As we backed out of the parking stall at the doctor's office, a woman stumbled to her car. She walked so awkwardly, she couldn't be missed. Our eyes followed her to where she fell into the driver's seat and let her head rest on the steering wheel without even shutting her door.
"What in the world?" my daughter muttered.
I wondered the same thing, but pushed aside the thought that said I should make sure she was okay. I was in a hurry after all. I had less than two hours before people were coming to my house for Bible study. I had errands to run, dinner to make and clean up, and who knew what my house looked like since I left six kids tearing around in it while I took this one to the doctor. Besides, this woman just came out of the office herself. She's in the best place if she has a problem.
I stuffed the guilt and moved on.
I know. Don't say it. I had the same argument in my little head.
It didn't take long for the guilt to resurface a few hours later in Bible study. When someone mentioned (wait, could it have really been me?) how little actions make big statements, guess who wanted to slink under her chair? I privately beat myself up about it. How much time would it have taken, really?
As I sat there, feeling heavy and so disappointed in myself, God showed me I had a choice to make. I could continue berating myself, feeling like a horrible person, wallowing in regret, or I could learn from my mistake. If I let myself fall into the familiar guilt pit, would that blind me from other needs? Would it keep me focused on me instead of looking outward? I decided to ask for God's forgiveness, accept it, forgive myself and remember. I cemented in my mind a picture of the woman's head on her steering wheel and prayed I would do better next time.
My next time came sooner than expected. Twelve hours later, I saw an acquaintance I know has been struggling. It would have been easy to pretend I didn't see him. It was a big room. I knew he probably wouldn't stop me. I could have slipped by him without any effort. I needed to pick up my daughter and didn't have a lot of time. I didn't know what to say or how to approach him, but the nudge was there to do it. And I remembered. Real love makes an effort and trusts God for the outcome.
I took a deep breath and wandered his way. Though it felt uncomfortable at first, he was nice. I asked a few questions and before I knew how it happened, he was talking of his pain, telling me more than I ever thought he'd feel comfortable sharing. I had no fancy words, nothing to soothe him, only a sympathetic ear and a pat on the shoulder. Though it didn't seem like much, I hope he felt loved.
I was late picking up my daughter, but wasn't bothered by it. She'll get over it too. The important thing is that God's still working. He's teaching me each day, each encounter is a practice run for heaven. Some days we're on, others we're way off. No matter how we perform, we're getting stronger if we allow Him to keep putting us through the drills. Even though yesterday's "practice" was a total disaster, it helped me for today's which went much better.
May we never forget the pain in messing up. May we learn from our mistakes. May God give us the courage to love others well.