By the time our three Sunday morning services are done, typically so am I. But I’ve learned that often some of the most important—or most challenging—things happen in the half hour or so that follows. Indeed, a few years ago on my way out the door I noticed a woman standing in the corner of the side-foyer, looking anxious, not overdressed, and a little worn. I stopped and chatted a little with her and went home.
On Tuesday morning that week, at staff meeting, I learned that she was homeless and that she had gone home with a family in the church and was living with them for the foreseeable future. Frankly, this scared a few of the staff: was it safe? But I knew the Flowers, who had invited her into their home: a wonderful couple whose story is one of suffering redeemed and who were now extending that to Melinda. They didn’t own their home, it wasn’t large, the wife’s mother lived with them and the three girls already, so why not make room for one more?
Melinda lived with the Flowers for a few years and pitched right in. She worked locally at a coffee shop as many hours as the doctors advised, given her knees. She had no addictions and was in school online. She used to go to church but life had gotten too tough to believe God loved her: she had buried two sons and when a third—a tough marine—was rendered quadriplegic through a bizarre swimming accident, her husband couldn’t take any more and divorced her. She and her daughter limped through until the daughter went to college, and then she moved to our area, hoping to make a new start, but the emotional toll was too great: she ended up homeless and had come in that Sunday, as a last resort.
The Flowers were great; they loved her, included her, and she began to stabilize. She paid off her credit-card debt. She got her car workable.
Then the Flowers’ girls graduated high school, and the Flowers had to move to a smaller place. Melinda managed okay for a while, but about a year later Steve, another parishioner, called me: he saw Melinda at the coffee shop; she didn’t look good; she was sleeping behind the shop at night, and depression was creeping over her and beginning to win. My discretionary fund let me put her in a hotel for a few days. Steve and I talked to all the local shelters and tried to get her emergency housing. Nothing doing.
We made a list of people in the church who might be willing to help and sent out an email. Another family, with two boys, who lived near the coffee shop, emailed: the woman knew Melinda from the cafe. Melinda went to live with them. For the next year or so with them she joined the home group that meets in their home. She began to share her story. She wept from time to time; occasionally she talked too long, but no one was bothered by that.
Eventually this second couple needed the spare bedroom for the woman’s mother. Melinda moved into the second floor of a home of another parishioner in the home group—the third home in our church to invite her in. She finished her online school program in accounting. This year she has a job helping people do their taxes. Her daughter is graduating college. Her old car died, and she replaced it. Best of all, she began to read the Bible; she began to pray. She said she no longer wanted to die. She could, at last, believe God loves her.
Melinda’s story has been an education for us, for me, certainly: the role of depression and grief in causing homelessness; the confusing and consuming difficulties of trying to go through government systems for help; the difficulties faced by the working poor;the humbling, jaw-dropping generosity of the people of God (this account only scratches the surface); the power of a hospitable home group; and most of all, the beauty of God’s redemption being experienced and then passed along.