God at the Waffle House (yes, the Waffle House)

I’ve had fairly limited internet access this week as we’ve been traveling. It became an unplanned digital Shabbat, intermittently punctuated with internet access that left me feeling a little like I was standing in front of a wide-open information firehose, which, in effect, I was. I’ve learned to modulate my response to the usual urgent (work-related emails), but I don’t always have a good working filter for other types of urgent. When I read about injustice and tragedy, my adrenaline kicks in. I must fight! Justice now! Many of the voices I read online are fighting the good fight in all sorts of redemptive ways.

Those voices often stir me to break out the rebel yell and run headlong into the battle in order to do Something Big about addiction/abuse/ignorance/human trafficking/the upcoming election/the Middle East/(well, you get the idea). I am drawn to the contemplative, but am enough of a first-born alpha extrovert that activism is my first response. Rarely do I get to use that adrenaline in the moment in which it is released like a pack of baying hounds. It disperses like a sour fog, every hound crawling back under the porch where he or she will sleep off yet another false alarm.

My inability to do Something Big usually leaves me with a vague sense of shame and failure. I crawl back under the porch, metaphorically-speaking, with the pooches. Why didn’t I do something? Anything? Anyway, what can I do? Bueller? Bueller?

Mother Theresa once famously noted, “In this life we can do no great things. Author┬áMargot Starbuck, has a book on my ‘To Read’ list titled from this quote, coaching readers on what a small-things/great-love lifestyle might look like.)

Yesterday, at a Waffle House near Asheville, NC, I had a front-row seat to one such small thing. It was a single domino, tipping other dominoes, a pay-it-forward moment of grace. It didn’t fight female genital mutilation or plant a garden in an urban food desert, but I have a feeling that it shifted the days of at least six people in an undeniably heaven-invades-earth kind of way. I happened to be standing near the register when a man who was paying his bill gestured for the cashier to lean forward toward him. I tilted my body toward the conversation like…well, a hound. The man gestured toward a couple in the crowded restaurant eating their breakfast.

“How much is their bill?”

Another server brought the check to the register, and the man paid it. “Don’t tell them the bill is paid until after I leave, OK?” Money changed hands, and he ducked out of the door quickly.

I stared out at the highway, contributing an Oscar-worthy performance of ignorance to what was transpiring a few feet away from me in the noisy restaurant. It was a holy ground moment, one I wasn’t meant to witness, one I desperately needed to see.

And one I can replicate. Something small, intended to be as invisible as the Kingdom and as beautiful as the King.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4


What about you? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your good desire to do Something Big? How do you handle it when you’re not able to respond in a big way?






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10 thoughts on “God at the Waffle House (yes, the Waffle House)”

  1. I love this post. This is the very emotion every woman has when faced with wanting to do something for the kingdom. “Go big or go home” mentality has sent so many women home feeling they’re not doing enough. Radical gospel living is in the ordinary and watching God turn it into something extraordinary for His Kingdom.

    This was brilliant, Michelle ­čÖé LOVE.

  2. I had the opportunity to witness something similar at Aldis. A very elderly lady only had X amount of cash with her – and they only accept cash/debit cards. So, she put back some bread and other items. My “intentions” were to pay for the items. However, the lady in front had the same plan and did just that. She paid for the items and gave them to the lady – very discreetly. I quietly whispered to her, “I saw that and so did God”.

  3. I love that there were two of you who wanted to help the lady. ­čÖé Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, Laurie.

  4. I love this post. I was once able to buy a taco for a young woman and I only wish I could have done it annonymously as I was somewhat embarrassed by her gratitude. I simply told her to remember it and do the same for someone else when she could. That is my wish for everyone who gives and receives in this way.

  5. Few years back while commuting home on the train one December evening, a woman was sitting directly in front of me. She was talking frantically with someone on her cell. It was easy to asses that she was a new commuter and experiencing one of those that “out of sorts” moments. She had left her work pack at the office which held her monthly train ticket, office key pass so she could return to get her ticket, money, debit card and checks. I gently tapped her shoulder and handed her a $10 bill. I could see she was going to that “let me take your name and number” plea so I raised my hand to stop her and said “Merry Christmas”.

    Her stop arrived and she began putting on the standard winter gear. To avoid any fuss of gratitude (that would have drawn attention to me) I closed my eyes, leaned up against the window and played sleeping possum……

    Michelle, I can see why you and Jeanna are such good friends. You both are great writers.

  6. One Christmas, when I was about twelve, we were visiting relatives in Michigan. My dad and I ran to K-Mart for some last-minute gifts. It was bitterly cold, even for Michigan in December. The temperature was well below zero, and there was a stiff wind off the Lake. The Salvation Army bell ringer outside the store was bundled up, but still obviously chilled. My dad went inside, bought a cup of hot coffee, and brought it to him. Since then, charity has never been an abstraction to me. It begins at K-Mart.

  7. I know Michelle, and her others-centered/referenced life inspires me to live the same way–like Jesus. Michelle, you are a most generous spirit and God sees that. So do others!

  8. I just returned from a trip and discovered these wonderful comments and stories! Thank you all so much for sharing these stories about tacos, ten spots and cups of coffee. Each one has the potential to change a day – or the world – for a person.

  9. Your question about whether I’ve felt overwhelmed by the desire to do Something Big actually made me think of those times when I didn’t know I was doing anything at all and later found out that God used for his purposes something I thought was so small as to be insignificant. I don’t think it gets bigger than that.

    There’s some truth to the old phrase “small is beautiful.”


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