‘There But for the Grace of God Go I’

I drove past beaten up houses, windows boarded over, roofs caving in, wide open fields where there used to be homes. It was the kind of despair you hear about Detroit, but which I had never wanted to admit. No, I’d protest fiercely, my city is reborn, my city has life, my city is the underdog coming back to win.

Yesterday, I was on my way to Heartline, a halfway house owned by Your People client Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, where women leaving prison go to ease the transition back into real life.

The 1920s brick building offers gathering spaces and private spaces, family-style meals and intense, caring conversations with Heartline director Mary Ellen White. Under Art Deco light fixtures and behind heavy wood doors, I learned the stories of women who took the wrong path and paid dearly for it.

Lovely women, all, with big hearts. If we look at every individual as godly, as having a piece of the divine inside them, then we cannot judge another being. Can I say I wouldn’t steal to feed my children if it were the only option? That was Miss Mary Ellen’s argument, and a good one.

It’s by the luck of my parents, of the home I was born into, the directions I took, the mere fact that stupid college behaviors somehow let me keep on living while others got in trouble for the very same decisions. It’s a miracle any of us come out standing tall, no record, comfortably building our lives.

This morning, my little boy sits on my lap before the big computer screen. The other three children are slowly shuffling from asleep to barely-awake and into school clothes for another day of education and privilege. Tonight, soccer competes with dance which competes with the 5th grade exhibition.

We have so much support – three parents, four grandparents, all present for my children. Somehow it all works and then some.

How lucky am I that my work calls me to hear the stories of these women, to see the wonderful heartfelt work of Miss Mary Ellen, to share with the world these important stories that remind us that we are all the same, all walking a perilous path, that we all must share in life with one another, for if I hold you up, I will be held up.

There but for the grace of God go I… isn’t that always the truth?

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