An unexpected gift received from a stranger delivered a message for Lent - and the value of remembrance and love

©Joy Dunlap

I didn’t deserve the gift but it made an impact.

Clutching three books in my arms, I was in line to buy some last minute gifts to give my husband that day.  Only one person was in front of me at the bookstore, and she was in a conversation with the cashier.

At first I was antsy, but as I reminded myself about it being Valentine’s Day and a day of love, I shifted my mindset and waited patiently.

When she backed away from the counter, I started to move forward from the waiting line area.

Surprisingly she turned not to leave but to face me.  Walking purposefully, the 30-ish woman headed straight for me quickly covering the 12 ft. or so separating us.  Given her longer than normal conversation with the clerk, and the unusualness of her direct route towards me, I began to anticipate that perhaps she needed money to complete her purchase.

I was wrong.

Her words tumbled over each other as she spoke rapidly.

“My grandmother’s birthday was today. And, she used to give us all gift cards and so I wanted to give one to someone in remembrance of her. So this is for you.”

She held out her hand holding a bookstore gift card.

But… there is someone who needs that far more than me, I thought, almost speaking up to turn down the gift.

That’s the thing about an undeserved gift.  In order to receive it, we have to have an open heart and hands.

And be humble.  And thankful.

God stirred my heart to acceptance.

“How wonderful that you are honoring your grandmother in such a way. I graciously accept your kindness.”

She started to turn towards the door.

“What was your grandmother’s name?” I asked.

“Mary,” she answered, seeming to feel awkward about the situation with one foot turned to head out but I kept looking at her, speaking softly.

“Tell me something about your grandmother,” I encouraged. Her eyes glistered as she shared about how loving and kind and generous her grandmother was, and how she always gave them “and everyone” gift cards.

Tears began to pool in her blue eyes.

“I’d love to pray with you right now.  Would that be okay?” She nodded and spoke an assent.

Then we stepped out of the line, and right there in that bookstore, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for that grandmother whose life clearly impacted her granddaughter in a positive and giving way. I thanked God for the woman standing by me, calling her by the name she’d given me, acknowledging her efforts to touch others in the example of her grandmother. And, I prayed for her life.  I can’t remember all the words; it was a conversation with God, and the Holy Spirit moved there.

We hugged each other and I thanked her again for her gift in honor of her grandmother.

After she left and I went up to pay, the cashier who must have been watching us commented on the interaction and asked what church I attend.  I told her and asked where she went.  She responded that she’s starting a church plant in the area.

After she rang up my purchases, she asked if I wanted to use the gift card I was still holding in my hand. I told her I would hold on to it, so I wouldn’t use it today.

“I didn’t think you would,” she said with a smile.

It’s as if we both knew God has another plan for that card.  I don’t know who it’s meant for, but when God reveals that, I’ll tell them the story about a grandmother whose life of generosity and kindness impacted her granddaughter – and how her granddaughter’s honoring her in remembrance had an impact on me.

Today as I’m reflecting on this encounter, I’m contemplating how we’re entering into a season of remembrance for the greatest gift-giver of all. 

How will we remember Jesus?  His sacrifice?  His example?  His steadfast love? 

Many observe Lent by giving up something in sacrifice.  Some do something good for others in remembrance of Christ who gives us the gift of salvation, eternal life, and connection with God.

Sacrificing Time for Lent, another Speaking Joyfully post I wrote, offers suggestions on actions we can take for others.

If you choose to do something for someone in remembrance and honor this Lenten season, let them know Who it’s in honor of.

It takes the focus off us and puts it on the One who is the giver of all gifts. 

The One to remember.  The One to be grateful for.  The One to celebrate.

In remembering and giving – and living and sharing – what we’ve experienced, we let others see the ultimate story of Love.

Reaching. Touching. Changing.

One person at a time.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – Jesus – John 13:34-35

  • If you could get a gift card from only one place, where would it be and why?
  • Whose generosity and/or kindness has been an example to you?  Can you think of at least three?
  • How have you honored someone’s memory in a way that touches others?
  • During this Lenten season, in what ways will you specifically honor Jesus as you remember what He did for you?

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Psalm 77:11-12

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7


Life is Better When It’s Full – Joy-full, Thank-full, Purpose-full and Friend-full! ™

  • Scripture verses from New International Version (NIV)
  • Photo recreation

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