I'm sure she heard us long before we reached it too; five children shouting in excitement as they threw food for the swans.
Had it not been for our five children, perhaps we'd have walked straight past her that warm evening.
What reason did we have to share time with this woman; trolley bag overflowing with random possessions, hair unkempt - clothes more so, and bags bulging at the seams with bagels and bread. We had no reason....but our five children did.
They stopped dead in their tracks right next to her. They watched intrigued as she chatted to the swans and broke each piece of bread into small pieces.
She had a heart for the smaller swans that held back from the bigger, more powerful ones. She spoke like a mother encouraging her babies to press forward in confidence; and scolded the leaders who pushed at the front for being greedy.
And then she turned and saw us all.
Like a child at Christmas she grinned and handed each of our children the bags brimming with bagels.
"These are Waitrose you know," she told us. "They throw away anything that doesn't sell...why throw it away when these beautiful birds can feast?"
She continued-educating us on the swans, the river, helping the children break their breads, all the time smiling, laughing, talking to her birds.
My heart felt heavy yet enlightened.
What reason had we had to stop and give this woman our time?
How often had this kind, gentle lady been overlooked?
Did her heart for the smaller, weaker swans come from a heart who knew their story well; was living their story everyday?
Once the last piece of bread had been thrown, and the children's "can we have more, do you have more in your trolley," had been soothed, she gathered her belongings and looked at us.
"You're a special family. I can tell. God bless you. God bless you for all you are; and all you will continue to be," and she left. Off she went down the path alongside that river into the darkness of the night that was fast rolling in.
We stood and watched in silence; all seven of us, until we couldn't see her anymore.
Our eleven year old broke the quietness "she was nice!"
"Yes, she was, wasn't she?" I answered.
A few weeks down the line, I haven't forgotten our encounter with the lady by the river. When I think of her, I pray for her. She reminds me that I have been so quick to overlook others in my adult life. I feel humbled by her generosity towards my children. I feel blessed she chose to share her time with us.
I relayed the story to some girlfriends a few days ago.
"Perhaps it was an angel," we said in awe.
Perhaps she was! I don't know.
But what I do know, is that we have no right to categorise people.
We are pathetic if we shudder at the thought of giving our time to people who appear less than us.
Less than us? What is that anyway?!
I want more encounters
Society has a way of writing people off; behaving like those swans fighting for their bread.
Jesus has a way of embracing everyone. All inclusive; all generous; all loving.
I love that He reminded me off His ways through an encounter by the river.
Why should we overlook others, when He hasn't overlooked us?
Be blessed x