It was one of the coldest days in close to a decade. The temperature at mid afternoon had hardly crested the teens.
Worse yet, just about every public location in town was closed for the New Year’s holiday—a miserable set of circumstances for people who have no home.
About 25 displaced people huddled in a church fellowship hall, gleaning the heat of a functioning HVAC system. Some claimed a few square feet of floor space for a mid morning cat nap. Others glued themselves to the television for the latest reports on how much longer the winter blast would last. Card games ensued and table conversations transpired, but when lunchtime rolled around everyone hoped for a warmth in their bellies to match their now heated exterior.
As we sometimes do on days that require a little extra emergency shelter, I made a plea to a local Pizza shop for some lunchtime goodness.
“I’m with a local ministry that works with the homeless,” I started out. “We have about two dozen folks hunkered down in one of our churches today and I wondered if you could work a deal with us on a few pizzas.”
“You are with Micah?” the lady asked. “You have no idea how much you helped me once before.”
To be forthcoming, I had no idea who I was talking to on the phone, but we made an arrangement, and thirty minutes later I showed up to collect the pies.
The woman who greeted me at the door was vaguely familiar. As I pulled away, I ran her name through my head again and again.
“How did I know her,” I pondered. She was not someone that we had housed. I did not recall any significant interventions on our part. I knew that she was someone whose journey we had been a part of, but could not place the story.
I was so stuck on the story that when I got back to the office, I proceeded to compare notes with my team.
“I know who that is,” one of them said, and then they reminded me of many twisted waters we had forged with the young woman.
For many years, she had been in and out of our lives, using the winter shelter, eating at community dinners, grabbing a bag lunch, showering in our building and picking up a tent and sleeping bag from time to time. The last time we saw her, we had problem-solved an abusive relationship. After connecting her to the right people and making sure she was safe more than a year ago, we hadn’t heard another word.
Now, here she was practically managing a local pizza joint, using her own power and influence to care for those who remained in a spot she once experienced herself.
As I had picked up the pizzas, the young woman had taken pride in telling me about her climb to leadership, her stable housing, the rekindling of relationship with her family and how another Micah guest that she had helped to get a job would be starting that afternoon.
Sheltering, in her case, had clearly been much more than a roof over her head and a safe place to be. It was the people of the Fredericksburg churches who surrounded her in the struggle with love, support and a few things she needed, even when she didn’t know what was next.
So transformative were those sheltering arms on her journey, that she knew to do the same for others when she reached a point in her own stability that she could do the same for someone else.