A Convicted Heart At Olive Garden

Olive Garden stepped up to the patriotic plate this year, offering a free entree to Veterans on this most special day.  What a wonderful way to honor the men and women who represent, defend and protect our nation!  Our family chose to dine at OG tonight (my husband is a Navy Vet), and it was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  Not because the food was so delicious, and not because we got a chicken parmesan dinner for free.  It was something much more personal.

There was standing room only inside the small front entrance of the restaurant.  It was packed.  We were told our wait would be about 25 minutes, so we took our little coaster-shaped beeper on a small trip to the adjacent home improvement store to buy some lightbulbs.  This did help the time pass by more quickly, as when we returned we found we were only eight names down on the list for the next table.  Joy!  As we stood in the crowd, we kept one eye on our beeper (as if we would miss the vibrations and alerting its-your-turn noises when our table was available) and we kept the other eye studying the people around us.  There were Veterans of all shapes and sizes, ages, cultural backgrounds.  Some were women.  Some were men.  Mothers.  Fathers.  Daughters.  Sons.  Friends.  There was no animosity in the crowd, instead, an overall unspoken appreciation for each other.  Then, when we were about three names down on the list for the next table, an older couple came in and weaved their way up to the hostess booth.  The gentleman, tall and conservatively dressed, guided his lovely wife through the masses, ever so tenderly directing her.  I heard him announce, when he was leaving his name, that he had served in WWII.   Without much ado, he lead his bride to a nearby wall, where they waited, like everyone else.  There were no seats available.  I took note of the love I saw between them, holding hands, as they stood silently waiting for their name to move up the list.

After studying them for a few minutes, and searching the room for a vacant seat where they could wait comfortably, I turned to my husband and said,  “You know, honey, I was thinking.  When our table comes up, we should go over there and trade beepers with that sweet couple, so that they can be seated first.”  To this, my husband replied, “I was just thinking the same thing.”  Immediately after, our 9-year-old held up the beeper, excited that we “finally” got called upon.  My husband said, as we followed our server right past the couple standing by the wall, “it’s a different number”, with a tone that told me we were not trading places with them.  A different number?  I didn’t know what he meant at the time (he later explained that he thought because there were only the two of them, and we had 3 in our party, that the table sizes might be different; hence, “different number” of people to be seated at the table).    I dismissed the thought and just followed behind to our table.

As we settled in to games of tic-tac-toe on the children’s menu and deciding between water or diet coke with lemons for our beverage choice, I didn’t think about the couple.  At least not right away.  We had friendly banter with the waitresses and waiters, greeted some familiar faces seated near us.  We moved on from tic-tac-toe to the dots game.  Then, sometime between the arrival of the soups and entrees, I finally settled into my chair and lifted my eyes to the wall where the couple had been standing, only to notice them still there.  It had probably been about 25 minutes since we had been seated.  They were still waiting.  And this is when it happened.  The thing that will forever be with me, at least I hope it will.  Coming upon me in a rush, heaviness consumed me.  “Oh, I have failed to do what the Holy Spirit wanted me to do.”  A simple gesture of kindness, in a possible arena that could have become alit like wild fire, was asked of  me, confirmed by my husband having the same desire.  I was encouraged to reach out to this couple, and I did not follow through.  And now, as I saw them still waiting, I was overcome with shame at having missed a chance to be obedient in showing the love of Jesus Christ.

Tears came.  My husband knew.  From the moment I looked up at the couple still standing there, I couldn’t go back to not thinking about them.  I told my husband, “We should have offered them our spot.”  At this, my husband just nodded in agreement.  I could see that he understood exactly how I was feeling.  But having confessed this to my husband didn’t relieve any of the weight I was now carrying.  I said, “I don’t know how to fix it.  I can’t go back and offer them our table now.  There’s nothing I can do.  I’ve been trying to think of a way to reach out to them, and there is no way, now.  I have nothing to offer them.”  I had been trying to think of a way to “have another chance” to do something.  Nothing came, yet the weight was becoming even more overpowering.  I lowered my head and silently prayed for forgiveness for failing to be obedient.  Father, I’m so sorry I did not follow through with what I know you were asking me to do.  Please help me to be more steadfast and obedient.  I don’t want to miss any other opportunities to show you to others through my actions.  It was about this time that our entrees were delivered.  With water-logged eyes, I asked my waiter if he would help me with something.  I pointed out the couple to him, and told him I would like to pay their bill, but that I didn’t want them to know it was me.  I imagine it’s not every day that the wait staff has to deal with emotional women who want to pay for stranger’s bills, but our waiter was on board.  He told me he could arrange that.  “There’s one thing, though”, I told him.  “I want to write a little note to this couple.  Can you bring me some paper?”

Pushing my food aside, I began a note, “Dear Sir…”

It was a short note, but it did two things.  One – I thanked him for his service to our country, and two – I apologized for not being obedient in offering our table to him, as I knew the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to do.  Through this note, I was able to tell him how encouraged I am to be more steadfast in my obedience.

I felt the Holy Spirit working in and through me tonight, and something was pointed out to me again, loud and clear.  It seems to be a common theme with me these days.  We make choices.  They are not always the choices that God would hope for us to make.  But, when we make a choice that does not match up with his plan for us, He can, and will, take that choice and create good out of it if we allow him to.  He has the plan.  His plan is always perfect, and right, even though we can’t see it all the time when we’re in the middle of our own plans.  Once I asked for forgiveness tonight, and confessed to my heavenly Father how sorry I was for not being obedient, he showed me a way to share his love….not only with the couple, but with the waitstaff and probably the people seated near us….God’s love was shown and shared.

Thank you, Lord, for teaching me tonight.  For allowing me to feel shame in not doing what you wanted me to do…..and then for allowing me to feel joy in your forgiveness.

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