Monday was my birthday. It was a bittersweet day as we lost my dear grandmother last week and her funeral was over the weekend. She was an incredible person; in fact, I shared a little about her a few months ago as I reflected on who first taught me what it meant to be generous (you can read that post here). As my cousin put it when our family gathered to share stories about my grandmother with her pastor, she was "incomparable".
I took Monday off as a birthday gift to myself and stopped at Trader Joe's that afternoon to grab a few things. If you've ever shopped at Trader Joe's, you know the people who check you out always ask about your plans for the rest of the day. I don't usually share much with strangers, but I told the young woman it was my birthday and that I was having dinner with my husband and my parents. She warmly wished me happy birthday and finished bagging the groceries.
As I was almost to my car in the parking lot, I heard someone say, "Ma'm, wait!" I turned around and it was the woman who had rung me up, holding a small bouquet of flowers. She said, "Happy birthday!" and smiled. I burst into tears. She asked if I was ok and I quickly apologized and told her my grandmother had recently died and I was still very sad. She told me she would pray for me and my family.
When I thought more about that moment and why the young woman's act of kindness caused me to react so strongly, I realized that yes, part of it was my grief. But it tapped into something more, something bigger. It's easy to feel like the world is going down the tubes...that we're heading in a scary direction and people care less and less about each other. I often get caught up in the negative; it's hard not to when you read the headlines or get on any form of social media.
Yet here was someone, a stranger, going out of her way to wish me a happy birthday with a little bunch of flowers. A small act of generosity, sure, but it had a big impact. She gave me hope and reminded me to view the world through a lens of love, not fear.
What if we all recognized and acted on the moments in our days when we have the opportunity to share with someone, to spread a little joy?
Martin Luther wrote, “We have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others."
As I reflected on my grandmother's death and my birthday, I had a moment of feeling like my life is just a drop in the bucket and perhaps not very important. But reading Luther's words reminded me that as followers of Christ, we have the most important jobs in the world: sharing God's love with others. My grandmother did that in spades. I don't know if the young woman from Trader Joe's was Christian, but her gift to me, a stranger, was certainly Christlike.
So I head into my next year of life enjoying the beauty of unexpected flowers, celebrating my grandmother's life, giving thanks for the little (and big!) things, and looking for new ways to be of help to others. Happy birthday, indeed.