This is a true story, I just want to paint it in enough detail that you get the full effect of what happened that day.
Last Tuesday was a typical Tuesday evening at the restaurant. Our $20 pizza and wing special kept the dining room full to capacity. The usuals had made their way through during the dinner hour and the carry out was slowing down for the evening. I was stocking the beer cooler when I noticed a woman walking through into the carry out on my right. (For those of you out of state who may not be aware, a carry out is a drive-thru with a wall of coolers of beer, pop, wine, milk, eggs and some chips, bread and other dry goods. Our carry out also happens to double as a pick-up window for the restaurant) It isn't atypical for us to get people walking through, as we are surrounded by hotels and many out-of-staters have never seen a drive-thru before let alone know how to use one. This woman, however, seemed to be wandering. She carried no purse and looked disheveled. Something seemed off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It was one of those situations that make you want to get into a defensive position, just in case. I smiled and asked if there was anything I could help her find? Her small, weak voice cracked as she asked to use a phone.
I don't know what snapped inside of me, but I went into instant mother-mode and checked her up and down for signs abuse. She made no move to cover herself, which indicated to me she didn't have any injuries to hide. Emotionally her pains were clear.
She was a short, stout woman. I found myself looking over her head, which was unusual for me standing at only 5'4. Her dark brown hair was parted down the center and matted to her face as if wet near her jaw bone. She was plain, as far as looks go; nothing about her physical features stood out. Her blue tank top had an athletic look to it, but not quite the type an experienced athlete would wear. Her black shorts mirrored the semi-pro style of her top and fell to the middle of her leg, longer than most women would wear. Her eyes were noticeably red and puffy, and the creases surrounding them detailed years of what were either laughs or stresses. She seemed late 20s or early 30s, but her eyes spoke of pains beyond her years.
I ushered her into the small room where our cash registers and phones are. Only carry out workers are allowed in this room, but at that particular moment the rule was the furthest thing from my mind. I showed her how to dial out and gathered a roll of paper towels to help quell the rush of tears suddenly spilling down her cheeks. I did my best not to intrude and kept my hands busy, but listened as she fought her way through the sobs to tell her father she and her husband (judging by the ring on her finger. She called him John) had had a fight and he had locked her out of the house. The lack of a purse or keys or a phone suddenly made sense.
She explained where she was and that she didn't want to talk about the fight at that moment and hung up the phone. How he managed to understand her through the gasps and chokes was beyond me. I was a mere two feet from her and had to strain to make out the words. Overwhelmed with a need to soothe her, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and handed her the paper towels I'd collected whilst busying my hands. She squeaked out what I believe was a thank you and asked if it would be alright if she sat on the curb outside the carry out to wait for her ride. Of course it was.
Minutes ticked by and a few customers pulled through. I leaned out the window of the carry out room and watched the breeze push her hair from shoulder to shoulder. She sat with her back to me and stared at the passing cars unmoving for as long as I watched her. What was her story? How could I help her? Was there more I could do? Should I just leave her to her thoughts? The third customer since her arrival was leaving the drive-thru as I heard a car door slam and saw the tail of a deep gold sedan pull cautiously from the curb.
In the matter of 20 minutes, this woman stumbled aimlessly in and out of my carry out. Without so much as a hello or a goodbye, this woman had knocked my world off its axis. How strange for such an ordinary Tuesday evening.
I know not the extent of the fight, or her background, or her husband's. What I know is she triggered something in me. As I reflected in the hours left of my shift, I was reminded of Jesus being hungry, and thirsty and being a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31). This woman embodied Christ in my eyes. She was a stranger, so I took her in. She was thirsty and sick emotionally and I did my best to fulfill those needs as I could.
Am I looking for a pat on the back? Absolutely not. I am hoping that the things I did for that woman she will remember and she will grow strong from. I am hoping the tears I shed for her and her situation as I prayed for hours late into that night and the night after that, and after that, and after that and as I'm writing this will reach her and help her to thrive.
A week later I sit here wondering what became of that woman. And I write this post not necessarily to share her story, but to get my story into words so I can remember all that happened in those few minutes. In the grand scheme of my life, 20 minutes is the blink of an eye. But that night, it may have been a pivotal moment in my life.
It is doubtful that our paths will ever cross again, but I pray something I did will benefit her somehow, someway. And if you think of it, I bet she could use some prayers of yours, too.