She Needs Five Cents

Honestly, it’s hard not to see her.

We’re stopped at a gas station on one of the crowded avenues in San Francisco.

I watch her as she digs bare-handed through the garbage can. I see her dirt filled fingernails pull out empty plastic water bottles. She shakes out the water, dirt, or whatever else is in them, and stashes them in a plastic bag that is tied to a big stick she holds over her shoulder.

She has mismatched layers on. Flannels, I think. Her hair looks like it hasn’t been washed for months.

Honestly, she is a spectacle.

“Maybe we should give her something?” I say to the kids, feeling sad for her. They are sitting in the car with me, trying to stay warm, as my husband is filling the tank with gas.

My husband gets into the car. A gush of cold air comes in with him.

Brrr. I shiver in my down jacket.

“Why does she want a plastic bottle?” my son asks.

“Well, it’s probably worth five cents,” my husband says. He starts the engine.

I reach in my purse.

But just as I do, a man, perhaps the gas station attendant, storms towards this woman. His arms moving wildly. He is furiously shouting at her. To our shock, he shoves her off his property, with no more regard than one would have for a filthy rodent.

It seems this is not the first time this woman has been in his trash can.

“That’s not right for him to shove her! We have to call the cops!” my 10-year-old son exclaims.

“Hurry! Try to find her, Daddy!” all three kids urge.

By the time our car rolls onto the crowded street, the woman is far down the sidewalk, her bobbing stick quickly disappearing in the distance.

She is out of sight.

Though not out of mind.

In a city where even the most unassuming home is still worth at least a million, there is a woman scrounging in the trash for a mere nickel.

And isn’t this the painful irony of life?

What we toss off is someone else’s treasure.

Desires, longings, needs… they are so real. They are understandable. Some our very breath depends on.

But with this new year, contentment is at the top of my list – not a complacency to stop trying or praying or hoping for more, but a gratitude for what is already in my care and a trust that God sustains.

However, contentment can’t exist without perspective.

And this woman, her fleeting, disturbing, graceful presence gives me a much needed glimpse.

To remind myself when my heart beats hard and the day is long, someone needs five cents and carries her possessions on a stick.

And in spite of my forever wanting, there is always something in our lives that has value.


Because it’s she who embraces what she has now, who lives life most filled.

What word do you hope to reflect your new year? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:11-13

23 thoughts on “She Needs Five Cents

  1. This is wonderful – I am thinking through a word for my year as well, and I have a feeling it will be related to your word contentment. It is something I do not easily find, but something that I think we are called to.

    1. Exactly. It seems very clear that we are called to contentment… especially godliness and contentment, for this is great gain. I too struggle with this, more than I wish I did. Small steps… and in His strength all things are possible. 🙂

  2. This is such a challenging post. The word for me is trust. As the New Year comes I want to trust God more. I understand He has a lot planned for me but I need to trust Him! Happy New Year to you and your family!


  3. To your last question I say check out my post to find out. 😉 But what I really want to say is I love this post! You captured my attention instantly and I love the perspective you gained from this experience. Contentment is something I’m working on too, and I pray God opens my eyes to the blessings right in front of me every day.

    1. Abby, I will be sure to check out your latest post! 🙂 Yes, I pray that God will continue to open our eyes to see the blessings around… and to joy in them!

  4. “contentment can’t exist without perspective” – this is very profound. Thank you for putting is so well. My word for 2015 is peace. Peace for me, peace for my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community, my town, my state, my country and the world.

    1. I think every soul has a deep need for peace…. this world aches for it, I believe. I pray that you will find peace in your heart this year… and that God will grant you a very deep joy this new year.

  5. Perspective changer, friend. We often strive for contentment in the midst of what, to another, would be abundant excess. God blesses with so much and we have many blessings to count – here’s to the intention to count each one!

    1. Tiffany, yes, here’s to the intention to count each blessing. I nearly lost contentment today, but found perspective in an unexpected way, and my heart was reminded, once again, of how God has provided for me. And yes, we do strive for contentment in what would be “abundant excess” for another. It’s just so mind boggling at times, isn’t it? Thank you for your thoughtful words. 🙂

  6. Beauty for ashes. You turned that sad story into a heart-changing, thought-provoking experience, and I’m sure your kids are richer for it. My focus for 2015 will be prayer — so much in need of focused attention on God’s hand at work behind the scenes.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment…. I do hope my kids are richer for it. I love your focus for this year… prayer. I’m not sure if there is anything more important than to keep our eyes on Him who works all things together in His perfect timing.

  7. Situations like this always break my heart. I hope this year I can also be content, happy with all I have been blessed with. What a beautiful post, Kim! No matter what, we always have something to be thankful for!

    1. Yes Chelsi… that is what I am learning. No matter what, we always have something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s easy, other times, quite challenging. Thanks for your encouragement. Praying that you will find sweet contentment this new year!

  8. Kim, what a poignant story. Truly moving. Thank you for the reminder to both practice gratitude and choose contentment. Your description of it is so perfect.

    My word is BREATHE. I’m looking forward to all God will teach me about this simple practice, this simple necessity this year.

    1. Thank you Jeanne. It is true. We have to “practice” gratitude and “choose” contentment. Sometimes, honestly, it is not my automatic reflex when life is challenging. Yet, it’s what we are called to do… love your word breathe.

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