The restaurant was loud and busy, which was normal for a Friday lunch. Amelia carried her tray of dishes to the dish pit where she scraped the leftover food off the plates and stacked the dishes accordingly. She walked to the wait station and pulled the guest check holder from out of the black cotton apron tied around her waist. Her last table had been an older woman and a young child. The woman had been nice and Amelia had given them good service, but the kitchen was busy, and it had taken a long time to get their food out. Amelia figured this was probably going to affect her tip, and she was really in need of money right now. Her son was starting first grade. Not only was it that time of year to buy school clothes and supplies, but he also wanted to play basketball. The fees for a young boy of only 6 years old to play basketball were not very much, but it had still been more than they could afford in the past. This year, Amelia was going to make sure her little guy got to start playing some sports. And if basketball was what he wanted, she was going to make sure it happened.
She opened up the booklet and pulled the money out. They’re tab had only been twenty five dollars, but there was a fifty dollar bill in the check holder. She stepped back out into the busy restaurant to see if the woman was still there, waiting for her change. Maybe I misunderstood her when I thought she had said to keep the change, Amelia thought to herself. The woman was gone, though. A wave of relief and gratitude swept over Amelia. She had been working hard the past few weeks to make sure there was enough money for everything they needed. She had gotten a few other decent tips that day, and with this extra money, she knew she’d have enough to pay for her little Ayden’s basketball enrollment. She finished up her shift feeling good about life and proud of herself for working so hard. She left the restaurant, went and picked up her babies from daycare, and headed home to meet their daddy for some well earned after work family time. They spent the weekend playing at the park and going back to school shopping. Amelia and her husband, Jim, were actually both off work that Sunday. This didn’t happen very often, so they took the opportunity to go to church. They’d been going to the same church periodically for years. Periodically, that is because they both worked too much on the weekends to be able to go every Sunday. It was a good church, though, with a kind, mostly non-judgmental congregation that was known for helping to support those in need. They passed the collection plate around at the end of the service for tithes and donations. Amelia looked at Jim, and they both had the same thought. Their finances were okay for once, and they were grateful. Amelia dug into her purse and pulled a twenty dollar bill from her wallet. It wasn’t much, but it was what they could afford, and it was something. She looked at Jim who, with a sweet smile, gave her an approving nod and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to his side in the pew. When the collection plate came by, she placed the twenty dollar bill in it and snuggled up next to her husband. Life was good.
Demetrius walked into the church feeling lost. I am lost, he thought. I have no idea where I’m going, what I’m doing, or why I’m here. He spotted a lone chair against the wall in the foyer and walked over to have a seat and collect himself. He knew he needed some kind of direction. Everything was falling apart. Actually, everything already had fallen apart. He hadn’t been in a church in a long time, but he didn’t know where else to go. He was looking for a light in the darkness, and for now, this was all he could come up with. He looked around nervously at the people gathering around him, preparing to go in for the service. A young brunette girl standing at a table not far from him caught his eye. She smiled at him and held up a Styrofoam cup. “Would you like a soda?” she asked in a friendly voice. Demetrius was surprised by the small kindness. He went over and took the offered cup. Music could be heard from the auditorium where the church service would take place, and people began to file in. “You can take it in to the service with you. It’s okay” the girl said sweetly. “Thank you” replied Demetrius and went into the auditorium.
The sermon was a good one. It was about compassion and forgiveness. It was about not judging others because no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. It was about forgiving those who have done you wrong and also about forgiving yourself. This was a concept Demetrius was unfamiliar with. He had done many things wrong in his life, mainly things to hurt himself and those that loved him most. His recent descent was due to a weakness for alcohol and drugs. He had let his father down by failing out of the college that his dad had worked so hard to pay for. He had just lost his job. His girlfriend was 5 months pregnant, but she had left him because of his drug and alcohol abuse. Recently evicted from his own apartment, he was now virtually homeless. His father loved him, and would probably forgive him. But Demetrius was too ashamed of himself to go to his father yet. He needed to be able to fix this on his own. He needed strength. It had never occurred to him that maybe he needed to forgive himself. He wasn’t ready for that. “… for all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.” The preacher went on to explain that God loves all of his children, regardless of your past, your present, what mistakes you’ve made. God will always forgive you of your sins. But you have to forgive yourself, also, to find any true joy in life. God wants you to forgive yourself. God loves you and wants you to be happy. Demetrius had never heard any thing like this before. He had always kind of believed that God wanted him to feel guilty and ashamed. There was something else different here, too. The collection plates were being passed around to the congregation. The preacher was saying that if there was anyone out there that was in need, if you needed money to eat, if you had fallen on hard times, to not worry about trying to tithe or donate. As a matter of fact, if you had a true need, he wanted you to reach in and take whatever cash may be in the offering plate. Now, that just sounded crazy. The truth was Demetrius had some major needs. Not only was he homeless, he had no money and nothing left of value to his name. He had no idea how he was going to get his next meal. He still had his old Jeep. It was a clunker, but it drove. Demetrius wondered if this was some kind of trap. Surely they wouldn’t just give away their offering money to someone who they didn’t even know, who probably didn’t even deserve their help. The woman sitting next to Demetrius passed him the collection plate. An usher walked down the aisle to retrieve it and pass it on to the next pew. Demetrius wondered if he dare actually take any money from the offering. He was holding the large plate, and he could feel himself tremble slightly. The usher, a middle aged man, approached Demetrius, reached for the plate and took it from Demetrius, but then stopped. He looked at Demetrius straight on, without judgment, with only kindness and said “Do you need this?” They both paused and looked at one another for a moment. “Take it, if you need it. It’s okay” he said reassuringly and held the offering plate out to Demetrius. Maybe it was the desperate look to him that made the usher stop and take notice of him. Maybe the man could tell he hadn’t bathed in several days, that his clothes wear unclean, that he hadn’t eaten a good meal in who knows how long. Maybe he could just sense the utter despair that was in his soul. Or maybe God was trying to help him. Maybe God did love him and forgave him for all of his terrible decisions. Demetrius reached into the collection plate and grabbed a 20 dollar bill that was sitting on top. The usher smiled gently at Demetrius, gave him an understanding nod, a friendly pat on the shoulder, and then he turned away and handed the collection plate to the next row of people.
When the church service ended, Demetrius went to get himself something to eat. He was starving. He went to a nearby fast food restaurant, ordered three cheeseburgers and sat down to devour them. A small family sat in a booth across from him. The young girl’s laughter distracted him from his meal. She was a cute little girl, probably three or four years old. She stood in the booth next to the man who Demetrius assumed was her father. She giggled next to her dad and rubbed her cheek against his while she fed them both French fries. A woman sat across from them in the booth feeding a baby boy who sat in a high chair at the end of the table. They were all talking, all smiling. They looked so content. Every once in a while the baby would throw something on the floor, and the mom would sigh and reach down and pick it up. The kids were loud, and you could tell the parents had their hands full. But they were together. They were a family. And you could see that they were happy.
Demetrius sat alone with his cheeseburgers. He was so alone. And it was a fate he had imposed upon himself. He had an unborn child that was going to need a father. He had a woman who needed a man to love her and be a father to their child. He had his own father who loved him, who only wanted him to be healthy and happy. Demetrius finished his burgers and headed for the door. He suddenly felt like he knew what he needed to do. He went to make a phone call. There was a payphone right outside, but as he approached it he realized that he only had bills and pennies on him, no change for the payphone. A man probably in his mid to late 20s was walking up holding hands with a little girl about to walk into the restaurant. Without thinking, Demetrius approached him and politely asked if he had change for the payphone. It had not occurred to Demetrius how this may look, his obvious lack of clean clothes or hygiene, probably still smelling of last nights booze, approaching a man in the parking lot of a restaurant to ask for change. The man stopped, obviously annoyed, “Are you really stopping me to ask me for money?” he said with a luck of disgust. “Can’t you see I have a daughter to take care of? Why don’t you get a damn job and quit asking other people for money?!” The man was more than a little irritated as he barraged his questions and accusations at Demetrius. Taken back by the sudden onslaught, Demetrius muttered his apologies, turned around, and walked quickly to his Jeep. There was a library a short distance away. He really needed to do some research and get some numbers before he started making phone calls, anyway.
And that is what he did. After sitting in the library for over an hour, he had a good lead at least on where he could go to get the help he knew he was going to need. Back out in the Jeep, he began his journey. As the Jeep chugged down the road, Demetrius noticed a car stopped on the side of the road and some people walking down the side of the road ahead of him. In this suburban part of town, there were several businesses, restaurants, and gas stations. Except for this one strip. It was all residential homes. Not even a gas station around. In the middle of this hot summer, in the afternoon, the temperatures were well over 100 degrees outside. He could see that it was a man and a small child walking down the road together. Demetrius pulled up next to them to see if he could do anything to help. The man stopped and stared at Demetrius confused. “What do you want?” he asked. It was the same man from the restaurant who had just cursed Demetrius earlier. Two days ago, Demetrius probably would have just driven off. Maybe, maybe not. Today, though, was different. He was different. And he had to prove that to himself right now. “Can I help you? Do you need a ride somewhere?” Demetrius asked. “No. We’re fine. We don’t need a ride anywhere.” The man replied and began walking down the road again, daughter in tow. Demetrius persisted, coasting next to them in the Jeep. “Is your car broke down? Can I help you in any way?” The little girl holding her father’s hand could not have been over five years old, and she was obviously hot and miserable. “We ran out of gas.” The man replied, still irritated. “We’re just going to walk to a gas station and get some.” But Demetrius knew the closest gas station was a good two miles away. “Would you like for me to go get you some gas?” he offered. The man scoffed at this. “Yeah,” he said sarcastically, “like I’m going to give you money for you to just run off with!” He continued walking down the road, with his little girl quietly following.. “Well, alright.” Demetrius sighed as he pulled the car back into the lane and headed on his way. He knew he had a gas can in the back of the Jeep. He still had atleast 10 dollars in his pocket. He drove down to the gas station, filled the gas can with two gallons of gas, and drove back to the man and his daughter. He figured this guy and his daughter really needed some help, and it was actually something that Demetrius was able to do. If God could forgive him for all his mistakes, then surely he could look past this man’s rudeness. He couldn’t just let that little girl walk two miles in this heat. As he pulled up, the man gave him a look as if to say “Seriously?!?” but when Demetrius held up the gas can to show him, the man’s facial expression changed suddenly. He stopped in his tracks and stared at Demetrius, confused. “I picked you up some gas” offered Demetrius. The man continued to stare at him for a moment, attempting to figure out what was going on. Demetrius stopped the car, got out, and took the gas over to the man. “It’s only two gallons, but it’ll get you to a gas station for sure. You can have the can, too. I’m not going to need it for a while.” The man still had a look as though he were trying to figure out what was going on. Demetrius turned to walk away. “Wait!” the man said suddenly and began digging in his pocket. “Let me give you some money.” Demetrius turned back and shook his head. “No, it’s okay. I won’t need that for a little while either.” He gave a wave to the man, went and got back in the Jeep, and drove off. The rehab facility he had contacted was nearby. He had enough gas to get there, and the woman he had talked to on the phone had said that they would be able to take him in immediately
Ethan stood in shock as he watched the old, beat up Jeep drive away. “Daddy, did that man just give us gas so the car will start and we won’t have to walk anymore?” His daughter, Sofia tugged at his hand as she looked up at him inquisitively. Ethan was slowly brought back to reality. “Yes, baby, it looks like he did” Ethan replied, still trying to understand what had just happened. Why? Why had this stranger gone out of his way to help them? And it was the same man that Ethan had just cursed and put down not even 2 hours before! When the man had approached Ethan and Sofia in the parking lot earlier, Ethan had assumed that he was a bum. He was dirty, his clothes were a mess, and Ethan could have sworn that he smelled liquor on him. Ethan had been in a foul mood when the man approached him. He had just gotten off the phone with his mother, and as normal that had ended with him feeling angry and impatient. He knew his outburst to the man had been uncalled for. But he hadn’t cared at the time. He had not even regretted it afterwards. He figured the man probably needed someone to set him straight. Now, though, he didn’t know what to think. Had a bum just given him a full gas can? It didn’t make any sense. Ethan wasn’t used to receiving gifts or favors from anyone. He prided himself on being self sufficient and not needing anyone else’s help. The only reason they’d run out of gas this afternoon was because the gas gauge had stopped working. He normally would have never let anything like that happen. Ethan didn’t have a lot of friends that were ready and willing to help if he needed it. He wasn’t really much of a “people person”. The little girl at his side was the only person in this world that he could honestly say that he loved and adored. Most of the time he felt like it was the two of them against the world. So, naturally, he was completely lost as to why this man would have done such a favor without wanting or expecting anything in return.
He put the gas in the tank and the car started right up. He and Sofia headed home. “What did grandma say?” Sofia asked as they walked in the door, referring to the phone conversation Ethan had with his mother earlier. Sofia was only six years old and a short, petite little thing. She was a beautiful little girl with long blonde hair that curled naturally at the ends. And she was incredibly bright. She surprised Ethan constantly with her understanding of the things that went on around her. It scared him, too. He knew he couldn’t lie to her without being found out, and her trust meant everything to him. “She was asking if she could take you to lunch tomorrow.” Ethan replied and sat down on the couch, picking up the tv remote. Sofia sat down next to him. “So,” she said “can I go?” Ethan sighed and turned the tv on. He really just waned to drop the subject. The topic of his mother was a sore spot for him. She had never really been there for him, in his opinion. His father had died in a car accident when he was only two years old. He did not remember much about his dad, but he knew that before he died, he and his parents had lived together as a family, happy for the most part. After his dad died, though, his mom had something of a mental breakdown. She and Ethan moved in with her parents. Ethan’s grandfather was a hardworking man of few words. He also had a bit of a drinking problem, though, so there were some rocky times. His grandmother, on the other hand, was a kind and nurturing woman. She raised Ethan better than he imagined anyone else could have done, including his own mother. Over the years, his mom just seemed to be less and less involved in his life. As she slowly recovered from her emotional breakdown after losing her husband, she spent less and less time at home with her parents and Ethan, leaving his grandmother to take care of the child, instead. When he was 7, his mother got a job and a place of her own in a nearby town. It was supposed to be a temporary situation that Ethan would continue living at his grandparents’ house after his mom moved out, so that he could finish out the school year. But as the school year ended and summer came and went, he never moved in with her. She would pick him up for the weekend occasionally, but she always brought him back home to his grandparents. When the next school year started, it was decided that he would go ahead and start school at his grandparent’s. It went on like this for years.
He really never had any anger towards his mother, not until grandmother passed away. She died of a sudden heart attack when Sofia was still is her mother’s womb. It was awful and traumatizing for Ethan to lose her. In every sense, she had been a mother to him. It killed him to lose her. After her death, Ethan’s mother started to try to come around more often. At first, it seemed like a good thing. But over the years, Ethan realized how much resentment he had for her. How dare she try to be a mother to him now, after so many years of not being there for him? The heartache he felt over losing his grandmother fueled his anger towards his mother. She would call him and try to be supportive and give him motherly advice, which only angered him more. When he was going through his divorce with Sofia’s mother, his mom had tried to comfort him and advice that maybe he should stay with the child’s mother and work their relationship out. This was the last draw for Ethan. She had no right to meddle in his life. She was no mother to him, and she never world be. In recent years, he hardly talked to her. He had made it a point to keep Sofia away from her. She did not deserve the love of her grandchild anymore than she deserved Ethan’s forgiveness.
“So,” Sofia urged, “can I go to lunch with grandma.” Ethan shook his head. “I don’t think so, honey. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I have to take you back to your mama tomorrow night. I want to spend the day with you.” Sofia frowned and sat back against the couch, looking up at him sadly. “But I haven’t seen grandma in a long time.” She pleaded. “I know,” replied her father “but that’s okay.” Sofia continued to look up at him, contemplating. “Daddy, are you still mad at grandma?” Once again, Ethan wished they could just drop the subject. He tried to ignore the question and turned to watch the tv, but Sofia persisted. “When I get mad at someone you tell me I have to forgive them. You tell it’s the right thing to do. Why don’t you forgive Grandma?” Ethan sighed loudly. “It’s complicated, honey. Sometimes things with adults are just more complicated than when you’re a kid.” She wasn’t going to let it go. “That man forgave you today.” She pointed out in a matter-of-fact kind of way. “What?” her father asked incredulously. “Today, when you were mean to that guy. He forgave you and helped us out.” Ethan stopped watching tv and looked at his little girl. “I think you should be like that man, daddy. I think you should forgive.” She wasn’t trying to make him feel bad or condemn him. But her words pierced Ethan’s heart like a knife. This sweet little girl who he loved and adored, who felt the same way about him, wanted her father to be like a bum? Just because that guy had done something good for them? He gave his daughter a weak smile and pulled her to him. She snuggled up into his chest. He had no words to say.
e Later that evening, he called his mother back and told her she could take Sofia to lunch tomorrow. He could hear the joy and relief in his mother’s voice, and he felt good as he hung up the phone.
Charity was smiling from ear to ear when hung the phone up. Her son had just agreed to let her pick her granddaughter up for lunch the following day. Charity hadn’t seen her granddaughter in almost two years. She was not only excited to be able to spend some time with the sweet little girl, but she also hoped that maybe this was a sign that her son was beginning to forgive her. She had not been the best mother when he was growing up, and she was paying the price for it. She had always loved her son very much, but for many years she could hardly take care of herself, much less a young child. And maybe at some point she just gave up. By the time she had been able to hold a job and get her life together, it seemed that he would be better off without her. Her own mom had always been a great mother, both to her and her son. She knew he was taken care of, and so that helped for her to not feel so bad. She had not realized how her actions would affect him, though. Now, looking back, she could almost understand why he didn’t want a relationship with her. Why would he? She had never put much work into having a relationship with him. But she did love her him, and she regretted the past immensely. She could do nothing to change it. All she could do was try to be a better person. She wanted desperately to have a better relationship with him now, and to do for his little girl all the things she should have done for him.
Charity had grown up much over the years, and now in her early forties, she was not the timid little girl she had been when her son was a child. She had done well for herself and wanted to show her son that she loved him and was capable of being good to him. She knew that life was short, and getting to spend time with her grandchild and her son meant everything to her.
The next day, they met at the restaurant of Sofia’s choice. Charity was already seated at the table when Ethan and Sofia arrived. Sofia ran to give her grandma a hug. It was a beautiful moment. Charity looked up at Ethan “Will you stay and have lunch with us?” Ethan shook his head “No, not today.” There was a few seconds of awkward silence as they looked at each other. “Maybe another time.” Ethan finally offered. Charity looked seriously at her son “I love you” she said, as though trying to convince him. Ethan gave a slow nod “I know, Mom. I love you, too.” He leaned down and kissed Sofia on the cheek. “And I love you, honey. You have a good time with grandma, and I’ll see you, later. Okay?” “Alright, daddy. Love you” Sofia replied as she reached up, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Ethan turned and walked away, leaving them to their lunch date. Charity could not contain her happiness. She beamed at Sofia across the table who smiled gleefully back at her. They enjoyed a wonderful lunch together and made plans to go shopping afterwards. It amazed Charity that such a little girl could make her feel so happy. Her world was filled with hope. They were at the restaurant for quite a while, but Charity loved every moment of it, so proud to be with her beautiful, sweet granddaughter. When they had finished lunch, the waitress brought their check. Charity placed a fifty dollar bill in the guest check book. She handed it to the waitress. “It’s okay. You can keep the change” Charity told her, smiling. It was a pretty big tip, but she did not mind. She was feeling generous, and maybe that waitress needed some good in her day, too.