On Sweet Potatoes and Ministry


Photo Credit: abennett96

I had already seen him in the store. He had walked past me and, while I’m really not in the habit of scrutinizing others’ cart contents, I happened to notice that his contained a really haphazard array of boxes. I didn’t worry about it, though; I carried on with my own shopping. I only had a few things to grab, and I had a busy day planned.


I saw him double up and then slow to a stop. He paused, right next to me.


“Excuse me,” he began, and I met his gaze. His eyes were very blood-shot. His hands shook, just a bit. He had a toddler girl in the front of his cart. She was cute, if a bit disheveled.


He continued, “Do you know this store well? Do you shop here often?”


I nodded, “I do a lot of my monthly shopping at Aldi. Are you looking for something?”


He looked down, shuffled an untied sneaker, “Would you be able to recommend some ideas for suppers? Some things that, um, don’t cost too much money?”


I juggled my few items and reminded my three-year-old to use two hands on the grapes. I tried to sneak another glance in his cart. I wanted to gauge his comfort level with cooking. Crackers… cookies… instant potatoes?


“Well, there’s pasta and rice right down this aisle. They sell frozen chicken breasts in a bag; they’re easy to cook up. And frozen veggies…” I tossed out a couple ideas. I wondered how long I had been there. I really wanted to get G. home, fed, and down for a rest.


He nodded, opened his mouth to ask something, and his little girl piped up, “Mommy went to heaven.”


His eyes filled. “Shh…” he whispered gently, “yes, yes she did.”


And my heart simply broke open onto the floor.


“What do you like to eat, sweetheart?” I asked her. She shrugged.


“She likes sweet potatoes,” he said, “but I have no idea how to cook them. Um… do you know?”


“Yes, I know,” I said, grabbing a 99-cent bag for him. We talked about baking, roasting, making sweet potato fries.


We walked the aisles, this young widower and I. He asked about dried beans– how do you cook those? I pointed out that, really, the fresh mushrooms were cheaper than the canned and they’re pretty much fool-proof to cook. He had hundreds of questions. I tried to give answers.


G. helped his little girl choose some tasty fresh fruits, while I ran through the merits of various fat percentages in milk.


In the end, I spent 90 minutes shopping with him.


I was behind for the whole rest of the afternoon, but that’s not really the point, now, is it?


I firmly believe I was given an important lesson that day.


And I believe God found a more important use for my time than doing laundry.


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37 comments to On Sweet Potatoes and Ministry

  • Elizabeth

    This absolutely broke my heart. I’m so glad this man found a friend to help him in the grocery store. I’ll be praying for him and his daughter.

  • mlearley

    You are an amazing person JessieLeigh! This broke my heart the first time you mentioned it on facebook and I still feel for this dad. I’m sure he was so thankful that he bumped into that day instead of someone else who was hurried and not listening to God’s calling. I pray that my heart would be opened for things like this! Thanks for sharing your story and reminding us to slow down to worry about others instead of ourselves.

    • Oh, don’t pat me on the back too much, Michelle. Sigh… for a moment, I’d wondered if he was on something, based on the blood-shot eyes and shaking. That judgment reared its ugly head and I am ashamed of it. :( I AM grateful that I stuck around, though. I hope I was able to help, even just a tiny bit, on what was clearly such a difficult day for this poor man. He remains very much in my prayers.

  • You got me crying this morning.. I’m sure it meant the world to this man, I bet he needed a friend as much as a food guide in that moment & you were one. I like you even more after reading this! I always try and take the time to help people in need… even if it’s just to get a box down for an elderly couple.. I wish everyone stopped rushing & started remember how good it feels to help someone in whatever way you can. Have a good day!

    • Such an important reminder, Melissa– it really DOES feel good to help! And the opportunities really do abound, if we look around us. I need to make a more concerted effort of doing so on a daily basis. :)

  • God put you at the right place at the right time! And I am sure that man and his daughter were very grateful and will remember you for a long time. So often we are in such a big hurry we don’t notice those around us and we miss those in need. Thank you for sharing this. I think we all need to look around more often for those we can help. And good for you for taking a good part of your day to help him. I am sure it was just the encouragement he needed.

    • I am so grateful God put me in this man’s path… or vice versa! I truly couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my time. I’m grateful my little one got to be part of it, too. (Thank you for your kind words and sharing this post, too. I appreciate it!)

  • Carrie

    My heart breaks for these two. I pray that the time you took will help with their healing and also give that Dad some good tips for feeding that little girl, it sounds like he was trying hard but totally lost. My prayers are with them. Thanks for taking the time to help them, and the time to share it with the rest of us so we remember to look past our initial judgments to see the person behind them. God bless.

    • It really is so important that we let go of initial judgments. I feel terrible for even thinking this poor man could have been under the influence of something. I am so grateful that God is patient with us. :) He was able to work in my heart right there, on the spot. And you’re right– he was trying hard, but just out of his depth and beaten down my grief.

  • This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for taking the time to give support to a stranger. I know you were an angel to him!

  • P

    You are an amazing woman for helping them! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful moment with us.

  • Oh my heart! Do you have his info to arrange another shopping trip or if he needs cooking advice? So sad. :(

    Also? Great reminder to slow down and be approachable.

  • I’m a blubbering mess.

    Thank you for being you.

  • Karen

    You totally have me crying and I’m at work!

  • Oh my word…heart just broke. Thank you for being there for that man and his little girl. You were Christ walking in Aldi. What a blessing.

  • This is beautiful and touching. I just had to share it on FB so friends could be moved as well. It’s such a good reminder about how to treat others.

  • Isn’t it wonderful how God worked through you in more ways than one. Reading this made my day.

  • Just found your story through BlogHer. I had a somewhat similar experience recently when an older gentleman asked me if I could explain the different types of milk to him. His wife of many years had passed away, and he said he wasn’t sure how to cook for himself but didn’t want to be a burden to his kids. I wish I could’ve done more to help him than pointing out the whole milk. He only had the milk and a gallon of juice in his cart.

  • Oh, my heart. Thank you for the reminder to slow down.

    Reminds me of a time I was in the grocery store just after my grandpa passed and helped an older man find the laundry detergent specified on the list he had, which was clearly written by his wife. That moment felt like my grandpa was saying hi… Heaven shows up in funny places sometimes.

  • Bless you for helping him. As I widow with a small child I can relate to the monumental energy it takes to go grocery shopping and I lost count of the number of times I would wander the aisles with tears in my eyes

  • Jackie

    I have been that widow in the grocery store. Although I know how to cook and can manage alone, I remember those first few weeks, months….yeck, years, and how they were so very confusing and frightening. Why am I shopping? Why am I bothering to eat when he is dead? What does it matter now? The only thing that kept me going was my two little ones clinging to my fingers. I remember a moment within days after my husband died in my arms with our five year old daughter and my one year old son in the doctor’s parking lot. We were paying for our groceries. My daughter, attempting to understand what had happened, had taken to tell random strangers, “My daddy died. He blew bubbles.” Every person…EVERY person would avoid our gaze. Would shuffle their feet ask if we wanted paper or plastic. Until this one clerk. She looked my daughter in the eyes and said, “Oh, honey. That must be hard. I am sure he wishes he was still here with you.” If I could that that one woman now, a thousand times, I would. She made it okay to talk about. She connected with my daughter’s pain and allowed her to express it.
    As someone who has been where this man was, thank you, thank you a thousand times, for seeing that small girl’s confusion and pain and not shying away from it. Thank you for showing that man that someone can still see him and show him that he is valid and worthy of kindness. Thank you.

  • A friend saw this story and posted it to my Facebook Wall.

    I trust that people realize that the photo is not of the guy from the story, right? Just saying, because that is a photo of me and my daughter and my wife’s not dead. Also, I know how to shop and to cook. :-)

    That being said the story is a wonderful act of kindness in taking the time to help someone else out.

    • I felt like it was clear, but I’ve sent you an email, Mr. Bennett, just to be sure. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Bonnie Schroader

      Drew I am glad you said something! I saw your picture and had to read the article. I was feeling extra sadness for you and your daughter. Its such a touching story but knowing you, wondered if this was actually your family or not.

  • Cynthia R. Harley

    Bested is the one that comes in the name of the Lord.

  • Angels among us— God bless you for sharing this, and sharing your time and your compassion with that grieving family.

  • What a reminder to be open to helping those in need.

  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. There are still good people in the world that take the time. When people have children I am not too quick to judge. It’s the kindness of a stranger that can make a difference in a child’s life even if they have a parent who is confused and or mourning. Hugs to you and thank you for taking the time I’m sure he’s very grateful I just hope he remembered the advice you gave him that day.

  • What a great post, thank you for sharing!

  • Awesome post, you’ve just made my day. A great reminder that we all need to help each other out more, because you never know what someone’s going through. Thank you!

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