“I swear, I can’t take you anywhere.”
My husband Mike broke the silence with his typical, quick-witted comment as we watched our kind and VERY emotional car salesman walk away. Grasping the keys to our new red Mazda 6, I innocently defended myself.
“What? We were JUST talking. That’s all.”
Right then, I had these flashbacks of my childhood watching my mom effortlessly interact with others. I admit that back in the day (when it was all about me), I used to get annoyed by her friendly talk and “others oriented” personality.
Mom could connect with anybody, no matter who they were – bank teller, cashier, fellow church or PTA member, friend, relative, or even a total stranger. Of course, I always regretted that strong point every time she would stop and talk to people in the dairy section of the grocery store. I can recall countless instances of standing by the cart with smoke coming out of my ears during those long-winded conversations she called “chats.”
Dang it, why does it always have to happen here? She’s taking FOREVER (insert eye-roll). Can’t she see I’m shivering and about to get frostbite? Let’s go Mom, hurry up! My self-centered thoughts faded once Mom tuned into poor little ol’ me. All it took was a few of my go-to tactics, which consisted of clearing my throat numerous times in my uniquely audible fashion while I passive aggressively maneuvered the grocery basket in her direction. She’d get the hint and graciously say her goodbyes as we headed towards the nearby bread aisle, where I finally had the chance to thaw out.
As Mom got older, her chats seemed to get deeper and longer (ESPECIALLY in the dairy aisle). She would end her impromptu visits with a hug and walk away with contentment radiating from her eyes and soul. Oftentimes, I’d see the same look coming from the other person/people.
I knew from the get-go that that there was something extra special about our salesman. Gabe, as I call him, had this sense of genuineness that blew every car salesman I have ever had to deal with out of the park.
We were only a few miles into the test drive when I realized why I was so drawn to his sweet and gentle demeanor. After Gabe patiently answered all our standard questions, smiling at how giddy we were over the crisp music coming from the Bose speakers, a far cry from the outdated Suburban we had been driving, Mike turned off the radio and did that guy thing where they tune in to the sound of the car’s engine. That gave me an opportunity to tune into Gabe. My heart compelled me to ask him in a whisper,“So, how long have you’ve been in the car business?”
“About eight months.” He answered softly. “I used to be a Special Ed teacher. I loved my students but got burnt out with the administration, so I thought I’d try this.”
Bingo! I knew there was something special about him.
Intrigued by his history along with my admiration I have for teachers, I couldn’t help but follow up on his answer with kudos and encouragement as he shared with me the possibility of returning to teaching.
Running off the fumes of the new car smell and the aroma of Gabe’s enthusiasm for teaching, I blurted out, “I can totally see you back in the classroom.You have that It Factor — I can just tell. Have you thought about applying at another school district or something?”
He smiled, and I could practically see the light bulb come on in his head as he answered, “You know, you are the third person that has told me this exact same thing recently. Plus, I had a dream about it too. Maybe all this is a sign.”
Did he just say “sign”? I’m all about signs! Hmm...Okay, God. I’m going in. And with the next breath, I shared my thoughts about how God can use people, experiences, and even our dreams as signs to help us hear HIS messages. Based on Gabe’s gracious comments, his acceptance and additions to my unsolicited advice, I knew we were on the same wavelength.
“Wow!” he chuckled, shaking his head. “I needed to hear this today. Thank you.”
By the time we drove back to the dealership I was sold. Sold on the car AND on the cool fact that I had just been involved in a “God assignment.” Little did I know, my assignment was far from over.
All was going smoothly with the paperwork process until we hit a glitch with our bank’s app. Frustrated, Mike stepped away from the desk to sort it out, leaving me and Gabe sitting there, waiting… and waiting.
As we waited, I noticed Gabe rereading over our background information. Maybe it was simply an attempt to kill time, but he seemed genuinely interested when he asked, “So, do you like being a nurse?”
I, of course, could’ve talked his ears off describing my love as a labor and delivery nurse, but I didn’t. Risking the easy flow of my standard reply, I shared, “Right now I’m in the process of writing a book. My dream is to become an author.”
Gabe’s blue eyes lit up, “ Really?” Leaning forward, resting his elbows on his desk, he gently asked, “So, what’s your book about?”
Conscious of the potential interruption of having to get back to business once Mike returned, I tried my best to stay present as I enthusiastically replied.
“Ohhhh, It’s about the spiritual aha moments and full circle events that occurred between me and my mom during her cancer journey to the time even after her passing.”
As I swept through the details of some of my chapters, I couldn’t help but notice… Did he just wipe away a tear? Yep, he sure did. My heart felt heavy watching his eyes become bloodshot.
“I’m sorry.” Gabe apologized quickly wiping a tear from his other eye. “Your story just reminds me of what I went through when my dad passed away.”
Just then, Gabe shared a few stories about the sweet bond he had with his beloved dad, the lows of his grief process, and the highs of his dad’s heavenly hellos. Once again we were on the same wavelength, until Gabe stopped abruptly. ”Please don’t tell your husband I was crying, okay? I’m really embarrassed.”
If it didn’t look weird for a customer to be hugging a car salesman in a crowded showroom, I would’ve done it. Instead, I touched his hand and offered every ounce of reassurance and validation I could offer..
In a matter of seconds, Gabe switched back to business mode, loudly clearing his throat as Mike barged towards the desk and waved his phone in the air. “Finally!” he exclaimed with a relieved smile on his face.
I took Gabe’s throat clearing cue and honored his heartfelt request, switching back to business mode almost as fast as he did. The rest of the car buying process ran like Jiffy Press, and in no time we were sitting in the lobby receiving the final paperwork from our top notch sales guy.
Before handing over the keys, Gabe sincerely thanked us for being his customers and commented on how much he enjoyed getting to know us. He then looked over at Mike and bravely said, “I just wanted to let you know that Marla and I had a great conversation about her book. Not sure if she told you while y’all were waiting here but I got a little emotional talking to her. I don’t want you to think I’m unprofessional. I just couldn’t help it.”
Being the understanding guy Mike is, he simply reassured Gabe that it wasn’t a problem at all. I have to say that over the years, Mike has often teased me about the deep conversations I get into with people that usually result in tears. “I can’t take you anywhere” has become a regular phrase in his repertoire.
As Mike shook Gabe’s hand, I sensed a second round of emotions well up in Gabe (and me too). It was at that moment I could care less what anyone in that showroom thought. I followed my heart and hugged the heck out him. Both of us commented that our meeting was meant to be.
Walking towards our new car, I took Mike’s “I swear, I can’t take you anywhere” light-hearted jab as a compliment. For it reminded me of my Mom and the unique way she connected with others. Thanks, Mom, I thought to myself blowing her a kiss towards the sky. I learned from the best.
My hope is that this story inspires you to never underestimate the power of God’s divine assignments. Sometimes we become afraid to follow through with our hunches, which can shy us away from sharing an encouraging word or story with others — including strangers. God is using us as HIS messengers. You never know how your kind and thoughtful interaction can be the game changer in another person’s life. Even your own.
And in case your God assignment lands you in the dairy aisle at the grocery store with your little ones nearby, make sure you move your “chat” to a warmer area… you don’t want them to get frostbite.