God at the Waffle House – a guest post from Michelle Van Loon

[Today’s guest post is from Michelle Van Loon, a wonderful writer who covers faith, life, and the occasional foray to Israel. I read her posts all the time!]


I’ve had fairly limited internet access this week as we’ve been traveling. It became an unplanned digital Shabbat, intermittently punctuated with internet access that left me feeling a little like I was standing in front of a wide-open information firehose, which, in effect, I was. I’ve learned to modulate my response to the usual urgent (work-related emails), but I don’t always have a good working filter for other types of urgent. When I read about injustice and tragedy, my adrenaline kicks in. I must fight! Justice now! Many of the voices I read online are fighting the good fight in all sorts of redemptive ways.

Those voices often stir me to break out the rebel yell and run headlong into the battle in order to do Something Big about addiction/abuse/ignorance/human trafficking/the upcoming election/the Middle East/(well, you get the idea). I am drawn to the contemplative, but am enough of a first-born alpha extrovert that activism is my first response. Rarely do I get to use that adrenaline in the moment in which it is released like a pack of baying hounds. It disperses like a sour fog, every hound crawling back under the porch where he or she will sleep off yet another false alarm.

My inability to do Something Big usually leaves me with a vague sense of shame and failure. I crawl back under the porch, metaphorically-speaking, with the pooches. Why didn’t I do something? Anything? Anyway, what can I do? Bueller? Bueller?

Mother Theresa once famously noted, “In this life we can do no great things, only small things with great love.” (Author Margot Starbuck, has a book on my ‘To Read’ list titled from this quote, coaching readers on what a small-things/great-love lifestyle might look like.)

At the Waffle House

Yesterday, at a Waffle House near Asheville, NC, I had a front-row seat to one such small thing.

Waffle House!

Waffle House!

It was a single domino, tipping other dominoes, a pay-it-forward moment of grace. It didn’t fight female genital mutilation or plant a garden in an urban food desert, but I have a feeling that it shifted the days of at least six people in an undeniably heaven-invades-earth kind of way. I happened to be standing near the register when a man who was paying his bill gestured for the cashier to lean forward toward him. I tilted my body toward the conversation like…well, a hound. The man gestured toward a couple in the crowded restaurant eating their breakfast.

“How much is their bill?”

Another server brought the check to the register, and the man paid it. “Don’t tell them the bill is paid until after I leave, OK?” Money changed hands, and he ducked out of the door quickly.

I stared out at the highway, contributing an Oscar-worthy performance of ignorance to what was transpiring a few feet away from me in the noisy restaurant. It was a holy ground moment, one I wasn’t meant to witness, one I desperately needed to see.

And one I can replicate. Something small, intended to be as invisible as the Kingdom and as beautiful as the King.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4

What about you? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your good desire to do Something Big? How do you handle it when you’re not able to respond in a big way?

This entry was posted in Guest Post and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to God at the Waffle House – a guest post from Michelle Van Loon

  1. Tim says:

    Michelle, thank you so much for this post. I get caught up in the Big Thing mentality sometimes. What brings me back from it is realizing that there’s nothing bigger than God, and he lives in me. So I’m already a big thing in the eternal sense, which is really the only one that counts, right?

  2. Mary Anne says:

    Heh. The Waffle House is usually where I need to repent about Gluttony . . . 😉
    (And why do we never hear sermons on gluttony anymore? Just a thought.)

    I couldn’t help thinking of Jeff Foxworthy with the hound analogy. “If
    your porch collapses and kills more than three dogs, you may be a redneck!”
    But I know what you mean about those hound-like impulses that wake up
    and bay their heads off, then go right back to sleep under the porch.
    Zzzzz . . .

    • Tim says:

      I’ll preach a sermon on gluttony, MA. First I need to do me some research. My sermon prep will be taking place at the Waffle House.

      • Mary Anne says:

        Be sure to investigate the topic thoroughly, Tim. *g*

        Actually, my problem is that I usually go there because it’s near the hospital where I have my yearly physical, and after I’ve been fasting in the morning for the cholesterol screening . . . well, I am one HONGRY person and when they see me coming at the Waffle House, they know to just set out a whole pot of coffee and one of everything on the menu. Mmmmm.

  3. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story. I love the small-things-with-great-love quote; I think we can get so caught up in wanting to make the big gesture, the big sacrifice, that we forget how much depends on the small acts.

    And now I’m going to share MY QUOTE again, from Lord of the Rings (stop me if you’ve heard this before 🙂 : “Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

  4. Laura says:

    What a touching post. Thanks Michelle. I think so-called “little things” are really big things. When I look back over my life, it has often been small acts of encouragement or kindness that have impacted me more than bigger things people have done.

    P.s. I live an hour from Asheville.

    • Tim says:

      Did you recognize that picture? I read that there are three WH restaurants in the area. Good eats!

      • Laura says:

        My spouse and I don’t care for Waffle House. We actually call it “Awful House.” haha! So I can’t claim familiarity with any of the Asheville ones. We prefer IHOP (international house of pancakes.) Now that is good eats. : )

  5. Beth M says:

    Love this story! I’ve been seeing lots of stories circulating lately (a recent Her.meneutics post, a recent feature article in World Magazine) de-crying the latest pushes to force us all into lives of meaning, purpose and most of all GRAND THINGS. While I certainly think there is plenty of room in our lives for meaning, and purpose – it is in the small along with the GRAND that we search to balance. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. michellevl says:

    I wonder if we sometimes “oversell” the Christian life by our frequent use of grand words like “destiny” and “purpose”. God is at work in those sweeping movements in our lives, but we often discern them via faithfulness in lots and lots of small steps, don’t we? Thanks for your wonderful feedback, all!

    • Marcia says:

      This! I am learning that it is impossible to exaggerate our influence and effect on people’s lives in the smallest moments — a moment of eye contact, a knowing smile to the Mom of a tantruming toddler, a “no, please, you go first” in a check-out line. I am counting on these things having a ripple effect which cannot always be seen. The ability to let another human know they are seen, noticed, and valued is everything.

      • Tim says:

        I see those moments as the times we recognize – even if unknowingly – that people are made in the image of God and are worthy of kindness for that reason alone.

  7. Adriana says:

    This morning I noticed that you had a guest post here and I knew it would be good! 🙂
    I’ve been saving this post for the end of the day when I knew I would have some quiet time to focus.

    Such a great story. My husband and I were on the receiving end of such an act of love last year and it did not feel small to me at all!

    We only go out on dates a couple times a year. When I consider what babysitting costs for five kids, plus dinner and a theater movie — It’s hard for me to enjoy myself. I start thinking about how camp fees are due and some of my kids need new shoes, etc. I usually end up convincing my husband that I can just put the kids to bed early and he can bring home takeout. Then we watch Netflix.

    But last year our church offered an evening of free babysitting as a ministry to parents. The kids got pizza, games, and Veggie Tales. My husband took us to my favorite restaurant where I feasted on fancy fresh fish and sipped white wine! Dim lights, soft music — it was wonderful! And the same thing happened to us as happened to the people at Waffle House — some kind person anonymously paid our tab. ♥

    That night, when we picked up the kids from church, we were sent home with all the left over pizza. All the way home in the car I kept saying to my husband over and over, “Can you believe that? Can you believe that? We even got PIZZA!”

    P.S. I wonder if my kind anonymous benefactor at the restaurant took one look at me from across the room and said to his or herself, “That woman doesn’t get out very often!” 🙂

    • michellevl says:

      Oh how I love this story, Adrianna! Even if your benefactor didn’t know you and your husband were out on a rare and infrequent date, God did. (And he knew that you’d be basking in the pizza afterglow the next day at lunch – if the pizza lasted that long in your household!)

  8. Aimee Byrd says:

    Michelle, I may have enjoyed your writing even more than the story!
    I wonder if that gentleman was moved by the couple who’s tab he picked up, or if he walked in there that morning with the goal to pay for someone’s breakfast…

  9. Bronwyn Lea says:

    What a wonderful story! And so encouraging to think that little acts are greatly used by our God. Today I read another article that greatly encouraged me that the picture of that little face on my refrigerator of our sponsor child, is in fact doing some real good… Link here if you are interested! http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/want-to-change-world-sponsor-child.html

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the link, Bronwyn. (Did you know that the author of that article is a local guy? He went to FBC and his father is one of my old professors at King Hall.)

Leave a Reply to Tim Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.