I encountered “Tabitha” several years ago. (Protecting her identity, I’m calling her Tabitha because like one of my scriptural heroines, this woman is “full of good works and almsdeeds,” too.)
So I met Tabitha in her work environment several years ago. She seemed brusque and hard. Her manner was so abrupt. I felt shocked that she worked in such a people-oriented position. But it didn’t really matter to me because our encounter was brief and I went on my way. But over the years, as I went to that place, I saw and experienced her abruptness multiple times. She was a curiosity to me, an enigma.
I took a position scheduled to work much of my time with Tabitha. I said hello, and she responded cordially, but not warmly and I subconsciously skirted her space. I watched others in the work environment and could tell many felt some reticence to her. She’d worked there forever.
My first real encounter came on the first day when the woman training me told me to transfer a call to Tabitha. She told me the extension number, which I plugged in and hit transfer. The call went to some call abyss and was lost. The caller called back and I tried again. Same extension number. Call lost.
Tabitha knew the call was coming—incidentally, the caller happened to be our boss’s boss—and came to supervise the call transfer. She told me her extension number, which was not the extension the helpful trainer told me. I transferred the call to completion.
Tabitha spent quite a while retelling the story about how calls couldn’t be transferred and the call was lost so many times and it’s such a simple thing to do. The woman training me hastily retreated and I went under the bus alone.
Not going to lie, I felt a little annoyed by both the shrinking violet and the mockingbird. But I wasn’t there for them, so sat and watched silently, apologized for the transferring fiasco (because it really was a fiasco) and turned to the next task.
Over the next week or so, people willingly shared their feelings about Tabitha. She’s so OCD. She’s never satisfied. She can’t hear or remember. She’s….so….
I actually really admired her efficiency and exactness to detail. She practiced what she preached.
And I watched her. People would stop in to say hi to her and exchanged a warm greeting. But I noticed that rarely did people in the office stop and really talk to her. Sometimes she would go to someone to share a story, usually a criticism of how someone didn’t do something correctly. The listener half-heartedly listened and then turned away.
One day, while musing on Tabitha, I finally realized I felt a weird intimidation. A philosophy I try to live by is that if you really know someone, you can’t help but love them. I felt a flash of inspiration or revelation—a challenge. Stop being sort of intimated or afraid of Tabitha and just say a warm hello every day, get to know her.
My Tabitha Challenge
I arrived for my shift in the middle of Tabitha’s work day. I passed her desk first when I entered the office. So instead of passing by because she never looked up from her hyper-focused attention, I said, “Hi, Tabitha,” and waited to make sure she heard me. She looked up and nodded. I moved on.
That day, when I gathered items near her workspace, she commented that she appreciated how I straightened the items around the space.
While shredding piles and piles of paper, she offered me a tip so I could still see if anyone needed me and set up the paper stack to be shredded more efficiently.
I felt these comments and corrections evidenced respect. And I really appreciate any tips to be more efficient!
One afternoon as Tabitha left for the day, she quietly dropped some chocolate in front of my keyboard as I worked. I didn’t see or hear her approach, so was startled. And then happily shocked. I love chocolate after all. “Wow! Thank you!” was all I could get out before she was gone.
The next day, she gave me a granola bar for the long ride home. She showered me with little bites of this and that.
I am not a good gift giver, because that takes planning which I forget to do. But one night while thinking about her, I wrote her a thank you note thanking her for her sweet kindnesses to me. When I arrived at work, I tucked it into her workspace while she was on the phone. Later, when we were alone, she told me how much that note meant to her. I told her how much her kindness meant to me.
I still watched her, but this time I also asked about her life. She is a single lady who pours her life and energy into helping her extended family and friends. She’s consistent in that labor of love. I saw on social media that during a pending storm, someone suggested to one of my friends to go to Tabitha’s house for safety, because Tabitha would take care of everything.
I watched as people called the office with problems, that she jumped in immediately to help either solve them or ease the burden of the problem. She did this in what I’d previously called her abrupt way, but now I saw that manner as her vehicle for love—identifying the trouble and efficiently acting on it.
I watched what I’d incorrectly judged as weakness, in my own insecurity, in action as one of her greatest strengths.
I watched myself change. She served me every time I walked into the office. She was unapologetically herself and forged ahead in life in the best way she knew how. Her strong sense of purpose intimidated some, annoyed others, and proved an answer to prayer for others.
I’m so grateful for Tabithas who teach me new ways of looking at the world and each other so I can appreciate the varied ways God’s characteristics show up in our lives. Tabithas give me courage to be Delisa.