There he sits--every morning--on the bench just outside the doors of the church.
His name is Junior Freeman and he has been a part of the Parkway Heights UMC family for 44 years now. I know this because he told me yesterday.
Junior is a 64 year old man with special needs. He drives his scooter to the church every day. Some days he waters the flowers. Some days he cleans scuffs off the walls. Every day he comes into our office suite, stops at every office, and says goodbye to each person before he leaves.
Junior loves fire trucks.
Well—he doesn’t love weather… he’s just very interested in what the weather is going to do…because he really does NOT like bad weather.
Junior loves people.
He loves connecting.
He loves speaking to you and being spoken to.
Junior means a lot to a lot of people. And many people at this church have known Junior much longer than I have. I’ve only been here six years, but in that time I’ve gotten to know Junior, and I truly appreciate who he is and the fact that he just loves what he loves and loves people, especially his Parkway Heights people.
But what I have learned from Junior goes far deeper than knowing who Junior is and what Junior likes. God has used Junior to teach me a very important, albeit unexpected, lesson about slowing down in order to see others.
I confess, I don’t think I’ve perfected this. But every. single. day God uses Junior to go over the lesson again with me.
Here’s what that looks like.
Many mornings I am in a hurry. Sometimes I’m in a hurry to get to staff meeting. Other times I’m in a hurry to meet with somebody. Most days I’m just in a hurry to “get going” with my day—to begin what “needs” to be done.
And on the mornings that I feel particularly rushed… particularly hurried… particularly annoyed by the fact that a child missed the bus, or the dogs puked up something gross in the middle of the floor that I had to clean up before I left, etc., there sits Junior on his bench waiting for me to show up.
I’m not exaggerating.
Junior knows when everyone arrives, what cars we drive, and what days we are supposed to be in the office and what days we are off. Junior knows what days I am supposed to be there and what time I’m supposed to be there, and whether or not I have a Bible study to teach or a meeting to attend.
And he sits on his bench and watches for me.
Junior’s practice is to say, “Good morning,” and to exchange pleasantries, to give a little side hug and a pat on the back. He might report about his current blood pressure, or what the weather is going to do in the next few days, or about a good (or scary) movie he watched the night before. It doesn’t take long. He doesn’t require much. Nevertheless, I believe it’s fulfilling for him and gives him a sense of belonging.
But some days…
Some days I’m just not feeling it.
Some days I think, “I really just don’t have time to stop. I really need to get going. Maybe Junior will have his back turned watering the flowers and I can get in without him seeing me.”
Junior always sees me.
And there have been days when I would sigh… and begrudgingly walk towards that bench… exchange the pleasantries quickly… and then move on with my day.
Then one day-- probably after I let out a big *SIGH*-- I sensed God’s Spirit ask me,
“So what is that about? Where do you have to be and what do you have to do that is more important than seeing my child, paying attention to him, and treating him with respect?”
That one hurt.
But it did the trick.
I confessed that I was self-absorbed, whiny, fussy and frustrated over insignificant things. And I committed in that moment that I would choose to see Junior every day.
Junior is my daily reminder from God to SLOW DOWN.
Junior, in his faithfulness to just be himself, to love what he loves, and to love his people, has become a witness to me… a reminder… that people are what matters. And if I am too busy to see people, to say a kind word, or give a bit of time to listen, then I am too busy… and I am missing the mark.
I’m so glad I know Junior. I’m glad he’s there every morning. He has no idea how God has used him to make me a better person.
But I know.
And now you do, too.
May we never be too busy to see the people around us.
Junior is pictured with PHUMC staff members, Julie Collins, Susan Eaton, and Brooke Bryan. (Mother's day 2018)