Close Encounter in the Checkout Line

Today, I went food shopping.  It was payday and we were low on everything.  Disclaimer:  I hate shopping.  Okay, well not hate, exactly, but I’m a “get in and get out” kind of gal.  I dislike browsing.  I have a list.  I might deviate from it a bit, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the store.  I feel different about clothes shopping, of course.  I am a girl!

Anyway, as I cruised the aisles, I ran into a couple of gals I knew.  We chatted about our kids and the weather and this and that.  I always expect to find someone I know when I go shopping now.  Never like that in Portland, as I have mentioned before.

I finished my list with a few extras (hellooo, bacon!) and went to get in line.  I was directed to a gal I’ll call Joan.  Not her real name, of course, but trying to protect her identity.  The last time I went through the line she told me her son had just died.    He was only 19.  Now, I have written before about how people just spill stuff to me.  I was in my late 20s when I really noticed it.  Must be something about my face.  Or maybe it’s my hair.  People reveal to me, unprompted, their deep, dark secrets.  I have often wondered about this and maybe there’s a reason to this apparent madness.

Joan and I greeted each other.  I asked how she was doing. Joan had, in her unremembered past, confided another secret to me.  But this blog isn’t about it.

“Fine”, she replied.

I had to call her on that.  I reminded her gently that the last time we were in line together, her son had passed.  I told her I had been thinking about her.

“I think about him every day”, she said.  “I go to his cross and put flowers on his grave.”

My heart broke.  What if it happened to Zac?!

She went on to tell me her remaining younger son, all of 14 years old, had been busted at school for possession of marijuana.  Never smoked it before, never been in trouble before.  The school went all A-Team on her, immediately suspending him for 45 days, trying to get him arrested and on and on.  She got mad.  He didn’t even have enough for one joint in his possession.

“Mom”, he confided, “I just wanted to feel numb.”

He isn’t a bad kid.  He’s a hurting kid.  Big difference.  She told me of going to bat for him in the way that she could.  I asked her if she had an advoate.  She said she hadn’t thought about that.  Then, because the Holy Spirit had been sitting on me during our entire conversation, I asked her the big question.

“Can I pray for you?”

Joan blinked at me.


I repeated my question.  She agreed.  I could offer nothing else.  I  had no good answers, no solutions to what must be a deep, dull ache in her heart at the loss of her boy.

I grabbed her rough hand and said a quick prayer.  Nobody was in line behind me.  Divine orchestration, that.  I prayed for comfort and wisdom, two of God’s sweetest gifts in time of despair.  Psalm 34:18 says The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.  I know He heard me.

She went on as if nothing had happened.  She said she desperately wanted to make sure her second son knew he wasn’t a bad kid.  I assured her she was a good mom.

“You know, my oldest used to be down on me all the time.  But the last year and a half before he died, he had turned around.  He knew I was a good mom and I loved him.”

I’m sure he remembers, with love.


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