(Here's a neat way God provided for the 796 boxes we packed in 2002)
My eyes scan the aisles looking for red sale signs as I make a dash toward the children’s department of Gabriel Brothers, a local superdiscount store. This is one of my regular haunts for finding cheap items to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. I move my eyes in a systematic grid pattern down each row of merchandise, waiting for my sale radar to detect a bargain. In less than ten minutes I’ll know if there’s anything worth buying.
I gaze to the left and—there! Just a flash of red. Like a birdwatcher who’s just spotted a rare specimen, I turn to get a closer look and see the price on the sign—25 cents. Now I shift into high gear and move toward it at a near-trot, like I’m following a star from the east.
“Oh, it’s the hats!” I whisper with reverence. I’ve been watching this rack of little girls’ hats for over a month now. Several hundred darling floppy-brimmed hats—some corduroy, some velvet—have been hanging here for weeks, and the supply hasn’t seemed to dwindle much. I watched their price move from $1.00 each down to 50 cents. I still considered that too high a price, even though I knew they would be a great hit with little girls. But at 25 cents, the price is, in the words of Goldilocks, “Just right.”
Now that my cart is right beside the sale sign I’m a little disappointed, though. The nicest floppy-brimmed hats are gone. There are about 75 hats left on the rack, and all of them are velvet baseball hats with rosettes and rhinestones glued to the brim. They’re cute, but not as practical or versatile as the other styles. I think about how I prayed this morning again about finding some perfect items for the shoeboxes. Why didn’t I make time to come here yesterday?
I decide I might as well stop complaining about missed opportunities and just thank God I found these baseball hats. I know they’ll make some little girls happy. I grab them off the rack a row at a time and form piles in my shopping cart, taking care not to crush them.
“Hey, there.” A voice startles me, and I turn to see one of the store employees standing next to me, straightening her blue apron. “I see you’re buying all those hats,” she continues.
“Yeah,” I say in a sheepish voice, “my church packs shoeboxes to send to kids in other countries at Christmas time.”
“Well, I was just wondering if you wanted any more. Did you see the other hats we had out here before? The ones with the floppy brims?” she asks.
“Yeah, I really like those even better, but I thought they must be gone already,” I answer, hope rising.
“Oh, no. I just took them off the racks to make room for other new stuff coming in. If you want them, I’ll sell them to you for 25 cents each, too.”
“Sure I want them!” I am amazed. “I’ll take all you have.”
“Great! Just let me go get them out of the back room,” she says over her shoulder as she walks away.
In a few minutes she’s back, pushing two shopping carts loaded with hats. “Here,” she says, “come over to this counter and you can go through them and make sure they’re all what you want.”
I follow her to one of the vacant check-out counters, and together we start to count and stack the hats. “My name’s Donna,” she says, “and anytime you come in just look for me and I’ll tell you if I’ve got stuff in my department on sale. I’ll introduce you to the other department managers, too.”
“Wow, that’d be really nice,” I tell her.
We stack and count in silence for a few minutes, and then Donna says, “You know, it’s really lucky I just happened to come along and see you when you were putting those hats in your cart.”
“Well, Donna,” I reply, “I don’t think it’s luck. I was just praying this morning for God to help me find stuff for these shoeboxes. I think when you walked by it was an answer to prayer.”
“That’s sweet,” she says. It’s not sweet, it’s God’s providence, I think to myself. But when I think again, I realize it is pretty sweet, too.
“Okay,” says Donna as she counts the last hat, “that makes 310.” As I hand her my credit card I think how close I came to not getting all of these hats. But when I think again…nah, it wasn’t even close.