(Here's a piece I wrote about one way God provided for our 2,240 boxes in 2005)
Day For A Miracle--2005
It’s a day meant for a miracle. January 13, 2005 proves to be a lucky day for us in Erie, PA--a balmy reprieve from our usual winter weather with a record high temperature of 70 degrees.
I feel blessedly light wearing only shorts and a t-shirt during my early evening run, and when the run ends I soak in a hot bath, and then curl up on the couch for a quiet night at home. Snuggling into my comfortable robe, I open the newspaper and flip through the pages. In the bottom corner of one page, an advertisement for the Millcreek Mall’s January Sidewalk Sales catches my eye. The sale began today, and I wonder if they have any bargains. It seems doubtful, since I rarely find anything in the mall stores inexpensive enough to buy in quantities for the shoeboxes. Besides, I’m all ready for bed, and it seems silly to get dressed to make the trip.
I finish scanning the rest of the newspaper, but I can’t stop thinking about the sales at the mall. Finally, I haul myself off the couch and get dressed, knowing I’ll never be satisfied until I’m positive I’m not missing any great deals.
By the time I reach the mall it’s just a half hour before closing time. Only a few stores have tables of sale items displayed in front of them, and after glancing at a few of those, I’m disappointed. Still, I decide to venture farther down the main concourse to Claire’s—a store specializing in jewelry and accessories for children and teen girls. I walk into the small store and head for the back where I see a red sale sign on a table that’s overflowing with hats, slippers, and even boots.
“Welcome to Claire’s,” the cheerful salesperson greets me. Then she continues, “Everything on that table’s on sale. You can buy any ten items for $5.00.”
My eyes scan the cute suede boots with an original price of $19.50. “Even these boots and slippers?” I ask.
“Yep. As long as you buy ten items, it’s just $5.00.”
My excitement is mounting. “Can I buy as many as I want?”
“Well,” I say, launching into my stock explanation, “our church packs shoeboxes filled with gifts for kids in other countries. I pray all the time to find stuff like this. I’ll probably just take it ALL.”
“Great. My name is Courtney. So just let me know if I can help you,” she says as she moves to straighten the jewelry on a nearby rack. I start to grab sets of matching hats and gloves, fluffy slippers, and the half dozen pair of boots and stack them into piles.
“I want all of these,” I say.
Then Courtney strolls over. “Here, let me help you. You can just put them into piles of all one thing. Like stack all the slippers together, then all the hats together, and all the boots together, and then we can just count them. Do you want any more boots? I think there’s more in the back.”
“Absolutely. I’ll take whatever you want to sell me.”
“That’s great, because we really need to make some space here. I’ll just go in back and bring out more boots.” A few minutes later she returns, hauling several large cartons filled with pink, blue, or tan suede boots in all sizes from little girls’ to ladies. “Just count these,” she instructs, “and I’ll go look for more stuff.” Before I finish counting the boots, Courtney comes back with her arms loaded full of more slippers, hat and glove sets, and even cute little ponchos.
“Here we go,” she says, dropping her load on the floor. “Now I’ll help you put these in piles.” We start to sort them out, working in silence for a moment until Courtney muses, “It’s really nice of your church to do this.”
“Well, it’s actually a lot of fun—especially seeing the way God provides these things for us. Like me being here tonight to get these great deals.”
“My friend says I should go to church,” Courtney blurts out. “She thinks I need some peace.”
“Well, we all need peace.”
“I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life,” she confesses. “I got divorced from my first husband and I’m getting divorced from my second. I always wanted kids, but I don’t think I’ll ever have any.”
“But you’re still young, Courtney.”
“Not really. I’m thirty-four. Besides I wouldn’t want to inflict my life on any kids.” Another customer is ready to make a purchase, and Courtney excuses herself. I keep sorting. A few minutes later, Courtney comes back and hands me a small notebook. “Here. Just count up how many there are of each item and put the stock number beside it. It’s the number right here,” she says, pointing to a tag. “I’ll go look for more stuff.”
Courtney comes back with still more boots and drops them on the floor. Then she says, “What about sunglasses?”
“Oh the kids love them,” I enthuse.
She starts pulling sunglasses off a rack. “Well, I’ll just give you all these and charge you for thirty pair. Just write it down as thirty.”
“Are you sure? There’re a lot of them there.”
“I’m sure. We have more than a thousand pair of clearance ones we have to get rid of.” Courtney’s name tag indicates she’s an assistant manager. I hope she knows what she’s doing. She piles the sunglasses into a bag.
“Where do you live, Courtney?”
“Down by 5th and Myrtle.”
“Well, it might be a ways for you to travel, but I’d love to have you come to church with us if you want,” I tell her. “We’re a block up from Buffalo Rd. and Station Rd. in Wesleyville.”
“Oh, I know where that is. I used to live in Lawrence Park,” she says.
“Really? Did you go to high school at Iroquois?”
“No. I’m from Colorado. I’m starting to think I should move back home. My life is such a mess.”
Another customer beckons, and Courtney goes to her register. I glance at my watch and realize the store will be closing in ten minutes. I have all the items counted and tallied. Most of them have price tags with retail prices of $14.00 or $16.00, and the 43 pair of suede boots each retailed for almost $20.00. There must be several thousand dollars worth of merchandise here. I take the notebook up to Courtney at the cash register and watch as she moves her fingers over the keys, entering all the numbers. “Okay,” she says at last, “with the tax, that’s $113.42.”
“That’s ALL,” I marvel, handing her my credit card.
“Yeah. You got a lot of nice stuff, but we needed to clean it all out anyway.”
“Well, we sure appreciate it. This is such a blessing. A real answer to prayer.”
“Hey,” Courtney says, as we look at the mounds of shopping bags, “if you want, I can help you get this to your car after I close the store.” Several last-minute customers walk in, and she leaves to help them.
I haul four bags in my arms and struggle to the car. I make two more quick trips, while the customers are still browsing, then come back to the store once more. It looks like I’ll have to make two more trips, until a male customer sees me struggling and offers to help me. “She just bought all this for her church,” Courtney tells him.
“Well, I’m bored,” he replies, “so I might as well help you.”
“That’d be so great.” He stacks two large boxes full of boots, hefts them into his arms, and starts off behind me. “What’s your name?” I ask him as we walk out together.
“Dave. What’s all this stuff for, anyway?”
“Well, our church packs shoeboxes full of gifts to send to kids in other countries. I pray all the time to find bargains like this, and tonight God really answered prayer. I got all this stuff for fifty cents each.”
“No way. Even these boots?”
“Yeah. All of it. This will make a lot of kids really, really happy.” When we get to the car, I struggle to find the key in my pocket and open the trunk.
“Man, your car is FULL!” Dave sounds amazed.
“Well, God is really good at answering prayer,” I chuckle. We wedge the boxes and bags into the trunk and back seat, and I turn to walk back into the mall with Dave. “I want to thank Courtney again,” I explain to him.
As we approach the store, Dave’s wife and daughter are walking out to meet him. “Hey, you’ve got a great guy,” I say with a smile. They nod and wave.
I go back into Claire’s and see Courtney cleaning up. I wish we had more time to talk. “Courtney, I just wanted to come back to thank you again. You’ve been such a blessing tonight and a real answer to prayer.” She smiles.
“Courtney,” I continue, “I don’t think it was a coincidence that we met tonight. I just want you to know that God loves you and He has a great plan for your life. You can start your life again right now. I’m going to be praying for you, and I’ll have some of my friends praying for you.” She opens her arms, and we move to embrace.
“Thanks,” she whispers into my ear. After another squeeze, I turn to leave, then pray for Courtney all the way to the car and on my drive home. I am still praying for her as I count and sort all the things I purchased—257 beautiful clothing items.
The next day I write a letter to Courtney telling her all the things I wish I’d had time to say the night before. I write about how much God loves her, how she can ask Jesus to forgive her and give her a new life, and how she can contact me so that maybe we can get together again. I seal the letter in a large envelope along with a Bible and some other literature, and then I drive up to the mall and leave it with another employee at Claire’s. Courtney isn’t there today.
I keep praying for Courtney. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, but I sense that God will somehow use our meeting to bless her. After all, it was a day meant for a miracle.