My uncle lives in downtown Fort Smith where he has been a resident for a number of years now. He has eked out an existence living on practically nothing. Always alone, never having been married, he used to work at a furniture factory for several years before becoming unemployed. He has lived on the street, in a tent, and in shelters, basically surviving as he goes. Now on Social Security, which doesn’t amount to much, he just gets by settling on a meager existence that most people I know would find unacceptable.
Since I had not been by to see my uncle in a month or so I carved out some time the other day during my lunch break from work to swing by and see if I could catch him at home. It’s always a gamble as to whether or not I will catch him there as he does not have a phone I can call him on to let him know I’m coming. The best way to really catch him is to send him a letter and let him know I’m coming on a certain day and time. Pretty old fashioned, huh? A real blast to the past. I have to say that it’s an upgrade now that he has a place to live. I used to have to try and run him down by looking for him at the local soup kitchen.
On the day I went by during lunch I pulled up next to his shabby little apartment building as usual. The two or three parking spaces there are almost always empty, likely because anyone who lives in one of these eight apartments is likely too poor to own a means of transportation. After I pulled in I noticed some activity at the place as if someone were moving in or out. There was a coffee table sitting at the edge of the parking area, and when I stepped out of my car, I was greeted by a middle-aged skinny fella who looked quite industrious. I could tell that he was in charge of whatever furniture moving was going on at the time.
“How’s it going?” I said to the fella. I’ll call him Slim.
“Well, it’s going pretty good. You from the City or something?” he asked, eying my khaki pants and dress shirt, my usual work attire.
“No,” I said, pointing to the first door that was my uncle’s. “I’m just here to visit my uncle.”
“Nice guy,” he says.
At this point I had not even knocked on my uncle’s door to see if he was home, but I could see that Slim was pretty busy with the moving and had a tired look on his face. “You need any help?” I asked reluctantly. I had put two and two together and figured on Slim being the landlord.
Having not said no to my offer, Slim talked to me as I followed him a few feet to a stairwell in the middle of the apartment complex that I would consider a small step up from a boarding house. He told me about some guy that was working with him that was a worker but was “not very coordinated.” As he voiced that concern, we arrived in the stairwell in front of a very large full size couch, one that had probably been abandoned by someone at the Salvation Army years earlier. As he told me about his desire to get this monstrosity to the second floor of the building, his uncoordinated partner arrived on the scene.
I said hello to Mr. uncoordinated just as Slim said to him, “Fred, go over there and bring that table over here.” Without hesitation Fred did as he was told and was soon lumbering back into our vicinity carrying the coffee table that was much bigger than he was. Almost dropping it as he paused, Slim took it away from him and set it down, scolding him for almost having dropped it.
As Fred reclaimed his sack lunch that he had dropped on the last trip by, Slim ordered him to the end of the couch so they could figure out how to contort the worn out living room piece in some manner that would get it up the stairwell. Fred set his lunch down on the sidewalk against the wall and took his position. Slim had never really acknowledged that he needed my help, but I could sense that he would be tickled if I could help grab the end that Fred was on, which I did.
We somehow managed to get the couch in a position to direct it up the stairs, and as we had it balanced on the rail, Slim ordered Fred to take the position at the upper end of the couch. Fred did as he was told, squeezing his small portly frame between the couch and the wall. Then, as Fred heaved up his end, Slim and I pushed up from the bottom and gave the couch a solid shove upward.
The shove overwhelmed Fred and knocked him down on his backside, and as Fred struggled underneath the couch I could hear him utter the first audible tones from his voice that I had not known he had up until now. Slim yelled up the stairs asking Fred if he was alright as we lowered the couch somewhat to relieve Fred’s torso. Fred resumed his upright position, fell a few more times as Slim and I continued to push upward, and after a bit of a struggle we arrived to the top landing with the couch.
At this point I was wondering to myself what I was doing here and how we were going to get this ten foot couch anywhere useful. All there was at the top was a narrow three foot balcony leading to apartment doors in either direction. Slim quickly satisfied my curiosity. He was already shoving the couch around like a rag doll, aiming it down the balcony to our right as Fred and I looked on. Slim took his post on one end as the puller as Fred and I began pushing it down the tight passageway.
I was thinking that Slim had lost his mind. Yes, this couch would go down the balcony just fine, but how were we going to turn it ninety degrees into a doorway once we got it there. I was envisioning a giant crane hoist picking up the couch when we arrived at our destination, but it never materialized. By some miracle Fred and I managed to lift up our end of the couch, hang half of the couch off of the balcony, and shove it into the door as Slim pulled it in from inside the apartment doorway. Victory at last!
Having wondered if my uncle had missed the entire event, I moseyed down the stairs as Fred and Slim completed the final positioning of the couch inside the premises. I knocked on my uncle’s door a couple of times to discover that he was not even at home, so I walked back up the stairs to make sure my moving buddies were ok. They were.
I told Fred and Slim that my uncle was not at home, but that somehow I knew that God had sent me their way today for a reason. Slim quickly agreed, saying that God works in mysterious ways. They both thanked me profusely, shook my hand, and I was on my way.
Like most people I probably miss divine appointments like this all the time, too busy with my life to stop for ten minutes to help someone in need. Today, I’m glad I stopped.
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 NIV
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, April 25, 2010.