Not long ago when I was in Nashville for a book signing, my sister-in-law and I were driving frantically around town to complete some last minute errands in preparation for a dinner she was hosting later that evening. We were both exhausted and ready to go back to her house and rest for a little while before her friends arrived. Unfortunately we didn't have that luxury because there was just too much to do! Since I was leaving for Chattanooga the next morning to attend my son's football game, I needed to buy snacks. I was already suffering from working mother guilt because I had been too busy to bake cookies, but that's another story...To make matters worse, the temperature had plummeted and I was trying to figure out a way to get to the mall in order to buy warmer clothes. My sister-in-law was feeling overwhelmed, too. She still had to find the perfect wine to complement dinner and she wanted to make some last minute adjustments to her menu.
We pulled up to a stoplight and out of the corner of my eye I saw a homeless woman standing on the corner of the busy intersection selling newspapers. Her face was red from the cold wind and her clothes were slightly dirty although it looked as if she had tried to make herself as presentable as possible considering her circumstances. My sister-in-law maneuvered so that she could be in the lane closest to the woman and explained to me that she always purchased a paper because the organization the woman was selling papers for helped provide housing, employment, and other resources for homeless men and women in the area.
When the car came to a stop, I rolled down the window and the woman limped slowly to the car. She finally approached the car and took the single dollar from my hand. Her smile was a genuine one of gratitude. It lit up her face and reached her eyes, making them sparkle.
"How are you today?" she asked.
My sister-in-law and I said we were fine although we had spent the last half hour bitching about all we still needed to do and how tired and cold we were.
"How are you?" was our obligatory response.
I had no idea the homeless woman's response would change my life. Here was this woman who was disabled, without permanent housing, dirty, cold and probably tireder than I could ever imagine being and when asked how she was she replied,
"I can't complain."
The reality was that she had a great deal to complain about, but she chose NOT to complain.
My sister-in-law and I drove away in silence, each of us grateful for this gentle reminder. You see, God could have easily taught us a lesson of gratitude by having us lose everything and stand on that corner with the woman peddling newspapers for a buck. But by the grace of God that could have been us! Instead, He reminded us that we had so much to be grateful for without stripping us of everything we had to teach the lesson.
That brief encounter reminded me that I have the choice to complain or to give thanks. Although I had never put much thought into my "little moanings," I suddenly realized what I must have sounded like to God. A spoiled, ungrateful brat! Here I was in a designer suit and shoes with a trendy bag resting on the back seat of a luxury car. I had a full stomach, a healthy body, money to buy the things I needed and a warm comfortable bed to come home to. Yet, I had the nerve to complain.
My angel selling newspapers that day taught me that it was my choice whether or not I complained. Yes, there will always be things that bother me, but instead of groaning and moaning I can just stay silent or give thanks, instead, for all of the things that are going my way!