I found myself standing near Metro Center, though I didn’t know it was called that at the time. My butt hurt after hours of driving; it was a relief to finally stand and stretch. A warm breeze carried the city smell – a mixture of bus exhaust, a blossoming of food-related odors, and sweat. With the Gordian asphalt snakes of Nashville serpentining their way over and across the emerald hills of the southeast, I had arrived with little but the clothes on my back and the crap piled into the back of the Saturn VUE I now stood next to. I had perhaps passed through Nashville on an unfortunate family-oriented and torturous road trip to not-the-ocean many years before, but I remembered nothing of the city proper.
I knew – literally – no one, save for the front desk clerk of the hotel I stayed in that night.
Getting to know people didn’t occupy a space of particular prominence on my internal to-do list. There was, at the beginning, just one goal, and that was The Music Industry. It was all about that elusive job, and I focused on that for weeks, not noticing much of anything beyond the four walls that sheltered me.
And this state of affairs continued for a time, as the music industry job that I sought faithfully after remained unattainable. I did, however, eventually take the time to find a church. The church that I first chose to attend was Point of Grace writ Nashville, a carbon-copy of consumeristic and vainglorious Vaudeville of the former, an unsustainable choice made for the sake of a moment’s familiarity. This did not last long. It felt empty and devoid of life, like church at a theme park. I left as quickly as I had come.
It was not long after that I found Mosaic – a ostensible family of like-minded individuals being all Christian-like. I started attending. These people were different than the ones I had grown up with. Accepting. Friendly. They invited me to lunch the very first time I attended. At a Christmas party of the congregants, I chanced to happen by the children’s play area, scattered with a multicolored carpet of LEGOs and bits of toys, where a little girl in a red dress played, her flaming hair cascading in ginger rivulets down her freckled face, tousled by reckless play.
“Can I join you?” I asked, bending down to eye the LEGOs.
She looked up at me, and the expression on her face was one of pure “…duh”.
“Yes!” she squeaked, turning the three-letter word into a two-syllable affair, which sounded more like “Yay-us!”. The way she said it suggested that I was silly for even bothering to ask.
“What’s your name?”
She was a loquacious child, and we chatted while we played, her later introducing me to her parents, Matt and Julia. Eva was young, effervescent, fearless, a fact that Matt remarked upon when being introduced to me. “She’ll talk to anyone.” Julia was newly pregnant with their soon-to-be second child, Matt was a teacher.
And thus, a friendship was born. I became their babysitter, me and Eva sharing adventures in science and potentially house-damaging behavior. Once, when decomposing hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide, we showered the ceiling with iodine-laced, steaming foam, leaving a huge stain that had to be painted over. I read her bedtime stories, her cuddled up with her head on my chest. Me and Matt went to movies and built chicken coops. They handed me baby Scarlett when I would stop by, thrusting a baby and bottle toward me as though I were a member of the family.
They were my family. When they found out I had lived in my car for a few months after I got to Nashville, they were mortified. “If you’re ever homeless again, you WILL sleep on our couch.” Julia told me. “Or we’ll withhold Eva from you.” When homelessness loomed again, they made good on their offer, and lent me their futon for several days. These are people who will drive to the coffee shop late at night to talk when nobody is available. They open their home to strangers at Thanksgiving, stay at churches overnight to play games with the homeless, and know all the best places to get Tennessee BBQ. Eva, to this day, always greets me with bone-crushing linebacker hugs while Scarlett crawls all over my head like a tiny spider with a perpetual case of the giggles.
And now, they are moving away. Realizing their dream of becoming missionaries, which requires moving nearly halfway around the world. I admire their convictions. To see them realize what they’ve been working toward for years, sacrificing in jobs that they don’t like…is uplifting. These are people who believe that when Jesus said to love your neighbor, He actually meant shelter, feed, clothe and befriend those who need it. And they do that. Despite the deep differences in our beliefs, their conviction that showing people love is the right thing to do is admirable. The world needs more people like that.
They’re adamant that I’ll see them again. I doubt it will be the same. Some things are irreplaceable.
Matt and Julia, you guys have no idea what you mean to me. I love both your daughters like sisters, and I love both you guys. I will miss you all intensely. I’m so thankful that I was lucky enough to meet you and your family, and that you let me be a part of that.
I have been given a moment from heaven.
Exit, stage left.