By Ingrid McIntyre, Executive Director and Co-founder
In 2012 I got an email from my colleague David about a guy named Mike who was living in his truck in the parking lot of the church where he was serving. Like most of us, David wasn’t quite sure what to do. It’s hard to know what to do, if you should do something, how to do it—when you meet someone who is in desperate need of housing. It’s particularly difficult when the person you meet has physical or mental health complications. Where do you start? It can feel overwhelming.
We often joke at Open Table Nashville that it takes a master’s degree to learn how to navigate our social service systems. That’s not too far of a stretch, though. It can be rough. There are so many agencies, such limited resources, specialties, public vs. private, not to mention the waiting, rules, regulations, and qualifications that all differ from resource to resource, and the waiting… (Ugh – pull your hair out! Did I mention the waiting?)
I got in touch with Mike shortly after David gave me his number. We met up and I began listening to his story and learning about his most immediate needs. Here he was, a 62-year-old former insurance salesman who was recently divorced and had no other family to turn to for support when he had the fallout of his life. He was literally deteriorating by the day as he, and all his earthly belongings, took refuge in his small truck on the west side of town near his former home. His most urgent need was refrigeration. Mike had diabetes and needed to keep his medication cool. That’s no easy task when you don’t have a place to live, when you don’t even have an electrical outlet, much less a small refrigerator. So Mike did his best. He kept his meds cool in the heat of a Nashville July by filling his small cooler, morning and night, with ice from the gas station next door. It was clear to me that Mike wasn’t going to make it very long in this living situation.
Thankfully, after a while we were able to secure housing for Mike. But that’s not nearly the best news nor the end of the story. The housing we found for Mike was in Franklin (15 miles south of Nashville), and we knew that retention work with him would be difficult from that distance. Life is a lot. And because it can be so heavy and overwhelming at times, I thought, if he wanted, Mike might find it encouraging to be connected to a faith community close by. I thought this would probably help build and strengthen his community near his new home. So I called some friends from my former congregation in Franklin, Christ UMC, and enlisted some help. We could not have imagined the faithfulness and love that would shine from this relationship.
Cut to Cathy and Barbara.
These two fiercely faithful humans stepped up and befriended Mike as soon as he moved into his new home. They are busy moms, each with 3 children, both in the healthcare profession and dedicated to community and church involvement. Certainly, they didn’t have loads of extra time, but they knew that Mike’s experience in housing would only be as successful as the community around him was strong. And so for four years they were his transportation, his nurses, his “daughters”, his family, his friends, and his angels. They picked him up and took him home from church, they helped him navigate and receive hospital and nursing care when he needed it, they took him grocery shopping, and even helped trim his toenails. (THAT IS LOVE.) They extended their love out of their comfort zone, out of what they thought were their abilities. They didn’t know exactly what to do, but they knew how to love, and even on the most frustrating days, love they did.
On May 16, 2018 I had just arrived in Columbus, OH for a conference when I got a text from Barbara that Mike probably wouldn’t make it though the night. He had come to his transition place for the next leg of the journey. He was surrounded by his midwives, who held his hands (just like they had so many times before) as he moved from this life into the next.
I can’t think of a more beautiful story. It wasn’t perfect by any means. It was trying, messy, difficult, new, and exhausting. I give thanks for my friends Barbara and Cathy who were willing to sacrifice and risk. I give thanks for Mike’s life and all he shared with us—all he taught us. And I am once again reminded that though there is darkness and scarcity, there is also light and abundance, and that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that.”
There will be a memorial celebration of Mike’s life at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 10 at Christ UMC in Franklin. All are welcome.
For resource help: www.wttin.org
For our list of education opportunities: opentablenashville.org/initiatives/education