the value of a dollar

She glanced in the mirror. Not terrible. She looked older than she was, and her dress wasn't in the best shape, but she was still a young woman and with the hat you couldn’t tell she needed a haircut. The neighbors had agreed to watch the kids for a couple hours tonight, if she watched their kids Saturday night. So she was ready to go. To church. She couldn't quite believe it, but there it was.

Her hand was on the doorknob when she remembered the collection. They take up a collection at church—how could she forget that? They always seemed to make such a big deal about it at the churches she went to growing up. Lots of lofty blessings on the cash. And one place even made a parade out of it. Everyone, even the kids, would get up and march single file up to the altar, which had a basket on it and one of the elders standing next to it. They would walk by and drop in their money—while the man watched and nodded solemnly—and then parade back to their seats. One Sunday, when she was a teenager, she had refused to join the parade. She just sat there with her arms crossed. Her mother had been so embarrassed that she slapped her when they got home. She never went to church again after that.

She looked in her wallet, though she knew what she'd find there. Just one dollar and some change. Well, she wasn't going to put change in, that's for sure. The clink of the coins in the offering plate would be too embarrassing. She knew she was poor, but she didn't need them knowing it. So she grabbed the dollar and stuffed it in her pocket. A dollar wouldn't buy dinner for tomorrow night anyway—she still didn't know what she was going to do about that. She didn't get paid until Friday; maybe she could stretch the left-overs? And if they had to go hungry one night, that wasn't the end of the world—she'd done it enough times when she was a kid. She immediately hated herself for that thought, but that was the world she lived in.

When she got to the church, Linda wasn't there. Of course. Linda had been bugging her about this for weeks, and now when she shows up, no Linda. But the people seemed nice enough, and she hadn't come for Linda, really, had she? She'd been shrugging off people like Linda for years, no problem. It was the bills she couldn't shrug off any more. And the rumors about layoffs. And the horror stories she heard about the welfare offices. That's what dragged her into a church again, not Linda.

It was a small church, and the service wasn't much, compared to what she’d seen before. Just a few in the choir and some simple songs, but the people sang like they meant it. She recognized one she had liked as a child:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you,
allelu, alleluia.

She liked the "allelu": al-layay-loo. She could remember her mother singing it that way.

Then the preacher got up there, but he kept it pretty short and simple. And there was no collection right afterwards like she was expecting. At a lot of churches she'd been to, the preacher would shout and dance around and get everyone worked up, and then they would pass the plate right away. Like they were saying, "You got your show—wasn't that something? Now what was that worth to you?" Just like everywhere else: people always wanted something from you. But who was she to talk?

They prayed, sang some more, then a few announcements and that was it. And the announcements weren't what she was used to either. Usually pastors talked about all the great community services their church offered, or how they just bought new hymnals, or what they were doing to fix up the church. Which always sounded like they were trying to convince the people that their money was being put to good use. It reminded her of those road signs by the construction sites: "Your tax dollars at work." And the pastors always moved right on to "...but to keep up this great work, we need your full support." And everyone knew what that meant. Whether it was the pastors that said it or the politicians.

People were getting their coats on. She turned to the older lady next to her. "There's no collection tonight?"

"No, dear, we don't do that here. And somehow God finds a way to give us what we need anyway... not that we need much, you know." The lady smiled, and put out her hand. "I don't think we've met. I'm Betty. Do you live around here?" She told the lady her name and that she lived in the Monroe building. "Ah! So do I. You'll have to come over some time. I'm not going right home now, but how about tomorrow? For dinner maybe?" Betty didn't even mind that she had kids. "Please, bring 'em along! I could use a few little ones around my place again. Number 107. Six o'clock OK?"

She was stunned. She managed to nod, though, and smile a little, then watched as Betty walked slowly away. But she couldn't move. Something felt like it was coming loose inside of her, and she was afraid that if she moved she would fall apart. "And somehow God finds a way to give us what we need anyway..." She didn't know if she could believe that—but she wanted to. Lord, she wanted to...

She realized she was crying. But still she didn't move, letting the tears fall to the floor. When her nose started running she searched her pockets, but only found a crumpled... She laughed. And blew a dollar's worth.

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