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In the tradition of An Invisible Thread and Same Kind of Different as Me, Angel in Aisle 3 is the “heartwrenching yet hopeful” (Publishers Weekly) true story of an unlikely friendship that began with a chance meeting in a grocery store between a bank executive bound for prison and an elderly stranger.
When Kevin West resigned from his job as vice president of a bank after making fraudulent loans, he spent the time before his trial managing a family-owned, small grocery store in Ironton, Ohio. Dealing with serious marriage problems and with a prison sentence almost certainly in his future, Kevin was overcome with remorse and without a scrap of hope. It was at his lowest moment that Kevin called out to a power beyond himself for help, and God answered his prayer in the form of an elderly vagrant named Don. What began as a chance meeting between two individuals whose lives seemed headed for certain ruin turns into an unlikely friendship that saved them both.
It was this friendship that helped Kevin thrive in prison, restore his failed marriage, and gave Don a chance at a new life that went beyond anyone’s imagination. Moving and awe-inspiring, this story of a pure friendship sheds light on the redemption and hope that can grow out of relationships based in faith.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
John Frederick Edwards’s writing awards include the Richard M. Devine Memorial Fellowship and two Maier Awards. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Bowling Green State University) and an MA in English (Marshall University). Edwards, a native West Virginian, and his wife spend their time between Kentucky and Texas with their pets.
Read an Excerpt
Angel In Aisle 3
HE SAID HIS NAME WAS Don and that he needed some groceries. And he called me “son.”
“Son,” he said, “can I get a little credit until the first of the month? Maybe twenty dollars for some lunchmeat and milk?” He was an elderly man—seventy or so. His stained khakis were too short and were secured by a frayed leather belt. He wore brown shoes held together with knotted laces. The left sleeve of his soiled shirt was torn, and a button was missing from the front. He had a long, matted beard and greasy gray hair. And he reeked with body odor.
“Sure,” I said. “Twenty dollars is fine.”
How could I know that this untidy man before me would change my life forever? When I described him to some friends in my Bible study group, they didn’t believe me. Rather than come out and blatantly accuse me of conjuring him up, they simply implied that I was exaggerating. Surely, in their minds, my mounting stress had created this mysterious stranger. “Maybe he’s an angel,” one friend said. Wherever Don came from, I knew he was real and not a figment of my imagination. And what he taught me in the coming weeks and months preserved my family and completely transformed my life.
At first glance most people would likely have written him off as a homeless panhandler. They wouldn’t have looked past his ragged beard and unkempt gray hair as he limped slowly toward them on his bad leg. But from the first day I talked with him, I knew there was much more to this man than what met the eye. What I didn’t realize at the time was that God was drawing me into an extraordinary friendship. This unusual stranger came into my life during my darkest period. I was facing imprisonment, my marriage was at the breaking point, and my faith was in shambles.
Late one night in January 1997, only two months before I met Don, I was working at my computer in our home in Ashland, Kentucky, when I was surprised by my wife, Leesa, standing in the doorway. With one arm around our older daughter, Lauren, and holding Lindsey on her hip, she stood silently studying me.
“What is it?” I asked. My words came out too sharply and startled her.
“We just came down to give you a good-night kiss.”
I waited for her to bring the girls closer but she didn’t move. My harsh tone had changed her mood.
“Kev,” she said, “we don’t even know who you are anymore.” She then turned and left the room with our daughters.
Her words cut right through me. I stood and started to follow her but stopped myself. What could I say? I knew she was right. She didn’t know who I was because I didn’t even know.
I was in deep trouble, the kind of trouble she could never imagine. I had drifted far from my faith. My pursuit of success had driven me to illegal practices at the bank where I was vice president. I had been administering loans to unqualified partners in a land development business, and I was now facing the possibility of getting caught. I didn’t know what I was going to do. All the loans I had misappropriated were up for renewal, and I knew I could no longer continue in this mire that I had created.
I sat back down at my computer and tried to work but couldn’t. The truth of my wife’s words forced me to examine myself. I couldn’t believe I had fallen this far. The hunger for success, the drive of ambition had lured me down a dark path. Gradually I had become more detached from my family.
I began pacing back and forth from my office to the living room, agonizing over my predicament. I was cornered, with absolutely no chance of escape. I felt as if I were suffocating. I had no friend or family member who could help me. This whole ordeal was a dark secret that I couldn’t share with anyone. The few who did know about it were involved in it too.
It’s odd what comes to mind when you’ve gone completely adrift. I remembered the time my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Bell, told me that the low grade on my exam wasn’t like me, that I was much better than that. Her personal attention and persistent conversations with my mother pushed me to excel. I also thought back to my elementary school coach, Frank, who had faith in me despite my clumsiness on the basketball court. I had a hard time managing a basketball, although I was at ease with a football. Coach Frank spent hours training me throughout football season so he could add me to his basketball team in the spring. He told me every day that handling a basketball with skill was no harder than handling a football. He saw potential in me that didn’t blossom until two years later when I joined his sixth-grade basketball team. Coach Frank’s encouragement ultimately gave me the confidence to succeed later on with high-school sports in ways I had never dreamed.
I also remembered my father’s insightful words during my youthful struggles: “When you find yourself in disappointment, it doesn’t define you. What matters is how you respond to it.” I was far too immature at that time to comprehend the wisdom of his words, but now they came back to me with powerful meaning. How would I respond to my current situation? Would I let it define me, or could I rise above it? I honestly didn’t know. I had no clue how to respond.
As I walked back and forth through the living room, I realized for the first time that God, through His grace, had surrounded me with amazing mentors. That night, as I thought about disappointing them, I knew it was not my doing that had drawn those people to me. It was simply God’s unearned favor. Every good thing in my life had freely come by the Lord’s hand. My pride had blinded me to this truth and had sent me down a dead-end street.
At one point during that long evening I stood at our bay window to watch the onset of a rainstorm. Harsh winds bent thin saplings almost to the ground and snapped rotten limbs off some of the older trees. It was as if God were washing everything clean as an example for me. I looked out for a long time, staring at the rain as it beat against the window, thinking how foreign my actions would seem to my parents and how difficult they would be to understand.
I couldn’t bear the thought of telling my father and mother about my wrongdoing. My parents had raised me to love the Lord. They didn’t just talk about following Christ; they demonstrated it in all they said and did. I remembered how my mother always found out about families in need and bought extra groceries for them. Early on Saturday mornings while my friends watched cartoons in their pajamas, my father and I would get in our 1975 Chevy Impala and drive through the neighborhoods in Ashland to a home designated by my mother. When we arrived at our destination, I would hop out of the car and secretly leave a bag of food on the doorstep. Taking care of others was always on my parents’ hearts. I knew my reckless actions would be an absolute shock to them and would bring them great sadness.
Worst of all, however, was having to tell Leesa. She exemplified all that was tender and right in a wife. She was the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 whose children rise up and call her blessed and whose husband safely trusts in her. I deeply loved her and my children and knew they deserved much better than what I had become.
That night as I stood at the window, I remembered my mother saying to me, “When your back is up against the wall, don’t run from God but run to Him.”
At one thirty in the morning, having paced and cried for three hours, I called out to God. “Lord, please take this mess from me,” I prayed. “I’m giving it to You.”
I can’t describe exactly what happened at that moment, except to say I was suddenly released from my burden. I knew I had to face the consequences of my wrong, but now I felt safely held in the palm of my Father’s hand. The weight had lifted.
What wasn’t revealed to me just then was the extraordinary provision the Lord would send me in less than two months.
I sat back down at my computer and typed out my resignation from the bank.
The next day, after resigning from my position at the bank, I came home and told Leesa everything. As I held her in my arms, I explained that I had illegally benefited from loans I had made for my partners in our land development business. At first she didn’t believe me—it was beyond her comprehension. When she finally broke into tears, I knew the immensity of her pain was because of her love for me.
“Can you go to prison for this?” she asked.
“Yes, Lee.” I knew of this possibility, but admitting it to her almost made me sick. The severity of my misdeeds became all the more clear.
“What will happen then?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. And I didn’t. I had taken every bit of financial security I had created for my family and thrown it to the wind. My good salary and all my benefits were gone. I would likely be in prison soon and completely unable to provide for my family. I didn’t know how long I would be incarcerated or how Leesa and the girls would survive. Losing our home seemed certain.
“How will you ever make it in prison?” Leesa asked.
“I don’t know yet what’s going to happen,” I said, trying to give her some kind of answer.
“What about us while you’re gone?” she said, crying. “What then?”
I knew that offering any other answer was futile. “I don’t know, Lee,” I repeated. “I know the Lord is with us now, but other than that, I just don’t know.”
As a teen, Leesa had faced catastrophes, and she knew from experience how circumstances can alter your life. She had watched the illness of her stepfather deplete the family funds over a period of years. Not only did she have to face the loss of her stepfather when he died, but she also had to live through the financial strain that quickly followed. She and her mother had to uproot themselves and move to a less prosperous area just to survive. Anything that I tried to say to minimize our situation would come off as a Pollyanna answer; we both knew my wrongdoing could very well destroy us.
“We’ve got to do something,” she said. “We have to do something!”
I’ll never forget how tiny she felt crying in my arms. I didn’t want to ever let her go; I just wanted to protect her from the mess I’d made. I was willing to do anything to remove the pain I had brought her, but there was nothing I could do. We both cried till we were spent. After a few minutes in silence, we agreed that I had to walk in truth and then face the consequences with no attempt to conceal anything.
I knew I also had to tell my parents. They already suspected some kind of trouble in my life, because I had become more distant from them over the last year. The deeper I’d sunk into illegal practices at the bank, the less comfortable I felt around them. At first I found some solace in going to their house and just sitting in the den with them, reclining in the same chair I’d lounged in while in high school. There, in that familiar safety, I could listen to my parents’ warm and easy conversation and take a brief break from reality. Being with them allowed me to temporarily regain a modicum of solidarity and rightness. But when my parents began suspecting trouble in my life and asking more pointed questions about Leesa, the children, and my job, I visited them less and less. When I did visit them, I often drove away in tears.
Now I knew I had to tell them the truth. I arranged a meeting with my mother and father and my sister, Karen, and her husband, Robin. We all met in my parents’ den, where we had always had our important discussions.
After everyone was seated, I turned off the TV and said, “I want you all to know what’s been going on with me.”
Everyone was quiet. My parents’ grave expressions were solid evidence that they already knew I was in some kind of trouble and were now anticipating an explanation.
My family allowed me to tell my entire story without interruption. I told them everything, refusing to gloss over my mistakes or hide the fact that I was facing very real consequences for my wrongdoing.
“When you began coming around here less and less, I felt that something was wrong,” my father said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just felt you were being pulled into the corporate world and further away from us.”
“I guess I was pursuing the wrong thing,” I said.
My mom agreed. “We felt something was going on with you, but didn’t want to pry. We knew you would eventually tell us what was happening when you were ready.”
“Anytime you get away from the family,” Dad said, “you’re susceptible to what the world has to offer.”
I especially felt bad for Karen. She couldn’t escape publicity over my mistake any more than Leesa. She was teaching in the very middle school that she and I had both attended. Some of her colleagues were our past teachers. A few employees had been our classmates.
She cried through the whole discussion, but not because of concern for herself or her own reputation. And it wasn’t for me—she knew I was going to make it and said as much. Her real concern was for Leesa.
“Leesa is having a rough time,” I admitted. “She really needs your support right now.”
“What about your girls?” she asked. “How are they doing?”
At this time Lindsey was only two months shy of turning two years old. Lauren, on the other hand, was six and inquisitive about everything. “Lindsey, of course, is too young to really know what’s going on,” I said. “Lauren is more aware, but we’re struggling to explain everything to her.”
Dad and Mom told me how much they loved me and said they’d help in any way they could. They offered no criticism, but neither did they encourage me to blame anyone else for my bad decisions.
“You’ve done wrong,” my father said, “but what’s important now is what you do from here.”
My mother acknowledged that I needed to be practical at this point and secure a lawyer. She was concerned about me maintaining my health throughout the consequences that were obviously in my immediate future. “No matter how hard it gets,” she said, “you must only speak the truth and not cover for anyone, even yourself.”
I knew they were disappointed by what I had done. At the same time, I sensed that they separated their disdain for my mistakes from their deep unconditional love for their son. I was reminded that I had enjoyed this kind of acceptance and love from them my entire life.
IN EARLY MARCH 1997, I began managing a small corner grocery store I had purchased two years prior as an investment. The store sat just across the Kentucky border in the small town of Ironton, Ohio—about ten minutes from our home. I had named it L & L Grocery after the initials of Lauren and Lindsey. I figured this small business would provide a way for me to pay our bills as I waited for the inevitable civil suit and indictment.
The store was small, with only four aisles and a deli, but the responsibilities that came with it overwhelmed me. I didn’t know anything about ordering stock or pricing items or even operating the cash register. I was struck by how my indiscretion had so quickly moved me from a position as vice president of a bank to a storekeeper cutting meat for sandwiches. But I also understood that I wasn’t the same person anymore. Chasing after success was no longer my priority. I now hungered to know God better and to reignite my childhood faith. Instead of thinking about what people could give me, I wanted to know how I could help them. I no longer wanted to seek only my own good—I wanted selflessness to characterize my life.
Giving freely to others was a new lifestyle for me, so I didn’t know how to practice good judgment. I began giving credit to anyone who came into my store and asked. After they filled out a simple application, they could walk out with a bag of groceries. It wasn’t long before word spread, and my number of patrons increased. Most people paid me back, but a few left with free food, never to be seen again.
People of every age and economic stratum passed through the store. Local businesspeople dropped in to grab a drink or snack. Young unwed mothers came for free milk for their babies. Elderly people from a nearby government-funded high-rise sometimes needed a few staples until they received their Social Security checks. The neighborhood children frequently came in for candy, and a number of people wandered in with obvious addiction problems.
This seemingly insignificant business gave me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of people. Over time I befriended a number of customers who came in regularly, sometimes lingering at my counter just to share their problems. Between customers, I read the Bible and listened to sermons on the TV across the room. I also rewrote several books from the New Testament, paraphrasing each passage in a notebook so I could understand its meaning.
IT WAS ON A BRIGHT morning in the middle of March that I first met Don. His old red Buick rumbled up onto the sidewalk beside the store to where I could just see the back end through the corner of the window. I’d heard the long, torturous creak of bad hinges and then the slam of the door. Minutes passed, but no one appeared, so I returned to reading my Bible at the counter.
When I heard the bell jingle at the entrance, I looked up to see an unkempt elderly man slowly limping into the store. Before he made it through the entryway, the door closed on him and he forced it back, ringing the bell again—even more loudly.
“Sorry for the noise,” he said. He reached up and touched the bell clapper with his finger until the ringing stopped. Then he moved slowly to the counter, his body odor coming with him. He smiled at me and asked me how I was doing and if he could get a little credit—just till the first of the month.
He said he needed some lunchmeat, so I stood up to walk back toward the meat case, but hesitated so as to let him move at his slow pace. I didn’t want to hurry him, so I waited for him to pass by my counter. He rocked in a painful sway as he favored his bad leg. His dirty gray hair was combed back off his face, almost touching his shoulders. I followed a few feet behind him but could still smell the sour stench of his clothes.
After getting his items, I returned to the front counter and waited. The man didn’t look healthy. When he coughed and cleared his throat repeatedly, I noticed he had no teeth. He wore tinted, thick-framed glasses that looked twenty years behind the times.
When he saw my Bible, he asked, “Are you getting anything good out of that book?”
“It’s all good,” I said.
“Jesus,” he said, “is revealed from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation.”
I wondered how he had concluded this, so I just nodded.
“May I show you?” he asked.
Shifting the Bible to where we both could see, he turned the pages back through the Old Testament. His hands were dirty and his nails were yellow and untrimmed. He stopped in the third chapter of Genesis and ran his finger down the page, resting it on the phrase “tree of life.”
“This is Jesus,” he said.
I examined the verse and looked up to see him smiling at my surprise.
“Why do you think the Lord placed the flaming sword at the east of the garden?” he asked.
“To keep Adam out of the garden after he sinned,” I answered.
“You probably ought to read that again,” he said.
I read the passage again and said, “Yes, it was to keep Adam out of the garden.”
“You probably ought to read that again.”
I read it more slowly. Still convinced of my interpretation, I said, “It says the Lord used the flaming sword to keep Adam out of the garden.”
Again he smiled and encouraged me to read the verse one more time.
This time I read the scripture out loud. It dawned on me for the first time that the phrase “to keep the way of the tree of life” might not mean what I had always thought.
He repeated the phrase “to keep the way” and smiled. “Most people believe that God placed the flaming sword at the Garden of Eden to keep man away, but that isn’t true. It wasn’t to keep people out but to show them the way in.”
“What do you mean?”
“The flaming sword is the Word of God, the Good Book, the Living Book you are reading,” he said. As he spoke the truths of this passage, tears welled up in his eyes and ran down his cheeks. “The flaming sword was pointing the way to the tree of life.” He hesitated in an attempt to arrest his crying, and then repeated, “It points the way to the tree of life.”
I didn’t know what to think of this stranger. I was moved by his passion for God’s Word. He seemed curiously free from all of life’s material trappings; unconcerned about keeping his emotions in check, he unashamedly cried about the Lord’s truths. He appeared to have nothing but a burning attraction to all that reflected Jesus. I found myself also moved to tears.
He then flipped to the twelfth chapter of Exodus where Moses tells the elders of Israel to dip the hyssop in the blood of the Passover lamb and strike the lintel and two side posts. “The blood of the lamb is the shadow of Jesus, Who is next to come,” he said. “The doorpost is us.”
Next he found the twenty-first chapter of Numbers where Moses made a brass serpent and raised it on a pole.
“The serpent represents Christ on the cross,” he said. “Whenever the Israelites gazed upon it, they were healed.” When he talked about Jesus’ suffering and humiliation, he broke down and cried again.
As he turned from book to book in the Bible—all the way to Revelation—showing me passages portraying Christ, I was amazed. I had read these same scriptures many times but had never seen what he was now pointing out. This fresh insight ignited a desire in me to reexamine everything I had ever read. I wondered what else I might have misunderstood. I wanted to digest every chapter, every verse, and every word to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
He wiped his eyes and said he appreciated me giving him groceries. I watched him brace himself with one hand on the counter as he slowly filled out the credit application. Each time he coughed he raised the pen until his body stopped shaking and then continued writing in his loose, uncontrolled scrawl.
He thanked me again and said, “I’ll see you later, son.” Then he turned and left. I heard the loud metallic groan and slam of his car door and the repeated gunning of a dying engine. Finally his Buick backed off the sidewalk and clamored down the road.
His application mentioned only the route number of his residence. No specific address was given.
I didn’t know at the time that I was going to become friends with this broken man and that we were going to spend almost every day together for the next two years. God had brought this unusual man to be my mentor. Our friendship and growth in Christ was going to initiate something that only God could have ordained, something that was going to transform not only my life but his as well.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love it when you read such a great book you simply can't wait to share it with others! That is just what I found in Kevin West's book, Angel in Aisle 3, based on his true life encounter with a mysterious vagrant named Don and their unlikely friendship that saved both of their lives. This book almost reads like the War Room, but isn't based around the premise of prayer as it is about trusting God with the things in your life, you can't always change and really have no control over. When Kevin realized that in order to get ahead in his life, he would have to compromise on the very job he was hired to do, one would think you would make the right choice and quit or simply to avoid making decisions that could cost you more than just your job. But that is not what Kevin did when some potential business investments allowed him to make some money on the side, he chose that path, only to realize later what it would cost him when he considered what he had done. Immediately he resigned from the bank he was working at but even worse was having to confess what he had done to his wife and how that might put him behind bars if the company decided to indict him. Thankfully he had invested in a small building that allowed him the ability to manage and run a small market to provide a meager income for his family while he waited out what his company would decide to do with him. During those longs days, he encountered a man who appeared to be homeless or at least living out of his car, when he would ask Kevin to loan him enough credit to make it through til he got paid so he could get some groceries to last a few days. But what Don offered him in return was worth more than Kevin could ever repay back as he gained trust in a man that most felt was an angel sent by God into Kevin's life just when he needed it the most. Don taught Kevin how to learn to trust God in the very situation he found himself in and in doing so, God would work it all out for the good of Kevin and his family. At first it became a stretch but the longer they encountered one another the more Kevin became a better man despite the wrong choices he had made earlier in his career. Kevin was about to see how God can orchestrate a positive change when he was willing to surrender it all to Him. I received Angel in Aisle 3 by Kevin West compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Publishers for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation, aside for a free copy of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This is such an incredible inspirational story of hope, redemption and revival in these two mens lives and how they are forever changed in incredible ways. I saw so much truth to what Don had to share with Kevin even in all my time in studying the Bible I had never considered some of the things he shared before, but now it has created a new hunger in me for learning more about Jesus in every book in the Bible. It all points to Him. For me this one rated a 4 out of 5 stars in my opinion
When a bedraggled old man stumbles into Kevin West’s family grocery store and provides him with insights about his life that seem to come straight from heaven, West’s life is forever changed. Kevin West is a banker guilty of fraud. He has been caught, has confessed, and is awaiting trial. Because he was forced to resign from the bank, he runs a small grocery to keep his family afloat and keep himself busy and sane. Waiting two years for the court’s judgment is not an easy task for him or for his family. Kevin’s wife, innocent of all knowledge and wrongdoing, has been dragged into the drama. Whether she is working as a teacher’s aide at school or doing shopping, people stare, gossip, and make rude comments. And then there is the task of shielding their two young daughters from the stress. What I loved most about this memoir is the amazing spiritual insight from the old man. Who is he and where does he come from? How does he know so much about Bible interpretation? It is mysterious, fascinating, and inspiring. For me, I wished for more detail in the story. At the end, West wrote that if he’d told everything about the extraordinary old man, it would have “filled too many pages.” Even so, he could have told more. The layout of the book has a lot of white space. Much more could have been written. My criticism is that the word Scripture is printed both capitalized and in lower case, at random, throughout the book. Even on the same page, it is inconsistent. I looked for some kind of pattern for this craziness, but could not find one. Thus, every time I read the word, it bumped me out of the story. With two authors and two editors, I don’t understand why no one caught this blaring inconsistency. As annoyed as I am, I won’t penalize this amazing story by subtracting a star. I highly recommend this book! Although I received a complimentary copy from the publisher for an honest review, I purchased another copy to give as a Christmas gift.
Angel in Aisle 3 is a beautiful true story of unlikely friendship. I found the story to be quite inspiring and full of faith. I thought the book to be great and thought-provoking. Highly recommend! Five stars. I received this book from Howard Books in exchange for my honest opinion, which was given.
This book shows how God works in our lives in ways that we least expect it and can direct us to where we need to be if we are open and willing to listen to his messengers. In this book, Kevin West, is a disgraced banker who knows he was wrong and is willing to take his punishment. He has a loving family (wife Leesa, daughters Lindsey and Lauren as well as wonderful parents, sister and cousins) who support him unconditionally. When Kevin leaves the bank he buys a small corner store to help his family survive and not lose the life they are accustomed to. One day, a man walks into his store. He is dirty, smelly, hairy, walks with a limp and has few teeth. Kevin does not judge him but asks him how he can help him. When Don sees Kevin's bible on the counter he comments about what a great book it is and how it talks about Jesus from Genesis to Revelations. Kevin asks what he means and so begins a friendship that changes both their lives. Kevin eventually ends up in prison and runs several bible studies. He becomes a leader and when he is released 4 months early, the men are happy for him, but unhappy for themselves. This was an unexpected story that I really enjoyed and it reaffirmed by faith and belief in God. I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.