Green Beans

This is the first in a weekly series entitled, Green Beans. "Part One" begins this true story of a homeless woman who unexpectedly came to our house for Christmas. It was a day to remember with lessons that I'm still trying to absorb. Watch for installments over the next couple of weeks or until the story ends ...

Green Beans
Part I: Mrs. Claus

Presents were under the tree. Fat knit stockings were stuffed with gifts and dangling from the log mantle like a long line of overweight squirrels about to fall off a branch. The smell of roasting turkey wafted into the family room and mixed with pine smoke from the fireplace. My husband and sons were laughing together. And, my In-Laws were due to arrive for Christmas dinner.

The unwrapping began. Stockings were purged, deflated and hung back on the mantle above a mound of rumpled gift wrap that looked like a lawn-pile of autumn leaves. Steve called to check on his parents' progress. That's when we learned about the change of plans. Ellen was coming. We didn't know Ellen. 20 minutes and a stranger was about to become our guest.

My husband spent his childhood in pews and fellowship halls while his parents did a pastor's work. On Wisconsin farmland, in St. Paul suburbs and Colorado mountain towns, Pastor Don has quietly led communities of Jesus faith. All the while, he has walked faithfully next to his wife as she battles with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years he has purchased canes, pushed her in wheelchairs, revved up her electric scooters, and sooped up his Handicap van to accommodate Judy's needs. He has something to teach us all about love and commitment. But, he's more prone to live it than preach it. Wherever he lands, Don is known for his serving heart. Desperate people tuck his phone number in their pockets. Which is why, the week before Christmas, he got a call from the police. Ellen had Don's phone number in her purse. It was the only number she had left to call.

In an unexpected-last-minute-guest-scramble, I ran into my bedroom and grabbed some random items as quick gifts. I hastily stuffed a pair of warm socks, a water bottle, and some chocolates into a used gift bag. Back in the living room, I quickly picked up the leaf mound of wrapping paper and stuffed it into a black plastic garbage bag.

The officers had called Don from a hotel room. They were ready to load several black plastic bags full of Ellen's possessions. The bags, and Ellen, were on their way out to the street. It wouldn't be the first time. Ellen is homeless. In her 60+ years, she has become adept at eating out of dumpsters, and knows where to go to stay warm. She is a round woman with the heavy labored steps of extra weight, stiff knees, and ill health. Her short grey hair has one long mullet braid, which runs down her back like an 80's rock star. She has a mouthful of missing teeth, and a disarming smile. Round, grey and smiling, our unexpected visitor looked and acted like Santa's wife. But her life has not been your typical Christmas story.

She pulled herself up the steps, shuffled through front door, thumped the snow off her shoes, and a whole new kind of holiday began.


"Green Beans Part II: The Healing in a Smile," Next Week.