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Three Buttons

Updated: May 19

Three lousy buttons, my fingers traced the scarred edges of each button barely holding my threadbare coat together. My stomach clawed at my backbone. When was the last time I’d eaten?

The smell of fresh bread enveloped my senses. My hand involuntarily reached towards the magnetic, yeasty warmness, but I drew it back just as quickly, ashamed. My nails were torn, dirt caked in each crevice, and my fingers sort of stuck to my gummy palm. Maybe, I should have found somewhere to wash up a little before coming.

“What are you doing here?” snapped a snotty voice beside me.

“I… I…” The words to explain I’d been invited to attend Sunday School got stuck behind the fear I didn't belong here.

“Why don’t you just leave? You smell funny,” the girl sneered. Some of her friends tittered behind their hands, others squirmed in embarrassment, and yet others looked on in pity.

I wanted to hate her, but I’d been her. The teenage girl who never thought her dad could lose his job or the family home. Never imagined living in a cardboard box or that showers could become an unaffordable luxury.

I didn’t belong here. Only those favoured by God attended Sunday school. That wasn't me anymore.

I edged towards the door.

“Wait,” a soft voice called. A flowery scent enveloped me, reminding me of gardens, sunshine, and happiness. It was the lady who’d invited me. She smelled like dreams I’d long forgotten, of hope and strength. Did God smell like that? Pure goodness.

“Don’t leave,” she pleaded.

“I don’t belong here,” I mumbled, pulling my coat tighter around me. The added tension popped off one of my measly buttons. A cringe caught my shoulders as the button bounced under the table.

“None of us do,” the lady countered.

“Pardon?” I whipped my head in her direction.

“God in His mercy brought us all here.”

I snorted. “Haven’t seen much mercy from Him."

“Mercy can come in funny forms.” She smiled softly, touching her frayed collar sporting a single button. My eyes flew wide as I followed the line of empty button holes down the teacher's top. I didn't know what was holding her blouse together, perhaps some clever mending?

She stooped to the ground. “We can be barely holding it together with just a few buttons and stiches.” She snatched up the button I’d lost and gave it a thoughtful toss. “Then God lets another button pop off when we feel we don’t have any left to spare. Yet here we still stand.”

My brow furrowed. “Why would He take more when I have so little?”

“‘My strength is made perfect in weakness,’” she quoted God's word. Her gentle confidence drew me. Her eyes promised I could trust her experience.

“Sometimes, we don’t understand God until He is all we have.”

But how could she, the Sunday School teacher, know life on the streets? “You smell so nice.” It came out more shocked allegation then I'd intended.

She grinned. “It’s floral scented soap. Costs a few cents per bar." She gave a little shrug as if it were nothing then leaned close to whisper. "When I still lived on the streets, I visited the shopping centre's toilets. They had lavender scented soap.” Her eyes sparkled like we shared a secret the others couldn't understand, and maybe, we did. Not so much why the location of floral scented soap was valuable, but the experience of having nothing.

My eyes dropped to my two remaining buttons. Well, maybe not nothing. I had two buttons; she only had one.

My gaze flicked to my third button now nestled in her hand. She opened her hand and pressed the button tightly into my palm. She didn’t seem to care my hands were sticky.

“Ruby, it doesn’t matter how much or little you have. What matters is what you do with it.”

Her words endued me with something I’d thought long gone—the strength to straighten my backbone. And I knew just what to do. I flipped our hands and pushed the button back into her palm.

Her eyes widened in question. "That wasn't what I meant. You don't have to... I wasn't..." The rest cut off, but I understood what she didn't say.

I smiled. "I know, but this is what I want." It just felt right deep in my soul. A feeling I hadn't experienced in so long. "Two for me and two for you." I pushed a little harder on the button, moving her hand back towards her.

Soft gratitude invaded her gaze, like maybe no one had given her something in a long time. She cradled the scarred button to her stomach like it was a precious diamond.

Before today, I'd have never thought three buttons could be riches. Now, I knew better.


Original image by

Alternations by Dienece

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