I love to people watch. It’s completely fascinating. Besides being a wonderful way to see the uniqueness God placed in every person, it’s an interesting investigation of human behavior. Once in a while as I watch, something greater happens. I witness the beauty of empathy and compassion unfold in unassuming expressions of genuine care. Today was such a day.
Having moved to a new city, and entering my first lead pastorate, one of the dreams I’ve had is to “set up shop” locally and make my “office hours” in public places. In a larger city like Columbus or Nashville, this could happen in hundreds of places — Starbucks, Panera, Cracker Barrel. In my town, there aren’t as many familiar haunts to choose from… at least not the ones that would hit your radar. Mom and pop shops, drive ins and pizza places are in supply, but no local coffeeshop (at least, not yet!) or more commercial location to call home. The nearest Bob Evans is 15 miles away.
But there is a place along the river, and it’s a local favorite. Open at 5:30am, the heart of my new hometown beats here. I’ve been told the restaurant has flooded 3 or 4 times, once on the inside and several outside; even on stilts, it occasionally succumbs to the conjoining rivers flood stages through the years. Yet the owners wait it out (or dry it out!), open back up, and the locals call it home.
Now it is my home, and I get it. For the second week, I’m at table D1, between two large pane windows where, from my view, I see the intersecting waters of the White and Wabash rivers move along. I see a few friends in Carrharts and billed hats gather over biscuits and gravy for a morning pause before they go back out into the work of the day.
And today I saw the ministry of knowing. Today, watching people, I witnessed a work of God in the normal routine and attitude of my waitress. If you live in my town, you already know her, or will know who I’m talking about shortly — but this woman has the gift of “knowing.”
Let me explain. Every customer in this room today my waitress calls by name. Every. Single. One. Including me. Whom she just met two weeks ago. I wanted to be here last week, but a family emergency kept me away. So we’ve only met ONE TIME. But when I walked in this morning, she called me by name. And I felt “known.” As did all the others.
But names were not the only thing. A greeting was followed by several questions, mostly asking for updates on family stories, health or general well-being. This was not the act of a person who can memorize faces. This was the act of a person who wanted to really know someone, and demonstrated that want by asking, investing, going DEEPER.
Names are important. A valuable lesson I learned in my college years as I listened to a leader say to a youth group about working with the homeless, “When you call people by their name, you restore a measure of dignity to that person. They’ve lost so much, but they haven’t lost their identity. Remind them that who they are is important.”
Today, I was reminded I was important. So much so that a relative stranger — though she and I are clearly past that stage! — would remember my name. We talked about our families, and in two weeks, I might know more of her story than others whom I’ve known for several months. This relationship, and I pray the multitude more that are formed at table D-1, is important.
I couldn’t help but hear the echo of a worship song in my head as I marveled at this “ministry” taking place, the physical embodiment of how God loves and knows us: He knows my name. He knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls, and hears me when I call.
Today, the Father reminded me I know you. And He did so through my waitress. I know her name: Sailin. Beautiful name. Beautiful spirit. Beautiful gift.
So I’ll keep sitting and watching and praying and waiting for the chance to really “know” people here. Not just their names, but their stories too. So that one day I might be a reminder that the Father knows someone else’s name too.
Why is it we live life looking backward with regret more than forward with hope? Why is it we are so easily able to reflect and grieve the "I should haves" than to jump and grab hold of the "I'm going tos"?
I'm not the only one that feels this way, I know. Most of my friends would admit they've had some smidge of regret or disappointment over a step not taken or a risk avoided that ultimately would have been a blessing in disguise. That's real life. We're human. We calculate the cost of every choice... how much time, effort, money and everything else before we commit. And all too often, our manipulated math moves any measure of moxie right out of the picture.
Case in point: my friend Beverly Frazier. Last year at Meadow Park COG in Columbus, we challenged the congregation to try reading through the entire Bible in one year. Bible.com has some great plans that enable a person to do that a little chunk at a time each day. Still, the whole Bible in a year seemed like a circus-sized elephant to many, and lots gave up before they even started. But Beverly took the leap. She attempted... until she nearly quit. Her words: "I accepted the challenge - I fell behind, [and] fought giving up but finished the plan. For the first time in my life I have read the entire Bible and it has made a difference in my life."
I love my friend's candor, especially the part about giving up. Most of us, if we even agree to try something bigger than us, and then we don't meet the expectation (either one we "made up" or one we believe someone else has for us), we get discouraged and want to quit. Beverly fell behind in reading. Per her telling, waaaaaay behind. So far behind that her mental calculus told her she couldn't finish.
BUT. SHE. DID.
What was the difference-maker? Friends. Encouragers. People who told her what was possible when the enemy of her soul said it wasn't. The author of lies didn't want Beverly to finish; truthfully, he didn't even want her to start. But voices of truth, Godly friends who spoke confidence and capability into Beverly's heart and mind, wanted her to press on, and she did.
Two important things to note here: 1) The journey is better TOGETHER. Reading the Word solo could have been tough for Beverly. No one there to root her on, to walk with her, to remind her she could do it. But forging ahead with friends, she was able to get it done. She took captive the thoughts that said impossible, and put her faith in the God of the Book who said "All things are possible!" God created us for community -- to need each other as well as need Him -- and Beverly found that, in community, she could accomplish what she hoped to do.
And 2) Whether you finish or you don't, trying to do something bigger than you is possible when you do it with the One bigger than all of us. Beverly said, "I really wanted to complete this. I mean I was beating me up... but I really wanted to honor the Word. So I just started to read, at least 2 [readings] a day and by the last week of the year I only had one reading. I read it ALL. God would bring to mind what I read regularly, He was so loving to me." Beverly recognized that she was in community with the Father, and God was guiding and speaking to her each step of the way, leading her and loving her while she faithfully got back on track.
But even if she had not... even if she, like me, didn't get every reading done before December 31 last year, God loves her still. He loves me. His love isn't "earned" by dutiful Bible reading. It is given lavishly, abundantly, freely, without reservation. And certainly without the expectation that anyone make it from Genesis to Revelation in 365 days.
Having said all this, want to give it a go? This year, I'm reading through the Bible chronologically. I want to hear the story as it happened in (what most agree is) scholarly order. Here's what I'm sure of: 1) The journey is better TOGETHER. I've invited friends via FB, Twitter and now here to join the plan on YouVersion with me. YOU ARE INVITED. Let's do it! And 2) Whether you finish or you don't, trying to do something bigger than you is possible when you do it with the One bigger than all of us. God is with us on the journey, and that's the most important part. Finish or not.
Did you catch the biggest bonus of all? The spiritual benefit to Beverly because of her boldness. "It has made a difference in my life." Beverly hears more clearly and sees more readily God's work and will in her life because she took Him at His Word. That is the best reason of all to take the journey.
So seriously, will you join me? What have you got to lose? As far as I can tell, nothing... except the chance to look forward with hope at what God might lovingly teach you along the way!
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.