People warned us about Dave. They told us he was the town drunk and local thief. They told us to be careful and steer clear of him.
They didn’t warn us that Dave would become a regular at our breakfast table, regularly showing up just when the muffins were coming out of the oven. They didn’t warn us he would become a family friend. They didn’t warn us he would teach us what generosity means and how to find joy in the small things. They didn’t warn us Dave would teach our entire family what it means to really love people.
Dave was an older gentleman who lived by himself, surviving on his monthly disability checks. Dave once told me, “It isn’t that I’m retarded like people say. I just have problems remembering things. I can tell you when and where I was born, but I forget what I had for breakfast.”
I don’t remember the first time Dave stopped by our house. I do remember he was chilled from walking in the frigid winter weather, and took the chance our home might be a place to warm up. After a cup of hot tea, a muffin, and a few encouraging words, Dave set out on his way again.
Dave regularly stopped by after that first visit. One day he needed help to fix his bike tire and adjust his seat. One night around midnight, I timidly opened the door to find Dave standing outside, visibly shaken and bleeding. He had been assaulted, and he needed a safe place to sit and a phone to call the police. Most days Dave stopped by, he pulled a barstool up to the counter, enjoyed a cup of hot tea, hung out with the kids as they did their schoolwork, and we engaged in conversation.
One day over a cup of tea, Dave told me about a children’s Bible his now-deceased mother had given him. He told me that because he didn’t have any children to share this Bible with, he wanted to give it to me. A few days later, he showed up with the Bible in hand, beaming with joy to give me one of his greatest possessions.
One Sunday afternoon in the spring, Dave arrived, smiling and waving. It had been awhile since I had seen Dave, but he was in good spirits. Helping himself to his favorite barstool at our kitchen counter, Dave told me he was recovering from yet another illness. He shared about a friend who passed away from a deadly combination of diabetes and whiskey, and his excitement at finally getting his $49 monthly food stamp card activated.
I rightly guessed Dave’s visit meant he needed something. We had become the place he came when needs arose. On this day, he needed a ride to and from the grocery store. The community bus didn’t run on the weekends, and he wasn’t sure he could walk there and back (and to be honest, neither was I). As much as Dave had already taught me about loving people, I still had much to learn. On that particular day, I was buried in work, and I wanted to tell him no. But in my heart, I knew there wasn’t a single good reason why I couldn’t take him to the grocery store.
I loaded my two little boys into the van, and muttered a quick, silent prayer asking God to allow me to be fully present with Dave. On the short drive to the grocery store, we had a great conversation. I laughed and thoroughly enjoyed myself with a carefree attitude that had gotten misplaced amidst my overwhelming “to do” list. I dropped Dave off at the store, and told him we’d wait for him across the street at the park.
In just a few minutes, Dave came walking toward us, arms loaded with grocery sacks containing food bought with his $49 in food stamps. As he came closer, he smiled and waved, first at me, and then at the boys.
“I got something for you. I got a surprise for us,” he said. “How about a picnic? I got us some chicken.”
Dave pulled a box of hot fried chicken out of his bags. With delight, he offered us chicken, apologizing he had forgotten to grab napkins. For the next few moments, time slipped away, and I basked in the heat of the sun and the warmth of genuine love. My undone “to do” list no longer beckoned. I was reminded of what really mattered.
Soon after, Dave declared, “I need to be going,” worried he had imposed too long on my time. Heading back, I expressed my gratitude, not just for the impromptu picnic, but also for the lesson on loving people well.
Dave regularly taught me lessons throughout the four years we knew him. I am thankful for the ways he taught me to do ministry and especially how to love people.
Kristen Bennett Marble is an ordained Free Methodist elder, the senior pastor of West Morris Church in Indianapolis, and the author of “The Scriptures of Jesus and the Early Church” and “The Second Scriptures,” both of which can be ordered from the LIGHT + LIFE Bookstore (freemethodistbooks.com). Visit kristenmarble.com to learn more about her and to read more of her writing.