Gift Card or Manna

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I was facing a long journey.

I knew I could no longer afford the large house I lived in on the East Coast for 10+ years, so I worked at cleaning it out and fixing it up.

In the process, I discovered Non-Destructive Testing, and a 2-year program in the Midwest which provided the training to move into this new career. It was 1,300 miles away.

I had never driven so far in my life, alone. And my journey entailed more than just the drive. There was a 5,000 sq. feet of stuff between me and my new life.

I had moved from my parent’s house into my husband’s two weeks after graduating from college. I had never really been a single woman on my own.

Part of cleaning out my house involved a tag sale, also known as an estate sale. I grouped the crystal and glassware in the dining room, made signs for inside as well as on the street, marked prices on my worldly goods, put ads in the newspaper and online.

On the first day of the sale, many people showed up. Some before I was ready, and the stream continued throughout the day. I had recruited a number of friends to help.

I found it exhausting. Everyone wanted to negotiate a better price.

When 5:00 p.m. came, I was relieved to lock the front door.

About 30 minutes later, I heard a knocking at that same door.

I opened it to see a gray-haired gentleman in a sun hat. “Hi, I’m your neighbor, just thought I would come by and see what you have for sale.”

A neighbor? We lived on 3-acre lots that made interacting intentionally difficult I realize now. I could not recall ever meeting this guy. We chatted and he clarified which house he lived in down the street.

“I am really tired and the sale ended at 5, but you are welcome to come back tomorrow at 9,” I said, closing the door.

I wasn’t opening that door for Bill Gates at that point. And, where had he been for the past 12 years? I had no regrets.

Ray the Neighbor returned the next day. Not only did he return, he offered to help. Despite moving with a limp, he lumbered down the basement stairs and helped people with tools and household items I had for sale there. He carried things up from the basement when I needed someone. He encouraged people to spend their money. He could talk to anyone.

When the sale ended, he was dismayed at all that was left and pulled out his wallet to buy a porch swing, paint supplies and miscellaneous items. He helped me load my car with donations.

He stopped by almost daily and told me about his Mustang convertible. One day, he showed up in it and suggested we go for pizza. “You have to eat and you can meet my girlfriend.” I climbed in.

He drove on the left side of the road. “RAY! MOVE OVER!”I found myself shouting, repeatedly. He laughed. Pizza was delightful and his girlfriend a pleasure. When I complained about his driving, she said that is why she doesn’t drive with him.

After dinner, he asked if I wanted to drive the Mustang back to our neighborhood. Absolutely. I knew I would be safer with me at the wheel.

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Weeks after my tag sale, my house was cleaned out and my car was packed. I would be pulling out of the drive for the last time and steering west for 1,000 miles. Ray rang the doorbell one last time and handed me a card.

I thanked him. We hugged. I expressed my disappointment at not meeting sooner.

Then, I confronted the fear that had been mounting. What would I find as I drove? How dangerous was it for a woman to travel alone? Where would I stop for the night? I packed a cooler. Where would I find food? How would I keep my car safe now that it was loaded with all I owned?

You would have thought I was journeying across the frontier or to a third world country, but it is so easy to fear what you do not know.

I did not know a lot.

After I closed the door on Ray, I opened his card. Inside was a gift card for Starbucks, which made me chuckle. I did not really go to Starbucks, but he didn’t know that. I was put off by the way the barista corrected my order. I said a medium, they corrected me with grande, which made me wonder, Why ask what I want, if you all ready know? Oh, well, I thought, it might come in handy and tucked it into my purse.

I ventured out.

The first night I spent at my aunt’s in western Pennsylvania. While driving on the second day, a friend called. Where was I? Could she use her points to get me a hotel room? I was making better time than I had expected, and that was a gift. She arranged my stay for the night while I was driving.

Here’s the great thing: every rest stop had a Starbucks. I kid you not. I would stop every 2-3 hours for gas and a snack and the bathroom. Every single time there was a Starbucks in the rest area.

I used that card. Exclusively.

I got a bit lost around Chicago, but when I landed in Minnesota, I had money left on that card.

Thank you, Ray. How did you know?

When did you last receive a gift you didn’t know you needed? Leave a comment and tell me.


#drivingcrosscountry #longdistancedrive

By Catstrav

Reindeer handler. NDT tech. Mother of four. Aspiring astronaut.


  1. I love this story, Cat. I remember that drive and how we prayed over you. I worried, although I know I shouldn’t have. Ray is an angel “unawares.” I can’t think of a time I received a gift I didn’t know I needed at this moment, but you’ve got me thinking. I’ll be chewing on this today for sure. Blessings, friend!

  2. Oh how I have missed your posts Cath! You are such a blessing and such an inspiration, a woman of strength and courage. Much love to you my beautiful friend. 🥰🙏❤ X

  3. Thank you, dear friend. We have been blessed, many times over and it is always good to look for and appreciate those. I count you as one! A big one.

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