Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Miracle on Belmont Boulevard

Story and Photos by Suzanne Lynch, Christ the King Catholic Church 

From November until March, Christ the King continues its long history of hosting guests through Room In The Inn. This season, the ministry is opening its doors to more overnight guests, increasing from last years 15 homeless men, women and children to 20. With the ample room and comfortable facilities the school offers, the increase in guests is easily accommodated. And with a strong force of volunteers they are all equally cared for as well. Director John Green fondly tells the guests to expect five-star service.
Room In The Inn is not designed to be another homeless shelter. Instead, it strives to create an environment of acceptance and to put faith into action. Room In The Inns website describes the program as a way for more people in every sector to understand the problems of the homeless by becoming directly involved with people who are homeless. The evenings provide an opportunity to receive a blessing from God in the midst of suffering, hardship and grief.
A blessing is what you will receive when you come to break bread with the guests. Parishioners will see a revelation of Christ when they participate, said Louis Roberts, a long-time volunteer who currently assists John. Guests sit and bond with parishionersthere isnt a separation. 
Returning guests are quick to tell you how much they enjoy being at Christ the King. You just open the door and welcome us in. You dont push or make us do things your way, said Gwyneth, a woman whose countenance is filled with love for Jesus and whose hard life she is quick to share. This week I was car-jacked but God told me I didnt need that car. God has always taken care of me.
That is just a glimpse of a blessing you will receivea recipient of Gwyneths joy for knowing Christ. You may also witness a miracle. At Room In The Inn, they happen all the time. For example, over Thanksgiving a gentleman suffering from Alzheimers got lost in the school and became disoriented. In the process of trying to find out who he was, it was discovered he had been reported missing by his son in Minnesota. Louis recalls how moving it was to call and tell the man his father was safe.
Many of the volunteers have been coming to help at Room In The Inn for years. Louis says its because the experience is so rewarding. The volunteers find fellowship not just with the guests, but with each other. While they go about their tasks preparing for the evening, there is opportunity for friendships to develop.
The evening dinner is started early in the day by Donald St. Charles, Kate Dumas and other volunteers. Donald has been cooking for the program for at least six years. By 5:30 p.m. volunteers have arrived to get the beds readyled by Father Ryan Junior, Gina Schmid. A volunteer since her first experience as a Christ the King 8th grader, she recalls the first time she came, how friendly everyone was and that her second time, how the guests remembered her. Those relationships keep her returning every week, even Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Gina instructs the teens and younger children to put cases on the pillows and make the beds. Parents are here too, and young adults looking for a place to become the hands and feet of Christ. Carly Moffa and Matt Brown are two such young parishioners who wanted to be more involved with their church. They have been coming every week this season and bringing their friends.
When I met Gwyneth and saw how happy she was to be here, to have one more mealshe was enjoying the moment regardless of her situation, I was inspired, said Matt, who has been in Nashville just a year. I really enjoy coming. It makes me feel more at home.
Carly was moved to go a step further in caring for the guests and asked if she could offer the ladies a girls night with manicures and facials. I wanted the ladies to feel pampered and to get what they needed. And I wanted to connect with them and talk to them about Jesus, she said. So on the evening of December 3, Carly brought all the necessities, having spent time visiting salons and asking for samples as well as collecting from friends. Miraculously, of course, the same evening Carly spoke with John about her idea, he received a call from another parishioner, Michelle Fisher, who is a stylist and wanted to offer the guests haircuts. Carly also brought her friend Simone Parke who is also a stylist. The guests were thrilled and there was lots of conversation, laughter and sharing during the process. Even the men werent shy about getting their hair cut, beards trimmed and even a manicure.

Many people are involved every week at Room In The Inn. From the drivers who pick up the guests downtown to those who do the laundry, there is a place for everyone and everyone is invited. Join Room In The Inn every Wednesday for dinner. Its a bargain and if you are quick, you might get a slice of Mrs. Carmen Kavass homemade pound cake. She brings two of them Wednesday afternoon, still warm from the ovenone for the evening meal and the other sliced and divided into baggies for the guests to take with them on Thursday.

Friday, December 19, 2014

First Coming

We use this reading, adapted from the poem "First Coming" by Madeline L'Engle to close our annual Blue Christmas worship service at Room In The Inn.

God did not wait until the world was ready, till…nations were at peace.

God came when the Heavens were unsteady and prisoners cried out for release.

God did not wait for the perfect time.

God came when the need was deep and great. God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine.

God did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy, God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt. To a world like ours, of anguished shame, God came and God’s light would not go out.

God came to a world which did not mesh; to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made flesh, the maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, or to share our grief, to touch our pain.

God came with love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beautiful Feet

by Jeff Moles

Stories from scripture remind us of the importance of our feet.  God, calling from the burning bush, instructed Moses to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy.  At the home of Lazarus, Mary washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.  On the last night of his life, in an act of humility, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, saying “so if I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

With this expression of spirituality as our starting place, people gather in a room that normally serves as an art studio each week at Room In The Inn, Nashville’s comprehensive center for people struggling with homelessness.  Staff and volunteers come together to create a sacred space, where physical needs can be met and spiritual ones too.  Our foot clinic is a place where people who call the streets their home encounter others who are not there to judge their lives or question their contribution to society.  In fact, the people who staff the foot clinic are most aware of the hard work that it takes to be homeless.  We see the scars on feet, and the weariness of spirits that come to us.  And so we serve, washing feet as Jesus asked us to do.  We are served in return by the humor and the hope that we see in people we discover to be very much like us.

In thinking about why we need a foot clinic, it would be easy to speak only of the many hours homeless people spend on their feet standing in lines, walking, and working.  But these are not the only things our feet were created to do.

One afternoon a few years ago, toward the end of a particularly cold winter, a member of our staff put on some music in our day center.  The rhythmic sounds of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye filled the room where people congregate during the day.  I looked up, expecting to see the tightly-packed crowd in all of its usual tension.  Instead, I saw some movement.  Two women in the room were twirling one another around to the beat of the music.  Pretty soon, chairs were being moved out of the way, and more people got onto their feet.  Even I, not the best or most confident dancer by a long shot, got into the act.  A dance party had broken out in our homeless shelter.  Sorrows were forgotten, anger was diffused, and worry was replaced with fun, if only for an afternoon.

We care for feet not only because they are important for work and survival, but because it humbles us all, reminding us of the command to love one another.  We clip nails and massage feet not only to relieve pain, but because too many people are deprived of human touch that is not sexual or violent.  We take the risk of removing our shoes and entering into another person’s life not only because we are crazy (and some might say we are!), but because we need these feet to become instruments of peace.  We need them for dancing, our statement to the world that even in the midst of hardship, there is reason for joy.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.  Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.   –Isaiah 52:7-9

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Join Nashville's Inn Crowd

by Mary Wilder
Room In The Inn Winter Shelter Director

Everyone wants to be cool. None of us really get past that feeling we had in school, that desire to fit in with just the right group. We all look for our place to belong.

As adults, though, our criteria for choosing a group may mature. We may look for people who pursue similar professional goals or who share interests with us. Recently, I searched for a book club to join. A quick internet search uncovered dozens of choices representing every genre of literature imaginable. There is a web site called Meet Up, which features clubs from Scrabble playing to hiking to poetry writing. We are all searching for ways to connect and find meaning.

Then there is the Inn Crowd.  For twenty-nine years Room In The Inn has been a community of people bound together to offer shelter and compassion to people experiencing homelessness. 188 congregations open their doors to welcome guests in the winter months. It is a ministry that creates a real mutuality, a chance to break down barriers that separate us. We take part in time together and focus on relationship in the simple act of offering a meal and a place to stay.  It is a movement that allows people to experience something sacred. On one level, Room In The Inn is about bringing people inside from the cold. But, in a profound way, it is about encountering God in the faces around the table.

The polar vortex last winter taught us a hard lesson at Room In The Inn. We learned how brutal and life-threatening the weather can be. In response, we are working diligently to expand The Inn Crowd. We are asking congregations already part of Room In The Inn to do one of two things: take an extra guest or two or schedule extra nights in the coldest months of January and February. We also need help identifying congregations who do not take part in Room In The Inn and invite them to join us. We are looking for contacts within those congregations.

Everyone should know what it is like to be in The Inn Crowd.

Contact Mary to let her know how you and your congregation plan to help.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Education: Shakespeare Allowed!

In an effort to promote literacy and the arts, Room In The Inn has partnered with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, the nonprofit responsible for bringing many local theater traditions including Shakespeare in the Park, to offer Shakespeare Allowed!, a twice-weekly class where people come together to read through the works of William Shakespeare round-robin style and to share their experiences and insights with the plays and their many adventures.

The first play the group read through was the Shakesperean comedy, "As You Like It." The play is full of many lighthearted moments, but somewhat surprisingly to the class instructor Nettie Kraft, the play gave the participants the chance to process through a lot of the struggles they have or are facing. The play focuses on a family torn apart by pettiness and people who are left to live in the forest when the people in the royal court reject them. According to Kraft, many of the students in her class felt a connection with some of these characters. 

"As You Like It" will be the play performed during this year's Shakespeare in the Park, held in August and September in Centennial Park. Room In The Inn students who participated in all or nearly all the Shakespeare Allowed! classes for this play will be given the opportunity to go watch the play for free one evening and stay in the Guest House--as most Nashville overnight shelters require check-in prior to when the play would end.

After a short break, Shakespeare Allowed! returned and is currently reading through the classic tragedy, Macbeth, at student request. Classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cathy Link reflects on her first year at Room In The Inn

by Cathy Link, RN
Recuperative Care Manager, Room In The Inn

It’s hard to believe a whole year has passed since I began my journey home.  Being a nurse in Nashville for over 30 years has led me down many roads, ending right here on Drexel Street.  Those other paths almost prepared me for the most challenging position I have had.

My entire career has been one of assisting and caring for the most vulnerable, the powerless, and the disenfranchised through the VA, public health, public schools, psychiatric intensive care, and community psychiatric crisis services.  But to face day to day the overwhelming and complicated medical, social, and emotional needs of truly “the least of these” has stretched me in ways I had no idea I could reach.  I have been honored to care for, advocate for, share in joys and sorrows, celebrate healing and life, feel the pain of death, and the fear of continuing the struggle of homelessness for hundreds of referred individuals.

Even my past work experience did not prepare me to daily face this very ill population who lack adequate funding and access to health care.  Just this year we have sheltered and cared for those who have had open heart surgery, brain surgery, lung surgery, surgery for cancer, surgeries for multiple orthopedic injuries, gynecological surgery, chemotherapy, severe COPD, post stroke, amputations, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure, dialysis patients, liver failure, severe rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure, major depression, schizophrenia, major phobias, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety disorders, burn patients, and HIV/AIDS patients. The lack of funding and limited access to care continues to shock me and break my heart.

To add to these burdens approximately 90 percent of those entrusted to our care have drug and alcohol addiction with the complicating social factors of disconnections from family and friends, incarcerations, and criminal records.

Anyone remotely involved in the world of healthcare knows how fragmented our system is.  To hobble together and care for not “these people” but “my people” is like working on a big puzzle; I’m trying every day to put the pieces together.

I am ably assisted by my recuperative care coordinator, Charlotte West.  She guides me and keeps me sane
Charlotte West
by keeping all the spread sheets and statistics of recuperative care, by the loving and caring staff throughout Room In The Inn, from the staff who prepare our food, to direct care, to day center staff who provide case management consultation and support, and to our own workforce team who assist with job placement.

Last of all, the care provided for our friends and neighbors has been a gift from our wonderful partners, which include United Neighborhood Health's Downtown Clinic, Metro General Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, HCA Hospitals: Centennial, Skyline, Southern Hills & Summit, St. Thomas West and Midtown, MTMHI, Nashville Cares, and Comprehensive Care Center.

It is my privilege to serve.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Volunteer Workday

During the summer, volunteers come in for a volunteer workday on the third Saturday of the month.  We spend the better part of the morning doing work around the grounds to help give Room In The Inn a facelift after a hectic winter season.

This past work day we had groups come from Kentucky and different parts of Tennessee.  They had projects to paint the storage cubbies, plant an herb garden, stripe the parking lot, and help clean the chairs in the dining room.  It was a wonderful day to serve with people who support the mission of RITI (and help us look good too)!

We are thankful for our volunteers!

For more information contact, volunteer@roomintheinn.org

 photo RITIVolunteer_5_zps43fda8f2.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_12_zpse4c08178.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_20_zps57c1ee33.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_16_zps62d209cd.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_9_zps45b1b5b3.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_51_zpsfd5f5083.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_65_zpsaec4d987.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_49_zps715800eb.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_46_zps47834554.jpg

 photo RITIVolunteer_68_zps98bbb32d.jpg

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love, Fear, and Toenails In Your Hair

This entry was written by volunteer Scott Dannemiller, who blogs at The Accidental Missionary.  He wrote this reflection a few years ago after participating in our foot clinic.  We are re-posting it on this Maundy Thursday, a day when we remember love expressed through the washing of feet.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13: 12-17
 “You ready to go to lunch?”  Gabby asked.
“Not yet.” I said.  “I just need to pick a homeless man’s toenails out of my hair.”
She nodded in agreement.  Like it was no big deal.
It was not a typical conversation.  But today was not a typical day. 
I beg forgiveness in advance for diving into a brief discussion of our year as missionaries in Guatemala. I know I’ve told the story a million times.  Like the million times your dad told you how he used to be so poor that his mom packed baked bean sandwiches in his school lunchbox.  OK.  So maybe that’s just my dad.  But the story bears repeating anyway. 
About ten years ago, after spending roughly a decade in the corporate world, Gabby and I went a little looney, sold the house, sold the cars, and spent year serving as missionaries in Guatemala. Unfortunately, we didn’t save million orphans or cure malaria, but we did live with an amazing indigenous family of Mayan descent and learned more about the world than we could have ever imagined.
Prior to quitting our mission year, Gabby and I hadn’t done a lot of service, so when you embark on such a life-altering adventure your first shot out of the gate, it can leave you feeling a bit like Norah Jones whose first album won eight Grammy awards. 
“That’s nice and all. But what have you done lately?”
The answer? Not much.
Instead of feeling content with what could arguably be called a selfish year of service (yes, you read that right), I am left wondering what else I could do.  How can I truly be selfless?  What opportunities exist that could be God-centered enough to help rekindle a deep spiritual connection, while at the same time be challenging enough to scare the Baby Ruth out of me like Guatemala did?
I got my answer a few weeks ago in an email from my friend Jeff.
“I have a great opportunity for you service-minded types.  Nashville’s third annual Project Homeless Connect is coming up. I am coordinating Room In The Inn’s foot clinic, and I need volunteers to help me.   Volunteering would entail offering basic foot care–washing feet, clipping nails, and giving a foot massage.  For anyone who is a little squeamish about feet, there are ways you can help as well.  It really is not as bad as you might think.”
I had to read the email twice.
Is this a God-centered opportunity?  Sure.  The Bible says that Jesus performed just such a spa treatment for his disciples, complete with exfoliating brush and tea-tree oil (Book of John, paraphrase).
Is this a challenging/scary opportunity?
It depends.
I’m not sure where you stand on feet (pun intended).  If you are a nurse, podiatrist, or hiding a foot fetish, this is right up your alley.  You probably wouldn’t think twice.  You could just go on auto-pilot for the day and handle hundreds of feet like a baker handles buns.
But me?
I have a long list of fears.  Ignoring my OCD compulsion with the number 7 and multiples thereof, allow me to showcase just a few of them here. They appear in descending order, from heart-stopper to rash-inducer.
1.       Eating food on or past the expiration date
2.       Not having lip balm
3.       Being trapped with a bad smell (except my own B.O., oddly enough)
4.       Going a full day without showering
5.       Hanging Christmas lights on the tallest gable of our house
6.       Clipping the kids’ toenails
7.       Forgetting to put on deodorant on a muggy day
7a.     Tapioca pudding
7b.     Being sweaty without a change of clothes nearby
7c.      Confronting my wife about something when she’s stressed
As you can see, five or six of these have to do with hygiene in some form.  And this service opportunity would have me facing several fears head-on.  Then I read something else Jeff sent us.
“Organizers are expecting between 1,500 and 2,000 people to receive important services that will help them on their journey toward obtaining housing.  The foot clinic can be an important part of this process.  Physical needs are met, but more importantly it is an experience of sanctuary for our guests, a place where they are cared for as individuals and experience a few moments of unconditional love and respect that can help sustain them in the difficult experience of homelessness”.
Here I am, worried about my crazy phobias while a human being. Flesh and blood. Has no home.  No roof.  No place to feel safe.
For me, it now becomes a simple question to be answered.   
Is love stronger than fear?
I sent Jeff an email to let him know that Gabby and I were in for the foot clinic.  Granted, I hadn’t confirmed this with my wife, but I figured it was only fair that I sign her up for the opportunity since she is the strong half of our marital union, and strangely attracted to physical abnormalities of all sorts.  A menagerie of corns and calluses could be right up her alley.
The day arrived, and Gabby held my hand as we walked into the building.
“Deep breaths,” she said.  “No big deal.”
As soon as we entered, I immediately excused myself to the bathroom. Gabby supported me by stifling a giggle.
The event center was a large exhibit hall.  It was an incredible sight.  Different services and ministries had their own designated area.  There was a place to get your hair cut.  Another area for medical questions.  A section for legal services.  A place to get new ID’s.  All things to help the homeless get back on their feet (pun intended).  As we looked around the hall, the most startling thing is how it would have been next to impossible to distinguish the homeless from the volunteers had it not been for our free, brightly-colored T-shirts.
Children of God.
Then we found Jeff.  He gave us a brief orientation.   I figured I would start small.  Maybe help people fill out the intake form then work my way up to washing the trimmers and pumice pads between sessions.  You know.  Ease my way into it.
Thirty seconds after removing my coat, Hillary, a volunteer coordinator, tapped me on the shoulder.
“We have a space open for foot care.  Can you help out?”
Ding Ding! Round One begins. And Fear just hit Love below the belt!
My heart began to race.  The next thing I knew, I was seated on a stool in front of a metal folding chair.  On the floor was a washtub filled with warm water.  Another volunteer came by and gave me three towels, rubber gloves, nail trimmers, a pumice stone, a nail file, soap and lotion.
“Do you need a cheat sheet?” he asked.
Speechless, I simply nodded.
He brought me the instructions.  I tried to commit them to memory. 
  1. Soak feet. 
  2. Wash feet with cleanser. 
  3. Clean out around and under toenails with cuticle stick.  Really?
  4. Clip nails.  Be especially careful with diabetics. 
  5. Apply callus remover and scrub with pumice stone to remove calluses. Not sure about that.
  6. Massage feet with lotion. 
  7. Try not to look like you’re going to soil yourself.
OK.  So the last one was mine.
When I was finished reading, he asked,
“Are you ready?”
I nodded.
“Then I’ll go bring you a client.”
I said a prayer.  Not the prayer you might think.  I prayed for God to settle my nerves.  And perhaps, if it wasn’t too much trouble, he could do this by sending me a client with dainty, pretty feet.  Like Jennifer Aniston.  Or Halle Berry.  Or Ashley Judd. 
I’m not picky.
“Hi, this is Raymond.”
Raymond did not bear any resemblance to the aforementioned women, and had feet the size of canned hams.  I shook his hand and gestured toward the chair before me.
“Make yourself comfortable.”
As Raymond removed his shoes, I asked him if he had any special requests or spots on his feet that needed special attention.  Sore tendons?  Twisted ankle, maybe? 
As he removed his white athletic socks, he pointed to piggy #2 on his left foot.
“You see that one right there?”
“Yes,” I replied, gazing at a thick, discolored nail.
“That one has a fungus on it.  If you could smooth that one out a bit, I’d appreciate it.”
Fear staggers Love with a right cross to the jaw!
I got right to work.  Raymond and I chatted a bit.  He was in construction, but lost his job in the economic downturn.  Now he didn’t have a place to live.  As I scrubbed his size twelves with Cetaphil cleanser, I smiled at the sight of myself.  Here I was, a goofy, skinny, pale corporate consultant seated opposite a giant, homeless guy, caressing his sudsy feet.  Not an image I could have conjured up just a few days before.  But now, it had an air of normalcy to it.
Love stands up straight, ready to take on Fear once more!
Normal, until I started cleaning with the cuticle stick.  I know my own feet can harbor a veritable treasure trove of goodies beneath each nail.  But prospecting for gold underneath a stranger’s toenails is another adventure entirely.  The big toe was particularly awe-inspiring.
Love takes an uppercut to the ribs!
After the cleaning was the clipping.  This wasn’t a huge job, as Raymond took decent care of his feet.  I moved on to buff out some rough spots with the pumice stone, and smoothed out the offending fungal nail with a file.  Next up was the massage, and Raymond was very appreciative.
“Man, I spend a lot of time on my feet walking from place to place.  This is just what I needed.”
Twenty five minutes after we started, Raymond was breathing a sigh of relief, looking more relaxed than before.  He gathered his things and shook my hand.
He left with, “God bless you, sir,” and slowly walked away.
Ding Ding!  Round one is a draw.  The fighters move to neutral corners.
With one client under my belt, I was gaining confidence.  The churning in my belly was reduced to a gentle kneading.
My next client was Kathy.  She was a heavy-set woman from Florida with brown curly hair who walked with some effort.  She had only been in Nashville for the past two months, and was living at the women’s shelter.  She had come to town to look for work and escape unspoken troubles.  She was chatty at first, but as time went by, I caught her leaning back in the chair and closing her eyes.  A soft smile drew across her cheeks.
“I don’t know if I ever remember someone taking care of me like this,” she said. “This is fantastic.”
Love takes round two!
Thirty minutes later, I was tending to James, a wiry Tennessee native.  Compared to Kathy and Raymond, his feet felt like they were filled with helium.  James admitted he had never had anyone tend to his feet before.  A proud man, he mentioned several times how he took very good care of himself, and was only sitting here because a friend recommended it.  He talked about losing his factory job in the recession and living at the mission.
“I can’t go home and stay with my family.  I just get in trouble there.  If I can stay away from them, I’m much better off.”
In that moment I realized how tough this must be for the homeless.  During the good times, you have a steady job and the means to put a roof over your head.  Then something happens and the rug gets ripped out right beneath your tired feet.  Now, you must swallow your pride and admit you can’t do it alone.  I can only imagine how much I would resist that.  Heck, I have a hard time admitting when I’ve had a bad day, much less anything worse. But here was James, reluctantly accepting grace.  I easily saw myself in his chair.
Fear is knocked on its heels in round three!
It was nearing lunch time, so I mentioned to the coordinator that I would take one more person before a quick break to grab a bite.  James left with a handshake and I started to replenish my supplies.
“Hi.  I’m Charles.”
Charles was about 6’3” with plenty of gray hair on his temples.  I’m not sure of his age, but his skin showed that whatever years he had spent on the planet had been hard.  He spoke in a rapid-fire staccato.  He was missing several teeth, which gave him an interesting inflection that colored his speech with a mixture of lisp and drawl.
“Hey Charles.  Nice to meet you.  Take off your shoes and get comfortable.  I’ll be right with you.”
As I said this, Gabby came by and tapped me on the shoulder.  She had just finished with a client and heard that I was about to take a lunch.
“I’m just going to do one more and then I’m taking a break,” I said.  “Could you get me a couple of fresh towels?”
Gabby obliged.  I turned back toward Charles, who had removed his shoes.
“I want them two things gone!” He said with authority as he pointed to his left foot.  When I looked down I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Just when Fear looked like it was down for the count, it connects with a right hook to Love’s jaw. Down goes Love!  Down goes Love!
“It’s been years since I’ve done anything to that one there,” he said.
He wasn’t kidding.  He touched the nail on his big toe, which, like all the other nails, had outgrown the limits of his shoes and retreated downward, covering the front of every toe like giant thimbles as thick as wooden spoons.  The only thing that prevented them from growing even more was that the bottom of his foot had acted as a file of sorts.  Otherwise, the nails would have covered the soles of his feet.
On his second toe was a growth the size of a marble.  As he touched his big toenail and the growth, he repeated, “I want them two things gone.”
The expression on my face looked as if I had just seen a manatee riding a unicycle.  Completely dumbfounded.
And the referee is counting!  1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 ,6 ,7 ,8… Is this the end of Love?!
Gabby came back with the towels.  She saw Charles’ feet and said in a tone of great understatement,
“I’ll go help with intake.  Let me know when you’re done.”
I turned toward the woman seated on the stool at my right.  She was a registered nurse who had also been providing foot care throughout the morning.   She heard my conversation with Charles.
“Anything special I need to do here?” I begged, secretly hoping she would take my case as a research project.  She only giggled at my novice fear and said,
“Nothing special.  Just trim the nails as best you can, and get a few medicated corn pads to help with the bump there.”
And Love somehow staggers back to his feet!
Charles seemed pleased with the response and settled in, soaking his feet in the tub.  Meanwhile, I was petrified.  I scrubbed his feet with the special soap, hoping against hope that the concoction was something akin to Toenail Nair, which would just make them disappear in a flash of light.
No such luck.
After the soap, I was supposed to use the cuticle stick to get under the nails.  I looked down at the poor stick, and I heard it faintly whimper, so I opted instead to work off the calluses with the pumice stone to allow each foot a bit more soaking time.
The rough side of the stone was like 100 grit sandpaper.  Before I went to work, I asked Charles, “Let me know if this is too uncomfortable for you.”
He replied, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna’ hurt these big size thirteen canoes, boy.  You doin’ a fine job. ”
I worked his foot like an auto body mechanic sanding paint off a Buick.  The pumice wilted under the pressure.  I commented to Charles,
“I think I may rub off a size or two of foot here Charles.  When you walk out of here, you may be an eleven and a half.” 
He laughed at the comment, and added, “Sho ‘nuff.  It’s about time them feet had some work done on ‘em.  This feels real good.  I really appreciate you doing this.”
When the scrubbing was done, it was nail time.  I steadied myself to tackle my fear head-on.  When I grabbed the toenail trimmers, I saw the nurse glance my way.  I believe she was watching to see if I would fold under the pressure.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle it.  Because of the unique growth of the nails, there was no way to just take the nail off in one clip.  I would have to whittle away at them, taking off a tiny chip at a time.  The trimmers were the kind that look like a pair of pliers.  I grabbed them firmly in my right hand and settled in on the first chunk of the first nail.
I may not be the strongest man in the world, but I’ve done my fair share of working out.  Still, when I pressed down, the trimmers merely made an impression.  Like I was notarizing his big toe.  It didn’t budge.
Refusing to give in, I grabbed on with both hands and clamped down.  There was a sound like someone snapping a pencil and the first chunk of nail flew off and hit the nurse in the cheek.
“Hold on there now!” Charles joked.  “I don’t wanna’ be responsible for hurtin’ nobody.”
What’s this?!  Love lands a right cross to Fear!
I had to laugh, and so did the nurse.  I continued chopping away at the nail.  As Gabby can attest, the big toe alone took four minutes.  Stuff was flying everywhere.  The area around my seat looked as if someone had been carving one of those bear statues out of an old stump.  Toenail chips hit me in the eye, the cheek, and the lower lip.  My waxy hair care product, an unfortunate choice for the day, was trapping slivers in my coif. My hands got tired.
And Fear takes one on the chin!  Up against the ropes!  Will this be the end?!?!
As I worked, Charles continued to voice his appreciation, and an occasional hint that my grip might be a bit rough.
And God was blessing it all.  Beauty for ashes, as they say.
Because as tough as this was for me, I can only imagine that it was ten times as difficult for him.   If you have no money and no place to live, the last thing you’re concerned about is buying a pair of nail clippers.  And when you look like Charles and live on the street, it’s likely that you could go weeks, if not months, without feeling the physical touch of another human, save for an occasional police officer lifting you off a bench and pointing you elsewhere for the night.
Can you imagine?
I can.
And it must be very lonely.  Enough to make you feel less than human. Like I had treated Charles.  As a pair of feet instead of a man with a soul.
When Charles’s feet were back to normal, I felt beads of sweat on my forehead.  He looked at my handiwork and said,
“Those babies haven’t looked that good in years!  Thank you!”
“We’re not done yet, Charles,” I reminded him.  “We save the best for last.”
I poured peppermint-scented lotion into my hands, and got to work on the feet.  For ten minutes they soaked up a quarter-bottle of the stuff.  He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and sighed.  It was the sound of pure peace.  Breathing in a pleasant scent.  Both of us drenched in human kindness.  Bringing a subtle smile to my face as fear melted into the floor.  Proving once and for all, that when you push yourself to the edge of your faith.
No matter the odds.
Love wins.  Every time.