The true value of a Starbucks gift card
The light had turned green and traffic was starting to move, but I was enough cars behind that I had a few moments. I rolled forward a bit to meet her as she about-faced.
“Can you use this? It’s a Starbucks gift card.”
“Oh, uhm, yes. Thank you.” I pressed the small envelope into one of her fingerless-glove-covered chapped hands. I noticed how cold it was.
Someone in the line of cars behind me honked.
“You’re welcome,” I said, and looked directly into her bright and blue eyes. “God bless you.”
The only word I’d been able to make out on the well-worn cardboard sign she held in her other hand was “HOMELESS.” I drove off on Route 16 towards Medford, closing the car window with my freshly manicured finger, heading for the innermost part of Cambridge, and no longer cursing my GPS for sending me that way.
Because it was me who God had blessed.
Tears clouded my vision as they threatened to spill out of my eyes. I tipped my head back and blinked furiously, willing them away, because I was wearing mascara: I’d gotten all dressed up and made up – and even did my nails – for a meeting.
Just minutes before I was in a sour mood, thinking about my three-hour round trip drive for a one-hour meeting, which I was convinced was a total waste of my day. I’d had a hard drive failure to start the year, which, as a telecommuter, put me mostly out of commission for a week and even though it was approaching the end of January, I didn’t feel that I’d caught up. I couldn’t imagine what would be accomplished that couldn’t be taken care of over the phone, and I couldn’t help thinking about what else I could have done with the commuting time, as well as the time I’d spent to make myself look like a real professional grownup, since normally I don’t take much more time than my boys do to get ready for a day’s work, nor do I dress much differently: sweatpants, tee-shirt, and hoodie.
It seemed like I’d hit every red light on the way in to the city and “just my luck,” I thought. “This one is turning red, too.” It was a busy intersection near the Alewife train station. There were a couple of people pacing back and forth alongside the stopped cars.
“Please, please, please turn green,” I willed the light. I didn’t want to have to ignore the woman with the tattered cardboard sign heading my way.
But a voice inside me prompted, “You don’t have to ignore her.”
“Right,” I huffed. “Well, all I have is a $20 bill. I wouldn’t want to give her that much money. What if she spent it on booze or drugs?”
“What if she did? Is it any of your business what she does with your gift?”
“No, I suppose it isn’t,” I sighed. “But I need the money to pay for parking.”
“Surely you must have something…” I was nudged.
“The gift card!” I had just seen it in my glove box that morning when I’d fished around for my company badge.
“Yes, why not?”
“Because my friend gave it to me for Christmas…” I had been saving that gift card for a special occasion. For me, just going to Starbucks would be a luxury: I rarely bought a cup of coffee, and if I did, it was usually a “Dunks” from the Exchange, about halfway between our house and school.
“Re-gift it. Your friend would want you to.”
“Right. Of course.” And without further ado, I popped open the glove box with another freshly manicured finger and retrieved the card, which brings us back to the beginning of the story.
This was the special occasion.
I shuddered to think about being homeless at all, never mind that day, when it was no more than nine degrees out, and I hoped there was a Starbucks nearby. I think the card was worth $25. I imagined what kind of snacks or coffees the woman would like best. I’d had a fruit and cheese tray and a plain tall coffee with just milk the last time I met the ladies at Starbuck’s after church one Sunday. (Well, they’d gone to church; I’d gone to my youngest’s hockey game.) I wondered if just being entitled to enjoy the warmth of the inner sanctum of Starbucks would be the real significance to the woman. I knew one of my colleagues had been hanging around in a Starbucks for the better part of the week when her wireless was down, so I supposed Starbucks was generous that way to its patrons.
“Thank you, God,” I thought. “That I have a meeting to go to, that I have a warm, safe car to get me there, that this job enables me to provide a home for myself and my children.”
And I realized I didn’t need the card, after all. I had the luxury of making coffee at home.
Every good and perfect gift is from above…James 1:17 NIV