Mama! A white lady just gave me $100!

October 26. Day 26 of My Month of Hundreds.

Five years ago I had another amazing adventure and helped a local pastor start a free health clinic for uninsured adults in North Portland. Through the generous support of the community and our volunteers we’ve been able to provide services to thousands of neighborhood residents. A couple of times a year I go out with the paid staff for Happy Hour to celebrate their hard work. Today was the day.

There’s a place we like a few blocks away from the clinic and the five of us headed over there shortly after five. A bus stop and a gas station sit across the street, and I often see a fair collection of characters in the vicinity. I had my eyes peeled and the C-note in my pocket.

Just as we went in a woman hurried past. Everything about her look and posture said, “don’t bother me”. It was all the invitation I needed.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to the group. “Somebody order me a drink”. I got outside just in time to see the woman duck into a store about halfway up the block. As I closed in I could see that she had gone into the liquor store.

I had second thoughts and then remembered the cold beer that was waiting for me back at the restaurant. So… it was okay for me to look forward to a drink at the end of the day but not this lady? Because she looked poor? Seriously? The chatter in my head is insistent, even when I would swear I know better.

The woman was standing at the front of the small store viewing the wares, which were all behind bars. I walked up behind her. “Hi, how you doing?” I said. She turned and I got my first real look at her. I noticed her long eyelashes and sad countenance. “I’m blessed. You?” I thought for a second. “Yeah, I guess I could say the same.”

She went back to looking at the bottles. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” The woman turned to me again. “Yeah? What?” I took a different approach than my usual; not sure why. “I’m Jill. What’s your name?” Her eyes widened. “I’m not gonna tell you! You might be the poh-lice!” Then she laughed.

I launched into my story and told her my mom had died not too long ago. She fixed me with a steady silent gaze. I told her I had a gift to share and gave her the $100 bill. She gasped and her hands flew up, covering her eyes. She started to sob and grabbed me in a bear hug. “Oh, my God! I don’t have any food! Jesus!” Then she told me her name was Deanna.

She was crying hard by now and was talking fast about how she had been praying for help. “I’m gonna call my Mama! She won’t believe this!” She pulled out her phone.

“Mama! You know how I’ve been praying?? A white lady just gave me a hundred dollars! Jesus! I swear it!” She pushed the phone at me. “Talk to her! Tell her it’s true!”

I took her phone and heard a voice murmuring on the other end. I couldn’t make out the words. “Hello? It’s true what she said. Have a good night.”

I don’t really remember what happened next. Somehow we said goodbye and I carried on with my happy hour.

It was a day for miracles today. 33 men, trapped 2000 feet underground for 70 days, rescued without a hitch! I kept checking in on the news, and heard some of the family members on the radio driving back from my morning clinic.

At the end of the work day, I was heading to my car when I had the urge to turn back and peek in the window of Denny’s. I decided that if I saw someone sitting alone at a table I would go in and ask to sit down with them.

The place seemed deserted and I checked the sign to see if they were even open. Yup, till 1 AM. Then I saw that there was one table occupied, with two African American women sitting by the window holding hands. Their eyes were downcast and they looked serious. And maybe sad. Something pulled me inside.

I stepped right past the “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign and walked toward the women. One of them pushed the shreds of her leftover pancakes into a box to take home. They both watched me suspiciously. “Excuse me. Hi. Can I talk to you for a minute?” “About what?The woman glared at me and kind of rolled her eyes. I launched into a quick version of my story, thinking it might soften her to hear that my mama had died. It seemed to, maybe a little. I sat down at the next table and said I wanted to pass along a gift to them, reaching over to put the $100 bill on the table.

“Thank you, Jesus! Thank you!”, cried the woman with the pancakes. “Thank you, Mother and Father. Thank you for this!” They each grabbed one of my hands and started to cry. Then they told me their story.

One of the women (I’ll call her “Gloria” but it’s not her real name) got hurt at work, needed surgery, and was going to be off the job for months. She had been sitting in Denny’s for three hours, making phone calls to her insurance company and trying to figure out how she was going to pay her bills. She was going through a real bad time. The other woman (“Mary”) knew Gloria a little from way back and saw her sitting there. She felt like Gloria needed someone to pray for her, so she went in and sat down. She ordered pancakes. They held hands and prayed that Gloria would have her money worries lifted.

“Were you in here? You was watching us?”, asked Mary. I told her no, I was walking by and felt pulled to come in. “Oh, my God!” She said. “Thank you, Jesus!”

Gloria was pretty quiet this whole time but she was squeezing my hand real hard. She apologized for “coming on strong” at first. “I shouldn’t have been like that”, she told me. “I’ve said it a million times: ‘Be careful because you may be entertaining angels unaware.’ That’s from the scripture.” I asked her what that meant to her and she said you never know what gifts or burdens another person is carrying.

Mary was shy but had a lot to say. She wanted me to know that her prayers have worked miracles before. “Psalm 91 says, ‘I will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.’ That’s a beautiful one. I love that whole scripture.” She said she had been on her knees praying for the last two weeks. “I’ve prayed to God to heal this recession! Not just for me, for everybody. And to heal pain. And blindness. And don’t let The Man take my social security! Don’t let the rich be greedy!” “Mmm hmm”, said Gloria.

We talked for a long time and it was hard to say goodbye. Gloria told me she loved me. “You are a blessing. Thank you”, she said. They both gave me a big hug.

I can’t explain what pulled me into Denny’s. I don’t really believe in God. But I do believe in angels, and I am so thankful for the two I met today.

Louise and I picked 60 pounds of apples last week, and the sauce was starting to bubble on the stove. I realized I needed more canning jars (where do they all go??) and made a trip to Fred Meyer. Typical for a Saturday morning, it was bustling.

I slowly made my way along the aisles and listened as the chatter in my head picked up. Did I want to give to a smoker? Would I never give to a smoker? Someone with THAT much beer in their cart? Isn’t that high-octane beer?  That woman making a selection from the olive bar must have plenty of discretionary income, right? I found myself making all kinds of assumptions about the young families (white, well-dressed kids snacking on organic fruit rolls: they’re doing just fine).

One youngish mother caught my eye but then I noticed that her cart was full of chips and soda and I kept moving. I said hello to the woman passing out samples of cake to a small crowd and realized I wanted a little bit of privacy for myself and the recipient.

I found the jars I needed and got into the checkout line. It was moving slowly. The woman with the high-octane beer got into the line behind me and I sadly noted that the only other item in her cart was white bread.

Then I noticed the woman staffing the Playland area, where parents can drop their kids off while they shop. A large, cheerful middle-aged woman, she was talking to everyone who walked by in between checking on the two kids who were there. With all the smiling and laughing she was doing, it looked like she didn’t have a care in the world.

You never know, I reminded myself. I got to the cash register just as I saw a mom pick up one of the kids at Playland. The cashier asked me, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” and I wondered what he would say if I told him I was looking for someone to give $100 to. I finished checking out and went over to the Playland counter.

The woman said hello, gave me a big smile and looked down over the counter. “Do we have a little one here?”, she asked. “No”, I said, “I just wanted to talk to you for a minute.” “Okay”, she said. Then I launched into the spiel I’d been practicing in the checkout line: “This might sound kind of strange.” “Okaaaayyy”, she said, and her eyes opened just a little wider. “I’m giving some gifts in honor of my mother and I would really like you to have this.” I handed her the $100 bill and gave her a big smile and started to edge away. “Wait a minute! You’re giving some gifts?” She looked puzzled and then looked down at what was in her hand and said, “Oh, my god. Give me your hand! I’m gonna cry.” She took my hand and we both got teary-eyed. I told her again that I was honoring my mother; that she had died not long ago and had left me an unexpected gift. “So you’re just passing it on and blessing others. Wow. Wow. You don’t know, you just don’t even know.” Then she told me that she didn’t have a single dollar in her wallet. She and her husband had both been paid the day before and had spent every last penny on their bills. “I drove here on fumes. I was just thinking how I had to call my mama and ask to borrow $10. Thank you so much!” She held onto my hand for what seemed like a long time and we just looked at each other.

I don’t even remember walking to the car, but I sat there for a while feeling flooded with gratitude.

My applesauce is finished. It tastes especially sweet.