Trader Joe's, Being Known, and Belonging

I'm going to tell you a story. A few things you need to know about me before I start: I have a crazy diet. (I'm gluten-free and vegan.) I love shopping for food. I've had four major knee surgeries. I wear a pretty crazy-looking knee brace when I workout.

So, the story begins at Trader Joe's. My parents and I had spent a beautiful sunny Saturday hiking a 6+ mile trail around the James River, and we were stopping on our way home to pick up food to grill that night for dinner. I was wearing my knee brace, looking really rough after such a long and pretty tough hike. I think I probably even smelled bad, too, but that's not really the point of the story.

My mom and I are shopping, doing our thing and getting all the necessary grilling out foods, when one of the Trader Joe's employees comes up to me. "I have that same knee brace!" she said. I asked her what happened to her knee, and she explained it was a soccer injury and she tore her ACL. I get this a lot, since my knee brace is the same that people wear for torn ACLs. She asked me the same question in return. "I got kicked in the knee accidentally at church camp and it shattered my cartilage," I said. She laughed, pretty shocked and caught off guard at my response. I get this a lot too. It's not a normal story, I know. She said something about how crazy that was, wished me luck in my recovery, and was off on her way as I continued debating the best kind of veggie burger.

We left soon after, the end.

Flash forward about a week and a half. Trader Joe's is conveniently in the same plaza as my gym, so I stopped by after a workout, again wearing my knee brace. I got the things I needed and picked the shortest checkout line. The same girl who had talked to me about my knee was the one ringing me up. We made eye contact, and she didn't say anything, so I thought she might not remember me or recognize me. I said hi, but that's it. She scans a few things, looks up at me, and says "So how the heck do you get kicked at a church camp?"

Now it was me that was laughing, pretty shocked that she remembered not only me, but that detail about my story. I told her more about that random chain of events, and we laughed about it in the few minutes it took for her to scan everything.

I left Trader Joe's that day feeling very different. 

I felt remembered. I felt seen. I felt known.

 Trader Joe's gave me this bouquet for free once because they said it looked like my day needed flowers, so they really rock.

Trader Joe's gave me this bouquet for free once because they said it looked like my day needed flowers, so they really rock.

A silly little circumstance, yes, but it resonated deeply with me. Hundreds of people go through Trader Joe's every day. I know this because they're usually all there at the same time I am, fighting me for the last bag of quinoa or perfectly ripe avocado. But I'm just one of those people, just one face in the crowd, just someone who comes often, yes, but not very consistently or predictably. 

Despite all of that, one employee knew me. She saw me and cared enough to start conversation over a shared commonality originally, and she cared enough to want to learn more when we crossed paths again. It felt good to be known. I even told my mom about it afterward, so pleasantly surprised that she had remembered me and followed up with me.

Here's what this taught me: we were created to be known. We long for it. We crave it.

We may think we want to just go through our lives as just a face in the crowd, doing our own thing, invisible to everyone around us. We may think we want to just slip in to church as the service is starting and sneak out before it ends so we can avoid all the greeters and the people who want to shake our hands. We may think we want to just give a half smile to the front desk staff at the gym and hurry on inside so we don't have to actually chat with them, or even worse, have them remember our face or our name in case it's weeks before we make it back there again.

But we were made to be in relationships. We were made to be known, and we were made to know others and know our Creator.

We were created for the intimacy of others knowing things about our lives and our hearts and our struggles, even. We were created to connect with those around us and form bonds and establish trust and community.

The moment when one Trader Joe's employee knew me was the moment I felt like I belonged there. The moment when I went back to my favorite Carytown hole in the wall and the waitress knew my order and brought me my favorite hot sauce was the moment I felt like I belonged there. The moment when one of the trainers at the gym followed up with me and asked how I was doing after I had once asked them for help was the moment I felt like I belonged there.

When we are known, we feel like we belong. And when we belong somewhere, we come alive there.

It blows my mind that the Creator of the whole world and every human that's ever been in it knows me. If I could just be an invisible face in the crowd anywhere, it would be on earth, right? I mean, there are billions of us. I'm not that memorable in the midst of billions of people. But yet, I am known. Deeply, intimately, personally. I'm known, and I belong. Not to this earth necessarily, but to the One who knows me. I know I belong in His arms, in His plan, in His kingdom, and I've come alive because of that. I know He sees me, I know He remembers me, I know He truly knows me.

Just like the Trader Joe's girl, God is at work. He won't come chasing after us, pushing us and to know him and tell us things about ourselves. He won't force us into relationship with himself. But He's there. He'll be there whenever you come back looking for Him. He'll be open to you, He'll be curious, He'll be attentive, He'll be responsive, He will be there, longing to know you more and longing for you to know Him more. He doesn't care if we are coming to him looking rough and smelling bad and covered in the dirt of all our mistakes and failures and flaws. He won't just pass us by and ignore us, and He won't turn us away if we're a little banged up and broken. He will light up when He sees us coming, and He'll just pick up right where things left off, no shame, no judgment, just love.

I want to be known by Him, inside and out, flaws and dirt and scars and all. I so badly want to know Him more, too, Savior, Redeemer, Restorer and all. The Trader Joe's girl might not always be there every time I come around, but Jesus will