Spending an evening at a shelter for homeless women was not my idea, but when a friend asked, I was perfectly willing to tag along.

Although the winter was still young, the cold was harsh. I nearly ran from the comfort of our car to the warmth of the church annex that had, for years, opened its doors as a refuge from the night.

The director, Christy, efficiently assigned tasks—to set the floor with foam mats and blankets as one would set a table, to layout on a buffet table plastic forks, paper plates, and the donated leftovers that filled the refrigerator. When the women arrived, we would help serve the food.

Christy assured me that most of the women, the "regulars," had spent the day inside at one of several centers, but there were always the few who just appeared—seeming to have no history more concrete than their names.

My three hours at the shelter were not filled with dramatic scenes. From a corner of the large sleeping area, I helped serve dinner to 30 women who ate their substantial but bland meal, sitting cross-legged on their sleeping mats. Except for two boisterously irrational women, they talked little. By nine o'clock, many were bedding down for the night.

"Homeless." As I did the dishes, still within sight of the women, the word took on a personal meaning. These women slept here, but every morning when they left, they had to carry their possessions with them.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my nightgowns, for my very own pillow, for my hand-picked dining room chairs. "Lord," I silently prayed as I walked to Christy's office to say good night, "thank you. Thank you—that I'm not one of them."

Christy met me in the hallway and interrupted my pharisaical thoughts with her own gratitude for my help. I asked ...

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