Sometimes I resist sharing some of the most powerful stories in my life. I'm sure that sounds strange. Why wouldn't I want to share the experiences that are powerful? Surely, if the experience impacted me than the story should have the ability to impact others and change the world!
The several reasons I hold back stories are,
1. There are so many that if I wrote everything, I'd be so busy writing that I'd never have time to do anything else,
2. Many of the stories are very intimate, and
3. Not every story can be shared in a short blog post. So many stories reveal their beauty over time. For example: I meet someone in my neighborhood and greet them. They don't respond. Then after 2 years of smiling and greeting them and remaining hopeful--instead of cynical, I found a wallet in front of their house. I returned it to them wordlessly through the mail slot in their door. As I walked away, the door opened and one of the people who had been ignoring me for 2 years, yelled out, "Thank you!". That was the beginning of a relationship. It took 2 years just to begin the relationship. The beauty and challenges that have happened since could become it's own book.
Today, however, I have a story that I can't hold back. It's very intimate. There is a part of me that wants to keep this story a secret. To just hold it and treasure it in my heart. I've only shared this story with my wife and God as I've praised him for using me in this story. But today I have to share it with the hope that you will read it and be inspired AND you will do something similar.
I hate the phrase "It's just Business". In my experience, people never use this phrase to inspire others or celebrate great victories that change the world for the better. People only use this phrase when they want to distance themselves from some job responsibility that is emotionally taxing. But I think people also use this common phrase to justify their entitlement when they are customers dealing with service people.
How many times have you been frustrated when ordering a latte or a sandwich that didn't turn out quite right. You focus on the disappointment you received from the error in the product you received. But is it really the product you're upset with? No, it's the service. Someone took your request, someone turned your request into a product, and someone delivered that product to you. Somewhere in the process there was an error. Now you feel entitled to what you paid for and ordered. It's just business.
But remember that the people who made the mistake are PEOPLE. Do you remember making a mistake ever? When you did, did you appreciate the people who treated you harshly because they felt offended by your mistake? Please remember that when you are representing a business as an employee or when you are interacting with a business as a customer, you are dealing with people. Flawed, miserable, happy, excited, depressed, struggling, busy, worried, extroverted, distracted, normal people.
I got a new job in March 2017. My old employer let me pay for my bus pass directly out of my paycheck. My new employer did not.
Oh, man! What a hassle!!! Like I really needed to add an extra errand to my life. I've got three kids, a wife, a neighborhood, and a church that I'm busy with. I'm writing a book. I go to Live Your Legend Group meetings. Life is busy! I never had to think about my bus pass before. It just automatically got filled with fare every two weeks. Unlimited rides!!! Now, I actually have to think about how many rides are left on my pass.
And the fees and passes are all over the place. There routes are divided into: Regular, Limited Stop, and Express. Some of them have a different fees depending on if they go during Rush hour or not.
The passes available are just as confusing. 7 day-pass is good 24-hours a day for 7 consecutive days including Saturday and Sunday. Should I get 4 or those each month? Wait what about month with five weeks? There's also a 10-day pass for commuters, but that only covers the regular fare so that won't work. Then there's the 22 day pass that has a discount and a 31 day pass good for any bus anytime. I'm freaking out here trying to figure out what is the best deal that will cover me.
So I go to the bus office downtown and tell them my situation. Alright, I've got to take a 5M to downtown during rush hour, then transfer to an Express that takes me to a northern suburb. Then at night I have to take the reverse trip. I'm going to take this 4 days a week for sure and sometimes on Fridays. Should I get the 31-day pass?
The lady, Melissa, behind the counter says, "You want 2 10-ride passes and then add $15 dollars in stores value--which actually gives you a discount."
I blink at her, then briefly argue that the 10-ride card only covers regular fare buses--pointing out that I have to take an express bus as well.
"That's what the stored value is for, " Melissa says smiling, "It covers the difference between the ride pass the extra fee for the express." She assures me that it's the best solution and shows me how it's $40 cheaper per month.
This woman just saved me $480 this year! Wow! I'm ecstatic.
The card will automatically take the right amount with one swipe and it will last me 2 weeks. Then I'll have to come back and fill up the card again.
"Wait," I said pausing, "I have to come back in?"
"Yeah, it's kind of a dumb system," she says empathizing, "they only let you store 2 passes on the card at anyone time, so you have to use up at least one pass completely before you can put another pass on there."
By the time Melissa has answered all of my questions. I'm so happy with how Melissa has helped me that I think well, it won't be so bad coming in to see here every two week. So I compliment her service and her shirt and walk out smiling.
Two weeks later I return. This time however, Melissa isn't available. "Oh, man," I worry, "What if the next person who helps me doesn't do as good a job as Melissa? What if the next customer service person doesn't get what I'm trying to do?"
So I grudgingly go up to the next lady, hoping for the best. She's wearing a black kind of a knit baseball cap. I thinks it's cool and I'll tell her so after I work with her on my situation. I tell her that "Melissa" had helped me before to get the right amount of 10 passes and stored value for my commute.
There's no pause. She just reiterates what I told her to make sure she understands and quick as a whip, assures me it right, and it's done. I've been there of maybe 35 seconds. Wow, what great service! I'm one of the only people in there and it's so quick that this 2 week stop-in is no big deal. I mean the office right downtown by where I transfer buses. No problem! Praise God!
Before I turn to leave, I tell her I like her hat. She stops and laughs that shouts to the backroom, "Did you hear that, he likes my hat!"
Suddenly, Melissa appears from the back room shaking her head. The woman who helped me is smirking as Melissa tells me that they (Melissa and and another co-worker) have been giving her crap about her hat all day.
I quickly see that these ladies have a great sense of camaraderie. It's fun to be there with them when they are having fun. Now, I'm really not worried about coming back twice a month to refill my card.
Each person is so unique in their style of dress and the way they decorate their work stations that it's easy for me to find a compliment for them each time I come in. Each worker is pleasant and they recognize me. I can't believe it, but it's actually become fun to run this 5-minute errand twice a month!
Here's where the story turns sad. One day I'm in refilling my bus pass and asking them about the weekend. Melissa mentions that it's the other woman's birthday. The woman whom had been wearing the baseball hat. I asked what she was going to do to celebrate, but she didn't have any plans.
I kind of knew why. See, I'd gotten to know her a little bit. She was right in the middle of going through a divorce. I felt bad, but I didn't really know what to do. I mean, I wasn't going to throw her a party. I wouldn't invite her over to hang out with my wife and kids. I wasn't going to take her out for drink--for so many reasons. But it's just sad to hear that someone isn't celebrating their birthday. Especially, in her tumultuous situation with the divorce.
So I just wished her a happy birthday and told her I hoped things would get better. I mean, what could I do?
After I left the bus office I passed by a Walgreens. Suddenly, I felt a nudge in my spirit. I entered the Walgreens and felt drawn to the greeting cards. Now, you can ask my wife how I feel about greeting cards. Let's just say they aren't my thing. But this day, I felt drawn to them so I followed my inkling.
I saw the huge array of cards. You know what they look like: dogs wearing sunglasses, risque photos with innuendos, and gaudy words written decorated with explosions of enthusiasm. I felt my cynicism sneaking up. But then I saw one with a picture of Wonder Woman that was blank inside. Whenever I see wonder woman I think of my wife--because she is so beautiful, talented, strong, and preservers, staying home with our 3 kids. "Oh, I've got to get that for, Elisabeth!" I thought to myself.
I picked up the cared and was about to leave, when I felt another nudge in my spirit. I looked up near the top and saw a white card with a sprinkle of color and sparkle draped on the left side. I reached for it. The front of the card basically said, "I know you're going through a lot" Then I opened the card to see a picture of a butterfly and the words, "Just wanted to remind you that you are a special person."
Now, I don't like greeting cards. I don't like them because I think they are over-priced and over-simplified. But this one was perfect for the woman who was not going to be celebrating her birthday.
This story is far from over
As I rode my connecting bus home, I wrote over most of the card the story I just told you. I wrote how irritated I was about having to go to the bus office, but that my perspective had changed. I had truly enjoyed getting to meet all of the ladies in the office and I appreciated how kind, fun, and smart they were. I appreciated their style of clothes and speech. Their smiles and their stories.
The next morning on my way to work, I slipped the card under the door since their office would open for another hour. The next time I came in--two weeks later--the woman who received the card came out from the behind her locked glassed-in work area to give me a hug. The card had meant a lot.
It wasn't a hard thing to do. It also wasn't a normal thing for me to do. But I felt like God was really calling me to follow-through on that and I'm glad I did. Especially when the next thing happen....
My schedule had been changing so I had been filling up card at different times. Some mornings and some evening, but on different days than I normally would have seen her. but then when I came back at my normal time, I still didn't see her.
I clearly had no idea what had happened. Maybe she had quit. Maybe she was on vacation. Maybe I'd never see her again. Whatever the circumstance, I was glad that God had put me there for her for those couple of months last spring.
It truly feels amazing to be able to be a light for someone going through a dark time. And it really doesn't take that much. We just have to be willing to take time to care enough to treat people as people--even if they are providing you a service OR if you are providing them a service.
Nothing could prepare me for what happened next
Yesterday, my wife was coming to pick me up downtown to take me to my son's kindergarten orientation. I had about 20 minutes before I had to meet her and I thought, "Hm, my bus card is down to $1.00. I wonder if I'll have time to fill up my card?" I was already walking toward where I was supposed to have my wife pick me up, but then I turned around and started sprinting over to the office.
While, I was running I realized that it was the day of the week when I had initially met the woman in the knit ball cap and had regularly seen her. I wondered, "Is there any chance she might be back?"
I walked in the door and saw a line of people. "Oh, great," I worried, "Will I have time to do this before I have to meet my wife?" Then I saw her. The woman was back! She was helping a customer, but she through a quick smile my way. I greeted her by name with a small wave as I made my way toward the back of the line.
I waited as patiently as I could. But I kept looking at the clock. I thought I should probably jump out of line to run to where my wife was going to pick my up in 10 minutes, but it had been months since I'd seen this woman and I wanted to check-in.
She hadn't given me a second glance the whole time while I'd been in line. She was just working. But when I stepped up to the window, she got up, came out, and gave me a huge hug again. Then she went back to the transaction window and asked how I was. Of course, I was good. But how was she?
She was reticent to talk. I didn't pressure her. Then she said, "I was on leave for 8 weeks."
"Wow," I said, "Did you get a chance to spend some time with friends and family and your son? Could they help you through this time?"
She told me, "No". She hadn't been surrounded by family. She hadn't taken time off to help cope with her divorce. She had taken time off for medical reasons. Her soon-to-be ex-husband had come after her and beaten her up. Her 10-year-old son was there to witness the beating. He called for help to get her to the hospital.
In her words, it broke her. In the most delicate way, while she sat there getting my bus card filled up with fares, she alluded to wanting to kill herself. She said she couldn't because of her son. But she wanted to so badly. She just didn't want to be here anymore. She felt completely broken.
"...And so, for strength, I kept your card by me. And I read it over and over again. You have been and you are an angel to me. God bless you. You made a difference in one person's life. Thank you."
There's only one way to wrap this up.
Actually, there's no way to wrap up this story. Why? Because her struggle is still real. She's not out of the woods. She's one beautiful, hurting person in an e