This morning I visited the dollar store to gather all the candy, small toys (my husband Brook so generously calls these items,"landfill"), school/craft supplies (more landfill) toiletries, and other treats that I love to buy to stuff the stockings for five kids, one husband, and (this year) one cat. What fun!

The items flew easily off the shelves and into my cart with superhero speed! Time passed all too quickly, and a glance at my watch told me that it had been over an hour since I'd arrived. I knew I had to hurry if I was going to accomplish all my planned tasks on this last school day before winter break! My cart and my heart were FULL as I imagined the looks of surprise, joy, and glee on the faces of my family next week.

Time to head to the checkout! Unfortunately, my euphoria came to a halt as I attempted to transfer my purchases from the cart to the rolling checkout counter. Physically, logistically, and financially, my purchases had suddenly become more difficult to handle. There was a fairly long line of customers behind me, and I was all too aware of how long the process took when using robotic, prosthetic hands.

Consider my task at "hand":
1) Open hand.
2) Place hand over the bag of candy or trinkets.
3) Close hand lightly around it, careful not to smoosh the M&M's or cheaply made toy.
4) Pick up hand, hoping that the stocking stuffer was attached.
5) Hold hand over the scanner and open it. Exhale with relief that I hadn't inadvertently dropped said item back into the cart or onto the floor.
6) Celebrate that I'd successfully transferred an item.
7) Repeat above process with the other >100 stocking stuffers.

I smiled lightly at the sweet lady who was the next customer in line, tacitly apologizing for how long this process was taking and how much of her Christmas shopping time I was eating. But, instead of being annoyed with me, she kindly and graciously offered to help! And I knew she was doing this from a genuine place of goodwill to men (or women, as the case may be).

Thankfully, I often receive such offers when I am grocery shopping, etc. But I am not naive. I know that some of the people who help me at the time of checkout are merely expediting the checkout process for themselves.

Every single time I shop, I am aware of how other shoppers notice my struggling with the checkout process, not only of putting my items on the countertop but also of retrieving my debit card from my purse, sliding it through the card reader (or more recently pushing it into the chip reader - yet another new thing I've learned), and finally entering my debit code or signing my name. Sometimes my prosthetic fingers are recognized by the touch screens; but more often they are not. In these cases, I am forced to use my elbow or the stylus pen provided, another lengthy process all its own.

I usually try to reassure people that it is harder for them to watch me struggle than it is for me to struggle. Many kind people must suppress an enormous urge to reach out with their own hand and do this whole process for me - to take away my struggles, if only for that one moment. My heart goes out to them; it truly does. The whole debacle just makes it awkward for everyone involved...

But I digress...Back to my story.

The sweet lady behind me, let's call her "Beatrice," was actively and authentically helping me. But the rest of the people in line were not quite so patient - they were using their hands and feet to tap their watches or their toes. At this point, I felt the need to explain that I was filling stockings for five kids, not just spoiling one or two. I thought this might somehow make it less annoying that I was also "deciding against" items here and there, trying to remember that we are on a "pastor budget" these days, and attempting to keep things "fair and even" between each child and their bounty. 

But you'll never believe what happened next:

Beatrice gracefully swept the things that I had set aside back into the pile of items to be purchased. She looked into my eyes and told me I was a blessing to her. She quietly told me not to worry about the items I'd set aside because she'd be paying for my whole order!!! And she softly said, "You just go home and take care of those babies. I'll take care of this."

I tried to argue, but she'd have nothing of that. With tears in my eyes, I thanked her and hugged her. I told her what an incredible blessing she was to me and my family this Christmas!

What an incredibly generous gift Beatrice gave my family. I can only imagine the expressions of surprise and delight that will appear on my kids' faces this Christmas morning! Oh, what a blessing!

When I returned home, the first thing my husband did was ask me who I'd been kissing! "What?" I asked. I thought maybe he was referring to the way I was glowing with joy. But, as it turned out, when Beatrice and I hugged, she had left a little reminder of her gift that morning. A simple kiss.

Who has kissed you this Christmas season? How will you kiss, or bless, someone else's life? I challenge you to take away someone's worries, be it through a warm smile given to the cashier in Walmart, a financial gift, or just taking something from their plate of burdens. Be that blessing in someone else's life, just like Beatrice was in mine.

I hope you have a merry Christmas, and blessed New Year.

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