Mr. Mike Adkins: I did what everybody else did. I act like I didn’t see him. We gave him room. We didn’t talk about him or to him about Jesus. I’ve always wondered why. I thought, “Well, I guess it’s because if somebody saw me talking to him, they might think I’m as strange as he is.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family we’re featuring a message about reaching out to a lonely person and offering them the priceless gift of friendship, and the love of Jesus Christ. It’s not always an easy journey. This is Focus on the Family with your host Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And I think all of us can relate to the idea of loneliness. You might have been lonely when you went off to college or, uh, trade school, or you moved to a new community. That’s happened to me. Maybe the coronavirus has isolated you, and you’re feeling like you really miss that daily interaction with co-workers. I mean, you’re at home and you’re just not seeing people. Or maybe you’re unemployed and there’s nobody to really talk with. Now imagine if that loneliness isn’t a temporary circumstance, but a condition that goes on for years and years. That’s the kind of situation we’ll hear about today with one of our all-time favorite broadcasts. We have a unique twist for you at the end as well.
Jim Daly: John, as you talked about loneliness there, it made me think about people in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers who haven’t been able to see their family for months, because of the coronavirus pandemic. And they are suffering from that isolation. Depression rates and even suicide cases have skyrocketed. But even before the huge changes that the coronavirus wrought, there were statistics showing that 60% of people in nursing homes never receive visitors. They’ve either outlived their friends and family or have been forgotten. And that just breaks my heart.
John: Mm, yeah, it’s so sad to see that happening. Uh, in fact, my wife before coronavirus had made friends with quite a few of the ladies at the assisted living center where her mom stays. And visitors can be pretty rare then and certainly, of course, now. These residents seem so lonely, but Dena really has enjoyed their company. And I can’t help but think that, that scenario is multiplied among senior citizens, whether they’re at home or in a facility.
Jim: And let me say, if you are struggling with isolation and loneliness, no matter what your age or where you’re living, Focus on the Family is here for you. You are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re all part of the same family – the family of God. And if there’s anything we can do for you, please give us a call. We’d love to pray with you over the phone and encourage you in your walk with the Lord.
John: Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459.
Jim: And I hope today’s program, “A Man Called Norman,” will inspire you to reach out to someone in your community. This is one of the very first speeches Focus on the Family ever aired, way back in 1984, and it’s one of the most requested broadcasts of all time. In fact, we’ve sent out over 40,000 copies of this two-day presentation on either cassette, CD, or the audio download.
John: It’s been very popular throughout the years and I’m sure some of our listeners have a copy of it somewhere in their library.
Jim: Well, I’m always amazed, John, by the response we hear back after it airs. We get stories from all over the world, literally, of people who looked around, found a lonely person in their neighborhood, and tried to reach out like our guest, Mike Adkins, did. And really, Mike just simply became the hands and feet of Jesus to a crotchety old neighbor, who was really an outcast, the hermit of their neighborhood. And it’s wonderful to hear how this man, Norman, responded. As you mentioned, John, we’re going to change things up a bit. We’re going to call our guest, Mike Adkins, at the end of the show next time to get an update from him.
John: And a little bit of background about Mike. He’s an evangelist, a singer, and a songwriter. He has traveled all over the world and has recorded a number music albums, including the best-seller called Thank You for the Dove. He’s married to Carmel and they have three grown children and a number of grandchildren. And here now is Mike Adkins on Focus on the Family.
Mike: We’d prayed about what house to buy and we bought a house. God led us to it, got us a marvelous deal on it. It’s the kind of house I love. It was an old house that I could work on and fix up.
Mike: The first thing I did – I said, I’m gonna – I just see in my mind what this house was gonna look like when I got finished, didn’t look that way now, but when I finished and I started with the lawn out in the front. There was an old tree that had rotted and fell down. And I was gonna fill in that little hole in the ground and just – there was still a little bit of a stump. I was gonna cut that out, fill the hole in, make it nice and smooth. I forgot – since we prayed, I forgot to check first to see who lived around me, because I trusted the Spirit of God, you know, that He would take care of those little things like that.
And – and I want to tell you who lived right around the house I bought. On my left was a Catholic couple, their family, and on my right – I told you just backwards. On my right was a Catholic couple. On my left was a retired, Methodist preacher. We became dear friends. And right across the street was a widow lady and next door to her is the one I want to tell you about. It was an old – we used to, when we was kids, called ‘em old haunted-looking houses.
Now, we had a fellow in our town that everybody used to laugh at – not everybody, you know what I mean, but generally. And the kids would throw snowballs at him in the wintertime. He was weird. This – this fellow’s name was Norman, old Norman. He was 6’2”, thereabouts, and he wore an old felt-looking hat that had so much dirt and oil in it you couldn’t tell what it looked like originally, wore overalls that were just grease-soaked. He had old house shoes that he’d flop around town in, sometimes rubber galoshes. And they’d just flop when he walked up and down the street. And he’d walk real fast up and down Main Street, like this, just – and real fast. And then he’d stop, and he’d talk to hisself (sound of muttering).
Mike: And – and he – and he’d do that all over Main Street. And people’d say, “Boy, he’s weird, isn’t he?” He owned the house across the street from me, where the bushes were grown up and the old chocolate paint was fallin’ off the house, and the windows were so filthy, and I didn’t even think anybody lived there at first.
And what – that day that I was out there working on my tree stump, gonna fix the yard, in my coveralls, barefoot, my wife and kids had gone uptown to the grocery store or something. I’m digging around the tree stump. Gonna saw it out. (Sound of whistling) And I look over there. He walked out of that house and I saw that he lived there, and I said, “Oh, no!”
Mike: I said, “Lord, that’s weird Norman over there!”
Mike: I said, “You had me buy the house across the street from weird Norman.”
Mike: I said, “Now, Lord, he’s – you know, I don’t know exactly what’s wrong. We hear a lot of rumors, but – he – I got two daughters and he – sometimes I’ve got to be – and he’s strange!”
Mike: “You know, I don’t – I – he might harm them,” I thought. And so, I – I watched him. He came down to come out to the sidewalk and go uptown or somewhere and I said (clearing throat), “Hi, Norman.” He looked at me and he went, “Hmm,” and took off down the street.
A couple of days later I was out there working on the same tree stump. He came out, again. This time, he came out to work on his lawn mower out in the backyard. Something was wrong with it. It wouldn’t run. He worked with it. He looked like he was getting disgusted. And I was watching him. I – I thought, “Boy, he really is strange.” And then he did something that I’ll never forget for eternity.
He, he stood up as tall as he could. He looked like the Incredible Hulk. He raised his arms. He looked at me. He glared at me and he ran from the back of his yard where I could just see him, out to the side of the house, down the side of the house, right at me, stopping at his sidewalk – praise, God. He ran at me and screamed at the top of his lungs. He went, “Argh-h-h.”
Mike: My heart was going, “Att-t-t-t.”
Mike: I had a little tool in my hand my brother-in-law made in the shop class at the high school. He’d given it to me. And I remember saying, “Now, Lord, I know we’re supposed to love everybody, but if he comes over here, Lord, I’m gonna defend myself.”
Mike: He went back to the lawn mower and he fooled around with it a little more, got angry some more, ran at me again, stopped at his sidewalk every time. Three times he did that; three times he stopped at his sidewalk.
Suddenly, the presence of the Lord settled all over me. I didn’t expect it, I was surprised by it, but it settled all over me and when it did, it seemed that faith or – or confidence. I don’t know the right word. More than I normally possessed, it began to well up in me. And I did something that surprised even me. I got up, barefoot, coveralls, walked across that street and walked up to Norman in his backyard by his lawn mowers. I said, uh, “You having trouble with your lawn mower, Norman?” He looked at me and he said, “You having trouble with your lawn mower, Norman?”
Mike: I said, “I just said that.”
Mike: I said, “I’m not – I’m not much of a lawn mower mechanic, Norman” and I heard him say, “I’m not much of a mechanic, Norman.”
Mike: I looked – cleaned a spark plug, tightened a screw or two. I don’t know anything about a lawn mower, and I prayed and pulled that rope. And it ran like it’d been to the repair shop. It just hummed, just “hmm.” And he did something. For the first time I saw when he grinned real big – I saw a green and yellow tooth right here…
Mike: …And I saw one over here and one here and one here.
Mike: And those spectacles he had on looked like Coke bottles. They were thick and he had whiskers, had that old hat, but there he was grinning at me. And after that, every time he’d come out of the house and I’d say, “Hi Norman,” he’d go, “Hello” and then, he’d take off down the street.
Men in my town said, “I wonder what’s the matter with Norman?” Well, we was in the barber shop. You know that’s where you find out things in town and…
Mike: …Especially our small town. And one fellow said, “I know what it is. Norman was hit by a Greyhound bus once, I heard.”
Mike: Another fellow said, “No, no, Fred, that’s not it at all. What happened to Norman was, he was brilliant. He was a genius.” He said, “In fact, he was such a genius that his mind exploded one day.”
Mike: I kinda knew what he was talkin’ about. I had an algebra teacher once that – boy he knew algebra. He – I didn’t, but he did, but he come to class every day, as brilliant as he was he had his tie turned inside-out like that, every day.
Mike: And I figured that was from too much, you know…
Mike: And maybe that was what Norman’s problem was and – but God didn’t care about all that. He said to me, “You…” – beginning to put a little seed of a seed of a seed way down here deep in my heart for the first time. He said, “Witness Jesus to him.” “Well, okay, Lord, I’ll… ”
One night after church – it is tradition in our town to go to the Dairy Queen.
Mike: But in – in our town everybody used to go to the Dairy Queen after church, that’s just what we did in those days, it was a trend, and the scene was always the same. You know, whoever got out first, whoever had the 20-minute service. Got there first, got their ice cream, sat down. Then, the church that had the 25-minute service, they followed. And they got there next; they got their ice cream. They always waved at one another, “Hi, Bill.” “Hi, John. Hi – hi, Betty. How’s your family?” “Fine.” “How was church?” It always interested me, they always said the same thing. They’d say, “Oh, wonderful!” Never had heard anybody have a bad service.
And everybody would be waving and smiling in the Dairy Queen and everybody’d be eating their ice cream. I’ve done it myself. I’m not saying anything about my neighbors I wouldn’t say about myself. I was doing it myself. I was sitting there eating ice cream one night and I was smiling at everybody. Guess who walked in right in the middle of all that?
Mike: Thank you.
Mike: He comes and gets his ice cream cone. He always sits there right in the same seat and every Christian in the place, especially Brother Mike, who travels around the country lifting up Jesus and singing adoration, I rushed over to him and gave him The Four Spiritual Laws – no. I did what everybody else did. I act like I didn’t see him. We gave him room. We didn’t talk about him or to him about Jesus. I’ve always wondered why, now that I tell this story. I thought, “Well, I guess it’s because if somebody saw me talking to him, they might think I’m as strange as he is.”
John: Hmm. Mike Adkins on Focus on the Family and this reminder, you can get a CD of this program which contains his entire presentation when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry. You can call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate and request that CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to Mike Adkins.
Mike: And the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me and said, “Quietly and don’t make a show out of it, go over and tell him about Jesus.” I said, “Carmel, pray for me. I’m gonna go talk to Norman.”
Mike: She’s getting used to that kind of action and she’s prayed. And I went over there, and I sat down and – real quick and I said, “Hi, Norman, do you remember who I am?” He said, “Do you remember who I am?”
Mike: I said, “Norman, listen. I’m your neighbor.” He said, “I’m your neighbor.” He looked at me out of those eyes, out of those thick glasses. And I said, “Norman, do you know who Jesus is?” He said, “Do you know who Jesus is?” I said, because people were beginning to look, I said, “Norman, did you ever think about asking Jesus to come into your heart and your life?” He never repeated me. For the first time, he said, “I’ve given it serious consideration.” I was shocked.
A couple of nights later the Lord said, “700 Club is gonna have an extra special good program on tonight. Invite Norman.” “Hey, Norman. Hey, Norman, you want to come over tonight and watch television? 700 Club’s got a big deal – come on.” The Lord wanted to witness to him. He said, “Okay.” He dressed up for us that day. He didn’t take a bath. He didn’t put on different clothes. He – he put on an old string tie that somebody had given him, hung about like that and here he come across the street that night.
And he come up the steps and he came in the house. I’ve got a chair that’s light colored, gold, very light, velvet, kinda – it’s a Lay-Z-Boy, I love it, I crank it out and (snoring) you know, and I love it, it’s right in front of the television.
And the Lord said, “Get him there where he can see, ‘cause he’s got those glasses and he’s – I want to witness to him.” And I – I said, “Norman, come on in. We’re really glad to have you tonight at our house.” Lied.
Mike: I said, “Sit down over here in my chair.”
Mike: He sat down in my chair and he watched 700 Club. He was witnessed to. My wife sit back here and I sit back here, and we watched him watch the 700 Club. And after a while he got up and said, “Thank you very much” and he started out the door. And I went over and turned the light on for him. I said, “Watch the steps. Now, good night, Norman. Good night now; come back” and “Good night.” Closed the door. I ran in the house, ran over to my chair. I looked at my chair; there wasn’t a spot on it. It was like no one had ever sat there. It was clean. My wife sprayed a little bit of stuff in the air and the house smelled real good and we couldn’t even tell he’d been there.
A few days later the Lord said, “Take him somewhere with you.” I said, “Hey, Norman, you ever go to a Saint Louis baseball game – Busch Stadium, Saint Louis?” “Nope, like to.” I said, “We’ll go.” Picked him up just a few days later. It was hot weather by this time.
Mike: He come out with one of the longest, wool, tweedy-looking winter coats on you’ve ever laid eyes on. It touched him about his shoes. And he’s big, tall. He looked like the gray ghost when he come out of the house.
Mike: I said, “Norman, you’re not gonna need that coat. It’s hot, you know and we’re gonna be outdoors. It – there’s no – and it’s – the sun just – and you’ll persp – and you leave… ” And he said, “Oh, no. I want to wear my – I want to wear my… ” I said, “Norman, you know… ” “I want… ” “Get in the car, Norman.”
Mike: Turned the air conditioner wide open, headed up the interstate to Saint Louis.
He kept looking at that CB radio. Finally, I said, “Talk on that thing. Here, push that button and talk.” I said, “Hey, men, breaker, we got a feller here who never had a CB, never been around one before. He – he mows lawns around our town for a living and he cleans ashes out of the furnaces in the wintertime.” I said, “Let’s give him a name. Give him a nickname.” Somebody said, “Well, he’d be ‘The Old Grass Cutter’.” And he just – and – and I said, “Here, Old Grass Cutter, talk to him.” He said, “Hello?…”
Mike: “…This is Old Grass Cutter.” And it – he was fascinated.
He got to Saint Louis to the ball game. We parked in the parking area. And when we got out of the car, I figured out a plan. I said, “Norman, I’m not goin’ in the ball game with you if you wear that stupid, old coat.”
I was really afraid of what somebody’d think again – I said, “Norman, leave it in the car, just leave it here!” He looked at me and he studied me to see if I was really that serious and I was, and he faced off for a while, and finally he began to take that ol’ coat off.
When he took it off, I saw why he was wearing it. He had on two pair of dress pants that were split, both of them, all the way up the back. I said, “Put your coat back on, Norman.”
Mike: We went in the ball game. We turned that turnstile and walked in. And the first guy we saw was a little, old guy with a T-top on. He had shorts on right here. He didn’t have a muscle on his body, but he thought he did. He had hair that stood out like a Brillo pad. He had a transistor radio, great big, under this arm. He had a big cup of something to drink in this arm and he was be-bopping in the ball game.
Mike: He – he looked at – he looked at Norman, never batted an eye. Looked at me a little strange.
Mike: We got in. Norman didn’t watch the game at all. He watched the crowd, 30,000 people. He said, “Could I have a hot dog?” I gave him a hot dog and then another one and then 10 more. And I gave him soda and peanuts. I’ve never seen a machine eat like that. He just ate and ate and ate.
Mike: And the seventh inning got there. I forgot it was the seventh inning. Everybody in the place stood up to stretch and I said, “Oh, yeah, Norman.” By this time I had told him – ‘cause it was hot. He was perspiring. I said, “Just take your coat down and drape it over the seat. Sometime back around the third inning or so, he draped it over the seat, and he was much more comfortable.
But now it was the seventh inning and we were standing all over the park. And I – I said, “Stand up, Norman. Let’s stretch.” We were just stretching away.
Mike: All of a sudden, I happened to glance behind me. The guy behind me was going…
Mike: I said, “Sit down, Norman. Sit down. Sit down.”
Mike: It had been a busy year, busy year. I – I’d been working at the coal mine and I was tired. And I’d been singing in churches on the weekend and I was telling the Lord about it, you know, because my vacation was coming up. And you know what the Lord told me? He said, “Why don’t you take Norman with you on vacation?”
Mike: I said, “I’m gonna to Opryland, Lord. Norman at Opryland just… ” And He said – I said, “Lord, I’m not gonna do it, now. I – Sir, I’m tired and…” A couple of weeks later we was goin’ down the highway to Opryland, Norman sitting in beside me, my wife and kids in the back.
I noticed something about him. He was beginning to be relaxed around people. He was beginning to be less nervous and he didn’t talk to hisself as much as he had before. I got to Opryland and, uh – and I found the bumper cars. I said, “Norman, didja ever ride in a…?” “Nope” I said, “Here’s how they work, push the peddle, turn the wheel, and get in, and have a good time. Get in there.” We got him in there. He sat down in that big, old bumper car and looked at all them kiddies and all them girlfriends that wanted to hit their boyfriends with their car and all the mothers that wanted to hit the fathers with a car. And – and he got everybody in the place caught over to one side.
Mike: They turned that ride on. He had the whole crowd pinned and he had his car sideways and had them jammed in over there and they were mad.
Mike: And he was looking around, going – and looking at me going, “Heh… ” And he couldn’t figure it out and we began to laugh. And we were standing outside that place. Tears were beginning to run in my eyes. I said, “Look, Carmel. Look at him. He’s got everyone caught over there.” And the kids were (sound of laughter).
And – and finally, somebody got loose, and the ride was about half over and they felt like they’d been cheated, and they were in a hurry. They came all the way around that rink, and they wanted to hit somebody before that ride was over. And there sat Norman and they hit him full speed ahead. He went, “Oh.”
And then, he really tried to get the thing going and here comes someone else and they were starting to get loose now in great numbers and one-by-one, they’d come around and they hit Norman. And the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me at Opryland and He said, “That’s what they’ve been doing to Norman all his life. (choking up) People been hitting on him. ”
They’ve been hittin’ on him. When they throw snowballs at him like he’s not a human being, they hit on him. (choking up) When they bring him old junky clothes, they wouldn’t wear anymore theirself, they hit on him.”
And then He said something I’ll never forget. (weeping) He said, “That’s what My children do – My children – to one another. They get mad because they can’t play the piano or the organ or they can’t teach their favorite Sunday school class or they gossip about the preacher or they gossip about some lady or some man.”
And then He reminded me of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, though I have all faith so I could remove mountains, understand all mysteries, if I have no charity, love, I need another cassette tape, another book?” No. It says, “I am nothing.”
John: Oh, I so appreciate the heart and the emotion there from Mike Adkins. And I’m so sorry, we’re going to have to pause right there on this classic presentation, but I’ll encourage you to be back with us next for the powerful conclusion of this message. You won’t want to miss it.,
Jim: Right, John. And as we said at the top of the show, we’ll give Mike a call toward the end of the program next time to get an update on how he’s doing. You know, I think all of us know a Norman in our neighbor or maybe at work. And a clear take away from this message is that we have an opportunity to be Jesus with skin on to that lonely person. We can pray and ask to the Lord to help us notice someone He’d like to touch through us and then find a way to engage them. Maybe by offering them a cup of coffee at work or waving to that neighbor and complimenting their lawn – whatever. And when we build that bridge, we have an opportunity to let that person see how God works in our own lives which often leads to that question, “How do you know Jesus like that? I want what you have.” And then you have the opportunity to introduce that person to their Savior, just as Mike Adkins did with Norman, as you’ll hear next time.
John: And, uh, last time we aired this message from Mike, we received a letter from a mom that ties right in with what you’re saying, Jim. Uh, let me read it real quick. She said, “Dear Focus, my son is a lot like Norman. He’s a bright, beautiful, autistic boy with no friends. And I pray every day for an understanding person who will love him when I’m no longer here to take care of him. I can only hope that my son will find compassion and understanding. Please continue to share stories like ‘A Man Called Norman,’ so my child has a chance to be loved for simply being a child of God, created to His glory and honor. You’re in my prayers and I thank God for what He’s doing through Focus on the Family.” And I – I really thought, Jim, that, that was a deeply touching letter and a reminder that we can’t move so fast and be so self-absorbed that we miss the people around us who need us the most.
Jim: Oh, you know, John, it grips me right now hearing that. I’m just thinking of the love of that mom. She’s anticipating a time when she won’t be there for her son and as the body of Christ, that should be our responsibility, to step up in the gap and to say, “Yes, I will be there for that boy.” And if we do more of that, John, I don’t think there’s anything that could stop the body of Christ and the Lord working through us. That’s the ultimate definition of the Church. It’s the family of God here on earth.
John: Hmm. And our listeners might have had some emotion as I read that letter from that mom. Um, many would know that our son, Zane, is on the autistic spectrum and we’re really struggling to figure out just what does life look like for him down the road? Especially after Dena and I pass away. Um, he’s very fortunate to have loving siblings and, uh, there are a lot of people pulling for him, but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have an only child thinking, “Well, whose going to be taking care of that son? Whose going to reach out to him?”
Jim: No, right. And it’s that lingering unknown, a fear of the future, wondering who is going to stand in the gap for that child? Well, I hope, as a listener, you’ve been touched by this broadcast and that you’ll take the challenge to get involved in a lonely person’s life and also share this message with as many people as possible so that we can multiply the good that can be done. Please get in touch with us to get a copy of this complete presentation from Mike Adkins on CD. We’d be happy to send that out to you for a donation of any amount, as you contribute to the work, we’re doing here every day at Focus on the Family.
John: Hmm. And you can reach us by calling 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate online and request the CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And if you enjoyed today’s program, please, tell a friend to tune in with you next time as Mike Adkins continues and explains how he helped Norman clean up his life, inside and out.
Mike: I got some Lava soap and I got a sponge and I began to rub the top of his head. I’d rub it and he’d go, “Mm-m-m, m-m-m.”
Mike: I rubbed it and pretty soon I looked and there was a bunch of white showing through. He had beautiful white hair.