I knew this journey would be about loving people in extreme need–seeing their worth in Jesus, serving them, learning from them, giving away time and energy. I expected the pain of sacrificial love and its joy. But something surprising happened, something I didn’t anticipate. It adds delight to my relationships with motel folks. Here it is: I discovered I really like the people we are around! More, I think of them as my friends.

There is a difference between loving someone and liking them. We can (and should) will ourselves to love people; we can do hard things for someone because Jesus calls us to.  But we can love someone without liking them. Liking is instinctive, loving more planned. Liking means enjoying a personality, a smile, a shared memory, a good joke. Liking leads to friendship of the hanging out kind. That is what snuck up on me: While loving people, I discovered I also like them.

Here is a story: We are at the Radiant Inn, chatting with a couple, when our friend Mary** shows up. At times, she turns tricks to pay the rent. Diane helped her one night with some money so she didn’t have to do that.  She tells us she is doing a bit better, but still texts Diane in the middle of the night to anchor herself. We haven’t seen her in a while, so we hug and reconnect.Just then a man I don’t know shows up; holding between his left thumb and forefinger a rock of crack cocaine. He won’t shake my hand.  He instead looks at Mary, likely confirming their “appointment.”  He says of me: “He’s a white dude. What’s he doing here?”Mary assures him we are pastors and friends.  He warms a bit, telling me his name is Billy**, but still won’t shake my hand. He looks at me, completely perplexed, and asks, “Do you know what kind of a place you are in right now?” I laugh and say, “Oh you mean that I am standing in the middle of drugs and prostitution? Yes, I am well aware of that!” He smiles a bit and shakes my hand, left hand still clutching crack. Over his shoulder is Jimmy**, another friend from the Radiant. Jimmy is funny, charming and a people magnet.  I see him choreographing the whole thing, the crack in Billy’s hand, Mary’s body for sale and multiple other transactions underway. The moment is intense, burned in my mind so clearly that I can still see it now, see where everyone was standing, feeling the raw emotions.It is dangerous–drugs, sex and money all surf a wave of violence. Bad things can happen quickly.

In our early days, I would have pulled out, knowing we could come back to love on a safer day. Here, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.I was puzzled about that later. Why stay? In part, because we are now used to these moments and they seem less scary, bizarre as that might seem.But something deeper is going on. We didn’t leave because we were with people we like, people we consider friends.  Mary is our friend, so is Jimmy and I was pretty sure, even Billy was going to become one. I instinctively liked him. You don’t walk away from friends, even when things are bizarre and dangerous. You just stay there with them; hard times are more than outweighed by enjoyment you have with your friends.Love is the greatest thing (I Corinthians 13:13); but liking takes love to another level, where you delight in and enjoy the people you are loving. I have been surprised here by how quickly and instinctively I have added like to love, surprised at how easily I laugh and enjoy these, my friends, surprised at the fun I have.

That brings me back to Billy. We connected that night, him holding crack the whole time. I see him regularly and he always tells the friend he is with about our conversation and we both laugh, a good memory between friends. Interestingly, the encounter with us seems to have shocked him into changing his behavior. He is such a delight to me. Now we hug, a black dude just out of prison and a white dude hanging out on East Colfax; we hug like friends do.Jesus’ way with people is about sacrificial love, about pain and sacrifice and joy; it is also, I am convinced about liking those we love. Jesus loved, but I believe he also liked; here on East Colfax, joining Jesus, we are adding like to love.

**Names changed to protect identity.