My kids remember everything. Absolutely everything. And they don’t let me forget anything. I mean, anything. Sometimes, this can be annoying. But in this instance, it was endearing. For had they not, we would have missed out. And it all began with an order at Starbucks.
Nearly six years ago, we packed up our family and all that we owned (or what could fit into the moving van) and moved from Colorado back to Washington State. Leaving behind secure jobs, stable incomes and very dear friends, we knew that God had called us back to this area to live, minister and plant a church.
Although we moved back to a familiar area of the state, much had changed in the time we’d been away. It helped that we knew our way around town, but we were still getting to know a lot of new faces. And his was a face my kids remembered…they just knew it. But they just couldn’t remember from where.
Then, one day, I ordered a latte at the drive-thru at Starbucks. As I rolled my window up, pulled around to pick up my order, my kids shrieked from the backseat when they saw the barista, “Momma, we know him! That’s him!”
“Him who?” I asked.
“That’s the guy that always makes us laugh at Fred Meyer’s! You know, the checker guy! What’s his name, Momma? We should invite him to church!” said my 5-year old son from the backseat.
Having only been back in the area a few weeks, I honestly had no idea who or what my kids were talking about, especially if it involved an occurrence during a shopping trip. You see, I am not a fan of shopping. As is the case with shopping with young kids, or at least my kids, I just did my best to get in and get out without anyone melting down, having an accident or me losing my mind. But this day, well, it was different. This was the day that we introduced ourselves to “Checker Guy”.
When he opened the window to hand me my latte, my son said, “Mom, ask him if he works at Fred Meyer’s. I know he does, Momma!”
To appease my kids, I did ask him. And he confirmed that he did, indeed, work at Starbucks and Fred Meyer’s. And on that day, he went from being “Checker Guy” to Michael, or Mr. Michael to my kids. And from that day on, we were now dubbed the “J-Family”.
During those first few months back in town, we saw him frequently at both places. Eventually, he learned our first names, too. This made our kids’ day and greatly impressed me and my husband. I mean, can you even imagine the multitude of people he must come in contact with each week? Seriously!
Whenever we saw him at Starbucks, we’d say hello. And if we were grocery shopping at Freddie’s, the kids always made sure that we only checked out at his register. Over time, through short conversations here and there, we shared that we had moved back to plant a church in town. He said to let him know when we began having services because he’d like to attend. And he did. As well, he and my husband got together for lunch. Through our interactions, he began to share parts of his story with us.
And even after our church plant was closed, we continued to see him around town, usually at Fred Meyer’s. It became a joke with him that if Jon and I where there alone, we must be on a date. For some unknown reason, our in-town dates always ended up there. I know, how romantic! It always amazed me how a conversation with Michael went from 0-100 in five or ten minutes. And, as typical, I would always end the conversation saying, “We really need to have you over for dinner sometime!”
After a while, we stopped seeing him at our Freddie’s. Jon discovered he’d been promoted, and was working at another store close by. One evening, we were on a date and dropped in to pick up a few things. Michael was working that night, so we chatted for a bit. Things were continuing to look up for him. He was on the management track for the company, and the very next day would find out if he would get his own store to manage.
Before we left, we got his number and told him we’d be praying for him. The next day, I texted him to let him know we were praying for him, and were anxious to hear how it went. When Jon saw him a few weeks later, he told him he got the job, and we may not see him much because the store he would be working in was further south.
That was a year ago.
A week ago, I was in the store where I last saw him, and wondered how he was doing. Wanting to send him a text, I looked in my phone for his number but it wasn’t there. Unfortunately, when I got a new phone my contacts didn’t transfer. I had no way to get in touch with him. But I distinctly remember saying a prayer for him as I walked out to the parking lot.
Which brings me to last night….
Late last night, I opened up my computer, launched Google and headed to Facebook. This was the first thing that I saw on my newsfeed:
Today I learned that an old friend took his life over the weekend. While I wasn’t super close with him over the years, as our lives split paths, I still saw him every now and then while he was working, and randomly a few other times. Michael was ALWAYS nice, super energetic, joyful, and encouraging. The last time I saw him we had a deep and encouraging conversation in the middle of Whole Foods, where he told me about his past and how free he had felt from all his struggles. This was about a year ago. Needless to say, it was shocking to hear the news. It’s so sad that this happened, but no matter what I trust God. Michael, you will be missed by many.
Immediately, as I read it, my heart sank. I didn’t know for certain, but as I put the pieces together (similar ages, high schools, churches, etc.), it became clear to me, she was referencing someone that I knew. To be sure, I private messaged her and my fears were confirmed: It was our Michael that she was mourning. As I closed my computer, tears filled my eyes, and all I could think was,
“Michael, we never had you over for dinner!”
Why am I sharing this? I share it as a reminder to myself (and maybe to you, too) that everyone has a name: the post man, the ticket taker at the movies, the bank teller, the garbage collector, the little old lady down the street, the grocery clerk, and yes, even the barista at Starbucks. We just need to take the time to ask what it is and then, call them by their name. Since they usually wear name tags, they make it easy for us!
But not only does everyone have a name, everyone has a story. A story to share with others, maybe even you. It might be in little bits and pieces, here and there or, perhaps, all at once in one long sitting. And the parts of someone’s story that you are privileged to hear and to hold….Ah now! Those are gifts. Sweet gifts that are not to be forgotten. Or taken lightly. But remembered and valued and cherished.
And to think it all began with an order at Starbucks. I am so glad my kids knew everything and pestered me to find out “Checker Guy’s” name.
Michael, the last page of your story may have been written this weekend, but you will continue to be a part of mine and my family’s story. In such a short time, you taught us so much. You made us feel welcomed in a new community. From you, we learned the importance of calling others by their name. You blew us away by remembering random things we shared. You really listened. You made a difference. You impacted lives. And you will be missed. One more thing: We will have that dinner one day! Save a spot at the table for us, okay! Because we know where you live!