St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorite holidays. Obviously, Christmas and Easter top the bill at the numbers one and two spots, but St. Patrick's Day and Thanksgiving always duke it out for that third position. Granted, my own Irish heritage has a lot to do with the intense nationalism that swells within me each March 17th, but I think there's something more to do with it than the fact that my blood is green.

But, there's so much more to do with the holiday than corned beef and cabbage, bagpipes, parades and pints of Guinness (though all of those things are truly magical). The most important part of March 17th is the beliefs, ideals and legacy of St. Patrick -- a missionary to Ireland who made a profound impact on a civilization of barbarians, warriors and persons steeped in pagan religions. He played a major role in the conversions of what is believed to be thousands of Irish people.

If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me. -- St. Patrick

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This past St. Patrick's Day, all of us attending The church In DeKalb met at Pagliai's Pizza for our weekly community group meeting. As we settled in and opened our Bibles and notebooks, expecting to receive and to learn the Word, Pastor Jamie made an announcement: "We're going to do something a little bit different tonight." At that, he explained the evening's goings on and divided us into groups of four. We were then given forty dollars and the task of going out and making a positive impact in our community.

"God has been good to us," Pastor Jamie explained, just before we set out on our great venture. "This is our opportunity to reflect His goodness by doing good for others."

...Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. -- Jesus (Luke 6:35-46, ESV)

We prayed, headed out to our cars and each of us silently considered, for a few moments, the challenge set before us: "bless as you have been blessed." We pulled out of the parking lot and headed for Sycamore Road, DeKalb's strip.

Several ideas were thrown around the car: buying ice cream at Ollie's Custard, buying books for someone at Borders, buying drinks for Starbucks customers, buying clothes for someone at the Salvation Army thrift store -- with so many people in need, we didn't know where to even begin. Buying groceries for someone at Wal-Mart was the option we all agreed on.

Upon arrival, the four of us split into two groups: Collin with Aaron and Sarah with me. We decided that, rather than giving all $40 to one person, it would be more beneficial to separate, give $20 to two people and meet back at the front of the store at a designated time. So we prayed for wisdom and direction, split up and searched out someone to bless.

We each circled the store a few times, scouring each aisle for someone. We were looking for a certain kind of person, it seemed: a single mother, someone who looked homeless or financially destitute, someone in the checkout who just happened to be $20 short of their total. Imagine the providence the unsuspecting customer would be experiencing in that situation!

There were a couple people that seemed to fit our stereotypes, our ideas of people that more deserved to be blessed than others. But Sarah and I just couldn't pull the trigger -- we couldn't muster up the courage, nor the inspiration, to approach anyone.

I was horrified at the amount of difficulty I was having performing this simple task. I found it alarming when I came to the realization that I didn't know how to bless other people, that I didn't even have an understanding of what it means to bless others. It wasn't that I didn't know how to physically hand someone a $20 bill and walk away, it was that I had a mental block that prevented me from doing so -- I wasn't nearly as concerned with the plight of others as much as I was concerned about what others would think of me. I was nervous that I'd be embarrassed, that the person I gave the money to would be put off or offended, that I wouldn't know what to say if the person asked why I was just handing them $20. I was entirely disabled by a crippling fear of man.

The four of us met at the front of the store as planned and we were all dejected to find that none of us found anyone to bless; that's when a middle-aged Indian couple entered the checkout aisle behind us.

The couple looked to be in their mid to late 30's. The man pushed the cart, full of groceries and things an expectant couple would be buying, into the aisle and his wife followed. She held her bulging stomach with both of her hands, gently rubbing, as if she were trying to calm, soothe, her unborn child. Both of them looked tired, run down; neither of their faces were beaming with happiness or excitement at the prospect of being parents. We all agreed this was our couple.

Collin handed the $40 to the cashier and told her, "This is for the couple behind us. Just apply it to their total." And that was that. Sarah and I stood off to the side, by the magazines, just so we could see the aisle -- this gave us the ability to see their reactions in real time. They finished up their transaction and started toward the exit, but with looks of confusion on their faces. We watched them pull out their receipt and carefully study it, no doubt perplexed at the $40 cash applied that was deducted from their total. A giant grin appeared on the woman's countenance, her eyes bright with glee. They looked back toward the cashier to see if she was going to chase them down and demand another $40, they looked over their shoulders, perhaps to see if they were on a hidden camera television show, then took off. As far as we could tell, their smiles never erased. I imagined them at home, putting away their purchases and remarking to each other the providence of not having to pay $40 of their order. What would the $40 they saved now go to?

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I've often wondered how St. Patrick felt going into his community and blessing the barbarians that inhabited the nation at the time. I wonder if he also suffered from a debilitating fear of man that inhibited him from blessing those around him the same way I did on the day set aside to honor his work. For as much as I felt totally disconnected from St. Patrick, I guess I felt a certain kinship with him at the same time. Much like him, we were missionaries in every sense of the word that night -- we went out into the community and blessed people with the hope that they would see Christ in us. We weren't trying to promote The church In DeKalb and we weren't hoping to recruit members -- it wasn't shameless advertising or anything like that. It was a pure hope and desire to bless the community.

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