It happened at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Canton, Ga. I had just checked into the Holiday Inn Express and walked across the street to get something to eat. The down side of traveling and speaking is that you have a lot of alone moments. I am not good at those. I love people, and the chatter of a roomful is music to my ears.
Sitting at the table by myself gives me a lot of time to observe those around me. To my immediate right sat a couple with two young children. Another thing I’m not good at is determining the ages of children, especially other people’s. The oldest was a young girl whom I thought might be 3 years old. I couldn’t tell if the younger child was a boy or a girl, but I guessed this one at 9 months of age.
I could tell the family wasn’t well-off. I decided they must be like a lot of couples their age: beginning a life together, starting a career, having children, in debt from buying their first home and car and still paying off school loans.
You can always tell how new people are to a restaurant by the amount of time they spend studying the menu. This couple wanted to get the most for their money. Pointing back and forth, they discussed who could eat what. Finally, it seemed as though they had come to some agreement.
That night, for some reason, the service was slow. As the young couple waited for someone to take their order, they had their hands full. They were doing their best to care for their children, but the littlest one was fussy. No matter what they did, the little tyke kept throwing crackers on the floor and crying. I watched as the baby sat there, fighting the sleep that threatened to take over. The older child colored for a while, but soon grew tired and joined the ruckus. As I watched this young family, a flood of thoughts came rushing back.
We had moved away from our families for the first time so I could take a new job in Texas. My wife, our two small children and I were now in our first home. I was making a grand total of $100 a week, going to Bible college and sharing our one car. At best, life wasn’t easy, but we didn’t know anything different. For us, an exotic evening consisted of pushing our boys around the mall, hoping they would go to sleep so we could eat at El Chico’s. Yes, we considered this a high-end restaurant because the food came on a plate, not in a bag.
Occasionally, another couple blessed us by offering to keep our children while we went out. The first time we had a date night without children, we didn’t know how to act or what to do. As we moved up from low-lower class to lower class, we began to hire babysitters every so often.
My wife and I have never forgotten those days. On many occasions, we have offered to babysit so a weary couple can get out for a date. I experience great joy as I watch these young parents walk away to enjoy an evening without their children.
As I sat in Cracker Barrel that night, I wished I could have found this couple a babysitter. Sometimes a husband and wife need a little time away from their children to rekindle the fire that has been dampened by dirty diapers and baby spit. I knew I couldn’t help this couple with their children, but I also knew I could do . . . something else.
When the waiter finally arrived and took their order, the couple was worn out. As the waiter walked away, I followed him. When we turned a corner out of the couple’s sight, I asked if he would let me pay for their meal. I also asked him to bring the family some dessert. My mind went back to the many times I studied the dessert menu during our early years of marriage, knowing I couldn’t afford a thing I saw there.
The young man asked if I knew this couple. I told him “No,” but that I had known a couple like that many years ago who had a stranger bless them with a free meal. He understood. I paid for their meal and gave my waiter friend a generous tip.
As I walked out of the restaurant, the sun setting in the distance, I felt good about what God had done through me. He blessed me by allowing me to bless others. And suddenly, my alone moment didn’t seem so lonely after all.
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail email@example.com, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827).