Coreen Johnson has graciously provided this personal story of Mormon Life, which I loved and thought would be a great addition here. Coreen is a stay-at-home mother of 4 who now lives in New Mexico. Enjoy!
by Coreen Johnson, FMHer
“Hey lady! Do you have a dollar? Just a dollar! Please lady! Just a dollar! Please, ma’am!”
“Sorry, sir!” I look down at my 4-year-old and 7-year-old sons, and we’re rushing to catch a subway home to Cambridge, MA from a long day in downtown Boston. We find seats together – what joy! I sigh, exhausted from the day. My 4 year old, Elliot, reaches into my purse, I think to grab a piece of gum. Instead, he pulls out a crumpled dollar. He looks at me with crushed, disappointed eyes. “You told that man you didn’t have a dollar.” I rub my forehead, trying to figure out how to explain. “Honey, we pay our tithing to take care of people like that man. The Church has it all set up.” Disgusted, he puts the dollar back in my purse, zips it up and peers at the other sad souls in the train car. I, however, keep explaining. “We had to catch our train or we would have been late getting home…” My voice trails off, weak, and sounding as hollow as the subway tunnel we’re chugging through.
Years ago, as my husband was getting though his grueling seven-year M.I.T. PhD, I knew we had to scrimp and save. It’s the only way we could make it. We had these two sons and a new baby daughter at the time. We felt it was in everybody’s best interest if we held onto every little penny, except for the exact ten percent we absolutely had to give, except for the exact amount of fast offering we weren’t eating once a month. Oh, it pains me to think of how selfish I was, so self-involved! I was sure I would ‘get philanthropic’ the minute when we had some room to breathe. I obsessed about every line on our budget, even every line of our grocery bill. A couple of months after the subway incident, I couldn’t understand why our ‘granola bar budget’ had skyrocketed. I soon figured out why.
I kept a box of granola bars in the backseat, in case anyone got hungry on the rides to or from school. On the way to my 4 year old’s pre-school commute, we would inevitably get held up in traffic, on the corner of Memorial Drive and JFK St, right near Harvard University. I would usually distract myself with the radio to avoid road rage, but for some reason that day I looked in the rear view mirror. My little blonde haired, blue-eyed precious boy had rolled down his window just wide enough to hand out granola bars to the vagrants holding up signs in the street that said things like “Homeless Veteran: Will Work 4 Food.” At first, I cried, “Elliot!” and started rolling up his window, in fear of all things moms worry about. But then I took in the scene. He looked at me compassionately with those eyes that pleaded, Mom, don’t take this away, too. I realized he was in complete control of the situation. There was a little crowd around the window, like they’d been waiting for him all morning. They nodded in gratitude and backed away after he handed them their food. It almost looked like they were receiving blessings, as if he was their little Christ child, handing them communion. My tears started flowing. It felt like I was beholding the scene in Luke 2 – Jesus as a boy, sitting at the temple, preaching to the people who ought to know better. And I, like Jesus’ parents, was “astonished at his understanding and answers.” When I had to drive away because the traffic had cleared, I realized an honest-to-God miracle had just taken place. And I had no idea how many times it had taken place prior to this day, because I had been busy jamming to WBMX-FM in the driver’s seat.
My little boy changed me that day. He taught me that no matter how little I think I have, there’s someone with less. I’ve been less tight with my fists since that day. I’ve realized that while I tithe, maybe my dollars don’t go straight to the starving like I’d hoped. Instead of disappointing my children, I’m going to take their example and hand my free crumpled up dollars to the ones who need it. We returned to that corner every school day after that, and Elliot’s vagrants were always waiting for us. And he always had granola bars for them.