Written by Lori Prentice
Nine years ago her nine-year-old son was murdered here in my small town.
Five years ago, I met her other son. I tried reaching out to him at my church, and no matter how I downplayed my usual style, there was just a sad, empty feeling.
Three years ago, I bumped into mom in a store and gave her my number. “Anytime he needs anything, call me,” I told her.
One year ago, she called.
I couldn’t miss this opportunity. I urgently stuffed my therapy pony (and a tarp) in the trunk of my minivan and drove Lacey, our sweetest mare, to visit them. My kids had the flu that day. I told them, “I’m sorry you’re sick. You are so important to me. Today, you’re going to need to tough it out. Today is not about you.”
That little boy absolutely gushed over our horse, and started riding our other therapy pony and engaging in meaningful conversations. His mom even let him spend Christmas Day with us. But she was still very distant. I would venture to say, numb. And they stopped coming over when I told her how we brought people who are homeless into our own home to live with us until they got on their feet. Her son Kristopher had been killed by someone who was homeless.
Sometimes months would go by where she wouldn’t return my calls.
Then, I read about a local park safety meeting. I tried her. “I thought you might want to come speak about what you think we should do.” To say going out to something like this was difficult for her is a gross understatement. But she agreed to go with me.
She sat beside me and whispered that she really wanted to speak, but she said she just couldn’t. I asked if she wanted me to try to talk for her, and she nodded. In the middle of trying to plead for more security for our park on her behalf, she got the courage to speak.
All eyes were on her. Everyone there was moved. And the evening took a different direction after being in the presence of someone who has experienced so much injustice and so much pain. I asked her if she wanted to grab a bite and to my surprise, she accepted.
On the way to dinner, I was so focused on not saying the wrong thing, she had to tell me in a nonchalant, flat manner, “You’re driving on the wrong side of the street.” She could have just as easily had said, “Your socks are white.” I yelled like I was the kid in Home Alone with aftershave shock and caught my breath. I tried to give a big smile, “You’re going to have to get more lively than that! If there was one time when you’d get excited, that would’ve been it!” A couple hundred feet later, we drove out of crisis.
At dinner I had my story with me, “The Best Dinner I Never Ate.” It’s a picture book I wrote that is due to publish in a few weeks. It’s about my family’s stumble into bringing people who are homeless (though not at all on drugs) into the spare room in our own home for the last three years. It shows how we help them climb out of crisis.
There is a scene where I tell a homeless person that one reason we bring people in is because we feel so sad that baby Jesus was born out in the cold. We have to love our neighbors as ourselves. The illustration for that text on that page was supposed to be Joseph and Mary, and baby Jesus in the manger. But there’s a hugely important part that I knew had to be added when I storyboarded the book. There had to be an angel hovering over Jesus.
I finally got up the nerve to ask her what I had been planning all along. I wanted this to be a source of healing and comfort, and I was nervous about stirring up the wrong emotions or offending her. Would she like for a picture of her son to be the illustrator’s subject for the angel?
“That would be nice,” and there was a soft smile. We went to eat, and I asked if we could pray before our meal. She responded, “Sure. But I haven’t prayed in so long I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Shortly after that, as usual, the topic went to and stayed on her current and past problems. It hurt just to listen. I took a chance and ventured to talk about something going on in my life. It was like she didn’t hear me and she went back to talking about downer things from the past. I listened, as I had so many times before, and after a while, I tried to steer the conversation to light-hearted things. She reverted back to seeing the negative.
I started telling a story about our vacation where we had so many flat tires. If I only remembered the flat tires, I would think we had a bad vacation, instead of a great one. Whenever I spoke about anything other than her issues it never seemed to register, and she just went back and played her broken record again.
This time, something came over me. I blurted out, tapping my index finger on the table, “I was talking!” Great Christian value, interrupting a woman who keeps talking about her serious troubles. I was instantly embarrassed and aware of my rudeness.
“Oh!” She backed up. She was jarred.
I finished my little story but it was immediately evident, something in our relationship had changed. No longer was I the person who listened because I felt this urge to help, the person who was too afraid to interrupt or take a minute for my own needs when hers were by far so much more important than mine. She finally listened to MY daily grind. I had become her real friend.
I read her “The Best Dinner I Never Ate,” and showed the progress of the illustrations. I wanted to make sure not one bit of the book made her uncomfortable. I cleared up any misunderstandings about the type of people that came to live with us. No one was dangerous, some people were elderly and had no place to go. Sometimes we would host a pregnant woman who had no shelter in hundred degree heat. Sometimes it would be a small family that had been staying in a tent. Or a person with a major disability who was in transition. The homeless guests had a private entrance into our home, but they didn’t have access to our living area. I had told her this all before, but she acted like she was hearing it for the first time.
At the end of the story, she said she had to try hard not to cry. Numb was on its way out. I can’t ever remember really laughing with her more than once or twice before that night. In fact, at one point, she even got up the gumption to ask me if I wouldn’t hug her anymore, since that made her uneasy. Everything that came out of my mouth was an exercise in self-control. Even when I tried little jokes, I would wonder, am I overstepping? Could this be taken wrong… until tonight. We laughed A LOT. I called my husband to tell him I would be awhile and to make sure the kids did all of their homework or teachers from Big Oak Elementary would be calling me.
I got to her apartment to drop her off, and the sign outside her complex says, “Big Oak Apartments.” She called her son, to reassure him since she virtually never went out, and told him she was in the car outside. He didn’t believe her so came out and we said hello. She stayed for another twenty minutes in the parking lot just to laugh and hang out some more, and even told some pretty good jokes about herself (though to be fair, I had more material for making jokes about myself, she outdid me with the actual ability-to-make-jokes talent.)
I told her something a friend would tell her – she should consider updating her hair (as though I’m qualified to say that; I should be first in line.) Her hair hadn’t been changed since who knows when.
“For a while, it was feathered, a loooong time after Farrah Fawcett made it cool,” she joked. After a little hesitation, she agreed. She wanted to “get with the times.”
A thought raced in my head. No. THAT would be pushing it. But I guess my style Christian is good at pushing it. I was going to my first ‘Women of Faith’ event – two days of Christian authors, music groups, comedians, speakers. It was in just a couple days, and I was going alone. I’ve never been to an “event” before, but I’d heard it was supposed to be very uplifting.
I asked her if she wanted to go with me, a six hour drive away, in Anaheim. She asked if the Rolling Stones would be playing. I gave her every opportunity to make a polite excuse and have a quick exit from the topic. I was blown out of the water when she said a few minutes later, that she would go with me. She has family in Anaheim.
Then it came. It wasn’t emotional like I was used to. It was very calm. She looked me in the eyes, “Thank you for calling me today. Thank you for sitting with me at the meeting. Thank you for taking me to dinner. And thank you for putting my son Kristopher in your book.”
We didn’t eat most of our dinner tonight. Too busy laughing and talking I guess. I went home and pumped up Jamie Grace’s song “Beautiful Day,” and danced to it four times in a row. I may have to yell, “STOP THE PRESSES!” I just might have to change the title to my book. Because this, this could be a tie-breaker. This night is in the running to be called, “The Best Dinner I Never Ate.”
The picture book “The Best Dinner I Never Ate” is about our family’s stumble into helping people who are homeless by bringing them into our own home. It is written by Lori Prentice, illustrated by Brock Nicol, and is a true story, that is still making breakthroughs. It is available in hardcover and ebook format and can be purchased online. The book shares how Scripture can be applied to today’s world, and shows that even the smallest child can be His hands and Feet.
The complete story of Kristopher Turner is not in the picture book. Children are going to be reading this inspirational story with their parents, and it is not the place for any details. It will be mentioned that Kristopher is in heaven, and his mother stopped coming by when she found people who were homeless lived here temporarily.
Victim’s Services no longer pays for counseling for Kristopher’s family, so a portion of the proceeds from the book will go to both Victim’s Services and towards Kristopher’s family. They didn’t ask for that, and they don’t know I plan on doing it. Kristopher’s mother feels getting his story out there can help others going through similar tragedies, and will honor Kris. Adults who would like to learn more about his family will be directed to a link approved by his mother.
You can follow other uplifting stories and also find out where to attend a reading, booktalk or book signing, when you like the page on Facebook.
Visit our website to order, or search any major bookseller after the release.
If your church is in a very hard place financially you cannot afford to purchase a copy for them, I will send them a copy for their church library for free. This is about sharing love.
I realize this post is not as easy to share as a cuddly cat in a box or an infographic one-liner about coffee. But when you do share, you are pulling for something important. Maybe the person at the other end of the post needs to hear that LOVE is greater than loss. That great beauty can come from great pain. That “…In me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33