Facing my mortality at thirteen was a turning point in my life. I suddenly viewed the world as a meaningless exercise in futility. The only hope that remained was my belief in the existence of a God who knew the answers to all my burning questions. In an effort to learn more about who God was, I took very seriously the religion I was born into, which was Roman Catholicism. But after a very disappointing incident on the day I made confirmation, I became completely disenchanted with the Church. That same night, lying in my bed and staring at the ceiling, I was seething with anger at God. "I'm sick of this!" I said to the ceiling. "Why won't you tell me who You are?" I waited for a response. I had no idea what to expect, but I never got one. "You know what?" I threatened. "I'm done! I am never setting foot in a church ever again as long as I live!" Again, there was only silence from the ceiling. Discouraged, I threw myself over on my side and went to sleep.
When I was fifteen I managed to get a job in a grocery store called Waldbaum's. I worked as a cashier, but there was a boy who worked over in the Bakery department that had caught my eye. His name was Steven Hutter. I had never spoken to Steven, but there was something about him that peaked my curiosity. One day, I saw Steven talking with a customer and I overheard him call her "Mom." I watched the way Steven interacted with his mom, and wondered what it was about this boy that I was so drawn to. About 20 minutes later, Steven's mom had made her way over to my register with a very large grocery order. I wanted to make a good impression on her, in the hopes that perhaps I could learn more about Steven, and try to put my finger on what was so different about him.
I made sure to be extra friendly to Mrs. Hutter. She handed me a stack of coupons and I began to ring up her order. I made small talk with her and got so wrapped up in our conversation that I never deducted her coupons. She paid for her bill and began to leave the store when I noticed the coupons still sitting on my register. I called her back and had a manager come by to give her the cash value of the coupons, which totaled over $50. Mrs. Hutter was very grateful and thanked me several times. At this time I turned on the false humility and told her, "Oh, it's nothing. In fact, I don't know what made me look down in the nick of time and notice those coupons just sitting there."
She handed me a little pamphlet with a butterfly on the cover. The title was something like "You can be saved." I had no idea what it was. I had never seen anything like it before.Mrs. Hutter looked me dead in the eyes and said, "I believe THE LORD made you see them at that moment!" I was so stunned, I didn't know what to say. On Long Island, people don't talk about "the Lord." They will refer to "God", but not "The Lord." She must have noticed the look of shock on my face, because she added, "I really believe that!"
I was pretty uncomfortable, so I just said, "Uhhh, okay." I smiled and gave her the $50. "This is for you," I said. "Thank you," she replied. "And this is for you!" She handed me a little pamphlet with a butterfly on the cover. The title was something like, "You can be saved." I had no idea what it was. I had never seen anything like it before. I remember thinking she was a little weird, but even still, I was so curious to read that pamphlet! As soon as I was able to go on break, I took that pamphlet up to the ladies' room, locked myself in one of the stalls, and eagerly went through every word to see if it would tell me the answers I was looking for.
"Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved." I thought to myself: "I already believe in Jesus. This didn't tell me anything I didn't already know." I was so disappointed, but my eyes were closed. God would not open them for another three years. Once I did become a Christian, God brought to mind how I had demanded He reveal Himself to me, and how He did reach out to me that day through Mrs. Hutter. God is faithful. He will always answer prayer. It just might not happen in our timing.
I was late to Bible study again. I had been saved at 18 while I was away at college and after graduating, I managed to make a few Christian friends back home on Long Island. That night we were meeting for a social activity and each of us were asked to bring a snack to the event. I parked my car in the first empty space I saw and ran into Waldbaum's -- the very same Waldbaum's where I had worked as a cashier back in high school. I grabbed the first bag of Doritos I could find, and then tossed it on the express lane conveyor belt. There was only one customer ahead of me, but the transaction was taking forever. I felt myself getting irritated. "This is supposed to be the express lane!" I thought. "What is taking so long?"
Suddenly I became aware of a presence behind me. I looked up to notice a gentle-mannered woman loading her groceries onto the conveyor belt. To my surprise, I recognized her. It was Mrs. Hutter. She had absolutely no idea who I was. How could she? I was just a stranger she had handed a tract to seven years before. But I remembered her. And being a Christian now for about three or four years, I knew that if I were in her shoes, I'd want to know what had become of the tract.
My heart was pounding. I didn't know what to say. The man in front of me finally finished his transaction, and I knew it was now or never. So I cleared my throat and said, "Excuse me, Mrs. Hutter?" She looked puzzled, as if she wondered how I knew her name. I continued, "You don't know me, but I went to high school with your son, Steven."
"Oh, how nice. What's your name?" She asked me.
I saw her eyes widen and I could hardly breathe, but I blurted out, "Mrs. Hutter I didn't get saved that day, but I wanted to tell you that I did get saved.""It's Jennifer. But I doubt Steven would even know who I am. We never really had any contact in high school." Mrs. Hutter smiled and nodded, still unsure of what I was getting at, but so patient and kind as she waited for me to continue. "Anyway, uh, I used to work here with Steven, at this very same grocery store." She nodded. "And one day, you came to my register. You gave me a gospel tract that day, and I read it. That was seven years ago." I stated again, "At this very same grocery store." I saw her eyes widen and I could hardly breathe, but I blurted out, "Mrs. Hutter I didn't get saved that day, but I wanted to tell you that I did get saved."
Tears began to form in her eyes. With reckless abandon, Mrs. Hutter threw her arms in the air, right there in the express lane, and shouted, "OH PRAISE THE LORD! HALLELUJAH!" She grabbed me and embraced me tightly. Everyone in the store was looking at us like we were insane. I felt a bit self-conscious, as this is not the typical scene one might witness in a grocery store on Long Island, or the rest of New York, for that matter. But I couldn't deny the excitement and wonder of that moment.
I had paid for my Doritos as she thanked me over and over for speaking up and encouraging her. She said she never knows what happens to the tracts she gives out, and it was such a joy to see what had become of a tract she gave to a stranger seven years before. The next thing I knew, I was in the passenger seat of her car, and she was praying for me. Then I was off to my Bible study.
I think I may have run into her once or twice after that. To my knowledge, she still lives on Long Island, in my hometown. Perhaps the next time I am in town to visit my brother, I will look her up and ask if she remembers me. I know I will always remember her as the first person God used to reach out to me and make Himself known.