We had just gotten back to the States for furlough. Scott was driving through the boondocks of Indiana, looking for a place to meet up with his parents for lunch after attending a family wedding. We found an exit with several fast food restaurants and settled on Steak ‘n Shake. Scott and I decided to order early since we were headed to a checkup appointment for our soon-to-arrive baby girl. We sat down, saved some seats, and waited for our gloriously greasy burgers to arrive.
I love to people watch. I enjoy seeing what makes people tick and watching how they interact with those around them. This particular restaurant out in the middle of nowhere provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just that. So I began to chat with Scott, all the while checking out the people around me.
I watched the frazzled waitress scamper from table to table, clearing dirty dishes and pushing the tips into her pocket. I observed the strange quartet of silent deer hunters, decked out in their camo clothes, playing with their cell phones instead of talking with each other in the moment. I saw a grandmother push aside her plate of pasta that she obviously didn’t care for. She stood up to pay the ticket for her daughter and grandchildren before they all walked out of the restaurant. I watched an older couple saunter in and settle themselves in the small corner booth, oblivious of those around them. And I saw the old trucker with his giant beer belly and long salt-and-pepper beard ask the waitress for a refill.
For some reason, the trucker intrigued me. I wondered where he was from and where he was going. But the more I observed him, the more my “people-watching” turned into “people-judging”. I started making assumptions about this man who apparently frequented this restaurant on his journeys throughout the country. That guy looks pretty ridiculous, I thought. He’s got to be a trucker – just look at that old flannel shirt, ball cap, and suspenders… At one point, he caught me staring at him. I nonchalantly looked away, focusing my eyes on another customer. But soon enough, my eyes wandered back to Trucker Guy. Wow, he ordered a lot of food…
I got up to use the restroom at one point. On my way back to my seat, I glanced over at Trucker Guy and realized he was staring at me. Uh-oh, is this guy a creep? What in the world? He’s been sitting there forever. He needs to get the show on the road…
Our food arrived. I was elated and scarfed down my burger and fries. Scott graciously treated me to a milkshake, and we sat there chatting some more. I happened to glance up from my ice cream to see Trucker Guy finally stand up and talk to the waitress once more.
He didn’t even drink his Coke refill! Ugh, he made that poor waitress run all over the place to take care of him. Can’t he see how busy she is? The judgmental thoughts kept flowing. Well, at least he tipped her well…
Trucker Guy stuffed a giant wad of money in his pocket and began to walk towards the exit. His path led him right past our table. I could feel him looking in our direction. I pretended not to notice him, keeping my eyes glued on my shake. And then he stopped. Right beside us. Could he hear my thoughts? I started to feel uncomfortable.
In a thick country accent, Trucker Guy spoke up, directing his words to Scott. “Hey sir, I saw your wife headed to the bathroom awhile ago, and I thought to myself, That new momma needs a break! So I bought your lunch for you.”
I was dumbfounded. And humiliated.
“Wow, thank you so much!” Scott replied. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Art, my name’s Scott, and I really appreciate it!”
Art just smiled and said, “I bet you would’ve ordered a steak dinner if you knew I was gonna pay for it.”
We all laughed, and Art congratulated us on our soon-to-be addition to the family. I tried adding another heartfelt “thank you” to the conversation as Art walked out to his truck, but my words fell flat. As enormously pregnant as I was, I felt as small as a mouse.
Scott’s parents arrived soon, and we quickly finished up our dessert before heading to our appointment. I spent the rest of the day thanking the Lord for reminding me a very important lesson and praying that I would start to look for more opportunities to pour into the lives of those around me, just like Art did for me.
1 Samuel 16:7
For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart.