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The amazing places we find grace -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The amazing places we find grace

Once homeless, mother and daughter enjoy the view from their front porch
By Ann Hardie


Shirley Godwin (left) and her mother, Lillie Mae, have found security and peace of mind in a house built in partnership with Genesee County Habitat for Humanity in Flint, Michigan. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Jason Asteros


Video: Shirley and Lillie Mae break into an impromptu rendition of a favorite hymn in front of their Habitat house.

Lillie Mae Godwin and her daughter Shirley have discovered grace in the most unexpected places.

Grace presented itself to Shirley four years ago, after her 73-year-old mother began showing signs of memory loss. Having struggled with disabling migraines, asthma and mini-strokes for most of her 50 years, Shirley had always relied on Lillie Mae for help.

“I said, ‘Lord, I need you to help me take care of my mom,’” Shirley said. “And He did.”

For Lillie Mae, grace has come in the form of a large front porch, where she sits and reads her Bible when the weather is nice. “In the winter, she does pretty much the same thing,” Shirley said with a chuckle on a bitterly cold day in Flint, Michigan. Winters in their hometown an hour north of Detroit can test a person’s soul, unless that person is Lillie Mae Godwin.

“I love my Bible and I love my porch,” she said, having no trouble recalling her favorite passage from Scripture, Lamentations 3:22-23:

It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed,
Because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is thy faithfulness.

For both Godwins, grace is the foundation of that well-used front porch on their charming new white Habitat home with burgundy shutters.

“We were lost, and now we’re found,” Shirley said. “Were blind, but now we see.”

‘We didn’t want to be a bother’

The Godwins had gone through dark times before, but Jan. 21, 2010, was among the darkest. The women had just returned home from church. Their 108-year-old wood-frame house was freezing, but there was an overpowering smell of smoke. When they called the consumer energy hotline, they were advised to get out immediately.

Their ancient furnace had gone haywire. With temperatures dipping into the mid-teens that evening, the pipes burst. “Lord, there was water everywhere,” Shirley said. The burst pipes left the home uninhabitable for human beings. “But the mice came in and had themselves a party,” Shirley said with a wry sense of humor.

The Godwins had lived in the three-story house since 1966, when Shirley’s father moved the family from Florida to Flint to take a job making parts for Chevrolet. He died two decades ago.

In the weeks that followed the pipes disaster, Shirley and her mother had to split up. Lillie Mae slept on the couch of another daughter, while Shirley stayed with a sister-in-law. “We were putting our family members out,” Shirley said. “They didn’t feel that way, but we did. We didn’t want to be a bother to anyone.”

As Shirley looked at a seemingly endless parade of run-down apartments and overcrowded senior high-rises — she thought she and her mom might have to separate for good — the women got a call from Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. A member of the church where both women sang in the choir had called Habitat on their behalf.

Next: ‘Everybody wanted to help’
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