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A Fifty-Three Cent Lifesaver

Yikes! It was a long, hot walk, but I had no car. We needed bread. It was that simple.

The recent months had been hard on us financially. My husband’s business had hit rock bottom. We had sold anything we could, except our home, to accumulate enough income to barely pay our bills. I had recently bartered to get our daughter a cheap haircut. We didn’t attend a church potluck dinner because we had nothing to bring. Our mortgage was due. There were no funds from which to pay it. To put it mildly, times were difficult and challenging.

So….here I was, annoyed to be trekking several miles on foot to a local market in the sweltering heat. Nevertheless, I had high hopes of returning home with a prized loaf of bread. Of course, there was no cash to be had, but I brought along my checkbook. My new neighbor worked as a cashier in the market, and she barely knew me, but because of my slightly familiar face, I felt pretty certain the market would accept my check.

Once in the store, I wandered through the aisles, tasting all the unaffordable food with my hungry eyes, until I found just the right loaf of bread. I couldn’t wait to get back home with it….yum, peanut butter and jelly, here I come. I wound my way to the checkout, as I briefly passed by the coconut-covered Hostess Snowballs in the process. No, Janice, you’re here to get only bread. Leave the yummy Snowballs for a later time when there may be more money in the checking account. So, I proceeded to take the checkbook out of my cashless pocket and clumsily wrote a check for 53 cents, dated June 20, 1980. (Have you any idea how weird it is to write a check for less than a dollar? There is no dollar cash amount to write out on the second line of the check.) My new neighbor-cashier smiled, and looked at me as though I was passing counterfeit money, but she accepted the check. Whew! Happy that part is over. I’m somewhat embarrassed, but at least I have my bread. Now, for the long walk back home.

A few days later, I received a phone call from the market to inform me that my 53 cent check had been returned for insufficient funds. Yep. And of all people who could have made the call, it was my new neighbor who telephoned to give me the unsettling news. As a courtesy, she sweetly assured me she would cover it with her own money. In outward response, I was apologetic, but inwardly felt ashamed, humiliated, and any other feeling you could imagine, equal to the way one would feel if caught naked in the village square. Later that day, I insisted on coming in to pay her back the 53 cents. She handed me the useless check, which I had every intention of destroying! Why in the world would I want to keep such a painful reminder anyway? I’ll save it just for now though, until I get our bank statement in the mail.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. We were finally able to get back onto our financial feet again. We worked hard, sacrificed a lot, and kept our noses to the grindstone. Over time, I actually had forgotten about the bad check. One day, when I was going through old financial papers, I happened to come across it, though. It immediately caught my attention due to the big, red-stamped letters, “Insufficient Funds” emblazoned across the front. Wow, Lord, we really worked hard during that painful time. I think I’ll keep this check. It’s at least an interesting piece of history to remind me of all we did to pull ourselves out of a deep and hopeless hole.

I had NO idea just how important that saved, useless check would become to me for the rest of my life…..

All through Scripture, God makes it clear that we’re people who love to take the credit for the successes, (and want to blame others for the failures). We need constant reminders to remember God’s faithfulness to us, or else we’re prone to take the credit for ourselves. And that’s what I had unwittingly done. I had failed to see the goodness of God through that bad check, until later when I looked at it through new eyes. I began to realize it was God who sustained me through that trial. It was God who gave me grace to face each day with hope during that troubled time. It was God who kept His commitment to provide for me. It was God who gave my husband a new job. It was God who gave provision to our family as we needed it.

In Joshua. chapters 3 and 4, there is an account of how God got the Israelites safely across the Jordan River to finally reach the Promised Land. They were facing a river which required crossing on foot. It was at flood stage because of the spring rains and the melting of snow on Mount Hermon. Through Joshua, the Lord instructed the priests, one from each of the twelve tribes, to lead by carrying the ark of the Lord into the river. (The ark of the Lord symbolized His presence with them.) God told Joshua, “As soon as they (the priests) set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off, and stand up in a heap.” (Joshua 3:13) Likewise, as soon as the priest’s feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing, and the whole nation of Israel was able to safely cross. Then, while the waters were still being held back, Joshua chose twelve men, one from each tribe, and told them to pick up twelve stones from the middle of the river where they had crossed. These stones were to be set on dry land beside the place where they had crossed…. as a memorial. In Chapter 4:9, it states, “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the Covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” It was to serve as a reminder of the Lord’s presence and faithfulness to them as they faced a difficult trial.

This is the significance of the 53 cent check. Looking at it is a tangible reminder that God was with Joe and me through it all. We sustained the fearful depth of a financial trial because He was there. He sustained us when it felt as though we were drowning. He set our feet on solid ground when it felt as though things were hopeless.

I’ve been carrying that 53 cent check around in my wallet for forty years now. However, it’s going to get a new home shortly. We’re going to move soon, and it will settle in a special place of prominence. You’ll most likely find it framed and matted on our wall. I want to see it everyday, manytimes over, to remind me of the surety of the Lord’s faithfulness past, present and future….because He never changes. I want curious people to ask why a framed check is there on my wall, just as Joshua says in 4:6, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?”, I want to tell them of God’s faithfulness to me and to us.

I’d encourage you to consider finding some kind of token, picture, note, etc. from a difficult time in your life to serve as a reminder of the Lord’s presence with you through it all. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often. You may be living through it even now, or knowing there will be a trying time ahead of you. We all need to be reminded. We’re short sighted, live-in-the-moment people who need encouragement, hope, and the security of knowing God is with us. (As a side note, many of us wear crosses in different form. I have two or three, but sadly, so do my unbelieving friends. I pray they would clearly see them as reminders of God’s faithfulness to them through the sacrifice of Christ, but sadly, crosses in the form of jewelry have become more of a fashion statement.)

To wit: Have you ever seen a framed dollar bill on the wall behind a restaurant cashier’s desk? Ever wonder why it’s there? It surely represents the fact that something notable happened there… something so important as to be remembered. This was the reason the Lord instructed His people to memorialize the river-crossing spot with the stones…. to remember something happened there. More particularly, to cause the people to be reminded that, when things seemed challenging or difficult, He knew what they needed, met them in their need according to His plan, and gave them the assurance they needed to face future obstacles.

My 53 cent check is a daily lifesaver. It feeds my heart to look at that framed check and remember God is with me always. I need it to keep life in perspective. Will you find some small, tangible way today to remind you of God’s presence in your life when you look at it? Hopefully, this physical reminder will be food for your soul, as the check has so consistently been for mine. He is with us always, and eternally sovereign over all.

“I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:1-2)