Every so often the stars align and I have time not only to read a book, but I am able to finish it in a timely manner. Such an alignment happened while we were on our Christmas vacation, and I’m so happy that I was able to read Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25¢ at at Time by Jane Knuth.
This is a quick read but packed with inspiration and wisdom. Jane chronicles her experiences working at a St. Vincent de Paul store in Michigan. Like so many of us, she walked into the store expecting to complete a simple transaction, only to find herself colliding (quite literally) with an unexpected face of Jesus – Jesus in the poor, the homeless, the needy, and the lonely.
Knuth’s stories of the store’s clients are down-to-earth, real, heart-warming and often heart-wrenching. This is an emotional book, written by a woman who has discovered how to surrender to God’s work and will for her life. On more than one occasion, Knuth recalls a time when the cashbox and the need didn’t balance. Instead of fretting or turning people away, Jane and the other volunteers trust in God’s providence. Things always seem to work out.
One of the main points of the book concerns the volunteers themselves. Knuth wisely recognizes that Jesus is not just found in the thrift store clients. He is in the faces of the volunteers as well. Toward the end of the book, Knuth talks about the importance of the invitation she received to be a volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul store. She wasn’t bullied or guilted into returning for the first meeting. Rather, she was personally, specifically invited to come and see what the store was all about. The volunteers truly form a community with one another.
Knuth speaks of how before starting to volunteer, she was a teetering tree when it came to matters of faith – her roots did not go very deep. She was lacking a foundation, a real and tangible connection with God.
By intertwining their [the other volunteers] roots with mine, by struggling together with the practical mechanics of how to best help the poor, they have become for me the good, firm soil I need to stay erect in the forest.
I believe Jane’s story is relatable and gently challenging for each of us. She asks each of us to consider how we view the poor and homeless. This question is powerful enough. But Knuth masterfully takes us a few steps further. She also calls us to task on how well we invite others to encounter Jesus.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book. It was refreshing in it’s honesty and enlightening about the realities of poverty and the incredible work of the St. Vincent de Paul society.