Who’s on First?

Starbucks London Pan

Pulling my car into the drive-thru line at Starbucks, I wondered why it was a dozen people deep. It wasn’t raining, yet it seemed everyone was driving through today. I was transporting three dogs to the groomer, and there was no way I could leave two wild Shih-tzus and one crazy Bichon alone while I went inside for my daily dose.

Millie, the Bichon, sat on my lap licking the window.  As I peeled her away from the glass, I saw the woman. She sat across the parking lot, leaving just enough room for a thoroughfare, as she too was waiting in the Starbucks line. I smiled, and gestured to her. It went something like this: “Are you next, or am I?”

Really, I was fine either way.

She was not.

Thinking I was trying to snag her spot of next up, she gunned her Suburban, rolled down the window, and let out a string of expletives that made me blush. Millie barked back a retort.

“Go ahead, please,” I said. “I wasn’t sure who was first.” I pulled Millie back onto my lap, so she could see I had been dog-distracted and truly didn’t know who was next.

She didn’t buy it. She continued with the name calling without taking a breath. I won’t write them down here, but the main mantra shared intials with the number one social networking site.

Then something really strange happened. Instead of getting mad or yelling back at her, a sense of empathy invaded me. I looked at her again, and this time I saw someone different, someone who wrenched my heart. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was pulled back in a natty ponytail. She held her phone in her palm, glancing down at it every few seconds. And she was driving that big ole’ gas hog of a Suburban, my own car of choice when I had three kids at home and a carpool.

Dear God. I was looking at myself ten years ago. Same car, same ponytail. Same frustration.

We’ve all been there. Dog vomits on the sofa. Both kids have strep throat. The garbage disposal chooses today to break, when you are trying to disintegrate moldy fridge leftovers.  Husband is mad because you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning and he’s going on a business trip. Sound familiar? And by the way, was that him she had been talking to or texting?

She gunned forward, just to show me that she could. I left her a wide berth, smiled at her splotchy face. She shot me a sideways scowl, mouthed the mantra again.

Pulling up to the loudspeaker behind her, I said “I want to pay for whatever the woman in front of me has ordered. And please tell her I hope she has a better day.” I meant every word.

The woman idled in front of me for a good four minutes, talking to the barista who had leaned out the window. She shook her head and handed over a bill. She drove around the side of the building slowly, this time no gunning. Hmmm.

“No takers, huh?” I said to the barista as I pulled forward.

“Nope. She said she couldn’t believe you wanted to pay for her drink after all the names she called you. She said she couldn’t allow it, and said to tell you she was sorry. She felt really bad.”

“Did you tell her I hoped she had a better day?”

“Yep. She said thanks— that she already was.”

“Good to hear.” I smiled and handed her a dollar to put in the tip jar.

As I drove away, I began to cry. Not because I had been called so many terrible names, but because God had answered my very recent prayer—which was that He would allow me to see people as He sees them, not as I see them. That I might be able to see the hurting inside, instead of just the hurtful outside. And maybe a few tears were of gratitude and amazement that He always shows up with an answer when I sincerely ask.

I’ve thought of her many times since that day in the Starbucks line. I hope she knows that she is loved by her Creator, and that things can and do get better. In Starbucks speak, I’d say Tall to Venti better.


Have you been in a similar situation? How did you respond—was it in a positive or negative light?

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

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  1. Lisa CannonLisa Cannon03-14-2012

    LOVED the Starbucks post! The writing was excellent and it was a great reminder of what responding with kindness can do! Don’t know when I will have time to read more, but I hope it is soon!

  2. Bethany MacklinBethany Macklin03-16-2012

    What a great story. It is so true that we never know what people are going through so it is always wise to back off and show compassion. I’ve been on the short end of a bad day too many times myself. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Gail HelgesonGail Helgeson11-25-2012

    Hello. I found your site from the Steve Laube site. I was at a CS Lewis retreat, and was in a class he had. I have always wanted to write, but stuffed the dream. Still not sure of this writing “talent” or what I would write about, but I am loving looking at lots of blogs, and yours intrigued me. Travel…love it. I have been across the pond, and drank in the sites and awesome wonders for a couple of weeks. It was pure fantasy from St Paul’s cathedral to Oxford to the Cotswolds. All done with my best friend and husband, Dale. I do have a blog…started a few weeks ago. The first ones were actually drawn from my trip to the retreat. I have never experienced losing a bag before, and I also bought a soldier a drink at Starbucks while in and around an airport. Any interest…my blog is

    You write very well. I envisioned being at the Starbucks that day!
    Have a good day

  4. Cried as I read this, friend. Proud to know you.

    • SusanSusan03-08-2013

      Thanks, Shannon. I feel the same way about you! 🙂

  5. Lisa JennerLisa Jenner03-08-2013

    That was a beautiful story Susan, it moved me to tears.

    • SusanSusan03-16-2013

      Sorry I’m so late in responding to your sweet comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. I love it that you read my work! XOXO

  6. Janet HansonJanet Hanson03-08-2013

    Wow! This hit me at 90 miles an hour. Beautifully put, with deadly aim.

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