Discipleship at In-n-Out
Rachel and I were feeling lazy last Saturday, neither of us wanting to cook or clean up afterwards so we decided to partake in a So Cal delicacy, In N Out.
After ordering, Rachel and I sat down with our four kids at one of the concrete tables in the outdoor seating area to wait for our food. As we were seated, I saw a homeless neighbor who used to be a regular in Bellflower, who I hadn't seen for at least a year. He's in his early 40's but his dissheveled hair, stuffed into a beanie cap and weathered skin make him look much older. I knew his face but it took me a few minutes to figure out what his name was. Thankfully as we made eye contact the Holy Spirit reminded me of it just in time as he approached our table.
"Hi Mike!" I greeted him. "I haven't seen you around for a while, you doing okay?"
I could've answered that question on my own. By the looks of him he's not doing well at all and he's been drinking. In fact he's so intoxicated that he almost fell to the ground trying to take a seat at the table next to us.
"Got any change?" he asks after making some unintelligible comments about his near-fall. I can see that I must look familiar to him but the alcohol is clouding his memory.
"My name is Ryan, and I'm sorry Mike," I answer, "I have a policy that I just don't give out cash. But I would love to buy you a burger. You hungry?"
At first he refuses but then comes around and says he'll take a burger.
While we were waiting for our orders, I did my best to keep the small talk going. We talked about football, cars, his youth growing up in Paramount and going to high school there. My kids were silent... I wasn't watching them but I am sure they were wondering who this guy was and why he was sitting with us.
I could see that all of my questions and conversation was making Mike feel restless.
"I gotta go walk this off a little bit." Mike uttered as he got up to walk around a bit.
Again he almost stumbled to the ground before making his way down the sidewalk scratching his stomach and saying something to himself. The girl at the table next to us tightened her grip on her purse as he stumbled past her table. I caught myself dealing with a bit of fear too. "What's the worst thing that could happen?" I think. "He's just a guy in need of some human interaction. He's not going to get us. We might feel uncomfortable, but that's okay."
The brief respite gave us an opportunity to talk with the kids about what an opportunity this was to love "Mr. Mike" our neighbor.
"Mr. Mike doesn't have a house." I told them. "We get a chance to have dinner with him. This is what Jesus would do guys. This is good." "This is good." I think, "this is discipleship in it's most impactful form..."
Mike came back and his table was now occupied, so we cleared a space for him at our small table. Our food came first and so I offered him one of our trays of fries and my coke so he can eat right away. I ask him if we can pray for him and he says, "Pray that I get my life back together..." So we all pray, thanking God for our meal and for the opportunity to have a meal with this blessed neighbor.
He says he doesn't want any fries so I reclaim my basket from in front of him but as I do he grabs a few fries and says "oh I just have a few." His visibly dirty hands grab a four fries from the pile and I look at the rest of the fries with a bit of disgust. "You should have the whole thing." I insist, feigning generosity to cover for my germphobic disdain.
His burger finally came and we all settled in to eat. I caught myself several times feeling uncomfortable about the situation, and wanting to finish quickly and not having much of an appetite for the food just minutes before I was craving.
Over the course of our meal, while I struggled to move the conversation forward, my mind fluttered to many somewhat competing thoughts...
I felt itchy thinking about his "germs" (he told us he has scabies) and way too righteous as the other customers watched our family.
I looked at our fellow customers, narcissistically wondering if they were watching us, thinking about how "good" we were, or conversely how bad of parents we must be. I am ashamed
I pictured God smiling on our tribe. I imagined him smiling at our simple obedience and chuckling at my discomfort, the way a dad does when he knows his kids are learning a good life-lesson.
I reflected on how we were experiencing the Holy Spirit empowering us to love someone who, like the lepers in Jesus' day, was outcast and isolated from the community.
As our dinner concluded and we parted ways, I notice myself marked by this ordained appointment with Mike.
I wonder... how can our family better love neighbors like Mike?
Will we embrace people with germs and visible manifestations of brokenness like mental illness that makes them difficult to communicate with and prone to self-medication?
What would happen if you and I were SEEKING and making the most of opportunities like these that humanize the lonely outcasts living among us?
What will God do in us when we engage in relationships, sharing a meal with a human friend, instead of taking the easier, cleaner route of giving a poor beggar our loose change in an attempt to assuage our guilt and so doing unintentionally feed their addiction?
My prayer for us is that God will make us more like him as he stretches us and crosses our paths with others. I pray that he will give us His eyes to see our neighbors as He does. Most of all I pray that He will give us the discipline and intention we need as a busy people to pay attention to the opportunities like these that come our way on a daily basis.