by Debbie Altman

Recently, I was on my way to the first Saturday evening service at church.  I was in the right-hand lane waiting to turn onto Dale Mabry from Zambito Road near my home.  I was the third car from the intersection and was stopped, waiting for the cars ahead to go.  The light was red and, of course, you can go right on red in Florida, so we are all waiting for the first car to make its move.  Suddenly, the car behind me starts honking the horn.  I ignored it thinking he could not possibly be beeping at the front car to go, since he was four cars away!  But he beeped again, and then again.  So, I turned around and gave him the look… the “what is your problem” look!  He gave me an angry look right back, including some gesturing, but not the bad kind!  So, a bit later, the cars begin to move and we all make the right turn onto Dale Mabry. 

I’m watching him, as you do when you’ve had a moment with another driver like that, to see if he is going to end up right next to me at the next light, which, of course, no one wants!  I moved into the far left lane, as it appeared he was moving into the far right lane.  Then, all of a sudden he is right next to me!  We look at each other.  He is a man around 30-something, with a nicely trimmed beard in an SUV with a nice looking girl with him. 

Sometimes things just come over me and I can’t help it.   I rolled my window down on his side and I say gently, but pleadingly, “Sir, I don’t understand why you had to beep your horn from four cars back…you can’t see from where you were if there were cars coming!”   He replies testily, “You can go right on red, and there weren’t any cars coming.”  I say calmly, “Well, you can’t truly see, but…I mean, even so!”   He has a rather deep, gruff voice anyway, and has not been happy with me, and he replies rather intensely still, “OK…you are right!”  I think he is being sarcastic so I look at him inquiringly and he says again, still rather gruffly, “No really, you are right! I shouldn’t have honked!”  I am still not sure what is happening, but I say nicely, “Well it’s OK, we all get impatient sometimes.”  Now he is arguing with me again, “No, it’s not alright, because I hate it when people behind me honk at me!”  And he points at me and smiles, and says, “So don’t be mad at me, OK?”  And I tell him, “I am not mad at you, and you have a great night.”   “You too Miss.”  And the light turns green. 

I was truly in shock.  What just happened!?  A beautiful example of “Speaking the truth in love,” “Iron sharpening iron,”  “Examining yourself for the splinter in your own eye,”  “A wise man heeds correction,” “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”  So many Biblical principles were exemplified in that moment.  I wish I could have stayed and talked a little longer and had the opportunity to ask him about the Lord in his life.  Maybe he truly loved God but just had a bad moment.  We all have them.  I had to wonder later if maybe he recognized me as the Pastor’s wife at Grace Family Church, and felt bad!  But either way, I felt that in that tiny microcosm of a situation, I communicated with a stranger and we had a moment of human frailty, conflict, communication, restoration and then joy.

I wish all my communications with the people in my life went so smoothly and settled so quickly!  I mean this all happened at one red light!  But I was reminded of how much I believe in healthy communication.  It is a passion of mine.  Most of our conflicts don’t start gently!  They start out something like this one did with accusation and anger.  I don’t always do it perfectly myself, and at my age I am STILL learning the fine art of communication!  But I believe strongly that when we are frustrated or angry, if we will make the effort to turn the conflict to a place of “gently” communicating our feelings, we will work things out with people in the long run.  When we calm down and communicate and listen to each other’s hearts, we will end up on the other side with restoration and a deeper intimacy with one another.  I believe my gentler appeal turned away his wrath, and his sudden crumbling of pride turned away my wrath!  Neither passivity nor aggression is the answer…. Honest, respectful, caring communication is.

“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control …” Galatians 5:22,23

As the holidays approach and the tensions rise, let’s try to remember to be gentle with those we love and with others that we encounter, and absolutely try not to honk our horns at strangers! 

I love God!  What a funny experience!  He reminds us of His ways and surprises us with joy in the most unexpected places sometimes!  Thank you for the lesson, and may God bless you, sir, wherever you are. 


Debbie is the wife of Pastor Craig Altman, and together, they founded Grace Family Church 18 years ago.  She is a former RN and mother of a 27 year old married daughter and 26 year old son.  She is also known as “Nona” to her precious granddaughter. Debbie enjoys family, reading and the beach, and is inappropriately competitive at board games. 

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