Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2313862-5-Gratitude
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Inspirational · #2313862
Sarah learns a life-altering lesson…
Word count: 1995.

For twenty-six year old Sarah Evans, every day was awful, and she made sure everyone around her knew it.

"This coffee tastes terrible!" She snapped at the barista. "Don't you care about your guests?"

"I'll bring a fresh cup right away, miss."

Sarah drummed her fingers on the table, frowning as she waited.

"That took far too long! You don’t deserve a tip," she declared, unaware of the tears welling up in the older woman's eyes.

Sarah grabbed her phone and wallet and stormed out of the coffee shop, shoving past an elderly man with a cane without bothering to hold the door for him.

Driving to work, she became entangled in a traffic jam. Her mom called.

"How's everything, sweetie?"

"Absolutely rotten! I'll be late for work again. The barista bungled my coffee,and the newscast is a joke! Not even a stupid traffic report so we know what's going on. Plus it’ll rain on the drive home!"

"Try praying, honey."

"Ridiculous. How can you still believe in God with all this insanity going on? I swear there's not a decent person left in the world. Everyone's an idiot."

"You shouldn't say that. You don't know what others are going through. Everyone’s trying our best."

"Mom, you’re so naive. God's in his heaven and all's right with the world. Baloney."

"Did you count your blessings when you woke up?"

"No, I didn't! What blessings, the wonderful privilege of being stuck in stinky traffic? Or dealing with a bunch of losers at work? Yeah, I'm blessed alright."

"Sarah, that's a very unhealthy attitude. God might have to teach you a lesson."

"Go right ahead, Old Man Upstairs. I'll believe it when I see it."

Sarah hung up without another word and scowled, resuming her tight grip on the steering wheel. As the rubbernecking drivers crawled past the accident, she saw that an SUV had crashed into a concrete barrier and caught fire. The driver was probably deceased.

"Stupid idiot. Must’ve been high," she muttered.

"Kayla called in sick today,” the boss said. “You’re needed at the cash register.”

"Great. If there's anything I hate more than setting these ugly clothes, it's checking out the idiots with too much money who shop here."

The boss adjusted her glasses and eyed Sarah with a raised eyebrow.

"If you don't like this job, you're free to go. This isn't a work camp."

"Precious few jobs out there any better than this."

"Then don't complain. Your attitude is not appropriate."

"Oh no, I'm supposed to be all smiley and chirpy like Kayla."

Towards the afternoon a woman came in with a little girl and wanted to buy some clothes for her with a coupon. Sarah studied it like a thousand dollar bill.

"This isn't valid. It expires today."

"But isn't it still usable until the day after?"

"Nope." Sarah stared down her wrinkled nose at the mother and daughter.

"That's hardly fair…"

"Nothing I can do, ma'am. Do you want these clothes at regular price or not?"

The mother left without making a purchase.

The brief winter day was fading when Sarah headed home. On impulse she decided to take a shortcut through the forest rather than getting back on the highway.

The road was narrow and winding, and as the weather forecast had predicted it began to rain.

"Arrgh," Sarah growled. "Last time I ever drive this podunk, two-lane, so-called scenic route!"

Her phone dinged. She took her eyes off the road to see the notification. When she looked up again, a deer was staring blankly into her headlights.

"Augh! Stupid deer!" She hit the brakes and twisted the wheel hard to the right.

The car spun wildly on the slick road. It went careening across the ditch and slammed into a tree with an explosion of shattered glass and gnarled metal.

The next thing she knew she was standing in the middle of a fire, which licked at her heavy winter clothes, reeking with the hot chemical odor of melting polyester.

The dark, smoky air was filled with the most horrible, deafening shrieking, howling, cackling and wailing, as if millions of creatures were trapped in torturous pain.

"Where the hell…" It dawned on Sarah that she'd answered her own question.

"Oh, come on!" She yelled furiously, stomping and swatting at the flames. "What did I ever do?"

She backed away from the lake of fire and pressed her hands against what felt like the hot, wet stone wall of a dungeon. Breathing hard, choking on the sulfuric fumes, she shouted over the insane noise of the pit,

"Okay, Big Man Upstairs, if You're so kind and loving, explain why I'm here! I thought there was a judgment day first?!"

As she waited for a response, she felt a sickening realization that here she was, and here, alone, she might be, for all eternity, unless… Trembling now with an understanding of her own helplessness, she mumbled weakly,

"I guess I should be more respectful… I've never really prayed before, Lord. Uh, if you could please get me out of here—even just long enough to let me know what I did wrong…"

Though the place was on fire, the flames did not give light. The darkness was utter and complete, like that of a cave. Sarah opened and shut her eyes, wondering how she still had a physical body if she was dead.

A tiny point of white appeared. Eagerly she watched as it grew larger and closer, until it engulfed her in a blinding light that blotted out everything else.

The shrieks and wails faded away. Sarah no longer smelled the fumes or felt the burning heat and the utter abandonment. Instead she felt a presence of someone strong and… dependable? Trustworthy? She couldn't think of the word.

"Thank you," she tried to say, but realized her physical body was gone. Apparently now she was in the spirit realm where actual speech was dispensed with.

What's going on? Where am I spending eternity?

Good question. Watch how your life impacted others.

Who are you?

Your guide.

Sarah saw her mom sitting at the kitchen table in tears. She tried to reach out to her but she was only watching it unfold.

"Lord, please help Sarah find You," her mom prayed. "She has such a bad attitude. She needs to know You and be aware of how much You love her."

Your mother's prayers are giving you a second chance.

Lucky me, huh?

The next scene was the clothing store where she worked. Her boss and Kayla were talking.

"I wish I could help Sarah," Kayla said. "She's so bitter and angry."

"Don't waste your time," the boss said. "If she wants to be mean, that's her own business. But she's giving us a bad reputation."

Your unkindness towards others doesn't go unnoticed.

I never really thought…

Sarah watched herself yelling at the barista and cringed. Was it necessary to be so rude? She saw details of the older lady's life: three kids, no father, working two jobs, trying to take college classes at night.

I'm sorry… I had no idea. If I'd known how she was struggling…

Then she saw herself telling the mother and daughter that they couldn't use their coupon. She saw now the shabbiness of their clothes, the stress lines on the mother's face, the dejected little girl trudging away without anything new to wear.

Oh, no. I didn't realize…

Now she saw a high school student. He was working long hours after school to help with his mother's medical bills, and he was exhausted. She watched him struggling to stay awake on the highway.

No! Sarah screamed as he fell asleep at the wheel. She tried to intervene, but had to look away as his SUV crashed into the barrier. It was the accident she had driven past that morning.

I shouldn't have accused someone I didn't know. But there was nothing I could have done to save him… why is it my fault?

It's not that the accident is your fault. It's that you assume the worst. You have no love in your heart.

Sarah would have begun crying, if tears had been available. As it was, her hard, empty heart shattered.

Can I please go back and try to make up for all the hate I've left in my wake? I didn't mean to be so nasty to everyone. I promise I'll be better.

She saw her car crash into the tree off the wooded road. A vehicle behind hers pulled over. Two figures leaped out, ran to her driver side and pulled her limp body out from the wreckage. Bringing her a safe distance away, one began CPR while the other dialed 911.

They stopped and saved me.

The strangers are saving your body. The Lord will save your soul.

The light wrapped around Sarah once more, and this time she felt a multisensory bliss impossible to describe, like trying to put into words the mental images created when listening to beautiful music. It was breathtaking colors and harmonious sounds, and most of all it was Love, pure and true and complete, repairing her shattered heart and filling it to overflowing.

Sarah awakened in a hospital bed, her mom by her side.

“It’s a miracle you’re alive. I’ve been praying the whole time.”

Sarah smiled up at her, eyes filled with a soft inner glow.

“Mom, you were right about counting my blessings.” She reached for her mom’s hand and clasped it.

When she was released from the hospital the next morning with only a few bumps and bruises, Sarah made sure to thank the nurses and doctors who had cared for her during her stay.

“You’re doing a great service here,” she declared, her voice rich with emotion as she shook their hands.

The first thing she did in her insurance rental car was to stop at the cafe and look for the barista she’d interacted with.

“Good morning, ma’am!” Sarah called out to her.

When the lady brought the coffee, Sarah stood up and handed her a hundred dollar bill.

“Thank you so much for all your hard work. I hope this makes up for how I treated you the other day.”

“I—It’s just what I needed to get through the month…”

Sarah patted her shoulder gently as the barista shared her difficult life.

On Sarah’s first day back at her job, she waved at Kayla with a big smile that lit up her face, rushing to give her a hug.

“We heard you nearly died in a car crash!”

“God saved me,” Sarah declared, pressing a hand on her heart and gesturing around the store. “I can never express how grateful I am for a second chance.”

Her face glowed with warm smiles all day as she set out clothes and assisted customers. She felt a personal connection with them all.

“It’s been a pleasure to serve you today,” she told each person, with a gentle touch and steady eye contact. “Thank you so much for shopping here. We wouldn’t be open without you.”

All Sarah could think of was how to make up for lost time. She felt overwhelmed, but in a good way; no task seemed burdensome anymore as she saw opportunities to spread joy.

“Thank you for putting up with me,” she said to her boss and Kayla at the end of the day. “I’d like to invite you both out for dinner. It’s the least I can do to repay your kindness and patience.”

As they walked out of the store together, chatting and linking arms, Sarah felt the tensions of a lifetime of pointless bitterness and resentment melting away. She lifted her face to the sky, her eyes filling with happy tears.

“Lord, I don’t deserve this,” she prayed. “Please help me keep a good attitude so I can be a blessing to others. I’ll never forget what You’ve done for me.”
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