Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A birthday for Brenda

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published September 17, 2015

The Waffle House restaurant in Conyers is a very ordinary place where, if you happen to stop in on the right day of the year, a very extraordinary wonder will come through the doors. I was there a few days ago, sitting at the counter, enjoying a chicken melt sandwich, minus the bacon, some home fries with cheese topping, and a Coke. A man was next to me, absorbed in a book, the title of which was “Confessing the Creed.” He was underlining what were to him significant passages, using a red felt tip pen. I was thinking maybe he was a minister, since it is very rare to see a person reading a book of that caliber. He rarely looked up and about. Just kept reading and underlining.

I had a good view of the door from where I was sitting. It was busy that day, lots of people coming in and going out. There was a small crowd waiting to get their take-out orders. A man came through the door, carrying a strawberry shortcake in his hands. Looking back, I wonder how he got the door open. But he managed that and walked over to the register. It was then that I noticed three or four big, colorful “Happy Birthday” balloons swaying to and fro above the register. They were helium balloons and were tied with ribbons and a string that moored them to a big plastic pot. The man went to the register and gave the shortcake to one of the waitresses, who took the cake, placed it on the counter, and gave the man a hug and a kiss and a gush of thank-yous.

The man smiled and said, “The cake might be a bit short but those strawberries are real,” and the waitress smiled again with a smile that lit up the restaurant.

I have seen her most times I go to the Waffle House. Her name is Brenda, and she has always been so friendly, warm and “up” every time I have stopped in. A few days ago, it was her special day and that man not only remembered it. He went out of his way to make it extra special and, I would say, even extra-ordinary. Brenda spends her entire working day serving people, giving their spirits a lift simply by being the kind of person she is, and it is no wonder that on her birthday the Waffle House became, for a while, a place of joy, of gifting, of surprises.

I do not think that it matters what any one of us might profess, think, say or believe about God. Some people say they love God. Some are sure there is no God. Others refrain from making any kind of a comment on the existence of the Divine. And maybe a considerable portion of humanity is more or less indifferent to the whole God question. I would bet that in the Waffle House that morning, there was among the folks there a generous range of most, if not all, of those categories. And maybe those take on a life, from time to time, or day to day, in each of us.

But every now and then, something wonderful happens that maybe suggests that there is something more in us than merely our lonely selves. When that man with the cake arrived, a real joy could be felt in the place. And I think maybe, just maybe, God is something like that man, bringing something good to us, something special. And God will walk through the door of life like a big surprise with bright red strawberries on top. We will stop whatever we are doing … be it reading the latest tome on the creed, or slicing a sandwich, slurping a Coke … and we will look up and smile and be glad for birthdays, for other people, for life, and for a kind waitress and man who discovered joy through each other in an ordinary Waffle House. For the extraordinary sleeps like a baby in the womb of the ordinary, awaiting the time to come forth and reveal the glory hidden amidst the seemingly mundane.

A friend of mine wrote to me recently, sighing about how some Christmas decorations are already appearing in some of the stores where she lives. As far as I know, there are no decorations yet here in Conyers. After all, it is only mid-September. But we live by calendars and proper arrival of feasts. I think I will write my friend, and tell her that I did see something of Christmas, something beautiful, beneath a little cluster of balloons, and covered with whipped cream and strawberries. Something beautiful, given, and received, with joy. After all, it is September, and it was a birthday, a day for gifting, surprises, a day just like Christmas.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at