But By The Grace of God, Go I by Patty LaRoche

They’re not cases. They’re people. I wish everyone would remember that.”

Misty shared that with me shortly after I arrived to work alongside her in the kitchen of a homeless shelter here in Florida. She has been employed there for five years after interning while earning her pastry chef degree. I saw a lot of Jesus in her.

Tonight’s 200+ “guests” all were treated with dignity by this amazing young woman. Anyone wanting seconds was given seconds. Thirds? As long as the food lasted. One elderly man wanted milk instead of iced tea, so Misty ran to the cooler to find a carton. She said that the “personal touch” means the world to these people which is why she calls most of them by name.

One woman caught my attention when I showed up mid-afternoon. A box of donated tennis shoes had been placed on the veranda, and this elderly lady had taken a few pair. She spent the next two hours at a picnic table, redoing the laces, setting them aside and then starting over. Then she walked to the trash can, leaned over it and brushed her teeth. According to Misty, she is a regular.

Alongside me in the kitchen were three men who live at the shelter. Bob is a grandpa, LaShawn is trying to break a cocaine habit, and Kenta appeared to have a chip on his shoulder. Misty said his negativity is “part of his journey” and that she, too, had been bitter before she turned her life around.

Between prep duties, I heard her story. As a youngster, she lived for five years in a car with her mother. Because of that, she knows first-hand these homeless people are not just “cases.” Born with a cleft palate that was fixed shortly after her birth, Misty’s permanent teeth were so jagged that the Shriners offered to pay for her mouth to be fixed. The process had started but then her drug-addicted mother “dropped the ball,” so it never was done. By the time her dad intervened and got custody, Misty was twelve.

In high school she joined ROTC and found a place where she excelled. Once she graduated, she tried to join the Army and then the Navy, but both needed proof she could function with her repaired cleft palate and crooked teeth. I told her that made no sense. You don’t shoot a gun or fly a helicopter with your mouth. Misty laughed but said that in the year it took her to prove her “disability” was not a psychological disadvantage, both military operations were cutting back and taking only the cream of the crop. She did not fall into that category.

LaShawn has been at the shelter only one month. We talked about his three sons and how he works two jobs to pay child support but has not seen them in a “long time.” After LaShawn’s “baby mama” turned to drugs, he followed, never realizing how hard it would be to quit. I said I had no idea what that battle must be like, that I admired him for fighting the fight and He had much to win, especially in his role of daddy. He agreed.

Several hours later, as LaShawn washed dishes and I swept, I told him I thought the corn from supper was growing out of the floor because it kept appearing in spots I already had swept. His hearty laugh made me realize we have the same sense of humor. At the end of our shift we hugged, and when I showed up to work there a few days later, his “Hi, Miss Patty” was yelled at me from across the courtyard. I had made a friend.

By the grace of God goeth I,” I said to Misty while removing my apron and protective cap. I hope I never forget her response. “I know. I keep reminding myself that I am one paycheck, one poor decision, one illness, one turn at bad luck away from ending up just like them.”

Aren’t we all?

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