It had been sitting there for two weeks. I eyed it with longing as I drove past on my way to work. A boat. A bit of an antique by unpopular standards, but its hull looked intact, and the outboard motor had sufficient horsepower.

I am an island girl. When it comes to water, I’m in Heaven. Growing up, our family had a ski boat, and nearly every weekend found us out on the ocean. I’d sit in the very front with my legs under the little rail and hanging over the bow as we flew over the waves. I would never dream of allowing my kids to do that, but it was exhilarating.

I wanted a boat, however, with a husband in medical school and us living in high cost California, that was a dream I knew I would have to wait on. Still. What if, because this boat was old,  it was affordable?

On the way home, I decided to stop at the tiny auto body shop in whose parking lot my object of desire was parked. It never hurts to ask, right?

A young lady (I’ll call her Shop Lady) sat at the only desk, talking on the phone. When the door chime rang, she looked up. There were tears in her large, dark eyes. Quickly, she ran a hand across her face, excused herself from her phone call and turned her attention to me.

“Can I help you?”

“Uh, yes.” I was less sure of myself now. She was obviously upset about something, and I had a feeling it wasn’t about not being able to track down the right auto paint color. I felt for her, but it wasn’t any of my business. She was a stranger. To ask what she was upset about would be inappropriate. So instead, I said, “I noticed the boat out front and…”

It was her husband’s and it was for sale—and for a price I thought we could afford. I hurried home to talk with my husband about it. I also told him about the lady crying on the phone.

“I have a feeling they’re having marriage problems.” I said.

The next day while I was at work, my husband went to the shop to check out the boat. Unlike “mind your own business” little me, he blurted out to the woman, “My wife noticed you were upset yesterday and thought maybe you guys are having marriage problems. Are you alright?”

Shop Lady burst into tears and out came a torrent of stories of the horrors of a marriage falling apart.

From day one, Doug and I have committed to doing whatever it takes to make our marriage work. And WORK is a key word. It was far from natural to either of us to do the right things necessary to succeed. We were two people painfully struggling to become one. In our determination, we read a ton of books, and from one book in particular, learned to understand and love each other better. Because of how powerful that book had been for us, we had purchased several copies. Doug happened to have one in his car. He ran out to the car and brought one back for the Shop Lady. He paid for the boat and took off.

Months later, Doug was paged to pick up on an outside call. It was the Shop Lady. She remembered from their conversation that Doug was starting his residency there at the hospital. She called to tell him how that book had changed their lives.

After reading the book, she and her husband decided to give marriage one more shot. They had never been church go-ers, but decided to give God a try and found a local church, and God transformed their lives. Now, they were expecting their first child, and she wanted to thank my husband for taking the time to ask her if she was alright.

words-have-power

To this day I get a lump in my throat when I think of this couple. I don’t know their names, although I can still picture her as clear as if it were yesterday. I think of how my timidity, my fear of getting involved without being asked, nearly caused an opportunity to be lost. What was I afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could have happened? I guess she could have yelled at me and told me to mind my own business. I would have felt the fool. Is that really so bad?

I learned a lesson from my husband that day. Don’t be afraid to show that you care. So many people feel totally alone in their pain, and long for just a glimmer of hope.  Words are powerful. With words, God created all things. Maybe my words, at the right time, can make the difference in someone’s life. But I have to be willing to risk speaking first.

Are you willing to speak up? Asking someone “Are you alright?” might be shrugged off with an “I’m fine” and quickly forgotten, or it might be just what opens up a world of possibilities.