A few months ago I was in a parking lot, with my baby on my hip, and a woman said to me, “Eff you and your baby too!”  We all know she literally said, “Fuck you and your baby too!” But I’ve been trying to swear less when writing, hence the usage of eff you.

Why We Were Told To Eff-Off

I was driving away from the ATM with cash to pay for a week’s worth of groceries, and as I drove away from the bank I saw her standing on the sidewalk, waiting. It was the second time I had seen her that day. (Since I despise overusing subject pronouns, let’s just call her Trudy.)

Trudy had one suitcase and a few over-stuffed totes. It was kind of cold outside, but she was definitely dressed like it was exceptionally cold. Trudy’s hat was pulled down over her ears and it stopped just above her chunky eyeglasses.  She seemed to be extremely preoccupied with the bags surrounding her, and more even more so with the contents of said bags.

I must have confirmed, in my mind, since I saw Trudy twice in one day, she and I were meant to cross paths. Then I went a step farther and thought Trudy needed help.  And this is where the story starts.

At the moment I concluded she needed help, I talked to God about it. “God, do you want me to give this person money?” Then immediately I heard, “Yes, give her $10.” Done and done. I parked my car with my sweaty palms and my heart racing, because this kind of move isn’t my style. Which, let me add here, is also why I thought God definitely wanted me to do this thing. God likes us to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of other’s wellbeing. (Sometimes, maybe, perhaps?) I’m going to follow God and give her money. As we walked up to Trudy, she was so focused on her bags we surprised her.

Tried and Failed, Perhaps?

“HellohowareyouIwouldliketogiveyoutendollarsGodsaidyouneededtendollars.” It all ran out of my mouth like a horrible made-up word, which was supposed to be a sentence. Better than a sentence, I was thinking it’d be a two-way conversation. However, that’d require me to actually be aware. To pause long enough to listen.

Oddly, Trudy heard what I said and even understood what I said. “I don’t believe in God and I don’t want money,” she responded.

I stood there. I was close enough, for the first time that day, to see Trudy’s glasses were wrapped with tape to hold her frames together as the tape sat unevenly on the bridge of her nose. She was layered with a rainbow of clothing in an array of fabrics. I began making up a story in my head about Trudy’s condition. I stood there still imposing my thoughts into her unknown needs.

“Okay, you can just have this $10,” as I reached out my hand confidently holding her money.

This gesture sparked Trudy to said the clearest thing she could at the time, “I don’t believe in God.  Go away! Eff you and your baby too!”

I obviously wasn’t getting the message. But, I did then. So did everyone else because a few people stopped to gawk. I walked back to my car, but not before I said in a kind-of-quiet voice, “God loves you.”

As I walked I asked God to bless her with peace.  Then I told God I was sorry. It took me a few hours to figure out why I was sorry, but I eventually landed on it. I was sorry I didn’t take the time to ask Trudy anything about her place in time. I mean, I could have started by introducing myself and asking Trudy what her name is. Then you and I could have dropped this pseudonym a few paragraphs ago.

I was also sorry I didn’t take the time to see Trudy. I mean, I saw her twice that day, but I saw her the way I wanted to see her.  Then I went a step farther and actually brought God into the picture. Looking back, I was sorry I didn’t listen while taking a moment to understand.

The Unexpected Outcome

I was replaying this entire scene to my husband, Tyler, later that day, when he asked me something brilliant. After I got to the part about “God told me to give her $10” Tyler asked if that was really God or me? I paused and said I believe it was all God. He challenged me on that, because the outcome was clearly not what one would think if God told me to do something. Or was it?

The unexpected outcome turns out to be a lady cursing at me and my kid while proclaiming she doesn’t know God. Okay. Fine by me. Then, I told her God loves her, and walked away while I asked God to bless her. No big issues there.

The bigger unexpected outcome was Tyler and I standing in our kitchen having a rich conversation about the common place of schemas that block us from actually getting to know people. How often do we show up to a seasoned relationship, or a new meeting, and enter into a conversation thinking we know how to respond or how to engage with that person? What if we approached people with more grace and with a quieter spirit? Even bigger: what if we didn’t have to be right and weren’t afraid of being wrong?

What it came down to was a realization that in all relationships: with old friends, with family, with new friends or co-workers and acquaintances and especially with God, we need to create space to listen. We need to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Dr. Stephen Covey said that, and in the moment—with Trudy, I clearly forgot about his genius words.

Honestly a miss on my part even after all the reading and gleaning I’ve done by great minds like Malcolm Gladwell, Wes Anderson, Dr. Stephen Covey, Carol Dweck, Krista Tippet, David Sedaris, and the story of God’s relationship with people, to name a few. What’s the point of gleaning knowledge and insights if I don’t act on both? It takes trying and failing to make me realize how to do things with more character integrity.

I don’t know what happened to Trudy after I got back into my car and drove home. She could have walked or taken the bus or maybe a friend picked her up; went back to her house, unpacked her groceries, and sat down with a cup of tea while being pissed off that she was mistaken for being someone she wasn’t.

People deserve the space to share, in their own time and place, who they are or aren’t. Next time, I’ll be ready to listen. Next time, I’ll silence the schemas.

| Photo: I took this accidentally as my iPhone was pointed toward the ground while walking through a market in Kolkata, India.|