I purchased a bottle of water at a coffee shop while traveling out of state and the barista seemed a little bit cheeky. But I didn’t think too much of it. We all have bad days and I had just asked a few questions that a local would not have asked. I was the only person in line at the time so at least I was not holding up other customers.
When the transaction was over she turned (ridiculously fast) and went behind the walled partition. Perhaps she assumed I had walked back out of the store. Maybe she knew I was still standing right there. Either way I heard her laughing loudly, about dumb little me. Not regular laughing.
I then heard exactly what she had thought of me, as she related it to her coworkers.
Then I heard them laughing.
It wasn’t pleasant. I slowly walked out of the store and then walked aimlessly around a nearby bookstore trying to sort out my feelings.
It was hard.
But it wasn’t the debilitating, shame filled, knock-me-down-for-days experience it would have been in the past.
Their devil-laughing didn’t remind me of my uncle’s devil-laughing, while tormenting my cousin and I, or my high school classmates devil-laughing while sexually-harassing me in the computer lab.
So that moment in the coffee shop was a first for me. Prior to that any kind of mocking laughter triggered flashbacks. Except I didn’t know they were flashbacks. It was just a tightening of the ever-present-tension. A feeling that I was in extreme danger. A feeling that it would be best if I just disappeared for good. And I spiraled into a rage-filled, self-loathing, tormented creature who had no idea what had just happened to her except that everyone else was surely to blame. So I lashed out at my husband and kids until they also ran off in fear and anger.
I couldn’t even have relayed such an episode to anyone close to me, not until weeks had passed and my cheeks didn’t flare up in fresh, raw memory.
This time was different. I told a friend all about it an hour later. “You’ll never believe what happened to me, it was the worst!”
Right after it happened there was a flash of self-righteous-indignation. Anger. How-dare-she? What-the-…. just happened here?
I consider those responses to be normal human reactions to being mocked. That’s what made me so excited. I was actually having normal human reactions to someone mocking me.
My friend suggested I do like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Buy big shopping bags of bottled water and return to the store, walk in with my nose in the air, and say, “Remember me? You made fun of me yesterday! Big Mistake.” (hold up the heavy shopping bags) “See this–all bottled water in here! Big Mistake!” and turn on my heels and run out. We laughed. I was tempted but I also knew she wasn’t serious.
Justification is just another shade of shame, in my thought. I don’t need to justify myself.
I can still remember each and every moment of my childhood and adult life where I was bullied, taunted or mocked. I know what it is to feel shame, and to feel shamed. Not the helpful kind of shame which leads to repentance. The kind of shame which ties you up and leaves you stuck in mire before God and others.
I have now reframed the biggie episodes of shame. And the others fell away like dominos (as my therapist suggested they might). I walked straight into it and slayed it back to hell where it belonged.
Shame does not have the power it once had to harm me. I knew it would be a choice to feel shame, and it was not a choice I wanted to make and so I simply placed her attempt to shame me right back on that barista’s own head.
With that frame of mind I was able to clearly think it through. God reminded me of all the times I had laughed at a clueless customer behind my own business’ counter. Yikes. Had I caused another to feel shame? Had I also devil-laughed at others?
I was reminded of a couple of scriptures as well.
God responded to the prophet Jeremiah with: If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
As an evangelist, I better get used to being mocked. The thickets by the Jordan are getting closer and closer for me now. Being made fun of is part of the calling. And enduring it well results in a reward.
Meanwhile, Ecclesiastes records the following wisdom: Do not pay attention to every word people say about you or you may overhear your servant (barista???) cursing you.
And so I hope to return to the coffee shop someday. With no ill-will, with enough money for a tip in my pocket and a smile on my face and good natured-ness in my heart. I hope to look that barista in the eye as I buy another bottle of water and thank her and bless her; somehow.
And it will not be a cheeky thank you.
I will mean it.
If my doing so heaps burning coals upon her head, that is between her and God.
I will say thank you because she helped me turn a very big corner.
And I happen to really like the street I am on right now.