There's nothing quite like the kindness of a stranger. I could share a million stories of incredible things my family and close friends did for me while I was growing up. But whenever I am asked about a special memory from my childhood, there's one story that always comes to mind...and I can't even tell you his name.
We were on a church youth choir trip. My dad was the trip coordinator, so my while family tagged along. I was only five years old. When it was time to eat a meal, my dad always tried to stop at a mall. The food court was not only time efficient, but it gave more options for a variety of diet needs and taste preferences and gave everyone a chance to walk and stretch their legs after several hours on the bus.
As you can imagine, being an active five-year-old, I was done with sitting down by this point. I ate my meal in record speed. Since our table was right outside Bath and Body Works, I asked my mom if I could go in the store and look around. My mom was hesitant, but since she could see inside the store, she agreed.
I walked in and immediately began picking up everything labeled "tester" I could get my hands on. I would simply open it, smell it, and set it back down where I found it. I could only reach the bottom row, so I quickly ran out of new options to smell. Not ready to head back to sit down, I simply wert back to the front of the store and started down the line again.
There was a man working in the store. I noticed he was watching me, but I wasn't hurting anything, so I kept moving down the line: picking the tester up, smelling it and setting it back down. Then, I noticed he was walking towards me.
"Would you like to smell something from one of the other rows?" he asked.
Knowing I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, I nodded. He began helping me with my pattern. He would pick up something from the rows I couldn't reach, let me smell it and put it back where it went. He continued this pattern until I had successfully smelled every scent the store had to offer.
My mom noticed that I had been gone for quite some time. When she saw the man helping me, she decided it was time to come get me. After all, I wasn't a buying customer. She didn't want him wasting his time.
She reached her hand out to me. "Come on, Michelle. Let's go take a walk down the mall now." She turned to the gentleman. "Thank you."
"Could you hang on just one second?" he asked my mom. "I'll be right back."
Confused, but willing to comply, my mom and I waited as he walked into the employee room in the back of the store. When he walked back toward us, I noticed he had two boxes in his hands. He opened them both to me to reveal two different scented soaps.
"Which one do you like best?" he asked. He held them up while I smelled them both several times. They both smelled good, so I wanted to make the right decision.
Finally, I pointed to the purple-colored soap (that I now know was Lavender Vanilla). "This one," I said, decisively.
"Okay, wait right there," he said. I watched in amazement as he went behind the counter, got one of the store's gift bags and wrapped the soap I picked in tissue paper and tied the package with a bow.
"Here you go," he said, handing me the bag.
I, of course, lit up like a Christmas tree. "Oh, we can't take that," my mom said. "I'm sorry I sent her in here alone. She just wanted to..."
He cut my mom off mid-sentence. "She was so good in here, careful not to spill anything or open a bottle that wasn't labeled as a 'tester.' I'd like for her to have the soap if it's alright with you."
My mom agreed. "What do you say, Michelle?"
"Thank you so much," I told him. "I'll take good care of it," I promised.
He laughed. "Just promise me you'll enjoy it," he said. He waved and moved on to help another customer.
Even then, as a five-year-old, I knew that I had experienced an abnormal act of kindness. When we got home after the trip, my mom started to open the box to put the soap in my bathroom.
"No," I insisted. "I want to keep it in the box."
"Why?" she asked, obviously puzzled.
"Because I want to save it...as a reminder to be kind to others. That man didn't have to give me that soap, but he did."
I don't think my mom knew what to say, but she put the soap back in the box. It stayed on my dresser in my room for the next ten years. Finally, when I was 15 and we were moving across the state, I decided it was time to use the soap. After all, I wasn't sure what six hours in a moving van would do to it.
However, the memory of that day is etched in my mind as if that box were still sitting on my dresser as a daily reminder. I was especially reminded of it today as I read Matthew 25:34-46:
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
How we treat others reveals our true devotion to Christ. Infact, before Jesus ascended to heaven after dying on the cross, he asked Peter the same question three times. Jesus said, "Peter, do you love me?" After Peter responded, "Yes, LORD, You know all things. You know that I love you," notice Jesus' response. He says phrases like, "Tend my sheep" or "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15-17) In other words, the best way we can show Jesus that we love Him is by caring for others.
Reflect on your own life. When is a time that you have seen Christ reflected in the way they treated you? Thank God for those momemts and pray God will give you opportunities to shine in someone else's life for His glory.
I'm not sure I'll ever see that man who worked in Bath and Body Works again, but the impact his small action had on my life is significant.
Do you love Him? Feed His sheep.
Do you love Him? Tend His lambs.