The mouthwatering aroma of peach pie awakened me from my deep sleep. My taste buds were already on the job, and the sweet smells of the Easter meal my mom was busy cooking beckoned me. Walking into the kitchen, I strolled past the stove and glanced at the digital clock, which seemed especially bright. I was surprised to see that the time was 12:15 a.m.
“Why are you cooking at this time of night?” I sleepily asked my mother.
“Well, tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and I wanted to get an early start on the meal since I thought I’d invite someone home,” she muttered between yawns. “Now you go back to bed.”
I sluggishly turned around. As I crawled into bed and snuggled under the covers my mind filled with thoughts of the Easter Sunday when I was 9 years old. It was a cold and breezy Sunday afternoon, and though all of us protested, my mother dragged us to my aunt’s church for an Easter service. On our way back from the service I suddenly caught sight of several men huddled around some barrels from which smoke was rising.
“What are those guys doing?” My brother beat me in asking Dad the question.
“Those men are homeless,” our father explained. “Since it’s so cold outside, they start fires in barrels and huddle around them for warmth.”
Just then Mom startled me when she asked, “Aren’t these the kind of folks we’re supposed to invite home for dinner?”
“No!” my siblings and I yelled in unison.
But to our horror, our parents ignored us. Dad stopped the car. We all stared in disbelief as Dad strolled up to the men. I breathed a sigh of relief as each man my father spoke to shook his head from side to side.
Dad’s search was almost complete when a man wearing a T-shirt and holey jeans’and no coat’hobbled up to my father. “I’ll come home with you, but I want you to know I’m drunk,” the man said. This was already pretty obvious, at least to Dad.
My father lifted his finger and pointed to our vehicle. The man headed toward us. Well, sorta. It seemed that in his drunken condition, walking to our car in a straight line was the most challenging task he’d faced in quite a long time.
Meanwhile we sat silently in the back seat, our minds racing, wondering what we might say that could convince Dad to leave the man there.
I glanced up at my mother in the front seat. To my surprise, she was smiling! While we were all plotting ways to eliminate this man’s presence in our lives, Mom actually seemed happy about bringing him home. What was wrong with her?
She turned to us, her smile still lingering, and said, “Children, if someone comes home with us today, God has already picked that person out.”
Why would God pick this guy? I thought. Surely the Creator of the universe has better taste than to choose this fellow! Maybe this man had interfered with God’s plans, and if Dad had just gone a little farther down the road, someone else would have accepted the invitation.
As they walked toward the car I looked at the homeless man’s shabby clothing and dirt-covered body. Well, maybe there is some reason he’s coming home with us, I thought.
My little sister moved to the front seat so the man could sit in the back with us. As soon as Dad opened the door, the man’s body odor overwhelmed me. Maybe if I pretend to faint, Dad will make the man leave, I reasoned.
“This is Nat,” Dad announced, then started the car. I tried not to be rude, but to avoid the smell I turned in the opposite direction and pretended to be in a deep conversation with my brother.
Just then Nat began to laugh. “You’re an answer to prayer,” he said between chuckles.
“What do you mean?” my dad questioned.
“Well, last night it was so cold that I went and found an abandoned house. There was nothing to lie on, so I went in a corner and began rubbing my hands against my shoulders. I looked up in the sky and said, ‘Jesus, if You be real, send someone by to pick me up.’ And here you are.”
Oh, this is just great, I thought sarcastically. We’ve just been called an answer to his prayer. Now I felt as if it was our responsibility to help him, and I just didn’t want to.
When we got home, Dad kept a close eye on Nat. Mom was busy putting the finishing touches on the delicious Easter meal that she’d prepared the night before. Meanwhile Dad sat in the living room and chatted with Nat. Soon we found ourselves seated at the beautifully decorated dinner table.
Nat seemed very eager to get started with the meal. He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together like a man who hadn’t eaten in years. I figured that he probably hadn’t eaten in recent days at least.
The instant we finished saying grace, the sound of a serving spoon clanking against the inside of the mashed potato dish filled the room. It was Nat digging in, and he enthusiastically filled his plate to overflowing. We watched as he ate and ate and ate some more. As he wolfed down bite after bite, my entire family stopped eating and simply watched him in amazement.
At last Nat finished eating, and we gathered around the piano for family worship. After we finished singing the last song, Dad planned to take Nat back to the place where we had picked him up.
The last word was sung and the last chord on the piano was still ringing when Nat uttered the question that changed our lives for good. “Can I spend the night?”
At the time this question seemed completely outrageous to everyone in our family. Hadn’t we done enough for him yet? My siblings and I were all in agreement, but Dad insisted that we hold a family meeting.
Mom tried to sway our opinions, telling us that this was a good man who needed our help. After she was through making her argument, my dad asked us all what we thought about the situation. My brother and I were beginning to soften, and we concluded it would be OK for just one night.
“You can stay the night, Nat,” Dad said, “on one condition.”
“You have to take a bath.”
“Sure,” he said with a smile.
Soon we heard the sound of Nat taking a bath. Then, to our surprise, we heard the sound of the bathtub being drained and then refilled. It turned out that one bath wasn’t enough. “After the first bath,” Dad reported, “the bathtub sported a thick line of dirt and debris that encased the rim of the tub.” My dad requested that Nat take another bath.
Nat didn’t mind. “Hey, a great home-cooked meal and two baths in one day! I’d be honored to take another bath.” So he did, and Nat probably came out cleaner than he’d been in several years.
Nat didn’t stay for just one night. That night turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Over that time my family gave him not just a cleaner body, but also a cleaner soul. He became a big part of our lives. We even started calling him Uncle Nat. We found his wife, and they got back together. He became a Christian and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
There was an old Bible in our house that Uncle Nat got very attached to and carried with him everywhere. Whenever we went to church he’d share with the members the story of how his life had been changed because we’d taken the risk of inviting him home. He would often say, “Guess who came to dinner and stayed!”
Looking back, I can see that God really did choose this man as an object of our compassion. God works everything out for the good of those who love Him. He used our family to change a man’s life. I’m so glad He did!
Written by Priska Neely
Illustrated by Kevin McCain