Confessions of a Lunchtime Eavesdropper

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Non-fiction | 5 comments

I slide into a table for two, one hand holding a buzzer and my foreign language learning app in the other.

Yo quiero comer pan lights up my phone screen.

I want to eat bread, I translate.

In the pauses between Spanish sentences, I hear two women behind me.

Their table talk meanders from menu selections to weight loss as I type away. Then one mentions dietary restrictions made necessary by illness. This last competes more strongly for my attention. I’ve had my own battles in that arena. I have, in fact, only recently had the pleasure of ordering straight from a menu. I could perhaps invite myself into their conversation with some helpful brain-training tips. Hmmm… maybe not a good idea.

Good student that I am, I refocus and carry on with my foreign language education with minimal attention to the talk behind me touching on issues with former coworkers at a place of employment my detective skills piece together as a hair salon.

I have made it halfway through the Unit 2 lessons on shopping terms when my buzzer goes off. A forced break from the interesting flow of words in two languages.

Once back at the table, I set down my tray and angle my phone against the window ledge more determined to mind my own business.

La tienda es cerrado.

I correctly type The store is closed and celebrate my success with a bite of Greek quinoa salad, satisfied my progress will now continue uninterrupted.

Only, I hadn’t counted on the words coming from behind me moving from somewhat ignorable work frustrations to a story of personal heartache.

The details are rough. The strain of financial crises, dishonesty, and other unsavory maladies of humanity tearing into a family, threatening a marriage. A story not so different from one I once lived.

Having no idea of how these ladies look, I now imagine. Younger than me, I think. And pretty, but maybe a bit rough around the edges–my guess based on some of the spicier details of the story. I crunch my salad softly so as not to miss a word and my screen goes dark. Proof no one’s going to be translating Las mujeres son triste any time soon.

Here on the edges of their flickering campfire, I’ve become resigned to my status of fully-engaged interloper, the listener in the shadows. Only now, as the sad tale unfolds, I’m not only listening. I’m praying. Praying God will show up in this story. Hoping that at least the hope of God will show up before my lunch, and thereby my excuse to stay, has disappeared.

I take a small quiet bite of bread and, to my delight, the story turns. Just as I’d hoped, God shows up in the dark tangled places. A tune of transformation from yesterday’s heartache to days of hope, then gratitude and joy, form the soundtrack for my remaining scoops of cucumber, hummus, and olives.

I bus my plate, careful not to glance toward those who have unknowingly served as my lunchtime entertainment. I’m content to privately celebrate the happy ending. Then, feeling a confession may be in order, I turn back. I tower above them, standing awkwardly until they look up.

“Hi,” I say.

Glad to see their faces communicate more curiosity than annoyance, I continue.

“I wasn’t trying to listen to your conversation, but I heard your story. I just have to tell you I was sitting over there hoping God was going to show up to be a part of it and I’m just so glad He did.”

When I mention God, they smile at me like I’m a sister. Which, I guess, in a way, I am.

“Yay, God,” I say. This, my parting remark, along with an awkward clap, and a more awkward laugh.

It’s not until I buckle up that I realize this little interlude illustrated the thing I feel God is continually showing me for years.

I know I should get back to my errands, but this thought won’t let me—the thought that I should go back and tell those ladies about my website. Because now I want to go from secret listener to a not-so-secret teller of the story. I write a quick note determined to embarrass myself just a bit more in obedience to what I think might be a nudge from God.

When I walk in, one lady is standing in the entrance.

“This is so weird,” she says. “I knew you would be coming back.”

She takes me to the friend whose story we both listened to today, who says she knows me, and we figure out she’d visited my church for several Sundays some months back. The knowledge that we’re closer sisters than we knew eases my nervousness and I launch into the speech I’d thrown together on my way from my car.

“I came back because I’m a writer and I have a website and I’m thinking I might want to write something about what happened today. I wouldn’t give any identifying details or anything. It’s just that the focus of my writing is how I see everybody has their stories and I believe all our little stories connect us to each other because they are really telling the one big story which is God’s.”

(That may not be a word-for-word quote, but it’s pretty close. Run-on sentences are my specialty when conversing with strangers. Or with friends, for that matter : )

I hand her my scratched out note. “I just thought you might like my email and website address in case you’re interested in reading what I write. If I end up writing about it.”

And with that, I make my second smooth exit of the day.


I reflect on this now and even though I wasn’t at all professional or impressive for any part of it, I hold it as a gift. An unexpected moment on an ordinary day where three of God’s kids got to see Him in their stories.

I haven’t heard anything from my lunchtime sisters. Not yet. That slip I handed over may have gone into the nearest trash can.

Or maybe one of them will find it months from now crumpled in the bottom of her purse.

Just in case, I wrote something to help her remember the day.

I signed it, The eavesdropper from Panera.


  1. Nancy strahm

    Do I trust you Lord Twila paris, In Gods love and amazing grace, Nancy God is good. Keeper and sustainer if my life. 🎼Dennis Jernigan

    • Jody Evans

      Oh, my goodness, Nancy! I was just thinking about you yesterday and actually mentioned you to my mom.

      So many stories come to mind in those few words you shared. Thank you for the memories. It’s so good to see your name and words here : )

  2. Michelle Y Akman

    This is well received. I am always amazed at how God shows up in the most amazing ways. Sometimes He calls us to just pray but other times we feel the urge to interact and connect with others in the most inspired ways. After such an event, you are certain the Holy Spirit was involved. What a joy it is to be His child in His Kingdom here on earth bearing witness to who He is and to the joy of knowing Him personally. I don’t believe many things are just a coincidence. I just love being a part of His plan.

    • Jody

      So well said, Michelle! I love that too : )

  3. Yvette Quintana

    Un cuento muy bonito, amiga. Me gusta mucho las lecciones de espanol entremezclado.


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