After a recent dinner, Haven and I went to Michaels to buy some Elmer’s glue (a critical ingredient for slime, the latest elementary-school craze). We wound up coming home with a lot more than glue . . .
As soon as our car doors open, a voice calls to us across the parking lot. A homeless man on the curb outside Michaels asks if we’d like to buy a paper for a dollar, which will go toward the night’s hotel room. Since Haven has always enjoyed supporting our city’s street vendors, I give her a dollar and she gladly swaps it for the paper.
Delaying our entrance into the store, the man begins sharing with us an honest glimpse into his life: his late nights on the street gathering enough money for a room; his days finishing his degree at Lipscomb University; his dream to become a child psychologist; his former life as a solder in our nation’s armed forces; and a vague reference to his wife’s poor health. As Haven and I are taking in this couple’s situation, I’m struck and touched by the absence of self-pity in the man’s account of what has become his life. Somehow this man and his wife exude joy and freedom as they tell their sad-but-true tale.
After several minutes of one-sided conversation, Haven and I eventually head into the store, and halfway down the main aisle toward the much-anticipated glue, Haven pauses, leans into me, and buries her moist eyes in my chest. This couple's struggles are a lot for both of us to take in.
We press on, find the glue, locate my 40% off coupon, pay, and walk out with glue in hand. “Do you know Warren? He’s a minister at Harpeth Hills,” the homeless man asks as soon as we exit the store. I do know Warren, which leads us into a discussion of mutual friends and common church experiences, and also greater insight into this couple’s life: limbs amputated after an encounter with a roadside bomb; home foreclosed on by the VA after the 2010 Nashville flood; wife battling lung cancer and Alzheimer’s; the sum total of their worldly possessions stuffed in a pair of backpacks at their feet.
But there’s more to their story than struggle. Each day the same sun that rises and shines upon us also shines upon them. And each night angels descend with the darkness and surround them with hope and help.
The wife, Edie, tells me how she and Steven began fighting with one another after losing their home. Edie soon tired of the arguing and instead began speaking hope into their situation. “God will send his angels to help us," she'd repeatedly tell herself and Steven. And according to this couple, every night for the last 7 years, God has sent his angels to help. Then Edie adds, “And you are our angels tonight.” I’m convinced it’s the other way around.
Steven picks up where Edie leaves off and continues counting their blessings. One Sunday when the bus didn’t pick them up, they walked all morning until they finally arrived at church—Steven’s leg bleeding where the prosthetic attaches to his flesh. Upon their mid-service arrival, the congregants parted like the Red Sea as Steven and Edie were welcomed to the front. There Dave, the minister, grabbed a wet towel and washed the wound. Steven’s protesting was silenced by Dave’s insistence, “If Jesus can wash feet, so can I.” The church took Steven to the hospital and then took up a special contribution to cover a two-week stay in a comfortable hotel.
This is the same church that, upon Edie’s diagnosis of lung cancer, pledged to surround her with prayers for healing. “Don’t pray that I’ll be healed,” Edie protested, “but pray that the pain won’t be too much to bear and that I can die singing praises to God in this church. I want to go out of this life the way I’ll be coming into Heaven.”
“When she dies,” Steven adds, “a part of me will die.”
“But you’ll be alright,” comforts Edie. “I’ll be watching over you.”
Haven and I can no longer keep the tears in our eyelids. We cry with this bruised and battered couple. We embrace. And we finally go our separate ways—Steven and Edie to their hotel, and Haven and I to our home.
But first Haven and I spend a few moments in the car feeling the weight of the strangely beautiful moment we've just experienced together. We sit beside each other and weep some more. Finally, when I can see clearly enough to drive out of the parking lot, Haven speaks fervent words through her sobs: “We take almost everything for granted.”
Yes, we most certainly do. But these rare, up-close glimpses of gracious, joyful survivors like Steven and Edie have a way of putting things back into their proper perspective . . . all because God used a simple trip to the store for Elmer’s to remind us of the glue that holds us together.