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This week’s $10 Challenge – Ninja Style

I’m amazed at how Billy Coffey is able to observe people — their actions and conversations — mostly without being noticed unless he chooses to be noticed. He’s like a ninja:

Conversely, when I attempt to observe people, I am also like a ninja, only more like this:

This was the case when I attempted another ten dollar challenge yesterday.

Plan A:
Go to the nearest Toys R Us, sit in the parking lot and look for an older car (perhaps in disrepair) then seek out the person of persons emerging from said car, purchase a gift card and slip the card in their shopping cart while they were still shopping.

Abort Plan. There were no older cars in the parking lot. It was a sea of late model SUVs and mini vans.

Plan B:
Drive across the street to Walmart, buy a gift card and slip the card in someone’s shopping cart.

Abort Plan. This is a pretty fancy Walmart…

Plan C:
Drive to the Walmart on the other side of I-10 which is located in an area that is not quite as affluent as my local Walmart.

Went to cashier and purchased a Walmart gift card. It was more than $10, but that’s not really the point, right? It’s about being blessed and passing the blessing on. But I digress…

After purchasing the gift card, I walked around the store, ninja like. After walking around with no real plan for about 20 minutes, I remembered this book (due to be released in the Fall of 2010) I read recently which, among other characters, had a secret Santa roaming around the toy aisles of a major box store. (Snow something…) Anyway, I figured that was as good a place to look for someone to bless as any, so I made my way over to the toy department. I spotted several candidates, all with groceries in their carts. It seemed that the toy aisle was their last stop. Hmmm…not really feeling the Holy Spirit leading me in any of these situations.

And then I spotted them. Hispanic couple, 30ish pushing an empty cart up one aisle and down another. Their first stop was at the scooters. They looked at them closely, looked at the yellow price sticker on the shelf and moved on. I then followed them (still ninja like) to the aisle that contained the boy toys. They stopped at the RC cars and trucks. They pulled out the biggest monster truck from the bottom shelf. Pulled out several, actually. A hushed conversation in Spanish ensued. I assume it was hushed because A) I was standing pretty close to them and B) Everyone assumes I’m hispanic and therefore able to understand Spanish. After about 5 minutes, they put the bigger trucks back on the shelf and settled for a smaller version which they placed in their cart. They moved down the aisle to the matchbox cars. The woman picked up a Lightning McQueen car, said something to her husband, then returned it to the shelf.

They moved on to the next aisle: Barbies, Bratz and all things girly. At this point I have already decided that they would be the recepients of my little plastic blessing. I had also decided that I’d better do something pretty soon, because as much as I was trying to be ninja like, I don’t exactly blend and I was wondering if I was creeping them out a bit. They had parked their cart in front of the princess costumes. That’s when I approached the woman.

“Excuse me”, I said. “Do you speak English?”

“A little”, she said.

Pulling the gift card from my purse and handing it to her I said, “Merry Christmas to you.”

After the briefest look of confusion, her eyes lit up and her lips curled into a big smile. “Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you.”

And then I got a great, big Christmas hug. Awesome.

Now, a seasoned writer may have ducked behind the next aisle and waited to see what else the couple put in their cart, thereby making a much better blog post. But me? I just hightailed it out of there straight to the front of the store and out to my car.

But my hope? My hope is they went back and got the big truck.

To read more Ten Dollar Challenge stories, visit What I Learned Today. Just click on the box below or on the sidebar of my blog. Merry Christmas!

Seeing the Unseen

“How we view people is half of how we love them.” – Koffijah

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have seen your share of panhandlers. For years I did what many people do when at a red light where a homeless person has staked their claim. I stared straight ahead and pretended not to see. But pretending not to see them doesn’t make them any less there. This post is not about the hows and whys of people living on the streets. It’s meant to be about loving people without judging them. That’s what I attempted to do this past Monday…

Last Wednesday I shared my first attempt at the Ten Dollar Challenge. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, and the results were not exactly what I expected. This week wasn’t much different, although I will say it was more personally gratifying.

I had a couple of ideas, both involving the five pre-packaged, banana nut muffins that sat in my pantry. I will probably attempt the other idea next week, but for this week I decided I would put together care packages, drive down the access road of I-10, and hand them out the first five homeless people I spotted. Sadly, finding five homeless people within 20 miles of my upper middle class neighborhood is quite an easy task.

The package included a muffin, banana, chocolate milk, a small amount of money and a note that said the following:

I don’t know if it was choice or circumstance that brought you to this corner, but for the purposes of this note it matters not.

I just wanted you to know that on a day when perhaps 100 cars or more will pass you by and pretend you’re not there, there is at least one person who sees you, and there is a God who loves you.

I know this isn’t much, but if nothing else I hope it brightens your day a little bit.

God bless,


Yeah, I know…I’m not usually a fan of Anonymous, but in this case I thought it was appropriate.

Like I mentioned, finding homeless folks in this town is not a difficult task. They can be found under most overpasses that are heavily traveled. And while my task was not difficult, it wasn’t as easy as I had thought (hoped) it would be, because if I was traveling east, rest assured the person I wanted to bless was standing on the opposite side of the overpass facing west or vice-versa.

Every. Single. Time.

That’s okay. I think that was God’s way of letting me know He expected me to put forth a little effort in the endeavor.

The first man I gave a bag to gave me the standard smile and “God bless you”, then immediately walked behind a pillar to inspect the contents of the bag. What happened next was my blessing. I watched him read the note. He then waved at me with what seemed a genuine smile to replace the practiced one. I waved, returned the smile and drove away.

The next man was young (mid to late 20’s is my guess). I suspect he was just passing through town, escaping from colder climates north. His first reaction was the same as the first man’s — he walked behind a pillar to inspect the contents. His next reaction was quite different however. Instead of smiling and waving, he bent down and put both hands over his face. He remained like that for at least as long as I could see him in my rear view mirror. Whether in tears, in prayer or something else, I’ll never know…

My next attempt was a woman sitting under an underpass holding a plastic Target bag. She didn’t look like she lived on the streets. She looked as if she was waiting for a ride. (Which is incredibly dangerous, but I digress.) I tried to give her a bag, but she waved me off and said, “Merry Christmas, in case I don’t see you before then!” She could have taken the bag, she chose not to. Perhaps hoping that someone who was more in need would get it instead. That made me smile.

Next came a seasoned veteran of the streets. He took his bag, thanked me and returned to his stoop.

Two bags left.

What I thought would be a two for one stop turned out to be much more. The two men standing at the intersection accepted the bags happily with a “Praise Jesus!” and a “Hallelujah!” Turns out, they were not homeless men at all. They were passing out flyers and raising money for a non-profit organization that “helps recovering addicts and homeless men and women restore their lives through the Word of God.” According to their flyer, they provide free counseling, transitional housing, food and clothing. If this is a legitimate organization, I can think of no better way to express my gratitude than providing these two volunteers with a little snack and some pocket change.

It was a fairly painless process for me to provide a few folks with a snack and a note. To address the reasons why someone is on the streets in the first place can be an overwhelming, thankless, heartbreaking endeavor. May God bless their ministry.

To read more Ten Dollar Blessing stories, visit What I Learned Today. Just click on the gift box, peeps!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

A brief update on the snowfall from yesterday’s post:

Yeah…I think that was the extent of our white Christmas. Frosty – may he rest in peace.

I was bummed out that President Obama’s speech preempted the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Oh, I know I could have rented it, but it’s just not the same. I remember looking forward to watching it every year growing up, and while I can’t bring you the show in its entirety, here’s the true meaning of Christmas as told by everyone’s favorite blanket toting Peanuts character, Linus:

I’ll be doing some Christmas shopping this week. This year I intend to do much more praying and a lot less stressing about the perfect gift for those on my list. Because as Linus eluded to, we’ve already been offered the best gift of all. If we’ve accepted the gift, that’s certainly cause for rejoicing this Christmas.

And speaking of gifts, have you taken the Ten Dollar Challenge yet? (And yes, I’m going to shamelessly promote this all month long – just saying.)

Being good for goodness sake

Yesterday I shared my first attempt at Billy Coffey’s ten dollar challenge . It didn’t exactly work out the way I had planned, but I was still able to buy a couple cups of coffee for some unsuspecting people.

Last night while we were setting up for praise team practice, I was talking to Jeff (senior pastor/worship leader) about my attempt at an anonymous act of kindness and how it didn’t go as expected. I went on to remark how genuinely surprised the employee I spoke with was that I would do such a thing and how I was genuinely surprised that he was surprised.

“Surely people buy other folks coffee all the time, right”, I said. “No. They really don’t”, Jeff said. He went on to say that in all the time he did that type of work, he saw someone pay for a total stranger’s order maybe four times. “Really?”, I said. “Really. Friends will buy friends a cup of coffee without much thought. People just don’t pay for total strangers”, he said.

It truly surprised me that this is such a rare occurrence. Why do you suppose that is? It’s such an easy, painless thing to do. As Christians, we should be looking for opportunities to love people, not because we’re supposed to, but out of gratitude for the love He has lavished on us. It doesn’t have to cost money, just a small investment of time and effort.

The first time I saw the following commercial, I thought it was cool — right up until the very end when you figure out it’s an ad for an insurance company — that sort of bummed me out.

Are random acts of kindness so rare these days that we need to be reminded to do them by an insurance company? I dunno, just seems sort of sad to me.

So here’s my challenge (I know, I’m very demanding here lately): Do something today for which you expect absolutely no recognition for. Someone once said character is what you do when no one is looking. What type of character are you?

And speaking of characters, find out who Billy Coffey met during his own personal ten dollar challenge over at The Christmas Change.

My Ten Dollar Challenge (Sort of)

On the heels of Billy Coffey’s Ten Dollar Challenge, I went to my secret stash of gift cards and pulled out the one from Starbucks. I decided I was going to bless a few people with some overpriced coffee. And as luck would have it, the card was for $20.

Saturday morning, I ventured out to the nearest Starbucks. It was super crowded, and I wanted to do this on the down low. After a few minutes of getting in and out of line and pretending to look at Indy CD’s and gift mugs, I decided to pull an employee aside and speak to him privately.

Me: “I was wondering if you could help me out with something.”

SBE: “Sure. How can I help?”

Me: “I have this $20 gift card, and I would like to buy coffee for however many people $20 will buy coffee for. Here’s the catch, though – I don’t want anyone to know who bought the coffee. I would like to remain anonymous. I’m going to buy a cup of coffee, then I’m going to go sit down in a corner somewhere. Capeesh?”

SBE: “Wow! What a wonderful thing you’re doing. That’s really nice – etc…”

Me: “Okay, great. Please wait until after I get a cup of coffee, and remember – I don’t want anyone to know who bought the coffee.”

SBE: “Okay. This is really great…”

So you know where this is headed, right? Yeah, thought so…

I’m standing in line. I go to place my order and the girl at the register is absolutely BEAMING at me. I order my Venti Cafe Americano (because I don’t drink sissy coffee drinks). I try to pay her and she says, “No. That’s okay.”

And I’m like, “No, really. I want to pay for it.”

And she’s like, “No. It’s on us. You know, for your kindness.”

At this point I’m thinking to myself, “Well the lady behind me is probably wondering why I’m so kind, and she going to know who paid for her coffee. Dang it.” Turns out she didn’t have to figure anything out because the girl at register is smiling and pointing at me!

Bless her heart. I knew she meant well, but how embarrassing! So I got one heartfelt “Thank you” from the lady behind me and then I high-tailed it out of there.

Sigh…The best laid plans, huh? But I suppose I did buy coffee for a few people, and I didn’t do it for my own glory. It’s just that it would have made a more interesting post if I could tell you some of the reactions I had witnessed.

But I’m not giving up. During the month of December, I am going to attempt to bless others in small ways and report back each week. To accomplish this, I plan to reserve Wednesdays here to let you know how I did — hopefully better than my first attempt.

I’m also working on getting a blog button that you can grab either here or on Billy Coffey’s blog if you would like to participate in the Ten Dollar Challenge. Billy will designate a spot on his blog to link your stories and your blogs. We hope to share some inventive ways to give big in small ways.

I’ll let you know as soon as we get everything set up. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions on ways to give back and bless others, I would sure love to hear them!