They were on my aisle, but I could have heard her yelling from across the grocery store. The woman — presumably a mother — was reprimanding her son for grabbing items off the shelves.
"I'm speaking to you," she shouted. "Do you hear me?"
We all do, I thought, and I might have been embarrassed for them if I weren't also guilty of using volume to teach or protect my own children.
The groceries I bought that day are long gone, but the sights and sounds of that parenting moment are still fresh and colorful. The more I've thought of that woman, the more I've thought about my own parenting style.
And those thoughts have taken me to unexpected places.
I'm in South America. The year is 1991.
I am assigned to the Brazil Belo Horizonte Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Currently, I'm serving in the beautiful, bustling city of Uberlandia in the state of Minas Gerais.
One afternoon, several missionaries and I are walking home from the post office when I absent-mindedly step off a median separating a busy divided highway. A quiet voice from behind stops me; I hesitate to look over my shoulder.
As I do, a city bus races by and nearly brushes the short sleeve of my white, button-down shirt. It was so close, my companions cannot believe I haven’t been swept away and killed.
Had my Heavenly Father whispered a warning?
Now I'm a college student sitting in a movie theater with a good friend. We knew from the posters and trailers that the film wasn't likely to provide much uplift, but we purchase tickets and popcorn anyway. Less than 20 minutes in, the film takes a series of very inappropriate turns and a whisper says that it's time to go.
We do and we both wonder, had we heard whispers amidst the noise and energy of Hollywood's finest sound and video effects?
It's late Thursday evening two weeks ago and I'm sitting alone at an intersection after a church meeting. I'm 40 miles from home and praying to stay awake. I watch the red light anxiously, looking left and right and wishing the traffic signal sensors could respond to my desire to climb into bed.
When the light finally turns green, something causes me to hesitate for several seconds. As I do, a truck blazes through the red light in front of me and into the night.
Had heavenly whispers penetrated my own exhaustion and frustration?
I rolled through the intersection, joined the highway and began the 40-mile journey home. But I wasn’t on the interstate long; my mind was flashing through the many times in my life that my Father in Heaven has whispered to teach me, protect me or correct my course.
"Do not get in that car."
"Do not look at your friend's algebra exam."
"Do not attend that party."
As parents, most of have probably said the words, "Do you hear me?" with our lips trained on our children's ears. But if our Heavenly Father speaks to our hearts in whispers, shouldn't we?
When I am standing in the doorway of my child's messy room, am I trying to shout at their ears or speak to their hearts?
When the report card is imperfect, or when the eye roll is too perfect, do I respond simply with increased volume?
Certainly there are times when raising our voice might be the difference between a lesson learned and a life cut short. Your child is nearing the edge of the swimming pool or your toddler is playing by the campfire. In those cases, whispers won't be enough.
But more often than not, when the television remote goes missing, or when the bed isn't made, or when the green beans aren't finished, or when the child grabs something from the shelf at the grocery store, less volume might really be more volume.
No matter my resolve to be better, I'm certain that I haven't raised my voice for the last time. But I'm also certain that my own life — both spiritually and physically — has been saved by loving whispers.
Like the woman in the grocery store, can't you almost hear heaven asking us, "I'm speaking to you. Do you hear me?"
Well, do we?
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at [email protected] or www.jasonfwright.com.