On this classic Focus on the Family program, the Rev. Mike Adkins tells the humorous and poignant story of his efforts to befriend and share the Gospel with his neighbor Norman, who was a recluse and a social outcast. (Part 1 of 2)
John: As we begin our program today, let me ask a question of you. I wonder if you've ever felt all alone and unloved? Or if you felt rejected by friends or coworkers or perhaps even family members. Probably all of us, if we were honest with ourselves, would say, “Yes, I have had some of those feelings at some point in my life." But what if that situation lasted and lasted for years and you saw absolutely no way out?
Well, today we’ll bring you a timeless message about friendship and hope and love, even in a seemingly hopeless situation. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we feature today, one of our all-time favorite programs. And we'll have a unique twist for you at the end.
Jim: John, this is a great program. I think it's one of my all-time favorites, too here at Focus on the Family. But you talked about loneliness there. It made me think about people in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers, people who are suffering from the feeling of isolation, you know, whose family may have dwindled down now. They may be the last or the last one or two survivors of their family.
Jim: And they rarely, if ever, have visitors, John. And today's program, "A Man Called Norman" is a classic.
Jim: We first aired it I think in 1984, Mike Adkins, and what a great story. But it speaks directly to loneliness. And if you're in a situation where you're isolated and feeling alone, call us here at Focus on the Family. That is one of our trademarks. We want to be there as a friend for you. You can call our counseling department or simply call and talk with us about where you're at, what's happening in your life. We want to put an arm around you. So, do call us.
And again, today's program is a classic, one of the most popular ever aired at Focus on the Family.
Jim: And when it aired, I think the phones, John, just rang off the hook. I think we moved over 35,000 CDs and cassettes over the years that we've aired this program.
John: I'm sure this is in the library of many who are listening today.
Jim: John, it touches people. That's why I like it so much and why it's so profound. I'm always amazed by the response we hear back after it airs. And we hear stories from all around the world, literally of people who looked around, found a lonely person in their neighborhood and tried to reach out like Mike Adkins does in the story, "A Man Called Norman." And really, he just simply became the hands and feet of Jesus--
Jim: --to a crotchety old neighbor, who was really the downcast, the black sheep of the neighborhood, I'm sure and showed him the love of Christ.
Jim: And it's wonderful to hear how this man called Norman responded.
John: Hm. Just a little bit of background about Mike. He's an evangelist, a singer, a songwriter. He's traveled all over the world and he's recorded six 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 now, here's Mike Adkins on today's "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. (Laughter)
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 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 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. He had great wisdom. He's dead now, but he was one of my dearest 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 [sic], 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 winter time. He was weird. He was strange. You know, a lot of people call them your town jokes. They’re in every town, I notice. 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, real fast. And then he’d stop and he’d talk to hisself [sic] (Sound of muttering) (Laughter) 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 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!” (Laughter)
I said, “Lord, that’s weird Norman over there!” (Laughter) I said, “You had me buy the house across the street from weird Norman.” (Laughter) I said, “Now, Lord, I don’t know exactly what’s wrong. We hear a lot of rumors, but I got two daughters and sometimes I gotta be ... and he’s strange! (Laughter) You know, I don't ... he might harm 'em I thought. And so, 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, “Hm,” 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 thought, “Boy, he really is strange.” And then he did something that I’ll never forget for eternity.
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.” (Laughter) My heart was going, “Att-t-t-t.” (Laughter)
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.” (Laughter) 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 or 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 [sic]. I said (Clearing throat), “You having trouble with your lawn mower, Norman?” He looked at me and he said, “You having trouble with your lawn mower, Norman?” (Laughter)
I said, “I just said that.” (Laughter) I said, “I’m not much of a lawn mower mechanic, Norman” and I heard him say, “I’m not much of a mechanic, Norman.” (Laughter) I 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.”
I got up and I looked him and he looked at that lawn mower. He looked at me; he looked at that lawn mower. And he did something. For the first time I saw ... and when he grinned real big, I saw a green and yellow tooth right here (Laughter) and I saw one over here and one here and one here. (Laughter) 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 ... reckon what’s the matter with Norman?” Well, we was [sic] in the barber shop. You know that’s where you find out things in town and (Laughter), especially our small town. And one fellow said, “I know what it is. Norman was hit by a Greyhound bus once, I heard.” (Laughter) 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.” (Laughter)
I kinda knew what he was talkin' about. I had an algebra teacher once that, boy, he knew algebra. I didn't, but he did. But he'd come to class every day, as brainy as he was, he had his tie turned inside out every day. (Laughter) And I figured that was too much, you know (Laughter), and maybe that's what Norman's problem was, 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. (Laughter) Not so much anymore. We got a new McDonald's, too, but (Laughter) anyway, in our town everybody used to go to the Dairy Queen after church. It was just what they did in those days. I 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, Betty. How’s your family?” “Fine.” “How was church?” oh, 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 smilin' 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? Thank you. (Laughter)
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 acted 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.”
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.” (Laughter) She’s getting used to that kind of action and prayed. And I went over there and I sat down real quick and I said, “Hi, Norman, do you remember who I am?” He said, “Do you remember who I am?” (Laughter)
I said, “Norman, listen. I’m your neighbor.” He said, “I’m your neighbor.” (Laughter) Had those same glasses on. He had dirt in his left ear, I could not believe it. He had an ice cream cone. He had ate [sic] part of it and had part in his whiskers. And 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, “[The] '700 Club’ is gonna have an extra special good program on tonight; invite Norman.” “Hey, Norman, you want to come over tonight and watch television? ‘700 Club’s’ got a big ... 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 put on an old string tie that somebody had given him, hung about like that and here he come [sic] across the street that night.
And he come [sic] up the steps and he came in the house. I've got a chair that is light-colored, gold, very light, velvet. It's in my La-Z-Boy. I love it. I crank it out and you know (Sound of snore) 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 I want to witness to him.” And I said, “Norman, come on in. We’re really glad to have you tonight at our house.” [I] lied. (Laughter) I said, “Sit down over here in my chair.” (Laughter)
He sat down in my chair and he watched “700 Club.” He was witnessed to. My wife sit back here [sic] 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. (Laughter)
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. (Laughter)
He come [sic] 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 [sic] out of the house. (Laughter)
I said, “Norman, you’re not gonna need that coat. It’s hot, you know and we’re gonna be outdoors. There’s no ... and it’s … the sun just ... and you’ll persp ... and you ... leave ... ” Why … 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.” (Laughter) 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[’s] never had a CB, never been around one before. 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 I said, “Here, Old Grass Cutter, talk to him.” He said, “Hello? (Laughter) This is Old Grass Cutter.” And 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 what somebody's 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 we faced off for a while and finally, he began to take that old coat off. And 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. Here.” (Laughter)
We went in the ball game. (Laughter) 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 somethin' to drink in this arm and he was be-boppin' in the ball game. (Laughter) He looked at Norman, never batted an eye; looked at me a little strange. (Laughter)
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. (Laughter)
And the seventh inning got there and 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 said, “Stand up, Norman. Let’s stretch.” And we were just stretching away. (Laughter) And all of a sudden, I happened to glance behind me. The guy behind me was going ... (Laughter) I said, “Sit down, Norman; sit down; sit down.” (Laughter)
It'd been a busy year, a busy year. I (Laughter), I’d been working at the coal mine and I was tired. And I’d been singin' in churches on the weekend[s] and I was tellin' 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?” (Laughter)
I said, “I’m goin' to Opryland, Lord. Norman at Opryland just ... ” And I said, “Lord, I’m not gonna do it, now. Sir, I’m tired and ...” A couple of weeks later we was [sic] 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 I didn't put him on the Wabash Cannonball, you know, 'cause he's about 62-years-old at the time and I was afraid he might have a heart problem over that, you know. So, I tried to pick out a ride he could handle and I found the bumper cars. I said, "Norman, did you ever ride in a ... ? "No." I said, "Here's how they work; push the pedal; turn the wheel and get 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 [sic] kiddies and all them [sic] girlfriends that wanted to hit their boyfriends with their car and all the mothers that wanted to hit the fathers with a car. And he got everybody in the place caught over to one side. (Laughter)
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. (Laughter) And he was looking around, 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. Look at Norman. He’s got [sic] everyone caught over there.” And the kids were (Sound of laughter).
And finally, somebody got loose (Laughter) 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 goin' 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 [have] been hitting on him.
John: Well, we hate to interrupt this presentation from Mike Adkins on today's edition of "Focus on the Family," but we're running out of time for today. And I'll encourage you to hear the entire presentation online and to join us next time for the conclusion, when we air part two of "A Man Called Norman."
Jim: John, what a powerful and clear message this is and what comes to my mind is the Good Samaritan. It's not exactly a fit, but in the same way, someone who is hurting. In the Good Samaritan case, it was the physical wound and that Good Samaritan took care of the need.
In this case, it's deep emotional wounds and you know, I'm sitting here thinking, I may not know someone who's exactly Norman, but there are people in my orbit that remind me of Norman.
Jim: And I've gotta do even more than what I do now to engage them and encourage them. And I'm taking it as a personal challenge today.
John: Well, I'm glad to hear that, Jim. I'm reminded that there are so many times I'm just busy.
John: I've got things to do. I don't want to take the time to engage, especially not that person, because they have baggage. They drain me. I just really would prefer not to and I think you're right. If anything, the message here is, "Take time; be sensitive to the Spirit of God"--
John: --as Mike refers to the Holy Spirit "and allow yourself to be used."
Jim: And you never know. What's vulnerable about this is, you never know how God will use you. you know, there was no guarantee that it would turn into a wonderful story like we're hearing now. But you've gotta start. It's like the Lord's saying, that little mustard seed of faith, if we start with the Good Word and then, it blossoms into relationship. And then it changes a heart. And then, lo and behold, what's exciting is when somebody says, "I want what you have."
Jim: "How do you know Jesus like that?" That's the moment. I mean, that's what we're aiming for, is to really help people understand that. And I just admire Mike for takin' a risk with a man called Norman and investing in his life.
John: Uh-hm. Jim, we mentioned at the top of the program here, that we've heard from folks ... so many folks every time we've aired this presentation. And I think it was last time that we aired this message from Mike Adkins, we received a letter that just ties right into what you've been saying there.
John: I have it here and let me just read a portion of it. It 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 that will love him when I'm no longer here to take care of him."
John: "I can only hope 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."
I thought that was a deeply touching letter and a reminder again that we can't move so fast and we can't be so self-absorbed that we miss the people that need us.
Jim: Oh, you know, it grips me right now. I'm just thinking of the love of that father. He's thinking of a time where he's not gonna be there--
Jim: --for his son. And that is the Body of Christ. That's our responsibility, to step up in the gap and to say, "Yes, I will be there for your son."
Jim: 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. So, man, it reinforces the need for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
John: That letter that could've been written by me. I mean, I have an autistic boy, who when I'm in my 60's, might leave the home. He might not.
John: I'm just deeply moved by and understand a little bit of that parent's pain, thinking who's gonna ... who's gonna like my son? Who's gonna reach out to him?
Jim: Right, it's that lingering unknown for you, as to who is gonna stand in the gap, if you and Dena aren't there for your son.
John: Well, this has been a deeply touching presentation today and I hope it's made an impact on you, as it has on Jim and on me.
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Mike AdkinsView Bio
Mike Adkins is an evangelist, singer and songwriter. He is also the author of the best-selling book A Man Called Norman. Mike has sung and spoken around the world and has appeared on more than 300 national television programs. He and his wife, Carmel, reside in Illinois.