Something Happened on the Way to Buy Chapati Bread


We’ve been studying Indian culture and history for school, the Gupta Empire to be exact. Yeah, I didn’t know what that was either until I started teaching the lesson.

Anyway, we’re nearing the end of the home school year which means I’m nearing the end of my rope. In an attempt to jazz up the day’s lesson for my five kiddos, I decided to buy fabric to construct a traditional Indian sari. Notice, I said construct. Not sew.

Thrilled to find what we needed on sale, we headed off to complete our foreign experience by buying some chapati bread at an Indian grocery store. Notice I said get. Not make.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, we spotted a man resembling a thin Santa Clause, dressed head to toe in denim and holding two signs that read, “Very hungry” and “Will work for food” at a busy intersection.

It seemed like ten “Why is that man there, Mommy?” came all at once. After my lame attempt to respond, a sorrowful despair settled over our minivan.

My middle child broke the silence. Apparently, someone at the home school enrichment program she attends warned her, “not to give them money or they might waste it.”

My oldest added that the neighbor girl said “to always look at their clothes.” According to her, assessing the condition of a panhandler’s apparel indicates a real need vs. a manufactured one.

Troubled by these messages, I launched into a lecture about how God sometimes asks us to meet a need with food. Sometimes with money. Always with prayer. I waxed eloquent about how it is our job to keep our hearts open to those who suffer regardless of why they do.

My lecture did not penetrate the sorrowful despair and confusion that still hung in the air like smoke.

We didn’t have a wad of cash to hand this man.

We didn’t have a job to offer him.

We didn’t even have the chapati bread we had set out for in the first place.

My mind went back to a powerful message I heard from author and anti-human trafficking activist Christine Caine. She spoke about how overwhelmed the disciples must have felt staring at the boy’s five loaves and two fishes knowing it would never be enough to feed the hungry thousands. “Most of us are paralyzed and crippled because we can’t do everything,” Caine said. The problem, she explained, is that we focus on, and even despise, what we don’t have instead of believing in God’s ability to multiply what we do.

I knew I had a decision to make.

We would not choose paralysis. We would not despise whatever our “five loaves and two fishes” might be. We would not allow Satan to overwhelm and harden our hearts to the need of this man.

Before I knew what I was saying, I had already said, “Kids, we are each going to ask God what we should do about this man who needs help. After we buy our chapatti bread, we will each share what we think God is telling us to do. Oh and by the way, if God is telling you to get food, I want you to ask Him what kind of food we should get. God knows this man and what he needs and even what he likes.”


Did I just say that?

I was thinking maybe we could swing by McDonald’s for an object lesson on compassion or something. I hadn’t planned on getting that specific.

“Umm God, I really committed you on that one. Would you please speak to us so that my kids will know how real you are? Thank you and amen.”

God must have chuckled.

We got lost on the way to buy the chapati bread, but as I made a wide U-Turn, I made good on my promise. “Okay guys, what did God tell you?”

My oldest was eager, “God told me we need to get that man some food. God said that man needs something healthy.” There went the McDonald’s option.

“Iced tea,” my middle kiddo said firmly, “We need to get that man iced tea.”

“Okay, then,” I said and we pulled into a Jimmy John’s deli shop and emerged with a healthier meal that included iced tea.

As the car inched toward our thin Santa Clause on the corner, the excitement in our van began to build. “Is he there? Is he there?” my oldest daughter asked. “I think I see him.” She held the bag confidently out the window and said, “We got you some lunch. God bless you.”

His eyes widened and crinkled into a smile. “Wow. Jimmy John’s!” he said surprised and emphatic. “Thank you so much. God bless you.”

My children were lit from within and my oldest said it well. “That was so much fun, Mom. I can’t wait to do that again.”

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Julie Neils is passionate about living a real life in a fabricated world. Digging beneath the surface in her relationship with God and with others is the thing that gets her up out of bed. That and fussy little ones. And a big ol’ cup of coffee. As a media relations and branding consultant, she has spent more than fifteen years advising ministry leaders, policy makers and authors on relevant, out-of-the-box communications strategies. She and her husband, Brian, live in the Rocky Mountains where she homeschools their five kiddos.

  • Fabulous! Fabulous! Obedience in action from everyone. And, God proved Himself faithful. This man knew Jimmy John’s and was happy not just for lunch but that it was from there. That is so cool! That is God.

  • Julie Neils

    Amen, Kathy! I love how God knows us so specifically. You’re doing so much to help us see and appreciate the unique gifts He has placed into us and into our children. Thank you!

  • This is beautiful. I am not looking forward to the day when my daughter is old enough to ask hard questions. I hope I have the grace and faith to answer as you did. :)

  • Julie Neils

    Thank you so much for your encouragement, Paula. You can do it and the Lord will meet you in the moment when it feels like fear presses in. Thank you so much for sharing your heart here.

  • And now I’m crying. :) What a great lesson for your children. I’m not sure if God chuckled at your prayer about committing Him, but I did. <3

  • Julie Neils

    Thank you, Mandy. I love what you said and I am chuckling and tearing up again again too rereading this. :) May God bless you as you pour yourself out to your children today!

  • Julie

    Thank you, Mandy. That encourages my heart so much today. Blessings on you!

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Something Happened on the Way to Buy Chapati Bread

by Julie Neils time to read: 3 min