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.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.