Five bags for Alicia

Last Monday I did a major closet cleanout. It came about in the way all of my big household projects come about: I noticed that there was a problem, muttered something along the lines of I should do something about this at some point, promptly forgot about it, and ignored the situation until it got to the point of ruining my life. On Monday morning I was looking for a t-shirt and my arm got stuck in a jumbled of clothes, and only became more entrenched the more I struggled. I momentarily thought that my closet had become a malevolent organism that was now trying to eat me, like a bad outtake from Poltergeist, and that’s when I decided that it might be time to clean it out.

I ended up stuffing five large trash bags with clothes that no longer fit. It was nice stuff, too: my mom is the master of finding designer clothes at bargain prices, so a lot of the items in the bag were high-quality pieces that I’d only worn once or twice before I lost weight. As I dragged the bulging bags down the stairs, I thought of what a great haul this would be for someone else. I was in the middle of calculating how much time it would take to get to the local Goodwill store and back, when a name came to mind:

Alicia.

Our friend Alicia occasionally makes trips to her home town in Mexico, and in the past she’s asked for any extra clothing or household items we could spare, since she gives them to impoverished people down there. She hadn’t asked me about that in a long time, though, so I went back to my bag dragging.

Alicia.

I heard the name again. I almost considered setting these bags aside for her, but before the thoughts could coalesce in my mind, I was back to fixating how to get this stuff to Goodwill. I had a thousand things going on that day, and was feeling overwhelmed. I hadn’t really had the time to spare to do this cleanout, and now I just wanted this off my plate. Besides, I wasn’t going to see Alicia any time soon — who knows how long those bags would end up sitting there if I reserved them for her? I hadn’t heard about any planned trips to Mexico either; for all I knew she’d stopped going altogether because of the drug violence. So I hoisted the bags into the car, rushed down to Goodwill, and hurried back to all the other things on my to-do list that day.

Two days later, Alicia showed up at my door.

She has a cleaning business that we support, and I had thought she might come by to do some work sometime in late April, but I never expected her so soon. I told her it was a pleasant surprise to see her and welcomed her in. After she’d been there for a while, she took me aside.

“Jenny, can I talk to you about something?” she asked in Spanish. I said of course. “Do you have any extra clothes that I could have to take to Mexico?”

I was shocked. It had been so long since this topic had come up. Alicia hadn’t seen my closet, and I hadn’t mentioned anything about my cleanout. I thought of my half-empty clothing racks, the overstuffed bags of clothes at Goodwill, and resisted the urge to smack myself in the forehead. Before I could answer, she explained the sense of urgency I’d noticed in her tone:

She has an aging uncle who lives in a particularly impoverished area of Mexico, and she’s about to go visit him because he desperately needs her help. Though she didn’t say this, I knew that it would be an enormous sacrifice for her to go without work for that time, and that it would take a lot of effort to arrange care for her ailing husband, who is not able to live on his own. But, she explained, this uncle is getting very feeble and has a hard time taking care of himself, and so Alicia and her sister have agreed to take shifts going down there to stay with him.

In the area where he lives, she explained, there is poverty like we almost never see in the United States. Her eyes grew grave for a moment, then she shook her head, as if trying not to think too much about the things she’d seen down there. Many of the people don’t own beds or blankets. They don’t have towels. The kids have nothing to wear but the tattered clothes on their backs. They don’t usually even have beans to eat: a typical meal for a person around there might be a single tortilla. Though Alicia lives well below the poverty line here in the United States, she said she feels embarrassed by her lavish lifestyle every time she goes down there and sees these people who have nothing.

“And so when I can bring them clothes,” she said, “it is a big blessing.” She told me that a few years ago she took a tattered jacket that was in such poor condition that she was almost embarrassed to give it to anyone. A local mother gladly accepted it; when Alicia returned the next year, she was still wearing it.

The image of those five bags of clothes burned in my mind. I was so exasperated with myself I could hardly speak. In the end I dug out some extra clothes I’d planned to keep and passed them on to her, and also asked about offering financial assistance so that she could buy needed items locally in Mexico.

After our conversation was over, I sat on the edge of my bed, staring blankly at the carpet. What killed me about the situation was not that it happened in and of itself, but that I was certain the Holy Spirit had tried to prompt me to save those clothes for the people in Mexico. Those five bags were meant for Alicia; and because I was too focused on my to-do list to listen for the voice of God, I gave them to someone else. I’m sure Goodwill will put them to good use, but their warehouse is already overflowing with clothes. Also, that store is located in a firmly middle-class area, surrounded for miles by other middle-class areas; the people around here don’t need extra clothes like the people in Mexico do.

That Monday morning that I hastily gave away those bags, I hadn’t spent any time in prayer. If I’m to be honest, it had probably been days since I actually set aside time to intently focus myself on the Lord. This has been a pattern for the past few months, and I keep saying that I need to make more time for prayer. Yes, my life is very busy, but if I spent even one-tenth the time I spend messing around on the internet in silent time with God, I could have a pretty solid prayer life. I know this. I’ve known it for a while. But I thought of it in a “ha-ha, I’m so bad about that!” kind of way. In my selfishness, I thought it was just between me and God.

It took the situation with Alicia to wake me up to the fact that when we’re not closely listening for the voice of God, we don’t just miss out on the peace and joy we experience from a deeper relationship with the Lord; we don’t just miss an opportunity to give honor and glory to the One who most deserves it; we don’t just miss out on answered prayers God may have had in store for us — sometimes we miss the opportunity to answer someone else’s prayer.

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Enter the Conversation...

34 Responses to “Five bags for Alicia”
  1. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this, especially for “if I spent even one-tenth the time I spend messing around on the internet in silent time with God, I could have a pretty solid prayer life.” Since I am, in fact, messing around on the net right now while putting off prayer!

  2. This is one of the best things you’ve written. I love your honesty! It’s the “ha-ha, I’m so bad about that!” kind of tone that drives me crazy sometimes in the things I read online but it’s this kind of introspection that I find inspiring. Thank you!
    Charlotte (Matilda) recently posted..Easy Paschal Candle

  3. Karen says:

    Wow. This spoke so deeply to me. Your last paragraph is going to stick with me today. Thank you for writing this!

  4. Ouch. Convicted! I think it’s time to get off the computer and read my Bible and pray.

  5. John says:

    J-I’m learning slowly that God allows things like this to happen so we learn. Just like He never wants us to sin, but He uses the sin to make us NOT want to sin again. We could not feel that way many times if we first did not sin. So now you will change since you experienced something you didn’t like. God is good, everything works together.

  6. cinhosa says:

    Thank you for sharing the impact to you on your decision. It’s awesome that you recognized the Holy Spirit was speaking to you, although it was after the fact. Of course, it is hard for us to listen to God, among the din of modern life and neat little tools like the internet.

    One thing that I started about a year ago is putting my desires into my prayer book (I use Prayer Journal for iPhone) and then I pray about this desire until it is clear. This is in opposition to my natural tendency to over-commit / leap-before-I-look.

    Sometimes this means that I take action later than I wanted to do it but then I feel peace when through prayerful discernment, I made a decision aligned with God’s will, instead of my own.


    cinhosa recently posted..And there was Jesus

    • Megan says:

      This is a perfect idea! I’ve never thought to do a prayer journal. I’ve written down prayer intentions once and the list grew and grew. I became overwhelmed. Advice on beginning a prayer journal to include intentions for yourself and others?

  7. Andrea says:

    Go to Goodwill and “redeem” the clothes, or some equivalent of them?

  8. Laura says:

    Wow, what a powerful lesson and a great reminder for us all! Our priest just gave a homily about listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit this week. Thanks for sharing that, Jen! God Bless.
    Laura recently posted..Putting it All Together

  9. Valerie says:

    I have a few bags of clothes that are sitting in my garage, a mix of adult and children’s clothing, because I am not motivated enough to actually drag them to the car and take them to Goodwill. Has she gone to Mexico yet? I would be more than happy to pay to ship them somewhere, I can get motivated for that.

    • You are so kind! I have had some local offers, and I’m going to call Alicia and see how much she can fit — one constraint is that she only has a medium-sized sedan that she’s driving down there. (Mark my words: If I ever win the lottery, she is getting a massive truck with tons of cargo space.)

      • Phyllis A says:

        I would love to send a monetary donation if that would be ok since I live in Florida and sending clothes would be difficult. Or is there possibly an address in Mexico that clothing could be sent to directly?

    • Ashley says:

      I had the same thought as Valerie – I’d love to send the clothes I have to Alicia. If that’s not possible, does anyone know of an organization that does something similar?

  10. Jane M says:

    Prayer life is important but in this case I would stop and think hard about what the “Alicia” voice sounded like when It spoke. I have spent years trying to learn how to hear/recognize God’s voice in my life. One of the ways to learn it is to stop when you know it was there and think about what it “sounded” like. I even think that my guardian angel “sounds” a little different from the Holy Spirit. Not to say that I always hear either one but it really does help to look for the recognition signals, so to speak. And an incident like this one is, regrettably, one of my biggest ways to learn that recognition.

    • Megan says:

      That is amazing. I long for the day when I can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to me. Quiet time with my Bible in the mornings has been a huge help. I feel like certain verses practically slap me in the face!

    • Thanks for mentioning this. I hadn’t stopped to really think about how that voice “sounded” so that I can recognize it in the future — I will do that now!

    • nancyo says:

      That’s interesting. The times that I have “heard” from God, it is like the word or sentence just popped into my brain, along with a certainty that it came from the Divine.
      nancyo recently posted..Tuesday Tour: Cathedral of St. Hedwig, Berlin

      • Jen G says:

        I’m always reminded that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd. Of the few times, I’ve ever actually “heard” a voice it was very much like that….something that wasn’t audible, but just popped into my head, and I just knew. I almost hate saying that, because when people tell me that they “just know” things, I find it very frustrating :)

  11. Chantal says:

    oh wow. have you thought of going back to goodwill? they probably haven’t even gone through your bags

  12. Rose says:

    WOW – this spoke to me in a very real way. Thank you for sharing Jennifer!
    Rose recently posted..Target: Cyprus Home Pink Felicia Apron only $13.99 Shipped!

  13. Marian says:

    Wow, what a reminder. I can add that, not only do the Holy Spirit’s promptings have to do with blessing others, but they also sometimes have to do with blessing US– and we miss out on both. Last fall I had a bunch of outgrown little girls’ pants, and was thinking of just dropping them off at Goodwill, when a certain person came to mind. I hadn’t seen this person in months, not since before my husband had left and told me he was divorcing me. I gave her a call to see if she could use the clothes and, in the course of our brief catching up with each other, of course mentioned what my husband had done. She said that she and another woman who’s husband had just left her for a mistress had just begun meeting together once a week to talk and pray about all of it… and would I like to join them? Now 8 months later we still meet at least a couple of times a month, and these ladies have meant the world to me. I’m so thankful to have heeded the prompting in that moment. It was about so much more than pants!

  14. Crystal says:

    I actually wasn’t aware with this…Thanks a lot for sharing them things to us…Thanks for the reminder as well…
    Crystal recently posted..Learning a Foreign Language Can Be Challenging but Rewarding

  15. Karen says:

    Thank you for this information. I never heard of this.
    Karen recently posted..More About the Advantages Of Aquaponics Over Hydroponics

  16. LPatter says:

    You rock for sharing this little moment of humbling instruction with the whole world! :)

    His voice is so quiet, huh? But unmistakeable. It’s like in the moment right after we can so easily say “nah…” – but we know it was. Learning that is the hardest for me – sometimes obeying, especially immediately doesn’t make total sense. It can’t – because it’s His eyes seeing, not mine! So hard for me to get into my head.

    I find this similar to the experience of learning about “mother’s intuition.” A dear friend and I became moms at the same time, and had heard much of “mother’s intuition.” We thought it was going to be this strong, clear, deep gut instinct that would consume us with certainty. Instead what we found was that our boys would be doing something, maybe playing with something, and we might just have a single thought kind of pass lightly in and out of our mind – like “maybe he could tip that over…” and the thought was gone in an instant. Five minutes later, the thought would come to pass – he’d tip it over, or whatever. It took a little while, and some discussion, to realize that THAT was “mother’s intuition” – but like anything, it was information that we were free to put into practice – or not – a new way of seeing that allowed for a higher level of activity and competence – if we chose to implement it. It was not a deep emotional force – though I know mothering holds plenty of that too.

    As for GOD’s voice, my mom JUST had a similar experience, but with Benadryl. She thought God was nudging her to pick up some benadryl several times, but thought that was weird and she knew she didn’t need any. Easter Sunday morning she started reacting to medication she was taking and broke out in a large red rash and started feeling tingly. It was not life-threatening, but inconvenient, and could have escalated. Fortunately I had one benadryl in the car while visiting and she was all set. It was a little thing, but I was amazed when she said “The Holy Spirit has be TRYING to get me to buy benadryl, but I wouldn’t listen!”

    He does try to help us in the little AND the big things! And, like your story, we can never really know in a single moment all the implications of that one “ok Lord…”

    Thanks for a compelling post. And I will pray for Alicia and the Mexican poor you describe. How easily I forget how others live in other parts of the world.

  17. Marie t. says:

    God speaks to us in most unexpected ways. I know this cause He never fails to speak to me when I tend to be lost. What is your next move then?

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Mariel T.
    Marie t. recently posted..How To Pick Up Girls

  18. Kate J says:

    What a timely message for me. I have been slacking in prayer this week (after a wonderful Holy Week!), and this reminds me that it is often the case that I miss out on so much that God has in store for me to do when I become a slacker. Note to self: remember this.

  19. OUCH! OK, after I comment I’m going to stop “messing around on the Internet” and go pray. You are so right. Thanks for sharing your mess-up so I could more clearly see mine.
    Andrea Parunak recently posted..How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child from Birth to Age Eighteen? Part 4: Food

  20. Mark L says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Faith is an adventure paved with grace.

    Next time soldier, don’t forget.

    ML

  21. Barbara says:

    I’ll let others look into the spiritual meaning of this post. I read it and then cleaned out my closet. In fact, I cleaned out two closets.

    Yes, Goodwill has “plenty” of clothes, but they also do very good work. With respect to the clothes themselves, they bundle much of the unsaleable (in the US) clothes and they enter a market that many of us are unaware of: flea markets in the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa. Your tee shirts become extremely affordable clothing for people who have nearly nothing. The process by which this happens employs thousands of people who need a second chance or need a job and training because of developmental disabilities. They also, of course, provide affordable items for financially strapped people in our own country by repairing and recycling useful items.

    I understand that this post is about listening to the Holy Spirit. I respectfully offer that perhaps it isn’t about your ability to personally donate to Alicia but to do what we all should do when serendipity just doesn’t happen: call your friends and ask if they can help and save the pressed Alicia some legwork. Overall, I get the sense that this event weighed more heavily on you than it should have, and that the fruit of this experience is to give Alicia a wider network of help.

  22. carol says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I know I have a hard time first taking time out to actually hear God and then following through on what he’s telling me.