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By Anne Maxwell

You never know what conversations you might be privy to when you walk into a public bathroom. In a locked stall, surrounded by strangers -- there are times when even if you don’t want to hear, all you can do is listen.

Years ago, I encountered too much information from a preschooler and his mom in the stall beside me.

“That’s enough toilet paper,” the mother cautioned her young son.

“But mom, I have to wipe my penis!” he responded.

There’s been other occasions where I received a bit too much information about hijinks on a Saturday night. At first, you’re intrigued. Next thing you know, you’ve got a list of topics to talk about with your own daughters -- namely a subject entitled,

“Making good decisions.”

On a recent morning I again found myself minding my own business in a public bathroom when a random conversation began. Before I knew it, I was getting the full play-by-play of the dialogue, regardless of my desire not to hear.

“He was a mess again last night,” commented the first voice.

“Oh no,” came the sympathetic reply from the friend.

At this point, I didn’t know whether to make a break out of the stall as soon as I could, or try my hardest to block it out. In that tiny area there was no denying I was a captive audience.

“I was rushing around getting things done, and he finally decides to eat,” the storyteller continued. “After that, he started bellowing like a baby and then … he throws up!”

“Ugh,” followed yet another sympathetic response.

I inwardly had the same reaction. I wasn’t having the best week of my life. However, I found relief in knowing my own significant other/child/houseguest or whatever subject of this particular tale hadn’t put me through a similar sequence of events.

“But …,” the first voice continued with new resolve. “... no matter what, I am not giving him back to the pound.”

Her statement found me exhaling with great relief. I had held my breath during the first part of her story, fearful of what the conversation would divulge if the “he” in the story was human.

She then continued.

“Nope, I’m not giving him back to the pound because he just needs love,” she said. “And who else is going to give that to him but me?”

The wince that had been on my face during the initial details of the exchange softened. I exited the stall, washed my hands and nodded and smiled at her as I left the bathroom.

We live in a noisy world. Every day, mundane conversations of complete strangers can just be noise. But sometimes, if you listen hard enough, there can be lessons to embrace.

Sure, that lady was talking about her rescue dog. Yet, on that morning, it hit me in a little different way, and I couldn’t help but think: What if we could all be that compassionate, that forgiving? There are times when others in our lives aren’t that far from a rescue animal. In pain. Loud. Annoying. They are crying out. And what is it that they truly need from others?




Know-it-all advice?

None of it.

Like she said -- love.

Just love. Nothing more. Nothing less.

While it might have just been overheard, I believe it was a message was for me. I needed to hear it for the fact of how I treat others. And for how I view myself.

Countless moments in our life can be viewed as idle. Sitting at a stoplight. In line at a restaurant. Checking out at the grocery store. Waiting in a doctor’s office. In the bathroom stall.

We can be impatient, look at those moments as “lost time” and wrestle with our inability to control each second. Or, we can open our minds, our hearts, and see the possibility of a little gem God might have in store just for us.

Sometimes, all you can do is listen.

Want to read more Anne Maxwell Articles:

Perfectly Imperfect

My Husband Dreads When the Calendar Turns to March


Dear 14-year Old Daughter

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