With his work shirt un-tucked, skewed ponytail strung down his back and shoulders slouched over the milk cases, his body language screamed, “Don’t mess with me.”
Everything in me wanted to avoid him as well.
I peeked at his nametag, “Hey, Mike, they told me I’d find you here. I’m the mark down milk lady that Jim told you about before he transferred stores.”
“Yep,” he grunted.
“I really appreciate you doing this. With five kids and my husband unemployed, discounting this short dated milk has been such a blessing. Thanks for CONTINUING it.”
“Sure,” he eyed the kids with a mixture of curiosity and disdain as he retrieved the jugs.
That was our first, uncomfortable encounter with “Mr. Mike,” our neighborhood grocery guy.
My kids weren’t sure what to do with his monosyllabic sentences, and after our 2nd, 3rd and 4th encounter, they wondered if they’d done something wrong. I wondered if I should shield them from him.
“He’s just like Eeyore, Mom. He’s always complaining, and his day is always bad. He’s an empty, empty man.”
“Then we need to show him Jesus’ love, right guys?”
Slowly, Mike’s story started to unfold, and ours was an unlikely friendship. A mom of five and a twenty-something guy, alone and mad at the world, a young man who scoffed at my insistence that he was valuable and made in God’s image.
His ache carried far beyond what I could imagine, yet slowly, month by month, with kids in tow, our weekly dairy aisle visits become God-appointed conversations.
In response to simple probing questions, he started unloading his soul and pouring out his hurt. Granted permission to share his story, he responded.
He shared transparently. I shared Jesus. He shared sin. I shared salvation. He shared depression. I shared the only true and living solution. He shared loneliness, eventually, we shared friendship.
Our kids heard too much over the course of that three-year friendship, yet I never regret doing “church” in the middle of that neighborhood grocery aisle. We gave him birthday and Christmas gift cards to thank him for his service. We invited him to church and to our home for dinner, but his response was always “another time.” I made him promise.
One of Jesus’ toughest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). It’s easy to quote, but I look for its evidence in the church and find it waning.
We all have the need to be loved, so that soft whisper rallies. “What about me?”
Can we be honest? Often our desire is to give and receive love, but by the pretty, the popular, the loveable. That’s cheap love. Easy love. A cleaned up, less messy version of authentically loving our neighbor. Doesn’t being available for solely the lovely contradict Matthew 5:45-47?
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”
Mike’s friendship taught me about loving the unlovable. He helped me rip down preconceived notions and see through my own self-centeredness. I can be selfish about my availability, but to love as Jesus is to give without expecting anything in return and that can be a lonely place. A place most don’t want to go — a place beside the broken.
My heart grieves that there’s no happy ending to my story. Couldn’t my friendship have pierced his heart so that he named Jesus as Lord and then testified of God’s goodness?
A store co-worker tracked me down on Facebook, “Mike died yesterday. He missed work, and they found him dead at home. They don’t think it was suicide, but he drank himself to death. We thought you’d want to know since you two were close.”
I could barely breathe. I should have made him come for dinner. I should have insisted he come to church.
I should have done more!
Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.
I stopped shopping at that store for awhile. The guilt of the “what ifs” were too much. Eventually the Lord released me. This wasn’t about me.
Mike and I bonded over milk, but my family loved our neighbor for years in the midst of Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Strawberry Yogurt.
We couldn’t have been more different, yet for me, that’s where it needed to begin.
We’re called to love our neighbors. But that isn’t always easy. What if we don’t know our neighbors, or we’re not sure how to start? Who are our neighbors, and how do we love well? Every Wednesday in February over at (incourage), we shared some of our stories about discovering how to love our neighbors, discovering who God is calling us to love and some practical steps we can do together.
This week, can I challenge our community to join hands and seek out our own “
Mr. Miss Mike?”
She probably crosses our path frequently and yearns for someone to notice her. Her heart aches just like yours and waits for that one person to simply care — to be available.
Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit’s intervention as we search out the unlovable in our neighborhood. I pray that our heart expands with empathy and compassion as we pour in, even when we feel as if our own cistern is dry. He will fill it.
Who is that one person you’ll reach out to this week? Can you share with us?
(Comments are closed here. Continue over at (in)courage for this incredibly important topic.