the pumpkin loaf lady

every time i go into a starbucks i fondly remember my days as a barista.  i loved that job.  the coffee, the fun co-workers i had, the hustle and bustle of people and the friendly set of regulars that i looked forward to seeing everyday...i even loved those green aprons.  there were of course, a few slightly difficult parts of my short stint as a starbucks barista.  one of them was the pumpkin loaf lady.
the first time i encountered her was in the drive thru window when i cheerfully handed her a light brown starbucks pastry bag and the change from her payment.  in a matter of seconds i received a dirty look, a stern lecture with a slighty raised voice and a comment that left me feeling like i was the size of an espresso bean.  the reason?  i had handed her the pumpkin loaf before giving her the change from her payment and the white translucent pastry paper wasn't wrapped perfectly around the pumpkin loaf.  she said it needed to be around the loaf the right way so that she knew i hadn't touched the bag with my (dirty) little hands.  come back and see us again soon...
who knew a random, unknown customer encounter would make me feel like i wanted to cry.  all because i hadn't put the white transparent paper around the pumpkin loaf correctly and handed her the pastry and change in the wrong order.
she came a few more times.  same order.  same harsh requirements.  same tone of voice and menacing eyes.  a dislike button would have been useful.  and then, i heard it.  the voice i pray so often to hear and yet the one i sometimes, ashamedly, pretend i don't hear.
oh no, jesus, please don't ask me to love this lady because i don't know what that will mean or what it will lead to and i know there's no guarantee she will respond well or receive it.  i do better reaching out to a different kind of person.  i'll stop being grumpy about it and i don't mind being polite.  i won't complain about her to my co-workers and i'll even smile at her if she comes in again.  isn't that enough?
love as i have loved you.
shine your light before men.
sigh.  he's right.  he always is.  and he was asking me to throw my pitifully false ideas of what rights i had to friendly, sociable interactions with others out of that drive-thru window.  he was asking me to forget about customer service the american way and go beyond the external actions of "the customer is always right," to loving this individual because she was made in the image of God and because God loves her with an everlasting love.   my full-time and forever job as a follower of Jesus Christ trumped everything.  the pumpkin loaf lady wasn't just a woman whose voice made my muscles stiffen at the sound of it in my drive-thru headset.  she was more than that.  he knew her and loved her and thought she was beautiful.  and he had more in mind than pumpkin loaf and good starbucks service.
so, miraculously,  i actually started to hope to hear an order for pumpkin loaf.  i clung to what Jesus said was true.  i tried to let go of the expectation that my showers of kindness and love would be met with gratitude and an immediately transformed customer.  i tried to make sure to get her the pumpkin loaf just like she wanted.  i asked her how her day was.  i told her how good it was to see her again and i started to mean it, whole-heartedly.
and eventually one time, she came into the store, rather than her usual drive-thru order.  i went in the cafe area and visited with her and found out tiny bits about her life.  i won't lie, the lady still scared me.  but, i introduced myself.   and i found out that she was a very real person, seemingly very lonely, very sad and most likely, without a single friend.
remember how i loved you when you were so sad you weren't sure why you were here?  remember how i rescued you from the pit of despair?  remember all of the people i have put in your life who have loved you without condition?
i don't remember seeing her much after that but i did pray for her for a time.  i hope that wherever she is today, there are people God is calling to love her like he does.  like he has done so often in my life, for me.
i've often heard that we as christians aren't called to necessarily "like" people but we are called to love them.  and i just don't think it's true.  you can't really love people like Jesus did if you don't learn to put yourself aside and like them,  i.e. believe that they have been made in the image of God and see them how God sees them; delighting in and enjoying them as he does all of those he's made.  i don't think i'd feel loved if i knew someone didn't like me, no matter what kinds of nice things they did for me.  i suppose it makes more sense to say that though we may not 'like" people naturally and immediately,  we are called to like them and even love them as we surrender ourselves to God, rely on his Holy Spirit and obey.  and the sooner we do this, the better.  this continues to be a challenge for me in new ways all the time. 
so, as we start off the month where valentine's day resides (even though this post isn't about romantic love), it might be a good time to make love a goal. not the fluffy, shallow, feel-good-easy-love, but the die-to-self, impossible-without-jesus, kind of love.  the memory of the pumpkin loaf lady has been good reminder for me and perhaps might be for you.  who is God calling you to love whole-heartedly today?  how might you need to surrender your own interests and preferences for the sake of seeing someone and loving someone like God does?