He walks up to the table to pay. I smile and say hello. No smile in return. He’s a tough-looking gentleman with “worn” eyes. I can tell life has not been easy. His tattoos and t-shirt speak to some of his likes and dislikes.
We exchange money for sparklers, and he says, “These are to keep the grandkids busy. To get their attention on something else. We buried my step-son today.”
His eyes fill, but no tears drop. He says thank you, and I connect some dots to the local news. I know his step-son was very young and left behind young children.
A dad and a daughter. She’s not more than 10. Dad looks like he’s worked hard today. The daughter talks on and on about everything she sees. Dad patiently listens and responds. Most people are in a hurry. This dad has all day to listen and respond kindly. As it turns out, the girl lives with her mom and this time with his daughter is weekly. Dad makes $8.75 an hour doing manual labor and can’t spend much, but his little girl wanted some fireworks.
When they leave, he opens her her door for her – a gesture that brings a tear to my eye.
She asks how loud each firework is. She selects an assortment with careful consideration. As she leaves, she explains that her son is autistic and can only stand certain noises. He won’t go to the larger fireworks shows, so she puts on a show for him the backyard – tailored to his needs.
The woman and man seem to buy a LOT of fireworks. The husband looks at his wife and says anything else? And she says, “Oh, you know me and fireworks. You better just check out before I see anything else.” He smiles and pays. And she explains…
My son died at age 3 of heart disease. There’s something about fireworks. They make me feel close to him. I feel as if he sees me letting them off – that he sees the fireworks and we are together again in those moments.
The man’s hat proudly proclaims his service in Vietnam. He’s the only customer in the tent. We are eating dinner, laughing and joking. My son throws a Pop It (a tiny paper that pops or snaps when it hits the ground – no flame necessary), and the man jumps.
After all these years, the sound still startles him.
I remember watching Sesame Street when I was young. I loved the segment…
Who are the people in your neighborhood? in your neighbrohood? in your neighborhood? Yes, who are the people in your neighborhood – the people that you meet each day!
The postman, the teacher, the doctor, the grocery clerk – we’d get to meet them – SEE them.
And this week, I’ve been seeing people. Really seeing them.
I’ve been selling fireworks at a tent located in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The proceeds benefit our team’s mission trip to Honduras this month. I have to admit…some days, I do not want to show up. I am not much of a salesperson, and I have so many things I’d rather be doing.
But, the face of a woman who will get a house – the faces of those who will visit the feeding center we will help to build. Those who will gain skills and those who might just feel unconditionally loved in the moment. These faces come to mind, and I know where I should be and why.
What I didn’t expect this week was the people that I would meet – just briefly. Each of the above exchanges lasted a minute or two. Long enough for the woman or man to be heard. To share a piece of his or her pain. And long enough for me or my friends to offer a heartfelt “I am sorry. I will pray for you.”
I can’t begin to detail the “takeaways” from the week; the lessons God taught; the reminders He gave…but here’s a few…
Every single person has a story and is carrying a burden you can’t see unless you want to. (ALL people…did you catch that? Not just the ones who look like you and not just the ones who are kind. ALL people – all of those made in God’s image.)
Notice people. It matters.
So many people just want someone to genuinely listen to their hearts. To hear a piece of their pain and to acknowledge it – not to fix it, but to simply say…I hear you.
A lot of people are angry and overwhelmed, and it pours out on their children and others around them. Be aware of your words. You can’t unsay them. (I pray most for the mom of three who talked so hatefully to her kiddos. I wanted to hug her tightly. She looked on the verge of breaking at any moment.)
There are so many kind, good people in this world. Sweeping statements about God’s people – those living in this world, those HE MADE – are unkind and unnecessary.
And in light of the shootings in Charleston, confederate flags, and Supreme Court decisions…As God mixed each of these with the people that I met each day, He reminded me…
Each of us just wants to be loved and accepted. Truly. We want to be who God has made us to be and not have to apologize or justify it. And for those who follow Christ and identify themselves as Jesus followers – Christians – I pray that what we desire above all else is to become more and more like the Jesus of the Bible. The Middle Eastern man, who was a Jew and poor (in the material wealth sense that our world so highly values). The one who made black people, white people, brown people – all people. The one who told us…
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13: 34-35
Today, on this day as we celebrate the United States of America and her history, I pray you notice and take time for the people that you meet along the way, especially those closest to you. Look in their eyes. Hear their hearts. Love them.