A quick trip to the grocery comes with a dilemma. Makeup? No makeup? Hat? No hat? I care about what I wear, but not always. Sometimes I take the real me, unphotoshopped, as I sneak around the aisles. If I spot someone I know, I pretend to be glued to the buy-one-get-one free chicken broth just to go unnoticed.
Today I just wanted to get in and out of the store, short and sweet. I didn’t feel like small talk but you can’t escape it there. The people in green are just so stinkin’ friendly.
The very second I walked to where the baskets were waiting, I was greeted by the kindest man ever. Jacob. Older than my father but younger than my grandfather so I don’t know to classify him. Every time he sees me, without fail, he loudly calls to me, “Ahh, my favorite customer is here. Kim! How are ya today, Kim?” Emphasizing my name each and every time. Cheeks turn red; I should have worn the hat.
A couple years ago, Jacob got me confused with someone else and called me by the wrong name. This sparked our friendship. He reminds me of this every other time I see him, and he often recounts the entire story to whichever cashier is within earshot. I play along and laugh at the appropriate time, wishing he would work a little faster. Impatient Man is behind me. Jacob hugs me hello, hugs me good-bye, and I don’t even know his last name.
He sees me at my best, like right after I’ve had lunch with a friend and stop in for some milk. And my worst, like the time I felt the need to personally question the gentleman in the parking lot who flipped me off because I got his parking space. That’s another story he likes to tell. (The time he was dressed up as Santa and walked up to me and said, “How are you today, Kim?” still has my kids rattled.)
This time, between bagging eggs and Cheetos, he pays me a compliment. “Jacob, you are too kind but I think you need to get your glasses adjusted. I look terrible and you know it.” We laugh, he insists, I contradict. I know the guy behind me hears, even though he now pretends to read the cover of Cooking Light. And I know he thinks a little cover-up would have done wonders.
As Jacob takes my groceries to the car, we take our time. This is when we catch up on the kids, his work schedule, and the price of groceries. His breathes like the 70-something-year-old-man he is and I wonder how I would ever know if something happened to him. He packs up my car, hugs my neck, and says he’ll be looking for me on my next trip. I secretly vow to make myself more presentable next time.
As I back out of the parking lot, I look in the rear view mirror and try to see who he was talking about.
Why is it so difficult to see ourselves as the bag-man does? Beneath the dirt and beyond the phony. Past the impatience, beneath the mask, and beyond the organic bananas, to the core. Past who we used to be, to who we have become. Every time we see ourselves as not-entirely-forgiven, or not-exactly-beautiful, or not-as-good as-our-neighbor, we undo everything that was accomplished on the cross.
We were made to walk in grace, to rest in mercy, and sometimes it takes people like the bag-man to gently remind us of that. God sees us bare and undone and loves us in spite of ourselves. Why can’t we do the same?
I think we could learn a lot from the bag-man.
1 Peter 3:4: Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. (The Message)