The café wasn't very full. My daughter and I occupied one table, an elderly gentleman sat at the table beside us, a young couple sat tucked away in the corner, and a group of college girls chatted nearby. Catherine ordered an omelet and orange juice and I got the usual, biscuits 'n' gravy and a cup of coffee.
Our waitress was a young woman of about twenty-five or twenty-six, her dark hair twisted and pinned properly in place. She didn't seem frazzled by being the only one working the tables that morning, but her manner was as severe as her hair. One piece straying from her tight bun would have been as surprising as a soft word from her lips, which were pressed firmly into a thin line, in neither a smile nor a frown.
She took our order without ceremony and marched off to the kitchen to give it to the cook. Our breakfast arrived thirty minutes later, cold, and without apology. And no coffee. I smiled graciously at the waitress and asked her kindly if my coffee would be ready soon.
"I've got other customers to take care of first," she sighed with a slight roll of her eyes. "You'll just have to wait." As she stalked off again I was able to read her name tag for the first time.
"Her name is Tina," I told my daughter. "Remember that."
"Are you going to complain to the manager about her?"
I smiled and shook my head. "I have a better idea."
Catherine looked confused.
"'On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,'" I said, quoting Romans 12:20-21.
A slight flicker of understanding crossed Catherine's eyes, then died.
We sat and chatted for another ten minutes or so, enjoying our cold breakfast as well as we could. The college girls left, as did the elderly gentleman. Three more customers came in as we waited for our waitress to come back by. Eventually she did.
"Excuse me," I ventured with a smile. "When you have a moment, could I get that cup of coffee?"
Tina's eyes turned icy. "I've only got two hands," she snapped as she brushed past.
Catherine's jaw dropped at the blunt rudeness. "Mom, aren't you going to do something," she exclaimed in a loud whisper?
"I sure am. I'm going to heap burning coals."
At long last the waitress came by again, still without my coffee. She tossed our check on the table and kept going, without so much as a, "Thank you for coming." I picked up the check and looked it over, then began to pull bills from my purse.
"Mom, you're not going to pay for your coffee, are you? You never got it."
I just nodded and kept counting. When I laid the money on the table, Catherine eyed it incredulously. "That's double what our bill was!"
"Burning coals, Catherine," I replied. "Hand me a napkin, please."
Dumbfounded, she passed me a clean napkin and as she watched me write a note to our waitress, calling her by name, thanking her for serving us, letting her know we were praying for her, the meaning of those verses in Romans began to sink in.
"Oh," she whispered. "I think I understand now." Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a wrinkled $5 bill, her birthday gift from Grandma. "May I heap burning coals, too?"
I nodded with my head as my heart swelled with pride. Then I grabbed Catherine's hand in mine and we walked out of the café, stopping just outside the door to peek in the window. After a minute or two of waiting, Tina appeared at the table we had deserted and we watched her eyes grow wide as she picked up the money we'd left for her. Then she reached for the napkin and read the note scrawled across it. I'm not sure, but I think I saw a tear trickle down her cheek as she read the words on that napkin. She tucked it into her apron and cleared our dishes. On her way to the kitchen I saw the corners of her mouth turn up just slightly; it was one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen.
I never did get my coffee that day, but God gave me something more - the chance to help brighten someone's day. And maybe, just maybe, brighten the rest of her life as well.
****(This is fiction.) I don't read Private Messages, but you are welcome to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks for reading! :)