not eating out, and I from what to her would appear to be an extravagant (at least not sensible) lifestyle that included periodic trips to a restaurant. I questioned my wisdom in giving all the details. I knew that would be the end of such gifts.

Several weeks later, as I shook Ruth’s hand, again I felt a folded piece of paper. Silently she made her way to the door. I made a fist around the paper. What could it be? It felt similar but could not possibly be 20 dollars. It must be a nasty note talking about the ridiculous way young upstart pastors use money and how she has chosen not to give to this church anymore. She turned and smiled her warm, generous smile. I expected, but had not detected, an air of condescension. Did I miss it? Could I imagine that smile to contain such an edge? Not really. I dared to open my clenched fist. There in the palm of my hand rested another tightly folded 20-dollar bill.

That bill is one of the most treasured gifts I have ever received. Not only was it a sacrifice for her to part with, but also she did not even agree with the way I would spend it. I knew she still believed eating out was not sensible. I knew she suspected that was the kind of frivolity her hard-earned money would support. Yet, she gave.

I long to be that reckless in my expressions of love.

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