purple jacket lady

Written by Cara Sexton

A wife, mom, foster parent, writer, and Jesus girl, trying to live out loud with as much grace and gusto as I can. Visit me at WhimsySmitten.com

January 25, 2012

anxiety

I was at the drug store yesterday, in line for a prescription, and a woman in a purple jacket melted down…. just… went to pieces right there in the prescription line.

“I can’t DO THIS ANYMORE!”

She screamed at the stunned cashier, who blinked quickly while everyone stood there staring, watching Purple Jacket Lady hurtle her backpack into a shelf full of laxatives and antihistamines.

“I can’t wait for OVER AN HOUR HERE ANYMORE!”

She screamed guttural and clawed at her blotching cheeks.

“I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS! I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS WITH YOU PEOPLE ANYMORE!”

It was an explosively loud scene – the flying plastic bottles bouncing and clacking across the concrete floor, then the groans and sobs of the woman, now heaped into a howling purple orb on the waiting bench.

I know how she feels, I thought, looking at the other stunned and wide-eyed patrons. We all do.

And a silence hushed over the entire place, like the moment before an earthquake, a creepy deadness present in the usually-bustling drugstore, as though someone pushed the pause button. Cashiers and customers and pharmacy technicians all frozen in place, deer-in-headlights style, looking back and forth at one another in a telepathic plea for what exactly we were supposed to do in a situation like this.

There is no protocol for dealing with madness, be it our own or that of a stranger in a purple jacket, but in a time like this, I usually just pray like hell.

A few silent seconds passed until a phone rang and the cashier called, “Next!” and everyone shuffled their feet back to their original positions, forgetting… ignoring the woman still heaped in a pile of sobs and lunacy.

Go to her. Notice her. Do something.

My chest fluttered and at once, I was completely appalled at how drastically she was being ignored, this woman, so obviously in need of some compassion in her breakdown moment and also paralyzed by the normalcy with which we all carried about our business, the risk of side-stepping the unknown and locking eyes with injustice, even when the kids are in the car and this wasn’t really part of the plan, today.

And I’d like to tell you that I’m the kind of woman who scurried over to her and put my arms around her and laid hands on her in prayer right there on the drugstore bench, like Beth Moore telling the story of asking for the privilege to brush an old man’s hair, a complete stranger, on an airport layover.

But the truth is, I’m really the kind of woman who wonders if she’d take a swing at me or curse at me or flip out even more and shank me with the ballpoint pen she was fingering between her gloves. I’m the kind of woman who figured she’d probably just want to be left alone and the security guy was on his way over and really I probably should just get back to my kids since I’d promised them I’d only take a second. So I walked up to the counter and whispered my name and carried away my bottle of pills to my safe car with my safe, waiting children and shook the whole ordeal off my shoulders before Purple Jacket Lady had even moved from her spot on the waiting bench.

And I realize that the love of Christ is more than bookmarks and wall hangings. It’s easy to write a blog post or mutter a phrase about loving the least of these, but I’m humbled by the depth at which I fail at this, every day. By how hard it is, sometimes, to love the way we’re called to.

Every day I have an opportunity to love. To speak kindly about those I disagree with or act mercifully toward those with whom I’m frustrated. I can choose to love above the fear of the unknown, and fear not what people think or do when I am acting faithfully, when my heart moves my feet and not just my thoughts.

I don’t know if I should have said something to Purple Jacket Lady. I don’t know, yet, how to love beyond myself enough to really change anything in this big, hurting world. But I guess the first step of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know, and the first step of strength is knowing where you’re weak and I am broken to my knees for the grace to fully, deeply receive love like this as often and completely as possible so that it can overfill and spill all out and the love can trump anxiety and busyness, and the love can trump the invisible barriers of drugstore benches, addiction, poverty, hate, and selfishness.

I know lady. I can’t do this anymore, either, I think to myself, at home, on my couch, in slippers with pizza and central heat and all sorts of other extravagant comforts, wondering why I didn’t act, wondering how many times I’ve missed the opportunity to show the love I know and so often don’t share. What is love if its only half-warm, anyway?

I’m sorry, Purple Jacket Lady, that I failed to love like I should have. I’m sorry that there were other Christians standing around, doing the same….judging and snickering instead of giving of the fountain of love with which we’ve been equipped. And I’m sorry Homeless Overpass Guy and Tired Waitress and Gay Bashing Preacher and Cheery Telemarketer and My Own Sweet Husband and Children for my failure in loving you wholly and rightly, too…the only thing that really matters to the One I claim to follow. And I’m sorry, Jesus, for not understanding grace enough to ever really let it sink in enough to move my feet toward the people in front of me.

What opportunities have you missed to share the love you’ve been given?

10 Comments

  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Cara,

    I think you’ve spoken for all of us here. Thanks for shining light on our own dark places. I would crush myself under the weight of my own wickedness if I began to tally the opportunities I’ve just.walked.right.past.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Cara, Cara, my black heart mists over with your post. Who can save us wretches, anyway? (Thank you Jesus that I know the answer, and please have mercy on all of us)

    Reply
  3. Jennifer

    You’ve moved me to tears.

    Reply
  4. Shanyn

    amazing post, amazing heart – and that you’ve taken the first step in knowing your heart is so wonderful to read.  it is hard to reach out, and yet having been in the purple jacket lady’s place a time or two (or a dozen) in my life the cry of our heart is to have someone, anyone, reach out in love instead of judging from afar.  it happens in stores and in families, in church and on the street…if all you can offer is prayer then prayer it is, if you can do more then do what you can!  God blesses us for our hearts and hands.

    Reply
  5. Nikole Hahn

    I don’t blame you. Having dealt with people as a motor vehicle employee, people who lose it can be unpredictable, even dangerous. Soft words help most of the time, but sometimes they are the type to come back with a gun or slug you. If the Holy Spirit leads, you can approach because then it’s safe. Otherwise, a situation like that can be dangerous.

    Reply
  6. Lauren

    Thanks for the reminder to be Hands and Feet even in plain old awkward situations.  

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I am stripped to the core and laid bare. What a challenge! Thank you for getting to the raw heart of it with your life open before us.  Just beautiful!

    Reply
  8. Leanne Shawler

    Far too many times to name, Cara…..

    Reply
  9. Linda Dunnihoo

    Hi Cara, 
    Yes you speak for us all. We all miss those opportunities. Sometimes we know when we have missed them, and other times we didn’t see them in the first place. I agree with lesrowe, thank you Jesus that I know the answer, have mercy on us!! May we miss that stuff less and less as we seek to do His will. We would indeed be crushed except for His mercy.

    Reply
  10. Jody Collins

    Cara–thank you for visiting my space Three Way Light and directing me to your post here. there is hope for us all, as you so wisely said:
    “But I guess the first step of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know,
    and the first step of strength is knowing where you’re weak.”
    so well done.
    Bless you!

    Reply

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purple jacket lady

by Cara Sexton time to read: 5 min
11